Karla Oblak

ICON xtreme … where limits change

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ICON extreme triathlon, the extreme race that challenged and  changed me. I signed up for this extreme triathlon as usually, not really thinking about the course, preparation, team…I thought that the race Stonebrixiaman that I have finished in July was just the perfect training for the ICON race. I could not think of a better training, extreme bike course, extreme run course…and as it all went perfect there, I felt ready to do another one and enjoy even more. I did not feel I have to win again, it was just an expectation of another great experience, team work and devotion to what I love.

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Looking forward to the unexpected

I came to Livigno one week before the race because I knew I have to prepare my body to altitude. I have never been on altitude for so long, I did not know how my body will respond to training and effort. First few days were just getting used to the lack of oxygen, easy walks, short easy rides and even if I would want to push harder my heart and lungs would respond with strange feelings. The beauty of Livigno impressed me, it’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. You wake up surrounded by the mountains, it’s like in an alpine  fairy tail. Green fields, grey rocks, animals…everything seems so pure and somehow also all the problems and stress associated with every day life disappears.


The race course is just specatcular: starting in the lake Gallo and cycling 185 km through some of the most beautiful passes in Switzerland and Italy (Passo Forcola, Passo Bernina, Passo Fuorn, Passo dello Stelvio, Passo Foscagno) and a 42 km long run course ending at 3000m above the sea level. The lake temperature was about 16 degrees Celsius so I decided not to try it until the race. I knew it would be cold so I did not want to scare my brain even more. I did not try the bike course before the race but I expected a lot of fun pedalling. At least I tried the last part of the run course, 10km with 1100 m  of altitude, almost impossible to run in a rested state, think about running after being on the course for more than 1o hours.

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Three days before the race my support team came to Livigno. Mum, dad and Neža were the dream team that supported my selfish dream to cross the finish line. I think we triathletes “tourists” (non – professionals) are all a bit selfish because we do this extreme things to satisfy our inner will but we cannot reach the finish line without the support team. I know it was not easy for the team to come to Livigno and to follow my wishes for 4 days. The world turns around the athlete in this moments…preparing the boxes with clothes, food, making the plan for special events, making a plan of support, pit-stops…


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I did not feel any pre-race nervousness. I picked up my race number, went to obligatory briefing and tried to preserve the most of energy for the race. The only thing that worried me was the weather forecast. The night before the race the rain started…and it was still raining at 2 am when I woke up to have my breakfast.     The night was cold, about 7 degrees but I was calm. I put my wetsuit on in the hotel beacuse I did not want to get cold before even staring.

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The atmosphere at the start line was mystic. It is impossible to rewrite the feelings that you feel, it is a state of pure calmness mixed with anxiety – a kind of nonsense. Athletes are going through their own pre-race ritual, warming up, not talking much; the support team is there, nervous and trying to do everything right…It was reall dark, the lack was black and we had to swim 3,8 km in this black hole.


I was anxious to start, I knew I have a long day ahead, I knew I gave so much to be at the start line and I felt strong. In the weeks before the race my life was a big box filled with stress and anxiety. I was finishing my PhD thesis for first submission, I felt almost a bit guilty for training so much and not being an ordinary woman. Usually people in the days before the race write all kind of post of feeling bad or of having an injury so they have an excuse for “bad” results. But after all, do we amateurs have to prove something … we should do it for ourselves and not care about the likes you get after you post a photo with the results on social media. For me all the beauty of the achievement vanishes if the purpose is to collect greets and likes…



Back to my story…the race started and I was there in the dark, I really lost my orientation. I usually keep the direction very well and gain, this time I was completely lost. Moreover my neoprene cap opened under the neck and I was afraid to lose it. Then I tried to fasten it back but I could not, my arm was frozen and I could not feel my fingers. Then I panicked, my reaction was not optimal but in the moment I did not know what to do. I knew that without my neoprene cap I would lose too much energy and would have to stop and seek for help. I stopped a competitor behind me and asked him to help me fasten my cap. He told to calm down and breath…and I did just that…and swam…and it felt like these 3,8 k are not coming to an end. I could not move my arms efficiently because I did not feel it, the left arm was frozen. Finally I came out of the water, frozen…




My mum waited for me in the tent. I was happy to see her there, she helped me to put on my cycling clothes, warmed me up and I was ready to start the bike journey. I knew my swim time was above what I usually swim but I was happy to be out of the water able to proceed with the race. I know my mum was anxious and worried for me in that moment but she kept these feelings for herself…

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The rain was keeping me cold from the first meters on the bike. I was determined to do my best, I tried to pedal with high cadence to warm up the body. The first pass Paso Forcola was waiting for me already after 5 km. At the top I did not stop because I wanted to keep the heat I generated uphill for the downhill. Well, not very successful. I was cold. Than Passo Bernina, I just could not wake my legs up. I was peddling but it seemed so inefficient. At the top my team waited for me and I changed my clothes completely because I knew that there are 50 km of descent and flat. I ate and drank because I could not eat and drink during cycling as I did not feel my fingers. I was still in a fight mode. I was telling to myself that after this long descent to St. Moritz it will stop raining and that at 1500 m is not so cold as at 2400m of altitude.


The descent was hard, really hard…I was getting colder and colder. After five minutes I was all wet again. I could not shift the gears as I was unable to move the fingers…but I kept going. After 20 km I stopped and changed the gloves…I was focused to go on…but slowly the body was not responding anymore. My right arm started to shake but I did not think about stopping. I also did not want tell this to my support team as I knew that they would stop me and not let me go on. I was telling to myself that everything is fine, that if I push harder my body will get warmer and it worked somehow. The course was pretty flat there and I felt like being on a time trial…finally I was able to catch some of the competitors ahead. Next hill was Passo Fuorn, there the weather was getting even worse. My legs did not want to pedal as I was used to, I felt so slow…I could not eat and drink enough so I was getting out of power. Well, I was still fighting, I knew that after short downhill there is another long part getting up to 2400 m. The moment of real struggle was not far, I felt it in body, it was not just a mind game, i was really a physical issue. I was feeling cold also when peddling uphill and at the top of Passo Fuorn I was frozen, literally. I did not feel my body, I was not able to speak, I could not eat or drink, I was in hypothermia…and I wanted to go on but my support team did not let me. I sat down in the car…I was sad, I cried as my dream of reaching the Carosello 3000 was vanishing away…I knew my body said stop but some facts are difficult to accept. The heating in the car was set to 32 and slowly I started to feel my body again. I was just sitting, feeling empty…thinking about how it could all go differently and slowly I started to accept the fact that I will have to return back to the start line by car…I already wrote a message to my coach Fabio that I am dropping out due to medical reasons. I felt like I own something to him as he was with me on this dream road shaping it to the final form. Than after 40 minutes something happened, I do not know what, but I just felt the intrinsic will and motivation to go on.

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The next words to my support team were: “ I am not stopping, I will change back to my cycling clothes and finish the race”. I am thankful to my team that they let me do it. I felt strong again…I continued the bike part with running shoes because I had no dry clothes anymore. My dad gave me his cycling clothes and I started to digest food. I was able to drink and eat regularly and my motivation was strong.

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The last part of the bike part I was going “strong” considering the circumstances. And after 10 + hours I was  there in the transition area where my team waited for me. I was happy, I was eager to run. My running partner Neža was there for me. I knew that she will be able to motivate me to reach the top. I think I will never be able to thank her enough…but she is an angel…a fast running one…

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We had a great time running, I felt really good, I was able to eat, drink and the body responded great. I gave myself short goals as not to walk for 5 km, than not to walk of another 5 km and so on…and I did not walk until the final climb to Carosello 3000…It was the first race where I had to use my headlamp but I did not care about the time or place. I wanted to reach the top and burn my fears…


I reached the finish line, I was full of joy and I was empty…the feelings of gratitude for being alive, for having the abilities to be part of such a race and do finish it with your body and mind and for having the support team that believes in you. Without them this would not be possible. I learned a lot, I learned that obstacles are just steps that we have to make to become stronger and that accepting the moment gives you wings to fly into new moments…




ICON was an iconic race…not only I have learned that there are no limits I have met special people…I will write a blog about these extreme triathletes and their teams, these are really special people…thank you Ezio and Allegra. You will stay forever in my hearth…

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