Norseman Extreme Triathlon
“The Hardest Ironman in the World”
Year after year I applied in the Lottery of Norseman Extreme Triathlon. Considered the hardest Ironman in the world, for it’s tough course and weather conditions. Finally, my luck changes and I’m chosen to take part on the 2016 edition. It would be my come back to Ironman distance racing after 4 years and the chance to leave behind a dark period of my life.
It’s been a few days since this incredible story began and ended. I still have a hard time digesting all the experiences we lived together with my partner Feña (Fernando Heredia). It happened to us all, many stories that at the time made us suffer and laugh. As the days go by I begin to understand the meaning of everything I have experienced. It was not only to fulfill a goal, but to conquer the fears and get rid of the frustrations that I had to live for a long time.
Our trip to Norway made a stopover in Rome and London. Unfortunately the bike case did not arrive in London and we had to implement a plan B in case it did not arrive in time for the day of the race. It was then that before taking the last flight I communicated with Thor, a Norwegian who would receive us at his home on the day of arrival. Our friend very calmly asked me the type of bicycle I needed and he told me that on my arrival in Norway I would have 5 alternatives for me to choose. Hours later at his home, I had a Canyon bike with SRAM components in my size and ready in case my bike did not arrive on time. I would have to write a Complete Blog to thank Thor Hesselberg for all his help and his sincere friendship. They say that “the best friends you know are sports related”. I think there is no more true phrase.
There were 2 days left for the mandatory registration of the athletes, so if my bike did not arrive to Norway by Friday morning, I would have to opt for plan B. Despite this, the stress caused by the situation did not leave me calm until the end. The airline finally confirmed that the bike would arrive on Friday morning to Stavanger. The last hour of registration was Friday at 2 pm on Eidfjord, 5 hours by car from Stavanger. The strategy then was that I would travel to Eidfjord on Thursday afternoon. Fernando and Thor would stay in Stavanger to wait for the bicycle until Friday morning.
Friday came and after swimming in the fjord in Eidfjord, I stayed close to my phone waiting for news of Fernando and the bike.
All ok, Fernando and Thor are already on the road with my bike, while I do the registration.
The mandatory race briefing was at 3pm and if everything went well, Feñita would arrive on time. By the end of the briefing, Fernando was waiting for me to start putting together the bike and leaving everything ready for Saturday at dawn. With the bike ready and tested, we began to order and coordinate the clothes and supplies for the long day that awaited us. That night I did not sleep at all. Nerves and anxiety were tremendous. 2:15 am, breakfast and we are off to T1.
Bike check in, helmet, lights, reflective jacket, etc. All ready. We organize things and Feña accompanies me to the Ferry stairs. A couple of words of encouragement a hug and I’m already boarding the Ferry.
On the Ferry stairs I meet a French and a Norwegian athlete with whom I had shared time the previous days. The 3 of us leave together talking and laughing the 40 minutes that the Ferry takes to reach its destination. On all sides are faces of nervousness and funeral. Some listen to music, others with a lost look trying to understand what they will face soon … Over speakers they warn that we are arriving and that it is time to go down to the deck. Between the 3 of us we helped to zip up our suits and went down the stairs that leads to the deck. We went to a zone where a hose sprayed us with ice water to accustom the body to the initial shock. We wish each other luck and each one takes his on way. I quickly go to the hatch, which by then is already completely opened. One by one everyone starts jumping. To my surprise, there is still no light and the jump is in complete darkness. I approach the edge and for a moment I stop just like I do every morning before jumping into the pool. I know there’s no turning back. I hope the spot in the water is clear and take a leap of faith. The contact with the water is cold, but nothing that I have not felt before. I adjust my googles and start swimming towards the Kayaks that are 300 meters ahead. I place myself strategically on the left side to have a good vision of all the other athletes. The kayaker
warns us that there are 2 minutes left to go. A couple of other athletes arrive and they stay close to me. The siren sounds and I begin a strong and sustained sprint. I start to leave several people behind. I find a pair of swimmers that are swimming at a good pace. I position myself on the side taking advantage of the drafting. However, I feel that I am able to pass them, so I decide to go for it. Once I am ahead, I notice that there is no one else in my way. I feel good and with energy. It is then that a Kayak goes to my right and I see that a cameraman is filming me. I can not believe it, I’m first !!! This excites me and at the same time gives me more conviction to continue as the leader in the water.
At that point I do not feel cold, my body is at a good temperature and feeling that I can hold the pace. At times I feel the slaps on my feet of someone who is drafting. It bothers me so I kick a little harder so he stops messing with me. The swim is following the line of the coast, so it is easy to get oriented. When we enter the bay, the water temperature drops noticeably and the sea gets very choppy. You have to turn in a yellow buoy and then swim parallel to the dock before exiting the beach. The sea moves a lot and I even notice that some rain falls. Last meters, I do a final sprint to secure the first place and I stop when my hands touch the bottom. I walk the first meters and then jog into T1.
Feña escorts me to our bike and we start to gear for cycling. It took us long time; take out the suit, boots. Put socks, first layer, winter jacket, chamois, gloves, reflective jacket, shoes, helmet, glasses …
Already on the bike I follow my strategy, stick to my watts. The first climb is about 25 kilometers with 8 to 10 degrees of average elevation. It goes through tunnels and caves that are only illuminated with candles. It is amazing. A technical course with some bad
pavement in several sections. When he reached the top and an undulating plane begins, I meet Fernando, I decide to stop for a moment to take off my reflective jacket and then continue. A few kilometers away a tremendous fog rises and again a judge asks me to put on my reflective jacket. Until that moment I am going calmy making my plan. Suddenly a tremendous wind starts to run from the side and after a few minutes it starts to rain. I can feel the temperature start to drop quickly. To make matters worse, riding gets complicated by poor visibility and rain. Now the cold begins to get in my hands and face. I no longer feel my fingers and with great difficulty I manage to shift gears. I can not grab the bottles. Suddenly panic reaches me. I do not have anything else to warm up. I just remember that Fernando is wearing a rubber rain jacket that is waterproof inside and outside. Maybe it can help me contain the heat and keep me dry. I stop when I see Fernando and shivering of cold, I ask him to help me put it on. It was my last option. The minutes pass and I begin to recover the temperature. The next climb feels it’s like a gift from heaven warming me up.
The rest of the ride is the same, rain, cold and wind. The tension for not making mistakes and falling on a curve is wearing me down. I can no longer sustain the pace I had planned. I know I’m not doing good on the bike, but I prefer to ride safe and prevent a crash that could cost me the race. The last descent is very long and burns my legs. I get to T2 and Fernando is waiting for me with everything ready and organized. I do not feel my legs because of the cold. He literally undresses and dresses me into run outfit.
I take a gel and I’m off to the marathon. The first kilometers are terrible. I do not feel the toes and the legs are very tight. At kilometer 3 it stops raining and the temperature is pleasant, so I pass the rain jacket to Feñita. Little by little I’m feeling better. I’m running at 5 min / km very comfortable and I start to pass runners. Every 2K Fernando waits for me with isotonic drink and gels. He also reads me the messages of my family and friends who follow us from Chile. It excites me a lot and also gives me the second air I needed.
We are already going for the 12K and I am going strong and happy. I made 21K on 1 hour 43 min. The hardest part is coming close. At kilometer 25, “Zombie Hill” begins. It’s 10K with 10 degrees of average elevation. Fernando gives me a couple of gels and goes up to leave the car at kilometer 32, take a bus until kilometer 37.5, leave the backpacks for the trekking stage and then go down to meet me and run together until the end … Pretty simple, right ??? I’m running slow, but calmed. It does not matter that it is slow, but always running. The pain in butt muscles and hips is tremendous. They feel like hammer blows. I decide to change the strategy a little. For every kilometer, I walk 100 meters and then I run 900 meters.
So I keep up until at kilometer 30 where I meet Feñita. We are talking and discussing what we have experienced in the 12 hours of race. At kilometer 32 there is a quick physical check. They authorize me to continue up the mountain. From there, the following 5K keep going up, but with a little less elevation. At kilometer 37.5 we enter the mountain. At that moment I feel that we have made it and what is left is almost a walk. I could not be so wrong. Without energy the remaining 5K of trail were frankly terrible. Each step had be taken carefully, looking for the biggest rock that would give me stability. The view was amazing.
Fernando kept encouraging me by reading the messages that came from Chile. The summit was covered by fog and I could not sense that we were moving forward. A lot of tiredness and mental exhaustion. I wanted to stop to rest, but Feña pushed me to continue. The last 500 meters I could hear how people shouted when someone crossed the finish line. The emotion was almost irrepressible. Those who came down congratulated us and gave us encouragement. 200 meters more, Fernando passes me the Chilean flag and goes up to the finish line. The last few meters I let go all of the physical pain and try to contain the emotion. I raise my arms and the wind flutters the Chilean flag. I hear the crowd cheering when I step on the carpet and the joy is immense. I look for Fernando among the crodwd and walk towards him, unable to contain the emotion. We hugged and cried in silence.
Seconds later they bring me a blanket and a soup. We enter the cafeteria happy, but both already very exhausted. After a few moments we have to separate. Fernando has to walk down the mountain and I take a underground train. We met again in the car 1 hour later. It’s all over.
I want to thank everyone who helped me in my physical rehabilitation. Without their support I would not be running again: Roberto Abusleme, Giovani Carcuro, Edgardo Opazo, Romina Sepulveda, Gabriel Cancino, Claudia Cortés and Daniel Labarca.
My dearest friend Fernando Heredia, who has always been supporting me in good and bad times. There is no better supporter than you. Thanks to you I managed to achieve this dream and if it wasn’t for you, I would still be lost in that mountain. Thank you for your brother’s love and accepting to accompany me in this crazy adventure.
My coach and friend Michel Uteau, who has been polishing me as an athlete. Juan Carlos Torres and the team of YouTube coaches. Thank you for supporting me every day and making me feel at my second home. To my wife Rocío, who has always supported me. My daughters Camila, Antonia and Trinidad who are my inspiration and motivation. To my father and my brother for always being with me. To my mother, who looks after me from heaven. To all those who give me words of encouragement when they see me train. Altered Bikes and Francisco Zurob, Compressport Chile, Xterra Chile and Rodrigo Ballivian. Finally to all those who sent messages of support and affection on the day of the race. Thanks to you all I’m a “Norseman Finisher”.
If you liked this story take a look to the whole list of reports in the “Race Reports” section.
If you are taking the challenge of racing an Ironman and need a Coach contact me at www.maunaendurance.com/andres-sauma
I’m a certified Ironman University Coach and athlete with 15 years of experience.