So I guess this started when I first visited Sweden in 2014 as my husband was taking part in a bike ride called the Vatternrundan.
Since then I have taken up cycling and have thought about going back to Sweden to do the ride myself and mentioned it to my friend Laura who was also keen on the idea so together, with her other half James, we signed ourselves up to take part!
It’s a very different registration process than any other event I have taken part in where you have to register interest in advance and then you get an email to confirm and then you have to log in and sign up and it’s only once you get confirmation that you know if you have a place or not and people come from all over the world to take part in this event.
It is also part of a bigger event called the Swedish Classic where you have to complete the following in the space of one year:
- 90km Vasaloppet cross country ski
- 300km Vatternrundan bike ride
- 3km Vansbrosimningen open water swim
- 30km Lidingöloppet cross country run
I was just intending to do the bike ride!
A little bit about the Vatternrundan – it is a 300km bike ride in one go around the Vattern lake. Why? Because we thought the challenge, sounded cool and we like to ride our bikes. The distance is a lot and around a lake sounds a lot but its only when you see the lake, that looks like an ocean, and you can’t even see the other side that the reality of the challenge settles in!
We left on Thursday and were staying in Jongkoping, which also happened to be one of the places on the bike ride. On the Friday we headed to Motala, where the ride starts and finishes, and got registered and tried to sleep! When you sign up you can pick a start time which are in two minute intervals and can be anywhere from 7pm on the Friday to early afternoon on the Saturday. All entrants have a cut off of midnight on the Saturday to complete.
We were starting at 9:22pm so would be riding through the night, something we’ve all done before. We actually missed our start time so headed out in the 9:30pm wave. This was not because Laura is the most methodical person we all know and has to lay her kit out one million times at all, no way, nope (ha ha)! Good job we love her ❤️
We had our pockets on our jerseys stuffed with everything we thought we might need on this ride from nutrition to rain jackets to battery packs and this was on top of our bike bags that had other essential kit like gas canisters in case you get a dreaded p word (puncture).
On the number you wear on your jersey on the ride is your name, where you are from and your start time. We were less than half a mile in and we noticed the name of someone in front of us who sounded English and that is how we met Adam. Adam lives in Sweden with his Finnish wife and children and he was doing the ride on his own as his second event of the Swedish Classic – he had also shaved his legs as he thought this would make him more aero dynamic but had underestimated how long this would take and how much shaving foam he would need so had run out and the top part of his thighs were still hairy, we laughed a lot about this. And that is how our three became four during the Vatternrundan. You can learn a lot about someone when you spend so long with them on the bike – when he met my husband at the end he told him he already knew so much about him!
There are a lot of rest stops on the ride with warnings 5km in advance and then another when there is 1km to go to ensure you have the correct positioning on the road to turn off should you wish. We had a plan to only stop three times and that was more to ensure we could refill bottles and apply what we assumed would be much need chamois cream. I won’t go into detail about chamois cream but if you cycle and know that saddle sore feeling and don’t use chamois cream then let me educate you in two words – get involved! Look it up, it’s self explanatory and you will be pleased once you start using it (even if the first couple of times you feel like you’ve wet yourself)!
So we stopped first at Jonkoping at 104km where we were given meatballs and mashed potato. We were all in agreement to make the most of the proper food and not try to do the whole event on energy gels – personal preference but for us proper food works better for endurance. This rest stop was in an ice rink, which was a little odd and it also started with the cyclist in front of me stopping dead in his tracks as we entered it resulting in me having no time to unclip and promptly falling off my bike in front of quite a lot of people. Only the day before we were discussing cleats and I had said I’d not yet done the standard falling off your bike from not unclipping – I’d spoke too soon.
Our next rest stop was at Hjo at 171km where we had lasagne and blueberry soup – I know it sounds odd but it hit the spot.
The last rest stop was at Medevi at 274km, towards the end and more of a loo break as we had been told the last 40km was quite hilly. It was at this test stop we spoke to a veteran on the ride. Veterans of this event have blue bibs that actually day Veteran and I was explaining to the others that these are people that have done the event a certain number of times. So I asked a very nice Swedish man how many times he had done this event and he said to be a veteran you must have completed the ride 25 times. He was 72 and this was his 44th time doing the ride and he had done the Swedish Classic 40 times – absolutely amazing! I wished I’d had a picture with him now he made all of us smile as he was explaining this.
The ride is what cyclists would call undulating. No hills that would test you too much but lots of smaller hills and a lot lot lot lot lot of false flats and long drags where the incline is not much but could go on for up to 12km in one go and these really zap your energy. My husband had told me it was flat. My husband is a liar. Don’t get me wrong it was almost 6,000 ft of elevation and I’ve done more on much shorter rides though the drags as I said make a difference to the legs.
One thing I can say about Sweden is that it is very green, there are lots of beautiful lakes, it’s very clean and there are lots of gorgeous wooded areas – really picturesque! The ride includes cycling through all of these – its stunning! We stopped on a bridge toward the end purely to take a photo that was too good to miss.
We had a great ride working as a team and each taking our turn on the front, building up the pace following rest stops and joining pelotons of riders when we could. As a peloton approaches it sounds like a car – I shouted car back at one point then had to say no it’s bikes – I’m not that thick but it really does sound like a car when 20 cyclists hammer past you at speed! The pelotons are very quick and if you want to ride with them you have to jump on quick and work to stay with them. Some were very welcoming and some not so – if they are there as a team you are not allowed to join their peloton which is fair enough and is more for safety than anything else as you ride very close and they will be used to riding with each other and not strangers. At one point we were in a peloton of at least 40 people and it was so much fun!
The event has been going for a lot of years and they have the organisation down to a fine art! Registration is seemless, the expo/merchandise tent has anything and everything you could want or need – I managed to bring my light and forgot the bracket to attach to my handlebars so got myself a new light. The marshalls are amazing and spread the whole way round the long course (this is not a closed road event). There were a lot of rubbish points to throw anything you were finished with in the form of large nets on the side of the road – brilliant idea!
I have to mention the locals too – the course is studded with people the whole way through the night that sit out for the whole event cheering you on, camping out and eating and drinking with music playing – I was given a toasted marshmallow on a stick with a jelly sweet on top as I cycled past and lots of high fives too – amazing!
We started together, we finished together, we laughed, we sang, we joked, we smiled and we shared chamois cream and ate too many honey buns and quite frankly we smashed it even if I say so myself! I was beaming with pride coming down the finish line as my husband was waiting and cheering us on.
I would absolutely recommend this event and I have no doubt I will go back and do it again at some point.
I completed the Vatternrundan in a ride time of 10 hours and 26 minutes and event time of 12 hours and 42 minutes – boom!