Wednesday, August 20, 2014

RACE REPORT: Cykelvasan 90

Despite the quiet appearance on the blog, Team Form Multisport continues to be busy training and competing. Our most recent competition was this past Saturday, Cykelvasan 90.

When registration opened last year on the 21st September 2013, all 12,000 places for Cykelvasan 90km sold out in 3mins 21secs!! David & I were two of the earlybirds to secure start places and on Saturday morning we found ourselves at the start line in a dreary Sälen, ready to tackle the 90km of mountain bike tracks ahead of us.

David just before Eldris
Photo courtesy of happymtb.org
Having never done the course before, we didn't fully know what to expect, but we had heard that the competition consisted primarily of hilly dirt roads, mixed with some short jaunts of asphalt and a bit of single track. More than 7,800 people had already entered the course as we lined up for our 11 AM start. Earlier in the day we had loaded our bikes onto a DHL truck and taken a nearly 2 hour bus trip north from Mora, where we stayed the night before. Like everything with Vasa, the event worked like a well-oiled machine. There are so many volunteers supporting these events, and everything is really well thought out in advance. When our start group was released, we started up the long hill towards Smågan and quickly found a group of riders that were moving at a good pace.

David and I had hoped for a finish time of under 4 hours, and this would mean that we would need to maintain a 26 km/hr pace on average, without burning out too early in the course. We kept this pace going early on without too much trouble, dropping into pelotons and then passing when the pace got to slow. For much of the course, we managed to stay together, but at some point halfway through we separated and David pulled ahead of me. The pace felt good and my legs felt okay as well through the first half, but somewhere between Evertsberg and Oxberg I started to fatigue a bit. Just before Oxberg is a long, steep hill that is preceded by a tall, steep bridge. Here I really started to feel the distance as I made a slow, but steady climb in the lowest gear I have. Eventually, the Gopshus stop was in reaching and after having passed through I heard "Hello there" to my left and there was David, who had stopped for a bit of a stretch after that killer hill.

Jon just before Eldris
Photo courtesy of happymtb.org
We continued to cycle together towards Hökberg but again we got separated with David pulling a bit ahead. At this point, I started checking my watch and doing the math and 4 hours was starting to feel a bit of out reach, but it depended of course on the terrain ahead and I had no real idea what that was like. But when I saw the sign indicating 14 km left I knew that I would come to the finish after 3 PM, so I decided to just enjoy the last bit of riding through some of Sweden's most traveled nature, arriving at the finish line at 3:10 PM for a final time of 4 hours and 10 minutes.

Despite a bit longer time than I'd hoped for, I was happy with the finish. 95 km of pedaling is the farthest I've cycled in a single stretch in since 2007 and I finished with a respectable time and without any major cramps or mechanical issues with my bike. Maybe 2015 will bring an even better finish? :-) 
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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Training in The Netherlands

This week I have been travelling in The Netherlands for work. I stayed on for the weekend and came to Leiden to visit friends and the city I lived in for 11years from 1996-2007. I spent many a good hour training on the streets, cycle paths & canals so it was great to be able to put on the running shoes and get out on those same streets to relive the past and to check out if anything has changed. After a rainy morning and afternoon I ventured out late in the day when the sun was out and the temps were rising quickly (as was the humidity). But as I remembered, there are no hills in Holland (except the small bridges over the canals) but the country makes up for it with the wind.

I ran a circle around Leiden following the Singel Canal which circulates the city. Now you'd think the wind at some point would be on all sides as you run a circle. It began in my face as I ran west in a clockwise direction, but alas it continued to blow in the face almost the entire time no matter if I ran in a north, east or southerly direction!




Leiden is a city and municipality in the Dutch province of South Holland. The municipality of Leiden has a population of about 120,000, but the city forms one densely connected urban area with its suburbs Oegstgeest, Leiderdorp and Voorschoten. The larger Leiden agglomeration counts 332,000 inhabitants which makes it the sixth major agglomeration in the Netherlands. Leiden is located on the Old Rhine, at a distance of some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from The Hague to its south and some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Amsterdam to its north. A university city since 1575, Leiden houses Leiden University and Leiden University Medical Centre. It is twinned with Oxford, the location of England's oldest university.

As The Netherlands are playing in the World Cup 1/4 final later this evening  I thought sporting their national colours would be appropriate :)
It was a really fun run and a great leg stretch after last weekend's Åre Extreme Challenge. There were some lovely bridges on route and with boats parked outside of houses could this be Venice of the north? I've paddled the canals here in the past, these were and are a lot calmer than Åresjön last weekend!

I return to Sweden tomorrow, looking forward to seeing the family again after a couple of weeks away, then starts the training for Cykelvasan in August.
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Friday, July 4, 2014

RACE VIDEO: Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge (Team Form Multisport version)

Team form multisport's race video from this year's Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge is now complete. Check it out below.
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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

RACE REPORT: Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge 2014

Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge is Team Form Multisport’s biggest annual competition. It consists of an 18 km kayak paddle on Åre lake, followed by a 15 km trail run up and over Åreskutan (elevation gain 1100 m) and then a 32 km MTB back from the town of Huså to Åre center, crossing several more elevation gains and quite a few bogs. Last year, we entered the competition with a goal to finish. This year, our goal was an improved finish, with a stretch goal to be in the top half of the finishers. We are better trained both physically and mentally than we were in 2013, so with a bit of luck those goals seemed achievable.

Arriving on Thursday in Åre with our wives Camilla and Nina (who were there as our support team in the transitions), we immediately noticed a difference in weather compared to 2013. Whereas a year previous we had sat outside in shorts and T-shirts for lunch, this year we were bundled in jeans, fleeces and occasionally rain coats. The temperatures were well below 15C (60F) and the forecast for Saturday was changing hourly. But one thing was clear—it was going to be colder than the previous year.

Saturday morning, we awoke to mostly sunny skies and temperatures which actually felt quite nice. The forecasts were calling for warming throughout the day and no rain, with max temperatures just around 15C. After a final inventory of options, we dressed in our triathlon shorts and short-sleeved tops from SKINS and complemented those with arm and leg warmers from GripGrab. We each packed light jackets for the run as well as hats and gloves. At around 8:15 AM we carried our kayaks down to the shore and crossed the entry mat at the edge of the beach. Filled with nervous energy, we made final equipment checks and by 8:45 we were in the water, which was starting to get quite choppy. The wind was picking up across Åre Lake and it was blowing directly against the current, which was creating swells that were a challenge to hold your balance against.

At 9:00 AM something sounding like a gun sounded and a few people started to paddle. Others were yelling that that was not the start and there was a minute of mass confusion before a horn sounded and everyone started in earnest. The course across Åre Lake takes you first south to a buoy which everyone must pass on the western side before turning south east and heading for a small peninsula which juts out from the southern shore. It is narrow at the buoy and there is always mass confusion there and a few people falling in the water, but this year it was even more chaotic due to the wind and waves. Lots of people were already in the water by the time we made the turn and we got separated by quite a distance with David ahead by 100 m at times. It was quite difficult to break free from the packs of boats at first and quite dangerous to be looking for your teammate, since every time you turn in the boat you create an instability that could result in a loss of balance.

However, by the turn towards the first portage we had caught up to each other again and neither of us had fallen into the water, despite increasingly stronger winds that were dumping people in less stable kayaks everywhere. Just before the portage, we actually saw a boat get caught in the wind and tumble over the water several times. It looked like tumbleweed in an old western film. At 9:56 we crossed the time mat on the first portage and then it was back into the boats towards Tegeforsen which is located approximately 6 km upstream from the beach where we started. This section of the paddling was upstream, but the wind was at our backs so actually it was quite fun. Waves were building on the lake and you could feel the increase in speed as each wave caught the boat and pushed it forward. We maintained a steady pace until the turn at the waterfall and then felt the wind at our faces as we pushed on towards Åre Beach. By now the wind was blowing hard and we came out of the river and into the lake the waves were incredible—3 feet (1 m) high and crashing against the hull of the kayaks. At this point, all focus was lost on the effort of paddling, or the speed at which we were traveling (4km/hr!); the goal was only to keep the boat upright and not end up in the water. At times it felt like you were not moving at all, just riding up a wave and crashing down on its backside, but eventually we reached the beach and lifted the boats for the run to the depot which lay 250 meters away. Everything was sore now, especially our fingers which had cramped around our paddles due to the force we were exerting to hold our boats into the wind. Stories emerged later that one of the rescue boats had actually started to sink due to the amount of people plucked from the cold lake.

After leaving the boats we continued to run (with our lifevests, per the competition rules) to the transition zone near Åre Preschool. Nina and Camilla were great and helped us get on our running shoes, water packs and jackets. Poles in hands, we crossed the transition mat at 12:00 and started the climb up towards Åreskutan. The first part of the course takes you to a metal staircase by Hotel Tott which puts you under a ski lift on a trail so steep that as you place your poles ahead of you, their tops are at your eye level. Running here is not an option—it is just a steady climb up 800 m before some sections start to level out and where you can make short stints at a jogging pace. We were eating PowerGels every 30 minutes or so and drinking regularly which was important considering the amount of energy we had spent during the kayaking. We shed our jackets at some point because it was warm in the sun, but just shy of the top we made the smart decision to put our jackets back on. This turned out to be brilliant, because 100 m farther on the trail we were completely exposed to the winds at the top and they were whipping across the face of the mountain. We quickly ran past the top hut, grabbed a banana from the volunteer manning the refreshment station, and headed down the back side.

The ascent had taken us 1:30 (so it was 1:30 PM) and we were feeling quite good. The initial stages down are quite technical with lots of rocks and small jumps to maneuver, but eventually the trail gets a bit more defined and we had started to jog a bit more regularly. There is a snow field on that side of the mountain which David rode down on his butt like a kid on a sled—a brilliant tactic for speed that we can definitely recommend to others. We then crossed into the bogs which exist on the lower side of the mountain and eventually entered the gravel road which leads towards Huså. This is a rather monotonous section that last year felt like it lasted forever, but this year passed quickly and as we entered the ski slope which descends to the final transition we were running like crazy.

Once again, Nina and Camilla greeted us and helped us to change and fuel before the mountain bike leg. We had 15 minutes before the closing of Huså, having completed the decent in 1 hour and 15 minutes. (You are disqualified if you don’t cross the transition mat by 3 PM.) So it was onto the bikes and away we went, with new hydration packs filled and new sets of gloves from GripGrab. The start of the bike route covers a long gravel road, and this was a good chance for us to spin out our legs before entering the forest and some of the smaller (and wetter) trails.

We crossed a few very muddy bogs where the only option was to lead the bike—in some places we were up to our knees in mud. But we kept reminding each other that every step was another step closer to the finish and we were still averaging between 10 and 22 km/hr. Then, 5 km into the bike a near disaster struck when Jon’s chain broke on an uphill climb. But it was only a near disaster as we kept our heads about us, pulled a chain tool out of the tool bag and managed to repair the damage. At this point we decided to take it easy in order to minimize the stress on the chain. (We really wanted to finish without any of the mechanical heroics that were required for Jon to finish Lindingö MTB.) Still, with speeds as high as 22 km/hr we pushed forward, at one point meeting our Twitter friend MarkuuMellanen for the first time face to face in the middle of the forest, and crossing the timing mat in Björnen at 16:42. (Camilla and Nina were waiting at the road crossing to cheer us along!)

Back into the woods again and over numerous bogs, ascents and descents, and in what felt like no time we were back at Tott where we had run earlier in the day. Now we followed the steep climb up to the top of Getrappet, a very technical downhill switchback trail which descends the face of Åreskutan towards Åre center. 

Fortunately, David had had the brilliant idea to practice this the day before, so we knew where all of the tricky turns were and managed to descend without event, arriving at the bottom of the ski lift with just 2 minutes left to 18:03, our finish time from 2013. Should we go for it? We decided to push, but Jon’s chain wasn’t having any of it and kept jumping on the rear cassette, so we had to take it easy to cross the finish together as the rules require. At 18:03:17 we crossed the finish line, just 12 seconds longer than the previous year.

Reflecting on the day, we had to be flexible with our goals. We finished 37th of 57 teams that started, so not far from our stretch goal of top 50%. We didn’t finish faster than last year, but we ran and biked faster, and managed to perform some heroic bicycle repairs in the process. And we paddled an extremely difficult kayak section which was far more challenging than that we did in 2013. So did we achieve our goals? No, not technically speaking. But were we happy with our performance? Absolutely. And in the end, that is all that matters. :-) 




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Friday, June 27, 2014

Follow Team Form Multisport live at HÅEC2014!

Tomorrow morning the action begins for this year's Haglöf's Åre Extreme Challenge. You can follow Team Form Multisport under start number #607 at www.areextremechallenge.se/live and on Instagram and Twitter (@teamformse) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/teamform).
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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Arrival in Åre for HÅEC 2014

After a long but enjoyable 7 hour drive north (and west), Team Form Multisport has arrived in Åre. It is much colder here than last year. It was only 8C when we arrived at 6:00 PM. David and I were in shorts and t-shirts last year, but this year it is long sleeve jumpers and winter hats. The weather for Saturday is looking dry, but it is going to be cold as well. 2C by the lake and -4C at the top of Åreskutan are the current forecasts for Saturday morning. 

With those temperatures, we may take advantage of the sauna and fireplace at the excellent apartment we've rented from Holiday Club. Last year we stayed in the main hotel, but this time we've rented one of the apartments next door and it is fantastic. We've got a wonderful view of the lake and mountain and the accommodations themselves are top notch. 

Tomorrow we'll take a quick ride on the final section of the MTB course called Getrappet, a windy downhill section that switchbacks down a steep face before dropping you into town. Then it's safety check and a stroll around town. We may even squeeze in a gondola ride to the top of Skutan to check out the snow situation. 
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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Last week of preparation pre-Åre Extreme Challenge

After last weekend's mini-Åre (without the vertical run and the mud bath which we expect on the bike!) my mind has been looking ahead to the 2 weeks leading up to the challenge which awaits us. After the training last weekend, my Suunto Ambit2 S told me 120 hours of rest prior to the next session so I've followed it's advice and taken it easy. Rest is a big part of training and in the past I've been guilty of ignoring the signs and just plowing aimless ahead with session after session. I guess getting older really does make you wiser as I've been far more focussed on quality over quantity this year.

As I'm visiting my wife's family in Skövde this weekend, I took the mountain bike out with my middle son (7yrs) onto the mountain..Billingen and rode the tracks there. Really nice turn of the legs and keeping a very low HR and cadence but geting more feel for the bike. I'm not going to make any gains now so close to the challenge so it's more a case of keeping everything turning over and what better way of doing that than with family. Tomorrow will be a little easy leg stretch jog and on Tuesday a light and easy gym session when I'm up in Umeå again for work.

So back to my thoughts and preparation for next Saturday. I've been reminissing a bit. Those of you following on Facebook may have seen a number of throwback screengrabs from a movie my brother-in-law made during my first ever multisport race back in 2002 in Åre. It's just great to watch as we had so much fun and so many awesome memories from that trip. If it wasn't so much fun then I wouldn't be heading back again like last year and this. As well as being a good trip down memory lane it reminds me of the good things we did and the not so efficient things we did during that race, that helps me think and plan out this year.

So what are my thoughts for this week? Fix a race plan:
I've thought long and hard (even drempt) about last year and all the areas where we 'wasted' time along the way. We had a single goal last year and that was "FINISH". This year we want to beat that time and finish strong. It was an adventure last year and we treated as such, taking pictures, blogging, having to do all the transitions unaided, etc. I've run the race over in my head countless times and jotted down the areas where if we just cut those out and didn't go any harder we're likely to save between 60-70mins in the same conditions!

#1 - Kayak
Check the rudder fittings and pedals (especially for Jon's kayak as it's borrowed from Friluftframjandet and the rudder pedals have had a tendancy to throw the wire out of the pulley system in training). 
Tape gels to the deck. Fasten the water bottle to my lifevest and consider what should that contain. My plan this year is to take a mix of sportdrink, crampfix & an energy gel in a bottle. I've been trialling crampfix for the past month to help and try to prevent the cramps which hit me really hard in Lidingöloppet MTB.

#2 - Transition in Åre square
I want to be through here in as little time as possible. The moment I stop in a race, the blood pressure drops and I feel really tired, really quickly and cold too. Knowing this, hanging about for too long is not good for me. But, as we're a team we need to have a combined strategy so we're aligned. I'll be thinking more this week about footwear and whether to go with the shoes for the run in the kayak or change in Åre at the transition. Not changing will save about 30secs so it's worth a long hard think.

#3 - Run over Åreskutan
How many gels do I need to tape to my bag (when should I be taking them)? What mix is going in my Camelback? What's the weather going to be like at Åreskutan? It may be +15C at the lake but it could easily be +2C or lower on the mountain, especially if the clouds are enveloping the hill. Last year we experienced sun, cloud, hail, snow, wind, sun, rain in 60mins so we need to be prepared with clothing. Nothing worse than being stuck on a mountain in a t-shirt and it starts to hail and the wind whips up.

#4 - Transition in Huså
Once again, I want to be quick through here. A change of shoes, something to eat, an energy shot and a change of bag and we're off!

#5 - Mountain Bike
Gels need to be taped to the bike, energy tabs put in pockets & the right mix and quantity in the camelback. I ran dry on the bag last year as seriously underestimated the time we'd be out for, plus as I was refilling the bag myself in the transition just didn't get enough in. I was getting so cold and low BP that we had to get moving. We'll be better mentally prepared this year as it was mentally very tough last year just not knowing what more was to come. Could we have pushed harder at times? Could we have navigated the bogs better? Could we have ridden a little more when we were both very low mentally and physically and walking with the bikes? 
On Friday we'll ride the final downhill section so we're both comfortable with it. Being a combination of being low & the bike not functioning 100% was very tough for Jon. There's nothing worse than suddenly panicking and not being able to snap yourself back to reality....that's what tiredness does for you. But I consider us much more mentally strong and focussed than last year.

#6 - Finish
Something which we missed last year and due to having no assistance we had nothing but a coffee and a bulle at the finish (how typically Swedish you may say!). Need to ensure the box has some good stuff in it to start helping the body repair itself!

...and finally
Make sure we pack all the gear and double check it all before we leave on Thursday for the 7/8hr drive north. My box is already packed at home and I'll be double and triple checking it during the week to make sure I have not forgot anything. Best to have too much with us than a vital piece of kit left at home.

This year our wives, Nina (David) & Camilla (Jon) will assist us in the transitions. It'll be fantastic to get some help and to have someone else shout and cheer us on!

Stay tuned to FB, Instagram & Twitter during the race as Nina & Camilla will be uploading pics and comments as we progress.
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