After what Karsten Madsen has overcome in the 2019 Xterra triathlon season, one might be inclined to give him a hand.
In June, the Whistler triathlete had to undergo invasive heart testing after collapsing at a race in Spain during the spring; cleared to return to activity, he took third at Xterra Victoria, kicking off a run of four races in five weeks in which he podiumed in each contest.
And about that hand, Madsen could have used it this past weekend during a second-place finish in Xterra Mexico, as a busted paw may have kept him from his first victory of the year. Madsen hurt his hand riding Lord of the Squirrels the weekend before the race, and it was still irritating him on race day.
"I smacked my hand on a tree, and then during the race, I hit it again on another branch," he said.
The re-aggravation happened just before a major on-course descent on the bike course, which is, to say the least, not an ideal place to be in pain.
"The descent that we had to do was steep, had some slick rock. It was really working the front end of the bike," he said. "At the bottom of it, my middle-finger knuckle ... had super sharp, fiery pain. I had to shake out my hand. For the rest of the ride, I had to have a dead hand on the bar."
Still, throughout the bike, Madsen attacked and battled eventual champion Sam Osborne, but the difference in the race didn't even happen on course. The pair came into the second transition together, but between his sore hand and cold feet, Madsen struggled to get his runners on and trailed Osborne by 20 seconds coming out of the transition.
"It stayed that 20-second gap the whole run," he said. "I wasn't pulling any time out of him, but I wasn't losing any time. We were making eye contact at different switchback points in the run."
Though giving up a potential win stings, Madsen still bested a strong field that featured the two most-recent Xterra world champions. Madsen was also pleased to make up ground on Osborne heading into the end of the season.
"This was another step in that direction of getting close to him, and again, he's a top level athlete," he said. "To be second in a stacked field, which was the biggest test of the whole year with the guys that were there, was really exciting."
During his heavy workload, which also featured contests in Quebec and Colorado, Madsen made an earnest attempt to keep from getting too far ahead of himself, instead handling each race as a bite-sized kernel before focusing on the next task.
"The big thing was dissecting it and breaking it all down. If I got caught up in thinking about the whole picture, it was daunting," he said. "The training plan I was writing to myself was all built around, 'How can I improve fitness between the races while keeping my fatigue levels in check?' That was the two competing themes I was dealing with.
"Each race was nice because it was a report card. Was I doing that process right?"
In terms of travel, Madsen learned to deal with the compressed schedule after racing plenty last year. In 2019, he feels he's better able to plan his travel down to booking certain flights over other, keeping up with nutrition and hydration and making sure his vitamin levels are where they should be.
Right now, a break in the Xterra schedule will allow Madsen to attend sponsor events and train before another tough block starting at the end of August. Next week, he will fly to Colorado to complete some altitude training in preparation for a race in the Dominican Republic and the Pan Am Championships in Ogden, Utah on Sept. 7.
Madsen, currently sitting fourth in the overall standings, is still pushing for a narrow shot at the win, but acknowledged that finishing second is more attainable.
"Coming second in the series is very doable," he said. "I've got my head set on winning the series, because that's mentally what you need to do. You have to think that you need to win, so that you can get the maximum out of you."
The World Championships, meanwhile, will take place in Hawaii in October.