ThorXTri – inside story

ThorXTri. Where shall I start.

 

It has become a tradition to do one or two of the Extreme triathlons around Europe each summer. Why? If you need  to ask the question, you will not understand the answer.

Anyway, the streak started with 4th place in Celtman Extreme Triathlon – the complete saga. continued with the 4th Place at Swissman Extreme Triathlon, and 10th place at Norseman Extreme Triathlon, and after a year of some injuries StoneBrixiaMan 4th place last year.

I would say they all are really unique and all have their charm. Before ThorXTri, i should probably say that the races in the Alps are favourites, even though they were very very hard. Many are using Norseman as the mark of a really hard triathlon, but the bike and run courses in Stoneman and Swissman are killing your legs… Take a sneak peak of the images from Stoneman and you will know.

I was really looking forward to the ThorXTri, but as often I really didnt finalize my plans until very late. A complicating factor was that the support runner I had in mind couldnt come with me, which I found out a bit late. so i had several weeks of trying to find a supporter, which is both mandatory and neccessary, being an exposed race with little arranged support and a A to B race. Eventually, the Norseman Black Tshirt finisher Per Svensson, who wanted to experience ThorXTri from the side volonteered, and Per should prove to be an excellent supporter.

Training hadnt been excellent due to major distractions such as family (eeeeh?), work and lack of focus. I had almost 2 weeks of biking on Mallorca with many short bike rides in 35+ degrees. Not su much swimming or running though.

 

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We headed up to Norway and the Stavanger area only on the day before the race. I think this was suboptimal in hindsight, as we didnt have the time to drive down to Lysebotn to experience the fiord in daylight and do a prep swim. I really would recommend a test swim the days before in order to acclimatize to the cold. You really dont want the chock on race day…

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Anyway we came up to the race brief for the usual information, and as many “extreme triathlons”, it was both a bit tension/nervousness as well as a low key/relaxed setting. I did a short test bike ride, as I had just serviced my quite new Zipp 808 wheels. After the last ride (in rain) they had actually rusted in a bearing, making them really really poor to roll. but after some greasing of the (non servicable) bearings, they seemed ok. I was taking the chance in order to get a bit deeper rims. My Zipps are with carbon brake surface, which might not be optimal for hairpins in pouring rain….

Anyway the bike setup was an aero type road bike with Shimano Di shifters, clip on tempo bars and extra triahlon shifters on the aero bars. a reasonable compromise I thought. I think the bike setup worked really good, but if you are really comfortable with your tempo bike, it should be an advantage, especially if there is a strong headwind predicted.

I and Per stayed at the Högfjellshotell and had a quite poor fish n chips for dinner. I added with some beet juice and several carbo drinks.

We prepared all race kits with all possible gear i could need in different bags. travelling only 2 people in a big family car means great room for gear – all clothes you can think of, better to be prepared as the weather forecast promised rain rain and more rain.

We arranged the initial drinks, I was testing the new elite drink Maurten from the research based company from Gothenburg, allowing twice the carbs in one bottle but still allows your body to absorb well. Yes, the same drink that has been used by virtually all maraton winners this year, and also the (failed) sub2h attempt by Nike etc.

I slept OK for several hours before the race. we got up and got a wrap. Per drove us down to Lysebotn, it took an hour, but I could almost sleep dispite all the turns with the car.

Now much to arrange in T2, more than the ordinary stuff.

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There is a passenger ferry that takes you out in Lysefiord, and unfortunately I hadnt been there during daytime, and in the middle of the night you could only feel the presence of the walls. LYsefiord is the same venue as Rockman Swimrun, another awesome competition I won some years ago. Vinnare Rockman Swimrun med Team Icebug 

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Me and Thor the man before point of no return, the entry of the ferry.

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Many athletes were a bit tense (as they should be!) on the ferry out. I dont really stress up that much before a race – i think its a by-product of my over-developed capability to immediately fall asleep in various situations, such as on the ferry on the way out to a beast of a triathlon. So I did.

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The starting point is a cliff in Lysefiord just below the most famous skydiving cliff in Norway. The 100 athletes gathered together for a pre-war photo, and we “warmed up” by testing the water. a few minutes before start, we got into the water as it was a water start. I had been on Mallorca for 2 weeks just before and wasnt really used to the 11 degrees water. 11 degrees in your face is really really cold, 5 am in the morning.

I am quite used to harsh conditions, but i felt this was cold.

The gun eventually went off. There is just one way to go in the fiord, as the sides are thousand meters high. At the end of the fiord the lights from Lysebotn are just visible. The group spreaded out quite quickly, and after a few 100 meters, I decided to drop the guy I was drafting on and got away.

It was surprising, but after a kilometer or so, I couldnt see anyone. i was swimming straight to Lysebotn, so i wasnt on the wrong way for sure. I am an OK swimmer but no fish, so I was really surprised that I could maybe be leading.

In the bottom of Lysebotn, there are 2 hydropower stations and a river that drops 6 degrees mountain water into the fiord, which is mixed with the salt water. But it also creates an out-going current.

This means that a weaker swimmer will be affected much more by the head current than a stronger swimmer, in relative terms. Add hypotermia to this and you have a challenging swim section.

The swim isnt longer than about 4 k, but i think it is poos gps connectivity that makes all gps watches from polar, suunto and the like to freak out and show swims of 4500 m or similar. The Garmin is spot on (not really, actually.. 🙂 Nevertheless, the fastest swimmer does the swim in 1:20, which is quite poor over 4k, but it is the current that adds about 20 minutes to a decent swimmer. A poor swimmer needs probably 40-50 minutes extra?

I stopped feeling my feet after about 1 k. Then I stopped feeling my legs. I didnt kick anything, and from time to time I shivered in my body. I was cold but not hypotermic. Then I felt I had to start kicking hard for a bit even though it is very poor dividend, but just to get some warmer blood in my legs and feet.

It was pitch dark and you could just barely see the mountain sides. I didnt want to stop and illuminate my watch, so i wasnt sure how long i had swum. it felt like forever, but it was the coolest swim I have done. Perfectly calm and like a mirror at times. the cold make your preception sharp, in a way.

I kept going, and when i had maybe 1 k to go, there was this group coming up from the side – where the hell did they come from? I swam over, and got into line, but then I felt i should take control of the pace, which i did.

I led the group into Lysebotn, and believed I was first in. I pushed a little harder the last 100 meters. I was cold but I thought i was ok.

When I got out of the water, i was told I was third (one guy like 10 meters in front of me) and given the T1 split and the images from T1, I think I actually almost was going into hypothermia. Did I say that my mid was sharp? or maybe blurred?

Per helped me through T1. I Hadnt prepared too much, as I just wanted to get my gear on and go, but i did a mistake not having a proper towel in order to dry up faster. now it took forever to get my tight bike gear on as i was both wet, shivering and cold.

Several athletes had to be pulled out of the race due to hypotermia. even more athletes had to be taken up and dropped near the swim exit in order to be able to finish. One hero swam by himself for 2 hours 40 minutes. In 11 degrees water…

Eventually I got away out of T1, and I think I was third out on the bike.

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The bike starts so hard with a 1000 meter climb on switchback turns. Maybe the most scenic road section in Norway. I set a steady pace uphill, kept my watt on the Garmin Edge a bit under 300, but still, the first 800 meters of climb showed an average power of 289. Too high of course.

I moved up one position to #2 during the first climb, which was so long. Eventually I got to the top, and started fearing the downhill ride – the rain, wind and hairpins in combination with my Zipp 808 was making me nervous. I took it really easy on the decent.

Later I learned that there was one guy that crashed into the wall, and had to be evacuated into hospital.

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After a while, the course flattens, and becomes more undulating. Per caught up with me after the no-support section and started to coach and support me.

I had chosen to go with the new sportsdrink for winners, Maurten from Gothenburg. It worked fantastic, but the day was cold and wet, so I had to stop taking fluids if I didnt want to pee every 5 minutes.

I rocket came from behind from Tempo triathlon on a tri bike, but I kept my steady pace. It is a long day. The rain came. then it started raining more. and more.

Then the asphalt went poor. and it became worse. soon there were road-building signs, and riding with my tubulars and 10 bars felt like a drill hammer.

At times, the rain became a serious factor. At worst, i couldnt see more than 20 meters ahead. but then it stopped. and the sun came out. and then it started again.

This is Stavanger, right?

Per was with at all times, taking photos, asking me if I wanted anything. I just kept going, and didnt need much. Must have been super boring for him.

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After hours, I suddenly saw the rider in front of me, 500 meters further down. It seemed to be the Tempo triathlon rider. I said to myself: “I will catch him”, but just powered on steady. I gained a little, and then he got away again on the downhill sections.

The route is very scenic, up and down hills and through farmland and small villages. Like a fairy tale.

Eventually, we came out to the coast, and he was still a few hundred meters out. Do I need to say that drafting is no big problem in Extreme triathlons? In many of the races i have done, there has been practically no changes in the positions during the bike ride.

With only a bunch of kilometers to T2 I passed him, who apparently was Stian from Stavanger. But just a few k further I was taking in fast on Gunnar, who had been in the lead from the morning.

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So it happened, after 6 hours 12 minutes (plus the swim), we came into T2 just separated 1 minute at most. I was in the lead of ThorXTri.

The average speed was just a fraction more than 30 km/h (as there was a 10 minute tunnel bike ride, the data above is not completely correct).

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Local media was there and took some photos, and maybe even asked me something.

First out on the run after a decent T2 I started jogging. I had the mandatory superlight backpack with the “waterproof” jacket and other stuff. The first 9 k is unsupported and along the coastline. It was like running in a post card, with the nordic sea rolling in onto the shore. Fantastic.

But my respiration was not as fantastic. Scroll down if you dont like stupid tactics and hurting yourself for no real reason, such as continuing with a malfunctioning body.

Immediately i felt there was an issue with my breathing. I have had problems on and off during the spring with asthma or allergy-similar symptoms, but this was probably something else.

I was running 4.20-4.50 pace the first 9 k to the first aid station. could I keep the pace? my respiration was bad, it felt like someone was strangling me. The cough started after just a couple of kilometers. Then i started coughing up some of the red gels also…. and some more red mucus before i realized i was coughing some blood.

I kept going, but i was forced to a somewhat slower pace. I had problems getting my energy in, and of course pace became slower and slower. Cough continued, and Stian passed me  a bit after the first aid station. he looked solid, and had a co runner all the time with him, which is a great strategy if you can arrange it.

My pace was slower, and sometimes the run was not much more than a walk, but jogging I was.

We came into an industrial area, and for a moment, Per was just a bit ahead of me. That coincided with me missing a turn… I had feared taking the wrong way, and after one kilometer i realized I was wrong. I became so depressed, but i just had to run back, making the marathon 2 k longer…. that wrong turn took quite a bit of my motivation away.

I found Per again, waiting for me, and he hadn’t even realised I was gone for a while. I hadnt lost any positions on the detour.

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My condition was all but good. Do I need to tell you that the rain came and went? Gusts coming in from the side making it difficult to run straight in the rain, and 10 minutes later the sun was out again.

I had to force some redbull+coke down and some gels. I hated them, but needed them.

One step after the other and eventually the bridge over to Stavanger was there. After that, it was “only” a loop around a peninsula and down to the Three swords monument.

But this little loop was like 15 k. More live-postcards to run through in the northern part of Stavanger. I had absolutely NO clue on how far I was in front of the number 3, but I knew I was slow. I just kept going, slow jogg with absolutely no stride at all.

Eventually after the loop, I came down to the bridge again, and expected Per to meet me soon. it took longer than expected but finally he was there. I had lost track of the total distance (due to my detour before), so I couldnt calculate how long I had to go, making id hard to motivate myself.

Per coached me on and finally finally we could see the Three swords from a distance.

 

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The last part was no more fun, but only a relief. Thor, my good friend came with me to the monument and ran with me the last 100 meters to the finish line.

Finally I made the finish line as second over the finish line after just below 12 hours!

I had became the 10th legend of Thor, after there was 8 finishers 2016 and I was second 2017.

What an honor, Thor!

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The ThorXtri proved to be worth its name as an extreme triathlon. It is hard, but more varied than many of the others. The bike sections in the races in the alps are surely much harder, but the full experience of ThorXTri makes it a winner.

The totally unique and cold fiord swim that you cannot find anywhere else in Europe.

The very varied cycle route combining hard switchbacks with undulated farmland, and finishing with a scenic coastal stretch ticks off everything you can ask for.

The running is not that hard (if you hadnt swim-biked before, or you end up doing it with a northern gale head wind), but extremely pittoresqe.

A great extreme triathlon that has all components of becoming a star. consider only the 10-fold in participants from 2016 to 2017!

Thank you Thor for making this race possible!
Thank you Per making my race possible!

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