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Norseman Xtreme Triathlon.
Photo: Kai-Otto Melau
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This rough Norwegian triathlon is the Bucketlist Race of the Year

International triathletes want nothing more than to face the extreme weather conditions of the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon.

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For the second year in a row, exclusive Norwegian Norseman Xtreme Triathlon has been voted the Bucketlist Race of the Year award at the prestigious Triathlon Business International conference in Houston, Texas.

The race, running from the waters of Eidfjord over the mountains of Hardangervidda and up to the summit of Mount Gaustatoppen, was voted by triathletes from all over the world as being at the top of their most-wanted lists.

"That a tiny race like ours is out-competing races like Iron Man Hawaii, the cradle of triathlon, and Challenge Roth, is great fun for us”, general manager Dag Oliver says.

 

The story of the race began with a bright idea in Norseman founder Hårek Stranheim’s head back in 2003, at a time when the prospects of the sport looked pretty glum. Triathlon, a popular sport in the early nineties, had fallen into a slump around the turn of the millennium. Norway had been struck particularly hard, and the sport was all but extinct.

“Seeing as triathlon in Norway had a broken back, he decided to create something so rough and crazy that even the Germans would be onboard, thus rebuilding the sport in Norway. And we succeeded.”

Internationally, the original event is IronMan Hawaii. 3.8 kilometers of swimming, followed by 180 kilometres of biking and then a 42.2 kilometre long marathon.

The idea of a Norwegian version began when Stranheim sat down with a map to plot a route for a local long distance race.

“He must have had something of a eureka moment discovering that the distance from Eidfjord to Austbygde in Tinn was exactly 180 kilometres”, Oliver says.

“And the distance from the camping site of Austbygde to Gaustadtoppen is exactly 42.2 kilometres. It is the triathlon route that nature itself made.”

The race can be subject to extremely shifting weather conditions, from rain and fog travelling over Hardangervidda, to baking sun on the way to Rjukan, and then a cool (hopefully) finale at Gaustadtoppen.

“We make sure to inform our participants that they’ll be facing cold waters and a lot of weather. They pass through five different climate zones in one late summer day”, Oliver says.

The coldest part is usually the start.

“The temperatures of Eidfjord are often challenging. If the weather is bad one summer, the fjord will be cold. If the weather is really good, we’ll get meltwater and the fjord will still be cold.”

In its 15th year, the competition is an international success. Their Facebook page is filled with giddy reviews from former participants, everything from the American writing “Best race on Earth! One of the best days of my life!” to the Dane simply stating “Cool – and cold :)”.

Last year, 3,650 applicants wanted to enter the race. However, since 2003 the limit has been set at 250 competitors. Partly for security reasons, partly because of a concern for the environment, as Oliver and his colleagues insist on leaving the smallest possible footprint.

When the applications are in, participants are picked through a lottery. This year, the triathlon has participants from 43 nations, ranging from exercise enthusiasts and professional triathletes to regular people with extraordinarily high goals.

“The fastest will usually finish in ten and a half hours, the last one usually takes a bit under 20 hours to complete the race.”

“How many don’t make it?”

“Very few, the average is less than five percent. This ties closely with the fact that they know early on that they have a spot in the triathlon, and also with us spending a lot of time preparing them on what to expect. Not just in terms of physical condition, but also in terms of swimming in cold water that is down to 11 or 12 degrees celsius. Also, knowing that you have less than a ten percent chance of gaining entry tends to make people prepare properly.”

This year’s goal is to take the race one step further with Norseman LIVE, an online livestream of the event.

“Call it the slow tv of sports. On average, we’ve had 50,000 viewers for our gps tracking on Facebook and the web, so we’re aiming to give them something extra this year in the form of live images for as long as 20 hours.”

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