It has been a while since we did something together (except raising children and all the things people normally do) and we were searching for a nice team race that we could do together. Offroad Finnmark is a yearly MTB endurance race running every beginning of August on Finnmark mountain plateau in Northern Norway. The teams can compete in 700 and 300 km distance and since neither of us had any experience in MTB races we modesty decided for the shorter variant. We applied in October and started training. Misha was following his road bike training plan and I was preparing for a winter half marathon. We were also working out in a gym twice a week. During winter I swapped running for skiing and Misha did a lot of fatbike. Surly there were lots of interruptions due to business travels and some to winter flues, but we were both on a reasonably good track. Spring started with a couple of nice short road bike races and afterwards we both plunged into endurance races. Misha did 543 (Store Styrkeprøven from Trondheim to Oslo) and 444 km (Onroad Finnmark) races and I did a 6 day road trip from Trondheim to Tromso (about 1500 km).
Soon it became obvious that that was not such a good idea. We both got over-training problems, me especially. Doing 200 km for 6 days in a row with only short distance cycling before that was not good for my muscles. I ended up with knee pain that I mistaken for a joint problem. So, I decided to take it easy and let is heal for a month, before I finally went to a therapist that fixed the problem with a couple of massages. That is how I lost a month worth of training just a month before the race. Still, I would say that was luck – it could of been much worse and I could decided to quit before we even really started.
Our luck continued when Misha met a cycling friend on a local roadbike race and told him about our intentions to compete on Off300. ‘You do not want your wife to ride that race on a hardtail! She can have my bike!’ That is how I got my hands on a beautiful Trek Superly 100 – a carbon frame bike with full suspension. By that time Misha was dis-encouraged by my my knee problems and was searching how to get the most out of the race. He decided to do the full 300 km race on a hardtail fatbike. Nobody has ever done that before, but the summer was rainy and the race track has never been that wet before neither.
A couple of loops in the local mud trails around Tromso, some sleepless nights fixing the gear and off we were driving towards Alta where the race was starting. The start was at 18:00 on Thursday and the fastest teams were expected to finish in less than 24 hours. The 700 km race started 2 days before and they were supposed to finish together with us. Yet, long stretches of the track were converted to swamps and many of the 700 km teams already had to quit. This year only a handful of them will finish.
On the 300 km race we had to pass 6 check points with a obligatory 5 min stop at each of them and one 1 hour stop at a check point of our preference. At each check point we got drinks and food and at some sleeping facilities were provided. The fastest teams were expected to cover the 50 km distance between the check points in some 3-6 hours, depending on the trail conditions on the individual sections.
The first round out of Alta was halfway on gravel roads and half way on single track by the river. All went fine and were positioned somewhere in the middle. The second part of the track took us up to the plateau and I stated to pay the toll for the short nights I had before the race. I had to battle a strong headache that slowed us down trough this nocturnal part of the race. We reached the third section at dawn and I somehow woke up and we could get on faster. Still, at the next check point we were both exhausted and we took a 2 hour break there instead of planned 1 hour. By then we also understood that we are far back of the leading team. That was the point where many of the teams quit. Some due to bike break downs (we have seen quite some unlucky teams along the way), some due to injuries and many simply due to fatigue. Experienced teams that were able to finish the race in the previous years claimed it has never been as hard as this year – ‘there is so much mud, we can hardly bike and I hate pushing!’ said one of them.
But we decided to finish. ‘No DNF for us!’ was out motto and as we continued pushing through the mud at times knee-deep. After 4 sections were finally more than half way in the race but we already used the 24 hours within which were were hoping to finish. Then Misha’s ankle started to give up. At that point we had the worst parts behind us and ‘only 100 km to go’. Naturally we could not give up. On the last two sections the track improved substantially, it got much dryer and we only had to push all the uphill parts. The ankle was feeling fine riding downhill. So we made it to the finish line in 40 hours – 2 hours before the official cut off time.
A week later I still do not have a perfect control of my palm and finger muscles, but I can type this story. And we are already thinking of how to do it better next year. For the beginning we will use the time to actually learn how to ride a MTB!