I will have my debut in Norseman this year, do you have any advice to share?
As I said in Preparing for Norseman – Part 1 – The training, the question above is something I get a lot, but it is a topic which can be the subject for a book or two. In the last post I gave my opinion on the most important subject, the training. This time I will give you my 10 cents about choice of equipment. The complete list of equipment I used during Norseman 2017 is in this blog post, and I only have some minor changes this year.
The swim leg
The swim in Norseman is not very different from other 3800m outdoor swims, except the potential low temperatures. That makes it especially important with a good fitting wetsuit which does not let in cold water in the neck. A special thermal wetsuit is not something you must have, but if you are very thin and among the slower swimmers (aka use a lot of time in the water and generate less heat than fast swimmers), that can be considered. What is highly recommended is a neoprene Balaclava. My former sponsor HUUB has a great one but others might have made something similar. As the neoprene cap, it gives extra insulation on the head and it also covers the neck which has huge potential in heat loss. Tight fitting neoprene socks is also recommended. We had an exceptionally warm period the last month and we can hope it will be warmer than normal in Eidfjord. That can however quickly change and I would prepare for temperatures down towards 13-14 degrees. That means getting the equipment and be sure to test it properly. Regarding goggles, I would recommend a clear lens since it will be dark at the start with no chance of getting sun in your eyes. HUUB Altair is still my preferred goggles but if you use them to be aware of the potential misplacement of the seal which can happen during the jump from the ferry. I would, therefore, recommend (regardless of goggles) to put them in your swim cap, which you can hold in your hands and protect them when you jump.
The bike leg
Bike – In the choice of bike you have two good options and one bad. The bad is a road bike. The good is either a Tri/TT-bike or a road bike with clip-on. More about TT VS Road bike I have written in this post. The good news is that a road bike with clip-on can be a good option, as I have been very happy with the performance of my Boardman AIR with clip-on. If you go for one of the two good options I would highly recommend getting a good bike fit. It should be aerodynamic, comfortable and be decent at climbing and descending. The climbs of Norseman are not that long and the downhills are not technical so those features are not crucial. Regardless of your choice, it is especially important that everything technical is in order, breaks in particular. As for the choice of gearing, it depends on your strength/weight ratio on the bike and what is technically possible. I use 53/39 front and 11-28 cassette and I am much lighter and stronger than the average competitor. If your rear derailleur can handle 11-30/32 I would consider that and/or use a 36/34 as the smallest ring in front. What I believe is the best wheels for Norseman is a light 50-60 mm profile wheel in front and a light disc wheel in the rear. I used a slightly deeper front wheel. Zipp 808 front and Zipp Super-9 rear, as both Lars Christian Vold, Jordan Rapp and Lars Petter Stormo (top 4 in Norseman 2017). That works great, but the wind can be strong hence I would recommend 50-60 mm if you are not very comfortable with deep front wheels. The tarmac is not perfect the whole course but generally good. It is certainly no Paris-Roubaix so 23-25 mm tires will do the trick.
Helmet – A aerodynamic helmet is recommended (for the obvious aerodynamic reason) and you most likely can tape over your vents due to cold weather. A regular bike helmet will probably feel more comfortable in the climbs but will cost you a lot of time on the flats and downhill.
Shoes – You can use normal triathlon or cycling shoes. However, it can be very cold and the high-end triathlon shoes are usually designed for maximum cooling. For that reason, I tape the vents with duct tape and use neoprene toe cover and a rain resistant shoe cover above outside it. I also have with me a pair of spare winter road cycling shoes in case of very cold weather, which never can be ruled out. As for socks I use a pair of medium thick wool socks.
Lights – A front and rear light is necessary according to the rules, and also very important to reduce the risk of accidents if it gets foggy like it did last year. Earlier years I have used useless lights which were sufficient according to the (then) rules but found it was not worth the risk since the weight penalty with proper lights is only a few grams. My choice is the Knog Blinder which is extremely bright and impossible not to be seen by other cars on the road.
Clothing – Telling you what to wear during Norseman is impossible since the weather can be everything from snowy to a nice summer heat. Most likely it will be neither, but you should be prepared for rather cold and wet conditions on the bike. Changing completely to bike kit in T1 is more common in Norseman than other races, but it does not make it a good idea. I will cost you a lot of time in both T1 and T2 and is difficult to perform due to the cold fingers which is nearly guaranteed. A normal trisuit is my recommendations and personally, I prefer a two-piece. It will send you wet off the bike, but you will get the heat back shortly after when entering the first hill. A reflective vest is mandatory the first 20 km (and might be up to 90 km if it is foggy weather). I have used a reflective vest from Nathans which I have adjusted to fit me perfectly. This year, however, I have learned from last year winner Lars Christian Vold and will use a yellow reflective Castelli Gabba jacket going from T1. It will be sufficient regarding visibility and be the best choice to protect you from the weather you most likely will meet during the bike leg. Since I get cold easily I will also have with me a tight-fitting thicker winter cycling softshell jacket, rain jacket and dry spare clothing. To protect my hands I will have the Sealskinz mittens available, which I found to work perfect last year. In addition, I will bring with me a few thin wool jerseys just in case. Not that clothing preferences is extremely individual. I cannot forget when cycling over Iming plateau (after the last uphill) in 2015 in crappy weather. I had a specialized winter jacket, winter gloves and was freezing. Cycling close to me was Lars Petter Stormo, which only had a trisuit and a thin wind vest.
The run leg – to Stavsro at 37,5 km
Running the Norseman course is pretty normal other run courses, the first 25 km. Relatively flat and tarmac. For that reason, I would use the equipment you would use in a normal triathlon. It can be rather hot, but unlikely to be very cold even in bad weather (note that walking in 10 degrees and pouring rain can be cold so a thin wool jersey can come in handy if that might happen you). Equipping your support team with sponges and cold water is therefore wise. Other than that it is “business as usual”. Entering the zombiehill however it leaves the path of a normal Ironman run. The first 12 km is on tarmac and having the possibility to get support during the stage makes it no need for extra equipment. Having an MP3 player is allowed from then so keep it in hand if it makes you push harder. Going uphill is not likely to be cold either, but after around 32,5 km during the run, you are closing the flat part before going on the proper mountain trails. It can be cold and having a light run jacket, a thin wool hat and gloves available is recommended.
The run leg – from Stavsro to the finish line
The last 4,7 km is on mountain path which the first 2 km-ish is a dirt and gravel mix, while the rest is “a pile of big rocks”. The essential equipment is a backpack with all the mandatory gear described in the race manual. It is important to have sufficient equipment suitable for bad weather and from a performance perspective you want it to be as light as possible. Thin and lightweight wool products my choice as base layer and a light wind/rain jacket as an outer layer. As a former Osprey Packs sponsored triathlete I have used the Osprey Rev 6 backpack a few times and last year choose a Raidlight Responsiv 6L (former model no longer sold) instead due to weight and comfort improvements. They both work great and there is plenty of other great choices. What you are looking after is a light backpack with 5-10L space and pockets in front to have access to fluid and nutrition. When it comes to the need for trail shoes for the last part my opinion is pretty clear. You don’t need it and it will not make you run up the hills any faster.
As an extra advice to make the time after the finish slightly better is to ask someone you know to bring more clothing for you as it can be rather cold on top, also taking the elevator down. An extra wool sweater, pants and a down jacket are what I get my support to bring up for me.
Any comments or questions regarding equipment for Norseman? Do not hesitate to drop them below.