I was originally on the start list for 2020, but Covid stroke as a Global Pandemic and plans were moved for 2022.
This was the continuation of my Xtri journey. Already done Norseman 2016, Celtman 2018 and Patagonman 2019. Each race with their unique challenges making them particularly hard in one, two or all three disciplines. Icon was no different.
For this race there were 2 main aspects that look challenging; Bike course distance and elevation gain.
6 mayor climbs taking you for an unforgettable loop around Italy and Switzerland. The first four climbs not particulary hard, or at least manageable. It was number 5 which took my mayor concearns. The famous Stelvio pass with it’s 24K extension and it’s 2K of elevation gain. Plus taking you to 3000m elevation above see level which makes your oxygen intake difficult. If not enough challenging, you still had to go over Foscagno Pass with 15K extension and 1000m elevation gain. On top of that, crossing the fingers that the weather would be fine.
Yes, after that you had to run a full Marathon finishing on top of Carosello 3000 Ski Center. The last 5K with and average grade of 16%. Ok, let’s do this!!
My good friend Romano Moreno took the responsability of becoming the support for this race. He took the job before for Celtman and Patagonman. He knows my nutrition strategies and we work very well as a team.
Romano flew to Italy a few days earlier and took my bike along in case the airline could have lost it. This had happened to me in the past and nowadays it’s more frequent to hear firsthand stories of people who lost their bikes or luggage because of airline negligence.
For some reason, Icon Xtreme Triathlon is set to start on Fridays. Probably it has to do with weekend heavy traffic I guess. I arrived Monday morning on race week. Romano picked me up at Milan Linate Airport. We drove for 3 and a half hours to Livigno. We were very impressed with the beauty of this little town. Set in a valley, sorrounded by stunning mountains. A town known for it’s skiing wonders which in summer is transformed to an amazing outdoors sports community.
Livigno is located in the north part of Italy next to Switzerland. The city is 1800m above sea level which makes it a great choice for altitude training for professional sports team. It has a impressive sports complex called “Aquagrande” that has first class track, short course indoor pool and a full equipped gym.
The days before the race were very easy. Short swim, bike and run. All the work was done, now it was a matter of getting rid of the fatigue and get in the best possible form. Tuesday, we went to Carosello 3000, where the finish line was. It was our chance to take a look to the last part of the race. The famous steep climb where athlete and support make their way to the top of the mountain.
On Wednesday we decided to do the full bike course by car. It was a good idea to check any problems on the road, steep descends and get an overall picture where the harder parts of the bike leg would be. Thursday, race briefing, eating dinner early and try to get some sleep.
Couldn’t sleep much, mainly because we had to be very early at the venue. At 3:30 am pick GPS and then at 3:45am enter transition area. Get the gear ready, put the wetsuit on an head to the starting point in the lake. At 4:45 am all athletes got inside the lake where some kayaks draw a line. The air was cold but the temperature of the water was ok. All pitch black. You could see at the distance 4 lights that showed the way to each buoy. At 5 am the gun went off and we were off to a long day.
My sensation during the swim was amazing. The lake felt like a giant pool. No wind whatsoever. It was easy to follow the lights in the darkness of the night. I got a little behind the front group but didn’t care. Just followed my own sustainable pace during the whole swim. The darkness actually kept my mind calmed without distractions. No one was near me. It was a solo swim for most of the part. The way back felt a little longer but I was confident and happy on how things where going. Getting close to the shore until my arms touch the ground. Stand up and ran a few meters of shallow water. Then ran a long 500m to the transition area where Romano was waiting for me.
After a few minutes of putting bike garments and gear I was heading off for a 195K bike ride…
The first 40 minutes it was still dark so the front light was on for safety. The air was cold but with warm clothes I was ok. The first 2 climbs came rapidly and with fresh legs they felt pretty easy. At the top of each pass Romano was waiting for me as we agreed earlier. Downhills felt cold without the Sun. We were already in Switzerland.
Now we headed for a long descent and a steady flat ride of about 60K. Feeling very strong but couldn’t drink much because of the cold temperature. The sun was starting to hit the sorroundings so soon it would be perfect. This segment went really fast and my overall speed average until that moment was 30m/hr.
Starting the third climb feeling optimistic with strong legs. Coming up the third climb I reached a “Works Ahead” Traffic Light. It was in Red so I has to stop. 1, 2, 3 minutes in complete stop and the first athlete caught me. 4, 5, 6 minutes and all of a sudden it was a crowd of 5 athletes waiting with me for the green light. It took around 8 minutes of waiting which really pissed me off as all the gap I had was lost… We had a couple of additional stops in that segment but the waiting was short compared to the first one. A group of these athletes were stong cyclist so they opened a gap in front of me. I work hard hard to keep them at sight without burning myself out. I managed to keep legal distance with a group of 3 all the way to the fourth climb.
Then the final descent before stating the infamous Stelvio Pass. It was already midday and the sun was hitting hard. Before starting Stelvio, I made a brief stop to take some cloths off and grab additional nutrition and fluids.
I knew keeping my pace was not going to be easy considering this was more than a 2 hours of continuous climbing. After the first 40 minutes, my lower back started to hurt. Breathing started to feel harder as altitude was rising. All of a sudden I realized that I couldn’t keep the same power or I would blow out. It was hot, legs were tired and my back hurt. I was now in survival mode. Romano kept cheering for me anywhere he could stop the car. The final meters before reaching the summit were like hell. He was waiting for me to change clothes before the descent. When I reached him I felt absolutely depleted. For one minute I had to catch my breath. Change clothes, eat an energy bar and I was off for a long descent into Bormio. Coming down Stelvio helped to rest my legs before the last climb of the day. Foscagno Pass was 15K long, not as steep as Stelvio, but hard enough to drain the last energy reserves. The confidence in all the training I did on the bike gave me the mental toughness I needed to make the final push.
A few turns of descent into T2. Came off the bike like a Hunchman running slowly inside the changing tent. Romano was waiting for me with all the running gear. Ate some energy bar, drank some water and made a brief stop at the toilet. Off to the marathon. The first 3K were all a tarmac downhill. Great to give time for the legs to wake up again. Then it was trail with some uphills, but mostly downhill into the forest. A beautiful trail that would lead into a side road next to Livigno Lake. Now tarmac road into the city. People would cheer when I passed them. Not feeling very well, trying to find a sustainable pace, fighting a bit of heat. My first goal was to reach the first Aid Station at 12.5K into the run. I have to admit that this segment before the first Aid Station was my lowest point of the run. I was physically and mentally tired. Hanged in there for a while until I reached it. Stopped, grab a gel, drank some fluids and off again. This time it was a 12K trail segment of medium difficulty into the woods. There were some hills that just couldn’t run and walked them. Whenever the trail became flat I would start running again. It was beautiful and helped to put my mind in other thoughts than pain. Next Aid station at 18K was near. Now my mind was in a good state knowing that I would be able to reach T3 soon. Same ritual at the Aid Station. Now it was a mild downhill. It helped to give a break to the legs. Tarmac again and the pace started to flow. Before reaching T3 there was very tough 1K segment of trail that really made me feel miserable. Now one last push to T3. So glad it was downhill!
T3 & The Climb to Corsello 3000
Finally at T3 Romano once more waiting for me but this time dressed in trail running gear. Around 13 hours of race in my back. I knew the hardest part was over. Now it was a matter of patience before crossing the finish line. Having my friend coming along this last leg of the race was a boost of mental energy. Chatting about the staff we both went through the whole day would make the last effort manageable. The first 3K were a downhill following the main center street of Livigno. Crowds of people would cheer for us as we went by. All good until we made a left turn into the side of the mountain where the climbing would begin. The first wall was an 800m, 22% steep hill. That was tough and it was the beginning. Then came 3K of relatively flat trail segment that we would run and walk. This trail ended where the last Aid Station was. We grabbed some food, I ate a few bananas and began the last segment to the finish line. Night was beginning to fall over us so we put some warm clothes and turned on our head lights. 2 athletes with their support teams passed us. Honestly, I didn’t care much. I was very excited knowing that we were going to make it. The views of Livigno on our back were stunning. We started to get very emotional as we were reaching the last kilometer of the climb. Candle lights were placed on the ground guiding our way. We could hear the screams and cheering of people at the finish line whenever an athlete would cross arrive. At last we could see the finish line. The dirt road was lighted on both sides with candles. 100 meters to go and we couldn’t believe our eyes. The finish line was over a crazy steep hill that would take as to crawl to climb it! Between laughter and crying we made the last meters of this journey. People would cheer us in italian while we were struggling to climb it. Finally, I stand up, grabbed the Icon Ribbon and screamed with joy and happiness. We proudly opened the chilean flag, posed for the photo and hugged. The journey was over. I was an Icon.
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