'This is not for you': From the BBC sofa to completing The Norseman

By Chris Knight | 7 Minute Read

'This is not for you. Nothing personal but it's not. It's for people with fight, resilience and minds tougher than their bodies'. 

The opening narration to the Norseman Extreme Triathlon promotional video gives an insight into what faces the 'lucky' 250 competitors who take part in this unique challenge.

It starts with a 4am leap of faith from a ferry into the chilly Norwegian fjords and there's still 226km to go before you get to the finish line - a 3.8km swim, 180km on the bike and a marathon (including a calf-burning 17,175 feet of elevation). 

It's not for everyone but it was definitely for BBC television presenter Louise Minchin, who kindly spoke to us after using PH to help fuel her epic day in Norway...

 

Hi Louise! Congratulations! How on earth do you prepare for a challenge that flat out tells you, 'this is not for you'?

Thanks PH! That tagline plays in your head; you think 'this is the day where I find out whether this is for me or not'. 

I knew it was going to be tough and daunting because it comes with such a reputation. I’ve been doing this sport for not very long - about seven years now - but every single race prepares you for the next one in some way.

 

Do you have to pinch yourself to think how far you've come in the sport in the last seven years? 

Absolutely. I was thinking this week that in 2012 if someone had asked me to run the equivalent of the Norseman swim of 3.8km, I don’t think I’d have been able to do it. 

[Louise's interest in triathlon started when she took on her fellow BBC presenters in an Olympic-inspired cycling competition at the Manchester Velodrome and she has since gone on to represent GB Standard Distance Triathlon Team in her Age Group and completed the notorious Patagonman in 2018]

 

Louise Minchin white shirt

 

 

 

It just seems amazing that you can go from doing very little to doing these much longer distances. I’ve enjoyed it so much along the way and it’s part of my life now, it’s what I do.  

As you say, you've got a fair bit of experience in the sport now but what was going through your head as you waited to jump off that ferry into waters of around 13-15 Celsius [55-59 Fahrenheit] at the start of the Norseman?

Lots of things! Normally the night before a race I don't sleep really well, but this time I did!

So, immediately before the race I'm normally visualising everything, the jump off the ferry, the bike ride... But on the morning of The Norseman I was standing on the ferry and thinking ‘I haven’t really thought about this race’.

Obviously I’d had quite a long time to think about it but this was the first time I’d gone into an event where I genuinely thought, 'I’m on the ferry and I'm not visualising the race in my head'.

 

You have a strong swimming background from your younger days, was the swim your favourite part of The Norseman?

I get really nervous before any swim, even though I know it’s going to be fine after the first 100 metres or so. There’s definitely a sense of huge anticipation and nerves, especially as you’ve got to jump off a ferry to start! 

I loved the swim. The first 200 metres was a bit feisty, a few elbows and feet, but eventually I found some clear water.

I think my favourite thing was coming around a corner after quite a bit of swimming and I caught a glimpse of the bonfire on the beach, surrounded by these towering mountains behind it.

 

Louise Minchin swim

 

As for the bike, you know The Norseman is all about the hills and I'm not a great climber so I did lots of cycling in North Wales to prepare. Those climbs in Norway were very tough - my husband said he literally saw grown men crying at the top.

Nobody had prepared me for the downhill though; oh my gosh, it was so exhilarating. Some of the downhills I absolutely loved as I was flying down alongside some gushing, torrential rivers and that was very, very exciting. 

 

It sounds like an amazing experience and I can only imagine the range of emotions you went through during the course of your race [Louise completed the epic challenge in 16:46:43]...

Your support team is key because there are no aid stations on the course, so they're the people who keep you safe and keep you company.

I was a bit panicky at one stage because I didn’t see them at the first meeting point we had agreed on during the ride. I started to worry as it was all uphill and I’d been cycling for about two-and-a-half hours at this point, and I was thinking ‘what if I get there and they’re not there? I’m cold and I’m running out of food’.

Your support really are key and I think if I did it again I would have, not a different strategy as such, because I absolutely got it right on the bike, but on the run we didn’t know how hot it was going to be - it got up to over 30 degrees [86 Fahrenheit] and we just didn't expect that. 

I’m really rubbish in the heat anyway. When I eventually found them I asked them to do more stops on the run, which they did, and you can be flexible with it.

 

So what sort of things did your support team provide in the way of nutrition during the course of your race?

I did no gels at all, so the nutrition food-wise was a sandwich selection. My husband made a whole batch of sandwiches - peanut butter, Marmite, honey, ham - and every time I’d stop I would take a handful and it would be a case of lucky dip, I had no idea what was coming next.

I tried to eat as much real food as I could, so sandwiches and handfuls of really salty nuts. My go-to for races is Snickers bars but I didn't have many because it was so hot.

And the other thing I absolutely rely on is plain glucose tablets because I find they're not too sickly, they’re easily digestible and they don't cause me too many problems.

 

And how about your hydration strategy? I understand you've been using PH for a while now? 

I found out about you guys through my coach, Claire Sutcliffe at Total Tri Training, and I've found it really works for me, particularly at a race like The Norseman.

The heat was dangerously hot for someone like me because if I’d have messed things up with my hydration then I probably wouldn’t have been very well, but I took the SweatSalt Capsules on the run and there’s no doubt that they worked. 

In fact, my hydration strategy involved only Precision Hydration. The night before the race I had a bit of a race briefing with my daughter and I showed her how much water to mix with my PH 1000 packets, so she was in charge of hydration.

I started with 100 percent Precision Hydration, and towards the end of the ride I then moved to one bottle of PH and one bottle of water. We must have got it right because I finished the race! 

 

You certainly did! And what's the lure of these extreme triathlons for you? 

I think the lure for me is that they’re in extraordinary, extreme, brutal and beautiful environments.

When I'm going through those environments, I'm very much on my own and I feel like I’m a small part of a beautiful world, which I find exhilarating.

 

Louise Minchin Norseman view

 

The endorphins I get from competing in that extraordinarily stunning environment are amazing and they last for ages.

Swimming in glacial water in a fjord surrounded by ice-capped mountains is an opportunity you don't get very often…

For me, it’s very much being part of the environment and getting myself - using my own two legs and my swimming technique - to make it through 220km.

I find that very exciting, challenging and rewarding.

 

It sounds like there might be a few more extreme triathlons on the radar then...

My family laughed at me on the finish line in Norway because the BBC Breakfast reporter said, “so, Louise, will you do it again?”, and I replied, “no, never again, I’m going to stay in a caravan and I’m going to walk”. My family just looked at me and raised their eyebrows.

I have lots of ideas about things I’d like to do but I’m making no solid plans yet. They do take a huge amount of training and that does have an impact on lots of parts of my life, not least cooking dinner!

So I’m going to try and not commit to anything for a while…

 

Really? I see on Twitter that Annie Emmerson has been trying to get you to do a SwimRun next year...

I'm actually doing a SwimRun in eight weeks in Coniston with my coach! I was wondering why I’m doing this - it’s a 32km run with a 6km swim and something like 17 transitions.

I did one practice SwimRun earlier this year in Wales and for me, as a swimmer, to be able to swim across these lakes is so exciting. I don't enjoy the running so much but I love the swimming.

 

Great stuff! You'll have to speak to our founder Andy about what to expect at the OtillO Swim Run events next year! Thanks for your time today, it's been great to hear about your Norseman experience.

Louise Minchin is a BBC presenter and author of Dare To Tri, which was shortlisted for the Telegraph Sports Health & Fitness Book of the Year award. 

Louise has raised more than £2,000 in aid of the charity MIND through her Norseman challenge and you can donate here

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