Every September, 500 trail runners descend upon the bright and rocky Swedish coastline for three days on the Icebug Xperience. Last time around, OE’s Dan Aspel was amongst them…
Running along the rain slick boardwalk in the party town of Smögen, the wood flexing beneath our feet. North Sea waves crashing against a shattered coastline. The upturned hull of an old fishing boat, coloured with a patina of rust. The crisp white backings of race numbers. Tall forests of evergreens. Blue skies. Bluer water. Yellow sunlight. Old socks. Beer. Smiles.
These are just a few of the mental images that I brought home with me from south-west Sweden at the end of last summer. And, contrary to the normal functioning of my memory, all seem even more vivid now than then. If outdoor adventures are meant to furnish life with unforgettable experiences, then this trip represents some pretty great value for money.
A quick word about Sweden. A short budget flight away, it seems more than happy to fulfil every one of the positive things you’ve heard about it: Almost everybody speaks fluent English, the landscapes are both familiar and yet dramatically dissimilar to our own, the culture is welcoming, fair and open and there’s an abundance of coast, forest and rocky backwoods to enjoy. The seashore of the Bohuslän region in particular is famed for its fishing heritage and wealth of islands and islets, the geology of the region is fascinating, and the makeup of the terrain changes dramatically the further up the coast you head, with dramatic fjords often marking the watershed between one type of rock and another. Understandably, it’s regarded as being one of the world’s greatest remaining wilderness regions. It’s very, very beautiful.
It’s also home to the Icebug Xperience. Run by the grip-centric Swedish footwear brand Icebug (www.icebug.com), it offers competitors the chance to cover 75km of winding rock, soil and sealine over the course of three days. Sign up (it costs about £400 including meals and accommodation) and you’ll be based in a central coastal HQ around two hours from Gothenburg by car, put up in shared chalets, then bussed and ferried from them to the start lines and back again. Although it wasn’t my first time here, this was very much my first go at a multi-day trail run. Luckily, it was quite a low-pressure one to ease myself in.
That’s because, like many other events of this kind, there’s only really a sense of competitiveness here if you’re actively seeking it. If you want to push yourself (and others) at the top of the field then it can be very much a race atmosphere, but if you’re just turning up for the landscape, then you’re welcome too. You can walk, stop for a swim (two of my trail mates suddenly decided to skinny dip at the start of day two), take your time at the hydration and food stations, and essentially make of the route whatever you wish. It can even be a family affair.
I was very much in the latter camp, and far from being an experienced distance runner. On an average week I run perhaps 20km on the grassy trails around my home, I’ve entered a small handful of 10km race events before and managed to finish halfway down the table in the easiest category of the OMM 2016. So, the chances are that if you are interested enough to sign up, then you’ll do just fine taking the slow and steady approach, as I did.
However, the easy atmosphere of the event seems to encourage a gentle flexing of those running muscles almost by osmosis. On the first day I walked the majority of the course, took pictures… and felt pleasingly tired yet slightly unsatisfied. On the second day I joined up with friends new and old, ran all the downhill sections and a few scrambly bits inbetween. I was getting into the swing of this! As we rocked our way back via boat that evening and the sun set into the big blue sea, my thoughts turned to a more ambitious third and final day.
The following morning, and with an early flight to catch, I decided to run the whole thing. Could I even finish an off-road half-marathon, without any pressure to do so? It turns out I could maintain a constant pace for twice as long as I had ever ‘raced’ before. The feeling of accomplishment was as sweet a reward as anything I’ve ever experienced in the outdoors.
It’s definitely got me looking at other outdoor events that I would have previously thought were reserved for people fitter and more competitive than myself. Because the truth is that you can sign up for anything – a triathlon, a mountain marathon, a long-distance cycle, or any other outdoor event – and the chances are that you’ll find more encouragement and excitement than you suppose and fewer unassailable obstacles than you fear. And you might just find another way to enjoy the outdoors that hits the spot in an entirely new way.
Want to take part in the Icebug Xperience 2017? Head to icebug.com/icebugx to sign up.