Challenge Iceland, 23. 7. 2016

On Saturday, 23.7. 2016, we were a part of an amazing, inaugural Challenge Iceland, half Iron distance triathlon. The name says it all and all three of us agree that this was the most fascinating, adventurous triathlon we have ever done. An unforgettable experience in the land of the Vikings.

Swim start (source; Challenge Iceland)
Swim start (source; Challenge Iceland)

The swim start took place on Saturday morning in a 10.000 years old glacier lake situated 40 km from Reykjavik. It was a rainy morning with outside temperatures approximately 12°C. The water in the lake was said to have 15°C but in fact this was only true for the shallow part on the entry into the lake… as you went further, the water became colder and colder. We dressed up our swim suits in a nearby tent because the rain was pouring from the sky. The tent was already crowded with athletes and it seemed like we all knew that going into that lake will take some craziness. The scenery behind the lake was a picturesque mountain and hills covered with snowy patches and we also noticed a waterfall which was probably providing all this cold water into our lake. It was time to get in. We did not think much; we got wet as fast as possible and once you swam a few metres the water temperature seemed bearable. We were laughing and shaking, waiting for the start signal.

Swim start (source: Challenge Iceland)
Swim start (source: Challenge Iceland)

Swimming started and the first few hundred meters were actually OK, like swimming in a »normal« lake. The water was crystally clear and the first problem we have encountered was its unequal depth. Therefore, we had to walk for a few meters in the middle of the lake until we could swim again. The time went by, I could feel my finger tips freezing and after swimming for 40 minutes the coordination of limbs was awfully bad…I got the feeling that I came into the coldest part of the lake. It took another 5 minutes to swim to the exit on the shore and a few minutes to get out into the transition zone. The conditions really prolonged our swimming times.

Bike ride (source: Challenge Iceland)
Bike ride (source: Challenge Iceland)

Iztok and Dušan were already starting the bike ride, when I entered the transition zone and dressed up my bike gear in a whole-body-shaking condition. As a doctor, I would of course totally disencourage anyone to perform swimming in a cold, glacier lake… I was thinking of our kidneys, our heart pumps and all the organs who had to perform their functions despite our morning glacier bathing. But on the other hand, we will never walk this road again and I knew we were well prepared and fit enough to do this without consequences. The cold water took its toll, some of the athletes had to finish their race during or after the swim…medical professionals had much work to do; from mild hypothermia to cramps. Luckily, nothing serious.

Bike ride-Dušan (source: Challenge Iceland)
Bike ride-Dušan (source: Challenge Iceland)

I took my bike and ran to the bike start area. I almost dropped it as I was getting on it. In the second attempt I managed to start biking, rain was still pouring from the sky. »Nice and easy« said someone from the surrounding crowd… and we took his advice, we did the 90 km bike ride considering all the safety precautions; careful use of brakes, slow turning. I was afraid to speed up since the road was slippery and I do not have a lot of experience with racing in the rain. All the events so far were in tropical conditions in comparison to this event. I was happy with the scenery I was able to see during the bike course. Astonishing. The road was actually traffic-free and as you were riding in the middle of the road with cliffs and shore on one side, mighty hills on another side it felt like living on another planet. The hills seemed like being there forever, long before the human invasion of this planet and they were the silent witness of our bike ride on that vintage day. From Vikings to Challenge Iceland, those hills can manage all as long as you leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but memories.

Bike ride (source: Challenge Iceland)
Bike ride (source: Challenge Iceland)

The bike course was going up and down with app. 1000 m of ascent. This warmed my fingertips, the rain stopped pouring and after 90 km it was time to do the 21 km run-a half marathon. The run took its place around the lake, two 10,5 km laps. I was so hungry when getting off the bike, I could not wait for that chocolate bar in the transition zone. I must have underestimated the conditions on the bike and took only one small bar with me on the bike… obviously not enough. I changed my clothes and started running. The run was sitauted in a lovely scenery beside the lake, there were some aid stations with chocolate and bananas. The sun was already shinning and it was time to get to the finish line. Passing the line I stopped and took a few deep breaths.

Bike ride (source: Challenge Iceland)
Bike ride (source: Challenge Iceland)

There was a hot, spicy pumpkin soup in the finish area. We ate several cups of it, and a lot of fruit, it was delicious! And all the volunteers with cool, big Icelandic hearts were there to help us through the day. We did well in competition and our highest rankings in our age groups brought us entry slots for the Challenge World Championship 2017 in Šamorin. For all the rest, I will let the pictures do the talking…

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