After running down Dag Oliver, Managing Director of the Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon a.k.a. the world's toughest triathlon, at The London Triathlon Show in February, I was given the very enjoyable task of taking over Norseman's Instagram Stories (@nxtri) over the 4-day race period. Want to know what it takes to compete in the world's ultimate triathlon and become a Norseman? Then read below and watch the video.
This year the Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon turned 16 and saw 238 of the world’s most daring triathletes, representing 35 countries swim 3.8km, cycle 180km, run 42.2km and ascend more than 5235m in Norway’s exquisite landscape.
To be clear… that’s a swim in cold-is fjord waters, a bike through mountains and a marathon run up another mountain to the finish. Did I mention this starts at 5am by the athletes jumping off a ferry?
“You have lakes, mountains, rainbows, rain, sunshine, warm and cold temperatures. You have stunning transitions, a unique start by jumping off the car ferry into usually freezing fjord waters and then you finish on top of a mountain, I mean, can you really get any better? Can you ask any more from a race? True, Basic and Unique: This race course truly does encapsulate the Norseman brand, the Norseman experience and the Norseman journey.”
High Performance Coach and Brand Strategist (owner of this site!)
Wow! What an amazing day! It’s over. I’m feeling exhausted but also charged and wide awake. As I was putting the press release together on Saturday evening, my brain was in over drive and my body exhausted - and I hadn’t even raced!
This is what my amazing day was like, I didn’t race, but working with Norseman was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and I’m already looking forward to next year!
[Read how I felt the night before race day here: It Was The Night Before the Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon]
3:25am: I was out with the athletes and their support crew. As the athletes racked their bikes and ensured they had everything ready for their first transition, the atmosphere was filled with tension, anxiety, pre-race nerves, joy and anticipation. You could hear the rustling of the athletes’ equipment and the hushed murmurs as athletes and crew members talked to each other. The final preparations were coming to an end.
4am: We were on the ferry. Most of the athletes made a beeline for the inside viewing area to chill out, talk with friends, take on final nutrition and hydration, get suited up and drop their bags off. Others remained on the ferry floor. Some sat with their backs against the floor or perched against the barrels, their faces etched with tension.
4.15am: Supporters cheered as the ferry departed. Eidfjord’s lights grew smaller as the ferry made waves across the black silk-like water. The air and water was unusually warm, so no one opted for the cold water showers.
4:45am: The ferry blew its horn signaling it was time. This was it. The infamous 4m plunge into the fjords usually icy waters. Some athletes backflipped, others held their nose and goggles and went for a pencil jump and a few needed a lot of encouragement to make that jump.
[Not sure how the triathletes even made it this far? Previous Norseman athletes reveal their pro tips: Norseman Pro Trips From Some Of The World's Toughest Triathletes
5am: Another horn signalled it was time for the athletes to swim the 3.8km back to shore. They looked like small fish making splashes along the water’s surface. Two elite males, Eirik Ravnan and Harry Wiltshire made a break and held their lead, leaving the pack behind.
5:50am: Ravnan and Wiltshire were out of the water within 48 mins, soon followed by Allan Hovda, Lars Chrsitan Vold and Mette Petterson. The swim set the exciting tone for the race, who was going to be crowned King and Queen of Norseman?
6.20am: Erik Jungeling, Media Director of Norseman, and I quickly drove out of Eidjford, keen to get ahead of the traffic and catch up with the leaders. The sun was out, the temperatures still warm and the excitement building. Who was in the lead? Would they hold their position? And how long for? We passed cyclist after cyclist, each embodying a look of dogged determination and absolute focus.
7am: The support crew, made up of one to two individuals, were only allowed to stop at certain places along the bike route. We caught up with a few of the crew to find out how their athlete was doing and what they would be giving their athlete.
“Best of luck Louise, you’re flying out of the water well under 1 hour 15 as we predicted and you’re on the bike now going strong!”
Louisa’s (no.45) coach Ivan, from Ireland
“Richard is going to have 3 Science In Sport gels and some energy drinks so he can complete his way up to the mountain!”
One half of Richard’s crew
7.30am: We stopped at Dyranut, the entrance to the Hardangvidda Plateau, where there was a much welcomed tailwind for the athletes, something I’m sure that appeared in their dreams, but is unheard of in Norseman. Usually athletes are having to battle a headwind!
While the athletes made friends with the elements, we found some of their support crews taking refuge in the cosy cafe and tucking into breakfast!
8:30am: When you wake up at 2:55am, 8:30am breakfast becomes lunch according to Eirik! We stopped at Geilo, the foot of Kikut, one of the first big climbs from Eidfjord and here we saw the top 20 athletes cycle passed us in a blur.
We also caught up with the Huub support crew for Mette Petterson and Heini Hartikainen:
“Mette is in front of the female competition, Harry Wiltshire is third, Allan Hovda is in second and Heini is in second place”
One half of the Huub athlete's support crew
9am: As we descended Kikut, which is a long smooth descent and where athletes can pick up speed in the aero position, we stayed behind an athlete going at 84km/h!! That’s seriously fast!!!
9:30am: We finally caught up with the ongoing battle between Allan Hovda and Lars Christian Vold, Allan was in front and Lars just 9 seconds behind him. Lars smashed Norseman’s record last year with an impressive time of 9 hours 52 minutes, but Allan has won Norseman twice and has been training all year to beat Lars.
“It’s so cool to have two elite athletes neck and neck in this weather, in these conditions, it’s super fast and it’s super exciting.”
Media Director of Norseman
9:40am: We ascended the infamous Mount Iming, a notorious mountain that Eirik described as a“super villain in an ’80 Hollywood action movie.” It’s a false flat, so once you’ve climbed the steep hundreds of meters up and you think you’re going to be rewarded with some respite.
Mount Iming fools you by looking flat, but you actually have another several kilometers of climbing to go. As we drove along this stretch, I was truly blown away by the landscape it was absolutely stunning.
10:10am: At the top of Mount Iming we caught up with the two leaders’ support crews:
“He’s doing really well and it’s going to be really, really intense for sure between Lars and Allan, it’s going to be exciting!”
One half of Lars Christian Vold’s support crew
“He’s doing excellent at the moment, he’s pushing really hard on the mountains and he’s just 200m behind us and we’re going to try and give him some energy drinks and nutrition.”
Support crew of Allan Hovda
12pm: We arrived at T2. The gateway to the finish line at Gaustatoppen, where all of our triathletes dream of finishing, but only 160 of the 238 athletes would be able to, due to the time cut-offs.
“We’re now in T2 and we’ve just seen Eirik [Ravnan] and Harry [Wiltshire] run off, the podium finishes are going to be really tight, it’s really exciting”
Media Director of Norseman
Here, with the help of their support crew, the athletes quickly changed out of their cycling gear and into their running gear, before running off into the mountains.
Some came off their bikes looking fresh and changed speedily with little care who saw them naked. While others dismounted with stiff legs and pain, looking like the next 42km could be unpleasant.
In true Norseman style, the location was stunning. I couldn’t decide if T1 or T2 was more beautiful, but you guys said T2 and I think I would have to agree.
The sun was out, the crowds lined the transition area, upbeat music was playing and all with a backdrop of the most stunning lake.
We caught up with some of the crowd:Idda, Theresa and Modum, 3 members of Oslo’s Triathlon Club, had cycled here to cheer for 17 of their team members!
As well as a couple of the triathletes crew members:
“Hidde is doing fine, he’s pushing hard, he’s going for the black shirt, he’s doing great, he had a great swim and bike and now he’s going to finish on Gaustatoppen.”
The crew of Hidde Bekhuis, who finished 23rd in Norseman
12:30pm: The first 25km of the run is pancake flat, however this only lulls you into a false sense of relief, as Gautatoppen suddenly looms into view. It’s there to intimidate the triathletes. To tease them and to taunt them, ‘Do you think you can really run and climb 1400m to my summit?’
As Gaustatoppen grew larger and larger, we passed Hovda who looked phenomenally strong considering how far he had already swam and cycled and his pace! Wow! His pace would be a quick sprint for me during a training session!
12:45pm: Oh My Gosh! Zombie Hill is insane!! It’s seriously steep for a LONG time! My mind cannot comprehend how some of our athletes can wind up that side of the mountain, running on the road, on that steep gradient and in the blaring sun. Just wow!
Allan was looking really strong, but second and third place at this point was totally up for grabs!
[Read how three times world car rally champion Andreas Mikkelsen found Zombie Hill, he's never known walking to be so tough: Andreas Mikkelsen's Insane Journey From Rally Driver To Top Triathlete]
2pm: The athletes were running, climbing, walking and crawling up the trail to Gaustatoppen, but the Norseman Live TV team, Helen Webster and Daniel Granberg, Producer at Spocks Family, Erik and I caught 2 funiculars, which were over 70 years old to the summit of Gaustatoppen and wow!
Norseman is known for being unique, known for being tough and known for epic landscapes and it did not fail to deliver. The top of Gaustatoppen was simply outstanding. The view took your breathe away, with mossy green mountains, escarpments slashing through the landscape and sapphire lakes stretched out as far as the eye could see.
We also experienced the infamous weather. Within 1 hour we had hail, torrential rain, sunshine and rainbows! It was extraordinary!!
“It’s absolutely amazing, you can see this vast landscape you can see the showers of the rain and you can see the trail where all the athletes are going to run up in the next hour!"
Media Director of Norseman
3.45pm: The excitement and anticipation built over the hour as we kept our eyes peeled for any sight of Hovda coming up Gaustatoppen. It was a little like Where’s Wally? As between the ant sized tourists and epic landscape you couldn’t make out who was a triathlete, spectator or a large rock!!
Then our time keeper amazingly spotted him - I have no idea how, as Hovda’s attire camouflaged him perfectly against the surrounding landscape.
It was now on. The winner was approaching. You could start to hear the cheers and even as I write this now, my hairs raise and my body tingles. It was a magical and awe-inspiring moment. One that happened slowly but also very fast all at the same time.
3:05pm: “HIJA HIJA HIJA HIJA HIJA HIJA!” - the crowd cheered, creating an electrifying atmosphere as Allan Hovda took hold of his gigantic Norwegian flag and proudly held it above his head, as he power walked and jogged up the last steps to the finish line…winning Norseman!!
For me, it was a whirlwind moment of emotion, excitement, adrenalin, gratitude and just such a privilege to experience that finish with him. I can’t imagine how it felt for him.
“Now I’m feeling really good, it was such a relief to cross the line, honestly I’m quite tired. I had a great swim and a really good bike and I felt amazing on the run, but then after 20km you don’t feel that amazing anymore so you have to start working…..winning is always nice…this year I was eager to get back and show that I’m the King Of Norseman!”
3x Norseman winner, 1x winner Swissman, Lofoten Triathlon and Ironman Haugesund
3:15pm: Kjell Magnus was next to follow in Allan’s footsteps, with the crowd cheering HiJa and clapping him in as he crossed the finish line, claiming second place!
3:16pm: Lars Christian Vold was hot on Magnus’ heels and Lars claimed third place, celebrating his podium finish with his incredible support crew and beautiful family. Lars did extraordinarily well as he was having issues with an old calf injury during the race.
4:15pm: Unfortunately Erik and I couldn’t stay to see Mette cross the finish line, but we caught her astonishing finish on the Live TV! Mette won the female race, smashed the course record by 48 minutes and came 12th place overall. Heini soon followed Mette 6 minutes later claiming second place and they both became the first two females at Norseman to achieve a sub-12 hour race! Amazing!
[Read my race report which discloses how Allan and Mette found Norseman: Queen and King of the World's Ultimate Triathlon: A Smashed Course Record and Triple Winner
“I feel euphoric [having crossed the finish line]. This is insane. I was so freaking nervous the whole week! The swim was beautiful, except that I got cramps from 2km and they stuck with me all of the way. I felt really powerful on the bike and I had an ok run until 16km, then I had stomach issues, but whatever, it was freaking amazing! I also really enjoyed racing with the people that I admire and love. I had a blast!”
1x Norseman winner, smashing the women's record
4:30pm We arrived in Gaustablikk, where the athletes would be staying after they’ve become a Norseman and the destination for those athletes who didn’t make the black tee shirt time cut off at the 32km mark.
Only 160 athletes are allowed through the 32km mark to make it to the top of Gaustatoppen and claim the coveted black tee shirt. The other athletes must run 8 loops of around 100m at Gaustablikk and when they cross the finish line in Gaustablikk, they achieve their hard earned white tee shirt.
5pm: We caught up with the lucky runners who had just scraped the cut off time at the top of Zombie Hill and were on their way to Gaustatoppen:
“It feels awesome [to have made the black teeshirt cut off]. It’s my 4th black tee shirt Norseman and by far the worse one, it was so fast!”
“It feels great [to be on my way to a black tee shirt], I was 160!”
6pm: We watched with awe as athletes who had given Norseman everything they had, ate up the kilometre’s on the final stretch of the white tee shirt course:
“Today has been almost perfect, I didn’t get to the mountain top but I’m together with great people on the white tee shirt route so I’m happy."
Founder of Norseman and 10x Norseman finisher
“I have given it all I had, my support has been pushing me and was barely able to stand.”
“It’s fantastic [to be so close to finishing Norseman] I was 163 at the cut off and the guys just gave up, but I decided to be the first to finish the white tee shirt course!”
First white tee shirt Norseman finisher
And Vivian went on to do just that, smashing Norseman’s white tee shirt course with a sub-14 hour finishing time!!
6.30pm: Bent Olav, co-founder of Norseman, ran with all of the white tee shirt athletes with a gigantic Norwegian flag flowing behind him. Bent cheered them on, spreading his contagious positivity and making their white tee shirt experience even more memorable.
9pm: Our white tee shirt athletes are still going! After more than 16 1/2 hours of racing it was truly awe-inspiring to see the athletes radiating with positivity, digging deep, giving off energy and having smiles spread across their faces as they continued their race to the finish.
12:48pm: The last athlete crossed the finish line. Wow.
Want to watch the race? Check out the race review summary film below!
AND check out my Instagram Stories take over by heading to Norseman's Instagram feed (@nxtri) and clicking #nxtri2018 highlights!
Header photo credit: José Luis Hourcade