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!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Committing to the Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge

Jag älskar friloftsliv i Svenska fjällen och skogen!

Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge

After getting the thumbs up from my sweet wife Astrid and planning a well timed Midsummer, family and friends visit to Östersund, Sweden I will be competing in my first international multisport competition. Been looking forward to this race ever since I learned of it when visiting for the first time 8 years ago. Lacking the experience I knew I had a long way to go.  The HÅEC attracts quite a large contingent of elite and professional multisport and adventure racers from all over Scandinavia. I am going to find out the hard way that I have barely touched the surface of possibility.

Multisport racing could be considered the outdoor enthusiasts alternative to the modern triathlon. Race formats vary between events, each taking you into unique back-country landscapes turned race course. Events are typically less crowded but the intensity is just as high.  I find this kind of racing more appealing because when turned sport it can be just as exhilarating and heart pounding as any triathlon. The HÅEC features elements of downriver paddling, mountain running and cross country mountain biking, all of which put the body to the ultimate test, negotiating an epic landscape in the heart of Jämtland, Sweden. Multisport offers even the most amateur competitor the chance to test themselves in their favorite outdoor activity.

Tännforsen falls marks the start of the race and the perfect backdrop to begin the challenge. Paddlers follow Indalsälven a total of 25-km into the large lake in the resort town of Åre.  There appears to be two lengthy rapids of note that racers will have to negotiate. Whitewater is not a problem because I have been paddling and racing on Class II-IV for over 10 years now.  There are also two portages which is where I will take the opportunity to quickly refuel. The rest of the paddle is pretty straightforward, paddle efficient and strong. Things are going to slow down once hitting the flat water of Åresjön.  Any kind of headwind here of any kind can break a paddler.

Competing 2013 New England  Whitewater Triple Crown 

(Photo compliments Regina Nicolardi)

Mountain Run
Åreskutan appears to the racers as this massive lone peak 1420 meters high in which runners have to climb over the summit more than 1000 meters in total elevation gain then back down the other side to the town of Husa approximately 15-km in distance. The landscape and terrain is not all that different from the high mountain summits in the Appalachian Mountains of New England. Farther up in the Northern hemisphere the alpine zone starts between 600m-700m elevation and exposure to the elements can add varying degrees of difficulty.  Time spent wandering around  the Presidential Range which boasts a similar spectacular expanse of ridgelines and ravines might be useful here.

Competing in the 2014 Seven Sisters Trail Race - Holyoke Range in western Massachusetts

(Photo by Greg Saulmon)

Cross Country Mountain Biking
From Husa, transition from the trail to the bike, heading back to town of Åre some 35-km distance away. I have read that the terrain along the cross country course is notoriously wet and muddy which will suck the life out of an already tired competitor.  Hitting the wall in the final leg is my biggest concern.  I have been training on the mountain bike.... tired.... a lot. Mountain biking is fairly new sport for me in the last three years but have competed in several mountain bikes races and have pushing myself constantly on the trails.  Having a strong cycling base endurance will hopefully pay dividends here.  I will have to reach down deep and pull out those last miles necessary to finish this race.

Competing 2013 Greenway Challenge  Blackstone Valley

Racing internationally I am immediately facing my biggest obstacle of not being able to train on the very same terrain. Challenge of not becoming familiar with a race course I have never paddled, hiked, or cycled!  This is a huge element working against me.  I am probably not alone with others planning on travelling long distances to participate in the HÅEC with blinders on. Gear is also a rather important thing to consider since I will be travelling with all my equipment.  Knowing that this sub arctic climate can throw anything at you this time of year, from 30 Celsius sunny day to a frigid rain in the valleys and snowing at the summit I will be forced to pack accordingly. I know we are all hoping for 17 Celsius, partly cloudy skies with a slight breeze. Wishful thinking!

In order to minimize some of the equipment dilemmas, I have decided to pack my 2006 Specialized Stumpjumper and bring it over.... forever. I hope to have access to a sea kayak to paddle locally on Storsjön. This will allow me to train a little bit as I taper my mileage, staying loose before race day. We are flying in two weekends before the challenge.  No problem with any sort of jet lag there.  Should be well rested come race day.

Prepared the last five months and having some good results racing and steadily ramping up training keeping the momentum.  As the weather improved, this opened up new cross training opportunities.  I have also added an element of cross functional strength training with Kettlebell and TRX to help build better balance, core and to change-up regularly scheduled indoor training on the stair-climber, rowing machine and Spinning. As a Spinning instructor since September 2013 and leading two classes weekly since February, the focus on training in the energy zones has never been greater.

Returning home from surviving my first of two planned triple sessions
Its not all about muscles and gear though.  Its about confidence and mind over body.  Yes, we spend countless hours training the body in preparation to crash into a course and go head to head with your competition but if your mind checks out then your race is over.  Your finished.  Pace yourself, keep your whits... pay attention to your surroundings at all times, do not forget to refuel and hydrate according to your specific plan and focus on moving with efficiency and staying in the zone.

Tapering my training could not come at a better time but I have to be mindful of the following while celebrating as we reunite with family and get together with friends.

To Fika or not to Fika
That is the question! I might have to get some training in before each Fika and have the energy to continue some training after the Fika.  Too bad there are not Fika stations setup along the race course like I heard they do with Blåbärssoppa in the Vasaloppet!

When in Rome, do as the Romans do - Har fika med kompis!

Bingo Royale
We were invited to a Swedish style barn party hosted by some of my favorite people in all of Sweden. This could be problematic and get all kinds of crazy, fun.  I might have to get some training in before the festivities begin. Can you feel the pepper?

Midsummer Celebration
I have seen the outlandish IKEA commercials and well, I know dancing around the pole singing små grodorna only gets better as the "night" continues. Hopefully Midsummer celebration does not get in the way of your training either... Dryka mycket vatten, dansa alla kvell!

Getting closer to Sweden involves immersing yourself into the culture and stepping foot onto their many landscapes. Sweden has a strong community of multisport enthusiasts and has already become a place to continue pursuing my outdoor interests but not only releasing the spirit recreationally, now for training the physical body and mind competitively. There is no better way I can think of doing that than participating in Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge!

I know my 'Svensk Familj' will be the best support team ever....especially my beautiful Jamtlandstaus! So excited to meet all the crazy go nuts competitors over there.... registered as the 199th soloist and now I see there are 220 solo men signed up with almost 800 total competitors the largest number registered ever........... Bring it!

Work hard, train hard, play harder..............Lycka Till!!!!!

Is it true, are we looking at the "Best Support Team Ever?"

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Memorial Training - Can celebrating a long holiday weekend get in the way of your training?

Memorial Training at the Tip of Massachusetts

How can celebrating over a long holiday weekend get in the way of your training?  Trust me, I am not complaining but there are a lot of distractions that can get in the way of a good, hard effort and caloric burn to stay on target of your personal training goals.  This could set you back two weeks.  Play your cards right and you could hold just long enough.

Packing - Need I say any more how exhausting this can be especially on a weekly basis.  If your a gear junky packing works against you because when you start playing with your gear things get a little slow... ALl hopes for a productive evening are lost when one hour later you are still there contemplating what gear works best with what activity.  Not like you did this last weekend.  Figure it out... you have done this a hundred thousand times!  I cannot imagine what this is going to be like when I have a family.  "I think we need a bigger boat!"

Long Drives - Gets in the way of training time and beat the crap out of you mentally. On the positive side this can be quality time or worse than that if you decide to start discussing politics, religion and finances! Whatever you do, don't talk about all the kayaking and biking your going to be doing.... by yourself on this long weekend.  Let that happen naturally.  No need to remind her that you will be leaving her side the moment her butt hits that beach chair.

Traffic on Cape Cod can leave a person wondering why they did not just stay home!

Lots of Food - The secret here is to just train harder than the extra calories your going to be pounding face with!  You earned the right to pig out and stuff it good. Find a happy medium between the extra 1000 calories by burning them away.  At least you will even things out by the end of it all.

Sun/Beach Lounging - A different kind of training, more relaxing and keeping it real simple and casual like. Breathing the ocean air, listening to the incoming surf, soaking in those golden rays and feeling the cool breeze rush past you.  This is good time to meditate and let the heart rate come down to earth.  Good quality time as well, so make sure the ratio is even lopsided in this direction with other activities. I am very lucky there were no hammocks hanging around..... I would have extremely not gotten any training done at all. Don't bring a hammock.  If you see one... do me a huge favor... cut it down.

Why does everyone have so many clothes on? 

Exploratory Group Outings - Ahhh.  The group activity.  Nothing beats getting the entire gang together and going big for a destination.  This is always a must do with any group.  Too many times everyone goes their separate ways, this is fine but highly recommend the group trip happens early on.  This sets a nice tone for the rest of the weekend. Remember to bring safety, someone who knows where they are going (nothing worse than following me somewhere new), extra water, sun protection.... don't forget to bring a towel.

Exploring the vast expanse of sand dunes at the National Seashore in Provincetown, MA


Tasty Beverages  - Achieve equilibrium this holiday weekend by drinking to your hearts content, get the training in first then indulge to ones liking.  Prefer the method of one beer, one chaser of water.. That still gets kind of crazy but reduces the chance of complete and utter dehydration so you can wake up the next day and get it done. Hangovers. even slight ones are not good motivators and making that beach chair looking mighty friendly for the next 8 hours.

Saturday May 24, 2014 Road Cycling at North Truro to Wellfleet, MA
34 miles 110 minutes 580 ft elevation gain
Amazing ride on Cape Cod. Late Spring weather, much too chilly to warrant swimming this early in the season for most people, especially with an offshore breeze but still perfect weather for getting a good road ride. The ride was an immediate all time favorite.  My race buddy John showed me a fun route that takes you from Cape Cod Bay through Wellfleet to the Atlantic and back again.   Lots of short rolling sets of hills on sharp, winding roads make for an outstanding route.  If I had known he was going to get me that close to the open ocean I would have packed a suit and small hand towel and gone for it!  The break was good and surfers taking care of business.  A missed opportunity for sure.

After a nice long midday siesta on the beach chairs with the ladies, it was time to get to work.

On the way back we saw a fox that followed alongside the road in the direction we were riding for a very noticeable long distance.  Even when we circled back around to find out what it was up to, it continued on a path along the road.  Getting back we were able to soak in some last rays of good sun before setting and start indulging in some tasty beverages.  After all its a holiday!

What did the fox say?

Sunday May 25, 2014 Sea Kayaking on Cape Cod Bay, Tip of Massachusetts
11 miles 150 minutes, P&H Capella 16' Sea Kayak with Skeg
Goal was to paddle parallel to the shoreline through Provincetown and then head towards the lighthouse on Long Point Beach and the Tip of Massachusetts. This was my first time in the P&H Capella since purchasing it from a fellow paddler for $100! I also purchased a near mint condition Werner Corryvrecken which is definitely a near high performance sea kayak paddle I have used. Weighing approx 125 grams less than my current carbon whitewater paddle, its a welcomed piece of gear to go the distance without fatiguing. The Capella felt very comfortable, tracked well and stable. Not as responsive as a fiberglass in the same dimensions, a little sluggish was to be expected. Paddling it at about 4.4mph in near perfect conditions is about top sustained speed which is not out of the ordinary for average polymer sea kayak.

P&H Capella 16'1.  (Photo taken by Phillip Werner of SectionHiker)

I started out with John, Justin and his two sons, but they were very eager to take the direction of travel the seagull flies and I continued along shore to check out all the real estate and lots of cool beach houses.   Approaching Provinetown there was an old broken down dock with hundreds of Cormorants, Seagulls and Sandpipers hanging around.  I stirred up the Cormorants and they all went flying off while the Pipers and Gulls just hung around not phased by my presence.

Fearless leader towing newest youth paddler, 1/2 mile offshore in calm waters of Cape Cod Bay.  

Making it in town, lots of people in town this weekend and some were delighted to snap a few photos of me off the main pier.  Lots of whale watches leave from Ptown and today was no different.  Huge boats, packed like sardines heading out and more people taking photos of me.  I waved to satisfy a few of those happy people looking to get a reaction out of me.  I have heard so much about the photographs of the old Portuguese ladies on the pier.  They were even more beautiful in person, quite breathtaking to be able to see them so close. Probably my favorite part of this paddle was just stopping to take a long look. Just imagine the stories they had to tell!

Priceless! Visit this link for more information.

Moving right along and to the lighthouse.  Boat traffic got heavy passing the breakwater but I was only 1.5 miles or so from the beachhead.  Made it there dodging boats and got some good wave action in their wake which is always fun since it was such a calm day on water.  Made it to Long Point Beach, found a nice rocky pile to pull the kayak up too.  Went inland to check out the lighthouse and there was grassy field all covered in poison ivy. Watch where you step, dangerous territory so did not spend too much time tip toeing around every bend.  Very dodgy!  I did not bring a lunch but a pop tart sufficed.  Adequate energy food for not being prepared. Met a lone fella from Texas living in Boston making frequent trips to Provincetown to get away from the city life.  Can't blame him this place is pretty incredible. Its about a 45 minute walk to get here from town but why do that when you can hire a boat to drop you off.  Before I knew it there were like 20-30 people on the beach.  Time to go.

Approaching Long Point Beach

Decided to paddle to the Tip of Massachusetts which is nothing more than a beach, a growing beach as sediments get deposited here annually, it just keeps growing and growing.  Taking the coastal route would be too much of the same so I paddled towards Wellfleet and out into more open water about 3 miles or so offshore.  Paddled out to the rather large channel marker. Once again, boat traffic.  Everyone is navigating the closest route to that marker.  Had to dodge a few boats but no problems.  Continued heading out and out, saw a huge jellyfish with long tendrils stretched out along the surface.  Suspect it was a Lions Mane and it was a magnificent sight.  Continued paddling across and decided that I should make the 90 degree shift and paddle for shore.  I was still about 40 minutes offshore when I made that decision and it seemed like it took forever to see any sort of change in the view.  Finally could start to make some things out, and new I was dead on target for the cottages at Pilgrim Heights.  Thanks to the wind socks flapping in the light breeze.

Arriving back to all the good wives lounging around and enjoying themselves.  John, Justin and the kids not back yet, some worrying and discussing where they could be.. but in the end all worked out.  They just had a nice long ice cream break and took their time coming back.  Mission Accomplished!

Monday May 26, 2014 Sport Biking at Provincetown, MA and National Seashore
27 miles 100 minutes 480 ft elevation gain
Everyone went home for the weekend but I could not get enough of the Cape!  Astrid took a 3 hour nap after spending some time walking around downtown Ptown and saying our goodbyes.  I took a one hour nap in a hard blowing westerly wind with waves crashing ashore it was a perfect soothing moment, time for me to meditate and relax.  Then I woke up!  Packed some gear and jumped on the mountain bike for a solo mission, strength workout where I would increase the gearing and push the cadence in intervals. I did that for pretty much the entire ride.  Its a crushing workout, really getting the heart rate up there.  9-11 miles was spent on the bike path along the National Seashore.  What an incredible setting.  Biking in between and up and over countless sets of sand dunes, then just inland cruising through coastal Beech forest.  I really enjoyed this ride and look forward to the day I can take my kids here....and Astrid because she was sleeping and missed out... not on the strength interval ride though :-)

We cannot thank John, Crystal and the Popko Family enough for so generously opening up their home away from home to us all!

Highlights captured from the amazing weekend

Work hard, train hard, play harder!