My expectations before Norseman was very high. As a two time defending champion I actually felt a very low pressure with nothing more to prove. My shape was better than ever and my preparations has never given me so much recovery and so little fatigue. I was just looking forward to a magnificent day!
The water was not that cold and in contrast to previous years I jumped off the ferry very early to get a decent warm up. With my HUUB Balaclava (test product) it was considerably warmer and I felt very god equipped and prepared when the horn from the ferry went of. Quite early I felt short of breath compared to the effort and was disappointed that I was not able to swim offensive, which was the plan. My breathing capacity was maxed out, but I did not feel any fatigue in my arms. It was a long swim with favourable wave-direction, but unfavourable current. Up from the water on 1:10 and certain I had lost the race with the poor swimming, but found out that everyone had a relatively slow swim. I was still within striking distance.
Out on the bike I felt good and started out controlled on 300 watts. That was obviously a good pace since I started to overtake a lot of my competitors. Lars Christian and Lars Petter, the only ones I really cared about was about 8 and 4 min in front and I did not make any gains on those two. It was cold, but I did not freeze, and felt good after putting on a jacket and winter gloves right before Dyranut. After that my favourite part of the Norseman bike route begins, the crossing of Hardangervidda. I flied across it with strong wind from behind, tucked in a deep aero position as much as possible. It was 3 – 5 degrees and raining, and as I passed Haugastøl, about 20 km before Geilo I started to get cold. I strongly considered taking on more cloths but since I was not less then 30 min until I god to Geilo and the uphill I decided to wait and see if I got the heat back in the uphill. As I god closer to Geilo I was gaining on LP and CH fast, and right after Geilo I made contact with LP, being just 20 seconds behind. “I am going to win this race!” was my thoughts. LP looked behind and pushed the pedals harder as he saw me. My own power meter said 280 watts, which was slightly lower than planned, but still very good. I let him go without a fight. After hoping the uphill would give me more heat I could conclude it did not, and I got really cold in the first downhill. My vision was a bit blurry, visor foggy, fingers a bit numb and with strong rain the decent was truly scary. Before the next uphill I put on another jacket and tried to keep my cadence as high as possible to get my heat back up. My breathing was unusually heavy but my watts and heart rate was falling. I had some competitors passing me and actually asking; are you ok? “Yes, I am fine I replied” while I was thinking; “no, I am not”. From then on it only went one way. My watts and heart rate was dropping while my breathing was still heavy. And it would just not stop raining. My team was great, cheering me on shouting to me that I look great. We both knew I did not, but often it is better to fake it until you make it, instead of being honest. Just finish the bike ride with as little time loss as possible and find the golden legs from the previous years.
It was so nice to turn right at Austbyda and ride the last 500 meters before the run. My legs were so cold and stiff that I could not jump off the bike like I normally do, but had to stop completely and then go off. I put on new sock, my running shoes and ran off towards Mt. Gaustad. My legs were not golden, not even anything close. I cough a lot running out running zigzag with poor balance. The speed was dead slow, I felt really bad and would not stop coughing. I could see that my phlegm was not clear but it was hard to judge coughing in my hand. When I meet up with my support I cough on a white napkin and could conclude that it was bloody. The call made itself, my race was over. My very first DNF was unavoidable. It was a tough decision, but in another way it was nearly a relief when I saw the blood and then knew that something was seriously wrong. There was no way I could drag my body up to the top of the mountain in my state. I got in the support car, put on warm clothing and called the race director to say my race was over. They then arranged a meeting with the race doctor, who listened to my lungs, and sent me to the closest hospital for further check ups.
What happened? The experts have not concluded anything yet, but the serious conditions, like pulmonary embolism, are ruled out. It could be a lot of reasons and swimming-induced pulmonary edema (SIPE), is a “hot” candidate. Further testing is to be done and we will see if that gives us any good answers. Unbeneficial factors like seriously cold weather, very low body fat and high strain over time may also be part of the reason.
Does it suck? Of course it does. It was not a good day at work. Not be able to complete the most important race of the season is not a good feeling. I am not hugely disappointed for myself. My shape was great and the fact that I had the fastest bike split to Geilo (92 km) in my condition was nothing short of a miracle. The failure also did wonders to my motivation for next years Norseman. What hurts was the fear I caused to the ones that stands closest to me. At the hospital the doctor did an ultrasound of my heart and he said that he was pretty certain it was pulmonary embolism and that I could get a stroke. I was equally certain that he was wrong, but Jenny sitting by my side was not. She put on a brave face, but the fear was not to be hidden. All the rest of my family who have been following me the whole day were also very worried. The planned dinner buffet at Gaustablikk, which usually is the highlight of the year was replaced by me sitting in a hospital alone (I had to take a ambulance to another hospital with a working CT-scanner), Jenny had to take a long drive to pick up racebaby Jonas, and the rest of my family staying at Gaustablikk worrying about me. That was pretty miserable for a lot of people, and I was the cause of it.
Was there anything positive about the race? Certainly! It is when things go wrong you learn the most. I thought I was very well prepared regarding clothing, but it was not enough. Lesson learned! The lung failure will be thoroughly check up with the help of the best expertise in Norway (a couple of them are volunteering in the Norseman-organization). We also grew a lot on it as a team. They performed amazing and motivated me in the best possible way even if things went bad. We kept things cool and really gave it all until it was clear that we could and should not go on. That is an experience that will make us much stronger in the next competition when my body will be without any serious failures.
Another thing I learned was that the triathlon environment is not just good. It is the best! So many sympathetic comments and so many who have contacted me with valuable insight of what could be the cause. I am touched by the engagement, and appreciate it very much. I am also very grateful for the support from my sponsors and partners before, under and after.
Norseman 2016 did not go according to plan, but we will have our revenge of the legendary but o’so merciless race next year. In the meantime we have Lofoten extreme triathlon, Challenge Almere and Ironman Barcelona on the schedule for this year 😀 After my check-ups are done of course.