Race report: Aurland Xtreme Triathlon (Axtri) 2014
YES! I finished my first triathlon, the Aurland Xtreme Triathlon in Norway. For those interested in the race, an introduction to triathlons or for those into sadomasochism I wrote this race report. This triathlon is considered to be one of the hardest races on earth. It is a half distance triathlon including over 4.000 meters of elevation in the bike and run leg. The weather is notoriously unpredictable. The race takes place at the same latitude as Alaska.
I decided to follow an intensive 6 months training schedule consisting of 6 days of training per week with 3 days 2 sessions per day and 3 days 1 session per day. You can find the schedule here. When I registered for the triathlon in March I had to fill out my estimated swim time. Looking at my training results I calculated a swim time of around 30 to 35 minutes. It got me a slot in the 2nd group of swimmers.
Race Day — Rise and Shine —
After a good night of rest I woke up at 6AM and packed my T2 and Finish bag (for those new to triathlon, T1 is the first transition when you come out of the water and jump on your bike, T2 is the second transition when you change from biking to running). I did a final check on my bags, pumped up my tires to 9 bar, ate breakfast and left for start.
Check In — Concentrated and Focused —
At 8AM I entered the check in at the beautiful start location, the Aurland fjords. I looked for my start box with number 69. At the box I unpacked my gear for T1. I looked around and realized I was surrounded by some diehard sportsmen out there. Man, these guys looked fit and tough. I didn’t feel nervous though. Instead I stayed concentrated and focused since I felt confident after 6 months of training. After putting all the gear in place for the first transition I put on my wet suit over my trisuit and decided to go for a warm up swim. I was the first to enter the water and swim out of the bay for about 50 meters, turned around and swam back. At the time I exited the water there where about 60 other swimmers in the water. When one sheep…
SWIM — Like There Is No Tomorrow —
The swim was 1.900 meters in the 13 degrees fjord waters. Let me tell you, that is cold. It is that cold that after a couple of minutes you start to lose feeling in your feet and head. Three minutes to start. I positioned myself in line right behind the 20 fastest swimmers. Since the exit of the bay offered just place to a limited group of swimmers at once I decided to keep all the way to the right, preventing myself ending up in the famous washing machine situation where rivals punch, kick and in some cases completely over swim you.
With one minute left to start I put my goggles on. DAMN! They were completely covered with fog. No time to clean them. This is it. 3,2,1 BAAAAAAM, 225 competitors jumped from the 1,5 meter high wall and ran into the water. I stayed on the right, dove into the water and started to swim. Like there was no tomorrow.
That was what I realized when I got out of the bay, looked up and saw only a few guys in front of me. HOLY COW, I was in between the fastest swimmers of this triathlon.
This is when I started to panic.
Was I going too fast?! That fast that I would collapse half way?! I quickly told myself “stay focused, just try to get into your own rhythm, this will be a long day, just continue in your own pace, no racing yet’ I settled into my own rhythm and I saw a group of about 8 swimmers take off for the lead. After 1.000 meters I took the final bow and started to swim back to T1. The swim was great and 100 meters for exiting the water one final guy took me over.
I ran out of the water and checked my watch, 26 MINUTES and the 11th place overall. Sorry but I think that is pretty sick for a first official race. I actually felt pretty sick and disoriented coming out of the water. I pushed myself too hard on the swim, that’s for sure. But hey, this was my first triathlon :) It took me almost 7 minutes to put on my bike gear and I left T1 in 40th position.
BIKE — The Norwegian Mountain Goats —
The bike leg was 98 km with 2 climbs of in total 32 km with an average climb gradient of 8%. Yes sir, those climbs fit perfectly in the Hors Catégorie (HC) of the Tour de France. What a nightmare coming from a country with only mountains from the Zero Category. The first climb I went up steady, at my own pace, about 12,5 km/hour. And there they came, please meet the Norwegian mountain goats. These mountain goats actually drive road bikes. Man, some guys went up fast! Again, I settled in my own rhythm and arrived about 1 hours and 20 minutes later on top of the mountain. During this first climb I took 1000 mg of paracetamol. At the top the leg continued with an up and down 10 km plateau ride. This is where my race started.
After 5 km on the plateau it started to rain. The combination of rain, freezing mountain winds and no gloves is definitely not a good one. The descent was very dangerous with lots of holes and bumps in the road. Last year one of the race directors had an almost fatal accident. With that in my mind I decided to take it easy on the descend. At the bottom there was a surprise, my support team was there so I decided to take a quick brake and ate a banana. Let me tell you a little bit more about my nutrition plan. Since I have a complex food intolerance I can’t handle the traditional energy gels very well. For this race I decided for the bike leg to stick to eat 1 banana every 45 minutes. One banana holds about 150 calories and that proved to be too little. You need at least 200 - 300 calories per hour. On the way up again climbing the mountain I felt I needed more energy and I was glad I brought 4 bars with Cliff Shot Blocks. That second bike climb of 16 km was very tough for me.
I felt weak and doubted I would ever finish.
More and more Norwegians started to pass me on their bikes and my moral dropped by the minute. Half way up I felt the energy coming back, I took another 500 mg of paracetamol and knew I would make it to the top. At the top it was warmer and it stopped raining, thank god! The final descent was actually quite nice and I reached speeds up to 72 km/hour. Just a final 14 km flat ride left to T2. It took me in total 5:06 hours to finish the bike leg. When I got off the bike I was happy to start with the final stage, the 21 km run. Well, at that point I still thought it was going to be a run…
RUN — Is This For Real?! —
During the run there was only one water station. The first kilometer was flat and my legs felt super! I calculated my finish time and with a 2:15 hours target for the mountain run I was able to finish just under 8 hours. That plan soon changed when I ran into the mountains and the run changed into a steep climb with rocks everywhere. That would be soon over I thought. Well hell no! That climb continued for about 5 km and everyone I saw slowed down and quit running, just taking stone by stone. Luckily I wore special Asics trail running shoes. After the first 6 km I arrived at the water station where I ate some chips, drank a glass of water and took a last 1.000 mg shot of paracetamol. The rest of the run was extremely beautiful crossing tons of waterfalls. The scenery in combination with the concentration needed to not twist your ankles made the run feel lots shorter than the time it took me, 2 hours and 42 minutes.
Overall I finished in 105th place, with a total time of 8:27:24 hours.
Looking back it was a very challenging but rewarding experience with in total 130 hours spent in training.
I would like to thank the race organization, in particular race director Børge Sivertsen and Preben Ukvitne who was so kind to lend us some swim gear, my entire support team, father, mother, sister, mother in law and of course the girlfriend.
Finally a very special thank you to all of you who donated money to the Health[e] Foundation, an organization I am proudly part of. In total we raised with this triathlon over 18.000 euros.
What’s next? I am racing the NY Marathon in November and hopefully I will get a race lot for the Norseman 2015. If you have any questions on triathlon training, preparation or something else please leave me a message and I will get back to you. Have a nice day!
Check out my photo report