Back in August member Ila Pearson took part in her toughest triathlon yet and here she recounts her remarkable story
3.8 km Lake Swim.
Transition 1 (T1) at Tännforsen Turiststation. 205km Road Bike.
Transition 2 (T2) in Åre Björnen.
42km Run (mostly trail).
Transition T2A in Fröå Gruva (this acts as the mountain safety checkpoint and high course cut- off. This is also where athletes will pick-up their compulsory support runner for the high mountain section of the run).
10 km off-road run to the top of Åreskutan and a further 4 km to the finish in the Åre town square.
Athletes are largely self-supported throughout the race.
Finishers of the high-level mountain route will receive a Swedeman Yellow T-shirt and finishers of the low-level route will receive a Swedeman White T-shirt.
Trondheim Airport was only a two hour drive to Åre Sweden and the Holiday Club where we were staying.
On arrival we had a chance to meet with the organisers for a drink and the following morning we met with the other athletes on the beach outside the Holiday Club for a refreshing social swim in the lake and enjoy a coffee and a cinnamon bun together. I only lasted 20 neoprene clad minutes. Nicola an athlete from Ireland jumped in with just her swimsuits on, perhaps to intimidate the competition. The swim helped me realise how quickly my body adapted to the cold chill, and made me feel at ease about the race swim ahead of me.
The whole event had been set up for you to get to know the organisers, the other athletes and their support crews.
Read the Manual
Having Matt share the memories of extreme triathlon, as support crew, was something really unique, crewing during a long, tough event will either kill or cement our relationship. Neither of us knew what to expect and Kit check at registration was one of those challenges.
As we brought our kit to registration for inspection. I hadn’t read correctly that both Matt and I must be wearing or carrying the mandatory kit – although it seems pretty obvious now, it wasn’t at the time. A massive oversight that could have had devastating and costly consequences. We sort help from a previous Swedemen athlete and shop owner of Outdoor Buddies. He allowed us to hire all the kit, which consisted of a fully waterproof jacket and trousers, hat + gloves, two long sleeved thermal layers, a whistle, a head torch and trail shoes! I even upgraded some of my kit for the race. The help we received was astounding.
At 3:50am athletes started to appear clad in neoprene ready to board the bus to race start. Matt and other crews were packing their support vehicles with our kit for the day, and heading out to rack bikes in T1.
The coach took the athletes to a remote beach, a short distance from Nordhallen. The swim course had been an ‘A to B’ format, exiting beneath Tännforsen waterfall. There were no loud PA systems, no loud motivational chants, just time to think and appreciate the wild surroundings. Fires burned on the beach and lanterns lit the starting funnel.
The swim started on the count of three, as we ran 200m to deeper water, the water temperature felt a comfortable 15 degrees, varying much colder as you swam towards a waterfall and an unseen exit. At points you would hit the sand banks. With poor visibility and the roar of the waterfall, I felt disoriented, it was actually terrifying if you let your thoughts take hold. I was eventually stopped by a kayak, that pointed out the way to help me. I looked again and in the distance I could see.
The waterfall looked magnificent, awe or disbelief, I’m not sure!
I emerged from the washing machine and scrambled up the rocks.
As Matt steadied me and directed me up a 400m steep pathway to transition, getting me dressed and underway on the bike.
The bike course is a 205 kilometre loop from Tännforsen hills, in parts along the E14 main road, and finishing up the hill to Åre Björnen and T2. Once moving I kept a fairly consistent pace, fuelled with ‘mountain top cut-off’ adrenaline. Matt and I had decided on race day to work in kilometres to help with my mindset, as the distance would count down quicker. We pre-arranged to meet at each 32km point along the route. Matt would be parked up with the same other athlete crews each time, and each of those crews would be encouraging me too. I really loved the experience despite the weather early on and the totalling ascents of well over 2000m. The roads were wide and quiet, any traffic would pass widely. I felt fed, happy and safe throughout.
When I arrived at T2 I was suffering, I already knew that this run would be significantly slower than any other race, but I had given myself the best possible time advantage to make sure I would reach the mountain top cut-off.
The run starts on a short section of gravel road and mountain bike tracks before turning onto forest paths and technical trails. The course climb is remote and wild, wet, muddy and boggy up to your knees – for some they went in up to their waists!
The course is marked with orange flags and is generally easily followed in the day light.
There had been one basic aid stations – coke, water and sweets, where the course crosses itself, where you start climbing up towards Lillskutan running above the tree line for the first time. This section allowed for great views and in the distance you can see the top of Åreskutan.
The run seemed almost impossible, my pace slowed considerably due to the harsh terrain, the doubt and disbelief that something could be so difficult and unachievable crept in. I hesitated and gave myself three choices. One: To finish, Two: To not die and Three: Not to be last. Eventually, I caught up with Lisbeth and Ash and they were encouraging and positive that we would all make the cut-off at T2A.
I started worrying that with every kilometre the check point wasn’t getting any closer. Ash was behind me at this point. When he caught up with me I was so happy to have his company and tougher we pushed hard to make T2A. It was hugely overwhelming the sense of accomplishment. I couldn’t believe I had made it with 20 minutes to spare. Lisbeth following shortly after.
Of course it is physically possible!
Matt had been both support crew in the car and the accompanying runner for the last 14km of the run. As we set out on the run the sun was out and the temperature warm. I was suffering, but we were both in reasonable spirits as we headed up the wet muddy boggy trail.
Magnificent mountain top
The run starts to kick hard as you leave the Swedish forest behind and start to climb to the top of Åreskutan. There were fields of snow on the trail, which made for an icy run and as the sun starts to set, the panic sets in and the temperature dropped. Matt was pushing hard to reach the top and get down the mountain before dark, it was a stretch to keep up. I was beginning to feel extremely uncomfortable. I could do nothing about the condition of the course or the technicalities – I had no choice but to keep up and get up and down as quickly as possible.
Åreskutan mountain top was magnificent! and nothing like the first two peaks we had thought were the mountain top!!
We headed towards Åre village below, over many rocky kilometres of descent. As darkness drew in, we were joined with enormous relief, by mountain guides, and the last remaining athlete and his crew. The descent was a long slog with head torches, illuminating the rocky path in front. As we descended into the darkness, my vision was blurred and my legs buckling. I really wasn’t prepared for what Matt or I had to endeavour. The finish line dwarfed any Ironman races I had done.
I finished in 19 hours, 4 minutes and 51 seconds.
I realised early into the run that I was not really a contender for a podium position and that a Yellow Mountain Top finisher t-shirt is enough. An Ironman is one thing, extreme triathlon is a whole other!
The day after both Matt and I attended the t-shirt ceremony and a post-race buffet at the Holiday Club Åre. Norseman slots would be given, female 1st and 2nd place athletes qualify for the championships and two random slots are allocated across the female race finishers. I received my place and finishers photos were taken on the beach.
No rest for the wicked
The end of the race marked the end of a period in my life dominated by training and tiredness. I wasn’t sure I wanted a place at Norseman, I’m still recovering mentally and my body is a wreck. The amazing ladies had convinced me take it and see how I felt in time.
Day after the finish with my prized, all important, Yellow T-Shirt
Swedeman is an incredibly beautiful and fulfilling race, and afterwards we were able to share a laugh about the muddy bogs and navigating in the darkness. We made many friends and our parting words were “see you at Norseman”.
The experience of XTRI brings people together, and whether I do Norseman, I know that it will be full of fun, friendship and logistical challenges!
Ila has her own blog and if you’d like to see many more pictures of the event which were included in that original blog, then follow the link here https://swedemanxtremetri.blogspot.com/2022/08/thats-wrap.html