Recap: Ironman Norway; A Lovely Day for a DNF
Ironman Norway was my 8th Ironman, and one that kind of fell into place in an odd way. I had already planned a two week trip with some clients and friends in Norway to hike along the Lysefjord and see the sights when Ironman announced the new race would be held one week prior. The thought of doing an Ironman in Viking country was alluring so I signed up. It took a lot of logistics and everything was coming together nicely. Until it all fell apart.
In the past, I have always rented a bike when I've done an international Ironman race. Its easier and cheaper than shipping mine overseas, and since I usually (ok, never) plan on reaching the podium, the rentals have always worked fine in the past. I posted on the Ironman Haugesund Facebook page inquiring about a good local shop to rent from, and the race director reached out and said that its probably better to bring mine from home since Norway isn't exactly known for its road bikes. Not to mention, the race is in Haugesund, a smallish city that's challenging to get to. The race director is also a triathlete and was accommodating when I explained how I was hiking for two weeks around Norway after the race, and offered to help me find a place to store my bike as I traveled, to help me avoid dragging my case all over the country. I borrowed a case from a friend, packed up my own bike (getting my wetsuit and as much other gear as I could fit inn the case with it.) and headed off to Norway.
Getting adjusted to the 9-hour time difference was a challenge, especially since it never gets dark in this part of Norway in the summer. You wake up at 2 am, peek out the shades, and its still light out. However I was looking forward to finishing an Ironman with it still being light outside!
At the race briefing we learned there were not special needs bags. I've always used them in the past, putting a spare tube, CO2 and nutrition in the bike one and a long sleeve shirt and fresh socks and ibuprophen in the run. I've never had a flat at this distance, so I've never needed the spare tube, but it was a great safety net just in case. Also, we learned that the transition was about a 30 minute walk from town. After we finished, they would bus us there, and we would have to ride our bikes back, with both of our gear bags. No shuttles were going to take us back and no one was allowed to pick up our gear but us (which was annoying and easily solvable with a ticket system I've seen at every other race I've done).
Race morning came around and I was excited. We had driven the bike course two days before, I was ready for the steep uphills and the technical downhills, and my nutrition (With the help of Val at Sparks Metabolic Systems) was dialed in. The weather was perfect (high of 68 and 0 chance of rain), I was the leanest I have ever been at this distance, and my stomach and GI system were actually fully cooperating for once.
I got to transition and got my tires pumped, and chatted with the other Americans who were, oddly enough, all racked next to each other. As I got my wetsuit on, I noticed out of 800 people (600 of which doing the full distance) I was the only one I saw in a sleeveless wetsuit. I had tried the water two days before and it was in the lower 60s which I found comfortable. The swim was interesting. They had constructed giant lane lines in the lake, turning the lake into a giant swimming pool. It was something the race director was incredibly proud of during the race briefing. In reality, it was done because this lake was entirely too small to host an Ironman swim. As the gun went off and we entered the water 5 at a time every 5 seconds, it quickly became incredibly chaotic as everyone was trying to hug the "lane lines." The outer turns were marked with turn bouys, but the inner ones were not. Not to mention, they weren't in perfectly straight lines as they were marked on the course map. SOme of the lanes cut in at 45 degree angles at the horseshoe turns. So if you chose to not hug the lane lines, in the absence of turn bouys your swam extra distance as you went straight.
My swim time was somewhere around where I anticipated coming out in 1:11 and I headed into transition. I do a full change to get out of the swimsuit and into a bike kit, and the usual large, change tents, one for men and one for women were replaced with small tents, maybe 10 x 10. 3 marked for men and 3 for women. When I entered the tent, I noticed there were no chairs which made things incredibly awkward. Your choices were to dance around on noodle legs, trying to change clothes still disoriented from the swim, or have a seat on the astroturf (transition was on a soccer field) and get those little black plastic ground filler things stuck all over your wet body. I opted for the turf. It added about 5 minutes to my transition time and it was a pain to get them all off of my body after I exited the tiny change tent to make room for people who were coming out of the swim. But I got it done, got on my bike, and headed out onto the bike course.
This was one of the most beautiful bike routes I had ever seen. Passing right along side the fjords, lakes, and small farms in coastal Norway was stunning. It took me about 10 miles to get my HR back down, but then it was time to start climbing the hills outside town. It was a one-loop course, starting north then heading back through town halfway for a southern loop for the back 56 miles. Glancing at my watch, I was headed for what could have been a PR.
Then everything fell apart.
At mile 36, I got a flat. With my right thumb still in a lot of pain and in a brace (MRI pending when I get back home), changing the tire was not easy. I guess It was so not easy, that I, in fact, didn't do it right at all. I tried to bead the seal on the tire, but didn't notice that I didn't get it all the way on there till I fully inflated the tire. There was a slight bulge on one edge of it. I tried to let a little air out of the tire and rebead it, but oddly enough, the stem valve wouldn't allow me to press on it to let the air out. A race official passed me, glanced at me, and kept going. I took it as a sign that I needed to let it go, take my chances, and try to at least get to the next aid station.
As I started to ride again, the obvious bulge in the tire "thwapped" with every rotation of the tire. I could hear and feel it, and when I increased speed, it did as well. A constant reminder of my screw up. It took me 15 minutes to change the tire, and I was flustered. Trying to keep my heart rate down was impossible.
The next aid station was about 14 miles away, on the other side of town. I rode through the town center, saw my friends who had come to cheer me on, and got a boost of confidence as I coasted into the next aid station a few more miles up the road. I asked the person running it if they had any tubes or CO2 and she said no. I asked her if she knew if the roving motorcyles did and she said she didn't know. The motorcycles I had seen up to this point were all race marshalls and didn't have any extra tires or wheels on the backs like I had seen some carry at every other Ironman race I've ever raced in or spectated. There were also not any pros racing in Haugesund which may have been why.
Without options, I pressed on. I could still get off the bike in a respectable time and, knock on wood, my patch job was at least holding up for now. I made it about 15 more miles before the tire exploded on a downhill section at about 32 MPH. By the grace of God, I didn't wreck, and slowly applied my brakes and pulled to the side of the course. I knew it would be bad, but had no idea how bad. The who sidewall of the outer tire had blown out. I was on a section of the course that wasn't on a main road, but more of a bike path that was down by one of the lakes. I waited and waited for a motorcycle to come by.
One never did.
Out of CO2 and tubes, and with a shredded outer tire, I didn't have a lot of options. A few fellow racers slowed and offered what help they could provide, but when I tried to fill another tube in the tire, it exploded immediately as well. After waiting for 40 minutes and still no support, I decided to try and fill the tire halfway with air. I did and it managed to hold me for the next 10 miles, when it then also exploded.
At that point, I knew my day was over. I waited at the side of the road for a car to come by and after 15 minutes one did. He was a race volunteer driving the course and giving rides to cyclists back to town who couldn't finish the race. I wasn't the only racer having a bad day as he told me two others had to quit because they didn't have any more tubes. There was absolutely no bike aid on the course that day.
But there was no sense in getting angry. Or upset. Nothing would magically make the situation any different. I got the ride back to town, and cheered on the other athletes who were making their way across the finish line. When I asked the race director later why there was no bike support, he said they didn't have a need for it. That it had never been an issue for the 7 years of the half Ironman prior. But that they would consider doing it for next year. As nice as he was helping me get my bike to Norway, it was little consolation when he failed to provide even basic help for bikes on the course.
But that's okay.
I learned a lot more having to DNF my first ever Ironman than I would have had I crossed my 8th finish line. Sometimes, things are just beyond your control. It's up to you whether or not you allow that to destroy your inner peace. Also, I'll make sure and have new tires before Ironman Ireland next June. :)
Ramsey Bergeron owns and operates Bergeron Personal Training in Scottsdale, AZ. He is an NASM CPT, 7-time Ironman, and former spokesperson for a national supplement company. He has been seen in Men's Health Magazine among other periodicals and over 40 million newspapers across the country. He is also an expert contributor to various online fitness articles. He also founded Bergeron Adventure Travel which he uses to motivate clients to by preparing them for and leading them on hikes and trips around the world. Having led groups over the Inca Trail in Peru and the Milford Sound in New Zealand, and along the Lysefjord in Norway, he is currently planing adventure trips to Patagonia and Japan.