Saturday, August 12, 2023

This is for me - Norseman 2023

I don't even know where to start - I'm still in disbelief and overwhelmed that Norseman actually happened. I'm not sure how I was physically and mentally able to do that and the whole experience was just so surreal. I feel like I've been fighting for so long and now that it's over, I don't even know how to feel.

First things, some advice for future Norseman athletes. This is nothing like an ironman. Sure it shares the same distances as an ironman, but they aren't even remotely the same in terms of race approach. Just because you've gone xx:xx time in an ironman, doesn't mean you will even be on par with your results in Norseman. Take that time, throw it away, and respect Norseman for what it is. I learned that hard lesson in 2016. I was bitch-slapped and humbled by that race. Because of that though, I came into 2023 with a much better mindset. It's a clean slate when you start Norseman. Sure, I've had great results at normal Ironman races, but that meant nothing in a race that makes athletes cry at every turn and the battle with the elements is every bit a part of this race. I've never dug deeper within myself to finish a race than I have at Norseman both times. Also, this race is now the Xtri World Championships. It is seriously competitive and these Xtri specialists are insane! Short version of this story: Norway is still stunning and I got the black tshirt. For more details, please read on. But first pictures of the scenery from race day:

Voringfoss waterfall on the bike course

Swim in a fjord.

Mt Gausta pre-storm

When I found out I got a spot in November, I was stunned. I hadn't expected lightning to strike twice. I got in on my first try in the lottery in 2016 and I only had to wait 7 years for my second chance. There are people that have been waiting so long for a spot and I'm lucky enough to have had my name drawn twice. So even though Norseman wasn't even on my radar (I literally put my name in right before they closed registration for the draw!), I knew I had to take the spot since you never know when your next chance will be.

We all know what happened next - I strained my hamstring again in December and took some time away to rehab it. Then once I was finally coming back from things, I was attacked by the dog. So yeah, we were panic training into Norseman 😅 In all seriousness, the last 3 months have been so hard. Mentally and physically, it's been difficult to remain positive. Shit hurts. Being in pain is draining. I tried to focus on the good and that I get to race Norseman, but even that had lost some of it's allure because I knew I wasn't going to have the fitness I would want going into the race. And I knew my body was going to protest it all the way.

But with the support of my friends, family, my physical therapy team, and my actual therapist, I pushed forward and before I knew it, we were flying to Norway. We met Liz in Oslo since she was on travel prior and flew straight from there. She was very happy to be reunited with her bike and went on many bike adventures in Norway, which I am very envious of. Next time I go to Norway, it will be to play bikes.We spent a few days in Oslo, then made our way to Eidfjord and it was just as spectacular as I remember it being. There was one hiccup with my rear brakes and they needed to be recabled, but really the lead up to the race was pretty calm and we really enjoyed our time. I REALLY MISS NORWEGIAN BREAKFAST SPREADS. 

Before I knew it, I was up at 2:15 on a Saturday morning getting ready to tackle this monster again. I was so calm until the night before and then was a bundle of nerves. I barely slept (but no one does honestly) and I questioned my sanity more than once that morning. I've been questioning if my body could actually still physically do this race. My anxiety was through the roof. The reality is though, I get to do this. And I'm so very lucky that I am able to do this. Anyway, after forcing breakfast in my face, we got my crap into transition, I grabbed my ferry snax and water, gave mom and Liz big hugs, and boarded the ferry. 

I wrote that I'm not sure if words can describe the ferry at Norseman on a post earlier this week There are none. Both times it has felt like I'm living an out of body experience. Like "is this really my life?" I got my wetsuit on and before I knew it they were pumping the fjord water up so we could acclimate to the temperature. And then they lower the hatch (is that what is called?) and they put the Norseman banner up. This is when you know shit is about to get real. I swear both times I have made this jump, time slows down. At 450 am, they start "the jump." Then you swim out to the swim start. My heart beat was roaring in my ears and I had to remind myself to take deep breaths. When my time came to jump, I stepped off and remember thinking, "let it go." For those fleeting seconds I was falling into the fjord, I felt so at peace for the first time in years. Cliche? Probably, but my mind hasn't given me peace since dad was diagnosed. Then I hit the water and it was just this feeling "what will be, will be." I haven't felt that in so long. I swam over to the swim start and got myself ready to go.

                                                               It me! Jumping off the ferry!

The ferry horn blew and we were off! It was windy and the currents were strong, so much like last time, I knew this would be a slow swim. I don't mind that though, since it does give me an advantage as a strong swimmer. However, when I made the turn back to the pier and the swim finish, I quit triathlon a lot lol! Surprisingly, I ended up being first female out of the water even after falling over five times because my calf cramped up getting out of the water. Luckily the guy who had been drafting on my feet for the swim helped me up along with the volunteer and I was up and out of the water. The live feed did catch this all on video in case you want to watch me fall over a lot. Liz met me in transition and had to show me where the heck my bike was since I had forgotten already 😂 She helped me get ready to go and as I started getting too ahead of myself, she reminded me I have lots of time and to get settled in. For those interested in bike start gear: I swam in my sports bra and tri shorts, put a jersey on in transition, my required reflective vest, socks, light gloves, and then I did have toe covers on my bike shoes as a "just in case." I knew I was going to get hot on the climb, so I kept the clothing minimal.

All smiles on the first climb out

And then I was off. The first climb is long, with the bottom having the steepest pitches. To be completely honest, it felt pretty damn good. I may have overrode a bit, but it's so rare that I am climbing mountains with oxygen around! I made sure to soak in the scenery - this bit of the world is so insanely beautiful. I felt ok with going a bit harder on this climb, knowing that after Dyranut at 36 km, it was a net downhill to Geilo at 90 km (you still get a good chunk of elevation gain in those kms, but net down 😅). I made it up to Dyranut in less than 2 hours, which is stellar for me. Surprisingly, the weather was good on the plateau. Chilly, but not raining. And no hail. *shivers in 2016 Norseman* Liz and mom helped me refill my bottles, onboard more nutrition, and I threw on my waterproof wind jacket. 

 Was the medical car just tailing me because they know my history? 😂😂

The kms to Geilo were pretty uneventful. I just focused on taking in nutrition, staying down in aero as much as I could, and conserving energy for the back end of the bike course. My muscles were feeling a bit twitchy and tight, but I think that was partly due to the temperature change and they were cold from the net downhill. I got to Geilo and met up with mom and Liz again. I was facing a lot of demons on this bike course, and I got emotional knowing what was coming in the last half of the course. Those were my first tears of the day and Liz reminded me that I got this. So off I went to start the first of the 4 major climbs in the last half of the course. None of them are particularly steep, or at least they didn't feel as difficult as riding around Santa Fe, but I knew Imingfjell loomed and it was waiting for me. I played chicken with a few dudes - I'd catch them on the climbs and they'd fly by me on the descents. It helped pass the grind through those miles. Finally, on the last descent, I saw it, Imingfjell. We had planned a stop right before the climb started, mostly because I knew I would need moral support and caffeine. After that brief stop, it was time to climb the mountain that broke my knee last time. Surprisingly, it felt good. I felt strong and was able to get into a steady cadence and spin up the mountain. I crested the top in 35 min. For reference, in 2016, that climb took me nearly an hour. I saw mom and Liz one last time at the top, breathed a sigh of relief, and started the grind to where the descent to T2 truly started. Yeah I know, you don't get to go down immediately after Imingfjell. RUDE. 

My sigh of relief was short lived. About 5 min into the plateau on Imingfjell, the Norse gods decided that it was time to fuck shit up. The skies opened up into a downpour and the thunder was rumbling. The descent from Imingfjell is technical so I was holding on for dear life and trying to stay warm. Once I got to the long downhill drag to T2, I tucked in the best I could and again, tried to conserve energy. I definitely lost some spots on that descent, but I didn't want to risk getting taken out and not being able to finish. 

By the time I made it to T2, I was definitely shell-shocked and cold. I wasn't even sure I could run after that. Liz and mom must have seen it in my face, because they got me out of my wet clothes, into a dry base layer and socks, and got me moving again. Since my watch had died (as well as my bike computer lol), Liz lent me hers for the run and off I went. It took me a good few miles to feel like I was still in this thing again - I was really out of it at the start of the run! Liz had reminded me to settle in and I knew I needed to take this in chunks. I had decided on a 10 min run, 30 sec walk since I came into this race with not the greatest run base and I did not want my hamstrings to flare up. This ended up working very well and the miles ticked by. I should mention that they had closed the mountain top finish due to the lightning that was moving through and while I was sad about it, I still had a black tshirt to get. I kept ticking through my run-walk, and finally, by 25km it was time to start Zombie hill. I came through that check in 150th (top 160 make the black tshirt cutoff) - oh man was I nervous now! Since I had topped off nutrition a few km before, I didn't need to stop at the base and gained a few places back. Liz said she would catch up, so I kept moving forward. The power hike was on!

Zombie Hill was rough to say the least. My back and the sciatic nerves decided it was the perfect time to start acting up. Lot's of whimpering was happening, but Liz kept reminding me I was still in black tshirt contention and that I just needed to keep moving forward. It was extremely hard mentally to stay in the moment when I got passed, but like Liz said, I just kept moving foward. I counted down the switch backs, and before I knew it, we were passing Team BOB (with a brief dance party respite lol) and we it the 32 km checkpoint. I was number 159 out of 160 that would normally make the cutoff at that point. Holy crap the relief I felt in that moment was so amazing. I screamed, Bent (Norseman crew, walked into the finish with me in 2016, and the beating heart of Norseman) was jumping up and down cheering for me, and I was elated. Since they had closed the mountain top finish though, black was now based on time. So we needed to get to the 37.5 km checkpoint (mountain entrance) in 14:45. We had plenty of time, so with the second wind of knowing I had black, Liz and I grabbed our mountain packs and started the 5km up to the checkpoint. 

Zombie Hill with my fren

As we began our hike (it's still 5km at 8% avg grade), the weather started to turn again. And as we reached the checkpoint, the skies opened up once again. At this point, we had done 7 miles straight of uphill with a gain of nearly 4000 ft and my legs did not want to go downhill. I would have much rather gone up at that point. Since the mountain was closed, we all finished at the "white finish." Which meant 5 more km of brutal downhill. I should be grateful that I was able to get the full marathon as they started pulling people from the course not too long after I finished and people coming up Zombie Hill were routed to finish at 32 km. Initially, I had wanted to walk it, but then the lightening started, and the hail (it wouldn't be Norseman if I didn't get hailed on), and it was time to get the hell off the mountain. Getting out of the lightening that was striking nearby (they definitely made the right call to close the mountain) gave me the push I needed to get to the finish.  Counting down the kms, we finally saw the 42 km sign. And there was the finish. God it was emotional. I know Liz and mom were tearing up too - I couldn't have done this without them. Like they say, you can't do this alone. It's been so hard these last 5 years and I finally got my moment. I did it in the most nerve wracking way possible, but I'm not sure if this story could have gone any other way. Those 14.5 hours fighting my way through the Norseman course were everything I could have asked for (minus not getting to go up the mountain, but no one got to) and I'm so proud. So many times in the last few years, I could have quit, but I didn't. Norseman as a race is just such a great parallel to life in general. It's messy, hard, beautiful, and amazing. You never know what the race will bring and it's unpredictable - and that's life. This race changes you. It gets under your skin. And there is nothing like it. 

Final downhill

Finishing with dad

Shortly after the finish, my core temperature dropped rapidly and I spent the next hour dying until I could get warm. I remember sitting in the Team BOB cabin next to the fire in a chair just crying as I reflected on what just happened. I couldn't believe that it was over. And so, Norseman 2023 is complete. I think I'm satisfied (I mean, no mountain finish sooooo). Huge thank you to Liz and mom for crewing, Kari for cheering from afar, all of you for support, and dad whatever spirit energy brought me last Saturday. I mean #159 - you can't make that shit up.