Karsten Madsen THE SECRET OF SUCCESS
Inside the gym where Karsten Madsen works out, there’s a number of inspirational quotes on the wall. Between sets he reads them, but one in particular stuck with Madsen, the 25-year- old two-time Canadian cross triathlon champion from Guelph, Ont. “Success is not owned. It’s leased and the rent is due every day.” It’s a moniker that is now etched deep into the mind of Madsen as he prepares himself to excel against the best off-road triathletes in the world.
A humble and candid athlete who wears his heart on his sleeve every time he races, Madsen represents one of the new breed of hotshot off-road triathletes forging a living from minor sponsorships and travels abroad to race a demanding circuit of global off-road events.
2016 was a stellar year for Madsen, which saw him claim top spot on the podium at Xterra Mine Over Matter in Milton, Ont., in June, victory at Xterra Victoria in July and another win at the ITU Cross National Championships in late August in Penticton. Added to these impressive results he finished second at both Xterra Argentina in March and Xterra Oak Mountain in Pelham, Alaska, in May.
At the Xterra World Championships in Maui in late October, however, Madsen recorded a DNF after being slammed into the sand headfirst during some of the toughest swim conditions the race has ever seen. He managed to complete the swim despite swallowing a lot of sea water, but, during the short run into transition he became nauseous and dizzy and feared he may have been suffering from concussion. On the bike he started vomiting and could take no calories on board. He dismounted his bike and sat by the side of the trail vomiting and shaking. He knew this would not be his day.
“When you put your full heart into preparing and knowing you did all you could to have a great race it sucks when you can’t show all you worked for. It feels like I held in a sneeze.”
Despite the disappointing DNF in Maui, Madsen admits that “regardless, this year has been a massive success and breakthrough for me. I have learned a lot and I am hungrier than ever.”
Madsen used to race traditional triathlons, and still does from time to time. In fact, in the lead-up to the Rio Olympic Games, he could often be found training with Canadian Olympian Andrew Yorke over the varied terrain of Milton. Included in their training regimen was the hill known as “Rattlesnake,” a short but incredibly steep pinch used by some of the area’s premier cyclists.
“Training with Andrew taught me about purposeful training sessions, about the importance of hard work day in and day out. Plus it was a great opportunity to test my fitness against an incredibly fit guy.”
Since his first foray into off-road racing in 2009, Madsen has become utterly hooked. “I think the real appeal of racing off-road versus road is the bike and run are just more fun. Even on bad race days I have yet to compete in a cross triathlon that I didn’t have fun in. To this day, I still feel a deep sense of pride and satisfaction from just finishing a race because in cross triathlon there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Sometimes just getting to the line can be a real victory.”
Despite his preference for off-road events in order to work with an elite group Madsen opts to train with the group at the National Triathlon Training Centre in Guelph. Pool swims are typically held at the Guelph University pool and for open water hit- outs he heads to Guelph Lake. He often rides a road bike with the team, but once onboard his mountain bike he usually rides the sprawling expanse of area known as Kelso Conservation Area, which includes the beautiful Niagara Escarpment, home of the Glen Eden Ski Resort.
“This is a fantastic trail network offering opportunities to improve my technical skills and my fitness. It boasts great rocky sections, steep ascents, and smooth downhill lines. It’s such a great asset to have in my backyard.”
Madsen performs most of his runs on the track and trails in Guelph, noting the “absolutely amazing community of endurance sports athletes, from elite marathoners, to triathletes, trail runners and mountain bikers.”
On his biggest training days he swims five to six km, then performs weights for an hour, followed by a three-hour road bike or mountain bike workout and a 40-minute brick run off the bike.
“It makes my biggest days over six hours and, in full training, I average around 30 hours per week.”
The winter off-season has provided Madsen a time for self-reflection. “When I first started racing off-road triathlon I had and still have, a goal of becoming world champion and one of the best in the world at off-road triathlon, not just to call myself pro. In my own mind I have done the absolute most I could have done so far in my career. In 2016, I did all the things I hated or never wanted to do, like double-swim days and even a few 10-km swim days. I trained the biggest weeks of my life, and made a lot of sacrifices.”
In 2017, he claims, he will make a few changes to his personal and professional life in order to be fitter and smarter than ever before.
Now that he’s genuinely tasted the highs and lows of the sport, Madsen views that inspirational quote on the gym wall with deeper respect and understanding.
“Despite a great 2016, the setback at the Worlds in Maui provided huge motivation for me. It’s a reminder,” he says, “that the rent is due every day and to always do good, honest work to achieve your dreams.”