Running through Iceland sometimes feels like running on another planet. We went to the relatively unknown north of the country to see breath-taking landscapes, meet some prominent members of the northern running community and run the Súlur Vertical mountain race.
Akureyri, the “capital of the north”, is the largest city outside the capital area of Iceland and although it has only around eighteen thousand inhabitants, there are quite some pubs, restaurants, cultural places and sports facilities. There are mountains, many mountains as well as a beautiful fjord! And since a couple of years an enthusiastic running community is growing.
The Súlur is the city mountain of Akureyri and it has two summits. The one closest to the city rises up to 1,213 meters from the fjord and the highest top measures 1,538 meters. Súlur Vertical was organised for the first time in 2015 and it consisted of one 24k race up and down the lowest mountain summit. Thorbergur Ingi Jónsson, or Tobbi for friends, organised the first edition, competed himself and won the race – very convenient as he had to monitor the clock for the other participants as well. Later Gunnar Atli Friduson and Anna Berglind Pálmadóttir helped Tobbi organising the race and a board was installed. The second year an 18k race was added and in 2020 the 55k ultra distance was introduced. The course of the race contains a variation of surfaces and landscapes: it runs through woods, muddy grass slopes, rocky mountain ranges and snowfields. Add the spectacular views over the fjord and the surrounding mountains to that, and you know the Súlur Vertical is really something to experience. Unfortunately the 2020 edition was cancelled two days before the race because of Covid19. Therefore we ran the 28k route up en down the Súlur unsupported.
We meet Anna Berglind, Tobbi en Gunnar Atli some days before the race. They are prominent members of the Akureyri trail running community, which started at the track and field club. Trail and mountain running is a logical thing to do in Akureyri because the mountain ranges start just out of town. In Reykjavik for instance, you first have to drive some distance to the nearest trailhead. Some members of the running community became quite ambitious and wanted to improve. At the moment the best trail and mountain runners in Iceland come from the northern community.
Tobbi was born in the eastern part of Iceland and started running at 16 years old. When he moved to Akureyri he started running through the mountains and soon he became one of the top international sky runners. Gunnar started his running career as a long distance runner. As being a nature lover he naturally switched to trail and mountain running. He ran the OCC (56k) in Chamonix in 2019. Anna Berglind is a relatively newcomer in the running sports and in 2014 she ran her first 5k race in less than 20 minutes. Tobbi was impressed by this result and invited her to enter the running club. One year later she was running with the national track team on the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. In 2017 she became one of the fastest runners of Iceland and in 2019 she was trail runner of the year. That same year Tobbi and Anna Berglind competed at the world championships trail running in Portugal.
Tobi, Gunnar Atli and Anna Berglind are very ambitious about the Súlur Vertical. In a couple of years they want to organize a running festival like the UTMB in Chamonix. Akureyri is the perfect city for such a concept because of all the facilities and a lot of mountains nearby.
The Súlur Vertical this year (2021) was held on juli 31st. There were 18, 28 and 55k races and a kidsrun.