Race Report – Aurlandsfjellet Xtreme Triathlon (AXTRI) 2012
August 18. 2012 it was finally time for my big goal this season – Aurlandsfjellet Xtreme Triathlon! Ranked among the top 6 hardest triathlons on http://triathlon.competitor.com/2010/03/uncategorized/10-hardest-races-on-earth_7699, I knew I was preparing for a huge challenge all year. Being a traditional half-Ironman distance with1.9km swim, 94km bike and 21km run course it does not sound so bad, but adding over 4000 altitude meters into the mix and you get a race that is so much more of a challenge in every aspect than a traditional race.
Before the race: I set my goal’s for the AXTRI race late in 2011: Total time below 8h (which would earn me the red finisher t-shirt, only won by 9 last year), and a 4h bike split with swim below 40min. Arriving at Østerbø (which is a beautiful mountain village of cottages and a resort) two days before the race with my father as my trusted support, preparations where perfect: I took a short run on the course, drove through the bike leg (in a car obviously) and was actually feeling great. Accommodation at Østerbø is really recommended, as the finish line is right at your doorstep.
Weather forecasts were not the best, but that was not really worrying me at the time; I was trying to focus 100% on what I would do during the race; swim calm, and then eat, eat, eat 🙂
Swim + T1: Being new to triathlon (AXTRI being my second ever), I was seeded at the back of the swim field with a white swim cap. I was peering jealously at everyone with a red swim cap, and hoped I would have one of those next time. It was crowded on the sides, so I placed myself smack in the middle. When the start cannon fired I was running for life into the already churning waters. With 200 on the start being forced through a narrow gap in the rocks, there were som fighting, but surprisingly little. The first bouy was placed 200m from shore, and I was already feeling I had started to hard when I reached it. Even with a (for me) hard start, I was only somewhere in the middle of the pack. Trying to forget I was in a race, only focusing on stroke mechanisms, I slowly got to the transition having the feeling that several hours had crept by. The swim time was 34:40, over 5min better than my expectations and meaning I was nr. 73 overall out of the water. As usual I did not waste any time in the transitions, giving me the 4th best split in T1.
Bike + T2: After only 100m of flat, you go into the first climb on the bike. 13km with 8% average grade! Sticking to my race plan I avoided eating anything the first 20min, drinking only water to settle my stomach, and settle into the ride. I was steadily picking places, but watching my pace and keeping my effort in check. The overall race winner Olav Johannes Hovland passed me early in the climb, but I saw that his pace was to high and would likely have ruined my race if I tried to follow.
Full concentration in one of the tight corners on the first climb.
The climbs on AXTRI are quite social: You are allowed to ride side by side, and I talked to several of my team mates from Trondheim Triatlonklubb on the way up, wishing each other good luck for the rest of the day. After about 700 altitude meters I was catching up with the group behind the leaders. I used a long time to catch them, creeping in slowly checking my effort. Close to the top I was with my team mate Øystein Høgsand (who finished 4th overall), and we talked and rode side by side the last 300 altitude meters to the top, and formed a group with two other riders on the descent to Erdal. Max speed on this stretch was 87km/h on my computer 😀 On the top I felt really freash, but our small group rode past the drink statation, which later on proved to be a fatal mistake. After turning in Erdal on the 42k mark, there was a new climb of 15km to the top, with ascents close to 11%, but 8% average. I rode away from my group, but sticking to my race plan effort. Half way up the climb I faced problems for the first time: I was out of water and sports drink with still 700 atltitude meters to the drink station. I had only gels, and did not dare to eat them without water. I was slowly starting to feel drained, and I really needed energy. When I finally got to the top I was in 4th place overall, but I was paying the price for missing the drink station: 40mins without drink or food. Trying to make up for it I started to push in gels and sportsdrink, ultimately starting to feel quite sick and nauseous. This gave way on the descent back to Aurland, and I reached T2 as nr. 5 overall, with a bike split of 4h2min. Spot on my target 🙂
Run leg and Finish: I was looking forward to the run leg; Exploring Aurlandsdalen, which is known as one of the most scenic 1 day hiking routes in Norway. With 1000 altitude meters I knew it would be a challenge (which proved right). First 6k of the run leg is flat, and I started in a good pace feeling some cramps in my calfs, but no problems yet. Then suddenly I hit it: The famous wall! I could barely walk, let alone run. When Øystein and his group went past me I was shocked at the pace they kept, with me moving almost backwards. I pushed in two packs of liquid gels with caffine, and some of the trance lifted.
Slow but steady going on the easier parts!
Being now able to run extremely slow on the flat bits (which were few) I made som progress, although only stumbling along on the up-hill sections (which were many). I hit a new wall about 5km later, but pushed through it with effort and determination, clinging to the hope that my good bike leg would be sufficient to see me below 8h. As my pace was so slow, I could enjoy the scenery; dramatic waterfalls, calm lakes, narrow paths overshadowed by the mountain side – this route really has everything! When the tourists cheering on us along the route started to feel sorry for me, I knew I was in a bad shape, but checking my watch gave me hope for the 8h barrier. With 2km left I saw Lars Ursin, one of the strong runners from Trondheim Triatlonklubb coming up from behind. With a desperate sprint I held him back until there were 400m left; We came to a gate, and I held it up for him wishing him good luck towards the finish. I knew he would have run past me anyway, so why not be a gentleman? 🙂 Finish time was 7h:48min51sek, giving me the red finisher shirt and 23nd place overall.
I made it, finally! I’ve never crossed a finish line so glad, but at the same time so tired before.
So why was I so disappointed? I reached my goal, but still I felt more disappointment than joy – I had not sticked to my race plan, and failed on the nutrition and hydration part. My run was 20min slower than the worst case run time I had set up before the race, and 30min slower than the likely run time of 2t40min. The feeling wore off during the evening, and spirits rose steadily as we discussed the race afterwards. Congratulations to my team mates Øystein Høgsand and Ann Kristin Lien who finished 4th and 3rd overall for men and women. Nothing less than impressive!!!:) And also congratulations to everyone else finishing this astonishing triathlon, and to the arrangement comitee in Bergen Triathlon Club (BTC) for making it all possible.
Pretty happy about getting the Red Shirt after all 😀
For race information, see http://axtri.no/Home.html and pictures from the race can be found at:
The mountain may have defeated me this time, but I will be back to claim it next time! 😀