The bike leg of Norseman is 112 miles inland from the pier at Eidfjord to the town of Austbygde. It starts with a 1,250m climb to Dyranut, a long stretch along a high plateau, descends back down before the second half hits you with four increasingly longer and harder hills before a 15 mile descent to T2.
The weather forecast all week had been for a north westerly tailwind and for conditions to be mostly dry. That changed on Friday night. It was going to rain for most of the morning and afternoon. I’d brought waterproof cycling shorts, shoes and jacket with me so wore those straight from transition, even though it was dry when I changed. I thought it would be enough, I was wrong.
The bike leg start with a few miles along a flat road from Eidfjord before the climbing starts. The cliff face rises on either side, we follow the old road around the edge of the rock face, dart through tunnels lit by candles, and it feels like we’ve travelled back in time. We’ve left the modern world behind. The road is pitted, but potholes easy to avoid, the drops are steep and tumble down like the waterfalls that scour the sides. I settle into an easy rhythm in my lowest gear and largely keep pace with the rides around me. Occasionally, I even overtake riders on TT bikes standing on the pedals, while I sit down and pass them on the left.
The views are stunning. Wisps of clouds hug the tops of cliff like triumphant climbers about to summit, looking down I can see glimpses of other riders, brightly coloured ants against the dark grey cliff roads, and I keep repeating in my head:
Because what else is there to do? If I cannot look round and feel that this is the only place I want to be today, that these sights are glimpses of landscape that I’m privileged to see and to be part of.
The climb consists of two distinct sections. The first strikes through the mountain, climbing through a cleft in the rock like the remants of a giant’s axe strike, the second is a longer climb towards the summit, through moorland and patches of snow along the sides of the road. It’s in the second section that it starts to rain. And rain.
I don’t mind the rain at first. I’m prepared, I have my waterproofs and I’ve used them before in bad conditions so know they’ll be okay. But then the clouds lower. Visibility drops and now it’s not only raining I can only see 50 – 100 metres at a time. This is why we wear a high-viz vest and use lights for the full route. I’m grateful for them. Not for me, but to see others, that I’m not alone.
The next few hours are an increasing struggle. The climb goes further than the profile suggests. Long shallow climbs where, even with a tailwind, progress is slower that I’d hoped. TT bike shoot by. I can’t keep up, nor do I try. I went for a climbing bike and comfort, not speed.
Spots that I remembered from driving across the plateau are rendered indistinct by the clouds. A lake with two black houses on the shore. Three turf houses at the side of the road. It’s always too late when I spot them. But still I tell myself to smile. I’m happy. But wet.
The support car can’t join you on the climb, I see them in a traffic jam going down the mountain as I climbed up, the single road meaning there’s no place to stop. I’ve brought enough food for two and half hours, eating every thirty minutes. My standard ‘meals’ of ZipVit uncoated orange bars and banana gels. But after two and half hours I’ve yet to see Iain.
I thought I saw him at one point. A black Hyundai estate with 91 – my number – on a sticker on the back. He was down a short lane and trying to reverse the car. I’d shot passed him before I could stop. I thought if it was him, that he was reversing because he’d seen me and was going to follow. I was wrong.
It was another hour before I saw him. Every time a car passed I would hope it was him. After 30 minutes I started to worry. I wondered if he’d had a puncture or, worse, an accident. Every black car that passed was met with a searching look of its back window. 201. 15. 134. Not 91.
I was relieved when I finally saw him. I was soaked through and had run out of food. He pulled in a couple of hundred metres ahead of me. “I’ve got you pancakes,” he said.
By this point, I’d been thinking of quitting. I was starting to shake with hypothermia. I was losing the feeling in my hands. The rain was bouncing off the road and I wasn’t sure if I could carry on for another five hours like this.
“Put this on,” Iain said as I stripped off my hi-viz jersey, waterproof jacket and cycling jersey while sheltering under the open boot of the car.
He gave me a new base layer, my thicker cycling jersey (a Castelli Gabba), a fleece, a Goretex jacket and full length waterproof trousers. I thought he wanted to keep warm while we’d stopped. I didn’t realise that I was going to wear this for the next 60 miles.
“I’ll go to the next town,” I said. The warm clothes having done their job in persuading me to carry on.
“Just keep this on,” Iain said. And I did. I got back on my bike and pedelled off wearing more gear than I would I was climbing a mountain.
But it worked. I warmed up. I stopped shaking. The weather was still awful but as I descended in Greillo it became warmer as I left the plateau.
In town I met Iain again. “I’ll get to the end,” I said while thinking “Enjoy this, you won’t be doing it again.”
The second half of the course is a lot different to the first. It’s feels more part of civilisation, you can see towns, wider roads, and more road signs for evidence of other people.
There are four climbs in this section, nothing too tough or too long but each steady. The final climb is the longest, taking you up to and across a damn. It’s here that a Norwegian woman stands on the porch of a remote house and shouts “Well done, Andrew, keep going!”It takes me a few minutes to work out she must be following Norseman on the website. It’s also here where the support of other teams becomes invaluable. I’m going the same pace as a few other riders so I not only pass Iain every 40 minutes or so I’m also passing other support crews who also shout encouragement.
By now I’ve decided I’ll finish at T2. My temperature is screwy, I’m not sure of whether I should be running after hypothermia and the final climb up Zombie Hill is looking increasingly beyond me. I make the decision to be sensible and finish while I have Iain as support and not to keep going when I’ll be running for at least 13 miles without support as Iain cannot park on the first half of the course (though it looked like many do!).
The final descent for 15 miles, through thick forest, small villages of colourful chalet houses, and, even better, it’s also the first time it’s dry. The sun peeks out, though not for long, and I’m hitting 35 miles an hour on the sharp descent and 25 mph on the flats. It’s too fast, too late though. I’m still dressed like Ranulph Fiennes.
At T2 I tell the timekeeper that I’m done. There is not a single doubt in my head that I’m doing the right thing. (Though a week later as I write this I think “maybe, just maybe I should have gone on” – but I know that’s a daft thought, I wouldn’t have finished).
After 112 miles, my legs feel okay, I still feel strong(ish) but the desire to keep going has been been washed out by the cold and the rain. The thought of running thought that again is more than I take. I’m done. But I loved it. Every cold, wet, miserable minute of it.
The dark water grips like a giant’s hand. I kick upwards and grin. I’ve made it. I’ve escaped. I’ve jumped from the ferry.
Earlier, it’s 3am and we’ve been up for 10 minutes. My back feels fine. The physio’s promise has come true. It was okay for Saturday, she made no promises for the rest of the week. I pull my wetsuit on over my legs but don’t pull it on over my arms. Instead I wear a couple of t-shirts. It would be too warm to walk around in a full wetsuit.
I grab my bag for the boat and we drive five minutes to Eidfjord and park behind the main street. We walk down to the pier and… we’re lost. We’ve walked the wrong way and we’re facing a school building. Good start, especially in a town that only has a handful of streets, most of them pointing down to the shore.
We walk back and take the right street.
At transition we have another scare. They check the bike for lights and for working brakes. They check my bag to make sure I have a hi-viz top for the first 20 miles but they say mine doesn’t have enough fluorescent stripes. “It’s doesn’t?” I say dumbly, thinking, “Is this it?” But they have spares and I get a baggy extra large Norseman hi-viz top instead. It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t matter.
We take the bike and bag and I join the queue to board the ferry. We need to be on board by 4am and, through the windows, I can see the Olympic opening ceremony playing on a tv in a lounge. I remember that it’s not quite morning, that it’s still Friday night no matter what time my watch shows.
The deck of the boat is empty as everyone finds a seat in the lounges upstair. I sit beside a Canadian and a Swedish man who has the same type of wetsuit as me. “You must have had the shortest journey?” I say to him to make conversation. “I drove for 14 hours,” he said. D’oh.
At 4:45 I apply Powerglide and ask the Canadian to zip up my wetsuit. I wish both of them luck and I go down to the car deck, which is not filling up with athletes getting ready for the race to start.
At the back of the deck I see the hose pumping and spraying sea water. I know I need to adjust to the cold water so I walk straight into it –
– and start hypeventilating –
– so I duck out of the spray, then duck in again.
And again. Again. For 10 minutes. Until the water no longer feels cold, until I can breathe normally, until I feel ready to jump.
A tannoy annouces the jump will start in two minutes. I put on my large swim cap to cover my ears, my goggle and my race cap. I walk as close to the front as I can. I don’t want to wait. I want to go straight in without hesitation.
The jump starts.
People fall like lemmings in front of me. It only takes a few seconds for me to stand on the edge of the deck. Another second for me to jump. To raise my hand to my google to make sure they stay in place. Then I strike the water and it’s cold, and dark, and surrounding me completely holding me tight in it’s grip, but it’s not too cold. And as I kick to push myself up and break the surface I see lights on the coastal road, dawnlight peaking over the fjord and I grin. And I shout in joy. I’d faced my fear and I’d won.
There is line of canoes ahead of me. I swim over, using breaststroke and a few crawl strokes to acclimatize more to the water.
I look back and people are still falling. The boat squats on the water and I know that everything will be okay.
I float for a few minutes. “Enjoy this,” I tell myself. Dark cliffs tower above, in front and to the side. The water is cool. And fresh, the winter snows creating a freshwater layer that masks the salt. The canoes drift. I stay near the front, floating between two canoes. I know everyone will pass me but I like the thought of being in the lead if only for a second.
I wait for the ferry’s horn to sound.
And we’re off. I’m quickly overtaken but I settle into a rhythm. 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. And I breathe to my left every time I count 4.
I have no idea where I am. I can see lights in the fjord ahead. Daylight wakens and I know which direction to go but I can’t tell how far I’ve gone or how far I have to go.
Even when we turn the corner of the fjord and face Eidfjord directly I don’t know if this is one mile or one metre away.
At times I follow the feet of a swimmer in front. At others I have a Siamese twin. A swimmer breathing to my right keep pace and only a feet away to my left. Some times I even swim near a pack, though most of the time I’m on my own. I’m further out than others but as I’m heading in the right direction I don’t try and move closer.
In Eidfjord they light a bonfire on a beach to help you find your way. I didn’t know this when I swam but I could see an orange light and I used that to get me to the first (and only) bouy. From there it’s about 500 metres across Eidfyord pier to a small rocky beach. This final stretch is tough. It was the same area we’d swum yesterday in a practice session. Yesterday, however, it was flat calm. Today, the wind had picked up waves and the current was against me. But I was nearly ‘home’. I kept going.
Round the pier I thought there was another 100 metres to the finish but I was wrong, it was only 20 metres. I kicked my legs to try and get some feeling into them. I wobbled on the stoney ground when I stood up. I tried to balance and looked at the people on the beach and the pier above to see if I could find Iain.
I started to jog. (As if it would help!). I was happy, I was done. I told myself: “You will never do this again!”, the same thing I told myself last year at IronMan UK. I’m good at lying to myself.
“How’s the legs?”
“Sore” replied Andrew.
He’s lying in bed in rjukan. A nice wee town at the base of “Zombie Hill.” The famed section of Norseman where runners switch from running on the flat to climbing Mt. Gaustatoppe.
I’m feeling fit so I’ve decided to take the bike out and head up the mountain. The climb is hard but its more a mental thing than anything else. It doesn’t have many hairpins so each section feels like a long slog.
On the road people have painted zombies or inspirational words. Its easy to tell the UK supporters as they’ve painted the wrong side of the road!
I stop once I get to the Furnicular railway that takes tourists to the stop. I notice its open and running so I head back down hoping to convince Andrew that we should go the top. It feels like the logical conclusion to our trip should be on top of the mountain!
Thankfully he’s up for it and even more thankfully he’s done all the packing!
The funicular is great. Its split into two trains. One that takes us into the mountain and then another that takes us to the top. We share a cabin with an older couple.
From the exit its just a few hundred metres to the Norseman hut. Its great to see the finish line even if its 24 hours later!
We take some pics and record a video of Andrew crossing the finish line.
We then pop into the hut to buy waffles. All races should have waffles at the finish!
On the way back down the same couple are in our train carraige. The man says “Not much to see, was there?”
Not really but if we hadn’t gone up we’d always have regreted it!
The aim of the trip was to enjoy the adventure. We had an adventure and we enjoyed it. What more to life is there than that? 🙂
If 3 am is an ungodly time to get up, getting up at 2.30 am is even worse.
Today was the day. It was now or never. Which is a strange expression. It should actually be “It was now or never or…in a minute! Cant’t you see I’m busy. I’ll get to it when I can!”
We left the B&B quickly and headed to Eidfjord. There’s plenty of parking spaces near the ferry but Andrew refused to use them. He was worried that the police would turn up and fine us. Its 3 am. I think the police have got better things to do than check anyone is parking illegally.
We park at the the school. On the walk to the ferry I point out to Andrew all the Cars parked in the spaces he said not to use.
The port is busy. A lot of athletes and supporters are here. I look at the ferry and notice it has a TV lounge! And comfy chairs! And its showing the Olympics! Extreme Triathalon? My Arse!
On the way into transition Andrew has to show that his bike’s front and back lights work and that he has a reflective jacket.
The volunteer checks his jacket and says its not reflective. It is very yellow but its not reflective! Andrew blames it on buying a cheap one from Decathalon. Idiot!
Luckily the volunteer had a spare so he gave that to Andrew. The winner has a black T-shirt but I bet he doesn’t have a Norseman branded reflective vest.
I wish Andrew luck and he heads onto the ferry.
I decide to drive down the coast to watch the start. Surprisingly no-one else had thought of this so I was on my own watching the start. I can’t imagine what people did in town. It must be pretty dull waiting for the swimmers to come back.
After they jumped in I headed back to town. I stopped at a pier near the yellow buoy and watched the race leaders zoom past. My watch said 50 minutes so it seemed like they were slow or the race had started late. I later found out this years swim times were slow due to the tide.
I got back to the pier in enough time to watch Andrew come out. I showed him over to the transition point and helped him get changed. About half the swimmer were still in the water so his swim time was pretty good.
I sent him off and said I’d see him in a couple of hours time at the top of the hill.
I notice a man at the pier has made fresh pancakes. I buy four so that Andrew will have a treat at the top of the hill. I then eat two. Oh well. Two is still a treat!
I then headed back to the B & B to get some breakfast. Mmm waffles. Its a hard life being a support team!
I’ve lost Andrew.
I saw him a minute ago. I passed him in the car. I gave him a wave and the parked at the next available parking spot. I’ve now waited 20 minutes and he’s not gone past!
I’m on the plateua. Due to thick mist visibility is 100m and it’s freezing cold. I wouldn’t like to be in a car in these conditions, let alone on a bike.
I decide something has gone wrong. He’s gone past and I didn’t notice or something’s happened before he got here.
I decide to head back down the road. I travel for 10 minutes and don’t spot him!
Its now colder and wetter and I imagine he will be wondering where I’ve gone.
I race along the road. After 10 minutes I still haven’t spotted him.
After 20 minutes, I’m worried. Something must have gone wrong.
After 30 minutes I spot a very cold and wet looking cyclist ahead. Its Andrew!
I pass and wave and this time park where he can see me.
It turns out he had cycled past me. My parking spot was in an awkward place. He assumed it wasn’t my car. I must have missed him as I was too busy concentrating on not crashing the car as I maneuvered into the space!
I thought he’d be angry so I pull out my trump card – the pancakes!
I think quickly and then ask him.
“Do you want a Twix?”
Andrew is standing in front of me. He’s shaking due to the cold. I offer him the sweet. He’s still cold and shaking but at least he gets chocolate biscuit snack.
He says he’s struggling to bike due to the cold. The weather is bad and it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up.
Luckily I’d packed Goretex trousers, thick fleece top and a jacket. He takes off his wet clothes and replaces them with the new ones. He now looks ready…to climb Everest!
At least he’ll be dry and warm even if he’s not going to be very aerodynamic.
He says he’ll cycle to the next town before deciding whether to carry on.
I hope he keeps going. It would be a shame to finish at this point.
We pass the next town and come off the plateau. That section is supposed to be fast but due to the weather he never got up to a good speed.
Thankfully he now feels warmer and decides to continue.
The next half of the race has four climbs. They are all manageable. There’s a climb of 400m near Glasgow called the Crow Road. So we split each section into how many Crow Roads it is. As in, this next climb is 1.5 crow roads. The one after is 2x Crow Road etc It helps to put each bit into perspective.
For the next 50 miles we get into a pattern of he bikes and I drive a short distance up the road. He then either passes me or pulls in and gets food. It seems to work well.
At the top of the last climb support has to end. Its all downhill now so I leave him to it and head to Transition 2. There’s not many folk here. Most of the competitors have already been through. I go for a walk and watch a couple posing for wedding photos.
Andrew eventually arrives. I expect him to call it a day. He’s been out on the bike for 8 hours+ and is pretty knackered!
He decides to quit. He doesn’t have the energy to run over a speed bump let alone a huge hill.
We pack up and head off. As we drive the route towards our accommodation we see the athletes struggling along the road. No part of either of us thinks we wish we’d continued.
The gym manager of the Western Isles Leisure Centre once said to Andrew and I: “If you two were clever you’d only have one gym membership”. Little did he know, that’s what we were already doing!
The membership was a photo ID so, as we’re identical twins, we’d pass the card to whichever one of us wanted to use it.
Similarly, we can both use each other’s bikes. Between us we have a mountain bike, a time trial bike, an aero bike, a cyclocross bike, a road bike with a 28 cassette and a road bike with a 32 cassette.
For this race Andrew decided to use my 32 cassette bike as it copes best with hills. This decision had one issue. Andrew has the bike bag so he would have to get it from his loft to my house.
He called to say he had the bag and could he drop it off the next day. He then added – “There’s just one problem. I’ve injured myself lifting it down from the loft!”
The adventure was nearly over before it began!
Although it did make me think this may be karma coming back. Revenge for the gym membership.
The physio worked wonders and Andrew was patched back together before the flight. He was as good as new…although he is 38 so the phrase should be – as good as new-ish. The physio isn’t a miracle worker.
We flew from Edinburgh to Oslo. It’s a short flight but, due to the time difference, we land after midnight.
Once we land it takes an hour to retrieve the bags. We head outside to collect a taxi. The driver takes one look at the bike bag and says it won’t fit in his car and even if it did there wouldn’t be room for the two of us.
I put the bike in the boot and sit in the back. He’s wrong. He mumbles something and then probably bumped the fare up to twice the standard rate!
Welcome to Norway!
The hotel has a waffle machine. A hot burning girdle lying open on a table. If British health and safety was here they’d go mad. Thankfully they are not here so I throw caution to the wind and made a waffle. Delicious.
We take the opportunity to cut bread and steal the cheese and ham. We’ll have them for lunch.
According to our car rental instructions the Hotel is across the road from the car rental location. We head over. It isn’t the car rental location. Even though that’s what’s written on our booking. They tell us we have to go back to the airport. Oh well, we have plenty of time it’s only 300km to eidfjord. That won’t take long. We can afford the delay.
An hour later then intended we’re on our way. The car is big and brand new. The man at the rental desk tried to sell us a GPS. We said no. When we get to the car it has one built in. I’m glad we didn’t pay extra for it!
We enter the destination as Eidfjord. The GPS thinks for a minute and then tells us it’ll take five hours. Nonsense! We’ll be there way before then. I was right. It was wrong. It took longer.
Driving in Norway is slow. Cars barely ever go above 50 kmph and even rarer do they overtake.
This may partly be due to their being barely a straight road between Oslo and Eidfjord. It may also be due to speed limits that I have unintentionally broken throughout the Journey.
I wish I could tell you the scenery was stunning but it required full concentration to make sure I didn’t miss the next turn in the road.
Andrew on the other hand raved about the view.
I feel like Morgan freeman in Driving Miss Daisy. If Miss Daisy was a lazy triathlete who claimed he needed the rest in the car to better prepare for his race!
Eidfjord is a beautiful but tiny town. It’s surrounded by mountains and is the perfect setting for a race.
We couldn’t stay there so I’d booked the closest place I could find to it. http://www.ovre-eidfjord.com/
The hotel was quirky but nice. When we arrived a fellow competitor was arguing with the owner about the price of the room. He couldn’t understand why he was being charged more for having six people in a two bed room. He argued that he should pay for two!
I admired his logic and his cheapskatedness.
We left them arguing and decided to visit the biggest waterfall in Norway.
It was a few miles away so it was back into the car. By the end of the trip I’d spent more time with the car then I’ve spent with some friends!
We parked near the viewpoint of the falls. It’s a great view and well worth a visit. Although the markers showing where people have died did make me extra careful with my footing.
We headed back to eidfjord to get some supplies and to check out the town. I decided to test the water temperature in the only manner I knew how. I stick my hand in. It wasn’t too cold. No different from current Scottish loch condition.
We took some photos around town and then head back to the B+B to get some sleep.
Breakfast was waffles. Yay.
Unfortunately they’d all been eaten. The buffet had opened at 8am and everything was eaten by 0801. Triathletes like to eat and they like to get up early.
The waitress said she’d never seen so many folk turn up at once.
Looking at the “competition” it was clear there was some very fit athletes here and they were just the supporters.
I did wonder what they made of myself and Andrew. I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to hear what a Norwegian sounds like laughing.
We headed into town to register and to get the bike serviced. The flight over had damaged one of the disc brakes. It was slightly bent. I wasn’t worried. At worse we could bash it with a hammer.
Whilst the bike got serviced we went for a swim.
Huub had sponsored a practice session. Lots of athletes took the opportunity to have a go swimming out to the yellow buoy that would be used on the real course.
Andrew immediacy noticed a problem. He’d forgotten his swim goggles. Idiot (again!)
He went to the Huub stall to buy a new pair. They were 450 NOK which converted to GBP is equivalent to f’ing expensive!
The swim was great. The water was chilly but not unpleasant. Although I overheard a man from Dubai complain about how cold it was. I think his and my idea of hot and cold differ wildly!
The water wasn’t very salty which must be due to water flowing in off the mountains.
Andrew did one lap of the course. I did two. The swim reassured him that the big one wouldn’t be too bad.
The service man had finished with the bike and it now worked like a charm. Things were looking up.
Feck, deck, feck, feck!
The bike was making a sound. Not a good sound like wiiiiiissshhhh of speed but a grrrnnnnnhhhkkk of metal.
It seemed to be coming from the front wheel.
I now regretted taking the bike out for a spin. I’d noticed a big climb behind our B and B and thought it would be a good test for the bike but on the way down it had started crunching.
I stopped and spun the wheel. It was sticking. This was a problem!
I was near the B & B so I spun along. Planning to look at it without Andrew finding out. It would just worry him.
Annoyingly he was standing outside.
I had to tell him. He was worried. The service man was now shut and the race was tommorow.
“We need a plan,” he said
“We need google,” I replied.
I started googling grinding disc brake pads.
Andrew looked worried. He repeated, “we need a plan”
I told him to get the bike
“No, we need a plan”
Get the bike!
“We need a plan”
What’s the point of a plan if we don’t have the bike? He didn’t seem to grasp that whatever the plan the first step would be to get the bike.
He stropped off to get it.
I found the video I wanted. It explained how to loss the callers on the brake.
He came back. I took out an Allen key and loosened the callipers. The wheel ran smooth. Andrew looked relieved and worried. He may have secretly hoped that this would get him out of having to race!
We celebrated our achievement by having Norwegian meatballs. There’s a reason I’d never heard of them over their more famous Swedish rivals. They tasted disgusting.