Monday, July 15, 2013

Åre Extreme Challenge 2013 - race report

Having just finished watching the TV4 Sport production of the race this evening it's given me the inspiration to finally get around to writing a race report. If any of you watched the program this evening we had 3 short clips from the GoPro camera included in it...blink and you'll miss them but Jon's backside made 2 appearances and my hands the one appearance on national TV....damn, next year we'll have to be quicker to get our faces on instead :)

Race day:
Weather was great, sun was shining and the station announcement for the 6:16 train to Trondheim was our trusty alarm clock for the 2nd morning in a row!
After throwing a little bit of food down, we started the morning by heading off to the transition in the square to leave our bags for a little later in the morning. Then it was time to unstrap the kayaks from the roof of the car and head down to the beach and wait for the time to put them in the water and make our way to the start a couple of hundred metres into the lake. We had plenty of time admire the fancy lightweight kayaks of others and compare what footwear people used whilst hopping off to empty bladders before we were about to sit in a plastic tube for the best part of 2.5hrs. 
Kayak (18km)
The 10sec warning went and then whoosh as a 400 kayak paddles started to propel the vessels forward. We had a strategy to stay out of trouble and progress at our own pace, within the first minute we could see the first boat upside down and someone swimming, great start! we avoided the small 'pile up' and rounded the first buoy to head 'down-lake' but 'upwind'. The field spread out quite fast and I hung onto the back of a group of racers to use as a buffer against the wind whilst checking over my shoulder for Jon...but he wasn't there! I slowed to check directly behind me in my blind spot and sure enough he came paddling like mental, buffeted by the wind with no protection and looking tired. From that moment we regularly checked in with each other to ensure one of use didn't get too far ahead/behind and drafted each other to preserve energy. The 2nd and 3rd buoy's brought us heading back to Åre strand and after 6km of paddling we had the first portage, carrying the boats for some 450m before jumping back in and heading 6km upstream to the falls. Pace started to drop where the stream was strong but we soon rounded the turning point and could go WITH the stream on the way back. I 'zoned out' a few times, concentrating on the flow of the stream and trying to get the best possible assistance from mother nature, Jon thought I was mental to start with going totally different ways to the rest of the competitors but soon realised the benefit as we started to pick them off with very little additional effort :) Hitting the lake, the wind was again strong in our faces but we landed the craft on the beach, carried them to the car park and jogged off to the transition.
Transition #1
We found the bags easily and soon realised what we could have done with.....'a support team'. We started pulling out gels, change of shoes, drinks, etc. and then had to pack away the shoes from the kayak, spray deck, life jacket, etc. before heading up the mountain, time wasted which adds to the total time.
Run - via Åreskutan (15km)
The first 15-20mins are the hardest of the run as you head straight up Tottlift and it's more a hike than a run. Steady pace and trying to keep the HR under 160bpm became our strategy as we steadily climbed up, up, up. Some very dark clouds started approaching so we took the option of stopping to put on the jackets, hats and gloves which we smartly packed.....GREAT MOVE!!!....within the next couple of minutes it started snowing, then rain, then hailstones bouncing off us. We kept steadily climbing, over small unmelted snow patches then finally reached Toppstugan stopping briefly for a picture (for the blog of course!). It was +22C at the lake and +10C on the top...brrrrr!
Then started the descent, first dropping over rocks and steep jumps before the big snow field in the ravine (where our camera work made it to TV4 Sport!).
It was about 4:30 of running over the snow so maybe 800m in length? After this fun part (where we vowed to bring stjärtlapp next time :) ) we hit the soggy ground, slippy rocks and 'akward terrain'. I fell hard hopping across some rocks when my footing gave way on the slippy rock and crashed onto it. OUCH! Immediate thoughts turned to, "anything broken", "any blood", "what hurts?", probably about the same time those similar words came from Jon's mouth. Well, nothing broken, a bit of blood (more than a scratch) and a rather bruised leg but nothing to stop us continuing. I say thanks to Niki's training that I was quick enough to flip around in the air and not land on my head but my side, somehow flicking the poles aside to not end up like a BBQ skewer! And so we progressed, slowly at first before finding the long, seemingly never ending winding forest road down to Huså.
Transition #2
"Where are our bikes?" we asked each other and other competitors in the transition. We had them transported along with the bags but spent what seemed like ages to find them....obviously they were right under our nose but tiredness didn't help. Jon sprang off to the toilet (and I suspect to check out the dagens menu in the house :) ) whilst I started unpacking the dry bags and refilling camelbacks and stocking the bikes. Again, a support crew would have been ideal as we hung around for probably 15mins getting stuff sorted, even though it was well planned. And then we were ready for the final assault on the bikes...
MTB - 31km
I'll never forget Jon's words after 4 or 5km, "well this isn't as tough as I thought it would be!".....and that would be the easiest AND cleanest bit of the ride we learned with 26 gruelling kms to pull our weary bodies over.
The famous 'bog' started on 5km and we walked the bikes well over 1km through knee deep mud, on 2 occasions even deeper as we pulled each other out. Hoping this was the worst we kept spirits high unknowing that deep mud would be a constant feature AND annoyance for the next 2-3hrs. The course was tough, no doubt about it, we rode, we walked, we ran with the bike, we cursed the organisers, we cursed the terrain, we cursed mother nature BUT we dug deep and used what we both considered to be our strength...WILLPOWER and the fact that you would have had to airlift us off the course as we were never going to quit. The course seemed to just go up, up, up and we longed for downhills. When they came the smiles were huge on our faces but they were so short lived before back uphill again and more mud! Åre Björnen was hard as it was uphill through mud and then the same on the downhil before hitting my highlight, 2 or 3 constant minutes of fast downhill with the bike snaking underneath you, trying to erradicate thoughts of what the consequences would be of a crash on a grus väg at speeds of 40-50km/hr...ahhh enjoy it for now as it would soon be up again. The last 3-4kms, as if the rest wasn't tough enough, was a long and steep climb up the mountain in Åre to the start of a technical section of downhill. It was difficult and technical and Jon did an excellent job of getting himself down it with a bike that was starting to cause problems with the chain jumping and gears jamming from the amount of dirt. It was also a bit scary to be honest if you were not familar with the tracks or how to ride them, it was like speedway on the corners, reverse steering and sliding the back wheel around...but good fun all the same!
The final km....limping a bike stuck in 3 gears, the rain starting to hammer down again and the final corner and the final climb! 30m from the line and the chain jammed on Jon's bike, undeterred he hopped off and RAN the bike over the finish. The support from the volunteers was incredible, ALL of them stopped what they were doing and lined the road to welcome us home! The crowds of earlier in the summer sunshine for the winners were long gone.
It was emotional to finish, WE HAD DONE IT!!!!!!!!

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