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Karsten Madsen’s comeback since suffering an atrial fibrillation at worlds

After a health scare in April, Karsten Madsen is back racing and is racking up the podium finishes on the Xterra Pan Am Tour.

On April 30th, Karsten Madsen was Canada’s hope for a big performance at the 2019 ITU World Multisport Championship. Despite entering the race with good form, Madsen was forced to withdraw from the race after he collapsed in T2. A few hours following the incident, Madsen explained what had happened. “Midway through the bike, I suffered from atrial fibrillation (a known health risk since 2009),” wrote Madsen. “I believe I was going in and out of rhythm throughout the bike. Off the bike, I collapsed due to the loss of blood pressure.” Given the shock of the health scare, Madsen returned to Victoria, BC to rest and meet with Triathlon Canada doctors.

Karsten Madsen on the bike at Xterra Beaver Creek.

Following four weeks of no training, Madsen had an electrical cardiology study (heart ablation) to determine the cause of the atrial fibrillation. “They found a duel AV node in my heart, along with supraventricular tachycardia (possible cause of my atrial fib),” says Madsen. “The decision was made to leave it alone for now, as it’s close to my AV node that there’s a 1/100 risk of screwing up and me needing a pacemaker – ending my athletic career.” 

Related: Karsten Madsen: Why I picked cross triathlon

Karsten Madsen at Xterra Quebec.

Thanks to the help of the Canadian Institute of Sport and Triathlon Canada doctors, Madsen has the assurance and parameters in place to continue racing. “It’s been a hard return to racing, but it’s more than just being unfit,” says Madsen. “I’ve had to regain trust in my heart again and have taken a lot of confidence in my doctors telling me I can race and be safe while racing.” At a time when Madsen thought his career was in jeopardy, the staff at the Canadian Institute of Sport in Victoria has helped immensely. “Thanks to the Canadian Sports Institute, I got fast-tracked with everything and was put into contact with the best people in the world with this. Trust me this has not been lost on me, because when I was in Spain, I really thought my year was over.”

Karsten Madsen racing at the 2018 Xterra Pan Am Championship. Photo: Jesse Peters

Now with the ‘go ahead’ from his doctors, the Canadian cross triathlete is back, and he’s competing at an impressive level despite the obstacles he’s had to face in 2019. In the last three weeks, Madsen has reached the podium three times in just three weeks of racing. At Xterra Victoria, he returned to the Pan Am Tour with a bronze medal. Madsen followed it up with a second-place finish at Xterra Quebec behind Josiah Middaugh. Then at Xterra Beaver Creek – consider one of the majors on the Xterra circuit due to its elevation and course demands – Madsen ran the fastest 10K trail split to fight his way into third.

Related: Karsten Madsen runs the fastest split to finish third at Xterra Beaver Creek

Kartsen Madsen runs the fastest to finish third at Xterra Beaver Creek.

It’s a run of results that Madsen takes pride in. “With the time I took off training to heal, I studied and looked into all my results from last year and tried to structure a plan that was going to get me in shape to land myself on the podium,” says Madsen. “I’ve been writing my own training and had to balance three things: one – getting fitter while racing, two – recovering enough between races, and three – dealing with the altitude in Beaver Creek at the end of the two hard weeks of competition.”

Related: Karsten Madsen finishes seventh at the 2018 Xterra World Championship

In the end, it all worked out – possibly better as planned. “With the time I took off and return to racing, I’ve taken a lot of pride in the results,” says Madsen. “This block of races is the first time I’ve gotten massive results coaching myself at the highest level.”

Karsten Madsen races to a seventh-place finish at the Xterra World Championships. Photo: Jesse Peters

Following three weeks of racing, Madsen now has a bit of downtime before racing picks up again in August with Xterra Mexico, Dominican Republic and the USA Championships in September. The Xterra World Championship is on October 27th. In 2018, the Canadian finished seventh in the world against the best cross triathletes.