Flora and the Norseman

Posted by Joel Smith on

The founders of the Norseman Ultratri were not bashful about their mission when they created it in 2003. They wanted to make it difficult, so difficult that most people could not possibly achieve the level of fitness necessary to compete in it, let alone finish it. 

Founder Hårek Stranheim recently wrote:

“I wanted to create a completely different race, make it a journey through the most beautiful nature of Norway, let the experience be more important than the finish time, and let the participants share their experience with family and friends, who will form their support. Let the race end on top of a mountain, to make it the hardest Ironman race on earth.”

This year's race achieved its mission, bringing even veteran ultra-triathletes like Reserve's Flora Colledge to their knees. Here is her story.

I went into this race with full confidence that a good performance could put me in contention for the podium. The fitness was there, and the race started well, but the (literally) freezing air temperatures on the bike course at the famous Hardangervidda Plateau left me shivering uncontrollably, and fairly sure that my day was over.  

My incredible crew spent 90 minutes warming me up (you’re not allowed to get into a vehicle if you want to continue the race, so this meant them giving me all their clothes and trying to keep me out of the wind as much as possible!). Looking back, my determination even at that moment to not get into the car might have been a sign that I still believed that I could make something out of the day.  

Finally, after a lot of warm clothing, hugs and hot coffee, we agreed I could try cycling for another 20 minutes, and see what happened. Still wrapped in puffy jackets, I got going again, albeit in 190th place, with any chance of a good result gone. Luckily, race mode came back almost immediately – when you start that far down in the field, at least there is always someone to overtake if you feel ok! I told my crew we could now try to get into the top 160, the cutoff required to be allowed to finish Norseman on top of Mount Gaustatoppen and earn the black, rather than white, finisher shirt.  

Entering T2, I saw I was in 164th place, with a 9-minute gap to 160th. However, I couldn’t even jog – how could I run a marathon that ended on a mountain? A black shirt immediately slipped out of the realm of possibility, as did even finishing, but it was worth another try to see how far I could get. I jogged a few steps – this is impossible. Then I passed an athlete lying flat, face-down on the ground, receiving a massage from his crew. Ok… maybe it’s just possible after all.  

A few kilometres in, I found my running rhythm. 1, 2, 3 athletes passed, back into the top 160.  

After 25k of flat running, the base of Zombie Hill, so-called because it’s full of dazed people walking or shuffling forward with glazed expressions and one goal in mind (in this case, instead of “brains” its “finishline”). 141st place, and despite my podium finish being a million miles away, I was so overjoyed to be there that I was screaming “I did it!” with as much pride as if I was in the lead. 

At this point, my support runner could join me, and we set out to pick off as many people as we could. My bike performance might not have been on point, but I had trained to run every step up Zombie Hill, and nothing was going to hold me back from that now. At the checkpoint that determines whether you can continue to the mountain summit and the black T Shirt, I was in 114th place; almost 30 athletes passed on Zombie Hill alone. The next goal was clear – I turned to my crew and said, “Top 100.” And so we continued running, ruthlessly fixing on every new athlete we saw in the distance, and counting them down as we got closer and closer to our goal… 9, 10, 11, 12… 

Another 5k of steady uphill running on road, and we were at the base of Mount Gaustatoppen, 4.5k rocky kilometres between me and the finish. If it was runnable, we ran, when we could only stumble and scramble, we did that. Metres from the end, my whole crew was screaming me to fight for every step as we held off one last athlete to cross the line in 82nd place and as the 14th female.  

This was not the result I trained for, but it is, in many ways, one of the performances I’m most proud of. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and faith in me, it’s one of the things that gives me the strength to fight on days like these. I’m hungrier than ever to fight for more great performances in future – as I told my crew through some (happy) tears as we crossed the finish line: “If I’d won it today, the next few years would be pretty boring.” I’m very excited to share more of the journey with you! 

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