Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sometimes "Accidents Happen" and sometimes they don't!

The North Country Endurance Challenge became a reality over Memorial Day relaxing and enjoying the beginnings of summer on Cape Cod. Spending a weekend with fellow racing buddies goes without saying, we talk about past events and always look for that next event to compete. 
My friend John and I found ourselves in the perfect racing opportunity. With babies on the way and limited training time we decided to join forces with our outstanding support team of Astrid and Crystal, the most wonderful good wives club.  We would team up in the North Country Endurance Challenge on Saturday, September 6, 2014.
Calm waters broken up by the lead pack of paddlers on First Connecticut Lake in Pittsburgh, NH

Team "Accidents Happen" in our first competition together!
In the year of the baby, we formed a relay team and fittingly named it "Accidents Happen"  because we are constantly one training day or event away from another injury on the mends, though the pun was too good to pass up.

Travelling greater distances to compete is becoming a reoccurring theme for me this season.  This event took us as far north as the headwaters of the Connecticut River, a stones throw from the Canadian border.  One challenge would be not having trained on the same terrain or course we would be competing.

Would John and I be trained up enough? I was coming off some extended rest and relaxation following the Are Extreme Challenge in Sweden.  John and I would both be spending relentless weekends preparing our homes for the arrival of incoming infant babies.  The Stork's were well on their way to deliver our packages.

The race is organized by Untamed New England whom puts together a pro class adventure race that attracts international teams. Unlike the multi-day adventure race, the North Country Endurance Challenge is a a single day multisport event attracting local sponsored athletes and weekend warriors alike. It is offered as a "Premier Course" estimated completion of 10-12 hours covering a distance of  approximately 66 miles.  The race features 9 separate legs in "off road" disciplines of paddling, trail running and cross country mountain biking. Divisions of both relay teams and solo are both available. Those wanting to tackle a bit less miles but still face a formidable challenge could compete in the short course of ~31 miles trail running and mountain biking with the exception of paddling. 

"Red sky at morning, sailors take warning; Red sky at night, sailors' delight."

John and I entered as a relay team in the premier course and split legs evenly. I consider us to be primarily paddlers in which we both compete in varied degrees of events both on flatwater and Wildwater, which is downriver racing in whitewater. Typically, in multisport relay, a team would often be made up of the better paddlers, better trail runners and better cyclists all combining said efforts to deliver the strongest team performance. The biggest decisions were negotiating whom would race in which leg. We are equally comparable in paddling skill sets and cycling strengths. John was by far stronger runner and has a higher degree of endurance where I mostly train in the interval zone at shorter distances. This made the ultimate decisions easy. I would do the shorter paddling and cycling legs with John challenging himself across the longer paddle, cycling legs and majority of trail running in the valleys.

This was definitely no accident! Our support team was meant to be!
We decided to race one kayak between us and chose John's Wave Exceed. Having spent less than 10 minutes in this racing kayak ever before and never in an event, meant I could very well dump this boat during the race, especially if waters were rough.

They key to paddling most racing designs is momentum, neutral to slightly forward body position and maintain steady rhythm. Entry into the boat is far greater challenge. Once the boat gets sufficient hull speed, stability increases significantly. Keeping the body weight stable over midship near the beam to achieve the boats designed waterline is the sweet spot where you will find both balance and performance. Lastly, reminding myself to focus on commanding a steady stroke. Over paddling might catch a paddle with a late release in the water  but that is a common mistake when adrenaline takes control of the mind and body.

Ultimately what decides the outcome of the race happens in the form of support.  Relying on the support team is one of the most important variables. Without a support team capable of route finding their way to multiple transition sites and locales in an unknown area of northern New England could decide the race.

Our racing buddy Josh Flanagan from Cohasset, MA made the long trip up to 'North Country' and would be racing the solo division.  He certainly has both the skills and endurance to challenge the best competitors on the field that day. The North Country Endurance Challenge has an option to hire local natives as a support team. This is becoming increasingly popular in multisport and Josh took advantage. Knowing that he was in good hands Josh was certainly ready to bring it!

John showing off his team skills

Josh Flanagan with his Epic V12 Surf Ski down to the shoreline

Starting Line 2014 North Country Endurance Challenge

Le Mans style start of the 2014 North Country Endurance Challenge!
(Photo by Jo M. Wood)
The weather conditions were absolutely were stunning.  Cool, crisp morning, that feeling of early autumn season was upon us. First Connecticut Lake was glass.  Perfect conditions for my first time racing the Wave Exceed. The forecast called for thunderstorms and heavy rains moving into the area in the afternoon hours. Would the weather hold off or would conditions take a turn for the worse? With our first concern put at ease.  Now was the pressure of executing!

Off to the races across First Connecticut Lake.

Taking a lead on the first 4 mile paddle leg is key to maintaining momentum but I had to play it safe.  I positioned the kayak on the shoreline far to the left of the majority of the competition and faster racing boats. Thus, lowering the risk of collision or having turbulent waters affect my stability in an unfamiliar boat off the start.  This gave me an opportunity to pick up some speed off the start and maintain some control.
Crystal Clear Waters!
(Photo by Jo M. Wood)
James Kovacs & Josh Flanagan setting the pace. The chase is on!

Leading the charge and preparing for first transition to John!
Feeling burnt never felt better!
Coming into transition in first place off the opening leg was not my intended plan. There were faster boats on the course that day and I dropped in behind the lead boats off the start. Making a move about halfway into this paddling leg, the strong push was what was needed to hold the lead into transition. This would not have been the choice decision if solo or paddling both legs. I had the energy to expend and burnt myself on the water but John was doubling up over the next two legs running 3 miles into Lake Francis State Park and hop right into the kayak, traversing 5 miles across Lake Francis. I had plenty of time to recover.

Getting the boat over to the shore of Lake Francis for John
Lake Francis looking pristine....  Are you ready for it John!
John coming into transition finishing up the second leg strong
John putting James Kovacs in his sights.... 

Adventure racing formats often require teams to navigate between checkpoints. The multisport events I participate resemble that of an"off road" triathlon and do not require orienteering. In this case, racers will follow a preset course point to point. The entire course was impressively well marked, though you start second guessing yourself moving fast in unfamiliar, variable terrain and more concerned with not crashing. This could be a game changer especially during the mountain biking legs when speed takes over. Competitors could very well miss a marker at an important turn and be lost, off course. Paying attention to the markers on the course at all times is critical.

Surprised the heck out of  the team flying unexpectedly into transition
Waiting patiently: Who would exit first from 11 wilderness trail miles!

I was racing a Gary Fisher Cobia 29er for the first time and having little to no time to train on this bike. It was a rather interesting choice of equipment because it is on the heavy side compared to my only other go to option a 26" full suspension cross country bike.

The first cycling leg shortest of the four biking legs went through the Clarksville Highlands. A fitting warm-up on the new bike as it was primarily dirt road and rolling sets of hills. The bike turned out to be an excellent choice. The Cobia 29er very capable of maintaining momentum with every bit of energy I delivered.  The bike soaked up many of the smaller obstacles without loosing speed along the mostly double track roads. I cannot even begin to explain the incredible efficiency when hill climbing on this bike. This bike just chewed up the rolling hills saving much needed energy.

John was looking steadfast and had good energy 
Coming into transition I would surprise my team as they were not ready for me.  John quickly dropped what he was doing as I was hitting the checkpoint. We swapped the numbered bib and he was off on what would soon become labelled as the most difficult leg of the entire event.  Everyone would be challenged when race organizers changed the trail run from the Diamond Ponds to Coleman State Park from 7 miles to almost 11 mile distance....

There was general agreement among the competitors to continue on the course that had been changed. The results would seemingly tell the tale of a different story.  These were the kind of miles that come slowly, uneven, soft muddy landscape and turned out to be a long, grueling trudge through high grasses and wetlands. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

2014 Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge - Video Edit

Finally!!!!  It took me forever to get this edit out.  That is what happens when you have to image the laptop, incompatible video editor and have to convert all files to lesser format to edit.  Not too mention two corrupted projects, having to start from scratch a third time. Lots of patience and well, weekends spent preparing for a baby helped me forget about these silly video edit failures.

I used a ContourROAM2 mounted to my whitewater and bike helmet.  Yes, I wore a helmet during the mountain running leg.  How else would I have captured all that footage up and over Åreskutan! The support team  had the Cannon VIXIA HF R500 which was great to capture some third person shots coming in transition and at the finish line. 

Here is my 2014 Åre Extreme Challenge video..............Enjoy it as much as I did!

Work hard, train hard, play harder!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Competing in the Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge

"Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes." 

--The Buddha

No it's not a marathon, it's definitely not an Ironman and not a multi-day adventure race but this event draws the attention of those same athletes all over Scandinavia to test themselves in proficiency of paddling, mountain running and cross country mountain biking. I embrace these activities with passion recreationally but can I transition that same intensity, training and competing in the outdoors over to Sweden?

Working a little on the game face...........................On?

The HÅEC in 2014 was the 18th consecutive year this race has been running. It is based in the mountain resort town of Åre, Sweden which hosts many world class competitions and outdoor festivals. The Åre Extreme Challenge is nothing less than world class, taking the racer on an epic journey through some of the most varying back country landscape in the heart of Jämtland. There is an extraordinary amount of work that goes into executing a race covering 75km of back country terrain and well over 600 competitors. The event is so well organized from start to finish that I do not have one complaint or suggestion that could make it better.

The charitable recipient of this years HÅEC was Projekt Åredalen. This volunteer organization is doing some amazing work with the homeless people in Romania to give them a better life and for the children. Over $5,000 was donated from the proceeds generated by racer entry fees which is outstanding. The real winners truly are the families in Romania!

Perfect Race Day

I have never raced at these combined distances and on terrain I have not previously trained would be the two greatest challenges.  How to properly train and condition my body? What gear and equipment would be effective? Kayak? Bike? How would I hydrate and stay fueled? Would my knee hold up? These were all the questions I had coming into the event.

Everyone in Sweden was sick and I was just hoping it would not happen. It did and I caught a cold several days prior.  I shook off a slight fever three nights before the race.  Stuffy nose, sore throat and erratic cough followed. Add one more unexpected challenge and throw a bad nights sleep into the equation.

At 6:00am it was 11C/51F with sunny, blue skies. One more look outside... Ut Oh!  Oh No this can't be... all Swedish and Jämtland flags are pinned in the westerly wind.  Not good... we are paddling east. So much for perfection. This paddle is going to break me.

Several goals remained as I mentally and physically became aware of my capabilities in training:
  1. Finish the race in the top 100.  I started out as racer #204.  I had my work cut out for me!
  2. 7 hours total time on the course.  Execute my game plan!
  3. Remain injury free. Recover gradually over several days following with no acute pain.

Multi-sport has a tendency to get gear intensive!

Enough fuel to keep the fires burning bright race day!

Downriver Paddling - 25 km

The agony and defeat of paddling in very difficult windy conditions in some of the fastest, and likewise unstable racing kayaks was the price many competitors paid. Many did not finish due to frequent swims, loosing boat and/or paddle either in the river rapids or in the lake section with constant headwind, facing consistent chop and unexpectedly getting assaulted by a breaking swell.

I had the pleasure of paddling a rather classy 5m Fiberglass sea kayak. Thanks to Astrid's brother Emil for securing that boat and paddle! Having spent several training sessions I was more than comfortable and ready for race day.  However, on race day it was jaw dropping to see how many of these modern multi-sport kayaks and surf skis I would be going up against.  This leads me to believe that there is no shortage of incredible paddlers here in Sweden. My wife once again reminded me its not the boat its the paddler in it!

Very limited warm-ups with five minutes to start time... typical me!

It was unusually calming as I sat there on the starting line not knowing a single person in the water. The expected race day nerves went away and there were no distractions. I was focused and determined to race against myself that day.  I did not have much time at all to think about it.... Before I knew it the horn sounded and I was immediately surrounded by a pack of surf skis challenging for position.  I was passed by at least 15 boaters within the first 5 minutes.

I latched onto every paddler that passed and drafted as long as I could hang on.  I finally settled into a pack, several groups scattered about nearby and I had locked into the top 25 in this heat. I was hanging onto position now and had to hang on strong to get into Indalsälven, the river portion to make my moves count!

Second heat with lead paddlers out in front.  Lightning fast off the start!

Indalsälven was awesome.  The first rapid was longest, about 6 long swooping turns in the river. I was concerned there would be many rocks and technical.  Not at all. This was wide, big water Class II with lots of wave trains, wide eddy lines trying to grab your bow and yank you off your line, several holes thrown in to keep you honest.

Immediately entered the river following alongside a surf ski.  He swam within seconds of entering the current.... I passed so many boaters I lost count and easily moved well into the top 10 of this heat of more than 65 boaters.  Most paddlers were taking sneak routes in the secondary currents where I chose the true path the entire way.  There was one point before the second rapid, smaller stretch perhaps 2 big turns in the river. A pack caught back up to me here and briefly passed on the sneak route.  I went wide right into the main flow and cut them all off putting a good distance.  The entire lot of them had to play catch up again.

There were two portages/lifts which turned out to be a key portion of the race not to mess up, trip up loose position.  The best you can do here is hold position.  This is also where I refueled using Cliff Bar Shot Block Energy Chews sucking down a package per portage.  I had a water bladder with 3 tablets in 50ozs water Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes Fizz in the kayak and routed the tube between the skirt and base layer to prevent chaffing.  This worked great and kept me hydrated in preparation for the mountain.

Crossing the first checkpoint in 76th overall place at 1:32:12.

I had positioned myself in the top 100 for the day.... "its not the boat its the paddler in it!"  Now I just have to hold steady and maintain position.  Something unexpected happened in the first portage which was approximately 150m distance but lost three spots due to a rudder that fell off the stern.

Passed by another three in the next 30 minute stretch of water. The next lengthy portage twice as long, the rudder fell off the stern again. Passed by another three paddlers. What I did not learn during training was that you have to pull up the rudder in order to secure it.  The rudder was always pulled up when transporting or carrying the boat during training.  I had a mental lapse in race mode and forgot to pull it up.  This cost me several spots having to stop and untangle the lines in order to freely insert back it back into the stern.

Paddlers chasing and gaining ground fast after a lengthy first section of rapids where I made my moves!

The final stretch of paddling into the lake with the resort town of Are in the distance. I grabbed onto the first group that tried to pass, determined to lock horns with them right until the end.  The paddler in the Mazu surf ski #177 was right out in front with another group of 3 paddlers. The group ahead separated from us but I did not have enough to pursue.  Good thing! Their lead paddler flipped, swam and the group got hung up with his boat turning broadside into them. We moved passed no problem!

Paddling Åresjön.  Drafting #177 just ahead of me making our way to the beachhead  and final lift to transition. 

#177 was strong, efficient and I drafted him right until reaching the beachhead for that final lift into the kayak drop off zone and half kilometer jog to Åre Kyrka to meet up with Astrid and support team in transition. An efficient transition with Astrid doing everything she does best.  She had all my gear, sports drink and snacks ready and waiting for me.  The cheering Kristiansson family helped keep morale up too!

Leaving the transition I moved into 73rd place with a time of 2:30:17. 

Mountain Trail Running - 15 km

Åreskutan is the lone mountain rising 1420 meters coming in and out of view during most of the paddle leg. Its hard to miss and knowing that is where the course heading. Leaving the transition, running through Åre Centrum and the tunnel passing the Tott Hotel, up a steep flight of stairs by Tottliften and begin ascending Tottbacken to the pistes above.   The sustained wind kept things cool enough not to overheat so that was welcomed, now used to the advantage.

The vertical hits you quickly and you just had to commit yourself to the climb and mission to get to the top.  Pushing a solid pace I started picking people off one by one. The effort was harder than originally anticipated. The degree of these steeper ski slopes puts your calf's and Achilles under strain, stressing to the max which was of immediate concern and had to pull back the pace a little. Working my way above treeline, up and over this prolonged continuous ascent to Sadlen and the start of the next section.

Cresting onto a mountain plateau, the trail was varying between smooth slab and a well worn, defined path which made for a speedy pace. I would soon be entering the snow line keeping the false summit of Lillskutan to the right of the climber some 700m above the lake and approaching ever closer to the summit. The 300m vertical push to the summit was a boulder strewn scree path in which one racer passed me whom I latched onto as far up this final long climb as possible.

This entire climb from reaching the plateau is just the way I remember the highest mountains in New England.
I felt very much at home here on the Svenska Fjällen, especially when the snow flurries began to fall.

Moving and grooving across the plateau for final push over the summit.

Photo by Jakob Edholm
I crested the summit checkpoint in my highest position 69th place with a total time of 3:42:02.  

The trail system on the North side of Åreskutan is considerably more primitive. I started getting picked off on the decent.  I pursued and gave chase.  As you move faster route finding becomes more difficult.  Following people allowed me to concentrate more on the varying degree of terrain and trusting that my competition was on the correct path. A quite strong looking duo team passed me and they were just floating on rocks! It is very impressive to watch the competitors in the duo division sharing every leg of the adventure with a teammate and friend. 

On the route down Åreskutan my right knee would challenge my every movement.  Momentum is your friend but I must be careful as the impact will surely throw off placement of the knee. As pain creeps I back off the pace to reduce impact.  When it subsides I can pick it back up again.  Constant struggle but I persevered!

For most of the entire descent you could see the village of Huså by the lakeside in the distance. This is the next transition site and where I would reconnect with my support team. Moving across ridge lines, scurrying across soft, muddy tundra, galloping over boulder strewn paths and traversing a large snowfield, slipping and sliding with every other foothold across its length. This was the definition of freedom.

Dropping below treeline, navigating some sharp twists and turns in a meandering, raw and extremely muddy foot path and out onto snowmobile tracks then finally out onto a dirt road... I was passed by a group of 5 runner all pacing themselves evenly to each other. I latched onto them for a while and had to back off a little with my goal to maintain sight of them for as long as possible.

Running down the piste into the village of Huså!

Entering the transition area in Huså I heard a voice cry out to me, "Ahhh Mark! We have been waiting here for hours!"  That little voice echoed through my brain over and over was correct. My run over the mountain was 9.5 miles in 2:14 minutes.  I did not think that was too terribly slow :-)

Astrid was well prepared in the confines of the transition area.  Bike and gear, sports and energy snacks were all waiting for me. This should have been a quick transition but I was having too much fun taking photos with Astrid and hugging all the warmth out of her as my body started cooling.  Astrid's parents were an amazing support team with Alf taking photos and Christina on the video camera.

Leaving the transition loosing three spots and back in 73rd place with a time 4:48:56.

Cross Country Mountain Biking - 32 km

This leg is an element of execution that is very hard to train for.... when your already beat up and tired. Your body is on fumes and you better have executed a good nutrition and hydration plan or your going to commit your muscles to cramping and utter agony for some 32kms ahead.  Still within my goal of a 7 hour finish... Everything had to go right on the bike leg though....right???

Here is where I tell you things did not go as planned.  Not that it was terribly difficult or that I horribly bonked and could not turn the muscles over. The problem was just not knowing the course and that challenge smacked me right in the face over and over again.

Mud..... More deep, sopping wet mud than I could have ever dreamed of on a bike course. It dragged the life out of me and I could not find a tempo.  Cramps started to root themselves in between all the stopping... one really deep in the inner left thigh... I had to back off slightly and tap the leg until the tremors subsided.

Looking at my watch as I trudged through swampy, muddy wetland and knowing in the first 30 minutes that there was no way I was going to break 7 hours.

Stream crossings..... many of those which are just obstacle ditches.... down and up the other side.  At least 7 were significant along the course of which 5 of them I had to walk out of.

Coming around this corner I could not believe I was still on the bike in all this mud!

Photo by Jakob Edholm
#177.....  Come to find out I put 10 minutes on the paddler in the Mazu surf ski coming over the summit and checking out of Huså.  He caught up and passed me about 75 minutes into the mountain bike!  I matched his speed for a short bit and noticed it was the surf ski dude! Had a short conversation and reminded him it was me in the sea kayak that was drafting him 4 hours ago.... hahahaha :-)

Nonetheless, this was a defining moment.  I could not let off the gas.  I was racing I had to push onward and not let anyone else catch me.

Climbing.....  Hills, hills, so many hills... so much climbing!  Never ending sets of slight to moderate and one helluva hill climb up to Björnen and held strong, for a long consistent push to the top. The worst hill yet to come....

Crossing the checkpoint before the hill climb up Björnen I was in 77th position with a time of 6:16:45.

Was I really only one position off the first checkpoint 4 hours earlier!!!!  This tells me one thing, even in the face of much mud, difficult ditches and helluva hills I was actually still racing my race.  I had held my position in the top 100 with roughly 12-13-km's remaining.  I have not lost anything at all!

Specialized Stumpjumper and brand spanking new Bontrager Mud X Tires in action!

Photo by Jakob Edholm

Getting my wind back.........  After the climb up Björnen, there was a flowy stretch of single track through a Birch Forest and gave me the chance to cool down from the previous long climb. It was so amazingly beautiful, something special happened here.  Here is where I got my first wind on the bike and found my tempo. So much so that I caught several bikers towards the end of a long muddy flat wetland.  I continued to turn it on.....  Passing more bikers on the next sets of small hills.  Another biker whipping on and off dirt roads in between a small village. Several bikers on another stretch of single track who foot downed on a moderate climb and could not recover.  Coming back down the other side picking up the pace again I downshifted with unexpected timing to catch another two on a 90 degree turn up a short steep gravel road that spat you into the outskirts of town and busting open some serious cadence.  Passing another two on the road I was quite literally on fire.

Coming upon the final hill climb, well over 1km to the top of the downhill course broke me.  I had to get off the bike and walked it 2/3 of the way.  So sad after all that effort getting my wind back to get passed by 9 competitors here.  In the back of my mind I went too hard, too soon and should have pulled back once I got onto the paved road.  I also knew that getting to the top, red lining would not help in the downhill tracks.

The downhill was classic awesomeness from Åre which is the top 10 in all of Europe for downhill biking. Trust me... This course had dozens of burmed up, banked turns as you switch backed your way down the mountain. It was a gritty roller coaster ride.  Passing another two bikers who went off course, I was on my game again and did not get passed the rest of the way.

Finish Line - Åre Centrum!

Crossing the line in 78th place for a 07:20:31 finish!

Photo by Jakob Edholm

Chatting it up with Johan #177 who finished 74th place 5 minutes ahead of me!

Someone is really excited!

When I think back to the decision to plan our time in Sweden around this race about 5 months ago, the training, planning and preparations, my personal commitment and all the time and energy invested.  It was truly most successful race I have ever competed from start to finish.  It was all about personal achievement, fueled by a passion for the outdoors.

To have the unconditional support of my sweet wife Astrid who kept reminding me to just let it ride and be myself out there. The entire Kristiansson Family came out race day and I cannot explain how lucky I am having been given this opportunity to share this little adventure with them. It was a great surprise to see them scattered around the transitions and on the race course.  Paddling downriver in a huge mass start, multiple portages, scrambling and running down a mountain then mountain bike back up, down and all the way around again.

Check out this support team!  Nils, Margareta, Christina and Alf....

Now questions shift in the other direction as I evaluate execution and performance.  The "would of, could of, should of" of racing and in hindsight. Should I have rented that Sisson Centrix multi-sport racing kayak? Could I spend less time in the transitions? Would a 29er have been a better choice of mountain bike?

I would not have done anything different.  My final goal was reached, walking away uninjured and free from any ongoing, lingering acute physical pains.  I had a complete recovery in three days time though I have not been able to push top end in the weeks following, as I was still pretty burnt out.

Last but certainly not least..........JAG ÄLSKAR DIG Astrid!

Perhaps now I can officially call myself a multi-sport athlete. It only took me 10 years to figure it out! Looking very forward to adding one more to the support team and I promise to be back in 2016 for the 20th anniversary!

Work Hard, Train Hard, Play Harder!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Training for Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge in Sweden

There is no bad weather in Sweden, there are only bad clothes

As expected arriving in Sweden two weeks before the big race presented both challenges and new opportunities to train like I never have before in Sweden. For each day of training there was a day of "rest and relaxation" which was a welcomed gurantee, allowing substantial time to begin tapering my weekly mileage. Tapering can be exactly the opposite when you consider the amuont of energy you consume visiting family and friends so far, far away.

Midsummer fun in Oviken with "Blomsterkrans!"

Vacation in Sweden is quite similar to that feeling you get during the Christmas holiday season. We look incredibly forward to this most excellent time of year but it can also be quite exhausting.  You wrap your arms around this friendly, loving environment around every corner. Grow a stronger. more personal relationship with loved ones and rekindle friendships.  You wonder what just happenned when its all over and why it went by so fast, so busy.  It takes some time to digest and reflect back to what really just happenned.

Here is a recap of my training thus far leadnig up to the Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge!

Week 1 - Training in Sweden

Saturday June 14 2014  Sport Cycling, Torvalla to VärmonJamtland, Sweden
32 miles 127 minutes

Unpacking and assembly of the mountain bike went flawless. Everything put back together in perfect alignment. I came prepared to train off rock and dirt so fixed the rims with some Specialized Fat Boy slicks. Reduced rolling resistance, save the tread on the knobbies and get some decent cardio training. These tires are fantastick on primarily smooth, dry surfaces.  The negatives are the terrible traction on wet roads and get sliced and diced on gravel roads.

Training mission before the festivites begin at the long awaited Bingo Royal!

Sunday June 15, 2014 Double Session

Paddling, Alsensjön, Värmon, Jamtland, Sweden
8.1 miles 88 minutes

Using a sea kayak that Astrid's brother Emil secured for me to borrow was an appreciated effort that saved me $175 rental rate!  Approximately 17 feet length and fiberglass this boat is definitely on the heavy side and will be brutal to portage on race day.  Weather took a turn on the cooler side today with constant 20-km winds.  Luckily I started out in a protected area to get comfortable before headnig out.  Things got a little testy having to push hard against incoming steady sets of waves and wind.  On days like this the reward is turning around and surfing your way back which was most excellent fun.

Getting comfotable before dropping the rudder, some more practice and heading out.

Kayak performed surprisingly well in the waves, tracking and decent speed. Complete control and practiced a roll at the end of the paddle.  The paddle is a Lendal Archipelago, carbon bent shaft with stiff plastic blades. Took some effort getting used to the paddle as it is designed primarily better used at low angles.  I figured out pretty quickly using a modified angle in between I could generate consistent power stroke for stroke at pace.

Sport Cycling, Torvalla to VärmonJamtland, Sweden
28 miles 107 minutes

I can go on and on writing about sweating and burning calories but this country side is breathtaking and I just have to expose some of the few treasures here in Jämtland with some photos I have taken in my travels here!

Wednesday June 18, 2014 Double Session

Sport Cycling, Torvalla to VärmonJamtland, Sweden
24 miles 133 minutes
Got another double session in today after two days off but it was horribly windy this afternoon and evening. Gusts up to 50-km are no joke on a bike! So much so it almost broke me cycling but tested out my newest gear which is a lightweight, wind breaking soft shell from Pearl Izumi... Worked absolutely fantastic!

Paddling, Alsensjön, Värmon, Jamtland, Sweden
7.9 miles 94 minutes

Took about 20 minutes to recover and went paddling about 7 km into the fierce wind before turning around for some pretty good surfing on the way back. Even the protected area was getting hit with action right at the beginning so I knew this was going to be quite the strenuous paddle. On the way back, caught one huge surf that picked up the entire front end of the kayak that shocked the daylights out of me as I rocketed forward lol! Most surfs were good enough to catch up to the waves already passing ahead. Kayak had enough rocker, keeping the bow from pearling so performance was still impressive. Can get pretty hectic out there on these windy 30km sustained days with 50km gusts!

Thursday June 19, 2014  Cross Training at GYM 24 in Östersund, Jamtland
TRX and Kettlebell

Constant moderate intensity for one hour with very short 15-20 second breaks in between sets.  Total body burnout session alternating between legs, upper body and core exercises which left me sweating heavily and every muscle being pushed very close to fatigue.

Week 2 - Training in Sweden

Sunday June 22, 2014  Triple Session at GYM 24 in Östersund, Jamtland
Rowing           55 minutes
Stair Climber  45 minutes
Spin Bike       35 minutes

Slight to moderate intensity to activate the muscles in similar order they would get used during the Åre Challenge.  I was returning from another 2 days of "rest and relaxation" and this workout was exactly what was needed to get the body ready for the next two planned days of work.

Monday June 23, 2014 Indalsälven, Nvik to Fjäal, Jamtland, Sweden
16.2 miles 190 minutes

My last planned paddle and was trying to find a suitable whitewater stream for some practice on moving water.  Getting lost trying to find the Hårkan, I simply had to settle for the nearest body of water which would eventualy turn into a 26-km paddle down Indalsälven which was mostly flatwater, slow moving body of water with several portages at power stations.

I took several short breaks and took it slow and easy for about 1/3 but still an outstanding day to be on water in awesome Sweden.

I paddled about 8 km downstream of where I was suppossed to meet my wife at the camping area take-out we had previously planned.  I had to call it quits because this was much to much effort than I wanted to deliver today.  I took out in a random backyard of some summer time cottages.  After about 10 minutes walking down some random dirt road, a very kind man gave me a lift to meet the good wife. He actaully works at the water power stations and completely understood my big mistake trying to find the Hårkan.

Kennet from Smedtsa saved the day!

All smiles after a long hard day of being lost, a little drama and lesson learned.

I am still unsure of the speed of this kayak. The distance travelled was based on using map my run route creation. This light, rather lengthy day of flat-water paddling with a little tailing cross wind towards the end, I averaged about 8 km per hour.  Downriver I am thinking I can push 10-km per hour race day.

Tuesday June 24, 2014 Mountain Biking at Oviksfjällen Jamtland, Sweden
13 miles 93 minutes 1223 ft elevation gain

Testing out the mountain bike legs 4 days before the challenge.  Instead of choosing from several hundred kms of cross country tracks in the Östersund community, I drove out to meet up with Nicklas in Oviken, husband to Astrid's cousin Ida to head out into the local mountains for a short training mission on Oviksfjällen.  This is the mountain range closest to Östersund about 45 minutes drive away.  The Swedish Fjäll (alpine mountains) feature an incredible alpine landscape.  We would be cycling up 800 feet of vertical exposure in all directions as we parked the car just below tree line.

Replaced my rear tire with a Bontrager Mud X as I wanted to have the best traction in the Swedish alpine and mud. These tires worked amazing and held position through much of the wet mud and deep pools of water to be found in these mountains.

It was a strong ride, taking a few breaks coming after several harder climbs and trail junctions.  Taking it easy we made good progress and finally arrived at the mountain lakes.  Today wildlife sightings were plentiful and we saw many reindeer making their daily travels on the vast alpine landscape, a fox wandering about in many different directions, perhaps tracking its next meal and an amusing looking moose!

View of the neighboring mountain range.. so much to explore in Jämtland!

My Guide Nicklas welcoming me into his backyard playground!

Crossing the tiresome muddy and wet flats

First lone tree appears as we continue our descent

Our arrival at Visjön at 3000 feet elevation, we were greeted by the local wildlife.

 That pretty much sums up vacation thus far in Sweden and why that can be so difficult planning an event around yourself, what probably is the toughest single racing event I have ever participated and definitely gets in the way of being together... but having the support of the entire Kristiansson Family has been so welcomed.  They all truly understand my passion to work hard, train hard and play hard.

Preparations continue with kayak and cycle secured, one step closer to race day....

I will now take several days off before the race, continue to actively stretch out the body and stay loose.

Work Hard, Train Hard, Play Sweden!

Keeping the body fueled with this amazing lunch at Tivarsgården!