Norseman Xtreme Triathlon 2018 was mine to win. I had my eyes on it since my DNF in 2016. In 2017 I struggled to get the physical puzzle together with my (too) hard training regime. This year, however, I was certain I was balancing the delicate knife-edge of training/over-training. Coach Carson Christen at Trisutto made sure of that. Both my training and racing had gone according to plan all year and I was certain I would win. In my head, victory was the only possible outcome. After thousands of hours of preparations, with training, logistics and equipment planning the only thing left were to execute as planned. Go out and win the race.
My first thought as I jumped out from the ferry was “this is warmer than expected”. With 17 degrees it did not feel cold at all. Of all the Norwegians I was probably the only one with a neoprene cap. A choice I did because I got slightly chilly when testing the water the day before. It was not necessary, but would certainly not destroy my swim due to overheating either.
I planned to stay on the feet to Mette Pettersen-Moe, the former swimmer who I know is faster than me, but hopefully not too fast. I also knew that she is what I like to call “good feet’s”, swimming steadily, and straight without kicking hard. Swimming to the kayaks I found Mette between two of them and had a little chit-chat before the ferrys horn blew. Laying in the dark water, sculling, shivering and waiting for the 5 longest minutes of your life is coming to an end. DOOOOOOOOO.
Like a torpedo, a guy came from behind on my right side blocking my view to Mette. 3 seconds was gone and my race plan was gone with it. The “torpedo” on the right was drifting left and I had no other option than to follow is drift if I wanted to maintain speed. The pace among the competitors felt faster than previous and I was much more surrounded by people than the years before. Unfortunately, there were no good feet in sight as they held a steady direction on my right while I and the torpedo were drifting left. I was pushing maximal sustainable effort but was not able to get ahead my torpedo and try to find my feet faster feet on the right. The train was gone. I only saw one swimmer in “striking distance” but he/she was about 15 meters ahead. I was not gaining anything, but not loosing either. I gave up and focused on my own swim technique. Get a good rhythm with high stroke rate and activated core. After about 20 minutes in the water (of the obvious reasons I did not actually look at the time) I was about 10 meters behind the swimmer in front of me and had an honest talk with myself that this is stupidity, get up to those feet’s. I had a hard effort for a few minutes and my HR-data says my HR went form 166 to 173 BPM after around 23 minutes into the swim. I made the connection(!). The swimmer was fast but not “good feet’s. She, which I later found out was the Morgan Chaffin, pulled to the right, was unknown in the course and had a very strong kick. Still, it felt very nice having made the connection and could swim with a more relaxed stroke and get my breathing rhythm back.
After 15 minutes of working to stay on the feet, I felt it was enough, and charged by on the left. Morgan increased the pace as we got on here side, but since she was aiming for the bonfire at the shore and not the yellow turning bouy left for the bonfire our paths separated. I could not see anyone in front of me which was a bad sign. How long ahead of me is Lars Christian Vold, or LC as I from now call him? 5 minutes, 7 minutes? I expected the worse with the weak swim.
You are 5 and half minutes behind Harry and 1 minute behind LC, my supporter Stian yelled to me as we ran to the bike. I could see LC taking out his bike just as I got close to mine. I was ecstatic. My swim did not suck. It was the best swim I had ever done.
1 minutes behind LC was dream come true. That I had the super-swimmers Eirik Ravnan and Harry Whilshire 5-6 minutes ahead of me did not bother me a second. I knew we would wheel them in. LC was the only one on my radar and the hunt for the lead had begun. The wolfs was out of their caves.
A minute is not much, but not nothing either. I estimated I could close the gap in 10-15 minutes in the hills, but it would have demanded that I would go above the threshold to do it. In a full distance race that is downright stupid (and the most common pacing errors of triathletes). BestBikeSplit, the software that estimates how I best use my watts said an average of 285 watts from Eidfjord to Dyranut, doing less in the flat part in the beginning and higher in the hills. I decided to be patient and stick to the plan. I was slowly getting closer to Lars Christian and after about 30 km I passed him. He did not look great, and I felt bad for him. I know he had ups and down regarding is physical shape this year and the crown and expectations following can be heavy to bear. I also know that Lars Christian is like an advanced sports car, not always able to fine-tune the engine in order to get all cylinders firing optimal, but suddenly gets it just right, during a race. That happened in 2015. That also happened this year. After getting do Dyranut, the end of the first very long climb I could see Harry and Eirik in front off me. Then Lars Christian passed me like a man who had decided to get his shit together and destroy the competitors across the Hardangervidda. I quickly decided to not try to keep up, as I would have to throw my game plan out of the window with it. The super-fast 53 km stretch to Geilo was even faster with the wind in our backs. That means going with a low watt is be wiser and save the legs for the upcoming uphills. The view across the Hardangervidda is magnificent and you can see miles ahead of you. I could see LC getting a greater distance and was not thrilled about it, especially not when I got stuck behind a caravan going downhill who got stressed out when I tried to ride pass him doing around 70 – 80 km/h. In last 10 km towards Geilo I made contact again and while having done 15-20 watts higher power output than planned I felt ready to push the 300 planned watts in the climbs.
I felt strong climbing and rode up to LC, had a small chat and passed him. I knew he descents faster and I have to compensate in the hills. In the long downhill section that followed I hoped my gap would be big enough to not be passed, but it was more a hope than a realistic outcome. He passed me.
In the next uphill, we had a talk about his amazing downhill speed. We are both riding downhill sitting on the frame as low as possible I do not have a chance to keep up, and I am more than average obsessed about aerodynamics. LC thought it was the Morf-tech handlebars allowing him to put his head so low he nearly can lick his front wheel, while I am limited by the handlebars. Looking at the video from the descents makes me agree with his thoughts. While he also is around 7 kg heavier he also is getting a smaller frontal area. The chat was nice but I had to pull away going uphill as we still had long downhill sections to come where I knew he would be faster. Improving my aerodynamics will be a focus ahead, but hard to do during a race. This uphill/downhill-battle was a thrill. Someone asked if we planned to ride together but no. I tried to ride away from him uphill and am pretty sure he did not wait for me in the downhill sections. We knew that it was a fight between us and no one wanted to give anything away. LC is insane the last downhill actually sitting on his frame going down the one the bumpiest road in Norway. I kept my promise about not touching the breaks until the first hairpin turn even if I was scary close to going out in the woods at 70 km/h. Being done with the 4 km downhill I had lost no more than 10 seconds. Awesome!
I am pretty sure that the last 20 km until T2 never have been ridden that was with so low watts. With a tailwind and slightly downhill I had an average speed of 55 km/h doing 154 watts. Pedal as hard as you can for 10 seconds and then sit on your frame until it flattens out. Repeat until Austbygdi. I considered trying to pass LC and get a small distance into T2. With considerably increase in watts that had to be put down to increase speed since the aerodynamics would have been drastically decreased getting from the tube up to the seat, and not worth it at all. I came into T2 just a few seconds behind LC in the best bike split of the day and only 14 seconds slower than the all-time bike record set by LC the day before.
Running out of transition was a blast. I felt great. The bike leg had gone exactly as planned, my calorie intake had gone exactly as planned and except some cramping in the early part of Imingfjell, I had no issues what so ever. I quickly passed LC who only had a 10 meters gap coming out of T2, but from my view, he had a good running technique. My first kilometre was done in 3:41min/k, and the next 3:42. I was flying and feeling great.
The pace went into a more realistic sustainable pace but was really high. The first 10 km was done in 38 minutes and I was still feeling great. It was 26 degrees and sunny so I could definitely feel the heat but we were very well prepared with a cooler in the car with ice cubes ensuring that I had three ice cubes at all time. One in each hand and one in the groin, the most effective places to cool the body. It took less than 5 minutes before they melted which says a lot about how effective they were. I was doing great and got these unbelievable splits. 7 minutes ahead at 10 km. 14 minutes ahead at 15 km and more than 22 min at the base of Zombiehill(!). I had hoped for 5 minutes. I was crushing them. Sadly LC struggled with a leg injury and no one else was around.
I had mentally prepared for having to “do the job” alone. I was going to run as hard as I could until I collapsed. Run until you die Allan. That did not happen at all. I kept a steady pace going uphill loosing a few minutes to Kjell Magnus Antonsen, who was second but still with a huge gap. It is not possible to run 22 minutes faster than me from Zombiehill and up. My team was also prepared for my “I feel sorry for myself and try to find excuses to stop hurting my self”-mental state. When I asked about the other the shouted that I should focus on myself and go for the course record, which was within striking distance. They were not able to change my mental focus. I was tired and nauseous of all the gels. I just wanted it to be over. I had Stian on an E-bike with food with me in Zombiehill which Jenny rode on after 32,5 km, as Stian had to take the shuttle bus to Stavsro.
We had hope that my gap would be big enough so that she should leave me by myself a few km so she could take the elevator up to Gaustadtoppen being there as I finished. We decided that the gap was big enough. Coming in Stavsro I got my backpack on and started the last effort of a long day, the climb to the top. As usual, I struggled with cramps in the early parts as it is steep and I am not able to get my running speed up. Stian, my runner tried to make me the vicious hunter I can be, but I did not change. I had an 18 minutes lead and was certain it would be enough. I wanted to secure the victory and not do anything to risk a sprain or a cramp powerful enough to stop me completely. I tried to rationalize the decision to keep my level of hurting to a minimum. My time loss compared to LC, who got his speed up in the hills, from Stavros to 40 km was unbelievably 10 minutes, on a 2,5 km section(!). My speed did pick up when it flattened out before the last hard uphill, but as I could not see anyone behind me I was sure that I could not get caught. After a heavy rain shower the sun came out and Stian and I had a great time going uphill knowing that we would cross the finish line first. Jenny was there waiting for me, Jonas was there waiting for me. My mother, grandmother, my brother, my in-laws. Basically half of the people I know were standing at the top waiting for me. The feeling of crossing the line with every single of the other competitors behind was amazing. And embracing my wife, Stian and Jonas were even better. Seeing that Kjell Magnus Antonsen crossing the line under 10 minutes after I was also very nice as he is a true inspiration with his amazing effort training himself to the level he has in his age. Seeing LC (who I had heard had quit the race) coming in right behind him also gave me a huge smile.
You can see me crossing the finish line and the interview afterwords above
As LC did finish the race with mixed feelings I actually had the same. I had a great performance (in my own view) until Zombiehill. Then it was just ok until Stavsro was my finish was poor. I am disappointed that I was not able to keep my mental focus where I trained it to be. Looking forward and hunt. Go as hard as you can until you pass out. Instead, I chickened out, using my big gap as an excuse, a crutch to stop the discomfort. While winning was my goal, it was not my most important goal. I wanted to perform at my potential and go to the depths of my reserves and beyond. I want to explore and push my limits. That is not what happened. To put things in perspective, my running time in 2015 was more than 20 minutes faster than what I performed today. I know I can combine a 54 min swim, with a record fast bike and a record fast run on the same day. That will, however, demand that I do the physical, but more importantly mental work needed to go there. I truly hope both LC and myself, and hopefully, some other good pros will meet in Eidfjord again and give Norseman the epic battle it deserves.
I truly will thank everyone who did this day awesome. Obviously, my main supporters did an astonishing job, but also everyone who cheered me along the way. The Norseman organization with all their amazing volunteers made this year Norseman the best-organized Norseman I had raced in. And thanks to my sponsors:
- Baker Hansen
- Boardman Bikes
- Best Bike Splits