Graeme Stewart Nxtri 2015 Review

Graeme Stewart is one of Scotland’s top triathletes & is proudly sponsored by John Clark BMW.  If you are an avid reader of our blog, you will know we have been following Graeme’s progress as he prepared for the Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon in Norway, which took place last weekend (August 7th).
After months of brutal training, Graeme finished in a very credible 4th place with a time of 10 hours, 4 minutes & 36 seconds.  Below, Graeme details his personal thoughts on the race & his feelings for the future.
“By reputation Norseman is the hardest single day triathlon in the world and my experience from many Ironmans and from races such as Celtman does not allow me to argue about this.
It is more than just a hard race, which you could go more easily round and round a loop all day where racers need armbands to count laps in case they forget. Norseman is a true journey across a vast country and captures the same epic spirit as the fantasy books I read when I was young.

Graeme Stewart Nxtri 2015 Review

Traveling to Eidfjord you feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenge and I like to go back and think about the much longer journey that started years ago.

I like to think about all the highs and lows, especially the lows and things I’ve overcome to be here. I think about how lucky I am to be here and have this opportunity to live life to the full when so many have not and will not.

For such a huge international race, at the start I was taken aback by how small it is. Its smaller than your local home town triathlon which give it a really special feel. Getting on the ferry is good to just sit down and relax and chat to your companions for the journey.  When the ferry pulls away you feel your heart in your stomach as you know the only way back is off the back of the car deck and in to the 10oC water.

For some people its fun but for many you can see to fear in their eyes as they get ready to jump. When the time comes to jump, the more you want it the closer you are to the front. In two years I have jumped 2nd then 3rd and only seen 3 people jump, Tom Remman, Henrik Oftedal and Lar Petter Stormo.

Graeme Stewart Nxtri 2015 Review

My conclusion is there is a strong correlation between your jump position and your finish position. On the so called “brave jump” do the bravest lead the way or does respect for experience make you wait?

If I do it again maybe I will not see anyone jump, I will be the first to fall, the first to feel my heart in my mouth and the cold sting of the fjord. Then, when the final leap comes, the one of faith and strength to take me to the summit of Gauststoppen maybe just I could be the first and see nobody in front.

In 2014 I managed to draw out a gap from Lars Petter and Allan Hovda on the second half of the swim, I also caught and passed Lars Christian who is a fast starter.

My whole race strategy hung on this and getting out of sight and getting to Geilo alone where I could attack. Having worked hard on my swim fitness and endurance I was looking forward to maximising this advantage this year however it wasn’t to be.

Due to the 10oC water temperature the swim was shortened to 1900m. This meant the gaps were small and everyone was less fatigued in T1. When I saw the other top guys in T1 I felt a little defeated already as my plan was to be out of sight before they got out of the water.

The climb up to Dyranut past Voringfoss on the ‘old road’ is stunning. It reminds me of the endless Penrose staircase with riders winding under and over the main road packed with cars. You pass through tunnels in vertical rock faces and cross bridges over gushing ice water. Although your racing you feel that the journey has begun.

Henrik caught me and powered on worryingly fast. I went with him from a couple of minutes but a look at the power gauge told me it would be suicidal! Everyone was hoping he was overcooking it at this point.

The first climb take you from sea level to over 1200 and when you see Dyranut and come out on to the bleak Hardangervidda the biggest change is the drop in temperature. Hot and sweaty from the hard climb my visor suddenly condensed  in the 2oC air and I was left navigating through the vents in the top.  Luckily we brought a spare and with the team totally on the ball did a quick change at 40kph!

The pace was fast all the way to Geilo and the average speed rapidly picked up to over 30kph. Norseman is a basically a 6 hour interval session so on the flatter sections you need to take it a bit easier and recover from the climb as you have 5 hard climbs in total!

I’d trained well for the second half of the ride so I dropped the hammer and could tell Alan and Lars were suffering with the pace I set. They stuck with me like glue however and then rolled past on the descents where their top speed was definitely greater when we were topping 70 or 80kph. 

We got great conditions over Imingfjell this year and it allowed you to appreciate the magnificence of the landscape. We kept pushing the pace hard from the top of the steep section to the descent and got a gap on Lars Petter.

From Imingfjell its like dropping down in to a different land entirely. The bleak mountains and snow gives way to lush green forests and the temperature soares again. I challenge anyone not to feel relief on reaching T2.

T2 was much faster than I had anticipated and Lars was out immediately with a 30sec lead and when I left the number belt that became 35.

Mentally this was to be the toughest part of the race. My plan, which had been blown out of the water (almost literally) was now in shreds and I looked like I might be lucky to do as well as 2014.

For 2k we ran with an invisible cord between us and several times I nearly put the foot down to catch Lars. Easy to say now but I wish I had just gone for it! However several doubts weighted heavy on my legs. What if I melt down on the long climb again or what if my stomach craps or I get a stitch which has happened to me many times running of the bike. 

At 2k I stopped for a comfort break and never saw Lars again. However I held a solid yet nervous pace to the start of Zombie hill where I had gone from 2nd to 6th the year before!

When you come round the corner at around 21k and see the mountain it can hit you in 2 ways. Relief that the end is finally in sight and despair at the sheer magnitude of the task ahead. At the same time I always feel a little shiver as I take in the majesty of the mountain still crowned in snow.

This time Zombie hill was different though, I was fitter and more focussed and by half way up I could see the team were changing their mood from survival to attack.

I was gaining on Lars Petter and Lars Christian and Henrik was walking! Allan was still increasing his lead but if things kept going like this I COULD just maybe make the podium. By hotel turn I had halved the lead to the chasing group and the race was back on.

It’s easy to make the mistake that Zombie hill stops at 7k at the hotel turn but it keep going and going until you reach the 32k mark. After that there is some short respite before the climb however at 1000m of altitude there is always a cold wind. When I saw a number clad figure up  ahead my legs were filled with fuel and with Jen beside me we charge up to Henrik Oftidal at the start of the mountain.

Confident now I pushed on up just hoping for a glimps of the chasers ahead to fill my legs with the fuel they needed again. Sadly it wasn’t to be and they picked the pace up in their own battle for 2nd/3rd but I still was proud to march the final stone steps this year with a feeling of achievement.

I have a lot of love and respect for the other guys. Although we may not talk much outside the race and are deadly enemy’s in the final metres, when you race someone you share a deeply personal and painful experience. I’d say racing is something like sharing a child birth, painful but rewarding and an experience that links people together forever.

It took about 5min before the team were telling me how close I was and “if only” I had done a few things differently I could have finished higher. I was surprised Jen was the first to suggest I came back in 2016 but I realised she is the more competitive one in the family!

Now I know I can compete on the mountain I could certainly run with more conviction and who knows with a long swim and tougher bike conditions it could happen, the dream is still very much alive within me.”

 – Graeme Stewart

 (All photos courtesy of Robby MacBeath, Jennifer Stewart & Tom Blankenstein)