Thursday, August 14, 2014

Norseman...the gritty details

In preparing for Norseman, I relied heavily on blogs and race reports from years past that offered tidbits on what to expect, how to prepare, and how to gear up.  Some of the more comprehensive race "reports" - the ones that are long and detailed, not the ones you write for your mother - were the best sources of information.  I also really appreciated some direct input from a number of Norseman finishers, who were so helpful and forthcoming about preparing for the race (in particular, Ann and her "Norsemanifesto".  So awesome!!).

Hence, this post is about paying it forward.  It goes into detail about what worked, what didn't work and what I would do differently...more of a play by play compared to my highlights reel that I previously posted.

Every race is unique.  Even if you have raced the same race, year after year, the day itself is guaranteed to be different each time.  So much goes into getting to the start line...and hopefully a finish line.  You aim only to control what you can control, and accept what you cannot.  I write here solely about the controllable factors - nutrition, gear, training, mental preparation - and not at all about the, competition.

(Editorial note...if you are not planning to race Norseman, this is a lot of detail you may simply not be interested in.)

My biggest takeway from the day was that specificity and experience matter.  On this race course, in these conditions.  Though I aimed to replicate the course in my training, without having actually trained (or previously raced) on the Norseman course, I was disadvantaged.

Driving the course and pre-hiking Gaustatoppen was smart and worthwhile.  It was the least I could do to gain some specificity before race day.  If you are doing the race for the first time...get to Norway in advance and experience first hand what you are going to see on race day.  I am pretty damned happy my first view of Gaustatoppen looming over me was not 10 hours into my race!


You do not survive Norseman without your support.  Don't misjudge this.  Your team (be it one or more persons) is participating in the race every bit as much as you are.  Communicate with them, be clear about what your expectations, and be prepared for anything.  With good planning and a bit of luck, they will not choose to leave you out there to fend for yourself!  (Particularly after seeing you all shrivelled and naked in transition.  Sexy, this race is not.)

Emotions fly high on race day.  Everyone is a little sleep deprived, overinvested and eager.  Be prepared to let things slide (even if they do forget to deliver you a gel precisely 15 minutes into the run, damn you!) and be flexible.  Consider having two people on support...a nice buffer between you and your spouse / best friend forever who is so very excited to help you.  Furthermore, if your well meaning spouse / BFF has never done a tri before and/or has no idea how to change a flat, it is probably best to have some additional support.  Likewise, the person you choose as mountain escort should fully understand the physical demand that Zombie Hill and Gaustatoppen requires, and understand that when the going gets tough that you will need them to keep you in the game.  Trust me, if your support goes soft and offers the way out to a DNF when you are being pummelled by the inevitable (choose one: cold/wind/rain/brutal weather/fatigue) will take it!

(That being said, as an athlete, I was truly not appreciative of mass support teams bogging up the road with multiple vehicles and trapping me on the trail up Gaustatoppen behind six people.  Be mindful of your footprint and how you are impacting other athletes.)

You've invested long hours of training and god knows how much to travel to Norway, the land of the $6 bottled water.  Don't start skimping when you get there, and stop converting NOK into your home currency.  Save the sticker shock for the moment you open your credit card bill, and by all means, rent a car big enough for all of your crap.  Repeat a car big enough for all of your crap!  Because you WILL have a LOT of crap.  Get the car organized and tidy, so your support team does not have to sit on top of your smelly wetsuit for hours on end and can actually find the water bottles you are yelling for.

Things that seem obvious may not be so on race day, so think about your plan in advance.  Make a list.  It may seem silly, but will make total sense on race day.  For instance, put something on your car on race day so that you can differentiate it from all of the other black Scoda wagons (a Canadian flag did nicely in my case).  Have your support wear clothing that stands out.  Get gear bags or bins to sort your stuff (blue for "bike", red for "run"!)  Accept that you will not be sustainable for one day and buy individual servings of drink mix so your support team needs not measure sticky little scoopy cups into bottles.  Little things. Think it through!


Did I mention how much crap you will have?  Let me highlight that.  Running races are put on a pair of shoes.  Triathlon is more complex than that, particularly over longer distances.  But Norseman is in a league of its own when it comes to gear.  Kid yourself not...this is no tri, it is an adventure race.

So much stuff to pack!

I chose to ride my Cervelo P5 Six with mechanical shifting, standard crank (53/39) and 11/28 cassette.  Bear in mind that I am five foot five and weigh about 115 pounds...not exactly a lot to drag up those hills.  I can totally see how a compact crank would be beneficial here, provided you can keep the desired power for the flat sections.

Gratuitous P5 fjord photo.
I am usually pretty comfortable on my P5 but found that I was fighting it on this course - there is quite a bit of side wind, and there is also traffic to contend with on the road.  The final descent is also pretty rough - technical and steep, with some rough pavement.  Based on this, I think there would have been a lot of benefit to having a road bike with tri bars.  I would have much preferred to be on my R5 on that sketchy last section, but there is definitely some give and take with the aero advantage of my P5 on the windier / flatter sections.  So in my mind, the decision to ride a tri bike here is not a the research, go with what you are comfortable with.  (Or, be like Tim DeBoom and ride a hybrid!)  

I rode Shimano DuraAce C50 clinchers with Conti 4000S II tires (23mm) and latex tubes, and felt they were a perfect choice.  The C35 would have been equivalently good, shaving off some climbing weight but offering less aerodynamic advantage in the wind.  I have been riding the C50 for a few years, and bucked the trend to put on carbon wheels.  Quite simply...braking capability is a good thing.  The life-screeching-before-your-eyes experience of hauling down a hill in the rain on carbon wheels is not something I voluntarily put myself into (been there, done that...goodbye carbon wheels).  As for 23mm vs 25mm tires and the rolling resistance debate, beggars cannot be choosers - I am just happy that 700cc wheels and 23mm tires actually fit onto my tiny little size 48 Cervelo!  

I went with the Specialized Evade as my helmet, not necessarily due to aerodynamics but for comfort.  This it not a true TT bike course, and comfort factors heavily.  My aerohelmet is heavy and uncomfortable, and as such, my preference was the Evade.  However, a comfortable aerohelmet would be an appropriate choice as well.

Due to the remoteness of the race, my bike tech kit was beefed up from what I would usually travel with.  In the support car, I carried an extra tire in addition to spares, extra CO2, a floor pump, extra chain, extra brake pads and miscellaneous stuff like electrical tape, zap straps, teflon tape, etc.  Jeremy (my mechanical guru slash support team) also had with him a pretty robust toolkit, including a torque wrench and a chain break.  My crew also carried with them several litres of bottled water, wet wipes and sponges, extra chamois cream and sunscreen.


On the bike, I wore my trusty old (read: smelly) Specialized tri-vent shoes with Pearl Izumi thermal toe covers, with Solestar inserts and Icebreaker wool socks. In retrospect, my road shoes (Pearl Izumi PRO Leader II) would have probably been warmer and just as comfortable.  The road is rough in places (both sections of chip seal as well as some rough road), so the carbon sole was perfect.

My Pearl Izumi E:Motion Tri N1 were awesome for the first 37.5k of the run.  I just started racing in these shoes this year, and am really impressed by them.  They feel light and quick, are comfortable and the built in elastic laces make them easy to slip into.  The elastic laces also manage swollen, sore feet really well, stretching with your feet but never feeling too loose or tight.  There is absolutely no reason to be in a light racing shoe for the first 37.5k provided you are an efficient runner - the pavement is in great shape, and your tired legs will appreciate having a lightweight shoe on.

At the 37.5k checkpoint, I opted to switch into Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1.  These shoes are as responsive as a road shoe, but offered a bit more traction and feel on the trail leading up to Mt. Gaustatoppen.  It was also just really refreshing to put a clean pair of socks and new shoes on!


I chose not to dress "tri" for this race and opted out of the traditional lycra tri suit, feeling that it was not a particularly good choice for any leg of the race.  It's a long day and I chose instead to wear very specific, technical gear for each section of the race.  Given how wet we got, the opportunity to change into dry, comfortable gear was very much welcomed!    

Here is a run down of what clothing I chose, and why.

Orca RS1 Predator wetsuit
Double silicon cap, earplugs
Blue-tint Aqua Sphere Kaiman goggles
Ratty old training swimsuit

Wetsuit choice is just a personal one - I like how the Orca fits and feels in the water.  I chose not to layer up with a neoprene cap or booties, again a personal call based on the stated 16 degree water temp and my training swims the days before the race.  The water was brisk, but certainly not worth the discomfort of either booties or a neoprene cap.  It was a good choice and I was totally comfortable for the swim.  Besides...Canadian girls are like polar bears, right?  ;)

I chose blue tint googles to trick myself into believing I was in a lovely Caribbean sea.  Not entirely effective, but I did really like the brightening effect of the goggles.  Someone tipped me off to this after swimming Alcatraz in clear tint.  Blue is just so much better!

No booties required.
Icebreaker 150 base layer
lululemon sports bra
Pearl Izumi PRO In-R-Cool Shorts and PRO jersey
Pearl Izumi arm sleeves
Pearl Izumi PRO Pittards gel glove
Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier vest
Vesti friends reflective bike vest

Dressed as a roadie!  This is my tried and true Vancouver, all-weather training "uniform".  The wool base layer works magnificently whether hot or cool, and the choice of a high quality chamois and appropriate bike kit for the long 7 hour ride was a good one.  Wearing good bike shorts compared to terrible tri shorts made a huge difference.  As a relatively small person, I find it challenging to find gear that fits well, and made it a priority to have bike gear that was fitted and not flapping in the wind.  As we were required to wear a bike vest and anything off the shelf totally hung from me, the proprietor of the bike vest company was so kind as to send me a small sample size.  Given how long we were eventually required to wear the reflective gear, it turned out to be a good decision to get something of good quality.

When the weather went south, I swapped my vest and fingerless gloves for the very awesome and water protective Pearl Izumi WXB jacket and PRO softshell gloves.  Fresh gloves made it possible to hang onto the wet aerobars and keep my hands warm on the treacherous descent.

Pearl Izumi PRO tech top
lululemon sports bra, speed shorts
Headsweats visor

What can I say?  I dressed like I was going for a run.  Lightweight and comfortable.  The lulu shorts are ideal insofar that they have several pockets and I could pre-load with gels so I did not have to worry about grabbing nutrition out of T2.

I had arm warmers and warmer layers available to me lest the weather dictate otherwise.  As it was humid and warm, I did not need these and was able to go light, fast and comfortable on the run.

Arc'teryx Aerios 7 pack with water bladder
Arc'teryx Cita wind jacket
lululemon speed shorts...pair #2
Icebreaker short sleeve run top
Icebreaker wool long sleeve technical layers, gloves, hat
Petzl headlamp

As Dan was my only mountain support, we kept things minimal and light.  Arc'teryx gear is, quite simply, the most amazing, weatherproof, lightweight mountaineering stuff out there (and made in Vancouver!!) so we chose it for its functionality.  The daypack was perfect - it fit a 1.5L water bladder, as well as extra clothing and some nutrition.  I packed all of my extra clothing in a ziplock bag to keep it dry and ready for it was humid and damp, this turned out to be a great choice.

I did not use my wind jacket or the long clothing layers until I had actually finished, as I found the wool run top and my run shorts to be sufficient.  However, other athletes were ascending in thick layers including jackets, pants and even down vests / jackets.  It seemed overkill for the day we had...but warmer layers could be a worthwhile precaution if you are susceptible to cold.

At the top, I did regret that I did not have my down jacket with me as it was very windy and cold after the finish.  We had left our Arc'teryx Cerium LT jackets at home...I wished I had mine!


Nutrition plans vary wildly between athletes, so I will be brief as my plan may not be relevant to yours.  In short, I failed miserably on nutrition and needed to absolutely be more diligent in eating and drinking according to my plan.  My failure was more related to execution rather than the products I used.

On the bike, it was my intention to carry 60 to 90 minutes of nutrition and top up from support as required.  I had two bottle cages - one downtube and one behind my seat, carrying bottles of EFS drink. Although the EFS carries a pretty solid dose of electrolyte, I found myself getting dehydrated, with salt residue on my bike shorts, and started supplementing with one Saltstick tablet every 30 minutes.

On the bike, I aimed to eat every 15 minutes and drink a minimum of one bottle of EFS per hour.  Wind and course conditions (and then pure stubbornness) mixed up my plan quite a bit, and the solid food I had intended to consume on the first half of the bike just was not going down the way it did in training.  I used a combination of GU Gels (salted caramel and vanilla-orange roctane; aiming to balance out the caffeine intake), EFS liquid shot (carried in a flask on the run), Prima nutrition bars, PowerBar smoothie bars and chocolate rice crisp bars (of the grocery store variety).  I also ended up eating some of Dan's honey stinger gels, some watermelon supplied on the run course and flat cola on the run.

Coming from a failed nutrition plan, my only recommendation would be to go with what you know...and barring that, have alternatives.  I found that the bars I ate in training, while effective once I could choke them down, were just not going down very well.  

My other recommendation would be to eat and drink early, even before you need it.  There were several sections later in the course that were so challenging due to the elements that I was too terrified or occupied to eat and drink.  I estimate that I failed to eat anything during the final hour of the ride.


Leave your expectations and your ten pieces of Ironman finisher gear at home.  You don't just punch the ticket to a finish here, and quite frankly no one here cares about your fourteen iron finisher medals at home.  I can guarantee the Norwegians racing this for the second, third, sixth time on their home turf really are tougher than you.  

There is a lot to be said for being confident and believing in yourself, but this race is simply different.  To master it requires not just experience at triathlon, but experience on the course itself.  Be open minded, and be mentally prepared to deal with those ups and downs...for longer than you have probably ever dealt with them before.

Respect the locals, respect the location.  Pick up your garbage, thank the volunteers, don't be a jerk tourist and appreciate every quirky and awesome little detail of this race.

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