The Vätternrundan is a 300km bike ride round Lake Vättern in Sweden and starts and finishes in Motala. 23000 riders take part, setting off in small groups every two minutes from 7pm Friday evening until 5.30am Saturday morning. Everyone gets until midnight on Saturday to finish. Because of this there is quite a mixture of riders taking part, from elite level who usually leave at 5.30am to more leisurely riders who start early but may stop for a nap or two.
Ian had hoped to do this ride a few years ago but it’s quite hard to get into, selling out within two minutes of entries coming online. This time we were prepared and registered our interest last September which gave us a higher chance of a successful entry. Ian had his finger on the button on the 4th of November at 6pm Swedish time and boom we were in! I remember feeling great excitement at getting a place, quickly followed by OMG 300KM!!!!
So after a long but straightforward journey (4 hour drive to Stanstead, overnight stay, flight to Skavsta, hire car to Motala) we arrived at our guest house sometime on Thursday afternoon. Ian had stayed here before. When he didn’t get his place in 300km race three years ago he did the half version and livened it by cycling to and from Stockholm. We were greeted by Eva who runs the guest house with big hugs and tales of how wonderful Ian was and what a great cyclist he was. She had been telling the other guests about him.
The guest house was perfect. Eva is a huge cycling fan, her father had founded the Vätternrundan event 50 years ago. The whole house was covered in cycling pictures and even the duvets had little bikes on them. This weekend she would have 20 cyclists staying, I was the only female! There wasn’t really room but she had set up extra camp beds in her drawing room, piano room and even a caravan in the garden. Her husband would be doing it for the first time too (he is 61) so everyone was very excited.
Thursday afternoon we drove into Motala and registered. The whole town was set up for the event, big marquees everywhere, a huge cycling expo and lots of food places. Then it was back to the guest house to put our bikes together.
On Friday morning we cycled into town to check our bikes were ok, check out where the start was and get some lunch. We had a lovely ride alongside the lake to a great lunch spot. Most of my pictures were taken here as the sun was out and the lake looked great. On the ride, I didn’t stop much and funnily enough we didn’t see the lake that often!
When we got back to the guest house all the other cyclists had arrived and there were bikes everywhere. Everyone had a different start time throughout the night so Eva would be feeding us our “breakfast” all through the night too. We had ours at 7pm, special porridge with nuts and fruit and also a drink with quinine in to stop us getting cramps – she had thought of everything.
At 8pm we cycled into Motala for the start. It was buzzing with thousands of cyclists, but very well organised. Three pens, with the start times flashing up when it was your time to go. 21.10 – our number came up, we got into our pen with about 40-50 other people. It was all automated with a running clock. Each pen went every two minutes with a countdown. So we only waited a couple of minutes, the rope came down and we were off for a 300km all night bike ride. People cheered as we went through the town and there were lots of little groups out sitting in deckchairs clapping throughout the whole race.
Ian left me after about….. four minutes lol! But of course there were so many people that I was never alone. Always someone to ride with. Little groups formed which was useful for drafting and as it got dark was helpful for lighting up the road.
The roads were amazing…so smooth, so different from home. I don’t think I saw a single pothole! Surprisingly most of the roads were not actually near the lake. It would appear every now and then but mainly we were surroundly by pretty fields and sometimes on more major roads. But most roads were traffic free on our side and even when there was an odd car it was totally outnumbered.
The marshalling was exceptional, two or more people on every roundabout. There were also nine feed stations and again well organised. Hot drinks, energy drinks, bananas, pickles and some lovely sweet rolls… which I didn’t think I would like but did and ended eating quite a few through the night – perfect bike food 🙂 Plus, plenty of loos, mechanics and space to park your bike. I didn’t stop at all of them but it was good to know they were there. I loved seeing the signs…5km to feed station (but in Swedish) …then 1km to feed station…. then feed station.
The course was not flat but no crazy hills, just undulating. I didn’t need to get out of my big chain ring for the whole ride. Some people did seem to find the “hills” harder than others and I saw a few people walking, but like I say it was quite a mixed group of riders. Although most had road bikes, some were on mountain bikes and wearing trainers….and I did see a guy wearing clogs, with a basket on his bike and loud music blaring. Eva had told me about him, he has done every Vätternrundan since the beginning. I also saw a preacher at the top of another hill, he is quite famous for being there every year and preaching the gospel as riders go by.
So we had set off at 21.10 and by 11pm it was starting to get quite dark. I had left putting my lights on until the last minute as I wanted them to last the night. Fortunately darkness only lasted a few hours and by 2.30am it was light again. This certainly helped keep me awake. I had been worried about cycling when I should have been asleep, especially after my F*cking Moonwalk experience!! But the light helped and so did the rain which came down at 3.30am in torrential form. I got very wet very quickly. I did have the wherewithal to take my arm warmers off and put a jacket on which was a good move as when it finally stopped I had something dry and warm to put back on, I had also brought spare gloves too.
The rain lasted about an hour and then it was just cloudy with a little light drizzle. We were lucky, some of the riders that started later got around five hours of rain.
I stopped at a feed station just after the rain stopped to put my dry stuff on and bumped into Jan-Erik, our host from the guest house! What were the chances?? He had left 90 minutes before me and there were literally thousands of riders 🙂 He showed me his special gloves – yellow marigolds, which he wore underneath his short fingered bike gloves lol! Unusual but surprisingly effective.
300km is a long way and at times it was mentally tough. The kms were counted down at the side of the road every 10kms 290, 280, 270…. At 180km to go I realised I still had an Ironman bike distance left and I had already been cycling for 4.5 hours – Crikey! You know you are in a different kind of event when you pleased that there is “only” 100km to go 🙂
I tried as much as possible to stay with little groups to save energy and protect me from he wind. This worked well although as I was often much faster up hills than my group I would sometimes ride on and try and latch on to another group further up. At just over ten hours I heard my phone ding…I knew it was Ian texting me to say he had finished. I still had 60km to go! But I was going well and further along than Ian had expected so he said he would wait for me at the end rather than go back to the guest house.
At 260km I had a slight wobble…I couldn’t see straight as I was so tired from lack of sleep. My body felt fine but my head needed coffee and another sweet roll. I stopped at the next feed station and felt much better afterwards. The last 40km I was pretty much on my own, no groups my speed to ride with although I did have a guy who clung on to my back wheel for about 30km until I got so fed up with him not taking a turn in the front I put my foot down on a slightly steeper hill and left him. He never caught me up.
The very last part was along a road that we had cycled the day before so I knew where I was and that it was nearly over. The last 10km marker was good to see. I came over the finish line and could hear Ian cheering for me. I got my medal and went off to get a big hug from my hubby. He was really pleased with how well I had done. He also had a great ride and was now hanging out at the end with his new buddy Neil who he had done much of the ride with. Neil was happy to stay with Ian until I turned up as you are not allowed to drive for 6 hours after the finish of the race and the police do check.
We were cycling back to the guest house so were fine. Just another 5km to go until I could have a nap, and that’s what we did. Arrive at guest house, shower and nap. After our nap Eva insisted that we got in a hot tub in the garden “for our muscles” then into the jacuzzi (a different tub) “to relax” then gave us a cold beer “to help us sleep” 🙂 By now some of the other riders were back so it was all very jolly…and very Swedish. Another nap and then pizza with everyone at the guest house. Eva had arranged all this for us too, so kind. Then back to bed for a good nights sleep 8pm – 7am. We woke up Sunday with no idea what day it was but feeling pretty good and happy.
We still had Sunday at the guest house and after packing up our bikes and a nice lunch in a nearby pretty town we headed off to the airport where we would stay over night before an early flight Monday morning. It had a been a fantastic weekend, great hosts, an amazing ride plus hanging out with lots of cyclists, and then just when we thought it was all over the weekend got a little bit better…..
We were having a meal in the restaurant at the airport hotel when I saw a girl at a table with three guys, who seemed familiar. I must have looked over at her many times and in the end said to Ian I think she is a famous cyclist. It was, it was Olympic champion and all round elite cyclist Nicole Cooke. The thing that made this slightly more special was that I happened to be reading her book this weekend!!! I dashed up to the room and got it and then went over to her. She laughed so much when she saw me standing there with the book. Here in a budget hotel in Sweden was a random lady who not only recognised her but had her book. They had all done the Vätternrundan and we had a good chat, got my book signed and got a photo. She was very lovely and it was the icing on the cake of a great weekend.