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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