Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Multisport training in Asia

It's hard to believe that over a month has past since I returned from a two week trip to China, Korea, and Japan, but time does indeed fly. I've been meaning to write a few words about this trip and my reflections on the different countries and their training culture, but it hasn't been until today that I've managed to find the time. Nonetheless here's a quick summary.

China
I started my trip in the relatively new (30 year old) city of Shenzhen, which is at the southern tip of China, just north of Hong Kong. I stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel which is a beautiful facility with huge rooms, a big outdoor pool, a full gym and spa, and even a full 25 m swimming pool.  Here I had the opportunity to use the gym, but also to run outdoors and even to swim one day in the pool.
After an early (and sweaty!) run in Shenzhen

Running gave me the opportunity to see the city a bit more close up and Shenzhen is truly a great place. There are lots of green areas and on my two morning jogs I encountered a lot of locals out practicing Tai Chi, or using one of the many outdoor gyms that are strategically placed near all of the children's playgrounds. (I guess the kids play and the adults work out.) The only downside of Shenzhen is the humidity, which can be oppressive at times. If you are going to run, you definitely have to get up early to beat the heat.

Fact or tip about China
Swimming caps are mandatory in China. Don't buy one at the hotel gym--they want like 300 RMB for one. Just find a local street market that sells touristy stuff and buy one for 30 RMB.

Korea
My trip continued in Seoul where I stayed in the Gangnam neighborhood, made popular by last year's pop hit. I stayed at the Imperial Palace Hotel, which like the Intercontinental had a full gym and spa, although lacked a pool big enough for swimming laps. The Imperial Palace's gym is actually a local gym located in the hotel, and they had a complete weight room, a fitness court, two banks of treadmills and stationary bikes, as well as a lot of stretching equipment that I have to admit I'd never really seen prior.

Koreans obviously take exercise seriously and here you can see people out running, walking and cycling at all hours of the day. The Han River runs through the entire city and there is a recreational area on the banks of the river that extends for over 40 km. You can rent bicycles for $2.50 USD/hr at a number of stations or you can do like me and my coworker who ended up walking over 16 km on the first Sunday we were there. (I recommend the bike, by the way.)

Fact or tip about Korea
The hotel gym at the Imperial Palace Hotel has an ominous sign at the check in desk which says "We reserve the right to refuse service to guests with tattoos." I guess body art is not appreciated in Korea.

Japan
The final leg of my trip was in Tokyo and here I was put up at the Keio Plaza Hotel. Nice hotel but the gym was really just a little room with almost no equipment, so I found myself happy that I had remembered to pack my Casall Exetube which also works in a pinch to turn a hotel room into a gym. I also had a morning run on the streets of Tokyo and managed to find my way into a private park where I was promptly chased down by a security guard who explained to me (via pleasant hand gestures) that I was not welcome to run there.

Fact or tip about Japan
Running is a bit difficult in Japan since the streets are really crowded. That said, the real rush doesn't happen until sometime after 9 AM, so if you are an early riser you can get in a pretty uninterrupted run without irritating the locals.

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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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