The 2013 Norseman was a tough year for competitors. A choppy swim, ferocious headwinds on the bike, driving rain and fog made it a tough day. Lightening also struck the spire of Gaustoppen, disabling the internal cable car normally used to transport athletes down, meaning black tshirt winners had to descend the mountain after their finish.
Mike Tate, our UK competition winner recalls his long day at Norseman 2013 and reaching his goal of the black tshirt.
"What a race and what a day! I'm a Norseman with a black tshirt but what a journey to get here..........
Race day started early. I had breakfast at 2:15 am and struggled to get down a bowl of porridge. Lots of other competitors were up, ready and looking eager to start. I racked my bike and transition kit and made my way with Tara to the ferry. It was dark but mild but even in the gloom you could see the angry clouds building. Numbers checked I climbed up the ramp onto the ferry to find myself a spot on the car deck. Fellow welsh competitor Dai " the tooth" had kept me a space but there wasn't a lot of chat as the engines roared and we left Eidfjord. The car deck was a strange place. Lots of pre race rituals, media, worried faces and an overwhelming tense atmosphere. Before long the ferry halted and we all made our way to the open car door. The rain had already started and there was a strong wind. 250 wetsuit clad athletes shuffled to the edge of the car deck and made the infamous jump into the 1000 feet deep fjord. It was going to be a long day.
We swam to the waiting line of kayaks and bobbed up and down in the surprisingly large swell. Nervous well wishes were exchanged with those around you but I was lost in my own thoughts and feeling like a very small fish in a big, and very deep, pond- literally! After a ten minute eternity the hooter sounded and we were off. For a small field it was really congested to start as people fought to position themselves close to the shore to avoid the worst of the wind, waves and current. I struggled to get into a rhythm as the swell was hitting me from the side. Luckily it wasn't cold, although I'm sure my beanie and booties helped, and I concentrated on counting to a hundred and then repeat. The water was amazing- so clear that you could see everyone around you and a long way down. We contoured around the coast and were sighting off a large bonfire on shore that you could smell a long way out in the fjord. As we swam closer to the fire we rounded a small boat and hit the final 700 metres to shore. This was possibly the hardest part of the swim- you were swimming directly into the swell and it was also the coldest being at the entry point of the glacial feeds. I was glad to see the ferry landing jetty and at the end we turned and exited up a small sandy beach to transition one.
I tried not to spend long in transition as I knew that every second would count towards black. I put on cycle bibs and jersey as well as mandatory reflective gilet. With front and back lights on I headed onto the bike course. The mental picture of the cardiograph line that was the bike course profile was etched in my head so I knew what lay ahead. My goal was to keep it steady and look to finish the bike under eight hours. The first 40k of the bike headed up hill at about eight to ten percent incline but led through dark tunnels and broken bike paths. It was fair to say this was an in the saddle grind punctuated by short bursts of standing. I was passing people and this gave me confidence although the worsening weather was starting to have an impact. After 30k the road eased a little but we were hit by a full on brutal headwind that continued to ensure my average speed was around nine miles per hour!
I was glad to see the blue seventy support crew at 40k. Tara, Tom and Shaun had everything under control and topped up drinks gave me a waterproof and fed me. It's fair to say that no athlete could do this without support and mine were amazing all day. We scheduled the next rendezvous for 90k and I set off across the rolling plateau. The wind continued unabated and this section really tested you as even on your Tri bars you couldn't build pace. The weather was horrific with the rain bouncing off the road and I retreated into the view directly in front of my front tyre. Ninety kilometres came as planned almost four hours into the ride. Chocolate cookies were a godsend and were hoovered down. I knew the next half of the bike was the key to the black with four major climbs over the next 35 miles. Almost immediately I hit the first of three 7-8 k climbs with equally long descents and knocked these off reasonably comfortably. I knew I had to push on and usually feel good climbing so I reasoned I could pull a few places back.
At the halfway point I was 120th so had a cushion of about 40 people but really I wanted to be under the hundred so I pushed on. The weather continued to batter us but had the more worrying effect of stripping the lube off my chain and leaving a disturbing grinding noise. I met my support crew who fully lubed and sent me back outI had to tackle the last of the hills. This was an absolute beast that broke many athletes but I just remained seated and ground out a very slow rhythm. By now as well as the gales and storms we were riding in mist so visibility was poor. I met my crew at the top of the main climb although I knew that the next 10 k was a false flat and I wanted to meet them before the eighteen mile plummet down to the run start. These 10k were probably the hardest thing I have ever done on a bike. I was in a very dark place.
You couldn't see more than four metres in front and the wind and rain meant I was barely turning the pedals. I knew it was only six miles before I would at last be descending but for me this was the major test of the whole day. Eventually I met my support and although I'm sure I looked hideous it was exactly what I needed to keep going. I added a layer and an under hat beneath my helmet and set off down the mountain. Knowing that I had to continue to push I nearly overlooked a number of the hairpin bends on the descent. Overtaking cars at 35 mph I had to take evasive action on one bend both my wheels locked and I came within a foot of plunging down the mountain side. Suitably chastised yet fueled by adrenalin I made short work of the final 15 miles- averaging around 28mph! Transition two for the run has never been a more welcome sight!
I knew that I had made up places on the bike. I had come in around my target time and the plan now was to push it hard for 28 k before getting myself to Zombie hill and the black t shirt cutoff at the top at 32.5k. Tara relayed that I had made up almost ten places and again my team had everything ready. We agreed to meet every 5k so off I went. I was feeling good and knew that I could run strong. For the next 28k the temperature quickly rose and ironically it was now the sun and heat that we had to contend with. Luckily the British summer had for once prepared me for this and so I pushed on passing lots of athletes and metronomically hitting five minutes per kilometre. I took a sip of nuun every 2k and a gel every 5. Passing people gave me the confidence to keep pushing but Tara reminded me to keep something for the climb- wise words. The first half marathon passed under 1:38 with no one passing me. It was at this point I allowed myself the thought that the black was there for the taking. However, I reminded myself, the worst was still to come.
Zombie hill is aptly named. The ascent goes from 27k to 32.5k via a series of tarmac ramps and vicious switchbacks. Running was out of the question so with company from Tara and Tom I force marched the climb. I tried to keep the walking pace high but my energy levels were waning and a days diet of sweet energy gels meant my stomach was rebelling. There were dark patches and I'm sure it was around the 30k mark that the thousand yard stare became fixed on my face. The hill was relentless but to throw another curveball the weather turned again and became cold and windy. Eventually we arrived at the 32.5k checkpoint where the reality of getting black hit home. In typical understated Norseman fashion I was allowed along the black route to the top of the mountain- only after agreeing to the bombshell of being willing to walk all the way back off the mountain after the finish as the cable car was closed as it had been hit by lightning! After the day we had all had this actually didn't surprise me and in a weird way ( I was in a right state at this point!) underlined the toughness of the journey. Just before the final checkpoint I put on my mountain gear, still under strict orders from Tara to not touch the car or sit in it as I might get DQed!
Suitably dressed and accompanied by Shaun from blueseventy we set off on the final 5k leg to the mountain top finish. Initially I started strong, still passing athletes, but after an hour my energy levels bottomed out and the top didn't seem to be getting any closer. The path(!) was a boulder field and just picking a suitable way forward was a challenge. I was amazed by local supporters cheering me on as I climbed and before long I was within touching distance. I was passed by Dai on his way down who had had an amazing day beating me by 50 minutes and working his way to 34th overall- immense. Sending Shaun ahead to capture the moment I walked or rather climbed that last steps to the finish, raising my arms as I crossed the Norseman flag. With tomato soup in hand and wrapped in a welcome blanket I sat on a cold stone bench and let the emotions flow over me. I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained. I had shared this experience with some incredible people. I had been to some very dark places. I had completed the hardest thing that I have ever done. I had hauled myself up to 74th place. I had earned that black t shirt. I was a Norseman!"