Out of T2... Time to Wake Up The first 14-15 miles are considered “flat”… but not really. It was gently rolling with a few little climbs in there. I started off pretty solid and was ticking off the miles, warming up and removing my arm warmers and gloves and almost waiting for what seemed like the inevitable melt down. I encountered my parents around the 5-mile mark and walked for the first time.
Dejected due to an upset stomach, waning energy and the earlier scare of falling asleep on the bike, I told them, “I need to slow down if I actually want to finish. It’s not looking good.” I handed them my gloves and arm warmers, no longer needed and swapped out my Nathan, which they had pre-filled with sports drink and 2 gels.
There weren’t a ton of other athletes out there but there were people to focus on and chase and a few men who sped by. I knew I was in fourth place and was torn between survival and being competitive; I wanted to ask how far ahead third was, but almost didn’t want to know.
Around mile 8, I saw my parents at another of our planned stops and frantically asked if there were any bathrooms ahead on course. A few minutes later they came back and shoot their head, looking concerned. Desperately, I think asked if they had any tissues, or anything…. No luck but next time I saw them, my dad handed off one of his hankies and I got a good luck of sorts. Trust me, having your own crew on a self-supported course is not as glamorous as it sounds; who wants to admit to anyone that they’ve been on the verge of shitting their pants for the past 4-5 miles?
A few miles more of frantically scanning for some woods, a big boulder, anything, I found a kind-of-obscured-but-not-really ditch, cut across the road and bounded down into it. I got some weird looks from other competitors as I emerged but sweet relief and the run started to turn around dramatically.
Near the halfway mark my parents started getting excited, “you’re gaining on the girl ahead with serious speed! Keep it up!!” I didn’t believe them and didn’t fully believe in myself and that I could catch her but the little glimmer of hope was all I needed and I started to step it up even more.
We reached the base of Gaustatoppen and I made my pass. I was now in third and only 5,000 in elevation ahead.
Turning into a Zombie
Zombie Hill was brutal—I made it out to be this epic climb in my mind and well, wouldn’t you know it, it basically was exactly as imagined. At this point, I was running more than almost anyone around me and was probably passed by no more than five people—but was passing others left and right. I would run for a certain amount of time or until a certain landmark or until I couldn’t take the burning in my lungs and legs anymore and then walk for an equal time.
At the same time, Zombie was a blur: other than the fact that you could literally see athletes starting to unravel here and there (turning into literal Zombies), there was a funny incident where two sheep were running behind two guys running ahead of me. They ran for quite some time, a funny pack of four, and I couldn’t help but chuckle the whole time. At the start, I pulled away and I couldn’t keep up. ran for a bit with Martin, a guy I had been back and forth with on the bike, until he and his crew pulled away.
The interesting thing is that starting at the base of Gaustatoppen, your crew is allowed to “run” alongside you. And so there were actually packs where one athlete had one, two, three folks running alongside for motivation, to hold gear, etc. You were even allowed to have headphones, which I might use if I return for this section for some additional motivation. As a result, I was one of the few running solo so I felt like a lone wolf running up the mountain, getting some cheers from folks as a ran past.
You reach a checkpoint where you are then allowed to either continue up to the summit or have to peel off to finish at the hotel. I had no idea of standing and so when I got there, I frantically asked them about placing. They laughed and said I was “more than fine” and sent me on my way. In the elevation profile, the last little segment before the actual hike seems flat but with the wind and the exhaustion in the legs, it felt like we might as well have still been climbing up the earlier incline.
I reeled in Martin, Robert his crew and one other athlete and we ran in a small pack of four across this plateau section, breaking up with the occasional walk. I have never been happier to run with a group, they shielded the wind and kept me pushing the pace when I otherwise might have wanted to walk. It was here I made my final female pass for second place. She was walking, with her crew. I made the pass and tried my best to not look back.
You might notice there are very few photos from the first half of the run... I was NOT a happy camper, basically in "no photos please" diva mode. ;)
I met my dad at Stavsro, the base of the final surge to Gaustatoppen, and he handed me my jacket and the bag pre-checked by support at the base to make sure it had all of the essentials (water, food, phone, warm clothes, headlamp, cash—though my dad forgot the cash part so we couldn’t get post-finish snacks, including WAFFLES and beer, at the top… TRAVESTY. I still give him a hard time for that).
This was harder than expected; first off, the climbing. It would have been tough even without 12-hours already under the belt. My dad, really fit and used to regular steep hikes, was breathing pretty heavily and in fact I lost him for a few minutes at the very tippy top as I surged to the finish. My mom (also fit and used to hiking) had a 30-minutes head start and we quickly passed her about 1/3 from the top. Her plan was to try to get a head start and then catch us at the top but she had to give up on that plan when it was taking longer than expected.
But secondly, and even worse, were the rocks and the scree. This is not—I repeat, NOT—a hiking trail. It is a boulder field with occasional markers to point the way. My tired legs were struggling and I rolled my ankles a number of times, actually falling hard on several occasional times. Then there were parts were I was literally climbing hands and knees to get up and over a big rock.
For most of the way, my dad led the way and I blindly followed, my brain starting to have trouble functioning out of sheer exhaustion. My watch went dead somewhere along the way, running out of battery from such a long day. We started to encounter photogs and random hikers heading down, “how far to the top?” We heard ten minutes first, few minutes down the road it was twenty, then five. We couldn’t reach any sort of consensus on where the actual peak was—it was Imgenfjell all over again.
Then the scree turned into steps, big ones. And it was step step step up to the top, cheering, a brief pause at the top to raise my arms high and celebrate—celebrate the finish? The accomplishment? Just being done? I don’t know. But my legs buckled and I staggered over and curled up in a fetal position, gone to the well, absolutely done.
Total Race Time: 13:39:13
Down the Mountain
They ushered us into this little hut at the top of the mountain, passed out blankets and hot soup and everyone crowded into the tight space, looking utterly exhausted and shell-shocked. The good news was that the little tram down the inside of the mountain was working for athletes and so the worst was behind me, no fear of having to stumble back down the mountain. The bad news was that my dad forgot money and I was famished. Ever since the stomach incident, I had been conservative in my fueling and had been bonking my way up most of the mountain.
Instead of spending some time relishing in the finish at the top and taking photos (hell, I’m jealous of the crew that brought up champagne to the top—add that to my must-do list for next time!!), I pretty much gathered myself, nibbled at the soggy turkey sandwich my parents didn’t eat but got tossed in the support bag and then headed down the mountain.
My dad had to hike down but I got to take this really cool cable railway run by pulleys that spits you out on one side of the mountain, but not where my parents had parked. With another athlete, we hitch-hiked a ride to the starting point and I took the keys my dad gave me to pass out in the car, eat yet another inedible soggy turkey sandwich and pass out until my parents made it down the mountain. We made it to our cabin, showered and then ate way too much pizza and drank too much beer and ran into about five of the ten other Americans and crew that somehow all ended up at the same pizza and beer joint in remote Norway!
The next day was the awards, where I got recognized for my second place finish and earned my very own coveted black tee!
If you haven’t been able to tell in the past few weeks, I still have unfinished business at Norseman. Will I try to register again for next year? Probably not, though the temptation grows with each day removed from the race day suffering. More likely I’ll head back to Norway in 2016, truly ready to conquer this monster of a race.
What would it take to win? Personally I think I lost this race on the bike—I struggled on certain climbs, lacked the endurance required and then took too long to find my running legs heading into the marathon and climb. I didn’t really start race-specific training for Norseman until about 3 weeks before, after I had returned from winning the age group race at Ironman Coeur d’Alene at the end of June.
I had around four bike days that included over 7-8 hours on the bike in the last two months leading up to Norseman. If I did it again, I would shoot for even more of these long haul trucker days but also more hill intervals. One workout Hillary tasked me with was a long ride that included 3x an eight-mile climb on the Blue Ridge Parkway that took about 35 minutes. I struggled with this one but think these types of workouts would be key to success at Norseman.
I actually don’t think you need a lot of hilly run training going into this, surprisingly. To me, it’s almost a race to mile 13 before the route starts heading toward the heavens and then it’s an awkward shuffle of jog/walk/hustle up the incline. Sure, I made several key passes along some of the steeper portions but I think the meat of the run is in that first part.
Now that I know the demands and feel of the course—something I think is hugely invaluable and a boon to all the Norwegians that race and train there year after year; there is simply no comparison to the day you’ll encounter at Norseman—I feel even more confident that I can head back to Norway in a year or few and fight for that top spot. I think few others have the capacity for suffering and sheer determination that I do and I would love to get my body, endurance and motivation to the place where the mind knows it can be.
Thanks for following along everyone.... Tusen Takk, y'all!!! : )