We’ve always fancied doing the BAMM. It’s 200km North of the Arctic circle, and has always sounded like the greatest adventure of all the mountain marathons. This year we decided we had to do it, even though Björkliden is a full day of travel each way from Stockholm, and the whole trip ends up being rather an expensive proposition.
The race has a few quirks compared with British mountain marathons – it runs Friday to Saturday, features a mass start on the first day (with a prize for the first team to the top of the first hill), and the short course runners (30km) had their tents and sleeping bags transported to the mid-camp by helicopter! We chose the 50km version, so had no such luxury – in fact our bags were heavier than usual as the required kit includes a sleeping pad, and balloon beds, our usual, are expressly not allowed.
Björkliden itself is in a lovely location, on a hill above a lake, with fantastic views of the mountains around. We shared a cabin with Peter and Johan, a couple of friendly Swedes who were doing their first ever MM – I think they were hoping for people who had done it before so they could get some tips! So were we!
The start was straight up a ski slope for around 700m, and with the mass start, was pretty crazy, made even worse by the large number of people using Nordic walking poles, and a few teams that were bungied together! After that it settled down to being pretty much like a UK event, until we rounded a saddle and met our first glacier, complete with a herd of reindeer galloping across it! Needless to say, we slowed down to watch!
The terrain was a lot different to UK events, with much more running over glacial moraine and broken rock. There was virtually no vegetation taller than a few centimetres, so footing wasn’t too bad, and it was surprisingly dry – we’d been expecting mile after mile of bogs! The tricky part was the map – with 20m contours, quite large cliffs would often not be shown at all, so we got a few surprises in picking our route. At one point we got to the top of a steep descent to a col only to watch some teams in front turning back from a cliff, so we climbed an extra 80m over a peak to avoid the steep ground, only to then see other teams going down it.
Overall, the first day went very well for us, we were just behind the leading group for the last long leg, and cut through a saddle while they went around the hill to the last control, gaining us just enough time to be first team on our course overnight. Our triumph was only tempered by the ice cold river crossing right at the finish, and the fact that Rachel fell just after we took the lead, and took a big chunk out of her knee!
The mid-camp was in a brilliant location, with no access except on foot, and even better, featured cinnamon pastries at the finish!
Day two featured a wade back across the river to the start, and a chasing start 15 minutes after the mass start for the slower teams, so we had a huge crocodile of teams to follow up the big climb to the first checkpoint. The men’s teams quickly sped away from us, but we had a 5 minute lead over the next mixed team, so were hoping that would be enough. Unfortunately, they came striding past looking very strong on the way to the fourth control, and from there it was neck and neck, with first them, and then us getting a small lead, with the race made all the more difficult by low cloud making route choice harder.
The last long leg featured a steep descent, short climb and then a long descending traverse. We chose to climb more, while the other mixed team took a lower but longer route. Ours turned out to be very slightly quicker, and we started up the last hill with perhaps a minute’s lead. Fortunately, we’d spotted the control as the cloud had momentarily lifted earlier, so we were able to go straight to it, and then we had a frantic dash down to the finish, all the way expecting the other team to appear behind us at any second. Happily they didn’t, and we managed to hold on to 5th place overall and first mixed team.
Our GPS tracks are below. They are a little ‘bumpy’ in places, but they suggest that we travelled around 42 km on day 1 and a further 31 km of day 2… so significantly more distance than the straight line 50 km! We certainly deserved a beer afterwards!
Unlike British mountain marathons, the distance to get to Björkliden is so huge that the organisers plan for everyone to stay overnight afterwards. We had a huge banquet in the evening, and loads of prizes, with a proper podium for class winners! As well as our class prize, we also won for being the team from furthest away, the prize for which was a whole leg of dried reindeer meat! Definitely the most interesting thing we’ve ever won!
Overall, we had a brilliant time. The other competitors were really friendly, and we’ve made plenty of new friends. The organisation was also excellent, and we particularly liked the prize-giving and banquet. We weren’t the only British team there – there was a team on the 30km race men’s podium, and one on the 70km men’s as well! We’d recommend the race to anyone – the terrain is really different from the UK, and it really feels like you’re out in the wilds.
Our prize included a free entry for next year, so hopefully we’ll be back for another go at it! Next time in the 70km race!