A Swedish Classic
By Ann McManus
You may have noticed Ann racking up the miles on her bike – with some other willing club members! All for one goal – to complete the Swedish Classic. This combines four events held over the year in Sweden. A 90km cross country ski, a 3km swim, 30km trail run and the Vatternrundan 315. That’s 315km of cycling – in one day! We asked Ann all about it and how she decided to take on this epic event!
On June 17th I completed an event that had been on my bucket list for a while: Vatternrundan 315. Taking place around the longest day of the year in Sweden, 30,000 cyclists follow a stunning 315km route around the Lake Vattern, beginning and ending in the town of Motala. It was a epic day in in the saddle, enhanced by the solid block of training I’d done in preparation.
How on earth did I decide to do this?
The idea was suggested to me at a formal networking dinner of all places, where I had a conversation with a fellow data protection counsel who had recently completed Vatternrundan and said if I liked cycling, I may enjoy this event.
The trouble with being known as someone who likes sports challenges is that people constantly suggest more and more outlandish ways for you to test your mettle. When I mentioned Vatternrundan to a Swedish friend, they explained that Vatternundan forms one of four challenges which make up the revered Swedish Classic. Every year thousands of people attempt to complete the series which consists of a 90km cross country ski, a 3km swim, 30km trail run and Vatternundan. Those who complete all four in the course of a year are awarded a diploma and special medal. Why do just one challenge when you could do all four?!
I love cycling, but I wondered where the limit to my love of the sport might lie. Would 315km be too much? I was dying to find out.
How did I prepare?
I joined Ful-on-Tri to get some company on all my cycle training. I initially set out to do Vatternrundan last year but I broke my wrist out training one day and had to put it back to this year, no less determined to make it happen. I started seriously training in March, giving myself a 3 month build up. I’d been training very heavily for Vassaloppet, the 90km cross country ski component of the Swedish classic, so my cardio was in a good place. I was delighted to finally get back on the bike after months of gym based ski-erging!
The Training Plan
Given the distance and the need to have a carefully structured training plan to fit around a very full-time job, I took on a remote coach – an ex-pro cyclist who had lived in Sweden and completed Vatternrundan several times. It was good to have someone who could advise on both the training and the logistics of my adventure. My training plan consisted of 6 days training a week and 1 rest day broken up as follows:
1 x long ride, zone 2 building up my hours on the saddle.
I was aiming for sub-11 hours so my training rides had to work up to about 10 hours. I’d normally use the Saturday club ride for these and make up the extra hours in Richmond Park if I needed to. I was always extremely grateful to any clubmates who joined for these extra laps! When you’ve already done a long ride, the thought of having to repeatedly crawl up Dark Hill isn’t particularly tempting, but good company, good tunes and the excellent weather kept it fun!
I didn’t think I’d find anyone else keen to build up to 300km rides but I was gladly surprised to find Jon Pring was looking to do some equally crazy miles in preparation for the Dragon Ride. While going on the club rides and making up the time was great, this training was an opportunity to explore new parts of the countryside further afield than I’d had the chance to go. We would exchange suggestions of places that looked far on the map, often starting by half joking and then mapping out the ride and challenging ourselves to go for it – our epic 345km London to Plymouth ride being the standout. After completing such a long, and hilly ride (c4,400m incline!) my apprehension around whether or not I could do Vatternundan was calmed.
I also took part in a couple of sportives which were important for getting used to big cycling events as I’d only done a handful to date. Hampshire Hilly Hundred and Ride London both made for fun training adventures with great company from the club!
1 x Structured tempo workout.
The 1-2 hours structured tempo workout was where I felt my progress stemmed from the most. These workouts started off as 5 minute blocks of zone 4, with a break in between and built up to 20 minute blocks.
Before these, my cadence had tended to be around 70 rpm which is pretty low. I worked on building my cadence to 85-100 rpm which I think helped improve my cardio endurance and helped me cycle more efficiently.
These tended to be done on Zwift, but when the bike I used on my turbo got stolen, I resorted to hitting Richmond Park early and smashing them out on the Ballet loop. With a new power meter, I felt it was a good learning process to do structured workouts in real life and it felt like it passed faster. The only downside was the worry I would run over the goslings that hang out close to one of the ponds!
2 x 1-2 hour recovery rides
I’d normally use my commute to work for these, adding laps around Regents Park.
1 x Recovery run
A short run to maintain some running fitness. With only one recovery run a week, disappointingly I could see my zone 2 slipping to a much slower pace but I knew I’d have time to get it back after Vatternrundan!
The Adventure itself…
Assembling and disassembling
This was the first time I’d ever travelled with a bike so I was a bit concerned that dismantling my beloved bike into a ‘Bike Box Alan’ would either result in something being damaged or my bike going missing on the flight. Thankfully it did arrive in Sweden, but as I reassembled it, I couldn’t get my stem to fit back together. Canyon were a sponsor at Vatternrundan and I’d spotted their stand at the expo five mins from my hotel so I wheeled my bike over. This couldn’t be more convenient – how lucky, I thought to myself. However I was greeted by a very shocked face and the guy at the stand uttered a profanity as he looked at the damage. It turned out my bike had different means of folding the handle bar than most bikes and I’d disassembled the wrong part. Somehow a screw had been overtightened in two places and the screws had worn out, leaving them lodged dangerously into the carbon frame with no means of being unscrewed…
I was advised to go find a rental for back-up, which was devastating as I’d specifically bought a new bike with this event in mind and had fallen pathetically in love with it. The only rental left in my size felt a bit like riding a tractor in comparison with my slick Aeroad and the gear jammed in the chain and made a horrible noise, a far cry from the cool noise of the Di2 shift. After almost 3 hours and 7 mechanics from Canyon, Shimano and a local bike shop (conveniently stood next door to one another at the expo!) doing their thing, my bike was resurrected back to a rideable state. I was over the moon when the issue was finally resolved and vowed to watch the assembly videos more diligently – rather than multitasking!I set out on a pre-race spin to test everything was ok and get my legs into race gear, after a few days tapering. I’d never felt so happy to get out on my bike after the fear it might have been beyond repair! The sun was shining and the countryside was stunning.
My start time was 05:48 and I had a 18km cycle to the start line in Motala, so I was up before 4 for a bowl of fruit, granola and yoghurt with coffee and fruit juice.
It was stunning to be on the road at sunrise, seeing peloton after peloton sweeping over the horizon.
I was doing the event alone, but hoped I’d find a group to settle in with. My start pen had a couple of clubs and a few other lone riders. As hoped, I did form a small fellowship of four, who had a similar time goal and fuel strategy. We bounced from peloton to peloton, settling into a club group for a while, and if we felt we could push a bit faster, we’d watch for another group overtaking and hop on the back.
The clubs were for the most part happy for you to sit on their tail, but you had to sit at the back and they did not want non-club members intermingled with their peloton.
Unfortunately I did get a puncture. I pulled over and got fixing. One of my new friends from the fellowship offered to stay and help. I felt like I had things under control so I told him I’d catch up and waved him on, not wanting to compromise his sub-10 goal. But 15 minutes later I was still struggling to get my tire back on. My thumb strength just couldn’t pull it back on – I think I’d knackered them repairing my tire the night before. A rescue vehicle drove past and I waved it down. They tried to help but couldn’t manage the tire either so suggested I get driven back to the closest mechanic, 10km back. I struggled for a few more minutes but then decided I should just get a pro to do it – pathetic although it felt to be admitting defeat at such a simple mechanical.
The mechanic took 15 minutes to do the fixes, which made me feel a bit more justified in having made the choice to go back. My sub-10 hours goal was now out the window and I’d lost my little group., but I could now enjoy the journey without any pressure on time and in some ways, I liked the fact I wouldn’t be staring at someone’s wheel. Maybe I would catch another group.
On the road again, on my own…
With a pocket stuffed with cinnamon buns, I hit the road again. There were less cyclists on the road now. I hadn’t put the route on my Garmin as I’d set off at such a busy time and figured there would be lots of riders to follow. But by now all the clubs which started later with tight time goals had gone and riding through town on open roads, it wasn’t always clear that I was on the route. Thankfully there were volunteers at most junctions, directing and yellow signs.
I had 205km to go, 180km of which would be against the headwind. As I turned into it, I felt it but I decided not to think about it. I was just going to have to push through it on my own. The scenery was beautiful and the conditions of the roads was fantastic. I barely saw a pothole all day!
Now that I’d probably missed the window to make a sub-10 hour ride, I decided to just enjoy the day and have a short 10 min stop if I felt like it. It was a hot day so I was getting through a lot of fluid and after all my training rides, I’d got a bit bored of my bars and felt more like the bready cinnamon buns (not like the sweet ones we get here).
I also figured the fuel stops might be a good place to find a group to tail and I was right. I found a group that were riding a decent speed and joined another guy tailing them. I got the sense they didn’t like having anyone behind so I dropped them at the next climb and didn’t see them again so it was the right thing to do.
As I got into the second half of the lake, my mental and physical energy wavering a bit, I got a second wind and went flying past a big club peloton. I thought it might be a short-lived thing and they would come crawling past me any time soon. It didn’t happen so I kept on pushing, riding the energy wave while it lasted.
Amazingly, nothing hurt, except my feet. My shoes were relatively new and felt achingly tight as the ride went on. I thought about putting them in cold water. But thankfully when I messaged the suggestion to a helpful clubmate they told me not to! I stopped and took my shoes off for a few minutes while I topped up my water and had a blueberry soup with an ibuprofen and hit the road again. There seemed to be more serious looking clubs on the road again now. Whether I’d made up time on my head down, watts up against the wind lone effort or if they had just been chilling at the rest stops, I’m not sure but I was glad to have what looked like some drafting potential!
The last 50km is where all the hills kick in. The route wound through beautiful forest. Compared with Surrey hills, the climbs were quite gentle and I really enjoyed the variety in terrain after a relatively flat ride so far. I was surprised to see so many people walking up the climbs. That said, after 270km fair enough!
On the far side of the lake, the 170km stretch against the headwind, there had not been many supporters cheering – probably because we weren’t passing through many towns. It was nice to get back into civilization and see people again. The two supporters who stuck out the most were:
A man peddling on his turbo trainer in retro workout gear, cheering everyone on and a group of ladies parked half way up one of the steeper climbs at a farmhouse blasting Abba and dancing enthusiastically, with the offer of hosing us down with cold water.
Hurtling up and down the hills gave me an incredible buzz. With 30km to go, it was hammer time. I was averaging about 34km/h. Just as I was beginning to flag, a triathlon club started to pass me. We were riding a similar speed and seeing me on my own, they invited me to take their wheel, shouting encouragement. It was just what I needed for the final push. The signs read smaller and smaller numbers and soon we were on the side of the motorway on the outskirts.
Crossing the finish line as a group was a nice way to wrap up what had been a fairly solitary ride. But for me, I had a real sense of achievement for continuing to push through on my own without a group to take the headwind for the most difficult stretches. My average time was still faster than I’d expected so I knew I’d have gone way beyond my expectation if I hadn’t lost time on my mechanical and stuck with the big group. I’d trained hard and pushing my own watts made Vatternrundan the challenge I’d trained for.
After eating all the free food and drinks at the finish line (I don’t think a falafel wrap and alcohol free beer has ever tasted so good!) and sitting and staring gormlessly into the lake for 45 minutes, taking calls from family, I had a 18km cycle back to my accommodation. Surprisingly I felt absolutely fine and kept a good pace!
The sun was slowly setting and the lake looked so welcoming, there was no better way to wind down from the excitement of the day than a dip in the lake.
Then I then walked into town, ordered a lot of food which I struggled to eat but the accompanying rose went down a treat.
Reflecting back, what would I change?
- Go tubeless!
- Pack more savoury snacks. Although I resisted taking on any Clif Blocks until the second half, I’d got a bit sick of my dried fruit and nut based Veloforte bars.
- More Maurten carb drink as I was struggling to eat a lot of the ride. But avoid spilling it on my handlebars!
- Pinning my start number on my pockets, not the front of my jersey like the race guided…I ended up rearranging it every time I stopped for the bathroom and eventually just folding it into my pocket and losing it. “It’s called a start number, not a finish number” I reasoned.
I’ve since completed the Vansbrosimning, a 3km river swim which means I have completed all four events earning me my Swedish Classic diploma!
Cycling wise, I’d like to use all the cycling fitness I’ve built up to do some more Time Trials. I’m also keen to check out an Audax as I’ve really enjoyed the long endurance cycles. I feel I’m yet to find my distance limit and I’m curious as to where it lies!
But first back to swim-bike-run at Vitruvian triathlon this weekend with the Ful-on Tri gang!
You can read more about the Swedish Classic here.