Lofoten, a unique group of islands in the far north of Norway, which are on the must visit list in all the big travelling guides. Known for Arctic cod, Northern light and its raw uncompromising beauty. Be able to race a long distance triathlon in this place?
In the past year I have been competing in more then a dozen full and half distance triathlons all over the world in places like Hawaii, Thailand, South Africa and the magnificent Hardangervidda plateau in Norway, a part of the bike leg in Norseman. The never ending quest for getting faster, beating own records and hit a higher average watt on the bike is, believe it or not, not the most important quest for me anymore. Triathlon is so much more than that. The truly unique, the extraordinary, the unforgettable experiences that will give me a big smile on my face, when I am looking back at them sitting in a rocking chair as a 90 years old man. Those are the experiences I seek after. When I was asked if I would be interested in participating in test race of a long distance triathlon in Lofoten I was not in doubt for a second. A loud and clear YES, was my answer.
The weather in Lofoten is known for rapid and major changes. Be ready for everything was the advice we got before heading up north. The weather Gods was showing us their good side with perfectly calm water and a strong sun making shorts and t-shirt the appropriate outfit when we arrived at Svolvær, Lofoten’s “capital” with a population of 4500. I will let the pictures do the talking and as you can see we could not ask for anything more.
That was the days prior to the competition, of course. On the night before race day the weather did a complete turnover giving us a cold, rainy and most of all a very windy day.
The original swim course around the around the harbor was not even close to be borderline swimmable in the strong wind and big waves. That did not matter much because swimming inside the harbor was great. Fishing cabins on one side and the mighty steep mountains on the other. The water was clear, pure and very salty. 15 degrees Celsius water temperature does not feel warm, but compared to the all time low 10 degrees we experienced in Norseman 4 weeks earlier swimming in the Svolvær harbour felt comfortable.
On the bike I started doing what I do best, pedaling with a steady power output with my head deep down. That was quit difficult I must say, having my head down because the magnificent scenery was followed by an even more spectacular view. The elements was also contributing to make the challenge interesting with strong wind changing between coming from the back, the front and the sides as we rode around the islands. I was riding with a high profile front well, because I have been riding with a 80 mm front wheel on Hawaii twice and thought is could not possible be more windy then Hawaii. That was not an incorrect thought, but it was just as gusty as a very challenging day on Hawaii. The fact that there is a wind measurement sign before the bridges says a lot, and as we crossed Grimsøystraumen bridge it gave us a heads up that the side wind was traveling at 18 m/s, or 35 knots. When riding the bike course it feels like you are in a Viking fairy tale with scenery that could have been used to record Game of Thrones. The contrasts are fascinating as the tall mythical mountains are diving steep and flatten out to a picture perfect beach. The bike course is fast, or at least it can be if the wind conditions are neutral, because you are riding between the tall mountains and not over them. The course could easily been 180 km, but then we would miss the ride out to the inspiring Henningsvær, the small fishing village which is a favourite among artist, divers and rock climbers. That trip makes the extra 16 km really worth it.
Getting back to Svolvær again after 6 hours on the bike felt good, and my running shoes were ready for service. My strategy was to run the first flat 25 km on tarmac as hard as I could and then have a nice and easy hike over the mountain. My pace was good despite nearly gotten blown of the road a couple of times.
When I arrived at Haugen farm, I changed to more rugged shoes, put on some more clothes and put on my backpack before beginning what I thought would be a nice hike over the mountain. The path was unknown to me, but XXLofoten, who organizes the triathlon, said it was a very nice path. In the beginning the path was an easy gravel road before becoming steeper, narrower and got a dirt-covered surface covered with small trees tightly surrounding the trail. The density of trees was gradually reduced until the trail was nothing but rocks. With heavy rain, thick fog and a blistering chilly wind I realized that I had completely misunderstood what XXLofoten meant when they said a nice path. It was nice in the meaning, nice nature and nice view. In that regard it is actually breathtaking nice, but not at all “easy-to-run”-nice, as I thought. With the challenging weather conditions it was very technical and each step had to be taken with precision. I was not able to run at all in that terrain and the speed and hence my ability to generate heat was significantly reduces. I was getting seriously cold and went from enjoying mode to survival mode. “Lofoten Triathlon could not possibly be any challenge for the two times winner of Norseman Xtreme Triathlon”, I thought prior to the race. My too high confidence made me underestimate how hard the run course was. Two hours after I had left Haugen farm at 25 km it was a great relief to finally arrive at the aid station on 37 km. By then I was out of water and out of food, and for a while, uncertain if I would ever see civilisation again. After filling up with gummy bears, coke and the marvels Arctic Triple buns made by the local bakery I was ready undertake the last climb up Tjeldbergtind and down to the finish line in Svolvær. I was not familiar with the trail up and down Tjeldbergtind and expected the worst. Luckily it was a much easier trail even if both the climb and decent is fairly steep. Running the last couple of kilometers from the bottom of Tjeldbergtind to Svolvær was quit emotional. It was not exactly the World Championships or the infamous Norseman. It was a test race with 14 participants and I had no competitors in sight. Still I gave it my all from the start gun went off until the finish line was reached. I had to give it all to be able to finish, and it turned out to be one of the hardest competitions I have done. The last 100 meters along the harbor were finished with a sprint and the feelings of relief, pride and pure happiness peaked to an all-time high as I crossed the finish line 11 hours and 51 minutes after the start.
Lofoten Triathlon gave me everything I sought after and more. It was an experience of a lifetime and I will never ever forget it. I cannot wait to be back next year, but with more food and better clothing in my backpack. Hopefully I will see you on the start line together with me 🙂
Want any more inspiration? Check out the movie from the race her: