TW Race Report: Norseman Xtreme Triathon



norseman

Distance: 3.8K/ 180K/ 42.2K
Where: Eidfjord, Norway
When: August 6
First man: Tim DeBoom 11:18:52
First woman: Susanne Buckenlei 13:10:37
Last finisher: 20:38:50
No of finishers: 223

The telephone rings. It's my friend Alan. "Do you want the bad news or the really bad news?" he asks. With a week to go until we tackle the Norseman, the world's toughest long-distance triathlon, I'm hoping he'll tell me the event has been cancelled. I ask for the really bad news.
 
"I've just looked on Facebook and someone has written that it's high tide in Eidfjord at 4:30am, meaning that we're going to be swimming against the tide." I gulp. Can I actually swim 3.8K against the tide? "And the bad news?" There is a pause. Then: "It's forecast to rain - all day." I hang up and start looking for booze in my kitchen.

Alan and I were preparing to travel to Norway in search of a black finishers' T-shirt - awarded to the top 160 competitors who complete the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon each year. (It's the only prize offered.) It is not only the world's toughest but also the most northerly triathlon. To survive this ordeal I would need all the help I could get - and the weather conditions weren't on my side.

Tough at the top

The Norseman, which was first held in 2003, has a fearsome reputation. A point-to-point race starting in a fjord and finishing 226K away, on top of an 1800m-high mountain is not everyone's cup of tea, to put it very mildly.

The organisers don't even make it easy for people to enter the race. The first hurdle appears in October the year before you do the race, when you have a two-week period to apply for a lottery slot. When I received word that I had a place, I couldn't decide whether to be pleased or not, and hurdle two was just around the corner.

You have to find a friend or family member foolish enough to accompany you as support crew, because there is no official support on this race. That friend needs to be unswervingly loyal; the rules state that he or she has to accompany you up the rocky mountain path for the last 4.7K up Gaustatoppen, the mountain where the race ends - and then walk down again; the lift is for athletes only. I was very lucky to be supported by Devon-based event organisers Endurance Life (EL).

Then the planning begins. You must decide whether it's better to fly to Bergen (93 miles from the start) or Oslo (200 miles from the start, but closer to the finish). Hire a car. Book accommodation, in Eidfjord, where the race starts, and at Rjukan, near the finish.

The real work starts

The next hurdle is the monumental task of training for the Norseman. The race features over 5000m of ascent; it's not easy to find the right training conditions if you live in London. The closest I could get to a decent incline was Box Hill in Surrey, which I now consider flat.

The final obstacle is the event itself. Alan and I decided to fly to Oslo and drive the 200 miles to Eidfjord. The drawback of taking this route is that you scare the living bejeebies out of yourself with glimpses of the first 90K of the bike leg. As we drove through the deep mountain passes, Alan and I kept saying things such as "Did you see how steep that was?"

Registering for the event is an unceremonious affair. You simply sign a waver and pick up an A4 envelope that contains the rules, a few stickers, a timing chip and a green silicone hat. I was as ready as I could possibly be. And then we heard the rumours - the swim might be cancelled. Heavy rain in the area had caused snowmelt from the glaciers high in the mountains to enter the Hardangerfjord and lower the water temperature overnight to a chilly 9C, too cold to swim in.

Having been told by my club swim coach the week before that I only swim with one arm (not literally, but it does explain why I'm so slow) I felt giddy with relief.The organisers weren't going to let us off that lightly. They had a contingency plan that involved moving the swim start six miles down the fjord to where the water temperature was a bearable 17C. Yay. But this meant they had to move transition to a new location and extend the bike course by 20K. It was now 200K. Bugger.

I returned to my cabin with the other Endurance Life athletes to sort out kit, eat a monumental amount of pasta and try, if possible, to get some rest.

Early starts


We woke at 1.30am and headed for the ferry. At the port we were marked with our numbers and then we boarded, with nothing but our wetsuit, goggles and hat. At 4.30am we were given the 15-minute warning call. Suddenly, the reality of the moment was upon us.

Wetsuits on, we moved to the landing area of the ferry, lining up for the 15-foot drop into the fjord. Giving a war cry, I jumped off, clutching my goggles as my body plunged several metres into the fjord. Though surprised that it wasn't too cold, I quickly moved out of the way to avoid being jumped upon.

I put on my goggles and everything went dark: I had made the rookie's mistake of wearing tinted goggles for a 5am swim. Plonker.

We had been told at the race briefing that we would have a short swim from the ferry to where kayaks marked the start of the race. What none of us had factored in was that this 'short swim' was almost 800 metres. After 15 minutes I reached the kayaks and before I could complain to anyone who might have cared to listen, the ferry foghorn blared and we were off.

I felt that I did a semi-decent swim but when I reached the shore and asked my crew for my time, I could have swallowed my goggles with shock: I had been swimming for two hours - 40 minutes slower than my previous slowest Ironman swim. But I was one of the lucky ones. An hour into the swim (about the same time eventual winner Tim DeBoom was finishing the first leg), the wind picked up, making the going fairly choppy for slower swimmers, such as me. The organisers extended the cut-off, but 27 people did not finish in time.

On the next page : After a 200K cycle and 42.2K run will Tobias secure the coveted black T-shirt? Plus, all the info you need to take on the Norseman.


Previous article
Ironman World Championships: Kona 2011
Next page

 
TwitterStumbleUponFacebookDiggRedditGoogle

Discuss this article

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.