I planned the run around Estonia’s second biggest lake for a long time.
The first attempt was some time ago, when plan A was to run with my wife and switch between bike and running. One person would run 10 kilometers and then ride a bike while the other runs 10k.
This didn’t work out as my wife had a leg injury. We continued with plan B, that had nothing to do with running. We biked around the lake at a leisurely pace. 100k on a bicycle is not that big of a deal. Even if you do it for the first time.
The ride around the lake was awesome. If you don’t want to run that much, I recommend taking a day and have a fun day riding around the beautiful Võrtsjärv. Ride, eat, enjoy nature, swim in Emajõgi. If you don’t push it then it should take you about 5 hours of riding time plus the stops you make.
104,8km 4.57.51 Tour de Võrtsjärv.
The plan to run around the lake Võrtsjärv
Back to running. I thought about organizing an event to run around the Võrtsjärv. I even made a plan. The plan was to do it in 2018. I told about my idea to my ultrarunning friend Kaido.
A few months later, Kaido posted into ultrarunner’s Facebook group, that he’s going to run around the Võrtsjärv and asked if anyone would like to join. I couldn’t say no. I was my idea, after all.
We checked our calendars and set the date on August 19, 2017. It was a Saturday.
Preparing for the ultrarun
I was in physical shape that allowed me to complete 100 kilometers if I run slowly. So, I didn’t need any special preparations for my first ultrarun longer than 100k.
I asked Kaido to run slower. I thought that a pace between 6:30 and 7 minutes per kilometer would work for me (10:30 to 11:15 per mile).
Before the run, I changed my diet a little. Up till then I was on a slow carb diet, consisting mostly of fat and protein. Bacon and eggs. On Thursday and Friday, I ate a bit of sugar and flour too. For example, I made myself sandwiches with jam.
There is no point in carb loading for more than a marathon distance, as you will run out, anyway. I took my fuel with me and get whatever I needed from the shops and gas stations along the route we ran.
On Friday night we drove to Vanasauna holiday home in Valma village. We talked for a while and then went to sleep.
Most people don’t want to run 100 kilometers. Most people don’t want to run marathons. But most people can do it.
Consistency is the key. You just go out for a run 5 times a week. As your strength, speed, and endurance improve, you can start increasing the distances. On your weekend run, run double of what you regularly cover. If you start with 5km run 10 on the weekends. If you have progressed to 10k regular runs have a half marathon on the weekend.
If you do that for 6-8 months, then you will be ready for a marathon.
If you keep doing it, then you can cover any distance you set your mind to.
I see little value in investing in special gear. Running is a low-cost activity and ultrarunning isn’t much different. I used my regular training clothes. The only ultrarunning equipment I had was the hydration pack on my back. As I don’t have a hydration pack, then I borrowed one from Kaido. Here’s the full list of my ultrarunning gear on that run:
- Running cap
- The shirt I wore for my first marathon in 2011
- Running shorts
- Tennis socks with a hole in it
- The cheapest Adidas running shoes (39.90)
- Heart rate monitor armband Scosche Rhythm+
- Boompods headset Sportpods
- Samsung Galaxy S7 for Endomond, audiobooks, and music
- Ultrarunning vest borrowed from Kaido with 2x600ml bottles and a 1.5l hydration pack
- 4 gels
- Windbreaker for backup
- Another pair of socks for backup
I filled the containers in the vest as follows. I put plain drinking water into the bottles on the front. For the hydration pack, I bought 1.3 liters of special Estonian drink called kali (A Le Coq Tume Kali). It’s a little like sweet beer. It’s fermented but there’s almost no alcohol, less than 0.5%. I experimented with it in my first ultrarun in Laulasmaa Ultra, and it worked well for me.
The dot in the video moves about 1.3 kilometers per second, and it still takes more than one minute to complete the lap around the lake.
We woke up around 8am. As we had lined everything up in the evening before, then it only took us about half an hour to eat, wash, and start running. I ate 2 bacon and egg pies and drank some of the kali.
And then we started running.
Right from the start, we had a problem. Which way to go around the lake? As my previous experience with the bicycle was counterclockwise, then we decided to do it the same way.
First 36 kilometers
There first 36k went fast. Not fast running, mentally fast. Our average pace was about 5:45 minutes per kilometer (9:15 per mile). We stopped at the 23k mark at the Soe A&O grocery store. The temperature was rising, and I needed to add some water to my bottles. Their shop was air-conditioned, and that helped in the rising heat. We could already tell that contrary to the forecasts, it will be a warm day. How warm, we couldn’t even imagine.
We continued, and 9 kilometers later we came to another grocery store. In Suislepa A&O, I got a 0.33l Coke. As I couldn’t drink it all, I poured the rest into my half-full water bottle.
36th kilometer. The temperature keeps climbing. The temperature didn’t affect me yet, and I pulled away from my companion. Kaido followed with a slower pace. This early in the run, it was a bit demotivating. “Oh, crap! I have to run the next 70k alone!”
And finally, my running buddy told me he can’t bear the heat and I should go on.
Sun and the 30C/86F heat
It was noon and there was no question that the temperature will be in the range not helpful for beginner ultrarunner. The forecast promised cold and rain. No such luck. The sun tried to compensate for the absence earlier in the year.
I ran from shadow to shadow, but the sun was directly overhead and there was not much relief. The 13 miles from leaving Kaido by the wayside to the village Rõngu were hard.
On the 39th kilometer I stopped in the Pikasilla Premium-7 gas station. I bought a half liter bottle of Borjomi mineral water to replenish the salts in the body. I drank some of it and emptied the rest into the water bottles on the running vest. I still had enough kali in my hydration pack.
Exactly on the Pikasilla bridge at the southernmost point of the lake, I completed my 1st marathon of the day. The time was 4 and a half hours. Not too bad considering the weather and the frequent stops.
The heat was taking its toll. I continued to run in 2.5 kilometer stretches that were separated with walking of random lengths. I tried to run when there was more shadow and walk when completely in the sunny areas. My thermoregulation is pretty good, but the almost half a marathon (36 to 56 km) to Rõngu village was bad. The only motivation I had was the cold drink I wanted to buy from Rõngu bakery. Then I would drink it sitting on the park bench under the shadow of an old birch. I would sit there until I would feel like running again.
At some point I reached 50 kilometers. It doesn’t seem like much if you know that you have to run for another 55k. The 52.5 kilometer mark that I considered being the halfway mark came hard. When you are running in a 82 to 86 degree weather, then the idea that you have only 50k to go is not really promising.
The break in the Rõngu village
Finally, I reached Rõngu. I thought, I will walk after I get past the village sign. My willpower had other ideas, I started walking only a few steps before the sign. Getting through the village meant kilometers from 56 to 57. At the moment I didn’t know it yet, but I had planned some demotivation into the route.
From the Rõngu sign to the bakery store is about 500 meters, but the final 70 meters is a rough cobblestone pavement that’s not easy to navigate after 56 kilometers of running. The people who made that part of the road should have a mandatory “how to build cobblestone pavement” course.
But then I was there.
I entered the store. As my brain had a reduced clock speed because of the heat and exhaustion, then I couldn’t find the Borjomi fridge. I found a 1-liter bottle of warm kali and Vytautas mineral water, also warm.
The temperature of the beverages was not to my liking. So, I used a pro tip from my friend. Put your warm beers into the deep freeze with the ice creams, make your round in the store, and then get your beers with a much more pleasant temperature.
I decided against beer, but put my other drinks in the box with the ice creams. By that time I had recovered enough, to locate the fridge with Borjomi mineral water.
As for solid food, I got some potato chips with dill and sour cream.
There was a line… 12 minutes of line. Doesn’t seem like much? No, but after running 56 kilometers in the midday heat, the 12 minutes seemed like an eternity. Then the eternity ended and I starter do have my long awaited break on the park bench under the birch.
I just sat there, drank Coke, and thought that 50k more seems completely unreal. As the motivation was inversely related to the rise of the temperature, then I seriously doubted that I will finish the full circle around the lake.
The potato chips didn’t agree with me. I tried to eat some, but packed most of them into my backpack. I drank a lot. As I finished my Coke and the first bottle of mineral water, I returned to the store, dug out my kali and second mineral water from the freezer between the ice creams.
I drank some cold kali and poured most of it into my Kamlbak. I topped it up with mineral water and the rest went into the bottles on the front of the vest.
Next item on the list was to re-apply Vaseline to my feet. I was happy to note that there were no blisters, but I had some feeling on the outside edge of the left foot.
Better safe than sorry. I took off my running shoes and socks and applied a thick layer of Vaseline. After I put the socks and shoes back on, I decided to just lay back and chill until I feel like running again.
To kill time, I studied the map a bit. I remembered that the first kilometer I have to backtrack the route I had already run. This wasn’t helping my motivation too much. Running to Rõngu bakery meant that you have run back the same route for a bit.
I had actually planned it to get the whole route length to 105.5 kilometers, which is 2.5 marathons.
I thought that the whole thing on the park bench took about half an hour. Only later when I checked my GPS track did I notice that I had been there for almost an hour.
The thought about another 50k to go was prominent in my head.
And then there was a cloud. And coolness that the shade brought. It gave hope. The cloud came and went, taking the coolness with it.
Oh, well, what you gonna do? I clambered on my feet and started to run again.
Running was unexpectedly easy. The break and siting in the shade had replenished my will and power. I felt I’m flying compared to earlier.
When I got closer to the crossroad where I had to turn towards next village called Sangla, I saw another runner approaching from the opposite direction. As we got closer I saw it was Kaido, who was on his way to Rõngu bakery. We chatted a bit and then went our separate ways.
From Rõngu onward
The beginning of the road to Sangla was great. I was rested, I could run in the shade of the thick forest, refreshing breeze on my face. The motivation that had shrunk to a tiny dot expanded to its normal size again.
At some point the shade of the forest ended. As I sat in the park, I found out that forecast promised rain from 4pm. When will the rain come? When?! They promised the whole day would be cold and wet. I even packed a wind breaker and backup socks for wet conditions.
Approximately on 60th kilometer I had fun with vegans. The reason this image is funny lays in the fact that “Valguta” is a totally legit village name, but it also means “without protein” in Estonian.
As it came to be, on the 64th kilometer the sky was completely covered in clouds and on the 66th kilometer it started to rain. When it rains, it pours, was a good way to describe it.
The rain was awesome!
I started to think that it’s quite possible to get to the end of it, after all. At that point there was only 40 kilometers left to run. That’s not even a marathon.
Shortly after the rain started, I found out that Tomtom has a project similar to Google Street view, their car passed me. However, where to you see those images? Nobody knows.
After the first furious downpour, the remaining distance was mostly under the cloud cover. Every once in a while, there was some light rain. If the whole day would have been like this, I could have run could have cut 30 minutes from the final time or maybe even more.
I ran to 80 kilometers without any incidents and the feeling was excellent. 72.3 was the longest I had ever run before. Now, every step meant a new personal best. But I still had to complete the whole lap around the lake.
74 kilometers after I started running the heart rate monitor ran out of juice. It took about 8 and a half hours. I need a heart rate monitor with a longer lasting battery for the future. Or I could charge it during the breaks from a battery bank.
70k limit, but for me it’s 75!
From 80 kilometers, I started to feel tired. I continued to run in 3-kilometer stretches and added some walking in between. Then I came to a Sangla A&O grocery store. This time I put half a liter of Coke and the Värska mineral water in my shopping cart. I drank most of it immediately and poured the rest into the bottles on my vest.
The bus stop on the lower picture is an excellent place for a brief break.
84.4 kilometers, 2x marathon
I reached 2 consecutive marathons shortly before running over the Emajõgi bridge.
This is cool stuff! Two marathons in a row! But the time sucked. Approximately 10 hours and a bit. Even so, TWO marathons in a row. That was a big deal for me.
And I didn’t have that much running left either. Only 21.1k or a half marathon. When you have already run four of those, then it doesn’t seem like much.
I remembered when I was running on a treadmill and thought “only 20 more minutes.” Now I had the same feeling about only 21 more kilometers.
Shortly after completing 2 marathons, I reach the bridge over the river Emajõgi.
Around the 85-kilometer mark, I felt mentally tired.
Another runner coming my way. It was Kaido again. He had taken the local bus to our starting point and then drove with his car to meet me.
Kaido seemed pretty rested by that time, and he talked continuously. I don’t know what he was talking about. We reached his car. He drove a bit further and then ran back to meet me and then again together to his car.
I had run about 50k alone by this time, and it is much better to run with a companion. But… His constant talking was overwhelming. I had to constantly think about what he was talking about. What did he say? How to respond? What’s my pace? Aren’t we going too fast?
Then I asked, “Kaido, can we do this without talking?”
We continued to run silently. After a bit, Kaido went to the local grocery store. Probably he just wanted to talk some more and talked to the salesperson in the store.
Actually, the store was closing soon, before I would finish my run.
Now I reached the dynamic balance between motivation and exhaustion. The 100k mark was coming closer! As it came nearer, the motivation went up, but so did exhaustion. Like the supply and demand curve in economics. 99 kilometers! Holy shit, I’m going to do it! 99.5…
One hundred kilometers! 100!!!
I run with a phone and headphones. I have set it up so that Endomondo tells me the important stats every 500 meters. It’s unbelievably cool when the robot lady of Endomondo said, like 199 time before in the past 11 or so hours:
“One hundred kilometers in eleven hours, fifty-four minutes and eighteen seconds.”
Unbelievable! Estonian record is 5 hours faster, but still, running 100k is awesome!
A Japanese guy has the world record time in 100 kilometers with 6:13:33.
On the 100th kilometer I also had a walking rest and photo op. I took the picture and posted it to Facebook, or it doesn’t count.
But I still had 5.5 kilometers to go. I thought about how much more than one lap would I have to run to get to the 2.5 marathon mark. I hoped it would be less than one kilometer.
There last kilometers were quite uneventful. The distance left to run wasn’t too much, and I knew I can do it, no matter what. The pace was slow, heart had accepted the relentless pounding it had to do for the last 12 hours. Sometimes when you run a hard race on the limits of your ability you ask yourself, “When will it end?” I didn’t have that feeling this time. It will end, no problem.
And then it ended! Done! I reached the village Valma, where we started twelve and a half hours earlier (“valma” is a slang word for “done” in Estonian).
The time to lap the lake Võrtsjärv was 12 hours 29 minutes and 23 seconds. The distance was 105.1 kilometers.
I was at the front gate of the holiday village where we started in the morning, but I still had a little bit to run to get to my 2.5 marathon goal. However, I was relieved that the 105.5 kilometer mark was so close. At some point I was afraid I have to run a kilometer or two more than the full lap.
I took out my phone and started measuring the final meters. When you are so close to the goal it’s not hard, you just do it. Two and a half marathons back to back.
I ran 200 meters past the starting point, turned around and finally arrived at my finish line. The total distance was 105.53 kilometers, and the time was 12 hours 32 minutes and 24 seconds.
I think it’s a record. I don’t know that anyone has run around lake Võrtsjärv before that. Running around this lake seems like a fun idea and maybe someone has done it, but I have never seen any results posted publicly. I’m sure no one has ever taken the exact route I ran as I planned it to reach three goals in one run. Run around the Võrtsjärv lake, run 100k, and run 2.5 marathons.
Considering all the above, it was
- World Record
- National Record
- Season Best
- Personal Best
After the run
Right after I stopped running, I couldn’t move anymore. Just seconds ago I was running at a brisk pace of 6 minutes per kilometer (9:40 per mile) and now I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. But it didn’t matter anymore. It was done and the hot sauna was waiting.
Although my body was tired, I didn’t have any major problems or injuries. Even no blisters on the feet. Lower legs and feet were the parts I felt the most. These were also the reason for my extremely slow walking after the run. I also had some feeling in the thigh muscles, but it was nothing special.
The sauna was comfortably hot. Between the sauna sessions, I used a technique recommended by physiotherapist Sander to get the blood moving in the legs. First 15 seconds of hot water followed by 15 seconds of freezing water. Three times for both legs. Then back to sauna followed by another cold/hot procedure. In total, I did four sets for both legs.
In between all of that, I ate a lot of sausage and drank milk. When I was done with the sauna, I just laid back and relaxed on the couch.
The next item on the list was to figure out if I should drive back home that night. The home was a bit more than two hours’ drive away. It surprised me that I didn’t have any mental fatigue. Years back, the first time I ran more than 20 kilometers, I slept for three hours afterwards. Now my legs were tired, but head was completely clear.
As we hadn’t planned for the accommodation, then the holiday village found me a place to stay if I wanted to. Great service! After considering the idea for a bit, I decided to drive home.
But before I started my drive home, I wrote down the most salient points of a day on my phone. When I got home, I finished the notes as part of my write 500 words every day challenge.
The days following the run
The first day was a Sunday. My walking was a bit stiff, but I had no major problems walking around. As the muscles warmed up and got used to movement, then I didn’t even notice that I had run 100k the day before.
One interesting thing that happened to me after running for 100 thousand steps was a constant tok-tok-tok-tok in my head. Exactly the same as the rhythm of my feet pounding the road. It lasted from right after the run to about the middle of the next day.
The second day was a Monday. My legs barely remembered the run two days ago. On the third day I thought about going for a run, but I had a lot of work that day and didn’t feel like going for a run after 10pm.
What was different from the earlier longer runs? I had some mental fatigue. My thought processes seemed to move slower than usual. However, completing routine tasks was easier and I could focus longer on boring tasks.
On Wednesday, everything was fine. I still had a light feeling in the arches of the feet, but it was almost unnoticeable. On that day, my work brought me to Rakvere. I decided to run 10k for sightseeing. As Kaido instructed, I held back and ran at a slow 6 minutes per kilometer pace (9:40 per mile). The heart rate stayed in the warmup zone around 130bpm.
That completed my first real ultrarun around the lake Võrtsjärv, and all the side effects were gone. I now I can say that I am an ultrarunner:
Running more than 12 or 24 hours, to my mind, that is the ultra-runner. – Yiannis Kouros
Notes for the future
The run around the lake Võrtsjärv could be an event in the Estonian ultrarunning calendar. The length is suitable for the ultrarunning beginner The difficulty is easy as there’s almost no elevation differential. The fact that it’s a run around the lake adds another level of emotion.
2017 was my big year of running
This was my first and this far the only 100k+ run. I thought I would do it in June 2018. But as it came out, I was ready much sooner. I have to have more faith in myself.
My longer runs of 2017:
- April – Vienna Marathon 42.2k
- June – Laulasmaa Ultra 72.3k
- July – Võsu Marathon 42.2k
- August – Ultrarun around lake Võrtsjärv 105.5k
- September – Tallinn Marathon 42.2k
- October – Haanja 100 53.3k
But even with this many longer runs, the hardest thing was to write the first 500 words of this article right after completing the 100k+ ultra.
PS If you decide to run around Võrtsjärv, let me know. If I’m in good enough shape, I might join you. If you run the same route I did, then be sure to stay at the Vanasauna holiday village. They are great!