Norwegian Agnethe Bergsaker is fairly new to triathlon and has already done several unique and tough events including the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon and the Lofoten X. She is not daunted by the cold or new adventures.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time.
Agnethe Bergsaker: No problem, thank you! It's a big honor being interviewed by slowtwitch.
ST: This past weekend you were one of only 10 people to experience the Lofoten X event. Talk about it.
Agnethe: Lofoten X has so far been the most beautiful competition I have ever done. I’ve seen so many pictures from Lofoten, and always wanted to go there during winter. If you haven’t heard about it, just do a Google search and look at the pictures and you will understand! We were lucky with the weather and the view on top of the mountains was breathtaking. The competition consisted of swimming in really cold water, snowshoes/skis over two mountains, and running a half marathon. This was a test-race, and I’m really excited to see how they decide to do the competition next year. It's going to be amazing any way. The swim was actually not as cold as I had expected. I had a good dry suit and had practiced a few times back home. Because of an operation to my ankle, I couldn’t use the swim fins as much as my competitors, and therefore had to do a lot of freestyle swimming with my face in the cold water.
ST: How did most others swim, if not freestyle?
Agnethe: They were on their backs and kicking with the swim fins. Maybe not the most effective way, but dry suits are not very flexible or comfortable to crawl in. Plus it is easier to enjoy the snow-covered mountains when back-swimming.
ST: And do you own a dry suit?
Agnethe: Nope. And it was really hard to rent one in my size, as most of them are unisex - for men. I rented it from a girlfriend of a friend of the person who owned a diving shop in Gothenburg.
ST: What was the longest distance you had swum in very cold water before? Give us an idea of the temperature.
Agnethe: I practiced on the distance of the competition back home (2000 meters). The water this weekend was three degrees. It’s so cold, a lot of places there’s a thin ice-layer on top of the water. But I wore too much clothes under my dry suit, and was sweating when I came to T1. In Norseman last year I did 1900 in ten degrees in my normal wetsuit. Actually, I was not cold then either. With a good cap and a tight wetsuit, I kept warm.
ST: I think you started triathlon 4 years ago at age 22. Why triathlon?
Agnethe: I actually joined what I thought was a cycling club, but it turned out they were swimming and running too. After many years of just training and going to classes, I wanted a challenge and something to train towards. So then I signed up for a local triathlon and just loved everything about the sport.
ST: Does your younger sister also participate in endurance events?
Agnethe: She has done Hove Triathlon (sprint-distance) twice. She is active, but thinks one competition is enough each year. The first year she finished in 1:59:57. I’ve never cheered so much my entire life as I did when she was sprinting the final meters.
ST: I think your first extreme event was the Aurlandsfjellet in 2014. Was it as hard as you had expected?
Agnethe: I actually signed up because my boyfriend was doing it, and I figured it would be boring to wait for him at the finish line the entire day. I had only done Olympic distance events before and my main goal was to enjoy the nature and cycling part, as I didn’t think I would make it to the cut-off time for T2. Aurlandsfjellet is almost all hills, and I loved every climb. I finished as fourth woman, and cried for the last kilometer as I was so happy.
ST: How did your boyfriend do, and what did he say after?
Agnethe: He did very well, and finished in ninth place, about 1.5 hours before me. When I finished he had already taken a shower and had dinner. He was proud of me, but kept telling me to stop crying.
ST: Did he say, “there is no crying in triathlon?”
Agnethe: No he didn't. But mabye he should have? I'm not known for crying or complaining, except when I finish races with good results. There are just too many emotions at the same time.
ST: Then Norseman in 2015. And you walked away with a black t-shirt.
Agnethe: Yes I did. That was a really big day for me. I got the slot only three months before the race through a competition held by Intersport. Norseman is just an amazing competition. It’s really fun having your own crew supporting, cheering and feeding you the entire day, and makes Norseman more like a team event. As I like hilly courses, I looked forward to every climb, and Imingfjell was my favorite! Again, we were really lucky with the weather.
ST: At what point did you know you might get a black shirt?
Agnethe: I wasn't sure before the cutoff. Anything can happen on Zombie hill. When I started the run I was number 107. So I knew 54 people had to catch up with me during 32 kilometers. By the bottom of Zombie Hill I think 10 people had caught up with me, so I started realizing that this could be black. That thought gave me a lot of energy, in combination with sandwiches with liver pate and coke, and it felt like I was flying up that hill.
ST: Will you return in 2016?
Agnethe: I was really hoping for a second chance this year, but was not lucky in the lottery. However, I will return as support for my boyfriend who got a slot through Intersport after extremely hard work collecting votes in their competition.
ST: How did you get on the start list for the Lofoten X test event?
Agnethe: I read about the Lofoten Triathlon test race [August 2015] and they let me join a few weeks before the race started. I've been north in Norway several times, and just love the extreme nature. At Lofoten Triathlon, the nature was a bit more extreme than expected, as we had storms and rain. The 200 kilometers on the bike were extremely windy and lonely, but at the same time beautiful. Afterwards, when they told me they needed testers for a winter edition, of course I wanted to join!
ST: You opted to use snowshoes for the mountain section. Why?
Agnethe: My randonee-skis were in Stavanger, Norway and I was in Gothenburg, Sweden. Snowshoes are easy to rent or borrow and do not require any technique or special equipment. Although I really missed my skis when I saw the others skiing downhill and we had to walk/run on our feet.
ST: How long did it take you to do all 3 segments?
Agnethe: Five hours and 22 minutes. The mountain crossing was supposed to take more time, but we had to take another route because of snowfall and high risk for avalanche.
ST: I believe you live in Sweden and work for Volvo.
Agnethe: That is correct. My boyfriend wanted to study here, so then I had to move with him. Gothenburg is a nice city, but I miss the Norwegian nature and mountains.
ST: Have you done any SwimRun races yet?
Agnethe: Not yet. But living in Sweden I think we have to try this summer. I just have to buy a wetsuit so I can cut off the arms and feet first.
ST: If you are going to buy one anyway, you might as well get a proper SwimRun one.
Agnethe: I really try to keep my equipment to the minimum level (not easy in this sport). My plan is to get a used one and sew the zipper on the front myself. I'm also cycling on my mother’s bicycle, which is ten years old, and during competitions I borrow my boyfriend's wheels. Don't get me wrong, the bicycle is really good, but I keep telling myself it is more about the athlete than the equipment.
ST: It doesn't seem to have slowed you down.
Agnethe: Haha! I finished Haugesund Ironman 70.3 in 5 hours and 1 minute. Then I first wished I would have an aero bike or at least an aero helmet. But I could also just have worked a bit more on my running. [Smiles.] Hopefully I'll finish in less than 5 hours this year!
ST: So what is next?
Agnethe: I actually do not have any big plans for the season. I’ve signed up for some sprints and Olympic distances, but am still looking for the big A-competition this summer. Any suggestions?
ST: How about the Inferno Triathlon in Switzerland? Or Swissman?
Agnethe: Good idea, I'll definitely have a look at the Inferno Triathlon.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Agnethe: No. But I really want to thank Maria and Frank, who work for The Arctic Triple in Lofoten, for their huge hospitality every time I come to visit them. And if there is anyone out there sitting on an extra slot for Norseman next year, just call me!
ST: Talking about Norseman, who came up with the idea for that application video you submitted?
Agnethe: My manager and the founder of Norseman, Hårek Stranheim. We figured showing some skin with some humor was the best way to get enough votes. It was really, really, really cold to do that movie!
ST: I wish you lots of fun and good luck this summer.
Agnethe: Thanks! Same to you!