On the Vertti: Finland and the Rise of Trail Running

Wonder what it means to vetää pannut? Looking for a good race to run in Finland? Our 2019 DBR Ambassador Janne Simola has all the…


Wonder what it means to vetää pannut? Looking for a good race to run in Finland? Our 2019 DBR Ambassador Janne Simola has all the answers you’re looking for. Let’s get to it!

About Finland: 

Finland is a small (but mighty) land of forests, lakes and islands with 40 national parks. From wilderness to the capital city of Helsinki, runners can find plenty of forest trails to run. Living just a few miles out of the city centre of Helsinki, I can step out the door and be on trails just a couple of minutes later or drive the 30 minutes to Nuuksio, one of our National Parks. 

While we don’t have places to train for the mountains in Southern Finland, travelling north to Lapland (Finland’s northernmost region) will deliver a bit more vert. Instead we have fells, a feature that makes this area unique, along with our infamous midnight sun. Every time I go there, a little bit of my heart stays behind.  A 12-16 hour drive from Helsinki, it would be the place I recommend the most. 

Lapland in the summer, while it brings mosquitoes, it is quiet (and surprisingly cheap!). Ruska time (autumn) might be the most beautiful as the fells and forests turn red, orange, and yellow with the season. While some of the services might be closed near the ski centers, I can’t get enough of the all of the wilderness that’s there to explore. Not to mention that by then, temperatures have dropped and there are no mosquitoes anymore! 

When it all Started: 

Vaarojen Maraton, now 10 years old, is one of the oldest races here. The growth of the sport was slow for some years. I am a member of the oldest trail running club in Finland called Samba which started in 2014. You can easily spot the members with their bright green and yellow gorilla shirts.

The founding of Samba helped to spark the growth of the sport. In the last year alone, the number of people participating in trail races increased by 27%; the number of events increased by 10%. The natural running that is popular amongst dirtbags is on the rise in Finland also. Facebook group “luomujuoksu” or “natural running” has almost 1,000 members and is constantly increasing.

YLE, Finland’s national broadcasting company, also made a mennään metsään (translation: ‘let’s go to the forest’) series, where they organized group runs in each of the 40 national parks. There were 3,000 participants, which had to be limited due to the delicate nature of the landscapes.

Finland, trail running, ultraruning
Runners of Samba trail running club after Bodom Trail

Finland’s Must-Run Trail Races:

#3. NUTS Karhunkierros: This race is arranged by Northern Ultra Trail Series (NUTS) in Ruka, Kuusamo, and has distances ranging from 34km to 166km. The route follows the popular Karhunkierros hiking trail, and every year the weather is different. While some years are hot, some years there is snow up to the knees. Introduced only five years ago, the event started with only about 60 participants with only two distances. It now sees 3,000 participants and is a good measure to show how popular trail running has become. The race of my very first ultra, it is the event that holds one of my greatest memories. 

DBR ambassador @flanksta and fellow dirtbag @paspar_2 ready for 100miler in NUTS Karhunkierros

#2. NUTS Yllas Pallas: Arranged in Pallas-Yllas National Park, for long distances there is also NUTS YPH. The unique spin of the 105k run is that it starts from Pallas at midnight and runners run through the night to Ylläs. Since the event is held in July, however, participants are never totally in the dark and get to run under Finland’s midnight sun. 

If you’re ever looking to come to Finland for a race, the NUTS Series is one to watch out for.  

#1. Helsinki City Trail: Taking place in Helsinki central park, this race offers 6km, 14km, and 24km distances. The start is close to the city centre, yet runners are taken through amazing trails and nature that you wouldn’t expect in the middle of a city. This one is not to miss!

Other Trail Races to Note in Finland: 

Kaldoaivi Ultra Trail Finland’s northernmost ultra, this race is held in the Kaldoaivi wilderness area. Alternatively, if you are looking for a challenge, the Vaarojen Maraton (translation: ‘marathon of dangers’) is one of the oldest trail races in Finland and held in Koli National park at the end of in October each year. Last but definitely not least, the Kopparnas Coast Trail is one of my personal favorites here and also happens to be one of our smallest. A one hour drive from Helsinki, it is a nice coastal run with the start and finish at the beach with a great atmosphere. I highly recommend! 

Me running at Taivaskero, Pallas-Yllästunturi National park

Know the Lingo: 

The top 10 words and phrases to help you pass as a Finnish dirtbag runner: 

raatotaksi = the bus that takes DNFers out of the trail (direct translation: ‘corpse cab’)

vetää pannut = to fall hard 

munahanki = snow up to your goods

munasuo = swamp up to your goods

pitkis = long run 

vertti = vertical

pummi = to get lost (direct translation: ‘a bum’)

kyykkäys = to bonk or hit the wall

vetää paljaalla = to run barefoot (fun fact: alternative definition: to have unprotected sex)

telakka = to be an IPOS (direct translation: to be at dockyard)

ihan juostavaa = “runnable” (conditions, usually soft, swamp, or something else, that makes running impossible where you have to go on all fours)


Heading to Finland? Janne’s happy to answer any questions you may have!