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Tales of the trails of Tromso

Many thanks to Preston Harriers' member Monica Bando who has shared her running story

Warning: this will probably make you want to grab a backpack and head straight to the countryside and/or up some kind of hill.

In summer 2023 Monica Bando, and her ultrarunning partner Nick, took on the Tromsdalstind Skyrace in Norway. Entailing a distance of 32km and a steady climb of 2000m means this event is no casual stroll; it is of the most popular events in the Tromso Skyrace series, set in the beautiful land of Norway.

The couple were inspired to take part as 2023 is the final year planned for this series. From 2014 when they began, the Tromso Skyraces have steadily grown from a small-and-local idea to an international happening. However - as it often goes - all good things must come to an end.

Monica was keen to try out more ultra distances and thought this would be a fantastic destination-race to get her to commit to training again for an exciting but also scary goal.

Monica's athletic journey started when she was young, being fortunate to grow up with parents who kept her active and encouraged her to try several different disciplines in a variety of locations. As a child in Tokyo, she started gymnastics and swimming at the age of three and learned to ski near Mt. Fuji! She continued swimming whilst living in Singapore, and then - whilst living in Norway – kept busy with a mix of ballet, figure skating, skiing, hiking and swimming.

Moving to the US as a pre-teen, Monica tried her hand at some track and field events too. She found she really enjoyed running and thrived on trying to out-run as many boys

as possible - naturally a great motivation! She also cited her coach as genuinely kind, supportive and fun, which goes to show how good coaching at an early age really makes a difference.

It was much later through friends that Monica was introduced to trail-running and she soon fell in love with it. The sport has enabled her to have adventures and experiences that have enabled her to push beyond the boundaries of what she thought she was capable of, discovering a world of possibilities. This includes unexpectedly running her first full marathon distance on trails just for fun. Is there any truer a testimony of being completely lost in the moment?

Fast forward to 2022 when Monica moved to the UK. At this time, she was struggling to run consistently due to the pressures of a new job in a new place. She soon found Preston Harriers, which helped her commit to more regular training, but she still felt she lacked specific athletic goals. So – not being one who does something by halves – she started building towards a Tromso Skyrace.

In addition to increasing her running mileage and continue regular strength training, she aimed to include several long trail days of running and hiking in her build-up for both more time on her feet as well as exposure to uneven and technical terrain. Unfortunately, this did not go to plan, leaving her with catalogue of niggles. However not to be deterred, Monica worked with a physiotherapist and her partner also guided her in completely changing her training plans: she dialled-back her running mileage and switched it to swimming and cycling to maintain aerobic fitness.

When asked about the high and low moments, dealing with unexpected set-backs of injury and the uncertainty about making it to the start line has to be it. Isn’t it frustrating when our bodies seem to disregard our very best intentions? Therefore Monica’s ‘high’ was simply putting one foot in front of the other and taking in the stunning landscapes, being super-chuffed to be there with every mile feeling like an accomplishment.

The course itself was gruelling and tough; the vertical climbs were relentlessly steep, the type that make anyone’s legs burn, but Monica did not falter. In contrast, the flatter parts meant that her legs felt like they could fly which was liberating and reminded her how much she loves being out on trails.

Monica would encourage everyone to try trail-running, explaining that even though it is not always easy, it is empowering and somewhat meditative. The trails can help a runner let go of many of the expectations that road running brings and instead draws one to focusing on their immediate surroundings. With technical terrain the brain jumps to focus on foot placement, leaving little room to dwell on anything else.

Monica has her sights now set on the Lakeland 50 miler in July 2024 so let’s hope there’s lots of happy and healthy running ahead.

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