Norseman Xtreme Triathlon - Race Review

Written by Flora Colledge
 

1st – Lucy Gossage 11:27:12

2nd – Flora Colledge 11:56:53

3rd – Line Mari Langseth 12:08:09

 

Introduction

Norseman is one of the major races on the Xtreme Tri World Tour Circuit, which sees athletes racing long-distance triathlons in uniquely spectacular and testing locations around the world. First established in 2003, Norseman was the start point for the expanding XTri circuit, and the race has become something of triathlon legend. It’s renowned worldwide for its remarkable course and iconic swim start, which can only really be done justice through photos or videos. I will do my best to describe the incredible day through words! 

For me, this would be my 5th Xtreme Triathlon. I’ve competed in Swissman 3 times and first competed in Norseman in 2018 where I finished third. In 2019, Norseman was acting as the XTri World Championships and I was determined to move further up the podium! I knew that competition would be fierce upfront, with Lucy Gossage’s announcement that she would race along with the return of Line Mari Langseth who pushed me hard in 2018. There were lots of women with good XTri experience, which counts for a huge amount on race day.

The XTri series is what I base my entire season around, they’re the true challenge for me in triathlon and what I really love doing. As the XTri World Championships this year, this was THE race I wanted to perform at. I don’t have the speed required to compete at a high level over short distances, but really come into my own over long distances and brutal terrain, so I was hopeful of a good result.

I had entered the Alpe d’Huez triathlon 9 days before this years Norseman, which was going to act as my final fitness test and preparation for Norseman. Training in the build-up had been solid, but temperatures on race day were set to be in the high 30s and I knew it would be a tough day out. When it came around to the run leg, I knew that burying myself too deep would have a severe knock-on effect on my performance at Norseman. To keep me in the best shape for the big day, I decided to pull out from the run of Alpe d’Huez. I’ve always performed better in the wind and the rain than bright sunshine, so fingers crossed for good conditions at the Norseman race!                 

 

Race Day

The ferry out to the swim start is always packed full of emotions. It’s dark, it’s cold and you can sense the nervous excitement in the air. It’s a 40-minute ferry journey out to the swim start, and after getting into your wetsuit there’s ample time for self-reflection and planning your day ahead! Once the ferry door opens up, you get your first view of Hardangerfjord in the dark, and you have to prep yourself for the plunge off the ferry into the cold waters! This is a really special moment of the race and one that I always look forward to.

With the warmer summer than previously, the water temperature this year was a very reasonable 16 degrees, compared to the typical 10-12 degrees experienced in previous runnings of the race. This meant that I could swim in just my Vanquish wetsuit, rather than having to kit up with the long sleeve Zone3 baselayer and neoprene boots and gloves that I’ve used in the past. Not only does this make the swim a faster and more enjoyable experience, but it also saved a lot of time in T1! I did give myself the luxury of using a Zone3 neoprene swim cap, to save a bit of brain freeze from the jump off the ferry.

The second half of the swim is incredible, as there are no flags or inflatables at the swim exit. All of the navigation has to be done using the giant bonfire which is on the shore to guide you towards transition – very Viking! As you approach the end of the swim, you can smell the woodsmoke from the fire, which is a good indication you’re nearly finished in the water. We were promised pretty tough conditions in the swim, but the head-on current never materialised and it was very calm in the end. I was amazed to see myself exit the water with Lucy Gossage, in a time of 57:33.

Norseman transitions differ from any other race, in that your support crew is allowed into the transition zone to help you through the race. In previous years, they’ve been there to help warm you up after the freezing fjord, but this year the focus was on getting me in the mandatory high-vis jacket for the bike leg and getting me quickly out on course, with bright lights for safety. Almost straight out of T1, you hit the first climb of the day. This takes you steadily up to the highest part of the bike course. However, it’s almost all inside a tunnel so you don’t get to see the scenery until you emerge onto the plateau at the top and really get an understanding of the elevation you’ve just overcome. The rest of the bike course is about finding a safe space for your support crew to pass you nutrition and water, which can be a huge challenge in itself!

I’d asked my support crew to not give me any indication of what position I was in, or how close my competitors were so that I didn’t push too hard too early. However, throughout the bike course, I could see the support cars of my rivals circling around me like hungry vultures which really starts to play with your head. You really have to try and tune out and ignore the cars leapfrogging you on the bike and the first half of the run, but being near the front of the race these were fairly scarce. Further back in the field, apparently there are serious challenges presented to the support crew as so many athletes all need nutrition at the same time. Sometimes the road simply can’t cope with the number of cars wanting to pull over!

We had practised handing over nutrition and drinks quite a lot, and in the race my support crew were incredible. They would sprint alongside me so I didn’t have to slow too much and make sure that I had everything I needed for the next stage of the race. These points also gave me an opportunity to shout out what I would need in T2, so that come the end of the bike leg we were completely ready to take on the run.

Entering T2, my legs felt like jelly and I took my time getting my running shoes and a new pair of socks on. My support crew helped out by pouring water all over me to try and cool me down a bit.

The first 20k of the run is relatively flat along the edge of Tinnsjå lake, but at the back of everyone’s mind is the final mountain ascent to the top of the enormous Gaustatoppen mountain. After 25km you turn a corner and are hit with the sight the mountain looming ahead of you, with a tiny tower right at the top that acts as the finish line for the race. In 2018, this was incredibly daunting for me as I knew I still had all that distance and elevation to conquer, but this year I was mentally prepared. My support crew were so full of energy and excitement, I barely had time to think about what was up ahead!

From 25km the race is all uphill, with the surface being well paved until 37km where it turns into a scramble over large boulders that you must clamber over. At this point, the route is marked with red paint, but by now I was so tired and had to focus so much on my footing that I would drift off course. My support crew were there throughout, to redirect me and readjust course, as well as carry my nutrition and water. They were amazing the whole day, and without them, the race wouldn’t have gone so smoothly – it’s a real team event.

I went through some rough patches on the final ascent, where it was a struggle to do anything but walk and scramble over the boulders. I took solace in the thought that everyone would be in the same boat here, and they wouldn’t be making much ground on me if any.

On the mountain, I couldn´t smile as my amazing crew and all those around us cheered me, it was just a fight to move forward. But a few hundred metres from the finish I turned around, saw no one behind, and could finally tell my crew what I had been dreaming of for so long: "We did it!" Crossing the finish line to find out I had finished 2nd in the XTri World Championships was an amazing feeling, made even better by the fact I could celebrate at the top with Lucy Gossage.

Silver medal at Norseman, with a famous black t-shirt as my prize. Only about 3000 people have ever joined the exclusive group of black t-shirt holders, which is less than the number of finishers in a typical Ironman event. It’s amazing to be part of this special club, and I will definitely be back for more in the future!

My next adventure will be at Patagonman in December this year, another stop on the XTri tour!