100 years of pain, sweat and fellowship

A year of anticipation, excitement and endless miles in the tracks have finally reached it´s climax when the alarm on my phone went off at 2:50am on the first Sunday in March. 

The clothes where already organized and folded next to the bed since the night before, to the smallest bandage. That I hopefully won´t need. 

I brew the coffee, poured it into the thermos and took my skis to walk the 10 min walk true the town of Mora, pitch black and cold outside. A town that usually is quiet and desolated at this time of day. But not on the first Sunday in March, instead the town is filled with anticipated, nervous and quite people who all walk in line trough streets of Mora towards the buses that will take us to the starting area in Sälen. And so, it has been for the last hundred years, maybe not the buses but you get the idea. 

Together with fifteen thousand men and women, young and old, I am on my way to take part in my first Vasaloppet! Last year´s corona adapted version does not count, several veterans have carefully pointed this out to me. But today I’m on my way to ski the 90km between Sälen and Mora, just like Gustav Vasa did back in 1521. 

Looking back to the 1521. Gustav Eriksson, also known as Gustav Vasa, was on escape from the Danish king. On skis. Part of his travels through Sweden took him to the county of Sälen and Mora, where he gathered the people and lead the revolt against the occupying power of Denmark. After two and a half years of war against Denmark, Sweden won and short after Gustav Vasa was crowned as King of Sweden. 400 years later was the first official Vasaloppet competition arranged in March 1922. It was 119 competitors. It took the winner 7 hours, 32 min and 49 second to complete the 90km track between Sälen and Mora, in the footsteps of Gustav Vasa. And in untracked tracks. 

When the buses arrived at the start, I could see an ocean of people running around with their skis and poles. Open fires are burning at several places, both for warmth and light. The smoke from both the fires and steam from all the people is spreading as a thick mist over the starting area. An image I will carry with me forever in my memory.

It´s still two hours left until the start, the darkness lays heavy over Sälen but the area is filled with life, energy and nervousness. It´s two hours left but the clock is ticking faster and faster towards 8am. 

Just before the start, the sun begins to rise towards the sty, warming our backs where we all stand ready to take off. I can hardly take in the huge amount of people who stand both in from of me and behind me, and we all listen carefully for the starting noise. It´s silence.

Finally, we´re off, we move forward as one organism, slowly but steady. For most of us, it is not a flying sprint start but instead more a meter at a time to reach the notorious (BIG) hill after a couple of thousand meters from the start. The hill that will take us up to myrarna, we all squeeze together and move us back and forth slowly upwards towards myrarna and the open landscape. It takes time, but it doesn’t matter. Because we are taking part in Vasaloppet 2022, a year of waiting is finally over! 

After about an hour but that feels like a quarter, we finally reach the top, we reach iconic myrarna. The sun welcomes us, and the beautiful and timeless nature leads us further along the tracks towards Mora. It still goes slow, but we are moving forward together. 

Up until a couple of weeks before Vasaloppet I had the motivation and goal to beat my time from last year, but I slowly started to change that motivation to instead try to enjoy, experience, take in the nature and see where I will end up. Sure, I´m a competitive person and time will always be there, but today three days later I´m happy that I still enjoyed nature and the atmosphere and didn´t fall down in the Risberg hills and ended up on YouTube. Search on “Vasaloppet Risberg” and you will understand.

I got through without breaking my poles or without falling a single time. This I take with me as an achievement as I have developed as a skier and in mind that it was only three years since I stood in a pair of cross-country skis for the first time. 

Fast forward a bit we end up about 8km to the finish in Mora, then I began to hear the speaker´s voice faintly through the spruce of the forest. There were also more and more cheering people along the tracks. The little energy that as left was brought out and I staggered faster through the tracks. Passing Prästholmens IP, the campsite and finally I could see the last hill before the Anders Zorn museum, I knew I was close. 

And there It was, the final straight track, a couple of hundred meters to the finish line. All the sounds, cheers and people were gone around me, all I saw was the finish. The finish I had fought 90km to reach, which 15,000 others had and would do on the same day and which several hundred thousand have done in the last hundred years.  

Finishing, or doing Vasaloppet is something unique, a memory you create by and for yourself and take with you throughout your life. Whether you do it once or thirty times, you will always remember your first Vasaloppet, I know I will. 

But it will not be my last, I want to feel this mix of emotions again. The pain. Community. Tradition. I want to feel alive again.

/ Johan Rundcrantz