Hunnarin Hapotus – Half Marathon Trail Race in Finland

Now a bit of a running/adventure addict (if you couldn’t already tell) I’m trying to race whenever I go travelling. I find that racing in new areas while travelling is a great way to explore and really get the most out of your travels. So naturally when I was visiting my girlfriend over in Finland I had to sign up for a race.

The Hunnarin Hapotus is a new trail running race located near Forssa, Finland with 2016 marking the second year of the event. With an entry fee of only 20€ (~ $30 CDN) I really had no choice but to sign up. Two distances are offered at the Hunnarin Hapotus. Runners can choose to participate in a 5 km or 21 km race. Wanting to get the most bang for my buck (or my girlfriends…she signed me up. So I’m pretty much a sponsored athlete now) I signed up for the 21 km race.

The 21 km course is a 5 km loop ran four times with over 325 m of elevation gain on each lap (1300 m total). Finding 1300 m of elevation over 21 km is not easily done in Finland as it is not a mountainous country. Which is confirmed by the elevation profile which essentially looks like constant hill repeats. I also did not like the idea of running the same loop 4 times. I thought this would be mentally fatiguing running through the same sections again and again.

elevation profile
Elevation profile of the Hunnarin Hapotus. See what I mean about hill repeats?!

I arrived in Finland on Friday evening and had only one day to cure my jetlag before the race on Sunday. I slept well Friday night and was up most of the day Saturday, but my internal clock was still a mess come Sunday. With Finland being 9 hours ahead of Calgary I didn’t really expect to have my jetlag cured but I can dream.

Race Recap

Heading into this race I didn’t care if I came first or last. I was simply here to run a race in Finland and have a good time. With that set in my mind I situated myself into the middle of the starting pack and told myself to not get (too) competitive in this race, just have fun. The event organizer began talking to everyone in Finnish and then all of a sudden everyone started running…I guess the he had said “go”.

the start
The start of the race.

Racers took off and sped up the first hill. It took a lot of mental strength to jog off the line and not try to stick with the faster runners. It was also difficult to determine who you were actually competing against because both the 5 km and 21 km race began at the same time. I didn’t want to run my ass off to keep up with someone to only find out they were running the 5 km race.

Letting the lead pack pull away I situated myself behind an older gentleman. I figured I’d let him pace me for a while to make sure I don’t run to hard. My will power is only so strong though, I ran with that older man for only about 2 km before I got fed up with the pace. He was running too slowly for me and my legs were itching to go. I passed the man easily but still made sure not to run too hard.

With the race being multiple laps of the same loop, I wanted to take the first lap slow so I could scout out the course. I made mental notes along the way of sections I can run hard or where I need to ease up.

coming up the first climb
Climbing the first hill of the race. It was an absolutely gorgeous day.

I completed the first lap in 33:54 and was feeling really good. I was running at a conservative pace that I was looking to maintain into the second lap.

As I was nearing the completion of my second lap my girlfriend called out and informed me that I was in 5th place! I couldn’t believe it! I had no idea what place I was in but I definitely would not have guessed I was in 5th place. Most of the people ahead of me must have been running in the 5 km race or I passed more people then I realized. Upon rounding the corner to head back out for my third lap, I saw the 4th place and 3rd place guys not too far ahead, adding to my excitement.

Although excited I still didn’t want to run too hard, there was still a lot of race left. I continued on up the hill and caught up to the 4th place guy relatively easily and followed him down the hill. He began to speak to me in Finnish and I don’t know language so I just said “Ei Suomi” which roughly translates to “No Finland”. This was enough for him to know that I don’t speak Finnish. He began to speak to me in English and told me to “go catch third.”

flying down
Flying down some great single track.

Third place was at the top of the second climb when I and the 4th place runner approached the base. The climb was grassy with a moderate slope. I still wasn’t in full “competitive mode” yet but I climbed the hill with a strong stride and was able to move into 4th place. Now beyond the halfway point of the race I was surprised with how good I felt. My legs felt stronger than they ever had in a race.

I was climbing with a powerful stride and my legs never felt fatigued atop any of the hills. This is likely because none of the hills were particular large. I think the largest hill is only about 50 m, and I’m used to running in the Canadian Rockies where single climbs are  commonly in the 100’s of m. I also live 1000 m above sea level and Forssa is only 100 m above sea level, so that likely helped as well.

Coming down a single track trail covered with loose dirt the 3rd place runner began to pull away from me. He was a fast downhill runner. After the descent the course widened as we came to a dirt road that covered one of the only flat sections of the course. Here is where I caught up to 3rd place and 5th place had seemed to fall farther behind as we continued to run. Trying to race smart now as I realized that I have a real shot of coming in third. I wanted to run on his heels and use him as a pacer as I caught my breath before making my move.

I followed the man in 3rd as we entered more forested single track and approached one of the steeper climbs on the course. Still feeling strong I matched 3rd places pace and climbed the steep hill. As we climbed I knew I should make my move soon. The pace at which he was climbing was much slower then what I was capable of at this point in the race.

power hiking
Power hiking up one of the many steep slopes.

However once at the top of the climb there was another fast downhill section where 3rd place pulled ahead of me again. After this downhill section resides the biggest climb on the course and this is where I’d make my move. If I wanted to come in 3rd I needed to beat this guy on the climbs because he can definitely outrun me on the downhills.

As I made my way to the biggest climb on the course 3rd place was a few seconds ahead of me. I ran up behind him and as the slope steepened I began power hiking and was able to move into 3rd place.  Reaching the top of the climb I was able to put substantial distance between myself and 4th place.

Now in 3rd I was curious if 2nd place was within my grasp or not. Continuing along I saw no signs of the guy in 2nd so I figured he was out of reach. Catching 2nd would have been cool but with a lap and a half to go (~8 km) I first wanted to secure my 3rd place position before thinking about 2nd place. I wanted to continually increase the distance between myself and 4th place by racing strong and under control while leaving enough gas in the tank to really push hard if I needed to battle it out for 3rd place towards the end.

Nearing the end of the lap 3 I saw second place heading back towards the starting area where he’d begin his 4th and final lap. I estimated that he was about 6-8 minutes ahead of me at this time. With only one more lap to go I knew I wouldn’t be able to close the 6 minute gap.

down by the lake
Running down by lake.

Although confident that I was separating myself from the 4th place runner behind me, that did not stop me from checking over my shoulder constantly. At the top of every climb I’d have a quick look back and make sure that no one is there.

Halfway through my final lap a massive thunderstorm rolled in with lightning flashing nearby and a heavy downpour of rain. The lightning and thunder were admittedly a little scary as enormous booms rumbled overhead as lightning flashed in the sky. I wasn’t sure if races ever get canceled or delayed (like a rain/lightning delay in golf or something) but I really hoped not because I was in 3rd and I wanted that podium finish!

Getting soaked in the thunderstorm provided a little more incentive to run hard to the finish line though because I simply wanted to get out of the downpour.

I was now coming up to the lake where we started the race and the finish line was a short distance beyond that. When I came out of the woods onto an open road I saw a guy run under one of the ropes marking the race course and head towards the finish line. I was shocked to see this and couldn’t believe that there could be a cheater in this race. After looking a little closer I noticed he wasn’t wearing a race bib so I assumed he wasn’t racing. In order to be on the safe side and make sure there were no issues at the finish line I made sure to surge passed him and cross the finish line in front of him.

Crossing the line in 2:18:06 I was congratulated for my 3rd place finish, handed a small bottle of organic blue berry juice (which was fantastic), and a small trophy. Upon receiving my trophy and taking pictures with the 2nd and 1st place finishers I realized that the man who had run under the rope was actually the winner of the race. He had been finished for 18 minutes and must have been getting bored waiting for 3rd place (me) to cross the line.

Podium photo! Got some nice hardware for my (very small) trophy shelf.

Needless to say I’m ecstatic with my 3rd place finish. All I wanted to do was to show up, have a good time, and enjoy myself running a race in Finland. Which I definitely did and coming in 3rd place is some very sweet icing on top of all that!

Final Thoughts on the Race

I’d recommend the Hunnarin Hapotus to any trail runner out there. The event is well organized and is great for runners of all skill levels. Offering both 5 km and 21 km race distances allows for beginners and seasoned trail runners to both enjoy the event.

I thought I wouldn’t like running multiple laps of the same loop but the course design was great at keeping the runner constantly engaged with quickly changing the terrain. The course has a wide variety of terrain from wide dirt roads, grass, and loose gravel/dirt single track.

With only one major topographical feature to climb I was surprised with how variable all the ascents and descents were. Obviously a lot of thought has been put into the design of this course, creating a wonderful running experience.The climbs although short are numerous and vary from very steep un-runnable climbs to more moderate grades that are more runnable and cover all terrain types mentioned above.

I’m not sure when I’ll be back in Finland but this is definitely a race I would run again and I really hope it continues to grow and become more popular in the coming years.

Check out the website if you’re interested… you may need a Finnish translator though.

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