The Norseman Triathlon has earned a reputation as one of the toughest triathlons in the world—and for good reason. Held in the Nordic town of Eidfjord, the race is generally bone-chilling cold, with water in the mid-50s (Fahrenheit), and air temps generally not far off that.
While those brave enough to take on Norseman simply go to tick the box once, Allan Hovda regards it as somewhat part of his bloodline. As a Norwegian, it appears that it's a part of his birthright, perhaps something to prove citizenship. Of course, as a three-time race champion (having won in 2014, 2015, and 2018), claiming another title was on his mind as well.
Whatever the reason, Hovda yet again hung his toes over the edge of a ferry in the middle of the fjord this early August morning, ready for the cold waters. And while some would say that conditions were favorable, it’s relative. Make no mistake, this was no walk in the park. And so, he jumped into the water.
“Cold and fast would be the two words that summed up Norseman 2022,” Hovda told us. “The water was about 14-15°C with small spots noticeably colder. Previously that would be considered cold, but as I started to swim in open water at about 10°C it felt perfectly fine, even with just a neoprene cap and my QR HYDROsix2.”
Dashing out of Hardanger Fjord in 58 minutes, 27 seconds and in seventh place, Hovda was resolute—even if he couldn’t feel his fingers or toes right away. “An unfavorable current made the swim slightly slow, but I minimized the loss to Kristian Grue to nearly half compared to last year."
It was in T1 where proper preparation is key. Freeze out on the bike after losing thermal energy in the water could end your day early. “The weather forecast for Hardangervidda—the mountain plateau that ran from 35k to 80k mark—didn't look great,” he said. “It was 2°C, raining and very windy." So Hovda loaded for bear.
“In transition, I put on wool socks, neoprene toe covers, a winter neoprene cover, Bioracers version of the 'Gabba-jacket', loose arm warmers, thick neoprene gloves (with holes for my fingers), and a wool headband underneath my TT-helmet with taped vents,” he said. “It was just enough—but barely.”
Flying on his PRsix2 for the bike leg, Hovda was met by biting cold crosswinds and slate grey skies as he began to move forward and closer to the leaders. And while the opening miles were pure agony, the temps did abate slightly, making the bike leg somewhat tenable.
“The rest of the bike felt pleasant,” he said, "which I guess everything does after conditions like that.”
After 112 miles of riding, earning a 5:06 split, Hovda managed to move up to third place by T2, and prepare for the run—a run that is part of the legend of Norseman. After the respite of the rolling opening miles, the wall came into view: the hike up Mount Gaustatoppen. With over 6,000ft of climbing (including the insidious 7% grade of Zombie Hill), it had more elements of hiking than running as competitors move past the tree line and into switchbacks through the rugged, open escarpment. And happily, for all competitors, the temps began to rise.
Hovda would solder on, up the hill, and after the 26.2-mile marathon, earned a third-place finish overall in 10:02:19.
“Crossing the finish line at Norseman is the best feeling in the world—a strange feeling of euphoria and relief,” he said. “You’ve done the impossible and can stop hurting yourself.”
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