For the first time, Estonia was represented at one of the most difficult ultramarathons in the world, Fire and Ice Ultra, which took place in Iceland, at UNESCO nature reserve with an unusual climate and landscape. This required participants to run or walk a 250-kilometer course. Joel Juht was able to win this race with a long lead. While others had problems with legs when they reached the finish line, Joel didn’t even have blisters. How does he look back on the marathon and what are his next plans?
Previous experiences were useful
“We were told before the race that we could experience four seasons in one week, but luckily this time there were only two,” Joel recalled. Although he hadn’t used all the items in the gear before, it was still one component that played a huge role in the results.
“I ran for the first time with the new RaidLight backpack and I was very happy with it. Even though I took a ten liters bigger bag than it was supposed to be, it made it easier to pack things in and out. My bag was one of the lightest compared to the others,” explained Joel.
How did he manage to get the bag so light? For example, Joel removed plastic bags from food packaging. “I ended up winning quite a bit by keeping track of some details like that and I passed the equipment check very quickly,” added Joel.
The second day was the hardest
On the final day of the race, September 2nd, Joel passed the other competitors by more than two hours and finished the ultramarathon in a total of 34 hours and 29 minutes. Although the longest distance (72 km) had to be covered on the fourth day, the second day was the hardest for him.
After the opening stage, he had taken the leader’s position, but his heart rate went a little too high. “When I heard that I was the leader, it was a little bit scary. Actually for a while there was tension in my head about how I was going to keep this first place. But in the second half of the day, I let go of those thoughts and just did my running,” Joel described. In the past, tension has been one of the things that influenced the results.
“When I was at the competition in the Arctics, I also felt anxious, because suddenly there was a chance to get third place, and during the last kilometers I kept looking over my shoulder behind me so that no one would catch up,” he recalled. On the third day in Iceland, Joel decided to take a more leisurely pace to give his body some rest before the long distance. Anxious moments indeed awaited the next day.
“On the fourth day, the Swedish runner led at the start and was 45 minutes ahead of me. But when 40 kilometers were completed, I was already 15 kilometers away and the gap was getting smaller and smaller. I finally managed to catch the front runners and won the fourth stage by almost an hour. Then it was already clear that I could not be caught very easily, but there are always options,” said Joel.
A stormy evening and a hidden trail
Before the start, the only Estonian did not know the exact number of climbing meters, which in the end were 3,000 in six days. However, this was not the only thing that made the Fire and Ice ultramarathon difficult. The athletes had no outside help and had to manage everything by themselves, including planning their food and watching their surroundings so as not to get lost on the course.
“If you go for a run, in general you can see where you have to run, but in Iceland there were more places where I had to invent the path myself,” he said. When Joel ran past the checkpoint on the second day and couldn’t see the right direction, the organizing team told him at the last minute to go left. One part of the trail passed through cold water, where the organizers recommended wearing sneakers, because the rocks can hurt bare feet.
However, Joel decided to take off his socks and sneakers and increased his success. “I went through the water more slowly barefoot, but I was able to catch the others later with dry socks and sneakers,” he added. Every day, when the competitors reached the finish line, everything had to be done to help the body continue to endure.
“I put the clothes to dry, I had to pump up my broken mattress, consume all the recovery drinks and of course I couldn’t forget the muscle care. A couple of times I had the opportunity to go to cold water in springs with clean water between the mountains. I took care of my feet every day and it was something I saw the others missed,” said Joel.
Also, all the ultramarathon competitors spent the night in tents. You got a kind of experience in the second half of the week, when a storm raged in Iceland and the wind speed reached nearly 50 meters per second. So for example, the roof of the tent caved in the middle of the night and Joel didn’t sleep well. Fortunately, nothing flew away.
A new challenge is coming
If thinking back, would Joel do anything differently? “No, right now I can’t name anything like that. The preparation has been good and on time. If it’s hard in training, it’s usually easier at competitions. The recovery is also faster than before,” argued Joel. “Since I’m not a fast runner, I’m fine with such crazy ventures. And what could be better than seeing special places in the world through sports?”
However, according to him, one thing is certain – the budget is big and without supporters you can’t do such self-surpassing. “I think that if Fenix Adventure, a project supporting ultra-athletes of Fenix Casino, had not supported me, right now we wouldn’t be talking about this race and victory. They helped a lot with organizing logistics and equipment. Iceland was cheaper than, for example, my first race in the desert during the Marathon Des Sables, but at that time I definitely wasted money on equipment, because I didn’t know what would work and what wouldn’t,” said Joel.
In the near future, Joel plans to do something that no one in the world has ever done before. “Currently, I am focusing on the preparation of the 20th anniversary show of JJ-Street Dance School. In terms of sports, there are only a few months left until the new challenge, and a surprise awaits, which is also partly related to my main field, dancing.”
Read more from: ÕHTULEHT arcticle.