by Maria E. Bellini
Espoo – Finland – Winter 2016
Hans Swahn was wondering what to do with his forthcoming holiday break. He had an incredible three months off work lined up for summer 2017. What was termed as an extended break. He shuffled the papers on his desk, and slowly breathed in the cool, calming environment of the library. Light, airy and soothing.
Sometimes the people of Espoo would come into the building, browse around the bookshelves, seemingly with no purpose, only to loose themselves between the pages of a newly discovered, random book, eating words and drinking thoughts. A restorative pause.
The library was kind to people. Libraries always are. However, Hans reflected, having worked here in Espoo library for what seemed like a lifetime, even he was in need of a restorative pause… but of a more intense kind, one that would contrast to the neat order of Finland’s Scandinavian serenity.
Hans wanted adventure, with a bit of chaos thrown in. He felt the desire to embrace something unpredictable and slightly scary.
It was time to let his hair down.
Castelnovo ne’ Monti – Reggio-Emilia, Italy – August 2017
That’s how Hans Swahn and his partner Saila Kora, came to spend the best part of the summer of 2017 in the tiny village of Bondolo in the Reggio-Emilia Apennines in Emilia Romagna. They weren’t new to Italy, having ventured to Sicily last summer. However with just a few words of Italian between them, two lively rescue dogs to take care of, and having endured a four day car journey from Finland… only to arrive in their rental home right up in the mountains… in one of the hottest summers in Italy’s history… they were slightly taken back by the reality of their decision.
But with a whole summer ahead, and keen to do some traveling, explore the Cinque Terre, Lake Garda and the surrounding mountains, yet also keen to live as normal a life as possible and wishing to connect to the local community, they decided to particpate in as many local events as possible. Both keen walkers, with Hans also being a runner, it was time to hit the trails.
Ecomaratona del Ventasso 2017
And that’s exactly what they did, Hans told me, whilst I met up with them for an ice cream in the market town of Castelnovo ne Monti towards the end of their holiday. Only Hans decided to take things further and entered the grueling Ecomaratona del Ventasso Trail Race in nearby Busana.
Hans at the Finnish line of the Ecomaratona del Ventasso, Italy 2017
When I asked him how the July 42km (2300m elevation gain) Trail Race went, Hans told me he’d approached it as a “true tourist”, not having set himself any goals whatsoever, the plan being to enjoy himself and his surroundings. And an extremely modest Hans went on to say that he’d been quite surprised to see that so many trail runners had been running uphill during the race, but we hasten to add that Hans must have done some uphill running too because he finished the Ecomaratona del Ventasso in a very reasonable 6 hours 42mins, coming in at 145° (out of 244). You can read more about the Ecomaratona del Ventasso, which takes place in early July, here.
In fact Hans liked it so much that he signed up to race in the Maratona dei Due Comuni, in Durlo di Crespandoro, in Veneto the following week!
Celebrating Finland and Running
No stranger to running, Hans has been a runner on and off for the better part of his life and together with the Espoo library where he works, is putting on an event to celebrate Finland’s 100 years of independence.
A 25k, 50k, 75k or 100k route to be covered either by running, walking or by bike, – passing through six of the cities libraries. The “Kirjasto liikuttaa” details of which you can find here, will take place on October 1st 2017 in Espoo.
Finland has been seeing an upsurge in Trail events and trail runners in the last years. With spectacular landscape, plenty of lakes, a strong sense of respect for the outdoors means that Finland is a haven for anyone wanting some pure Scandi-scenery on the Trails.
In 2016 alone, there were over 100 trail races in the country, and in 2017, the National Trail Running Team Finalnd – Men finnished a respectable 7th out of 24 and Womens, 8th out of 21. Read more about Finland’s Trail running scene HERE
So did Hans and Saila get their adventure that they were after? With a touch of chaos, and some genuine Italian life? We think so!
Hans and Saila stayed in Bondolo, in Castelnovo ne’ Monti, Reggio-Emilia – in the region of Emilia-Romagna, you can read our guide to Emilia-Romagna here.
If you enjoyed reading about trail runner Hans Swahn’s time in Italy – you may be interested in reading about Team Greece Athlete Panagiotis Ionannidis – and his experience in the recent World Trail Championships in Badia Prataglia 2017.
Maria Elisabetta Bellini is Italyontrail.com’s founder, born in the U.K, she came to running whilst living in Italy, where she still lives and trains. Never ceasing to marvel at what’s at the summit of a hill, or around the bend along the trail, she loves using trail running as a means to explore nature, contemplation and Italy.