A Norseman 2018 epic, from the other side of the mic
Norseman 2018 happened on August 4th. This is Philip's perspective from the studio.
It was just after half-past four in the morning when they turned on the hoses on the ferry, and the neoprene-clad racers gasped as they were sprayed with cold water drawn up from a fjord hundreds of meters deep.
Better to gasp then while they still had their two feet under them than ten minutes later, when they actually had to jump into the chilly, dark water for the start of one of the most extreme races on the face of the earth.
Now soaked and a lot colder, they jumped, one by one, feet first into the darkness as the safety boats and kayaks bobbed silently close by. The temperatures may not have been as low as last year but coupled with the nerves ahead of a 226km race that might take them until midnight to complete, that in itself was cold comfort.
The five o’clock horn that signals the start of the Norseman Extreme Triathlon is minutes away, and the production manager asks me if I’m OK.
Some more coffee would be great, I answer as I lean back in my chair in a warm studio, many miles from the chilly misery of the start line in the fjord.
This is the irony of commentating on such extreme races as Norseman – colleagues and fans alike wonder how I can talk over the spectacular images I am fed for almost 14 hours with very few breaks, and my answer is always the same.
Have you seen them bobbing in the cold in the fjord?
Of everyone involved, I have the easiest job, and in truth I could talk about this race for an awful lot longer. There were 238 brave souls bobbing in the water as dawn struggled to climb over the sheer cliffs that surround Eidfjord, and every one of them has their own unique story.
There were professional athletes who have crushed the course at Kona, and tough, hardy amateurs only just realizing what it was they had gotten themselves into.
Some were aiming for the top step of the podium to bathe in the camera flashes and the glory at Gaustatoppen, while others had their sights set on making the 12-hour cut-off after the cycle – after which they would still have an epic marathon left to run.
The hardest part of being on the mic for that long is not to tell these wonderful stories as a thrilling and dramatic race unfolds before me – the hardest part is knowing that, no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to tell them all.
Of course, the leaders of the men’s and women’s races are in the spotlight for much of the day, but every time we are given the chance, we drop back down the field to illuminate the extraordinary athletes in their wake.
Behind the cameras and in the control room are the other unsung heroes, the camera crews on motorbikes, the roving reporter Helen Webster crammed into a car and zipping from place to place to bring us into the heart of the action and the hearts of the athletes.
Those of us involved in the production know what we have at our disposal, and it is our job to take that technology and our skills and, against the backdrop of the breathtaking natural beauty that is the legacy of the Ice Age tearing the Norwegian landscape apart, we weave it into a blockbuster.
Our story is almost the opposite of the hero’s journey so beloved of Hollywood scriptwriters.
Sure, we witnessed an epic battle among half a dozen pretenders until Allan Hovda dropped Lars Christian Vold in the first ten kilometers of the run and never looked back, and Mette Pettersen Moe hared away from the field to triumph in the women’s race.
But when the last lines of those epic tales had been written, our supporting cast of dozens more triathletes were still writing their own stories of derring-do as the darkness closed in.
There was the rucksack lost before an athlete set off up the mountain, and the anguished moments as bystanders pulled together the necessary equipment – a phone, some food, a warm sweater – to allow them to continue.
There was the bike tire that exploded, only for a passing support team to hand over their spare to an athlete whose name they didn’t even know.
There was the exhausted competitor who sat for the best part of an hour, bracing themselves to attack Zombie Hill, and succeeding through sheer bloody-mindedness.
At the end in Gaustablikk the athletes gathered, from those who did not finish to those who stepped up on the podium, and already everyone was asking themselves how they could be better next year.
In the studio miles away, we pushed in our chairs and did the same thing.
Because this is who we are, and this is what we do.