Travelling to Winter Warrior just got a whole lot easier. Norwegian has announced more flights and you can fly there for a reasonable price. This is a perfect tim e to sign up to the race and make plans for for trip to Lapland! Check out the flights www.norwegian.com.
Of course, if you can, it is good to consider train or bus. Read more – How to get there.
This is a story written to us by an inspiring racer Juri Lahtinen, Americanized Finn who became a flag-bearer of USA 2019.
We share this story with a heavy heart since Juri passed away unexpectedly this summer. Last year he made it his mission to share his happiness about healthy lifestyle and inspire others to take better care of themselves. He often said that if he can get one, just one person, to start exercising, he has succeeded. We try to continue his legacy and hope sharing his story gives someone a spark to make the small everyday choices for a better life.
Juri raced in Winter Warrior 2019 and he was super excited and proud – for a good reason. He was an amazing warrior and always sharing his positive spirit around. We miss him greatly.
I’m an engineer who has traveled for work all around the world for the last 20 years. When I was studying and starting my career as I used to do martial arts, bike and run a lot. Then I got some injuries that forced me out of martial arts. At that point my overall activity level dropped a lot, also due to constant business trips. It is not easy to exercise when one lives such an unstable life. I guess then what happened I also started to use traveling and being busy as an excuse not to exercise. Even more unhealthy thing when traveling for work is that one eats all their meals in restaurants where it is so difficult to get healthy food if you’re not extremely careful.
After eating in restaurants for 20 years and not exercising enough February 26th 2018 I got a heart attack. Luckily I was smart enough to go to ER early stages when blood flow to the heart was not completely blocked. So there wasn’t any permanent damage. Having a heart attack is easy and even emotionally that’s not the hard part. Hard part is to see how worried your kids, family and friends are because of you. For me the hardest thing was to see my kids when they came to see me to hospital. Seeing my kids so worried was the thing that helped me to improve my lifestyle. Still that vision brings a tear to my eye and keeps me going 6am for a run.
I heard lately a quote that bad things don’t happen to you, those happen for you. This is my favorite quote and this describes my recovery really well. So 3 stents and a couple of days later I got out of hospital. Then I was on my own and needed to figure out how I can survive.
First step – Learn how to eat and lose weight. I got advice from my doctor at the hospital how to eat so that it would lower my cholesterol, blood pressure and weight. I contacted registered dietitian, got help from Pauli Ohikainen who has his own Sceptical health blog and read a ton of scientific publications about this topic as well. I started to follow advice I got. Avoiding red meat, stay below 2000mg sodium per day, eat a lot good veggies and fruits and constraint my calorie intake. This is easy to say but when you start to think about how to do that in practice it’s pretty tough. Specially sodium part.
Step two – couple of days after I started to walk every day. First around the block, then 1 mile, 5k and 10k. Same time I had 2-3 times per week cardiac rehab. I was walking 10k every day for a long time and then I got to try a little running in cardiac rehab. That went really well then I started to run short distances during my walks. Distances increased little by little and 4 months after my heart attack I was able to run my first 5k. This point of time I really liked my walks and runs and had lost 44 lbs (20kg) weight. So I felt really good.
How I got into OCR and Winter Warrior
What happened next that amount of runs increased little by little. On October 2018 I realized that I could easily run quite long distances. It was exactly 8 months from heart attack and I did 8 days in a row over 8km running. That’s 888…maybe this was omen for my Winter Warrior bib number 666? This time I visited Finland and had possibility to go run with race organizer and my brother Simo and thought that I did pretty well with him. I guess it was one week after this I saw in Facebook Winter Warrior map with flag bearers from all the countries where people had registered. I was looking that map and said to myself “wait a minute… there’s no USA? I definitely need to fix it”. Since I live in USA I registered immediately and Winter Warrior map got a new flag bearer.
Still this was only 8 months from my heart attack and 4 months when I was able to run my first 5k. So in back of my head I was still thinking that race is on April that I need to make final decision later on if I will compete or not.
Decision to compete
It was 10 months after my heart attack (December 23rd 2018) when I run my first half marathon distance and felt pretty good about it. Run was easy and after that I was gearing towards Winter Warrior mentally and basically made decision to participate (don’t tell that to my wife). After that I just run and noticed my PR’s improving steadily. When I increased my mileage I started also to do leg stability exercises to keep my knees pain free and I thought that I would need that leg stability to compete in Winter Warrior. Before the race throughout 2019 I did average stable 32 mile per week average so felt really ready for it.
Winter Warrior – before the race
I was in Hannover Germany on 5th of April and flew from there Kittilä for race that was on the 6th of April. From Kittilä It was about 45min drive to Ylläs where competition was held. After typical pre race short sleep I had my breakfast and head out to starting place of the race. Nice thing was that everything was well organized and it was easy to get my bib. Safety presentation was really good, although I’m not sure if it was really needed because one can’t get lost on the track if you just follow the track markings. One unknown element for me was snow. I live in Atlanta GA USA and I haven’t seen snow in ages and I had no possibility to train for this type of event. Last time I run in snow must have been over 20 years ago. So I was pretty nervous on that morning and my strategy was to start slow, see what others do and pick up the pace later on.
Winter Warrior race
I had one mantra that I was telling myself on that morning “you’ve trained well, you’re in great shape, go and have fun”. After few hundred meters I noticed that this is super fun and I had such a great time during the race. I think during those 3 hours I ran I smiled more than any 3 hours of my life.
During the climb to the first hill Kellostapuli I was following others, just enjoying and taking pictures from the awesome scenery along the way. Also I was following others because I was conserving my energy since I didn’t knew what was waiting for me. During descend from Kellostapuli I suddenly noticed that I was alone with no one was around me and I just started to keep my natural pace. It was an awesome feeling… just me, nature and seeing time to time volunteers to cheer me on.
Then after few obstacles was time of the second climb. For me that was by far the best part of the race. On top of that hill I heard from volunteers that I was in 3rd or 4th in my category (race squad). I was really surprised since I was just enjoying the ride and having fun. Ascend from the second hill was the toughest part of the race because there was a long stretch of hip deep soft snow. When I got back to the lake then it was again easy to run fast and I picked up the pace but it was a bit too early since rope obstacles at the end and 120 penalty burpees were bit tough. I have never done OCR or practiced those obstacles so they were pretty tough but fun to figure out on the fly. End of the race certainly had its surprises and I crossed the finish line USA flag in my hand and at time of 3h 4mins. Then it was time to celebrate there with other competitors and sit a while in tent sauna to warm up. I think it was a couple of hours later I heard that I was third in my category and I was blown away. I never would have thought it would be possible.
This race made such a huge impact on me. I’m sure I want to return 2020 and during the race I learned new things about myself where most important would be that I really enjoy to compete in races where I don’t know how fast I should be so I can pace myself based on feeling and enjoy the race instead of looking at my watch and stressing about can I do my personal best or not. Only thing I regret is that I should have spent more time in Ylläs and enjoy the nature.
Now I’m telling my story that one can do this type of event 1 year after a heart attack because I’m hoping to get people to improve their lifestyle early enough so they end up like me having a heart attack. I know that everyone with cardiovascular disease is not as lucky as me that they will get another chance to become a better version of themselves. So if you’re wondering if you are fit enough to participate I hope this helps? Like I said I could run 5k first time 8 months before the race.
Winter Warrior Finland was once again a great event. 51 racers from 12 different countries ran in breathtaking scenery across the fells through a tough race with an amazing attitude. Every competitor most certainly earned their medal and can be extremely proud of their performance. However, the race is a competition and this time Samuli Salmenoja from Finland came first with an unbelievable performance. Samuli led the competition from the start and even managed to run in the deep, unbroken snow.
A warm-hearted prize ceremony was held in hotel Ylläskaltio in the evening after the race. Warrior squad winners Samuli Salmenoja (1:49) and Leena Toljamo (2:38) received unique silver Winter Warrior Finland necklaces designed and manufactured by Damastikoru, as well as reindeer hides given by local boutique Mailan putiikki and a packet of Warrior coffee. In addition they earned a free participation to the elite squad of OCR competition Toughest Finland 2019.
Also the second fastest man and woman in the Warrior squad were rewarded: Artur Szempruch (2:11) and Tanja Korhonen (2:44). The competition for the title of fastest Warrior woman was fierce between Leena and Tanja but Leena claimed the win on the challenging obstacles in the end. As a reward they received ORIOCX Sparta running shoes, especially designed for OCR and trail running.
The winner of men’s Race squad was Jari Kumpulainen (2:33). Henriikka Miettunen and Henna Tyni (3:17) crossed the finish line together, sharing the title of the fastest woman in Race squad. What’s notable is that in a race as international as this, the winners of Race squad were all from the local village. They were rewarded with a finnish innovation: Fasciawear training suits.
The best and only team, Team Second Round crossed the finish line with a time of 4:05. Mira Lehtinen, Aija Mehtälä and Anniina Ruusi took part in the race already last year in Challenge squad and this time they bravely ran the full course. They received Winter Warrior cloth bags with Warrior coffee to give them energy for new challenges.
Also visible in the logo of Winter Warrior Finland, the flag-bearer is a unique part of the race. The fastest runner of every country get their own country’s flag to carry on the finish line. The following warriors made it to the Hall of Fame of flag-bearers:
Samuli Salmenoja, Finland
Artur Szempruch, Poland
Quentin Freret, France
Zdeněk Pokorný, Czech
Thorsten Hartmann, Germany
Martin Theodorsen, Denmark
Florian Zuschnig, Austria
Chris Paul, England
Remy Kruijsse, Netherlands
Juri Lahtinen, USA
Steven Platt, Great Britain
Willy Bommarez, Belgium
The flag-bearers were given Kupilka-kuksas (traditional cups made from biocomposite material), donated by Visit Ylläs.
Warrior Spirit is a very important thing to us and also this year we awarded two brave warriors for special ‘sisu’ and courage during the race. Noora Kokkonen and Saara-Kaisa Konttori were rewarded with bird-themed kuksas crafted by Lapinkettu.
Alex Jahnke who celebrated his 50th birthday in the race was surprised in the price ceremony with a candleholder made from reindeer antlers, given by Saga-Maaret.
Accommodations are filling up quickly so if you haven’t booked your accommodation yet, you should do it as soon as possible. Our accommodation partners only have a few rooms available. If you want to stay near the race location, you should choose one of our partners Äkäshotelli or Ylläskaltio. If you are ready to stay a little further, you can also find good options near Ylläsjärvi, for example. It’s about a 15-minute drive away from the race location.
What is it about OCR that makes it so popular? And why would someone travel all the way to Lapland to run through ice and snow? Andreas Koch was one of the daring warriors of the first Winter Warrior Finland in April and he is traveling back next year to face the challenge again. We were curious to hear why, and asked him a few questions.
A few words about you, how would you introduce yourself?
Basically, I am a person who always tries to challenge myself. Some years ago, I changed my life radically.
I have been a smoker for 20 years, and did nearly no sports the last 5 years . I studied 5 years beside a full time job, which was challenging as well, but all sports activities were left behind. After finishing my studies, I started with sports again, quit smoking and turned into a healthy lifestyle. Now I am 38, and feel 10 years younger.
I like to do things which the mainstream does not. I like to to special things, like the OCRs and the certainly the Winter Warrior
What motivates you in OCR?
OCR keeps me focussing on a targets. I have to start training months in advance, and have to focus on in order to finish. On the one hand OCRs keep me in my health lifestyle and on the other hand I train my personal mind in focussing on targets, even when I am sometimes not motivated. In sum, it is a personalty thing for me … linked with fun and meeting new people. Finnish people have a singe word for that.. „sisu“. From its activity itself OCR is much more fun than a simple city-half-marathon.
How did you hear about Winter Warrior Finland and decided to fly to take part in the first race 2018?
I did the British Tough Guy Race for two times. On facebook I saw an announcement for the Winter Warrior .. „an OCR above the arctic circle“. This was so new… and different to the typical „mud-races“ – and I think that is the USP of Winter Warrior. Very quickly I was so excited about that … and a few days later I registered. In addition I always wanted to travel to the very north of Europe.
What was your experience like?
The best registration for a race I ever did. Excellent organization, warm-hearted people, fun… freshest air I ever breathed. I have been so impressed by the landscape. The race was tough but in the end I loved every step… „the cleanest OCR“ is an other experience
After the race I had the impression that a Winter Warrior – community has been established. Especially the events before and after the race makes it so special in comparison to other OCR events.
Last year you came alone but you are coming back next April with some friends. How did you talk them into it?
Yes I have been the first Austrian and I was proud of it for sure. I shard my experience with friend and I could convince my brother and a working colleague to join for 2019. Obviously my unfiltered experience convinced them, that they can not wait for it.
What would you say to someone who is considering to take part but a bit scared if they can do it?
I would say… just do it. Start training, get in touch with your „sisu“, and have fun with nice and open people in a breath-taking landscape. For sure, it will an experience you’ll never regret and forget …Do something special you will remember your rest of a life. Do not be scared, and think of the feeling at the moment you finish and becoming a Winter Warrior above the arctic circle.