Monday, August 22, 2016

Norseman 2016 - it was all for a tshirt. Worth it.

Before I even get into the nitty gritty of this race, I feel like I need to preface the lead-up to my departure for Norseman. One week before I left, Pabu passed away suddenly. It left me pretty heart broken and emotionally drained. At one point, I even wanted to just stay home. It affected me deeply and I think it's because we had to euthanize him and he died in my arms. It was intense to say the least and will stick with me forever. I mean, I mastered the ugly cry that night. It was raw and guttural (did not even know I had that in me), and my cheeks were chafed from the rubbing for a few days. I'm sorry little Pabu and I miss you so much.

While I was not feeling to up to my trip, I trudged on. Norseman was a dream I couldn't give up. So on Saturday, I loaded up the Jetta and began making my way to Denver (it was WAY cheaper to fly out of Denver). I was heading up the pass out of NM when EVERY WARNING LIGHT CAME ON IN MY CAR. Uh oh. Oh crap. CRAP. I turned around and limped my car into Raton, NM. It just so happens there were no mechanics open on a Saturday. Go figure. WELL THEN. My options were pretty slim. The first was to tow back to Santa Fe for a couple grand (worth more than the car) or to get it repaired (no mechanics and it would cost more than the car was worth). Logan and I were planning on waiting at least a little while longer to buy a car, but I guess this just got moved up. So I manage to ease my car over to Ford. Luckily, I had been eyeballing the Escapes for awhile now and we are now owners of a brand new 2017 Ford Escape. Sweet. I have not even gotten to Norway yet and have already spent 30K. PERFECT.  I said goodbye to the little Jetta and loaded my crap up and finished my journey to Denver.

At this point I was starting to panic a bit and get superstitious BECAUSE bad things come in threes guys!

ALSO, before I go any further - my support crew was fantastic. My mom and Jessica were my rocks through everything that went wrong during the day and LITERALLY held me up through the finish. I had the easier job of just having to swim, bike, and run. They had to follow me the whole day providing me food, drinks, and moral support. They were amazing and seeing them every few miles kept giving me that extra push to keep going.


First, I will say that anyone that starts this race or wants to do this race has some guts. I met some fantastic and insanely tough athletes here and I learned that in the end it didn't really matter if someone got the white or black tshirt. Everyone that finishes Norseman has accomplished something very special and it is something to be proud of. I highly recommend people put this race on their bucket list. It is beautiful, rugged, and one of the hardest things you will ever do, BUT every minute of it is worth it.  I will be putting my name in again because I feel I have unfinished business and I can only hope I am lucky enough that my name is drawn again.

We arrived in Oslo on Monday before the race and stayed there for a few days before heading 5 hours west to Eidfjord, the town where the race starts. Oslo was awesome! We got to do some sight-seeing while we were there which included seeing the ski jump from the Oslo Olympics, a viking museum, the royal palace, running through sculpture gardens, precarious driving through the city center, LOT'S OF ROUNDABOUTS, and swimming in an awesome outdoor pool next to the sculpture gardens. I wish we had more time there and someday I plan on going back to be a normal tourist. We left for Eidfjord on Wednesday and took the long route to preview both the run and bike courses. I cannot tell you enough how beautiful this course was. It literally took my breath away. Of course, that could have been from seeing Zombie Hill for the first time, but we will attribute it to the beauty of the region. We ate lunch at the hotel near the finish of the race and then headed to Eidfjord by driving the bike route. The bike route has some nasty climbs, but the descents are worse. Some are very technical (HAIRPIN) and the roads are not in the greatest condition. Especially Immingfjell. Immingfjell turned out to be my nemesis for this race.

I'm coming back for you Gaustastoppen

We arrived in Eidfjord later that evening and our first glimpses of it were spectacular. The town is situated in one of the most famous fjords in Norway and it looks like something out of a storybook (we loved this word during the week). I felt like I could pretend I was on an epic journey in Lord of the Rings. 
Lord of the Rings guys

The weather was chilly, which was a nice change from the weather at home. It was nice to bust out some cold weather riding and running gear. Also, it took some getting used to the long hours of daylight. Anyway, I got all checked in on Thursday and as soon as that wristband was on, things started feeling real! I had some fantastic last workouts around the area, including an awesome race sponsored group swim - complete with coffee (my support team loved that part!) and cookies. The swim ended with us eating breakfast in our wetsuits so we could eat before it closed. That was a life goal I never knew I had. The prerace meeting was pretty fun too and a reminder of WTF DID I GET MYSELF INTO. One thing they did say and has stayed with me, is that Norseman isn't so much a race as it is an experience. Completely true - I am hoping that this wasn't a once in a lifetime opportunity - I really want the lottery gods to pick me again!

On race eve, the nerves really started hitting me. We had an early night since we had a 2:00 am wakeup for a 5:00 am race start.  I think I maybe got 3 hours of sleep, simply because I couldn't get to sleep with the nerves. I felt like I had just fallen asleep when all the alarms started going off. It was finally race day. FINALLY. I had most all my gear ready from the night before, so I ate breakfast and headed down to transition to check everything in. Transition was nice and small since this race only takes 250 people. It definitely made for a more intimate race atmosphere. Around 330 I got into my wetsuit for a 4 am boarding onto the ferry. The atmosphere on the ferry was pretty intense. Personally, I was totally geeking out that I was finally going to make the iconic Norseman ferry jump! I was also getting nervous, but the ferry jump trumped the nerves at this point. One great thing they do on the ferry is pump up the seawater so you can acclimate to the cold temperature prior to the jump, WHICH REALLY HELPS. I stood under the hose for a bit and then the ferry stopped. SQUEEEEEEE!! They opened up the hatch (is that the right word?) and I had restrain myself from jumping up and down, but we all cheered! 
 I'm somewhere jumping in

I made my way to the front and got ready to jump. Around 445ish is when they started letting us jump in and swim to the start, which was marked by a line of kayaks. I should mention that it was still darkish out and I was mad at my goggle choice of tinted goggles. Not that it mattered anyway since there were no bouys on this swim - just follow the shoreline back to the dock. This was the most beautiful swim ever. It was actually a little rough because race day weather decided to not be nice like the day before so we had some chop and wind. Also, the swim is longer than the normal 2.4 miles, but that isn't surprising since we don't follow a bouy line. Anyway, the swim was calm and I swam by myself the entire time. Not surprising since there were less than 300 competitors. I had a kayaker following me for company for a lot of it, but otherwise it was the ultimate in solitude. As I got into shore, I was informed that I was second female out - only behind the woman who would go on to win the women's race, Kari. I have to give a shout out to her because she and her husband helped us so much on route planning and helping me feel comfortable with what was to come. I was so excited to see that she had won! Fun thing about this race - there are no change tents, so deck change time! I also managed to flash people on accident pulling my wetsuit off. I should have just ridden in my wetsuit because weren't going to be dry for long. After pulling on all my gear it was off to what would be one of the more adventurous bikes I have ever had.

Pretty much everything started going wrong within 10 km on the bike and into the first big climb. My rear breaks were rubbing on my wheels. No big deal, I'll just pull off a washer and then be on my way. Right, well, I did this, but then my brake pad would not tighten back into place, so brake pad was hanging there the entire race, and yeah, rubbing was still happening. That wasn't the only thing going on. I was skipping gears a hard time shifting, so I stopped to fix that too. Welp, after that fix, I was still wondering why the hell it was still so hard to pedal and why I was cranking so hard, and I would later check my drive train to see that things were slightly bent. PERFECT. Did I mention I had them check out my bike the day before the race (I wonder if they even did)? This all happened within the first half of the bike and I lost a lot of time (and energy) and was pretty heartbroken realizing just how much it made me fall back. OH and as all of this was going on, we had the worst weather they have ever had since starting this race. 40 degrees, freezing, rain, and hail! I mean I was cold, but I think my mind was so piseed off at how my bike was going and effing hard it was to pedal that it helped me not think about the cold (small wins right)? Anyway, I knew I was out of black tshirt contention somewhere nearing the last climb of the bike and was trying to pump myself up that it would be ok and getting to the finish was the goal now. There was nothing I could do to fix what happened; shit happens. 

And so I began my ascent to Immingfjell. Maybe a quarter to halfway up Immingfjell, I felt a pop and a whole crap ton of pain in my right knee. OH CRAP. WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?! HOLY EFFING BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP THAT HURTS! I couldn't peddle well on that side because of the pain and it kept cracking. I basically favored my left side up the climb, while trying to "spin" my right leg. Eventually I made it to the top, going so slow my mom and Jessica thought I was going to fall over. I took a potty break at the top and told them my knee popped and it really hurts, but I had decided I wanted to keep going. Luckily, that was the last of the climbing and I could spend the last part of the bike spinning out trying to get things to loosen up. Somewhere on the plataeu, while I was trying to spin things out, I felt another pop and the pain dissipated a bit. SWEET RELIEF. Well for the time being. Finally, I made it to the final descent, which just happens to be the most technical, and I seriously prayed the entire way down that my rear brake pad wouldn't fall off. My bike and I made it to T2 in one piece over 2 hours hours slower than expected.

My biggest memory of T2 was telling myself don't sit down and don't cry because I would have quite. Go through the motions and keep going. I know the knee hurts, but it's only a few miles (26.2) to go. I was pulling out every mental stop in the books. I changed out of my wet clothes, went through the motions, and got out of there. I could feel the pressure building in my knee. I knew it didn't have much left in it, so I ran as far as I could before it really started to swell and I switched into "guts" mode. People kept passing me and my moral was getting low at this point. I have never been in that situation before - worried over cutoffs, finishing at night, being last - I was embarrased. I kept thinking people would think less of me if I finished last or would laugh at how slow I was going. NO. I had to stop thinking like that. No one is going to be let down by where you finish, they will only be let down if you don't finish (even then I think they wouldn't care - like I said, it takes balls to start this race). What I needed to remember was in that moment I was doing something I love, no matter the outcome. I would never forgive myself if I quit, busted knee or not. The beauty of doing these races, is that it gives me control of my mind. I don't have the daily racing thoughts or difficulty focusing, I actually have complete control of my mind. They are my zen even though it is very painful and challenging. Unless I pass out (been there), I won't give up. So I trudged on. 

Eventually I got to zombie hill, which totally lives up to its name. I think my mom and Jessica knew how bad I was hurting at this point because mom let me know she was coming up zombie hill with me. I actually had to tell her to slow down going up. My knee was too swollen to bend at that point, so it was an insanely slow, starting to limp, up a 10% grade for 4.7 miles. We got to the medical checkpoint at the top and they let me move on knee and all. There was a slight downhill right after the turnoff heading to the finsh (still 5 miles to go at this point) and I actually screamed in pain because that downhill took my by surprise. My mom said I was cutting off the circulation to her hand as we slowly made our way down lol! Downhill was MUCH worse than up. I told my mom at this point I was reminded of Derek Redmond in the 1992 Olympics where he was injured during the 400m dash and his father ran out on the track and finished with him. That is one of my favorite Olympic stories and that moment I could relate to it. I was starting to get emotional at that point, but I knew I was going to make it.

Jessica had gone ahead and parked the car at the finish and came back to meet us as we were closing in on the finish area where you get to do 10 loops around the perimeter. 10 loops was just torture, but Jessica was so awesome in helping me take my mind off the pain and we were playing the things that come in ones, twos, threes for each loop. With two loops to go I was leaning heavily on her and any weight I was putting on my leg was too much to take on. It was at that point I started to cry. I tried not to, but the pain, the emotion of the day, and the fact that it was nearly 19 hours out there was just too much. I got to cross the finish line with her and the Norseman volunteers, which made for one of the most special moments in my athletic career even though I was last. I never thought I would be the one finishing last and my initial Norseman dreams were crushed, but I finished, injured, on one of the hardest courses in the world, 6.5 hours slower than my SLOWEST full distance time (12 hours).

Post-race knee - it got even bigger

In the two weeks since the race I have had nothing but support and congratulations about my race. So many people I didn't know would follow me, tracked my race - including my coworkers! I was right, no one would care where I finished, everyone just said how excited they were for me and asked where the tshirt was. The tshirt is safe at home and my most precious finisher swag yet. Norseman taught me a lot about myself. I never thought I would be a person who could tough it through like that, but in the moment nothing mattered but that finish. I can look back on this race and be proud of what I did. Although, hopefully I can come back one day to have the race I wanted and finish the unfinished business. I will be putting my name in every year until I get that email again!

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