Monday, July 6, 2015

RACE REPORT: Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge

Firstly...why do it?
After last year's race, Jon and I decided HÅEC2015 was not something for the 2015 calendar and we'd try other races such as Rock The Trail, Kolmården Extreme & Hofors Adventure Race. My wife (Nina) had then signed up for Nike womens 10km in Stockholm the same weekend of HÅEC so the family were all geared up for supporting her....but then disaster, she injured her knee and thus couldn't run :(
After returning from Kolmården, I had a little snooze on the sofa and upon waking, Nina's first words were, "I've found cheap accommodation in Åre, you should go do the race!". I gave it a couple of days further thought before finally signing up just 23 days prior to the start. I must admit, receiving emails from the HÅEC organisers in the weeks previous had started to increase my interest. Åre Extreme Challenge was my first ever attempt at a multisport race and ever since has been my favourite race one which has now kept me coming back since that first attempt in 2002.

I'd had what I consider to have been a good year so far with a 13 year best for me in the Den Haag half marathon, knocking almost 20 minutes off my previous Lidingöloppet MTB time, a personal best on my sprint test route & feeling strong in both Billingeracet & Kolmården Extreme so I felt that 23 days should be enough to be able to turn up and finish in HÅEC. I did however have to start thinking about getting hold of a white water helmet!...and there were coming lots of reports of a lot of snow up on Åreskutan!

The race:

For safety reasons, in the final few days leading up to the race,  the kayaking was moved to lake Åre due to high water levels in the river. I was looking forward to tackling the rapids again, the last time being 2003 and with a heavy and stable sea kayak this time, the river flow would've helped me downstream into Åre. As it was, it became a familiar 18km lake paddle and after the exploits of last year, that had the potential to be a big challenge. As it was, it was a bit bumpy to begin with, but as the morning progressed the wind subsided and the waves were nothing like the days leading up to the race. I took the option to stay out of trouble early on, there's no point getting amongst the surf-skis as they just fire past you like you're standing still or tip the owner in and you have a large piece of flotsam broadside across your bow. I hung with the folks paddling the sea kayaks trying to conserve as much energy going downwind before a long slog back up the lake, a 250m portage then up the river against the wind and flow before returning back to the beach. There are 2 sections where you have to carry your boat and on each I was telling myself that next year I go for a surf-ski. Carrying a 23kg boat on your shoulder / back was tough work for that distance!!!

I moved through the TA quickly thanks to some great preparation by Nina & Oliver who diligently got me sorted in a flash. Food stuffed in pockets, big slurp of drink, a high-five to my other children and I was off.  
The run has always been my least favourite part of the race. The initial 400m vertical climb up Tott lift sets the pulse racing and legs burning before turning at the top to head towards "lille skutan" before the final push to the top. This year there was snow above 1,000m, a lot of snow, more snow than ever and certainly a strange experience at the end of June. I set myself a metronomic pace going up, up, up and tried to enjoy the amazing views you are afforded up there. Climbing through the clouds, I found the final 200-300m of vertical tough going, but the moment I saw the radio mast come into view I got a spurt of energy knowing that it's all downhill (almost) from there to Huså. 
Photo: Jakob Edholm, ( / @eyeforaction)

This year it was very different on that descent due to the amount of snow on the mountain. It was shared with skiers, happy to continue their  passion for much longer than expected! Last year I took to sliding down the large snow field but this was constant and it was hard work as the snow grabbed your ankles BUT it was fun all the same. Where else could you get such an experience running crazy downhill often out of control on a huge bed of snow at the end of June!?! I must say the Swedes seem to be very good at running downhill in snow. There were times I felt I was going as fast as I could and was made to feel like I was standing still by some fearless Scandinavian ploughing through the white stuff! Soon enough though you hit the old mine road which takes you into the top of the slopes in Huså.
Another TA well organised. Even my late request for a "double-resolve" (I'd sucked my camelbak dry on the run as the mercury was rising and the sky was a brilliant blue) was handled quickly as I peeled off the running shoes and donned the MTB ones. A twinge of cramp slowed me a little but a quick stretch, a bit of banana, some bar shoved into the mouth and I was out onto the bike which I'd been looking forward too for the past 30-40 mins.

The course seemed drier than past years, or was it that I was getting better acquainted with the distances and not worrying so much about it? Or was it that all that water is still actually snow on the mountain! Knowing the bog was only 600-700m in length it felt much easier this year and to walk/run with the bike without the ground trying to swallow you and your bike up like previous years.
The track passes over the road between Huså & Åre 4 times on route and at 3 of those, the family were there screaming me on and giving me extra motivation. I did had to laugh hard at the final time as my eldest son was screaming at someone, "It's mountain biking, not walking with your bike!" there were a few people smiling at that one :)
I had my mind set on the fantastic downhill stretch from the marshes in Åre Björnen which didn't disappoint, before you approach Åre from the East, cycle around the back of Tott Hotel and then up, up, up the final climb towards the downhill track "Getrappet" which I then rode with the biggest smile on my face possible and let the bike fly where it could. From the bottom of Getrappet it was only 2 1/2 mins to the finish in the square. What a feeling to finish with people lining the roads in the sunshine and cheering you on those last few metres to where it felt like a big party was ongoing.
I knocked 1hr 8mins off the previous 2 years times which I was really pleased with. I already started thinking where I could knock yet another hour off next year....not in a sea kayak that's for sure!

A big thanks to Mats and Natasha for once again putting on a super event and all the fantastic support you receive from the volunteers and public out on the course. Thanks also to all our sponsors and those who help us, Form, GripGrab, Skins, Fairing, Frisörernapåtorget & Celsius. But a huge thanks goes to Nina and our children who not only persuaded me to compete, but made the long 7hr journey north, stayed patient throughout the day, helped me in the transitions and allow me to spend my free time doing something I thoroughly enjoy. 

If there are any words to continue to motivate me then they come from Oliver when he said, "I'm going to do Åre Extreme Challenge"...and I'll be right there with him in 10 years time when he's first eligible :)
You'll find some excellent pictures of the race posted on taken by Jakob Edholm, ( / Instagram: @eyeforaction) 

Here's a great film by Swedish Mountain Film ahead of the full program airing on Swedish national TV4 on 13th July 2015.

A great film from Swedish Mountain Film #håec15
Posted by Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge on Monday, 29 June 2015
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Sunday, July 5, 2015

RACE REPORT: Billingeracet 79km MTB

Next up, only a week after Lidingöloppet MTB I (David) headed south to Skövde to ride in Billingeracet, a 80km MTB race and the opening event of the Mitsubishi MTB Challenge 2015.

I had 3 reasons for doing this event. The first being my daughter competing in Nyköping with her cheerleading team which took both her and my wife away for the weekend (the boys did not want to go). As my wife's parents live in Skövde, the second reason was I could take the opportunity for my oldest son (8yrs) to compete in the nybörjare class race of Billingracet. The third was, I may as well cycle myself as I was there!

It was great to watch Oli line up in his race and try his absolute best against kids who were older and faster than him. A great experience for him taking 11th place from 46 finishers beaten only by 1 of his same age. The first 5 were out of sight and he hung onto the back of the second group. Took a crash which set him back a few places before the finish but got up and made it home. Very proud of the little lad. With his race on the top of he mountain and the start for mine at the bottom, I had to quickly roll down to be in position for my start.

Despite registering in "snabb motion" class, I for some reason was not allowed to enter that pen and had to  go to the back....with some 800 people already in front of me! With it being a mass start and no staggering of times, that was a lot of traffic ahead and it would be a big factor in the race.

The race starts on a lovely climb on asphalt up Billingen then turns into the forest and continues even steeper on trails wide enough for 2/3 bikes. I went quick off the start trying to make up as much ground as I could without sapping the legs too early but as soon as we hit the trail, the traffic stopped. As the steep hill progressed, people were falling as those ahead were stopping meaning no momentum and nowhere to go but feet down. I became quite frustrated at progress very early on. It then turned to single track, roots and mud, and still lots of bike trying to squeeze onto a narrow rail. After some kms, it widened to a nice section along the old railway, where I teamed up with 2 others to push the pace along and overtook a lot of other riders (they could of course have been doing the half race of Oglunda Runt!). Again the course turned back to some fine single-track and  a drinks station in Oglunda where many de-biked and took a rest before a long asphalt climb back onto the tracks again! Lot of people out of their houses cheering you on which was nice!

At half way of the race (or the finish of Oglunda runt) you pass close by the finish on Billingen then continue on some fine single track once again. It was here at 40km I inadvertently crashed the bike into a bush after loosing the front wheel from under me on a slippery root. No harm done but my frustration from earlier hadn't subsided, my mental state wasn't ideal for this race!
There followed lots of single track in Ryddskogen which upon reflection was really great but as I wasn't really enjoying myself at this time, I lost time. Was quick on the wider 'transport' paths but as my head was elsewhere I failed to think of stopping, reducing tyre pressure & clearing my thoughts and carrying on and just ploughed on regardless muttering under my breath.

The last 10 km is one long steady climb, with the final 4-5km being the steepest. First you handle a 150m vertical climb through the houses on asphalt, gravel and grass. When you think you're done you descend 50m vertical again then prepare yourself for the final 100m vertical climb up ''strupen' to the finish. 
It's certainly a tough finish and never having run the course before had no idea what I was to be facing. Passed a number of people on that last climb who were walking with nothing left in their legs. Knowing it was just this hill and then it's all done I pushed as hard as I could.

There are always some positives to take from any experience and my lessons learnt for the day were:
  • Arrive early at the start and give yourself a good chance of being in front of a lot of people prior to the single track which saves a lot of time.
  • Have the correct tire pressure for the conditions. Mine was too high but my mind was not clear enough in the race to think about it.
  • My Scott Spark would've been a better choice in the conditions.
  • Most importantly "it was a great training !"
Will I go back next year? If you asked me directly after the race it was a definite NO WAY....but never say never :)
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Saturday, July 4, 2015

RACE REPORT: Lidingöloppet MTB

We returned to Lidingöloppet MTB one year on from our first attempt. In 2014 the race was spiced up a little with David experiencing a lot of cramp in the late stages and Jon's bike experiencing 'one or two' technical challenges which left him cycling almost half the race with a converted 1-speed MTB! Nonetheless it was a fantastic experience and we vowed to return and have a 'better go at it'.
That we did!
The weather was "chilly & changeable" or a "typically Swedish spring day" and we set off 1 start group apart separated by 5 mins.

The course uses a lot of the Lidingöloppet running tracks and takes in several of the famous 'hills', Aborrbacken & Grönstabacken being two notable leg sappers. The distinct characteristics of the Lidingö nature are short and steep slopes providing you with a fantastic experience of the nature and a lot of speed. The race offers various physical challenges with some great views and several chances to enjoy the views of the Baltic Sea. The majority of the trails consist of a hard packed jogging track, but with elements of single-track paths, grass and asphalt. The section after the Lidingö bridge is one of my favourites with a narrow and fast single track rising and falling along the edge of the sea. You can ride it almost like a 'pump track'.

For me, (David), the race went really well, made good speed, enjoyed the ride, had a smile on my face 'most' of the way around. It was the first time I had ridden my new 29er over 20km and the first time on some of the terrrain experienced. It did seem faster on the transport sections where rolling speed really helped but I wasn't as confident in some of the downhill sections where I'm more used to throw the other bike around a lot more. 
Nevertheless, I seemed to ride around a group of 4 or 5 others for the entire race whom were either passing or being passed throughout the 63km.

I was very happy with the time of 3:08, which knocked 19mins off previous year. Hope to take that confidence forward towards cykelvassan later in the year.

For Jon, the race also went really well with no mechanical issues to report and enabled him to ride too with a smile on his face and enjoy the experience.

The race medal is something different like that of 2014. I guess if the organisers keep this up and you ride many of these races sooner or later you'll have enough for a new chain :) 

In summary it was a really fun event and one which I'll return to in 2016 and try and beat the time yet again (already signed up!)
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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

David to compete in 2015 Åre Extreme

Sometimes, with all of the challenges of work, family, etc., getting a team together to compete in a competition which is 7 hours away from your home base can be challenging. Team Form Multisport has found itself in that situation for 2015, but at least 50% of our team will be represented at this year's Åre Extreme Challenge as David has gone and signed up for the Solo competition. He'll be experiencing a whole new race compared to 2013 and 2014 as instead of paddling a big loop on Åre lake he'll be paddling the rapids from Tännforsen at the start of the race.

Just four weeks until the start pistol sounds!

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

RACE REPORT: Rock The Trail

We had the chance to partake in a local race just north of Uppsala and it was one we just couldn't turn down. It would include only trail running & mountain biking but both with orienteering. It also offered the opportunity to race as a duo or a team of 3 and we immediately thought of asking Niki to join us to let him see what multisport was all about.

Knowing roughly where the course was situated and that we had been in that area for RAID 2013, Niki and I (David) went exploring the week previous whilst Jon was in the USA.

We took the maps from RAID and plotted ourselves a course to follow for both running, biking and then a short run again. Great fun and very useful to refresh the orienteering skills (or lack of) prior to the event. At the very least we'd be better equipped to realise what was a fence and what was a trail this time!

I had some equipment concerns the week previous to the race with my MTB still in service (3 weeks!) and unsure if it would be fixed in time. I took up the option to borrow one from a colleague just in case but fortunately received it back on the Friday evening... just in time. However, fortunately Jon decided to change his tires the night before the race and found a broken spoke on his wheel...with the shops closed, the spare bike was needed in the end!


Race day:

The morning was cold and windy, ahh the Swedish spring! so consideration of clothing was on our minds, with the forecast predicting it to warm up slightly (it eventually turned into brilliant sunshine!) we shed layers with the hope we'd be warm quickly.... and warm we were!
The first 2 checkpoints involved descending into a quarry then up the other side, then dropping back and doing the same to the other side. High HR, burning legs and heat generation were certainly in order.
We had plotted a good course on the map and were able to make slight adjustments on the fly to make it even better. There was an opportunity at one point to cross a slack-line across the river or take a bridge which meant a longer way around. We chose with our heads and ran the extra distance which in hindsight was a great decision after looking at the pictures of others in the water or struggling across. Did not want to be wet & cold so early on.

It was soon time to swap to the bike navigation and again we had made some wise navigation choices, taking slightly longer routes but faster ones on wider tracks or even on asphalt we gained time on our competitors. Our strategy of moving smartly was paying off. We left the bikes in another quarry for a short but intense run involving yet again many vertical metres of ascent and descent.
It was at the end of this run we re-learnt an important lesson, "stay 100% focused 100% of the time". Running along the ridge of the quarry we saw a checkpoint ahead and simply assumed that was the one we were aiming was...but not in that order. There was one checkpoint prior to this one which we missed and had to go back to take it before heading back again. We lost a couple of minutes in this process and added a few hundred extra metres to the legs.
Swapped back to the bikes once again for a relatively straightforward navigation back to the finish where we still had a couple of kms to run and then tackle an obstacle course. Of course, the obstacles were the other side of the first quarry which meant some more scrabbling up and down the sides using our hands it was that steep!

We finished in glorious sunshine in 4th place, with only 36 seconds separating 2nd, 3rd & 4th place. So close!

A hugely satisfying day. Orienteering is not our strength but we made wise choices, went quickly but most of all smartly. It was fun to race together and a 4th place was above our expectations at the beginning of the day.

We'd recommend this race to anyone wanting to have some early spring fun and try out multisport. Credit to the organizers at Uppsala Multisport.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

2015 Competition Schedule

Winter training has been fun but now we are just than a week away from our first competition for 2015. In fact, we've got a whole schedule of races planned:

Maybe there will even be more to come, but for now this is the fixed plan for 2015. David and I agree that we'd like to find a few more races where paddling is involved. Maybe the Dalsland Kanot Marathon is an option? 
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Saturday, March 21, 2015

City Pier City & beyond

As previously written, I headed south to The Netherlands at the beginning of March to compete in the City Pier City Half Marathon in Den Haag. The weekend was a success, being able to run a race and spend some time with some great friends in the same weekend was an added bonus.

The weather was warm, well much warmer than in Sweden, t-shirt weather in fact! This was all new to me, just the single layer of clothing to protect from the elements and a need for sunglasses too.
The first 5km went really well, ahead of schedule in fact and very relaxed with a good HR. Andy, my friend and old race partner met me around 5-6km and was screaming encouragement from the side whilst sprinting along behind the other spectators...what a boost to have someone screaming for you!
I saw him again at 12km where he popped up, again screaming encouragement and split times. My second 5km was 3secs faster than the first which showed I had a really even and relaxed pace and I still felt really great. At 15km, I was a little slower over the 5km as the race hit the coast and my inner temp started to rise but I was well ahead of schedule and feeling good. As the course turned back inland with the final 5km being an almost straight line to the finish, the wind which was a real cooling influence on the way out vanished and my HR started to climb which in turn meant my pace started to drop. No matter, head down, gritted teeth and pushed on to the finish, only to be greeted once again by a screaming Andy on the side at the final 600m. I'm sure if he could have jumped the barriers to run down the finish straight he would've done so! So I completed my first half marathon of the year in my fastest time since 2002, ahead of my realistic target and with little mileage on asphalt in the legs, I was very, very pleased and I hope to take that positive feeling into the next few months.

So what's next?
We've signed up as a team of 3 for Rock The Trail north of Uppsala on the 19th April 2015 including our coach, friend, head sponsor & co-owner of Form in Knivsta "Niki Tramontana" into the team. This will be a race of ~9km orienteering / ~16km MTB (distances as the crow flies) and we're really looking forward to it, not only to compete together but also to include Niki who has been a great help for us the past few years and to introduce him to multisport instead of triathlon which is his passion.

This means training starts to move towards trail running and mountain biking more over the coming weeks.... Lately we've had 2 contrasting weekends. Last week was sunny & fresh and we managed to fit some time together on a Saturday for a lengthy trail run around the forests and trails of Knivsta. This weekend, it's back to snow and cold again...what a time to start getting out into the forests on the bike once more...what Spring? On a positive note, on my ride today I noted the ice is quickly receding from the lake, so not long until the kayaks make a splash!

We do now both need to get more time on the mountain bikes as Lidingöloppet MTB 65km is fast approaching on the 2nd May followed possibly a week later in Skövde for Billingeracet MTB 79km. Lidingöloppet MTB was our first long MTB race in Sweden and I have fond memories of the course, but also of the cramps which set in late into the race, I'm going to be training hard to try and avoid that part this year....I'm sure Jon is hoping he won't suffer the amazing catalog of mechanical issues he faced last year!

Train hard, train fun!

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