I’m a NORSEMAN. Hell yes.
After almost 9 months of training (and starting with very little fitness after having 2 babies back to back), I am so happy that:
1) I finished
2) That race is behind me
Ironman training is all consuming, and Norseman training was even more so. The last few months of very heavy training were pure survival mode. I was forced to take it one day at a time, to not project too far out or anxiety would take over and I’d question whether I could even get to the start line. What if I got sick from lack of sleep? What if I injured myself at the last moment? What if Greta cut more teeth and started waking again in the night? What if I didn’t acclimate to the jet lag? Because of the magnitude of the race, the worry was constant at the end. I developed a constant headache from neck/back tension that just wouldn’t go away.
But one thing I’ve learned is that humans are very adaptive. And resilient. This includes me. From the sound of the ferry horn signaling the start of the race, I could feel the tension easing up in my neck and back; my anxiety was starting to dissipate. I was doing what I trained to do. What I came all this way to do.
I went to sleep at 7pm the night before the race and woke up at 11pm. My alarm was set for 1:30am but I knew I was up for the day at 11, so just rolled with it and got out of bed. I’ll sleep when I’m dead I guess! John came downstairs a few minutes later, also up way early and I was glad to have the company. We had coffee together and chatted about race strategy. This particular Ironman is unique in that there is no course support - aid stations, SAG, etc. Your support crew is your everything - they carry all of your clothing, food, drink, tools, and other supplies over the 140.6-mile point-to-point racecourse. I chose my support wisely. My husband happens to be a seasoned triathlete, extremely well organized and knows me better than anyone.
Oddly, I wasn’t feeling nervous. I think I was too tired to worry by this point. I ate breakfast (sodium preload, 2 pieces toast, half an avocado, and 2 tablespoons butter), foam rolled, checked in with Cheryl (Miller Endurance Coaching) and did final preparations during this time.
We headed to transition at 3am and dropped my bike and T1 gear. Each athlete had his/her own designated area in transition, similar to Kona from what I’ve seen. They checked to ensure we had helmets, working head/taillights and our reflective vests. I then kissed John goodbye and boarded the ferry. I scrambled upstairs to find a seat in the heated cabin, and began chatting with some athletes. One of the very cool things about European races is meeting amazing athletes from all over the world. I also knew there were 6 American women representing at Norseman and I met all but one before the race began. Everyone was super friendly and eager to start the day. I remained surprisingly calm through the start of the race; I was excited but not nervous.
The ferry left the dock at 4am sharp. We traveled 2.4 miles away from Eidfjord and then an announcement was made to make our way down to the main deck around 4:30am. I quickly did my pre-race UCAN serving and made my way downstairs. They had a giant hose spraying seawater on the athletes down there, which was highly recommended to help you adjust to the water temps before jumping from the ferry. I’m not used to swimming in cold water and don’t have an abundance of body fat right now, so was concerned about staying warm throughout the swim. I had taken several precautions, including renting a thermal wetsuit and purchasing swim booties and a thermal neoprene cap. I also used earplugs, which helps prevent vertigo while swimming in cold water, I had read.
Three, two, ONE... I plunged into the dark, cold water. I heard a few different temps mentioned, it was somewhere in the 57-60 degree range. “It’s so warm!” said the crazy Norwegians. I can assure you it was not WARM. I swam to where the kayaks formed a start line and soon the ferry horn blew. Go time. That swim was so peaceful and serene; it’s hard to describe the beauty around you. As I took bilateral breaths, I could see the majestic mountains above me on all sides, the sun was just starting to rise and the sky was filled with rain clouds. There had been orca sightings in the same waters only a few days prior, but I saw nothing (thank you, Baby Jesus). There were pockets of very cold water as we progressed down the fjord but ultimately I was ok temperature wise until about 3/4 of the way in. Then I started getting cold. I could feel my stroke becoming less efficient as a result and just focused on getting to T1 ASAP. I knew the bike wouldn’t be warm and didn’t want to risk hypothermia. I got out in 1:24, which was only 4 minutes slower than my goal time. I’ll take it!
John greeted me in T1 to help me change for the bike. A friend had recommended I fully change clothing before getting on the bike to keep body temperature up. Changing out of wet clothes into dry clothes in a hurry proves to be quite a feat in itself, let alone the fact that my hands were numb and I was shaking pretty badly. My left earplug had failed me during the swim and I could feel some of the cold-water induced vertigo settling in. I was extremely dizzy. We eventually got all my gear on - triathlon kit and shorts, base layer top, skull cap, helmet, sunglasses, knee warmers, wool socks, cycling shoes, shoe covers and my reflective vest. Off I went.
I’ve never seen such a beautiful bike course. The first 40K is one long climb, think Mt Lemmon or 9-Mile Hill on steroids. There was a heavy fog over us, and I felt like I was in a fairytale movie where trolls or gnomes would jump from a waterfall or be standing in the middle of the road as I came around a sharp turn. My dizziness subsided pretty quickly, maybe 20 miles or so into the bike. Which I was grateful for, you’ve got to keep your wits about you on this bike course. There were a couple rather scary drop offs over cliffs without as much as a guard railing keeping us contained. There was some light rain during this part of the course, but overall the temperature was awesome (mid 50s to mid 60s).
My first support stop was Dyranut, where John was waiting to refill my bottles and nutrition. With the temperature being so much cooler than what I’m used to training in, I didn’t need to consume as much hourly fluid or sodium. 12-14 ounces of fluid and approximately 500 mg of sodium per hour kept me well hydrated. For the bike, I used UCAN to start and then rotated salted Yukon potatoes cooked in oil, Muir Energy hazelnut banana, and avocado. My bottles contained Precision Hydration 1000 to start and then progressed to plain water supplemented with Precision Hydration Sweat Salts.
With 10,000 total feet of climbing on the bike, I had some more hills in store for sure (ugh, Immingfjell!), but there were also some fast flat sections and plenty of downhill. I had done a TON of climbing in training including 2 Mount Lemmon rides, Bartlett, Flagstaff and Show Low, but nothing can really prepare you for Norway’s mountain passes that just pop up one after another after another. The terrain changes were another noteworthy mention about this course - the waterfalls and fog soon became a flat plateau (think Ireland) followed by multiple lakes, followed by the rocky and mountainous Immingfjell. It was awesome. I tried to focus on the beauty around me instead of the pain I was feeling 😜. We had sunshine for at least half of the bike, which was amazing and totally out of the norm for this time of year.
Because this is a small race and a point-to-point race, it was very lonely out there on the bike course. There were a few athletes who I played leapfrog with for most of the day, but essentially you are out there all alone. And this is where the mental battle starts- why am I out here? Why am I putting myself through this? Am I the only person out here? Did I make a wrong turn? All thoughts that crossed my mind as the hours ticked on. These are the points in an Ironman that require mental strength, the desire to FINISH THIS RACE with grace even though it hurts and I feel my time goal slipping away (my bike goal was 8 hours or less). It’s the character building time. I also realized that I was on pace for an 8.5-hour bike and that just wouldn’t get it done for a black shirt finish unless I morphed into Meb for the marathon. Ok, adjust and move on, Brooke.
No big mechanical issues, but I did drop my chain twice and the second time a fellow racer stopped to help me get it back on, which really demonstrates the amazing spirit and camaraderie surrounding the race. I lost about 15 minutes combined here. The last 15 miles of the bike were a speedy downhill portion, which I was grateful for, but I was also soooo sleepy by this time. I’ve never felt fatigue like this during a race. My lack of sleep in the preceding weeks was impacting me and doubt began to fill my head- how in the world was I going to run a whole marathon? I got off the bike in just over 8.5 hours.
I could've curled up in a little ball in T2 and slept until the next morning, I'm pretty sure. That's never happened to me before and I knew I needed a boost of energy, and QUICK. I changed into my favorite Smashfest Queen kit, took my salt, drained a Huma Gel and focused on looking as fresh as possible to others in hopes that their cheers and enthusiasm may motivate me (and keep me awake!). It worked. I passed one person, then another. I kept running at a pace comfortable to me (9 min/mile) and had John douse me with water every 15 minutes. By this time, the sun was still out and it was HOT - 80 degrees. While this was lovely on the bike, I was so looking forward to a chilly marathon. Oh well, keep moving.
My plan was to run 15 miles and then walk Zombie Hill (miles 16-21), and then run again. A hill isn’t really an accurate description here. It’s a freaking mountain. John joined me and we began making our way up. At a grade of 10-12%, this was a slow process. About halfway up, John turned around to descend the hill and grab the car, so that he could drive it back up to the finish line and the resort where we would stay the night. The wheels began to come off here for me. Fatigue overwhelmed me and I eventually spotted a huge mound of gravel off the side of the road and decided to rest. I leaned against it, closed my eyes for a minute, then collected myself, and BAM – was back in the game. This was a turning point. Rejuvenated, I stood up and continued the trek up Zombie Hill with newfound energy.
Finally I got to the top and was greeted by Torill, the race director, who confirmed my assumption that I wasn’t one of the first 160 (of 300) athletes to reach her and therefore would complete my remaining 5 miles around the base of Mount Gaustatoppen instead of the iconic finish on top. Still a finish, but this would be the white T-shirt finish. (They have to cap the amount of athletes that are able to progress up the hill for safety reasons). I didn’t cry. I didn’t freak out. I had dreamed of finishing on top but also knew that I had stiff competition and the female black shirt finishers historically completed a regular Ironman in 10-11 hours. Super fast.
I made the decision to run these last miles again; I had lost a lot of time on Zombie as well as some of my confidence. I wanted to finish strong. So I did. I thought the entire race was so well organized with the exception of those last 5 miles. We were led into the ski resort area and had to run 10 loops within the parking lot which involved lots of stop and go as we had a punch card punched each time around. At that point of the race, no one wants to keep stopping. They just want to be DONE.
I finally got to my last loop and was elated! Bent, the race coordinator, ran with me for part of the loop and they played the American National Anthem as I crossed. I was immediately handed a cup of soup, and that was it. No fancy finish line, no huge group of spectators, no medal, and no hubbub at all. Just a big hug from John and a congratulation, to which I promptly replied, “I’m never doing that again” and flopped down on the grass. I say this after every Ironman. I felt fantastic post-race. No GI issues, no delayed recovery. I was sore but that's a given. (My remaining run nutrition after the initial Huma included 1 more Huma, avocado, and watermelon slices along with Precision Hydration Sweat Salts). My run was about 5:50, 50 minutes longer than my anticipated time. Total time of 16:10.
It was an honor to be a part of the Norseman 2018 race. This was both the most difficult and most epic thing I have ever done. The athletes were stellar - I was not prepared for the caliber of athlete that showed up. But then again, it's an "extreme" Ironman, so what was I expecting?! If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do anything differently with my training – my goal all along was to complete the training, but more importantly to be present and active in my children’s lives every single day, and to ensure my Fuel to the Finish clients were well-supported during this time as well.
I spent a few hours climbing Mount Gaustatoppen the day after the race (I couldn't leave without experiencing this!) and man, was it a brutal climb. Maybe one day I’ll return to get my black shirt, but for now I’m so excited to spend as much time as I can with my babies, sleep in past 4am, and do some other things besides swim, bike, and run.
My thank yous include:
1) John - My rock and my dream-enabler. He made this whole journey possible and should get the Dad of the Year Award.
2) Cheryl Miller of Miller Endurance Coaching - I love the way Cheryl operates. She writes a tough schedule but it gets you where you need to be. She was flexible with me (knowing the chaos of my schedule), and trusted me to get done what needed to be done. She is an amazing coach and I'd recommend her to anyone.
3) My riding partners - the Kelleys and Zoe B. You all pushed me to ride faster, be stronger.
4) My confidants - very few people knew about this race ahead of time. Kris, Michele, Lainy, Elissa, Teri, Linda and my Mom were supportive and encouraging. Kris Cordova was a gem - letting me ask her a million questions about the race. Thanks Elissa for all of the gear!