Siddhant Chauhan takes us through his experience at the Swedeman Xtreme Triathlon 2019 that tested his endurance like never before.
One of the most satisfying achievements an individual can have is to outperform themselves. In sports and endurance sports, in particular, this could not be truer.
Athletes chase longer distances or faster finish times all in the belief of “Yes, I can!”.
So, what are Xtreme Triathlons?
They are long-distance self-supported triathlons where you battle a few constants and variables. The constants being: swim in cold water (11 – 16°C), bike at an elevation of 2000M+ and run in trails at an elevation of 1500M+. So, what are the variables then? The weather – rain, cold weather, winds of varied intensity can often be the toughest competitor you can come across.
With such adverse conditions to deal with, you may wonder why are athletes drawn to it? Simple – the gorgeous remote locations and community involvement. With a limited number of slots on offer, it is more personal and you end up making friends for life. Chances are, you will bump into a few of them at the next Xtreme tri race.
The excitement of Xtri ballot.
The applications or ballot for the All Xtri series opens in October/November every year. I have been applying for Norseman for the past 3 years and haven’t been successful yet. Last year, I decided to apply for its brutal counterpart in the Scottish highlands, “Celtman Scottish Extreme Triathlon”. After a nerve-racking but memorable experience, I was back for more and this time I entered the ballot for Norseman, Swissman, and Swedeman. I got selected for the latter two and I decided to go for Swedeman.
The story of Swedeman.
Set in the beautiful village of Are, the race comprises of a 3.8K swim in Öster-Noren, finishing under Sweden’s largest waterfall where the average water temperature is 13-15°C. After the swim, the athletes run up a steep of 400M long track to access T1 above the waterfall. The bike course of 205 kms begins from Tännforsen and covers a series of continuous hills ascending to 2000M. You will most likely encounter a few reindeer and moose while riding through cold winds, rains and of course, headwinds. Once you’ve survived this, you will need to run a full-marathon ascending to 2000M while battling tough terrains with the only consolation being the fabulous views. For the last 10K, you will need to be accompanied by a support runner as it is steep with a total climb from T2A to the top of Åreskutan of 1000M.
I began my training around Christmas 2018 with a focus on running for 3 months. Then in March 2019, post running the IDBI New Delhi Marathon, I began focusing on the base block. My swim training sessions took a hit during the summer holidays as pools are usually swarming with people so I had to go back to my functional 20M pool in my residential complex. 95% of my rides continued to be on an indoor trainer with an incline for the front block – giving me a lot of flexibility to do them at any point during the day. I mixed my training with HIITs, low cadence power workouts and long aerobic efforts lasting for 6-7 hours during the peak period. The runs were pretty much within the 2.2 kms radius of my residential complex and this time we added blocks of staircase runs to get the legs conditioned for elevation.
Building my support team.
I started looking for a good team right after the ballot was announced but unfortunately, I had no luck until June 2019. I wrote to a couple of running groups run by running shoe brands in India but that didn’t help either. Hence, I reached out to the organisers and a few friends who gave me some leads, which I pursued. My wife, who is not very interested in triathlons, was gearing up to be the sole support crew in this race, but I still needed someone to run the last 10K as per race rules. I decided to drop a note to my Airbnb host Johan to connect me with someone locally in Are and to my surprise, I discovered that he was an avid marathoner, downhill mountain biker and loved skiing. Problem solved!
Based on my learning from Celtman (2018), I decided to get to Are 5 days ahead of the race. It was raining the day we reached Are, which was at a temperature of 9°. Johan (my host) was great and we did a recce of the first 8K climb of the run course. During the next 2-3 days, I did two short rides on the course to check the bike and get a feel of the elevation as well as did a swim session (water was about 15°). I decided against exploring the full run course so that I keep my legs fresh. The expo allowed me to understand the course better and I caught up with a few familiar faces from Celtman, including the organising team. The day before the race, my wife, Johan and I went through the detailed support plan and I got my gear in place. I had a restless night but woke up fresh.
Swim – ah no jellyfish!
Boarding the bus to the swim start, I felt a sense of excitement. When I got there, I saw that the water was calm and the weather all-clear for the 5 AM start. I took a dip before getting back to the start line (the water temperature was not as scary as Celtman). As soon as the horn was blown we took off in a huff. The first 100-200M was shallow and we had to run through the soft, squishy sand resulting in a sudden spike in heart rate. A kilometre in, I was trying to get to the shortest path to the next buoy but kept drifting off and re-aligning my course, losing some valuable time. Just when I could spot the waterfall next to the finish line around 300 meters away, I had cramps and had to curl my feet to fix them. However, that meant a major drag and had to slow down for that last bit of distance. Coming out of the water, I could hardly talk without slurring as my tongue was numb!
Bike – It could have ended before it started
My feet were still numb as I changed into my cycling gear and headed out of the transition. The ride starts with a climb and I immediately clipped my right cleat to start. However, the most unexpected happened. I could not clip my left pedal on time and as a result, I lost balance and fell on the right. Managed to quickly get up and realize that the hangar has bent pushing the rear derailleur into the wheel. For a moment, I thought it was over, but Stuart rushed in and helped to get the original position restored. Luckily it worked and I decided to take my chances. The bike course was beautiful and my strategy was simple, I went conservative on the climbs and aggressive on flat and downhills. Around the 90-100K mark, the headwinds got the better off me and I was fatigued. But by the time I hit the 150K mark, I got back into the rhythm and began to cover up for the lost time. The last 2-3K was uphill with an elevation between 5-10%. By then my legs were cramping but I pushed on and got the job done. I got off the bike and changed into my running gear
Run – always the tough nut
I began the run with cramped legs but that didn’t slow me down. I followed a walk-and-run strategy for the climb in the first 8K of the run course, which moved through the hills onto the top of the mountain with some sheets of snow and a view of the finish line on Åreskutan. When the decent began and I got to see the terrain, I knew I would not be able to make it to the high course cut off at the 30K mark. It was disheartening, but I did give the best I could till this point so decided to go easy and enjoy the remaining run course. There were sections, which felt more like a swamp, and I had to keep dipping my shoes in the stream of water to clean them off. Sometimes, the shoes would get stuck in the dirt and you had to come back to take it. Somehow cruised through the forest to the copper mines where I met Johan and Karuna for the 18K checkpoint. Fuelling myself, we headed to the 30K checkpoint. My stomach was very queasy with the gels I had through the day and it now started acting up. I had to walk the next 9-12K to get to T2A. No surprise, I missed the high course cut off and was directed to the lower course on the tarmac in the village along the lake. I ran the rest of the course and crossed the finish line with the crew cheering me on!
It was a fantastic feeling to cross the line and with a lot of memories and learning’s to get better for the next race.