Over 12,000 Elevation Makes for a Very Long Ride The entire Norseman course is brutal but it is the bike that will break your body and your mind. You can cruise the swim or potentially even fake the run but there is nowhere to hide from the suffering on the bike. With over 12,000 miles of elevation and several major mountain passes to traverse (Dyranut, Geilo, Imingfjell being the most brutal), it makes for serious climbing, a very long day and the sinking feeling that you very well could be burning all of your matches trying to get up and over each of these mountains.
There are a few miles of settling in before the first climb hits you, a climb that takes anywhere from 90-minutes to 2.5 hours for some of the faster athletes. I had ridden the second half of the route up to Dyranut several days before and did not find all too bad but the first half was tough—spending almost all of the ride in my smallest 28 kind of tough. Even in my smallest gear and even trying to pace myself, very early on was TOUGH. I got passed by a girl or two and passed a few myself as we all settled in for the long ride ahead.
The most beautiful part is when you cut off of the main road and take the smaller one-lane side path, hugging the rocky shore. There's not much room for passing as you cut through smaller tunnels (all mostly illuminated though—some with built in lights, others with small fires set out by the crew) and around twists overlooking beautiful waterfalls. This really is the most majestic course but of course you're so deep in your suffering that it's almost hard to appreciate. Notice I said *almost*!
There was one longer tunnel, the Mabo Tunnel, I believe about a 2km uphill climb, where cars were not allowed to pass bikes and vice-versa for safety concerns. Luckily the folks ahead of me were pretty far ahead and there were no cyclists behind me to make me worry about messing with their race. There was a photographer, however, cruising behind me who captured the Smashfest sunrise kit lighting up the tunnel.
Dealing with the Support Crews
One of the most interesting (and annoying) parts of this race started to become more apparent as we got off the windy side roads and back on the main part of the road heading up to the Hardangervidda Plateau: given that Norseman is a self-supported race, each participant had a support vehicle that would drive along the route and pull off occasionally to hand up food and water to their athletes. This meant both crowded roads but also that you could tell who you were closest to in the race. Very quickly you figured out who was who by either their number or in some cases a little emblem (hello Richele and her Canadian flag!!) I had my eyes on 16, 18 and 20 all day as we jockeyed back and forth :) There were also some rowdier crews who would cheer on other athletes—one van in particular stands out as having an overly enthusiastic support crew
As far as support crews go, my parents were amazing!! They really stepped up to the challenge here, despite some of the logistical issues we both faced. The night before I practiced botle hand-offs with both my parents to calm
my mom's both of their fears. However, during the first allowed hand-off at the top of Vorongsfossen, I got the first bottle from my dad and then reached out for the second from my mom but knocked it out of her hand and we dropped it, cracking the top.
That meant we were down one refillable bottle at a time but with the cold weather, I was only going through a fraction of the liquids I usually do so it ultimately was a non issue. I would also run out of my hydration mix much earlier than planned so about halfway through I started getting half scoops and then relegated to water only for the run. Thankfully my parents were smart enough to roll with the punches on their own and yell the change of plans to me when I grabbed that first diluted bottle. My dad also stepped in as the sole bottle handler, with my mom relegated to cheering and photos. This photo basically sums up the entire day, #OCDSherpa in Action:
Blown all Over the Hardangervidda Plateau
You get to the top of Dyranut and then it's flat for miles and on top of the mountain plateau. Most athletes stopped for jackets and gear at the top of the climb but I soldiered on. It wasn't too bad but definitely a touch chilly and lost some of the feeling in my fingers. I lost the pace a bit and faded back, getting passed by 2-3 women. I was impressed with the amount of back and forth as a number of girls were within seeing distance of each other and a number of passes being made. It was such a nice difference compared to most Ironman races where it's not at all back-and-forth so I hope that was a preview of the interaction and tactics to come when I step up to racing in the pro category!
The only bad thing was there were times when the road was a bit rough and once my saddle bag bounced off on a big descent. I hesitated to go back due to the big descent and cars on the road, so I made the decision to press forward. But luckily enough! Within the next 5 minutes, a car (I think unrelated to the race?) pulled alongside my and shook the bag at me so I pulled over to the side, stopped and shoved the bag down my vest before continuing onward.
It was a big descent into Geilo before a series of three massive climbs. The first one I maintained pace and tried to not over-grind my legs, the second I started to get into a rhythm and actually started passing a number of people and then I held on for dear life for the third, Imgenfjell. I still have nightmares about that climb!! I was surprised to be holding pace and actually pacing people on the climbs—usually it's the opposite!—but I think all my big climbs up Mt Mitchell and around Asheville have paid off. That and usually I (strangely enough) feel better the further into a ride I get!
Somewhere shortly before the final climb up Imgenfjell, the eventual female winner, Norwegian Line Foss, passed me and my parents had the impeccable timing to catch it as she zoomed past. I stayed with her as long as I could, before she pulled further and further away and dropped me completely heading up Imgenfjell.
This climb still haunts me. After what felt like 20-minutes of climbing, I ran across my support crew at one of our planned mile marker spots and what was supposed to be a peak and what certainly looked like one. Exhausted, I yelled ahead to my dad, “it this the top?!” He shouted as I crawled back, “I think it’s right ahead—almost there!” About six or seven massive switchbacks later, huffing and puffing at what felt like a sisyphean climb, I made it to the top of the plateau and breathed easy, knowing it was all downhill from there. The next time I saw my dad I yelled at him that he was fired for any directions—his "almost there" was NOWHERE near the top!!!!
Mother Nature’s Cruel Joke
But the joke was on me. While the elevation map showed the summit of Imgenfjell as the apex before beginning our 20 mile descent down to T2, the winds had other plans. The clouds and fog rolled in, it started to pour and we were greeted with a stiff headwind to grind in my easiest gear on what should have been a respite from all of the earlier climbing.
I had pushed harder than I would have otherwise to this point, thinking that the downhill would be enough time to flush out the legs, recover and be ready to run. I was running on empty and motivationally down and the weather wasn’t exactly helping. We made it across the plateau and to the downhill section—where it would have scary to bomb down in crystal clear conditions—that became even more sketchy with the pouring rain, low visibility and rush of support crews trying to speed to T2 after making their last bike had-offs to their athletes. Some of the switchbacks were so tight and slick that it was hard to imagine yourself not careening off the edge!
The last 20-miles went on forever. Around mile 95, I started to get really tired. I was pedaling hard and exerting energy but could not keep my eyes from drooping. You know that thing where you’re trying not to fall asleep in class or in a boring meeting and your head keeps bobbing as you nod off? I was doing that, except instead of being in a boring Biology lecture, I was speeding 20mph down twisty roads in the rain. I was pinching myself, singing at the top of my lungs, even slapping my face a few times but I couldn’t keep myself fully awake. Finally, I hit a bump and my arm slipped off the elbow pad, jerking me back alert.
At this point, I realized I was soaking wet, freezing and just ready to be D.O.N.E.
I rolled into T2, for the first time ever completely unsure whether I would be able to finish a race. To add to the panic that my race was spiraling out of control, my parents were nowhere to be found. The Norseman crew has about two dozen temporary racks set up in a grassy area so I rolled myself to one, sat down shivering, and started to wonder what I was going to do next. The amazing Norseman race crew came over and gave me a blanket and water and tried to calm me down by saying that everything would be fine.
After about 6-7 minutes of glassy eyed, barefoot and teeth-chattering skulking in my big blanket, my parents sprinted over to assist. After one of my fastest transitions ever, basically just throwing on my run shoes, grabbing some gloves and my Nathan handheld water bottle, I (reluctantly) ditched my cozy blanket and started running to the peak that waited ahead. If only I could have taken that blanket with me!! ;)
In the end I was on the bike for over 7:04, just four minutes over my goal time of breaking seven hours. And yet there was still one more mountain to summit ahead.