Race report from Pfronten MTB Marathon

It was a long time since my last race, but it’s always good to have a goal in mind to keep you focused. This philosophy can be translated to all aspects of life – have a goal, a vision of where you see yourself, and the decisions you make on your journey will take you closer to that goal.

How to set goals

Those who know me, know that I’m a very competitive person and set myself hard reachable goals. This race was kind of an exception. Normally I would set a goal for myself based on the result. That is a bit tricky, since it means you will fail if some world class riders show up, but succeed if they don’t. Then your goal is outside your own control and your performance is not all it takes. Set goals that are realistic and manageable, but will motivate you to push your limits and take you out of your comfort zone. They should also not rely on external factors of luck.

Back to the race

The last week we got the heat wave over southern Europe. I’m Norwegian, and my body performs best in around 10-20 degrees. I’ve always been struggling a bit with the heat. But after some years as a bike guide on Gran Canaria, my internal thermometer and heat tolerance has improved a lot. It also helped that the heat wave had already lasted for some time already, so I had some time to acclimatise.

The last summers have been spent in Berchtesgadener Land, where the Alpine mountains are even steeper. I had taken a look at the elevation profile of the course, and with 2600 climbing meters over 76 kilometers, it seemed like a course that could suit me well. Weight becomes a bigger handicap when the gradients pass 10%.

It was my first time at Pfronten, and also racing in the Allgäu area. I didn’t know my competition, but that also didn’t matter. I was racing for myself and had no real expectations of where I could or should end up on the list. The start of the race went through town and was neutralized with a car. After the first 3 kms we entered the first of the climbs of the day.

A guy with a German national tricot sat the pace in front, and for me the starting tempo was simply too high. I had to race within my own limits, if not I would blow up. Already from the morning, it was over 31 degrees. I knew it was going to be a hot day, so I kept focus on drinking to stay hydrated. Somewhere halfway in the climb, my consistency started to pay off. The front was still within reach, and they didn’t gain more time on me. Some riders that followed even came sliding back and I overtook them.

The last part of the first climb was brutally steep and loose. One wrong pedal stroke and you’re off the bike. Then it was just to start running, because there was no way I was getting going again in such a steepness. Rounding the top I was in around 4th place. I was a bit surprised, and set myself the short term goal of reaching the podium. The following downhill was not a problem. Just unusually slippery gravel. Same for everyone, just have to brake a bit earlier and drift through the corners :D

After the first descent, there was a longer stretch of asphalt in a quite flat terrain. This suited me well. Getting low on the bike and just plowing against the wind in time trail mode. I was also telling myself, that this was my advantage and the smaller riders would lose ground here. My chance to do some damage. When I came to the second climb, I could see the rider in 3rd place in front of me. He was a local and had friends in the course to hand him bottles. On a day like this, I would call that an advantage.

He was looking back, and I was pushing hard to shorten the gap. The climb started on asphalt, so we could finally stand a bit to give the legs some alternative torture. That’s some of the problem with steep gravel climbing by the way – you always have to sit to prevent the rear wheel from losing traction. About two thirds into the climb, we came to the halfway point of the race. I had two bottles and both were empty. Since I was unsupported, I had to stop to refill. The only and fastest thing I found was water. So a short pitstop of 20 seconds and I continued the chase.

In the following descent it was a bit more technical. Some loose stones and easy to puncture. I was doing my best to ride soft like a cat, not to have any technical problems. Managed to get down safely and now I had managed to catch up with the guy in front of me. The podium fight was on. We immediately came into the third climb, and there I could see the guy in second place just in front of us. He had blown up completely and when we came racing by, he couldn’t follow. Understandable in this heat!

From what I vaguely remembered from the course study a few days before, I thought my course had three climbs. When we then came there I realized the kms didn’t make sense, so there had to be one more at the end. The third climb was thankfully not so long as the two before, but still long enough to lose some liters of body water. Still tried to keep on top of the hydration, but with water the uptake is not ideal. And the bars I had were impossible to eat in this heat. I was drying out and needed liquids.

Towards the last climb of the day we were still riding together, taking turns in front. There was one guy left in front of us to chase down. We had some feedback from spectators on the sideline that earlier had said he was 4 minutes ahead. Now another one said 2:30. He has also feeling the heat and suffering just as much as us.

The last climb was not so steep. Quite steady at around 9-10% and should normally suit me well. But normal is not the case when the temperatures show 37 degrees and we have already been racing for over 3 hours. The other rider got handed a fresh bottle of sports drink at the foot of the hill, and found some extra power. There was still 700 climbing meters left, and I knew this was the final hurdle. I was getting dizzy from the heat and started to feel nausea. Then he attacked. I kept riding steady, but I didn’t even want to look at my power meter. I knew the numbers were depressing. I was toast!

I never really gave up, but saw that he was quickly getting away. I kept focusing on finding the power within myself to keep going and it felt like a victory just passing the top. Then I knew the suffering was over, and now it was only to stay focused to avoid any technical or accident in the last descent down to the finish. With a beginning heat stroke and dehydration I was taking extra care over the rougher sections and in the corners. That made me come down in one piece and arrive safely back in Pfronten to a third place. The podium goal was achieved!

Completely exhausted and overheated, I crumbled on the ground in the shadow under a tree. My girlfriend’s parents were there to take care of me. I had headache, stomach cramps and did not feel like eating anything. Just needed some water to cool me down. I was still shivering and felt sick. I have also had this feeling once before, when racing in the heat on Gran Canaria. It’s was mild heat stroke.

After some water and time in the shadow my girlfriend also arrived in the finish area. I knew she would be coming, and really wanted to see her pass the finish line, but was too destroyed. She was riding the shorter distance and won her age group! Really proud of her. We were both racing for Life On 2 Wheels Cycling Club, and both of us won our age groups :) Really happy about that. At least we had a lot of fun here, which was the reason we were racing in the first place.

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