Overcoming Obstacles: Heli Sisto's Kullamannen Challenge

Overcoming Obstacles: Heli Sisto's Kullamannen Challenge

Finnish long-distance runner Heli Sisto’s journey from a summer DNF to participating in Kullamannen is a story of resilience and determination. Ahead of the race, we discussed her physical and mental preparation that has shaped her comeback.

Completing a 100-mile race demands a considerable amount of physical and psychological stamina. But when an injury unexpectedly sets your competitive season back, and you are rebuilding your shaken confidence, you must dig deeper than ever to succeed again at a distance you love.

Finnish long-distance runner Heli Sisto knows this. After a crushing DNF in the summer, she has steadily trained with her coach to return to her best. It is now time to put herself to the test by heading to Sweden to participate in Kullamannen. Aonach spoke to her a week before the race to hear about her physical and mental preparation.

Photo Iines Rintaniemi


The Summer Setback

In the summer of 2022, Heli injured her knee and spent the fall, winter, and spring training very hard to recover. Confident that she had overcome the problem, she went into the 2023 running season full of optimism. However, it didn’t go as I planned.

“The first race that I had was at the end of May in Norway, and I got injured again, and it was the same problem that I had a year ago, which changed my plans for the season,” recalls Heli. She reveals that Kullamannen wasn’t originally in her race plan. Still, once she could do several longer and harder back-to-back training in August, she felt optimistic about competing again and registered.

“My training is now more versatile, with my coach, Antti Lepistö, changing my strength training and making a few other adjustments. I feel more confident going into Kullamannen than I did for the Norway race. My body is in better shape,” she assesses, adding that she began working with a coach a few years ago when she first decided to train for a 100-mile race.

“I knew it was such a big challenge that I needed somebody professional to help me train. The biggest change working with him is that I train smarter. I don’t have to worry about what I should do and when to do it because I can trust his instructions to help me reach my goal. Previously, I didn’t know when to rest because it is difficult for me to stay on the couch.”

Photo Iines Rintaniemi


Training Smarter

Describing 100-mile races as ‘her speciality’, Heli couldn’t let the hard from last winter and over the past few months be wasted.

“I had to have at least one successful run this season, and Kullamannen came at the perfect time. I still had a few months to train for it, and there weren’t that many 100-mile races at the end of the year. I have competed in two shorter distance races (NUTS Yllas Pallas 37 km and 43 km), but they were more like training for me because it is not my distance.

However, her injury has changed the way she thinks. “If we go back a year, I felt the pressure to finish in the top three or have a certain time. To do that, you need to be running more riskily, and this time, I can’t take such a big risk as I would.”

After the disappointments and shaken confidence, her focus is on having a good race and crossing the finish line feeling healthy: “I have a finish time in my mind, but I will not be hard on myself. It is the time to finally enjoy all the hard work and tell myself I am lucky to run in those amazing places and do what I love because not everyone can.”

“I know some Finns who competed last year. I have seen their time and heard their experiences, which has given me confidence that it is doable. I have also read about the course and its terrain and adapted my training accordingly. I know people tell stories about this race's difficulty, but I am not worried. The only worry is the knee.”

Photo Iines Rintaniemi


Preparing for the Kullamannen Challenge

Inevitably, there are lows during every long-distance race, but Heli’s approach is to remind herself that it will not last forever. “When I am struggling, it is something that I enjoy because it is the moment when you can prove yourself; you can push through this no matter how shitty it feels at that time.”

Her secret when running over longer distances is to go through all the possible obstacles you may face during the race in advance and find a solution, so if it happens, you know exactly what to do.

“For example, at Kullamannen, if I start to feel cold, I immediately put on clothes. It is typical to delay actions when running for a very long time, but you go on for another three hours and still haven’t done it, and then you are super cold. If I start feeling tired, I take on energy and drink right away; it usually helps. It’s important to act quickly before the problems get too big ”

The weather during Kullamannen is expected to be cold, wet, and miserable, but Heli is still excited to race there for the first time and enjoy the views as she runs. “I’ve had a difficult year, and I am hoping that Kullamannen will go well and there will be a success story to tell…”

Photo Iines Rintaniemi

How did it go?
Aonach is delighted to report that Heli finished the
2023 Kullamannen 100 miles with a time of 25:09:58, placing 20th in the female category. Congratulations!

Heli’s post-race comments: “I am delighted that the race is behind me and can call myself a Kullamannen 100-mile finisher. The race was the hardest I have ever run, making my success even more meaningful—almost a third of the runners did not finish! During the race, I stuck to my plan and remained focused. I struggled several times but stayed confident and trusted I had what it takes to finish. I had so much fun in Sweden. Another reason to celebrate is that there was no sign of the previous injury. It’s time to enjoy the accomplishment, rest for a while, and start thinking about next year’s challenges.

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