Norseman - Chris Stirling

Norseman - Chris Stirling

Race report by Chris Stirling:

Well its nearly a week since the race and I am still getting my head round what an amazing experience Norseman Extreme gave, it did not disappoint in any way and the worst thing is I know the race will never be the same again. I had quite a few first's heading out to Norway, no first hand knowledge of the course and not a clue how the race would go after the Celtman 5 weeks before. To put it simply it felt like a real adventure, a journey with an uncertain outcome and the environment, scenery and high level of competition only added to the sense of this.

I had no idea really how I would perform but I did set two goals before leaving for Norway, I wanted to enjoy the race and I wanted my amazing support crew to enjoy the day too. Whatever happened this was the priority, something that seems so obvious but can so often be lost in the heat of competition, months of training and drive for good results on paper or PB's. This is the race that got me inspired to take up triathlon in 2012, just making it to the start line was an achievement, if you told me or in fact probably anyone who knew me 15 years ago I would be here, it would be a 'No Chance!'. My support crew of Steve and Jo had been at Celtman and many other races this season and last, also there for all the training so a good day is the least I owed them. It was a time to enjoy the experience.

 

Pre-race

I have to admit I was pretty nervous and hyped up for a while, being selected as an elite I felt I had a pressure to perform, something new to me. I felt like I had to go out and earn my place, maybe I did, but this was not the way to approach this race, not for a first visit anyway. Of course there was the fact its Norseman! The worlds hardest Ironman, with probably the worlds hardest competitors and in one of the worlds harshest environments etc etc. Who wouldn't feel intimidated, perhaps its healthy to be? One piece of advice from a very good friend and 3 time Norseman, Stuart McLeod settled me. 'Chris, its just a bunch of people getting together to do something fun, race hard but enjoy the moment'. A great bit of advice for anyone heading out to Norseman.

Packing a bike for flying was a first and a bit of an epic. After 1hr30mins and a lot of worrying it was finally in the box, ready to go on a plane, to be lost, at least that's what I thought till we arrived in Norway and I got it back. Hopefully it was not in broken bits inside, another worry. All good though!

We drove the bike course backwards to get to Eidfjord, I would recommend this to anyone racing if you get the chance. By the time we reached the Hardangervidda plateau, ready to drop down to Eidfjord the bike course had my full respect and I mean that. It needs it, seriously, the climbs are long, its either up or down and most of the bike course is above 600m height.

Tricamp at Eidfjord was a great experience, good facilities and I thought easy enough to relax and focus on the task at hand. Bike built and not broken, it was time to test out the water in the fjord. An unusually snowy winter meant lots of melt water still flowing down from the mountains and very cold water, just 10-10.5 degrees. It felt warmer further so one less thing to worry about. I used a Zone3 neoprene vest, booties and cap along with aVictoryD wetsuit. I find with this combo I stay warm enough, even in water down to 8.5 degrees. Thor 'The Hammer' Hesselberg arrived on Friday and I caught up with Graeme Stewart too, it was good to see some friendly faces.

Eidfjord is beautiful and full of very friendly locals, we experienced the same everywhere we went in Norway, its an amazing country.

 

The Ferry ride and Swim!

Alarm call at 2am, coffee, bread, jam and it was time to head down to set up T1 and finally board the ferry. The swim has been shortened, a little disappointed but I do not blame them, safety comes first and I would not ever want anyone to be hurt or worse. I sat with Graeme and Thor on the journey, its was nice to pass the time chatting. The atmosphere on the ferry is something else, heading down onto deck, hoses spraying water and everyone warming up etc. Its gets you psyched, I loved it and when it came time to jump there was no hesitation. One worry was loosing the goggles, but a hand over them protected during the jump and all was fine. The cold water certainly woke me up.

The swim start was a little hectic, I got kicked in the eye and could not see great but decided to just carry on and put up with it. During the swim I could see the mountains rising from the Fjord, the swimmers around me and the smiling started. This was it, Norseman, I was actually doing it! I settled down and took it pretty steady, knowing it was a long day ahead. When I got out Jo met me and ran to T1, pretty sure I said that it was amazing, time for the bike.

 

The Bike

It kicks off with a monster climb, up onto the plateau, never steep but very long. I knew it would be easy to blow the race here, so I settled down and watched my HR, riding conservatively. Up top was unreal, a snow covered plateau it reminded me of the North West Highlands, the small lakes were still frozen over and I started to feel the cold, Arm warmers, gillet and gloves were added to my Fusion Speed Top and they stayed on for the whole time. The wind was kind, although cold it did not feel too windy. Again I could just not stop smiling, beautiful scenery and well surfaced open roads made for exhilarating descending. I made sure to eat plenty and always keep something in reserve, waiting for the final climb up to Imingfjell, that comes at around 140km, the steepest of the day. I steadily made my way up through the field, passing others who had passed me early on. I felt strong all day, on every climb, until the last! It was tough, as the picture shows. People were out on the course supporting the whole way, the race obviously means a lot to them too, it was pretty amazing. My support crew did a great job, feeding me, keeping me updated on position and looked to be enjoying themselves too. The final climb opens out onto another plateau and drags before a 40km descent to T2 and the only rough road on the course. I had a moment here, hitting a bump at very high speed and landing in the middle of two, whilst down on the bars. I gripped tight and prayed, may have even closed my eyes. I took it a little steadier after this into transition!

The help from the guys over at ElevenSprocket, Rich, Chris and Matt with my bike set up were invaluable, none of the issues from Celtman, the fit was great.

 
The Hardangavidda

The final climb, Imingfjell
It felt pretty tough after 140km and over 2500m of climbing

 


The Run

My legs felt pretty good coming into T2 and my support crew had everything ready so a quick transition had me out onto the run. You can break it down into 3 parts, 25km on the road, no it ain't quite flat, more rolling, 12km Zombie hill then the final 5km off road section to Gaustatoppen at 1800m. I have never ran 25km of tarmac in a triathlon so was not sure how it would go and pacing would be a little difficult. I set off at what felt steady and felt good for at least the first 15km. I made up 4 places before hitting Zombie hill, so I guess my bike pacing was good. I switched to drinking coke, water and a few shotblocks, easy on the stomach and it kept me going. After a while it started to bite though, my pace slowed and it became a mental battle to keep going. I was actually looking forward to the change in angle at the hill, strangely! My support crew leap frogged me every 2-3km and I looked forward to seeing them each time. By the time I reached Zombie hill, I was unsure how much I would be able to run. My support crew left to go to the mountain checkpoint, leaving me with supplies and knowing you now had aid stations. Steve told me to keep it in the granny gear and just keep tapping it out. I did just that passing another competitor walking on the way up. Somewhere just before the first aid station after around 7km of uphill I really blew, everything hurt and I started to walk more. It was a relief when Steve ran back down the road and met me, so nice to have some company for the last 5km of road before the final push. Again support lined the course, the turnout was fantastic and we now also had our own personal Norwegian support crew, locals who had given Steve a lift back down the road to meet me. We passed a crowd of at least 25 people, wearing yellow Team Bob cycling tops who started cheering and singing as we passed, like I said its a surreal experience, especially as your physical state declines. We eventuality reached the mountain checkpoint, I had decided I wanted to finish on the top with Steve and Jo, who had been amazing all day, so we all began to make our way up the hill together. Graeme Stewart had told me its the type of race if that you think you have a mile and look over your shoulder and some one is there. It is, one of the competitors (Christian Nillson) I passed heading up Zombie hill and another suddenly appeared on my shoulder below the summit. I lost these 2 places in the last 200m of the race, my legs buckled underneath me when I tried to push harder. its the first time that has ever happened in a race. Norseman had taken me to my limit, physically and mentally in that final 5km on the mountain. A perfect end.

 
On the road to Gaustatoppen with former winner Tom Remman, cruising to his 10th Norseman!

 

I finished in 11hrs28 and in 21st position, I really feel this was the best performance I could have had on the day and most importantly my two main goals were met, we all enjoyed it!

After

We stayed at the Youth Hostel, which was fantastic with an amazing view of Gaustatoppen until  Monday, which gave time to reflect and enjoy the t-shirt ceremony etc. I enjoyed this but it was definitely all about the experience for me. The race slowly stripped me back until the very end and reminded me why I do this, it makes you feel alive. I think for this to happen you need a special place with a special atmosphere and Norway and its people provide that, ten fold with plenty to spare. This race is on everyone's bucket list, but how many put there names in the hat, maybe its time you did, you will not be disappointed?? I am pretty sure Steve and Jo enjoyed it to so I guess it was a job well done.
I know I wont ever get a first Norseman again, so I am currently enjoying a week off from training and letting it all sink in a process. Also really happy to complete both Celtman and Norseman in the same season, only 5 weeks apart, it shows my training worked. One thing I took is the bike strength of the athletes at the front and my motivation to get stronger and train harder is now bigger than ever.Thank you to the volunteers and crew who make the race happen, the people of Norway from Moss Airport to Eidfjord and back who were all so friendly and amazing all the way and my fellow competitors who I enjoyed the experience with.

Still plenty left this year though so stay tuned!

Amazing images are courtesy of Lake District Images, thank you!

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