What a race! StoneBrixisMan was a completely INSANE race,
I have been fortunate enough to race in many spectacular races, including Ö till Ö, Ironman Hawaii, Xterra Maui, and many of the “extreme” triathlons – Norseman, Celtman, Swissman and now StoneBrixiaMan.
The Norseman is The original, The Celtman is the raw and rugged and the Swissman is a real beauty. StoneBrixiaMan surely qualifies as one of the great ones. The StoneBrixiaman surely will be the harder one with 4000 meters of climbing on the bike and 2000 on the run…
The executive summary is that I finished 4th after a chaotic but ok swim, a hard bike (consider 24 km per hour but still posting 4th he’s bike split…. 4000 height meters). But the run… was no real run. It was a long run with harder cramps than I knew was possible. Read on for the full story.
First a few images…
I got to know about the race from the extreme triathlon community this Autumn. The last few years I have surely looked for more spectacular races than ordinarily triathlons. This often means harder, but for me the key parameter is the experience and uniqueness the race has. The extreme triathlons are often with many height meters, and after all, I don’t consider myself as a great climber. After all, I weight like 10 kg too much.
The StoneBrixiaMan seemed to be a really nice race. It was the inaugural race this 2016, which adds some charm. I got in contact with Franscesco, the race director who I directly connected with as a really passionate guy about triathlon. I signed up for the race early, with a few friends that were going to join, Eventually, a couple of these guys dropped out for various reasons, I could tell that was a loss from their side! Eventually we were 3 swedes joining the race.
The arena is set in northern Italy, starting in the beautiful Lago Iseo, close to Garda, and goes northbound into the Dolomites, with bike passes like Mortirolo and Gavia. If you know anything about biking and Giro d Italia, you instinctly will understand that the bike ride is hard… The run is set around beautiful Ponte Di Legno and finished at Paseo Paradisio.
The race is a standard ironman distance length of almost 4000 m swimming, 180 mm biking and 42 k running. The icing of the cake is 4000 meters of climbing on the bike and 2000 meters of climbing on the run. The gradient on the bike is up to 20%, so meow sure you have the right gearing….
I drove down to Bergamo and Lago Iseo with my family as we were combing the race with some other holiday, relaxing by the Adriatic Sea (great but predictable), visiting Venezia (always a tourist trap, but now a tick in that box for the kids) and several days of via Ferrara climbing and hiking around Cortina (fantastic experience, and great to be able to share such experience with the boys)… We arrived two days before the race very late, and stayed at a great hotel in Brescia. The day before the race we went up Marone for the usual race meetings and hang out with the other crazy guys and girls. The atmosphere around an extreme triathlon is always very released, and also at StoneBrixiaMan. The starting kit was impressive, including 6 real kit bags (no plastic shit) and a personalized race suit from Santini with my name printed on it. How awesome!! (this was actually going to be a theme thoughout the event, as we were welcomed with a great StoneBrixiaMan down jacket at the finish line, and a personal plaque made of stone on the race ceremony.) Compare this with your usual useless common medal and ill-fitting finisher t-shirt on virtually all races…
I had been given bib #1 – an honor from the race direction!
Back to the pre race. We hang around talking to the other athletes, and had a nice relaxing day in Marone,. I fitted my bike and racked that in T1. I tested my new 2XU wetsuit, as it was almost untested. My old wetsuit was falling into pieces, so the speedy help from Timo at 2XU and O2Tri was appreciated! Naturally, the wetsuit worked like charm. We all got one safety buoy to use during the swim. fitted with a led light so they would be visible during the night swim.
Eventually we went back to the hotel for the last preparations, including the fixing of several bottles of de-carbonated Coke-redbull mix to be used on the run section.
I didnt get too many hours sleep (like 3), as the alarm was set to 2 am. Did I tell you it was an early start? Super early? The boat was to leave 3.30 and the race would start at 4 am from the boat…
My family was supporting the bike leg from the car, and we had decided to bring the 3 kids to the starting line, I’ll tell you they were tired when we woke them up.
Race day! We came to Marone in good order… for the final preparations. I only had to fix the last things with the bike, lube up with some Vaseline and get into the new 2XU wetsuit.
The boat came along the shoreline and was an impressive sight. It had fireworks on it so every now and then there were flames shooting off. Impressive and got us all into a great exiting mood. It was completely dark. We all boarded the boat with excitement. I was calm and did some stretches during the 30-40 minutes long trip out to the starting point. Now the information was in Italian only. We started to get more and more confused as the race direction explained the course around the buoys and culminating in rounding a small island with a beautiful castle. The water was completely calm and dark. Two kayaks would provide guidance and safety, and the concept was that one kayak would lead with an illuniated big blinking safety buoy from Restube, and all athletes should follow. Hence only the leading athlete would need to follow the kayak and all others could follow the swimmer in front with blinking Restube.
Almost without any warning the gun went off!
Completely confusing and I was swimming only in the general direction that had been pointed out. I couldn’t see the kayak, despite I knew I was among the first swimmers. Absolutely no sign of the bouy that we should round several hundred meters away – and of course the weak blinking light was completely invisible from the surface for a swimmer. I swam a bit with some others, but had to stop again and again and breaststroke in order to find any sign in front of me. Nothing, except from a couple of equally confused swimmers around me. Eventually we saw the first rounding buoy, and I was among the first to round it, but still no kayak! There was not a bend in the course, but interestingly enough we started to meet swimmers who were swimming in the absolute opposite direction. When looking at the swim track below, one can easily see how poor we kept the direction. I am normally a quite straight swimmer, but this time the track is really funny.
Eventually, we rounded the small island and it became obvious where to swim into Marone. I was, however still a bit uncertain as I was completely alone. Surely I couldn’t be swimming so solid?
Despite my questions, the swim was really relaxing, dark and flat water, lights on the shore in the distance and the island to swim around.
When coming into the quay and the T2 I was cheered by my great family and the spectators. I was number 3 out of the water! I have everything to thank AnnaKarin @simcoachen for this solid result. It appears that the lead kayak had led athlete number one, and as he was a bit faster than me and number 2, that was why we hadn’t seen him. The distance between number 1 and us two was significant, but with better arranged swimming, I could have shaved of a couple of minutes… Anyway – the race is new and it always takes a year or so before all things are in place. Better light beacons and a more straight swim course will do the trick.
I had an effective T1, my younger son was cheering me on and filming me. Everything went smooth and I got away fast on the bike, despite taking on a pair of GoCoCo socks. I knew it was going to be a long day in the saddle. In fact, I had the fastest T1 overall.
So the bike started. The initial way out of Marone goes on a bike only track just by the lake. Surreal and great start. Several close turns made the 40+ km/h part quite interesting.
The first 60 km are quite flat. Or rather they don’t have such hard grade as the rest. This part goes through the valley up to Edola. Here my family caught up with me a couple of times. But then they disappeared. We had arranged that they would stay close to me most of the bike ride, but it started to become a bit lonely. In fact many of these Extreme Triathlons has been quite lonely for me. Staying at the relative front means very few other athletes, and in fact, you just see the once or so during the whole day.
What I didn’t know then was that my family had their own version of adventure. They missed me again and again at the aid stations, possibly took the wrong way and eventually had a puncture. How often do you get a puncture on a car these days and what is the likelihood to get it on race day? Naturally the car has no extra tire, so the family was stranded somewhere along the course. But with some great help from Francesco everything was solved eventually. Her blog is quite funny, read it in Swedish here: https://vardagsbekannelser.wordpress.com/
Anyway, I pushed on and whizzed through Edola where the real climb begins. Climb is not your average back-yard hill. This is Mortirolo where many fights has been fought in Giro d Italia. It just goes up on small narrow roads in the wood. There were signs of gradient of 20%, and believe me, you really need some power to climb them. Fortunately I had changed to a 11-28 cassette on my road bike fitted with additional aero bars (I chose not to use the tri bike, which I am glad for). I think it was at km 90 that I saw number 2 at the aid station. I had much better speed on the bike and soon I passed Johannes Kiefer from Germany. Now I was number 2 of Stoneman…
I wondered what had happened with my support/family. Maybe thy just had had enough of my crazy ideas and went back to Sweden? I had planned to get aid from them every now and then, but fortunately I didn’t need anything, as I could get most from the Aid stations.
Over the Mortirolo and down on the Monno side. The ride was so beautiful, yet so hard. I kept close eyes on my Edge displaying the power data, careful not to push harder than 300 watts at any time. But that is easier said than done. Eventually I got to the pass of Mortirolo where bikers were coming up from the Ponte di Legno/Monno side in numbers. The downhill ride was fast just as exciting it shall be. I lost some traction in some of the serpentines, but generally I was OK. I got down to toe road taking me to Ponte Di Legno, and realized it was a solid uphill ride until getting there. In Ponte Di Legno, the next epic climb would start, the Gavia pass. Equally known to everybody who knows anything about cycling. But in reality, the climb had already started, if you look at the height curves. My legs, however already cooked. A tickling sensation of cramp was there every now and then, but not much to do other than power on.
Ponte Di Legno is a really nice small mountain village and I came through it as second. We passed the main walking only speed and tourists had to throw themselves to the sides. How fun. Fantastic to take the course through the main square of the village! No sign of my family/support….
The Gavia climb started and here it was full of motor bikers and cyclists, on such a great day for cycling. I passed many (out of competition), but no one passed me. Maybe I wasn’t doing so bad after all. I just kept counting down on the altimeter on the Edge, and at the same time watching todays average speed dropping and dropping. Also the 30-second wattage was declining more and more. The climb just went up up up. My power could barely get me uphill sometimes, despite the compact drive and 28-cassette and 50 rpm… Later when analyzing the race, one can easily see that my power was in fact declining on this part, and it is obvious that I had pushed too hard on the bike. The cramps in my legs started to become a big problem. I understood that if I get a real cramp attack I would have to stop and stretch. There is very little rolling on the Stoneman. And standing next to the course for a while is to use valuable time poorly- I barely managed to get myself to the top at 2600-something meters above sea level. That is higher than any mountain in Scandinavia. I was happy that the bike leg was almost over, now it was only a downhill stretch.
I was given my jacket that had been sent up to the top, much appreciated, as it was below 10 degrees up here, and now it was time to get down fast. I got some gels and swallowed a banana. Going down sounds easy but it can be quite hard. Hard for the shoulders and arms, and only the braking is a bit hard actually. After every hard bend, you want to accelerate fast again. The Edge logged 73 km/h which isn’t that much, I had 82 on Swissman 2 years ago.
But it was great to coming down. I cheered all athletes on as I met them. The motorcyclists were lethal as usual, using the whole road. Scary at times, but I got down safely, trying to hydrate and fill up energy, which is easier said than done at such speeds.
I came into Ponte di Legno at full speed and confidence. Would my family be here now? Would Marco the local supporter be here?
Later, I was to learn that my bike split wasn’t that bad. 3rd overall of all athletes, and I came to T2 second. But to give some idea how hard such bike course is, consider that my average bike speed was 25.4 km/h, over the 4000 height meters. Still that was the 3rd best time. Remember that I have no particular climbing skills, and I am far to heavy to be a good climber.
The T2 was at the main square – great venue for the Stoneman. The supporters got my bike and I was handled my T2 bag. There was Gustaf and all the others – also Ludvig my older son that was going to bike with me while I was running on the first loop! I changed fast to a running vest and shoes, stretched for a second. Marco was there, first time I saw him, but watching the video shot by Gustaf, one can see I was really in the zone, completely focused on the task.
There was a bit of confusion when I started the run. I was given a bit confusing directions so while I was all pumped up with adrenaline and trying to turn to the opposite direction I fell hard on the slippery pavement. I had my iphone in my hand and was sure I had crashed that. Or my hand. But all went OK and we started off.
Initially I was good on energy and full of excitement to start the run. The run starts uphill and circles Ponte Di Legno the first 20 k or so. I ran solidly for the first 4-5 k despite the hard start of the run course. But then I rapidly started to loose energy levels. At the second aid stations I got my first real cramp attacks, on the inner side of my thigh. I had to walk for a bit, but changed between jogging and walking. Ludvig was supporting on the mountainbike and had problems to keep the pace uphill, but had naturally no problems on the flats. Marco was great, but as we didn’t really know each others by then, he couldn’t be too hard with me. I think he pushed me appropriately and all the time urged me to get fluids and energy down. But this was my second problem – I had some issues with my stomach and was afraid to mess it up completely. In hidsight, I think I should have forced myself to get more energy in – no matter what.
My condition became worse and worse, but I had some moments during the first lap with at least some jogging speed. I had the decency to jog through the Ponte Di Legno at km 20, when the rest of my family cheered me on and gave me strength. Marco was great.
Ludvig dropped off as he wouldn’t be able to bike the rest of the course. Soon after km 20 I was passed and came into third place.
An extreme triathlon can sometimes change from racing to surviving, and at this point it was all about doing my own race, but Marco motivated me with arguing that I would be stronger and come back later.
I was struggling harder and harder with cramps in my legs and stomach. The legs were completely wasted especially on the back side of the calves, the front of the lower legs an inner thighs. Fortunately, I had packed my super lightweight poles that Marco gave me.
The course would now only have uphill. In fact – the run course is “almost never flat” as they said on the race meeting. It went up on the road towards Gavia and then turning off towards Passeo Tonale, where the REAL climb and rugged terrain would start.
It was hard. We came into some meadows and I was passed again this time by the German guy, now fourth position. I tried to respond, but had no possibility. At this time, I had changed the gels and redbull-cola to get some solid energy by the Indiebars instead. It seemed to work OK and my stomach accepted them. My energy improved slightly, but my legs were so bad. The cramp attacks came in waves.
We got into the forest and there were some really really steep inclines on the dirt track. I couldn’t almost get over them, despite my walking poles. It was all a struggle and no racing. I became demotivated, as I must have misunderstood the number of kilometers to Passeo Tonale, which seemed to never come.
Eventually we got there and could actually see the Passeo Paradisio, the station where the Stoneman would end. It was so high up, 2600 meters above sea level. We passed the last aid station and the track towards the top continued down for a while. I couldn’t believe it.
The course markings were on this bit poor, so I became so uncertain whether we were on the right track or not. Marco ran ahead and found a mark. Great.
The area is so beautiful, but even if I had really enjoyed the scenery on the swim and bike, I could not absorb the surroundings. We continued up so slowly. Passed yet again and in fifth place. I counted the kilometers but couldn’t get it right. I asked Marco for altitude readings again and again as I wanted to preserve my energy rather than clicking up the alti on my Garmin Fenix 3.
I could hear Marco was lying to me saying that we were “”almost at xxx meters” – and I understood he was exaggerating a bit. But I accepted the small lies.
Suddenly I saw the back of the German guy again, he was having problems too. I couldn’t believe it. I had come 4th in Swissman and Celtman, and now I was about to move into 4th position with only 45-60 minutes of racing left. This became the goal of the day, and I pushed e bit harder, if only a little.
The terrain was really rugged and over the big boulders my cramps would sometimes stop me for some considerable time. I just couldn’t keep going without some stretching.
Suddenly I saw Gustaf, my wonderful younger son meeting me. He hugged me. The goal must be close. The German guy was not miles away but I had confidence that I could defend the position. Up and up again. Coming over the crest I saw my wife and Filippa.
At this time of the race I got really really emotional. So much hardship and so much pain. They were a couple of hundred meters away and couldn’t really see my conditions, neither my pains or my near-breakdown of strong emotions. I got myself mentally together, but after the crest there are some small steps downhill. My calves got a cramp attack at this point so I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t stretch it out with my own body weight, so Marco had to help me. Then the other calve the same thing. Would I be able to get to the finish line 400 meters away? Would I need to crawl?
Look closely on the first image of the ones below and you will see Marco pushing my calve to a stretch…
I starteg jog/powerwalking and hugged my Filippa and was cheered by my wife. Last uphill to the finish arch. Couldn’t believe it was soon over. Very very emotional.
The “run” had taken me 6.13 hours. I cannot believe how slow that is.
Franscesco hugged me. I hugged my family. Tears were not only close. So happy it was over. Questioned me why I was doing these things, but at the same time I just knew why.
I came 4th in the inaugural Stoneman, the first non-italian. There seems to be a curse over the extreme triathlons for me and fourth places, but I can only be happy anyway. 30% didn’t make it, and had to abandon or didn’t make the cut-offs. Understandable and all respect to them.
The race must be the hardest one I have done of extreme triathlons, but along the Swissman it is certainly one of the most beautiful.
The photographer Danielle Pezzoni had captured my emotions and hardship at some key occasions during the race, and the images are just stunning.
On recap, I am happy with the race but still a large chunk of disappointment. If I only could have kept together with decency during the run? The winner was outstanding, but with optimal performance and training I could possibly have shaved of a couple of positions.
Truth is, however, that even if my training has been regular, I have been lacking real long runs and real solid bike sessions. There is no way to cheat yourself into a performance at a race such as Stoneman. I have had solid results on London Marathon and Göteborgsvarvet this year, but even a Marathon is obviously possible to hammer through with good result with minimal training and high determination.
On race day I did some tactical errors. We all do. Looking at the power files, it is clear that I pushed too hard on the bike, and I had to pay for it on the run. I had 3rd best swim, 3rd best bike and 14th best “run”. I really tried to get my energy in, but I should have forced myself harder with the energy, both on the bike, and certainly on the run.
Franceso and the rest of the team has created a fantastic event. Thank you for letting me experience it.
Thank you Marco for helping me but I am sorry I coukdnt give you a nice run in the mountains.
Thank you to Simcoachen, GoCoCo, Indiebars, Garmin, Nordic Wellness and O2Tri/2XU who help me in various ways.
Charlotta – thanks for letting me do all the crazy things.