Small talk before the Kullamannen 100-mile endurance race

Anna Kim-Andersson has interviewed ultrarunner Sofia Smedman. They are both going to run the race Kullamannen, Sweden, in November. Anna is a beginner, doing it mostly for fun. Sofia is levelling up as an elite athlete. After the race Sofia Smedman will leave her job to move closer to the mountains – and to be able to run more.

This autumn I am going to run my first ultra-trail run, which is over 170 kilometers (100+ miles) long and includes more than 4000 altitude meters. The race is called Kullamannen and the organizer promotes it using the words “Heaven, sea and hell.”

The course runs through narrow winding mountain trails in a coastal area in the southwestern part of Sweden. The runners have 36 hours to finish the course and there are two cut-off times on the way.

A part of me is still amazed. I am 48 years old and this is my second year as an ultra-runner. I love the running and sense of adventure. But this race will be extremely tough. Did I really sign up for this, all by myself? Yeah… Why? I suppose I’ve had a kind of suppressed longing for a great sports challenge. Not an overwhelming one, but almost.

Elite ultra-runner Sofia Smedman
Photo: ©Sofia Smedman

I think about all of this as I look at 31 years old elite ultra-runner Sofia Smedman. We are sitting in a café and the coffee is tainted white with oat milk. It is September and the apple muffin tastes great.

Sofia Smedman is a petite woman with stamina. We both ran a 24-hour race in July. It was on a 400 metres running track with no elevation at all. She ran for 12 hours in an impressively fast and steady pace, but finally decided not to finish the race. Her focus already then, was set on the autumn race.

In 2017 Sofia ran her first 100-mile race Kullamannen, winning the women’s competition. Last year she came at 2nd place. Sofia is the first and only woman so far who has finished the Kullamannen race twice. This year she is aiming at top three, although she is aware of the seriosity in the task.

This year’s start field is the most qualified ever, as increasingly more women in Sweden are interested in ultra-running.

“There are still far more men than women who participate in endurance races like Kullamannen, both in Sweden and internationally. But over the last few years things have started to change” Sofia acknowledges.

Blogger and ultra-runner Anna ‘Lopartanten’ Kim-Andersson

She is welcoming the development, happy about being able to meet more women in the trails and competitions. “Women are different than men in many ways and have different demands concerning gear, nutrition and so on. We have so much to learn and benefit from supporting each other, woman to woman.”

When it comes to Sofia’s own race she is focused. The secret behind a good performance is preparation.

“At this moment, it is all about being able to run a lot of kilometres” Sofia says, well aware of how persistence and volume has become her own Achilles heel over the last couple of years.

After her degree 2016 in Human Relations (HR) at the University of Jönköping, Sofia got a job as an HR coordinator. Each day she commutes a long distance by car from her home in Skövde.

“I planned to stay as an employee for six months. But things have changed and I have been able to advance… and now two and a half years have passed.”

Sofia has been an elite runner since 2016, with top results in several national competitions, but also international ones. She finished at 4th place in the Transylvanian One Hundred 2018. She won Ursvik Ultra 75-kilometre in March 2019. The team that Sofia belongs to, the Team Billingen X-trail, was the 2nd team at the Madeira Skyrace 55k, 4121D+, in June, and she did a strong individual race as well.

She has proven that it is possible to focus on high performance, both at work and in running. But the daily commuting takes a lot of time and in the long term it is not a sustainable lifestyle for her. When it comes to running, she is curious to find out how far she can get. She wants to give trail running a chance and if not now, then when?

This autumn she will weigh anchor. Sofia has quit her job and together with her partner she moves up to Östersund in northern Sweden. Closer to the wilderness. Closer to the mountain trails. In due time she must find a new job, but until then she will focus on her training and her career as an elite athlete.

Sofia dedicates her life to running
Photo: ©Sofia Smedman

Why heading up north, what is so special about mountains? Sofia remembers the first time she ran an ultra-trail competition in the Swedish mountains. It was in Bydalen. She cannot pinpoint if it was the vastness of the landscape or something else, but she was spellbound.

“I love the complexity of running in mountains and Skyrunning. There are so many parameters to consider and always new things to learn” Sofia says.

To compete at an international level also provides good opportunities to travel and discover new parts of the world. When I ask Sofia if she has a favorite geographical running spot she shakes her head. No, she thinks that the best areas are yet to be seen.

“My partner and I want to travel and explore more. For example, we aim to run in the U.S. within a couple of years. Maybe the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run and Western States 100-mile, which is the oldest 100-mile trail race in the world.”

The apple muffin is eaten up and it is time to leave. Sofia has an hour to drive by car before she is home again. We talk some more about Kullamannen. We are both looking forward to the race day. I ask her about what shoes to wear. Trail running shoes all the way or only at the final part of the track? And what about all hours in darkness at night and the head torch… Maybe she tries to comfort me, but she concludes that Kullamannen will feel easy in comparison to the 400 x 400 meter summer run on the running track that I finished in 24 hours.

I wave to her and say goodbye for now. I wish Sofia all the best in November. When it comes to my own performance in Kullamannen, I look forward to explore whether she is right – or not – about the relative difficulty of the race.

A delighted @lopartanten before the 24 hour race on running track at the Skövde Ultra Festival in 2019
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