Norseman Triathlon Race Report
Posted: Aug 09 2015
Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that thoughtfulness and toughness are mutually exclusive. Coeur athlete Sonja Wieck most definitely combines both traits. Along with a couple others like politeness, graciousness, and a refreshing and somewhat rare introspectiveness that are all woven together to make her an incredibly interesting individual and a joy to have on the Coeur team.
She recently completed one of the toughest races in the world called The Norseman and earned a coveted Black Shirt. We got the chance to ask her a few questions after the race.
Norseman is Beautiful and Tough
Coeur: So Norway is a long ways to go for a race. Tell us about Norseman and what compelled you to take on this epic event?
Sonja: I heard about Norseman several years ago when I saw the video that they put out every year. It looked extremely challenging and yet very gorgeous. I really love adventure, and challenge so I put it on “the list” of races I wanted to do someday. After Kona last year, my coach and I discussed having a non Kona focused year so I of course pulled out “the list” and started putting everything I could from it on my schedule. Norseman holds aside 5 slots for Elite women that you have to apply for. I thought I stood a pretty good chance to get one of those so I entered that way. The rest of the slots are by lottery only, with 1/2 of them given to Norwegians. They only allow 260 people to start the race and only 160 (on a good weather day) are allowed to the summit. Finishing on the summit rewards you with a black t-shirt, and finishing at another finish lower down if you get turned rewards you with a white shirt. Everyone is there for the black shirt! Of course if you do 10 Norseman races, and get 10 back shirts, you can trade it in for a pink shirt! CHALLENGE!!!
Coeur: You're a multiple Kona finish which is known for the heat and now you've done Norseman which is obviously on the colder side. Which race did you find to be the more difficult?
Sonja: Norseman makes Kona look like a cake walk. Yes, there is the heat in Kona but that requires a good nutrition plan and good pacing, maybe some heat training leading into the race. If you have qualified for Kona, you are going to be competent enough to finish Kona, maybe even do quite well. Norseman is a completely different beast, and much more challenging of a race. With 5,400 feet of climbing in the last 10.5 miles of the run portion alone, and the only encouragement coming from the cowbells around the necks of the sheep, this race is only for those who are extremely prepared for pain. The swim this year was 10 degrees Celsius, that’s 50.6 degrees F. That alone takes a level of toughness not usually required. The bike has 5 climbs and 12,000 feet of climbing. The fist climb is right out of the swim and is 35k long. There is nothing easy about any portion of Norseman, so you have to be extra tough.
Coeur: Some people "heat acclimate" before a hot race, did you do anything to prepare for the cold?
Sonja: I didn’t have the opportunity to do so. We had a warm summer in Colorado and I spent several weeks with my coach in California where it was very warm. However, I was well prepared with my clothing choices. Clothing/Gear is the 4th discipline here at Norseman. It can make or break your race. We had a few clothing changes, but all in all I was at least prepared with the right layers. The nice thing about the race being self-supported is that you can bring options and change into them if need be. On the second climb of the day, at about 100K I changed shorts because my wet tri shorts were frozen. I got naked on the side of the road, there is a lot of nudity in Norseman! Also, I purchased a full wetsuit hood, a neoprene vest for under my wetsuit, booties, ear plugs. All of these were absolutely necessary for the cold swim.
In the word, the swim was "cold". In two words it was "very cold!"
Coeur: What was the toughest part of the race for you?
Sonja: Even thinking about the answer to this question makes me want to cry. I got a chest infection the week of the race. I slept much of the week and really tried to get better but race morning I had to make the decision to race while sick, or throw in the towel. That was really hard for me, because I really believe in protecting your health in this sport and I knew starting was not the healthy thing to do, but I had spent so much money, time, and resources to make it to the start line. So I decided to start the race and I had no idea whether I would be able to finish.
You ride across the top of a plateau after the first climb for about 55K and it was 0 deg celsius up there and that was a definite low point. My lungs did not appreciate the altitude and the temperature and were protesting with lots of coughing and green goo. Troy had provided me SAG at the top and then I didn’t see my crew for a while and I got really cold. I was losing control of my ability to think well, steer my bike well, care about my safety, and I was coughing a lot. When I saw my crew at 90K I couldn’t talk any more, could barely pedal and was pretty close to quitting the race at that point. That was not exactly a highlight!
As bad as that stretch was, I think the worst for me was the last 3 miles of the “run". At that point I had made the top 160 and was allowed to go to the summit for a black shirt and I was moving very slowly. There are lots of people hiking this section, from people on vacation, to other crews coming back down who have left their athlete at the top to take the tram back down. At one point in here I just hurt so bad and felt so sick that I was weepy. Someone coming down the trail ran into me and knocked me off balance. Usually no big deal but in my state it absolutely wrecked me and I just started crying big tears. She was like “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” and I couldn’t even look at her, I just stood there crying for a few long seconds. Then I took the next step towards the top and continued onwards and upwards, totally wrecked. That was my lowest point in the race.
Coeur: What advice would you have for someone doing Norseman for he first time?
Sonja: You need to ride and run up every single thing you can get your hands on. Up up up, everything possible, I can’t urge this enough. The level of competitors at Norseman is very high. The Norwegian men are very fit, and you are competing against them if you hope for a black shirt. They also have long legs and hike very fast, so hiking is something you should train for! Also, having a very well-oiled crew is important. Train with your crew! Do those long training sessions with your crew so that you have worked out a good communication pattern. Finally, just know the race is going to put you against the ropes, and probably several times. Be ready to work through some dark places.
Coeur: You seem to really like to challenge yourself physically, is there anything left on the "bucket list”?
Sonja: This is a funny observation! “Hey Sonja….you seem to like to hurt yourself a lot for someone who is interested in health" Hahah!! Sometimes I wish I could just be really into knitting…or maybe scrapbooking. But something in me just continues to seek my personal emotional limits. These races are physical, yes they are, and training is very important, but I think I keep signing up for harder and harder challenges to see where my emotional boundaries lie. How much physical pain can I put myself through and still emotionally handle it? That’s a question I haven’t found the answer to, I have yet to quit a race. So I guess I will continue to seek these challenges until I find my limit….I’m open to any suggestions for additions to "the list"!
Coeur: Wow..awesome. We are so impressed and grateful to have you on the team. Thank you and congratulations again!