KONGSBERG at Lofoten Ultra-Trail:

A unique team building experience

Never before have this many KONGSBERG employees participated in the spectacular "Lofoten Ultra-Trail," a 100 miles race across snow-capped peaks and pristine beaches under the midnight sun. The weekend of May 31 to June 2 marked KONGSBERG's fourth participation in the race, with competition for spots growing increasingly fierce.

"In the unique surroundings of the Lofoten Islands we are giving you the opportunity to truly feel alive. It will be hard. It will be tough. It will be amazing."

This year's 130 spots were filled in record time by enthusiastic KONGSBERG employees from the company's four business areas: Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace, Kongsberg Maritime, Kongsberg Digital, and Kongsberg Discovery.

"The number of interested participants increases every year, demonstrating the importance of this event for building relationships, fostering team spirit, and creating engagement among our employees," says Bredo Larsen, HR Director at Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace and project manager for the event on behalf of KONGSBERG. He is an avid runner himself and was captivated after his first participation.

The goal is for participants to leave with new acquaintances across the company, a shared experience that will grow over time, motivation for continued training, and perhaps a desire to participate in the Lofoten Ultra-Trail again next year.

"It's about facilitating and encouraging good health, camaraderie, and community, which are crucial for a healthy and productive work environment," says Anne Gro Kjørstad, HR Manager KONSGBERG. "We want to give our employees the opportunity to challenge themselves both at and outside work.”

KONGSBERG well represented in all categories

The Lofoten Ultra-Trail is part of "The Arctic Triple," which also includes ski and triathlon competitions. Participants can choose to run relays of 50 or 100 miles divided into 10 stages or complete the same distances solo.

This year, KONGSBERG had participants in all categories, fielding 8 teams in the 100-miles relay, 3 teams in the 50-miles relay, 2 solo runners in the 100-mile, and 8 solo runners in the 50-mile, along with several solo runners in shorter distances.

The 100 miles race stretches from Kirkefjorden to Svolvær, offering spectacular natural experiences between mountains and fjords. The trails traverse a magnificent landscape with mountain ridges, white beaches, green hills, and grey cliffs, providing almost constant views of the sea, sometimes just meters from your feet. The race continues around the clock, with the midnight sun as a major attraction and motivator for many. The finish line is in the picturesque town of Svolvær, surrounded by steep mountains at the harbour.

Team spirit, camaraderie, and friendly competition

Coordination within the teams, both before and during the race, is crucial, and many participants do not know each other beforehand. Participants come from various parts of the country, and this year included participants from Poland, Lithuania, and Sweden. Some teams arranged joint training sessions before departure, while others met for the first time at the hotel in Svolvær the day before the race.

Logistics, particularly around transport of the participants to the various stages throughout the night, is especially important. Some sleep while others run, and vice versa. During the race, teams track their members live, with competitive instincts quickly emerging. However, with long and steep stages, challenging terrain, and varying navigation skills, anything can happen and change quickly.

This year, the competition among KONGSBERG teams was tight, but in the end, "KOG Speedy Snails" claimed victory, finishing 11th overall in the 100-miles relay, while "KOG Pacemakers" was the top 50-mile team, placing 9th.

"Ensuring a balanced distribution among the different business areas and a good mix has been important when assembling the teams," says Daniel Hjelle, Senior Project Engineer at Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace, who has ensured the event ran smoothly.  

Alexander Bommen from Kongsberg Maritime has participated twice before and remembers that in the first year, KONGSBERG only fielded one team. 

"I notice that the event becomes more professional every year, and it's a luxury that the organizers from KONGSBERG have taken care of all the practical details," he says. "Not least, it's brilliant to mix participants from different business areas, which gives us the opportunity to meet many new colleagues and gain insight into other parts of the company."

Brittney Kline from Minnesota, USA, who has been with Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace for just under a month, found the event a fantastic opportunity to meet new colleagues and experience one of the most beautiful parts of Norway. 

"What a dream," says Brittney. "I ran in the midnight sun and smiled like a goober for 17 km, and I got to meet the coolest people along the way. It’s a great way to find friends amongst your coworkers. I’ll have these memories for a lifetime," she says, making it clear that she would love to participate again if the opportunity arises.

The reward

The prize for everyone who crosses the finish line in time is a delightful banquet dinner and an informal award ceremony for teams and participants who have distinguished themselves, with special recognition for the initiators of KONGSBERG's participation. The food and drinks taste wonderful, and the atmosphere is great, though everyone is exhausted.

Erlend Holberg from Kongsberg Digital is one of those exhausted participants. He was surprised to find out he had signed up for the individual 50-mile race instead of the relay. Unlike what many others might do, he decided to take it as a challenge and run for it.

"For me, this was a fantastic opportunity to get to know other great colleagues within the KONGSBERG universe, as well as to get better acquainted with myself and what both body and mind can endure,” says Erlend enthusiastically.

From the restaurant, there is a good view of the finish area, and the banquet is constantly interrupted by cheers and runs out to the square to greet team members or individual runners finally crossing the finish line. One of those who received a warm and much-anticipated welcome was Vegar Gystad from Kongsberg Aviation Maintenance Services (KAMS). He will never forget the reception he received from more than 100 colleagues after what he describes as a 100-mile test of willpower.

Life in one day

In parallel to the relay, the individual 100-mile race takes place, with participants from around the world running the whole distance alone. This year, KONGSBERG had two individual runners, one of whom was Vegar. A novice ultra-runner, he started just last year. His big goal is to participate in the "Ultra Trail Mont Blanc" in 2025, a sort of world final for mountain ultra-races. To qualify, one must complete other races, and the Lofoten Ultra-Trail is a step along the way.

"The secret to such long races is to solve the problems you encounter along the way," says Vegar. He praises the fantastic framework of the race, with beautiful scenery, friendly people at aid stations, and many cheering along the route. Despite this, he had a tough race as his body didn’t function well from the start.

"Due to mud and bog, my legs fell apart after about 30 km, and the skin under my feet came off," he says. "After about 80 km, I had stomach issues, and everything that went down came back up. So, there was a lot to handle."

However, Vegar managed to finish the race and turn things around in the latter part. "You have to take care of your body, eat, and drink from start to finish, and I succeeded in that," he says. "The last 50 km was my best. I was number 55 at 08:00 on Saturday morning and ended up 15th overall at the finish line. I’m very pleased with that, as a debutant at this distance," he says with a smile.

So why do something like this? In the "ultra-running world," they say that a race like this is like living a whole life in one day. It reflects the range of problems you need to solve, and the multitude of emotions and moods you experience. Additionally, you meet wonderful like-minded people who want you to succeed. Overcoming all obstacles and finally reaching the finish line gives an enormous sense of accomplishment.

"As the race unfolded for me, it became a real test of willpower. Therefore, I am both happy and proud that I completed it," says Vegar. "And it was magical to run into the square in Svolvær and be greeted by 100 colleagues cheering you in! It’s a memory for life," he concludes.