In some ways it’s a bit like riding a horse. When you’ve fallen off and hurt yourself, the only way to properly get over it is to get back on the horse again. And that’s exactly what Linn Erixon Sahlström had to do when she returned to the scene of her dramatic fall in 2019 which almost put a stop to her mountain ultra running escapades for good.
Tripping and falling badly on a steep and technical descent at Snowdon, Linn landed on a sharp slate and cut her superficial facia open and the damage was severe. She was consequently carried down the mountain on a stretcher and air lifted to hospital to be stitched up.
It was an incident that would scar her both mentally and physically from then on. But she wasn’t willing to give up her love of mountain ultra running. That is a huge part of her life and something she’s extremely passionate about.
Two-and-a-half years later she was back to finish the job she started then, although this time she was aiming even higher. She was going for the Ultra-Trail Snowdonia 165km race. It was a daunting route incorporating 10,200 metres of elevation. But Linn’s determination knows no bounds. She was going to finally complete this beast, no matter what it took.
It wasn’t only her fall that she had to look back on when it comes to running at Snowdon though. She also had happy memories from there too, having won the Ultra-Trail Snowdonia 50 in June 2019. So she had tasted success there as well as heartache.
Of course, much of the secret to achieving a successful outcome in extreme races like this is down to the preparation – and Linn had trained for it pretty well. She’d completed the Lulworth Cove Trail Challenge Ultra Marathon in March, which was 53km with 2300 metres of elevation. Then she’d gone back to Sweden for the Österlen Spring Trail 60km Ultra, despite some very inclement weather conditions.
But the UTS 165 was going to be her biggest and most challenging adventure in the mountains so far. She had calculated every risk this time, or so she thought, wearing knee padded tights, gloves and the full kit. Nothing was going to stop her finishing this time round and if she played her cards right, and the stars were aligned, she knew she had a chance of being one of the top three women. That would have been a direct entry into the UTMB Final at Chamonix. But in races such as this, you always have to expect the unexpected.
Three weeks before the race she’s been up Snowdon to do some recce and the winds were horrendous. So much so that she felt she was almost blowing off the mountain. A race that was on that weekend had to be rerouted due to the high winds so wind was prayed it would blow over for when it was time for her big weekend.
When the started out, the forecast looked good, or good at least by Welsh standards. Linn paced herself well, knowing it was going to be a very long – possibly two days – out on the trails. She had carefully gone through everything with Mel, who was crewing for her, what she would need at every aid station and she was feeling super confident and excited. Everything was in place.
After the climb up Pen Y Pas she was boiling hot, having worn too many clothes. She always feared being too cold. Then the rain came down and it was time to get the rain gear on. From that point on, it was a very wet, soggy, boggy story.
It was going smoothly at first for Linn but conditions were about to take a turn for the worse
The climb up to Moel Siabod was very exposed and the wind had picked up making the rain feel like a gunfire of drops, soaking every inch of your so-called waterproof gear. Despite that though, Linn loved the climb and found it exhilarating. It was steep, gnarly and slippery, but Linn kept smiling because nothing – not even a monsoon of rainfall would stop her!
On the Capel Curig check point, Mel was ready to refill her bottles and help Linn out of her drenched clothing. She put on my GoreTex jacket and latex gloves inside the gloves to ensure further heat, as she gets cold very easily. Taking her time at this check point, she knew she was in for a tough night with the rain showing no mercy. Once out again, she knew that the section towards the mountain hut was a going to to be a wet one but she was up for the challenge. After all, she had completed the Fellsman – a 100km bog party in its own right – so she was confident she could do this too.
Passing the water reservoir, she could see the back of another runner, but she was pretty much alone with the mountains, the water and the winds by this time. She only had the sheep for company but they were not in a chatty mood, having turned their back to the wind. Linn was quite jealous of their fur at this point. She was actually enjoying the madness, despite having feet that quickly went cold. She reminded herself that this was what she’d signed up for.
The only way to stay warm was to run into the strong headwind through the ankle-deep water covering the trail. There was no time to think about hypothermia and no time to be a wimp, but she was seriously thinking that she needed to stop to put my warm gear on. Figuring it was probably best to wait until the mountain hut checkpoint as she was too exposed, she soldiered on.
Linn utilises her scrambling skills ton get up the mountain
The next thing she could hear was the all too familiar sound of the rescue helicopter. It sent chills down my spine. This was not good news. She tried to focus on her feet on the ground rather than looking at where the rescue was going. Then she saw a man running down some bogs waving his arms and thought he needed help. He approached her and said the race had been cancelled. What do you mean? Linn thought. Cancelled because of the weather?
She couldn’t quite comprehend what that meant. She was on form and was going well. What does cancel mean? Did he mean stopped?? After a few minutes, Linn was escorted to the mountain hut to be met by 15 guys chatting and drinking tea. All soaking wet. It was over. The race was actually not going to continue. A wave of equal relief and disappointment came over her. This was where the journey would end and they were to be transferred back to Llanberis. Linn stopped her watch at 56km, having hit an elevation of 3,700 metres and she was 10 hours into the race.
At that point, she was third placed woman, although that meant little of course in such early days, and especially not now it was over. It was a swift transportation back. They were there and then given the option to start the 100k or the 50k the next morning, or in around four hours from that point. The predictions for the weather hours later were looking much better, so the other races were going to carry on.
What probably shocked all of them was the sudden deterioration of the weather that no one seemed to have predicted. A lot was going through Linn’s mind at this point. She would barely have the time to dry out, regroup and sort out her stuff. Plus it would be very difficult to race against a bunch of fresh legs. She felt gutted.
Linn thought she had accounted for everything and that nothing could stop her but the weather had other ideas
The weather Gods had not been on their side for the 165k. Back in Llanberis, Linn decided that she was not game for a ‘fun’ run. She done that before and it put me in a dangerous situation, going back to the chopper and the A&E. She was all for racing the 165k but that was it. Her Snowdonia adventure was definitely over for this time.
Instead, she went to cheer on the other runners the next day, in the sunshine, by her campsite. It was a bittersweet sight, seeing happy yet tired runners enjoying the mountains.
Whilst it was disappointing that the race had been aborted, Linn recognized that it was the safe thing to do at the time. It was gutting for everyone who had invested months, or even years, of training to get this far only for it to get cancelled. Weather can be unpredictable at times though, particularly in the mountains.
In the grand scheme of things, points and rankings are irrelevant when it comes to the health and safety of people and the love of nature and running. Snowdonia had once again broken Linn’s heart, but it had taught her humbleness and humility.
Next up for Linn, it will be the North Downs Way 100 – a 100 mile route heading from Farnham in the Surrey Hills to Ashford in Kent, featuring 10,000 feet of climbing.