So first of all, Vätternrundan is a Swedish cycling race that spans 315km around the second largest lake in Sweden, called Vättern. Thousands of participants take part every year, with some completing it in 16-17 hours and others taking between 7-10 hours, depending on their fitness level and the group they ride with.
2022 was supposed to be my first year participating in the race. We were a group of 22 riders aiming to complete it in under 10 hours.
How the idea started
As always with me, it's all or nothing. So, I decided that I wanted to lead a group that would ride Vätternrundan like a well-oiled machine. I asked around in my cycling club and discovered that there were quite a few people who wanted to join.
Without any experience on how to accomplish this, I began the planning process with the help of a few others who were also newbies at this. 😊
If I may say so, the training leading up to the race was probably the best part of the adventure. Getting to know new people, having fun during focused workouts, going on longer rides with the group, enjoying fika (Swedish coffee break) and pizza—these social activities brought us closer together.
Our training would start as soon as the snow had melted in Stockholm. On March 22nd, we had our first outdoor training session. It was pitch dark and just above freezing. Only 2 out of 14 riders showed up, with many blaming the slippery conditions outside. 😅 Well, it wasn't slippery, and the training turned into more of a casual group ride. The next day, it started snowing, and the snow didn't disappear for another month.
Finally, when we could hit the road again, the group gathered. We had decided to ride in a "Belgian chain" formation (two lines rotating slowly all the time), but none of us who initiated this had much experience with it, and we had no idea how to maintain a smooth rotation. We had a few training sessions where everyone suggested different methods to improve our group dynamics, but nothing seemed to work. We turned to the club's more senior riders for help. Along with their guidance, we welcomed some new members, bringing our group to a total of 22 riders.
This made all the difference. Having experienced individuals to coach and teach us techniques, as well as provide feedback to each other, helped us transform into a cohesive unit within a few training sessions.
Short about my heart palpitations
To understand my story in this context, you need to know that after contracting Covid, I developed issues with occasional rapid heart rate. Most often, it occurred when my pulse was returning to normal after exercise, causing my heart rate to spike to 180-200 beats per minute and last for about 20 minutes. If I didn't stop what I was doing, it could continue indefinitely, which was not ideal. I would typically experience this once every day during workouts.
About a month before Vätternrundan, we participated in a test race to prove to ourselves that we could ride like "pros" in an actual race.
The race was only 50km long. Everyone was strong, and our group, known as the "blue train," started off at a fast pace. Everything was going well until we reached the 28km mark, and my heart started racing.
I had to stop and let the rest of the group continue the race as we had agreed.
So, for me, I ended up riding the rest of the way solo. It wasn't fun at all! But as for the group, they all managed to reach the finish line together.
After that race, our training continued, and we improved until it was time for the Vätternrundan race day!
We had rented a house in Motala, right by Vättern. Everyone gathered there, and we went to the race area to pick up our number plates. Everyone was enthusiastic and ready for the race the following morning.
We made some last-minute bike fixes and had lots of discussions about the race day and what drinks and food to bring along the way. We ended the day with a group dinner before going to sleep.
As for myself, I was feeling strong. I had a week of rest before the race and had prepared everything carefully.
On the race morning, we took our bikes down to the start line. Everyone was on edge but super happy, and the energy was high!
We lined up at the starting line, and as one of the leaders, I was in the front. Seconds before the start, I could feel the adrenaline pumping, and my heart rate rising. I told my friend next to me, "Ooo, now I have a pulse. This will be so fun!" 😃 I turned on my cycling computer and looked at my heart rate, which was 180 bpm! 😱 What happened was that I experienced a sudden rush on the start line, three seconds before the start, without even breaking a sweat. My only option was to ride until the motorbike signaled us to go, and then I would stop.
I could see the group ride away from me after only 1 km of the 315-km race. I was standing there alone, watching more people starting and passing me. It took about 10 minutes before my pulse went down again. I thought I could ride hard and perhaps catch up to one of our club's slower groups and then ride with them.
I pedaled on, going fast and feeling super strong. I managed to catch up with the other group in no time. Just as I greeted them, another fast group approached from behind. I decided to follow them and stay behind. I followed them until Jönköping when my knee completely froze up. It happened on the inner side of the knee, where I had never experienced any issues before. It locked up, and I couldn't continue.
I took the bus back to the starting area, returned to the house, and dropped off my bike. Then I went down to the finish area, found some food, and enjoyed a good beer in the sun. Then I had to wait and wait and wait, and finally, most of the gro up came in on time and achieved a sub 10-hour finish. 💪
This was my first Vätternrundan. In 2023, it's time for revenge!