Pushing the Limits: Max Moberg's Record-Breaking Journey

Pushing the Limits: Max Moberg's Record-Breaking Journey

Finnish trail runner Max Moberg came close to finishing three 300k competitions in a year. With a strategic approach to pushing boundaries, he aims for further challenges, emphasizing balance in training and recovery.

Over the past twelve months, Finnish ultrarunner Max Moberg came close to completing an incredible trio of 300k competitions. In one, he smashed the previous course record by more than five hours; in the next, he DNF’d frustratingly close to the finish line due to a freak cold; and in the most recent, he placed second.

 While most ‘normal’ runners can spend a year training for a 300k race and another recovering, hearing how one athlete pushes their endurance well beyond the max is mindboggling. To learn about how Max Moberg can go beyond the limits, Aonach sat with him to discuss his record-breaking journey.

 

 

Journeying to New Adventures

After running his first half marathon at age 15 and participating in numerous sports throughout his youth, Max Moberg began concentrating on the marathon and other trail races after university. Thanks to a job with a Finnish airline at the time, he could combine travel and racing easily.

“I participated in the Ben Nevis Race in Scotland, the Ultra-trail Cape Town in South Africa, and races in the Austrian Alps and Pyrenees. I also ran the NUTS Ylläs Pallas 55 km in 2018. In February 2020, I was supposed to go to New Zealand for the Tarawera Ultra-Trail and my first 100-mile race, but Covid hit; I needed to make new plans.”

Max Moberg embarked on a series of remarkable feats, conquering 100-mile races across breathtaking locales such as Norway's Lofoten and Switzerland’s SwissPeaks 170. His journey led him back to his homeland, where he took on the formidable challenge of the inaugural NUTS 300.

 

“The first NUTS 300 presented a new adventure, and there was good hype around it. While the race itself went well, it highlighted the need for a more structured approach to training and race strategy to excel in such demanding distances,” says Max Moberg—which he expands upon in a blog article (read here).

Ahead of a return to Ylläs Pallas in July 2023, he was training for the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships that were being held at the start of June in Innsbruck. “I knew I’d be running a 50-mile race in the Men’s Long Trail, so I was pushing myself for the whole spring.”

After a disappointing championship finish, Max Moberg trained in the Austrian and Italian Alps. From the different scenarios outlined in his Excel spreadsheet, he saw that he could break the NUS 300 course record, noting that elite UTMB runners completed aid station transitions in two minutes. “If you can run, why spend too much time there?”

The answer to that inquiry resulted in him completing the 326-kilometer race in 52 hours, 23 minutes, and 30 seconds, beating the previous course record by more than five hours. “I still believe I can push the time to under 50 hours,” he adds.

 

“More Than One 300k Race in a Year is Nuts”

Two months after his NUTS 300 accomplishment, Max Moberg was standing at the starting line of the Tor des Géants in the Italian Alps. But the race ended with a DNF and a rather unusual one.

“Many people told me you cannot have more than one major race during summer. However, between those two races, I competed in Saucony BAMM, a team mountain-orienteering race spanning Lapland, Norway, and Sweden, with Irish champion Nick Simonin. It was weeks after NUTS, so I knew I was fully recovered.”

He recalls the race going very well until he was cold the second night while sleeping and woke with a fever. “At 289 kilometers, a doctor gave me medicine, but the phlegm built up and reduced my lung capacity. I tried twice to go up the next uphill but couldn’t breathe and decided that was enough. It was straight to the hospital.”

The final decision to DNF was hard because ‘it was only one marathon to the finish’ and would occupy his mind as he recovered. “Blood tests and a cardiologist visit confirmed no lingering effects, so I resumed training for the Valencia Marathon in December. I kept my head high and moved on to the next challenge.”

Among the lessons learned was that he has potential. “When I DNF’d, I was in the top ten of one of the world’s largest and most competitive 200-mile races against almost 1,100 people. I also come from Finland, where we don't have 3,300-meter mountains. Lastly, I didn't have any help at the aid station.”

 

Blisters, rain, and wild dogs

Six weeks after setting a new PB in Valencia, Max Moberg stood at the highest point of mainland Portugal. He was ready to race the second edition of the Terra de Gigantes, a 303 km ultramarathon with a maximum completion time of 74 hours and a positive slope of 10,815m—most of which is on asphalt and impacts the legs.

“My race strategy was to push from the start, but it rained heavily on the first night leading to challenges the next day. Opting for road shoes instead of trail gear proved a misstep, as they failed to repel moisture. Compounded by the absence of my regular five-finger socks, I also faced the discomfort of blisters.”

Having analyzed the runnables, he knew that the last 70K were really runnable if you had the legs, but sadly he didn’t. “I wasn't able to push, so I was caught and unable to follow the winner. Next time, I would add more volume to downhill training beforehand and save my legs for the final 100k. I’d also ensure my footwear was correct.”

While there is regret concerning strategic aspects, he has fond memories of the race that took runners along a pilgrims' way, passing churches and monasteries. “We saw the most beautiful places, including a breathtaking sunrise as we descended the mountain. Unfortunately, I was also attacked by three wild dogs for five minutes until they turned on one another,” he says, smiling at the memory.

 

 

Digging Deep into the Pain Cave

Running these vast distances non-stop, going nights without sleep, being preyed upon by wildlife, and pushing yourself mentally and physically to breaking point begs the question, why? Max Moberg likes to visit uncomfortable zones.

“It's easy to order food online and watch Netflix; you don’t need to push yourself. My everyday work is team meetings and making Excel and PowerPoints, so it’s good to have something totally opposite to push yourself and seek new limits. I want to dig deep in the pain cave.

He concentrates a great deal on recovery to accomplish that safely but warns that you must have the whole balance. “Over the past decade, 100-mile races have become increasingly competitive, but it's not only about the sport; you have your work, family, sleep, and diet—you need to have the whole package in place.”

While he doesn't track his eating, he does have a healthy diet and avoids alcohol because of its detrimental impact on sleep. I have been using Oura and the Oura ring since it was launched three years ago, so I closely monitor my heart rate exertion (HRE) and recovery. Before and after races, I regularly check my hemoglobin levels.”

The whole package is in place to support his future endeavors. While his racing schedule for the rest of 2024 is yet to be finalized, it does include a return to Tor des Géants in the fall.

He also lists the Triple Crown in the US as being on his bucket list. Consisting of three 200-mile races run consecutively over four months, it is the ultimate challenge and is easily within Max Moberg’s incredible reach.

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Dive into the depths of Max Moberg's preparation for the NUTS 300! Uncover the strategies that fueled his record-breaking performance. Read the full article now (Coming soon)!

Written by Asa Butcher

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