Authors : Andy Bass/Nick Rose
These notes are a meant as a guide to racing the Norseman. They are a mixture of two years of racing the Norseman, 2005 from the eyes of Nick Rose and 2006 from the eyes of Andy Bass.
They are just a few personal thoughts, advice and tips while the memory of the race is still fresh. First off, we both agree that the 12 IM’s between us this is the one that will be a dying memory. It is more a mini-adventure race than an ‘Ironman’ (won’t use the word again!) and more like a swim-bike-run-walk due to the colossal and somewhat bizarre 17KM climb that begins at 25K into the run and rises 1,800M to the top of mountain which the Norseman labels ‘a pile of rocks’. For the connoisseur ‘Ironman’ (sorry), you won’t swim a more serene swim leg and you won’t cycle a more breathtaking bike course and you certainly won’t run/walk such a weird and sinister run leg. There is a total of 5,000M climbing (3.2K bike and 1.8K run).
So perfect really. Anyway, enough of the emotional and sentimental stuff as this is supposed to be a guide.
You have to prepare for THREE different races at the same time
(1) Cold and Wet 2005
(2) Warm and sunny 2006
(3) Somewhere in between.
2005 it was (1) and 2006 it was (2). 2005 they moved the swim because the water temp was below 14 degrees, the bike leg was ranging from 15 degs at the fjord banks to 4 deg on the plateau, they also shut off the final section of the run due to snow so only one person made it to the top. 2006 at the race briefing they were expecting ‘more issues than 2005’ due to the hot weather. The water temp was 19 degrees, the bike leg around 22-24 degrees, the run was above 26 degrees. Unless you believe in long range weather forecasts and plan your race to that forecast you will have to go prepared with kit for (1) or (2) conditions which means taking a lot more stuff.
You will spend the last day or two adding things in and taking things out of your transition bags as you try and work out what you will need (but don’t worry too much as what you don’t put in your transition bags will be in your support car anyway which you can simply get what you want out of it at any time during the race). In the 2005 race leg warmers/arm warmers and windproof jackets were the name of the game but in 2006 standard IM race kit was more of the plan for the day..
Most/all of the ‘extra kit’ in both years wasn’t needed as it seems it doesn’t matter whether its hot or cold you end up taking both sets of kit and one will inevitably not get used. Here’s a list of stuff you need in case of weather changes and/or the luxury of changing your outfit for each section of the race (and even during sections if you want) which some people did. So, you might be trying to beat someone in blue during the bike and then realise he is now running in a red get up!
- SWIM – Obviously wet suit but no need for a deep sea divers outfit even when sub 15 degrees. Neoprene hat and socks are allowed and are a must if cold but not needed if warm. 2006 it was a small beach exit, 2005 it was on a load of rocks at Brimnes.
- BIKE – If warm then tri-suit. Bass used a sleeveless type tri-suit (Serpie standard issue) as most opted for a cycle top due to it being cold for the ‘flat and fast’ section after the initial 40K climb to Dyranut. People were stopping to put on leg warmers and a lot used a jacket at Dyranut but again it depends on how you like to race. All that said you have to prepare for the worst so you need a couple of cycle tops, arm warmers, leg warmers, gloves (many used them), wind jackets, shoe covers (yep took those as well), – again, my T1 transition bag consisted of towel, helmet, shoes, and tri-suit (swam in trunks – no top – and stripped off in transition).
- RUN – Again, your call, you can fully strip and start with a whole new outfit or simply pull on the shoes and get on with it. In 2005 it was a complete change because it was a relief to have dry stuff on, 2006 Bass did the latter, many did the former. You do need to have all weather options available.
BUT a key point here is that this the start of the 25K ‘running’ section so it may be wet and chilly but hey it’s a run so plenty of opportunity to warm up – In 2006 it was 26 degrees so keeping cool was key. At 25K is the start of the 17K 1,800M climb. You can change into a treble Helly Hansen neoprene outfit there if it looks like it will be cold or you can change again at 32K (half way up) or again at 37K (mountain checkpoint) as long as your support team haven’t lost you! If it’s warm then it’s simply keep going – no need to change kit.
- RECCE – You’ll want to do a recce of the course. The best chance you have is to do it backwards and do it ONCE from finish to start. If you cut short from the airport to get to Eidfjord say early Thursday then you won’t have enough time to go back over the course on the Friday due to the winding roads and it taking forever. It’s actually quite a long drive from Oslo and the Norwegians drive sooooo slowly. Some people I met joined the course at Geilo (90K into Bike) on their way to Eidfjord so they didn’t have a chance to do any recce from Geilo onwards. To be honest, your support team will worry a lot about supporting you so it’s worth letting them see what’s coming vs trying to work it out as they are going along. Bass’s dad was support and he’s 70 now. Rosey’s girlfriend was the support crew and there were 4 of us in the party so we all wanted to see the whole course. Both years the route was from from Oslo airport to the finish Hotel which is at 32K on the run and at the ‘top’ of Zombie Hill (more later). It’s quicker to get to Eidfjord by staying on Route 40 and missing out Rjukan to Geilo but the advice is to head for the finish at Rjukan and then drive the whole course backwards, there’s not a lot in it. We landed at Oslo at 11.00AM, picked up Hire Car by 12.15 and finally made Eidfjord by 9PM having driven the whole course backwards. It’s a long drive and quite winding roads so you need to land early morning if you want to do a same day reccy.
TOP TIP – Leave your bike boxes Gaustabblik Hotel which is at the finish on the Thursday as that’s the best place to stay anyway after you finish. You can partially assembled the bike in the car park, keep all the bike tools and leave the bike box there to free up room in the car.
You should definitely do this if it’s one vehicle crewing for two people (more later on shared crewing as there are issues). So, do the reccy backwards and check out the key course sections as per my notes below on ‘Race Course’.
Don’t just check it out from a competitor view but also a support view – note where there are shops and things as there aren’t that many –
TOP TIP from Bassy – I hate ‘warm beer and all things warm’ if it ain’t cold then why the hell is it in a glass! I got my dad to buy bags of ice from shops along the way and then filled up with a nice smooth Ice Cold Infinit at various places or how about Coke and Red Bull on the rocks for the Camelback on the run! (I’m salivating thinking about it). You know what it’s like on a hot IM when feed station 10 hands you that tenth cup of luke warm powerade (lovely!! – not).
TOP TIP from Bassy – I didn’t use this one but heard of someone who did/does. On last 17K of the run/walk (Zombie Hill to the Top) I was burning up bad and fast due to the height and the heat and I could see cold streams off to the side but they weren’t easy to get to or I would have taken a dip. Well, at about 20K on the run there is a bigger stream which does almost touch the road and some guy took a dunk (and probably a dump) to get his body temp down (just a thought!). I felt good at 20K so thoughts of a mid race dip weren’t in my mind but if I do this again I’m gonna dip myself in that stream before I get to the bottom of Zombie hill. I lost places on the hill that I had fought and won on the run – I think a dip in that stream would have shot some energy in. Again, it’s about 22K into the run just past the Kongsberg turn off junction.
TOP TIP from Rosey – If it’s the weather from 2005 – don’t bother, you’ll freeze !!!
- THE COURSE – There’s basic descriptions in the Norseman manual and there’s some web sites of previous runners blogs on it but they are mostly experience descriptions so heres a practical guide and use it during the recce.
- SWIM – Board the ferry, stay on the top deck area to get the big jump off the front, jump off, wait for the siren, swim to shore. It’s totally straight forward and a beautiful swim so just enjoy it. You won’t swim a better swim than this ever again. They move the swim if it’s too cold and that adds 10K to the bike which I guess would be less straight forward but still great.
Rosey – If this happens, you are following the road down the side of the fjord. Just keep the lights in view and eventually by the time it gets light, you will see the ferry port at Brimnes, just head for the rocks.
- BIKE – You can break this down in your mind into FOUR sections that are more or less the same distance and the same time element.
START TO DYRANUT (40K) – There is a long steady climb out of Eidfjord all the way up to Dyranut. It’s quite steep for the first 600M and less for the next 600M. When you drive into Eidfjord the first night you will come down the new main road and through some scary tunnels and you will think you have to cycle back up and through them but you don’t. There is an old tourist road off to the side that has it’s own little tunnels that you will be diverted through on race day and you will criss-cross over the main road. Your crew can stop to try and find you but they are better off getting you started, having breakfast at Eidfjord and heading for Dyranut.
At Dyranut there is a big yellow hotel. It’s like the only building for miles around and there is a sign saying Dyranut 1KM
TOP TIP – take a phone with you, we both ended up call.inig our support crews at some point in the day because of the extreme nature of the race.
So, the yellow hotel at Dyranut is the place to have a support crew waiting for 1st check in. You will notice in the manual that it mentions that your crew should support you on the ‘five major climbs’. They can support in other places but they prefer you to do it around the climbs. The Dyranut climb is Climb 1.
- DYRANUT TO GEILO (50K) – A cycling dream, fantastic scenery, flat to downhill, fast section of course, go for it as there are no big hill surprises. At Geilo there is a right turn roundabout where your crew will generally wait for support of check in. There’s some decent shops on the left hand side just before the right turn including a supermarket for that all important ice! If you need a burger and chips then there’s a burger bar there as well! This is a good place for a crew stop to re-fuel themselves, re-fuel you, or simply check you are all OK and to carry straight on.
- GEILO TO IMINGFELL (45K) – OK, you’ve got three climbs in this section. They are pretty much spaced out equally beginning with a 3K climb out of Geilo, followed by a 4K climb and then a final 3K climb. Support can be at or on all three climbs but you will probably only take one ‘pit stop’ at the top of say the 2nd climb before getting a move on. After these three climbs is a downhill section to the 135Kish mark where you need to make an all important right turn to the start of the Imingfell climb. There is Norseman crew around to make sure you make the correct right turn but make a good mental note during the recce in case your bike clock packs in (as Bassy’s did!!).
- IMINGFELL TO AUSBGYTE (45K) – This section begins with a 5K climb up Imingfell which is pretty steep and goes on a while and it is this climb which can ruin your run if you over do it so caution. Take a crew stop at the top and the bike pain is all but over. From here it’s a 10K flattish plateau section which drags on a little bit before a 35K free wheel drop (almost) into Austbgyte and T2. The roads is a bit bumpy but it’s fine if you’re used to Lanzarote. T2 is easy to find. You simply turn right into Ausbgyte and it’s 1K along the road to Rjukan. It’s a very relaxed transition as there are some people changing into whole new running kit etc
RUN – The run can also be broken down into four sections.
- FIRST 25K – Simple run along undulating road, not too hilly, but a bit dangerous with the cars and not much room. If you have more than one crew and they have brought a mountain bike, this is the place to have your extra help. There are feed stations at strategic points with various bits but that’s what your crew are for. At 25K you reach a left turn and the first Norseman Support area which is some basic food, warm drinks, and water with sponges. You’ll probably head for your support team!!
- ZOMBIE HILL (7K) – It’s pretty obvious why the Norseman Team have named it this. If you don’t recce this before the race then all I can say is that of you have been skiing in the alps then it’s like the final drive up to the ski-village section where the coach goes round and round 180 degree bends for an hour. It’s a 7K walk to the all important 32K CUT OFF which determines if you will be a black or white T-shirt finish. You have to be there by 15:15. Your support team can walk or MTB this section with you and all the way to the finish. They can even carry your water bottles but I felt it wasn’t a great idea to put my dad through this part of the support so he drove up!. There are two water support stations. These are quite literally a single 5 gallon bucket with ‘water’ written on them and a couple of sponges floating around. Don’t expect to see someone standing handing out water at these two stations.
- At 32K this is where you find out firstly if you are allowed to the top due to weather or if there is a potential medical problem where they can send you to white T-shirt finish if they feel you can’t go on the final 10K. This is also the road junction for the Gaustablik Hotel where the finish buffet and awards ceremony the following morning is held. Provided you make the cut off time 15:15 and provided you don’t get the medical red card, your crew can now go on to the mountain check point to get your rucksack ready for the mountain walk/climb.
- 32K TO 37K MOUNTAIN CHECK – This is yet another 5K climb but not quite as steep as Zombie hill and the odd few hundred yards of a flat section which throws up the invite to run a little
It’s about an hours walk and in 2005, its about 20 mins to run back down it. When you reach the mountain gate there is a Norseman crew who check your Rucksack, You need to take a small rucksack with you which your support team will give you at the mountain check. I didn’t take a ruck sack to Norway with me. Luckily my dad did so I borrowed his. So go buy a small ruck sack for the final 5K mountain ‘rick climb’. They require you to carry, food, 750ML water, jacket, long pants, mobile phone, 5 NOK for the loo, – camera if you want to and the obligatory beer. !!!I
You have to have a support person go with you. It’s a tough climb for even a seasoned fell runner so if your support crew isn’t up to you have to latch in to the next available competitor and their crew. At the top, you’re crew can’t get the lift down due to capacity so guess what, they gotta walk back down the 5K to the mountain check point. Good competitors (who are allowed to get the lift) are expected to walk down with them!!
THE FINAL 5K. This is the most bizarre part of the race. It’s a walk across a load of rocks and sheep trails up a really steep climb of about 600M to the top where there is a concrete sort of building and monument. The sort of place for extreme walking enthusiasts. It really drags on and you lose the trail now and again and its like walking along a large pebble beach in places (only a very hilly beach) but at least the end is in sight but it never seems to get any nearer. At the top is the complete opposite to an IM finish. Instead of the loud music and the commentator and the crowds cheering and the electronic scoreboard and chip, there is a guy with a clipboard who tells you you have finished and writes you time down on the time sheet. Someone takes a photo (I think) and someone else hands you a bowl of tomato soup. Bliss, heaven and a more memorable finish than any IM (other than with your kids). No ceremony, just the prospect of walking back down to the mountain check or headed to the old lift which is like something out of Where Eagles Dare.
FINAL THOUGHTS, ADVICE AND TIPS! – There’s a great buffet after the race at the Gaustablik Hotel so another reason to stay there. There’s also a great breakfast.
There’s a list of accommodation in the manual but if you can afford it stay at the Voringfoss in Eidford (About £110 for a twin room with breakfast). Also the Eidford Hotel was great (about £100 for a twin per night with breakfast). Norway is expensive, a couple of beers at the Voringfoss as a pre-race day drink was about £8/pint but I guess you won’t be on a drinking binge.
We also got stung a few times, cos we didn’t learn at the only place open in the evening for food, which os the pizza/burger/hotdog place in town, I reckon It was about £27 for 2 pizza’s and a diet coke each !!!
In 2005, Rosey stayed in some cabins that are advertised no the website which are easy to share between 6 people as they have bunk beds and are about 3-4k out of Eidfjord.
The pre-race briefing was great. Similar to Ironman briefing only without the razzmattaz and with some traditional music – again basic but motivating.
You can use an MP3 player in the race. Bass’s only has 6 hours battery life so it was either the bike or the run so he chose the run due to where he needed to hear The Clash the most.