Team Meglio athlete Sophie Whitworth has conquered the Norseman! The Norseman is considered one of the toughest triathlons on the planet, with the BBC describing is as ‘The race for people with minds tougher than their bodies’. Here is her story and her words after one of the toughest triathlons on the planet:
My number came up last year unexpectedly in The Norseman ballot after 5 years of trying. I wasn’t quite prepared for it but its one of those decisions you can’t linger over as they give you a week to confirm your entry.
Inspired by stories from Laurence Plant my Chiropractor who is a top 20 Celtman & Swissman finisher & who is a long serving “ballottee” of the Norseman [8 years] I was suddenly in my first Xtreme Triathlon.
The same distances of my beloved Ironman distance were on the agenda 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2 km run, but with every likelihood the water would be 13 degs & a certainty of 3,000m ascent on the bike & 1,700m ascent on the run. I had to have a support crew of min. 1, max. 2 people, & as I had hoped Laurence was keen to join Mike & I. The training effort went to plan in the UK, Lanzarote & Tenerife, including quite a few jump practices as the race starts with a leap off the back of a car ferry! In the preparation phase I ran more than ever before, I was pushed by Alex Partridge to get my headtorch on for long Tuesday morning runs & finally I enjoyed the Hambleden Hilly after a Sunday bike ride – I knew it would come in handy. I made myself swim in cold water far earlier than normal & with our training trip to Tenerife really helped as I knew the bike climbs were in the bag. The spare room looked like an expedition to Mt. Everest was underway with many kit changes forewarned by other previous Norseman competitors. I took over all the baggage allowance of 3 people & managed to use quite a lot of the kit to be honest.
We flew to Oslo picked up our car for the trip & headed towards the eventual end of the race to check out the mountain top finish. After a 14hr day checking out the course in reverse through Nordic ski country we made it to our idyllic cabin on the edge of Hardangerfjord famous for its soft fruit production. With snow capped glaciers above us we swam in skins in the Fjord at 9 pm, with no sign of fading light. The next few days we relaxed, we swam, & ran up a steep climb to get our eye in before being one of the last ones to check in at the IKEA style registration at Eidfjord. The goal is the mountain top finish at Gaustatoppen to win a Black T shirt just the same as the Pros, no more & no less.
Luck was on my side & on race day the usually brutal Norseman conditions were replaced by one of the hottest weekends in Northern Europe ! The water was a balmy 16 degrees but there was still a reasonable chill into hill fog up the first climb making bike layers the order of the day. By the end of the bike leg I was down to summer kit & being doused in spring water by the team to keep me cool. At one stage I passed Greg Whyte who looked like he was cooking in his aero lid, I was thankful of my vented helmet having suffered the same fate at IM Mallorca few years ago.
“Don’t think, just jump” was what they were chanting to us on the ferry as we jumped into the Fjord @ 4.45 for the 5 am start. A pro start of circa 60 athletes competing in the Xtreme Tri world championships headed off before The Norseman 2019 field, this was quite cool for us age groupers as they didn’t count on the podium this year! I swam quite clear of trouble & then spotted the bonfire on the beach whilst breathing into the air pocket of Louise Minchin [BBC Bfast presenter] for the last 800m ! I came out if the swim around 5th & then set about the more challenging aspects of the day.
I decided not to watch time on my Garmin & flicked it only once at 4 hrs 30 into to see how the time was doing as there was quite a lot to focus on. I was fixed on my power & I was trying to eat but the food wasn’t going in too well, I wasn’t panicking too much but I think Mike & Laurence in the support car were getting a bit nervous for me. The first 2 hrs seemed tough as a permanent climb to 1800m set in, with a quirky element of riding through a few dimly lit tunnels with lights & high vis jackets mandatory items. As usual the men’s field were trickling past me. As time went on I ticked off the 5 climbs & started to pass the faster men now finding themselves in the locker. I had no idea it would be so hot, this is how I like it ! I moved up the field & lost few places heading out onto the run in 4th.
I felt like I was flying on the first 25 km of the fast, flat by now very hot run. Stunning views to the left of a massive lake kept me company until I saw Mike & Laurence again. They were as on the bike leg all over this “support crew gig”. The support crew is the aspect that sets these races apart, it’s a huge team effort. Your support is your everything. They are there in every transition to help to change & pick up all the kit you discard in this point to point trek across Norway. my inhibitions you have get cast aside as everyone strips down to get changed into full gear for the longer legs than normal. You then see your team every 20-30km on the bike responding to every need, like me growling, “No more bars give me shot-blocks.” Every time I passed the boys I was getting the “keep eating instructions” from the car. It was a bit like the Tour de France trying to keep the team principles happy, I was under scrutiny like never before !!
T2 is hilarious its only big enough for 20 bikes at one time so you just roll through & you are off. We did another full kit change with the longest run I have ever done lying ahead it seemed worth it.
With car space a premium my bike was dismantled into the bike box in T2 before the car started to pick me up at 6 km on the run. By then I had passed quite a few blokes starting to loose it & I had such positive comments from all the support cars I was in my element.
Everything was going super well, I had a bout of sickness at 20km but I am used to that & I just cruised on. Laurence joined me a 25km into the run roughly 9.5hrs into the race & we got into 3rd place at this point. Laurence was allowed to run with me from 25km to the mountain top at Gaustatoppen from this point, 1700m of climb. Mike led on in the car with more supplies & the mountain packs for the top section. I ran for the most part up the infamous Zombie Hill, 10km with the chat of Laurence in my ear. As regular at his spin classes I am used to this, but one person out hiking asked if he could make her a podcast of his motivational chat !
Sickness was my problem as I hit around 32 km & I had to steady to a walk.
We started the final climb in 3rd but had to be happy with 4th in the end as we got passed at some point when we weren’t looking. That said I was well beaten on this section with more sickness & a slumping heart rate. It was advisable not to look up with the trail changing from a hard path to a rock scramble all the time & the tower at the top of the mountain looking an eternity away. The support crews of the Pros & best men age groupers were making their way down. This was inspirational stuff as they were being so supportive in their comments. It gave me more of a boost as I vowed never to eat a shot block or drink coke ever again. Even a crisp wouldn’t make it into my stomach & as I am such a crisp- aholic this speaks volumes. Arriving at the top in 14 hrs 02 this was definitely my longest competition in my life but in lots of ways it went too fast.
I knew this race would be tough, looking back it went in a flash. I did look at the landscape for once & savoured this adventure as I am not sure I’ll get this chance again. I am left wanting to do it again & more Xtri events. It’s a far cry from the Ironman M-dot races & puts them right in the shade. It was an epic trip with 1300km covered in the support vehicle, x 2 Air B&B’s smashed, lots of swimming in Fjords in skins, jumps off jettys, sunbathing, tonnes of crisps eaten …plus we found out they don’t sell booze on a Sunday in supermarkets in Norway, who knew…not good news after The Norseman.
I am a bit broken but delighted to be the proud owner of a white #Norseman t-shirt after a very long tough brilliant day in the stunning Norwegian countryside. A brilliant experience. Thanks for all your support for @mindcharity and thanks to everyone at @nxtri. Next plan, rest. pic.twitter.com/FGOPoEsKVN
— Louise Minchin (@louiseminchin) August 4, 2019
Thanks to my amazing support crew, I hope Laurence gets his slot soon [law of averages says yes!] & Mike recovers for Ironman Florida quickly, it’ll be a breeze [!].
I’m indebted to all my training partners back home who I have lent on so heavily, but in particular Lauren Davies who takes on IM Copenhagen this weekend, go well, & Alex Partridge who sets the bar soooo high for me!
Many thanks to Meglio for all your support, you are all the best xx