It took me some days of contemplating, but finally – here it is – the Norseman 2014 race report. Don’t miss out the great pictures below in this blog post, and the very many fantastic galleries and videos on social media.
This race has been on the agenda for at least 18 months, since I was awarded a slot already in 2013. But as I injured my foot 4 weeks before the Norseman 2013 when doing the Celtman, I couldn’t start last year. I was hence very happy when I got the opportunity to race the Norseman this year instead.
The Celtman, Swissman and Norseman all are part of the same family of extreme triathlons, and I believe I am now one of the few who have participated in all of them. Most likely, I have the best average score so far – 6th place in average after finishing just outside the podium (with a broken foot) in Celtman 2013, 4th in Swissman a month ago and now 10th at Norseman.
My race reports tend to become quite long, so the short story is: I had a great race and a great supporter in Thor Hesselberg. My performance was good and balanced. We did some minor errors, which all teams do. I lost 2 positions on the last 100 meters – annoying and things could easily have turned out differently. My objective was top-5 (based on a wish to complete all extreme triathlons top-5), which I clearly missed, but that was only 12 minutes out. Greatest respect to the top-4 who were significantly stronger this day. Will I return? I can’t say I won’t!!
So for you Norseman Junkies – here is the long story.
The Norseman was hence a long term goal. It is really an epic competition with only 250 athletes, but 2000 athletes apply every year. It is considered as the hardest or one of the hardest ironman distance competetions out there. On top of that – it is in a fantastic environment.
I have had an OK preparation during the spring. Base training has been more than OK, but I have completely lacked speed training/intervals on the run, long runs and I had not the opportunity to do that many 120+ km bike rides. When I was in Tuscany with my family, by bike broke down and I couldn’t ride as much as I had hoped. But at the start of the summer I felt fairly confident, and completed the Swissman quite happy with my performance, even though I believe my riding could have been stronger. But the 180km ride in Switzerland is HARD. But I finished 4th – within my goals.
After the Swissman I had some problems reloading for the next race, despite that it would be the race of the year. I felt the same thing in 2012 when I qualified for Kona in Hawaii, but couldn’t really train hard up to the race. So during the summer, the training has been OK, some really powerful short runs, but lacking long runs and really long rides.
I had an issue with a support for the race – but that solved very very good. Thor from Stavanger in Norway approached me, which I am very happy with. Thor came to the race much more prepared than I was and really let me focus on performing and took care of everything else. Thank you Thor!
Another dilemma before the race was the bike. I have both a road bike with tri bars. A very light bike which I am very confident with, as well as a full tri bike, about 1000 grams heavier. But I haven’t been riding that for so long, and I have felt some soreness in my left knee after some of the rides with that bike, which is new to me. So I decided to go with the road bike. Still, after the race I don’t know which was the better option. All athletes in front of me had tri bikes ( I believe), but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was better. Next time I might choose a tri bike, if I have used it in a lot of hilly terrain. The descents in Norway are (unlike Swissman!!) not very steep and only has a few hairpins, so the speed of the tri bike could be a benefit.
I really didn’t have too much time before the race to go there early, so I decided to travel up to Eidfjord on Friday. I went up pre 5 am and drove to Oslo to pick up Thor. Then we had a very long drive through the mountains, ending up in Eidfjord at about 2 pm. The scenery was, as often in Norway, fantastic. We went to the registration, and got settled. It was a very cozy feeling in Eidfjord. It is the start of one of the hardest and an (in)-famous ironman distance competition, but as there are so few athletes, it is a very relaxed atmosphere. We installed ourselves at the Tri-camp, a big sports hall were we were sleeping. Not the best place to relax before the race, but as I had been late to find accommodation, this was the best option. Thor, however, found us a chambre privé, so we actually got a small room adjacent to the sports hall.
We had a decent dinner and watched the sprint they arranged. The evening was beautiful but a bit tense. We went to bed at 9-10 pm, I was quite tired after starting so early that day.
The alarm was set to 3 pm. I can definitely say I slept longer than anyone at the tri camp, as when I went up, most people had already left! I won that competition for sure. I had a quite quick breakfast, which Thor had arranged very professionally. Everything was set, and I rolled down to the T1 area and the ferry that would take us out in the fiord. I set up T1 incredibly fast as I and Thor actually had arranged everything in different bags. I even had time to spare before 3.45 when the last boarding of the ferry Hardingen was scheduled.
It was still dark when I boarded the big car ferry. I have seen films from before, but it was surreal to sit on car deck with 250 other athletes and almost as many photographers. The ferry departed at 4 am. I rarely have any problems sleeping anywhere, an ability I used, and actually slept against the wall for a half hour or so.
15 minutes before 5 I zipped up and got ready. The ramp opened and waves of athletes entered the water. It was finally time. The jump from the ferry into the cold fjord, which I had only seen on film or photo before. I jumped off with some hesitation. It was only 3-4 meters, but still a strange sensation. The cold water hit with a small chock, despite my wetsuit, socks and hat. But after the initial shock, the water was actually not very cold. It was 16-17 degrees and even though it was cold from the start, I soon got warm.
I swam up against the starting line. It was far away, a couple of hundred meters. I watched for low numbers, sub-10 on the swim caps, indicating the elite selection. I found none, and positioned myself close to the shore, to the far right.
The race started with the horn of the ferry. Adrenaline rushed and I started at a decent pace. After a while I found myself in a bigger group, It felt like I was quite far down, about 20-30 people (which turned out to be wrong). Suddenly I realized that the guy in front of me didn’t manage to stay close enough to the guy in front of him, and we lost contact with the pack in front. I tried to bridge the gap, but it was already too big and I couldn’t. bad thoughts started coming – “wasn’t I fit enough?” “there must be 20-30 people in front”…
After realizing I couldn’t close the gap, I instead settled for a steady pace, pulling a big group behind me. I started thinking positively instead, on my wife and kids. It felt better, but I was angry that I had to use all my energy to pull the third group basically the whole way. The water was cool but not cold. I navigated a bit wrong after the only turning point, but now, at the end of the swim, I had actually almost caught the second group, I was just 10-20 meters behind the last one in the second group. I knew there must have been a first group of very fast swimmers.
Finally the swim was over, I ran up, and into transition. I half-joked with myself (as I always do), thinking that now a third of the race is over….. What a lie… The swim was about 59 minutes. OK.
In transition, which was fast and greatly aided by Thor, I learned that the swim hadn’t been so bad! I was about 10-12 position, and only 7 minutes behind the super swimmers, for instance Lelle from Stockholm. Great! (in fact – I was the 14th out of the water, but 10th fastest transition).
Fast up on the bike. Sorted out my gloves etc on the bike and started off. I managed not to push too hard in the beginning, which I sometimes do. Soon enough I started overtaking people. When it got steeper, I started overtaking more and more. This was complete opposite form Swissman!
Pushing on, my confidence grew – feeling great. But soon I did my first of a few but small mistakes. There is a no-pass zone in Måbö Tunnel, which is uphill and 2 k long. I didn’t know when it was coming, so I was just trapped behind a very much slower biker who entered the tunnel just 20 meters before me. He was surely not in a hurry! I am sure I lost 2 minutes on the slow biking in this tunnel. But I could use the time to hydrate and get a bar down, so maybe it wasn’t too bad.
Soon enough, we were at Vörongsfossen, where I saw Thor, getting me new fluids and cheering me. I think I was now in 6th position!
The road continued up and up to Duranut. It was hard, very hard, but nothing like the Tremola on Swissman, where it was almost impossible to ride. We had a strong headwind. Eventually we were at the highest point. A few riders had passed me, but I had passed many more. Eventually, I had the 15th fastest bike up to Duranut, and basically all parts of the bike ride, I scored about this good/bad.
Next stretch was 55 km or so down to Geilo, rolling landscape. Very nice to ride, but here I had to pay for not having an aero bike. I passed Lelle from Stockholm, extremely strong swimmer who finished 5th in Norseman 2012. He wasn’t having the best of days, but still doing decently.
Allan Hovda passed me and a couple of other super bikers. Allan had an impressive speed.
Geilo came and went, and now there were 3 “small” mountains to climb. Only problem was that they were not small. They were steep, and would just never end. The Duranut climb had felt good, and possibly I had pushed a bit too hard on the rolling Hardangervidda down to Geilo, but I wasn’t prepared how tough these 3 climbs would be. The weather was still good, windy but good riding temperature. Thor got me hydrated well and perfectly checked me when there were some gravel sections with high risk of puncture. A fantastic support. I struggled down 1-2 gels or chomps from Milebreaker on every descent.
I began to weaken on the three climbs, and still I knew there was the dreaded Immingfjell to come. A group of people came up to me from behind, and the leader passed me. One or two others took my wheel, and my irritation started. Naturally, it is a draft free race. I tried not to think of it, bad thoughts are only bad. Eventually Thor mentioned the drafting issue to the guy behind me (who claimed he hadn’t understood whatever…). He dropped back his 10 meters out of the drafting zone – and then just fell back completely and I never saw him again.
I felt it was a big disadvantage to all the Norwegians that I wasn’t familiar with the roads. I was very happy when the third climb was over.
There was a fast descent down to the turn to Imingfjell at 135 km into the bike ride. All of the sudden it was there. I turned right and the climb started. It was long and hard. It took forever and I was so weak, but I guess many of us were.
I came to the crest just at a massive and impressive weather change. From the crest there is about 9 km slightly uphill to the real summit, not too many meters to climb. But the fog rolled in with less than 10 meters visibility and it started to rain. I could easily have lived with this, but the headwind – oh the headwind… It must have been 10-15 meters/sec, and in sections it felt I wasn’t moving. I thought of weaker bikers coming behind me – and thought that they wouldn’t be able to move forwards…. I just wanted the whole thing to be over. It took ages to the top and morally it was difficult as I couldn’t see how far it was.
Thor forced me to take a wind jacket, which was very wise. Normally I take this on when rolling, but I didn’t dare to let go of the handle bars to close the zipper, so I had to stop briefly.
The descent down was fast. I had been warned for the hairpins, and now it was also wet asphalt and wet carbon zipp 808 wheels. Last year a friend fell in one of these turns. But they were not that many, and soon we were down on the flats.
Eventually I came into the T2. Fairly quick and out on the run. Immediately I had to stop and pee, and I was passed by a guy who made good speed. I am an ok runner, but he was running at good pace. For the first 5 k I struggled to keep up with him. He got his fluids down, but I couldn’t in the beginning, before I started to force myself taking some coke+redbull. After 5 km, he asked if we could take turns in staying in front, and I apologized that I wasn’t able to do that just now. We had been running 4.05-4.10 pace – which I was more than happy with. But then I immediately changed my mind and said I could try for a while. So I got in front and started pulling. Strangely, I don’t believe I upped the pace, but just continued basically the same pace, but the guy fell back more and more. I actually waited for him by slowing down, but there was no point in doing this. I got coke+redbull and water from Thor all the time.
I overtook more and more people and my confidence grew. I made very good speed up to 16-17 km, and I had a goal of running strongly the first 25, before zombie hill, the infamous climb up the mountain. After 16-17, my knee started hurting, my pace went down. It was a struggle, but I forced myself to get to 25 k.
Immediately in zombie hill I started walking. Not easy walking but hard powerwalking. It was a different race now. I couldn’t force myself to run, and I don’t believe I would have gained so much by doing it.
The guy I had left behind came running from behind. But despite running, he wasn’t very much faster. The kilometers just crept by so slowly. Most athletes had several supporters, with at least one pacing them on this section. Thor did the best he could, but could only pace me every now and then.
At 32 km there was a checkpoint, and here there was a very annoying incident. I came into the checkpoint and I and Thor got the information that it was a stop for everyone for 5 minutes. The guy infront of me had already been there maybe 2 minutes. Strange I thought, but focused on peeing and getting some gel in. but all of the sudden Thor realized that there had been a mistake. The guy in front had actually a 5 min penalty to serve, but I was never supposed to stop. I got angry but started pushing. Some adrenaline made me run every now and then, which was great, but I had lost 2-3 minutes on this non-mandatory stop…..
There were still 5 km to the start of the technical section up to the mountain. Thor did a great job, and wanted to help me with running along and energy a bit too long time before this next checkpoint. This led to him being a bit late to the checkpoint, so when I arrived, Thor wasn’t fully ready. I shouted for him in desperation. I don’t know how long time it took before he came (probably not that long time!!) but again, my adrenaline was pumping. Thor: I really feel quite sorry for you for this – you did a great job also on this part, but maybe I was just a bit too fast on the final stretch before the checkpoint at 37 km.
We now started off together in a powerful pace. We had backpacks with the mandatory stuff. I got a pair of lightweight poles, which I believe was a good thing. I ran whenever I could and walked when I had to. The terrain was bad and just got worse. The higher up we came the more fog there was.
Thor had a hard start of the run, and recovering from an injury at his Celtman competition a few weeks back, he couldn’t keep up with the pace, so he was left behind, and I continued to the top.
I passed the guy who I had been playing cat and mouse with since the start of the run. I was making good progress. I couldn’t see the summit, it was complete whiteout.
Maybe I did a mistake here and wasn’t paying attention to the energy levels. It felt that it was the final stretch, but still it was hard work. I believe I should have continued with gels or coke+redbull during this final part, but I just went on ignoring this.
I had no idea how far it was. I pushed on and with low energy levels I tripped and almost fell. But instead I got some severe cramps in my back thigh that took me some time to recover from.
It started to become very steep and difficult. I started hearing voices from behind in the fog, but without knowing exactly how far we had left I couldn’t respond. I realized there were actually two teams jockeying for their position, but still I couldn’t respond. I believe they had a lot of adrenaline and were pushing each others. The first of them passed me on a steep steep climb, and shortly thereafter there were some steps. It couldn’t be far now, but the second of them passed me too.
Just then I start seeing the finish flags in front of me and came to the top of Gaustatoppen, 1850 meters above sea level. It was over and I finished 10th!
I went inside quite happy, and actually I was quite OK with losing the 2 positions just on the finish line. But why couldn’t I respond? I simply believe that they came up from behind with good speed and I was to late to identify this. If I had known a bit before (i.e. if there was no fog) that they were coming, I could more easily have responded, certainly if I knew it was such short distance left. But in this situation, they kind of came to my blindside. I probably had the physical strength to respond, but at that point I didn’t have the mental – a slight disappointment, but a lesson to learn.
Thor came up after a while, and I am sorry that he couldn’t share the moment with me.
After all – I am happy with my performance. We had done some small mistakes, which is inevitable in such races, but more importantly, my general performance was good, which is the most important.
I had an ambition to finish top-5 which I missed. The problem with a result is that it is not dependent only on my performance, but also others. I really think that top 5 is doable for me – it is only 12 minutes down, and this year it was a very stong starting field, even though Chris McCormack, Macca, didn’t start as he had been talking about.
We had some food at the top station before Thor went down again, walking. A privilege to the athletes is to take the elevator (!) which is inside the mountain, built in the second world war.
Coming down from the mountain felt really good, and I was happy. Happy for my performance, happy with Thors support.
Most of all happy with my wife and that she lives with me doing these crazy things.
- Use a aero bike? Maybe maybe not.
- Ride the course before.
- Make sure you don’t get stuck behid someone slow in Måbö tunnel
- Have several supporters, with at least one pacing zombie hill, and one at the finish who knows the terrain very well.
- Double check strange information from marshalls – we got the impression that all teams had to stop at 32.5 km for 5 minutes – that made us lose 2 minutes.
- Make sure bags are checked and the team is ready to go directly at 37 km.
A big Thank you to all my sponsors, Icebug, iBike, Ecco, Fusion, Triathlon Väst, GoCoCo, Milebreaker, Nordic Wellness, X-Kross, Simcoachen.
First dinner the day before the Race
6 Wheels – is that enough – Which shall I choose?
Staying at the Tri camp was perfectly ok!
The Hardingen ferry – Swim starts with jumping off the ramp.
T1 set up.
Fiord full of ice !?
Transition area – waiting for the storm!
On the way up to Duranut.
Uphill all the time!
Up up up
On the Way from Duranut to Geilo, with Lelle behind?
Yet Another hill
Finally on the run! logging 4.05-4.10 pace! difficult to get fluids in early on the run – stomach problems.
Stomach better – forcing down redbull/coke or water.
Still doing OK
at 25 k. Next challence – Zombie hill!
Zombie hill – Powerwalking at 8-9 min/k
Looks terribly slow, but still at max speed!
Approaching the final stretch of the mointain part.
The mandatory Finish photo! Thank you Thor!
Train through the mountain taking the athletes down.
Day after – finisher ceremony
We were there!
This is the conditions we talk about, fog with 10 meters visibility and 10-15 m/sek winds.
Took a jacket on, but had to stop in order to zip it up. If I tried to zip during biking, I would have been thrown off the road!