Chasing Dreams: Inside Satu Lipiäinen's Record-Breaking Ultrarunning Odyssey

Chasing Dreams: Inside Satu Lipiäinen's Record-Breaking Ultrarunning Odyssey

With a year marked by breaking world records and conquering Spartathlon, Satu Lipiäinen's journey is awe-inspiring. Join us as we delve into the extraordinary saga of a Finn who has run with wolves.

After a year that saw ultrarunner Satu Lipiäinen set a new 12-hour running world record and place third in Greece’s grueling Spartathlon, it is understandable that finding races that motivate her in 2024 has been challenging. Nevertheless, at the end of February, she found inspiration by returning to the Endurance 24h in the Finnish city of Espoo.

Ahead of the 24-hour race around a 390m indoor track, she described the competition to Aonach as being ‘mentally difficult’ and a place where ‘anything can happen.’ Her analysis sadly proved accurate as she recorded the first DNF of her ultra-running career, leaving her feeling disappointed and confused.

“My feet hurt from the first hour, and my body and mind did not operate at the level required for the performance I aimed for. I considered quitting at around hour seven but thought it might be okay, but it only got worse; I dropped out after 16 hours. It was the smart choice today, and hopefully, the next one will be better,” she says optimistically.



A Record-Breaking Journey

Running has been a significant part of Satu Lipiäinen’s life for 20 years. Still, nothing prepared her for the Kokkola Ultra Run, where she would become the first Nordic to set an official ultrarunning distance world record. However, if it hadn’t been for the words of encouragement from her husband, Kalle, it would have been a vastly different ending.

“I began feeling terrible after around three hours and thought about quitting. Kalle, who has played an important role in my running career, ordered me to continue but to slow my pace. Different mental and physical problems usually start to creep in at six hours, but there wasn’t anything this time setting it apart from any previous race.”

As excitement grew around the course at the possibility of a world record being set at around hour ten, the focus of all the attention was tiring, and she didn’t care. Once again, Kalle stepped in and informed her of the pace required in the final hour to make history.

“It was then I decided to try. I could easily improve my pace and knew I would set a new world record. The last hour was magical and is one of my favorite moments in my ultrarunning career. It has also been an unreal feeling knowing that it is unlikely I will ever improve on that.

At the end of the 12-hour run, she won the women's and overall races with a record-breaking result of 153.600 km. “Since then, I have said that I will avoid 12-hour competitions because it is difficult to improve when you run a perfect race. What motivates you to run for half a day if you cannot improve?”



Conquering Dreams and Challenges

Despite 12-hour races being off Satu Lipiäinen’s race calendar for the foreseeable future, nothing stopped her from participating in a historic annual 246km long ultra-marathon from Athens to Sparta in Greece.

Spartathlon has been my biggest dream for a long time. I was ten years old when I first heard about that race and decided to participate one day. When I started ultrarunning in 2017, I decided to participate once I reached the qualification standard, allowing me to participate directly without the lottery.”

For Spartathlon, she needed to achieve a result 25% better than the minimum criteria. Having accomplished this by the end of 2021, she became eligible to participate as early as 2022. However, her ambition lay in competing in the 100-kilometer world championships, so she deemed last year the opportune time to fulfill her dream.

Her race was filled with emotional ups and downs, like the route elevations ranging from sea level to 1,200 meters. “The most challenging part was when it was dark, and I was alone, and some wolf-like animals were howling around me. I was so scared that I almost called Kalle to collect me in the car.”

During the final hours, she felt empty and confused. The race had been easier than expected, but another scary moment loomed. “About four kilometers from the finish, I thought I was lost. I thought if I need to turn back and return to the course I cannot take it anymore. Fortunately, I was on the right track and the city of Spárti was approaching”.

Despite wild canines and route confusion, Satu Lipiäinen fondly recalls the proud moment she passed a Norwegian runner at around 120 kilometers and two Finns led the women’s race.

“Noora Honkala was leading, and I was second, but then Camille Herron of the US came and passed both of us, winning the race. She passed me quickly and confidently on a mountain downhill I was taking carefully, which is one reason I know my time on the course can improve with a little more risk.”



Balancing Ambition and Self-Care

Despite a season that broke world records and fulfilled childhood dreams, Satu Lipiäinen had no plan to slow down going into 2024. “I can still improve, and the best results are ahead. When you have achieved third place in Spartathlon, you still know that there are two women faster than you. And that number needs to be reduced to zero.”

Her words are those of a true competitor, but she also knows the dangers of pushing herself too far. At 16, she faced a setback from overtraining due to a leg issue. Ignoring medical advice, she pushed herself with excessive skiing, biking, and swimming, leading to physical exhaustion and a four-year recovery process.

Speaking from experience, she also advises against overly complicating nutrition. “While minor optimizations may offer slight benefits, they often lead to long-term issues. The number of healthy training days is what really matters. Focus on ensuring an adequate energy intake rather than imposing numerous nutrition rules and restrictions.”

As a Nosht Sports Ambassador, she has learned that nutrition during a competition can be easy. “When I first began ultrarunning, I experimented with various nutrition options, including chocolate bars and orange juice. However, as I've gained experience, I've simplified my approach.”

For a 24-hour competition, she will rely solely on Nosht High Energy Sports Drinks and Nosht Jollos Energy Chews. “This energy plan has significantly improved my races, as I no longer experience stomach issues and feel adequately fueled. During shorter races lasting under 12 hours, I aim for 80 to 90 grams of carbs per hour, while in longer races like Spartathlon, I drop to 65 grams per hour.”



An Indispensable Support System

Of course, having somebody like Kalle in your corner is invaluable. He has played an essential role in Satu Lipiäinen’s training journey since she began her ultra-running career about eight years ago.

“Kalle accompanied me on a bike during runs, even sitting beside me as I ran on the treadmill during the winter months. From the start, he has been a constant support in ultra-running and our daily life. His flexibility enables my running, and he manages my nutrition in competitions, ensuring I receive everything I need on time.”

With the first race of 2024 behind her, Satu's race calendar is gradually taking shape. One highlight will be a return to the Kokkola Ultra Run in May, albeit in the six-hour event, where she broke the world record. As for the year’s main competition, she is undecided on a Spartathlon return or the IAU 100 km World Championships in India.

Regardless of her choice, Aonach knows that she will be running with the wolves, buoyed by the steadfast support of Kalle by her side.


Curious about Satu Lipiäinen's preparation and experience in the Spartathlon? Dive into her journey of training, mental fortitude, and triumphant race day strategies. Explore her Greece Lightning: Satu Lipiäinen’s Spartathlon Guide blog post — coming soon!

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