The race pictures are here
We set off Wednesday 3rd August on our epic journey, lots had been made of this race, the hardest Iron Distance race in the world ! was one of the boasts. In 4 days time I would find out.
I travelled with my support crew which was mandatory and who also happened to be my girlfriend Kelly. Also in our party was Nick Campbell from Chester Tri and Tom his mate and support crew.
We decided to drive from the airport at Gardermoen to Rjukan which was the start of the climbing section of the marathon leg. This would mean we could drive the whole of the route backwards checking out vital descents and ascents and the support crew could get their bearings.
What became immediately apparent and would be the running joke for the whole week was the 6 minute weather ! It changed in an instant and never lasted as far as we were concerned more than about 6 minutes in one guise or another. Sunshine turned to rain, turned to sleet, turned to more rain and then to sunshine, repeatedly. One minute there would be a freezing fog, 6 minutes later I couldn’t see out of the windscreen as the sun was blinding me.
What else was apparent was the scenery was spectacular and never failed to impress, not like a ‘seen one hill, seen ‘em all’ it just got better and better every day we were there.
As we arrived near Rjukan which was the 17 mile point in the run we saw what all the fuss was about. Gausta Mountain
This was for us to climb AFTER doing 17 miles.
We drove up from Rjukan about 3 miles to check out the gradient of the second half of the run and decided we really didn’t want to see anymore as it was getting higher and higher and it might spoil the surprise at the end !!
The route from Rjukan took us back through the whole course backwards which I like to do (not backwards necessarily) as I like to see what’s in store but some just prefer to wait for the day. It didn’t leave me with any thoughts other than this is going to be extreme and if the weather is bad we will see some seriously late finishers on Saturday.
The best surprise of the day was the tunnels and rock faces at the start of the bike leg on the way to Eidfjord, they were beautiful, even though it was dark you could still see the enormity of the route and it was becoming a little clearer now why this was such an extreme race.
We arrived at our cabin to unpack and meet the 2 Austrians we were sharing with, Stefan and Yvonne, I just hoped they were smiling now that they realised we were real and not psychos, just in the sense of idiotic triathletes !!
Then we decided to get something to eat in town, this was massive shock number 2 and another running theme in the holiday.
Norway is EXPENSIVE !!! But not in the sense of Nice and French Riviera expensive, we are talking more than that, there was one place open all of the time which was easy to get food in, the other places shut at 8PM. The first night was spent eating a 12” pizza, nuggets and chips and 2 Pepsi’s for the princely sum of £27. And you know the worst of it, we never did learn all week !!!
The next few days were spent acclimatising to the location and checking out the first climbs. I built my bike Thursday and we went out for a quick cycle to the base of the first climb, on the approach to the first hill the cycle routes weaved around the outside of the mountain of which a spiralling tunnel went through the middle for cars you had to leave the main road as cyclists weren’t allowed in the tunnels. We had to take the old road due to reduced visibility and possible fumes in the tunnels which were up to 2km long .
The old road took in some amazing scenery but your support crew had to leave you to get to the top of the climbs, we worked this out with each other and found places to feed and refuel me.
We also had a swim on the Thursday to test out wetsuits and neoprene caps. Smithy insisted on going in without his wetsuit on as he had swum in Dover the week before and it was just as cold. However after a random local gave him some abuse for paddling up to his waist in the freezing water he reconsidered and togged up. Cold isn’t the word, its more the shock to the system that maybe told me diving in head first wasn’t a clever idea, anyway 20 mins and that was more than enough for me.
Friday was the race briefing and the time to find out how extreme this race was going to get. The first piece of news was the temperature of the water was below the recommended allowed for the race, it was currently between 11 and 12 degs in Eidfjord. So the plans for the original swim of 3.8km from fjord centre back to Eidfjord, would now entail being taken out by boat 6.2km and then swim 3.8km in the opposite direction to a place called Brimnes which was 10km away from Eidfjord. This meant that we were then 10km away from the original T1 area. ‘Not a problem’, it was announced, ‘we will just add 10km to the bike and T1 will be in Brimnes’.
‘In addition to this change we have to announce that we have had a landslide on the NEW bike route that you are now swimming to and so presently 150m of the road is missing.’ Fantastic !!!
As it turns out most of the area was being worked on and come race day there would be a 75m section that was ‘off-road’ but it wouldn’t be an issue, it just was right there and then that I considered it to be an issue !
The good news was the wind was supposed to be light and if there were any, it would likely be in the direction we were going. The bad news was the temperatures on the plateau after the 40km climb could be as low as 4-5 degrees and your support teams will need to be there with jackets for you. So with our new routes and changes in our heads and mentally prepared, we got back to rest and sort out bottles and pack the car.
As the start was due for 4.45am I decided to get up at 1.30am to feed and start to wake up, we slept through the initial alarm and woke up about 2am, not too bad as this wasn’t going to be like a normal IM I wasn’t too worried about breakfast and timing it to perfection, so to speak. Toast, bananas, weetabix and coffee started the day washed down with a bottle of Viper. We had already packed everything except the swim gear so we got in the car for 2.45am
The new T1 wasn’t actually there when we got there at 3am. The wooden boxes that the bikes were to be racked in hadn’t arrived yet so I started to get my bike kit out of the car and build my bike. Kelly and Yvonne were staying down at T1 while Tom drove us to the boat, they could rack the bikes once the prep was done. Bottles on rear cage, fill up aero bottle, put bike change into bag ready for wooden boxes and then say goodbye to Kelly, well at least for a few hours, it was now 3.30am.
The journey to the boat was about 10k and this was full of lots of jokes and setting ourselves up for the day, we had Travis in the car CD player so to end the journey we had ‘Why does it always rain on me ?’ blasting out as we arrived in Eidfjord. We didn’t realise how apt that was going to be.
Next to the boat was body marking and most of the athletes had already arrived, choosing to do this first and send their support to set their bikes up for them. I had my arm and leg marked, chip checked and they gave me my bright green swim cap. Not my colour, never gonna be my colour but if I sunk at least they weren’t going to miss me going down ! I made my way onto the boat, it was actually a car ferry, big enough to carry 5 times the people on it this morning but very adequate and very warm.
As we neared the drop off point a few of us made the first mistake of the day, we opened a door to the car deck and found the side exit from the boat. Great we thought, straight out for the warm up when its ready and we have a less cramped exit. Then came a muffled announcement which I didn’t hear much of, partly because I was wearing 2 caps and a neoprene hat and also because I was pretended to walk around the car deck stretching while I was actually having a pee in my wetsuit. Every time I stopped I ended up creating a puddle so I just kept moving and peeing !!
The problem we were about to face was one of mild panic and confusion. The announcement we had all missed was actually the 5 minute warning with 2 of them for swim warm up. As the foghorn sounded to start the swim we were still inside the belly of the boat gassing to each other.
I basically didn’t utter a word I just turned, hit the ramp and dived into the water. It was only about 4-5 ft but there were others sitting on the ramp and lowering themselves in and I wasn’t stopping.
On surfacing I realised what we had done, the majority of competitors had been on the top deck and had already gone, about 300m on us already and we had half of the boat to cover as well.
I just started to swim, to say I was pi$$ed off was an understatement but I had to think to myself, its only 300m and I will pass most of them so it will give me a target for the whole swim. And so I set about catching everyone in front. The first groups were easily picked off as most were doing breaststroke already but I set out for the lights and just kicked harder than normal.
To be honest the swim was very uneventful although all I could think was I couldn’t see anyone in front after around 35 minutes (time in my head) so the ones behind are in a huge long line drafting off me, every so often I felt a gentle touch on my toes and this kept me thinking this all the way to the harbour.
The new T1 wasn’t easy to sight at water level so I concentrated on the lights at street level about 40ft above us to the left, this meant I had to avoid a canoeist at one point as they were in dark blue and you couldn’t see them, as I got closer to the harbour the weirdest thing happened, it started moving, I know I can weave in open water but I wasn’t that bad. It turns out the ferry was leaving and I had been sighting on the white stern panels of the boat. I found a point on the harbour wall marked with the Hewlett Packard emblems, this was the exit. Nearly there. As it turns out there wasn’t anyone drafting off me, there wasn’t anyone within 50m, just mind tricks.
I had to be helped out as it’s a rock face and I was too cold to concentrate on hanging on myself, nearly misjudged taking my cap off and tipping back in to the water as I got to the top as well. Kelly’s smiling face greeted me followed by Kieran and Tom, all saying ‘great swim, under the hour’ I looked at my watch to see 58 something, good start.
T1, total disregard for the fact that there were others around, everything came off so I could get dried properly, I was still rushing though, normal T1 instincts are telling you that you should be putting helmet on while taking wetsuit off but that wasn’t going to work. I put on tri shorts, 2 short sleeved tops, arm warmers, bandana, helmet, glasses and then finally cycling shoes with neoprene covers. My core was still cold but I knew the first 10k would warm me up before the climbing started.
This is where the support crews started doing their work with out realising it, I knew when the first guy was in, what he did in transition, how many were in front approximately and that I looked good. I don’t care whether that’s a lie or not but it makes you feel good at the time.
Anyway out onto the bike with a wave.
My first problem came at about 2 miles, seriously. The part of the road where the landslide had been, I decided the day before that I was going to get off and walk the 50m bit with the rubble, but this was a race now so I rode it, 10 secs into it I heard a bang, my X-lab bottle cage had worked loose and I had lost a bottle and my spare tub. I had to go back. I got off, pushed it the few yards back and picked the bits up, put my bottle in a tube cage holder and the broken cage into my jersey along with my tub. Then I lost the other bottle, I was getting a little frustrated. Calm down. Set off again, easy breathing, small problems, easy solutions.
Before I got to the first climb I was met by Kelly on the side of the road holding my race belt, I had forgotten it in all of the kit I was putting on, school boy error in an IM but not a problem here.
I made my way to the first climb, this was to be a climb of around 20 miles in 3 stages. Once we got around the first few corners the first bit of 7% or so started, however as cyclists we aren’t allowed to stay on the main road so we get to go on the old road. This is steeper and narrower and goes on FOREVER ! This was one of the hardest slogs in the race but also the most beautiful.
Eventually it leads to Voringfoss waterfall where Kelly was to feed me. She already had 2 bottles and gels and she asked me how I was and if I was cold. Told her I would need a jacket in a few miles as the altitude meant we were getting to freezing fog and it was gonna be cold at the top.
I continued up the climb, now on the real road as the tunnels were finished. The climbing changes from around 6% to 8% at different stages on the rest of the climb but it doesn’t stop until we had reached about 50km into the bike leg. Kelly had got me the jacket about 5 km from the top and I was ready for the bottle changeover and then the fastest bit of the course.
This was where the second mistake of the day occurred. Kelly had told me I was climbing very quickly and she was surprised to see me at Voringfoss so soon, what then happened at Dyranut was part of the same. As she came past me to get to the car park and get out to feed me I flew past, by now the fog was bringing visibility down to about 20 metres and she never saw me go past. So she waited, and waited and waited until she started to panic. I had said if I don’t come past you in the right time then go back and if you don’t find me turn round and keep driving. The mistake was waiting for so long before doing either of these. She went back down the hill til it became apparent the bikers she was now passing were way too far behind me in the swim to be where I was.
So she turned round (well Neil reckons later that night in conversation that she handbraked it round 2 cyclists and left a 30m black skid mark on the road) and started towards Geilo to find me.
Meanwhile back on the bike, I thought she had gone past Dyranut and was going to get away from the mass feed area and get me about 2km or so down the road, so I kept going, and going and going. This is the fastest part of the course in places so I was doing around 35mph and nailing it across the plateau. Every climb I turned to see if she was there and kept thinking, don’t start worrying about it, we discussed this, she will catch up. Then I started to think she had an accident, then a flat tyre. Jesus, it was driving me mad and by now I had covered about 35km. I pulled in to another crew and asked to use their mobile phone, they asked me what the problem was so I told them. No problem, we will call her, you carry on.
Kelly eventually caught me up about 5km short of Geilo, very relieved to see her and I hate to admit, annoyed she had been gone so long, but after a wee break and a quick chat to make sure both of us were OK we set off as partners again.
As you turn right at Geilo you start to hit the 3 first climbs of this area. Each one is a short sharp affair of around 4km and about 7%. I put leg warmers on at this point as the plateau had taken its toll at 5 degs, my fingers were cold but I needed to keep the legs warm for the climbing.
The climbs were as expected, just a slow grind, I was doing about 7mph up each one and not catching anyone, I was overtaken once on each climb by what can only be described as mountain goats !!! Lots of spinning, and just gliding past me. I still have work to do on hills was all I could say. I was thinking back to Fred Whitton Challenge and wondering what more I could have done to make this easier but I suppose doing it twice was the answer I didn’t want to hear !!
The descents were great off each climb, long sweeping turns, a few switchbacks but well marked and at this time the roads were semi dry due to the car tyres so I stuck to those.
I was playing cat and mouse with a German girl who I later found out came second woman but every time I passed her and got a bit of space I needed the toilet again.
This is one thing that I got wrong as well, I was being fed TOO much, its great having someone pander to you but if you consider what you get in an IM bike leg, that’s really all you need, and I wasn’t sweating much so I didn’t need half of what I was taking in. Stopping for toilet breaks was annoying but it was far too cold to wee in the saddle and every time I tried to wee stood up, the cold air just proved the old adage about men and the cold !!
After the 3 smaller climbs came the last long 7km climb to Imingfjell. Just before the turning I was passed by Fredrik and Hanna who were a part of the organiser’s crew and who I knew from Nice. They were surprised to see me and told me I was doing really well and to keep going, only one climb left. That was a welcome boost.
Kelly was still driving around me on the climbs and passing me jelly babies and bottles with Coke and generally doing a fantastic job of keeping me going. On a course like this with so few competitors having your own little support keeps you going as well, every time I needed a small boost I just smiled at her and she smiled and waved back, great. Just one more climb.
This wasn’t as hard as I expected, I was already in the climbing groove and this one was just longer than the others, I set my watch for the distance and started peddling. I caught the German girl again and we climbed together for a km or 2. This is allowed in this race, the odd word here or there to keep each other going. Then I spotted the Tourist Centre at the top and decided I needed to speed up so left her.
At the top of Imingfjell there is a plateau of about 10km before the expected 30km down to T2, this is where the weather started to turn, fog at first but that broke to reveal the clouds overhead and then the rain started. Not too bad but it was getting cold again and the wind was picking up.
I decided to ask Kelly for a bottle and then send her to the first switchback to make sure I got past it.
The next 40 minutes were more of a blur, the rain started coming in and the first switchback was preceeded by a straight hill which after about only 400m I was already doing 48mph and I was braking almost 200m before the corner as it was so wet as I had no idea of the road surface. There was 3 more of these all as bad as each other, coming into a corner at nearly 50mph is bad enough but these were 180’s and it was wet and I was using carbon pads, not a good combination but everything worked fine.
Then the long descent, I have never been so bored on a down hill !! haha seriously it was mind numbing, I think I averaged around 30mph but the roads were very bumpy, you know the big tree roots that put small rises in tarmac as they branch out, these were everywhere and you had to concentrate in case you lost you grip on the drops. At one point I decided to try to pee off the bike and was riding one handed while stood up on the pedals doing around 30mph and hit one of these, I won’t be trying that in a hurry again. The rain was making it worse but it was a welcome relief to be nearly there in T2 and I was ahead of my schedule.
Kelly went ahead to put my run bag in transition and waited for my arrival in to T2
I arrived in T2 after a 7.11 bike leg.
I got fully changed, another nude transition but everyone was doing the same, I was soaked through and cold from the descent and thought the clean dry clothing would help. Kelly was there with everything I needed, more coke, sweets, water and a quick kiss and I was off again.
The first 17 miles are undulating to flat and I decided to set a 150 bpm HR which would stop me being lazy and keep me at about 8.30 pace for the first part. The first feed was 7km away and I knew Kelly wasn’t going to get to me before then as she had to pack my bike away and gather all of my T2 kit before setting off. In an IM I am used to getting a feed after about 2km so I was thinking about this as well. Thankfully she arrived after 5km and we had a quick discussion on tactics again. Feed me every 2.5 km and then go on to clock how far the next official feed station was to give me a target. I was still playing cat and mouse with the German girl as I was still stopping for pee breaks but I was running faster than her now so I knew if I kept strong I would catch her again.
The first time you see the mountain in front of you there is about 12km still to go on the flat section and all I could think was please get to the hill as soon as you can so I can walk.
I have this thing about marathon legs in an IM, if its flat you feel obliged to keep running, you might not be able to and sometimes you can’t physically because its too painful but I felt fine and it was my head that kept saying please walk. So I knew I had to keep running but I used the start of the hilly part as a mental reward. I knew once I got there I wouldn’t be able to run anyway so I had to keep running as long as I could.
The familiarity of the power station at 17 miles has never looked so good. I had done 17 miles in 2.25 and still felt strong (relatively of course).
The long walk started, it was about 10% and I knew I could power walk as long as I wanted and make the cutoff, however it was here that we learnt that they could be closing the top and my chance of a black t-shirt started to slip away.
I got moving, I quickly caught Felix, one of the German guys we had met in the airport on the first day. We started to walk together, the 2 girls, Kelly and Lena had already been talking in T2 and they continued to meet at the same points to feed us and quickly made friends through being in the same situation.
There were times when I wanted to slow down a little but I couldn’t let Felix down and I am sure there were points where he wanted to do the same but we were looking fine and talking about our goals at the top. Mine was a black t-shirt and to finish as fast as possible, his was that and a little more which I found out at the end. We also chatted about IM Germany as he had already completed it and didn’t live far from the course.
The feeding continued, I started on the Pringles and some salt biscuits Lena had, coke and the Viper I had in my camelback were doing the trick brilliantly and I had stopped wanted to go to the toilet, bonus.
At about 32km Felix had to stop for a toilet break and said he would catch me up. I continued on round the next corner to be greeted by the new finish line. But this was the false finish line in this direction.
Because the mountain top was now -2 and closed due to snow we had to continue 4.7km to the mountain checkpoint and then turnaround and come back to make up the marathon finish. I swapped my hat for a warmer one and cheekily said I would be back in a few minutes. This was met with a few laughs but I didn’t care.
The weather up to this point on the run had been very kind to me, it had rained for the last 5-6 miles of the flat part of the run, then as we went up hill it had stopped to a drizzle. It was now not raining at all where I was but I was about to get higher and I could feel it getting colder.
The last 4.7km of uphill were the worst in terms of visible landmarks, you could see loads of the road ahead, which isn’t a good thing but great because I knew that once I turned round the chair at the top it was just 4.7km back down hill. I went into the last stage at 3.58 into the marathon so the pace had obviously slowed to around 14 min miling for the last 10k or so but this was to be a last stage of two halves, the up and the down.
The up had me looking over my shoulder all of the time to check on others, the only person who was running behind me was the German girl and Felix, still there but far enough back not to worry me but close enough that I broke into a jog every chance I got. It took me 40 minutes to get to the top so I knew I had 21 minutes or so to break 5 hours for the marathon. There was nothing for it but to start running. I had learnt a few lessons from the fell running book I had read last year and knew the best way to run downhill is just to let yourself go, that’s easier said than done I’m afraid but I tried my best. There was one section I had to walk up and that was a tad steep to be running up but then it went down, down down. I was actually sprinting, can’t explain, no pain, just making sure I didn’t slip and I kept going. I did the last 4.7km in 20 minutes to finish a 4.58 marathon and 13.22 overall.
I got my black t-shirt. 34th overall and 1st Brit which I was very proud of.
My support crew Kelly was waiting for me at the end with the camera, which after watching the speed I came round the last bend just shows how much I wanted the time under 5 hours. Kelly was brilliant all day and really kept me going, as did all the support crews for all the guys we know, superstars all of them.
Felix finished a few minutes after me and then got down on one knee and proposed to Lena, who accepted. Very emotional, even in German !!
We then had the honour of waiting for the other Brits, I dried off, changed clothes, cracked open a few beers and stood and cheered with a few other competitors.
As the dark skies closed in, we headed to the official race hotel we had booked for the night close to the finish. Good choice of accommodation, fantastic views, warm, sociable and extremely comfortable beds !
Would I go back, in a flash, one of the best atmospheres in a race, and guess what it’s all in your head, you have to make your own atmosphere; you really have to want this sort of race to appreciate finishing. It’s a small race run by triathletes for triathletes and Hareks teams does a great job of making you feel welcome.
It was also great to find and get to know so many Brits, we all involuntarily stuck together at the end because it’s great to chat about why and what made you do it.
And finally this race wouldn’t work without the support crews, pick a good one cos they will be worth their weight in gold on the day, and make sure they bring the beer !!!!!!