Hardy GTC athletes race in bonkers events

Iain during the Norseman bike ride. Credit: Andrew Todd

It seemed to me that the weekend featured some of our hardiest (or maddest?!) athletes. Mark Cohen took part in the RWSABC Clyde Crossing Swim, Iain Todd completed the Norseman in Norway and Gregor Love and Alan Kennedy teamed up for Rockman 2018. GTC member Helen Newstead (and James?) also did Rockman.

Again, as Hilary would say: “They are all absolutely marvellous.”

Mark’s big Clyde swim

Mark, right, wiht a fellow swimmer. Credit: Maureen Boyd.

Mark took on the 3km RWSABC Clyde Crossing Swim from Kilcreggan back to the boat club at Greenock.

Mark said: “The RWSABC is 150 years old, and a wonderfully old-fashioned club. The swim was a very laid back affair but incredibly well organised by Joe Heffernan.”

A fast rib takes swimmers to Kilcreggan and then it’s a battle through the chop to swim across the Clyde estuary. There were numerous lion’s mane jellyfish but Mark reports that the tides were kind and although some jellyfish were spotted no-one was stung.

Mark, who swims “skins”, says: “I made it across two seconds shy of an hour.

“The prize giving is brilliant. Everybody’s time is announced and everybody receives a round of applause, no matter if you’re first or last.

“I won a bottle of Tabasco sauce for being the third skins swimmer.”

Iain’s Norseman challenge

Iain prepares for the Norseman. Credit: Andrew Todd

The Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon is point-to-point (or fjord-to-peak) race starting at sea level, with a four metre drop off a ferry into a fjord. I can remember Iain telling me that he wanted to do the Norseman because his twin Andrew had already completed it. Plus, for some reason, he fancied the idea of a jump off a boat into freezing fjord waters.

The race comprises a 4km swim to the town of Eidfjord; a very hilly 180km bike leg including 3500m elevation across Hardangervidda mountain plateau; then a marathon to the top of the 1850m peak of Gaustatoppen.

The race is limited to 250 competitors of which 160 finish at the mountain peak and the rest finish at the village, just below the summit.

The originator of the event describes the race perfectly: “I wanted to create a completely different race, make it a journey through the most beautiful nature of Norway, let the experience be more important than the finish time, and let the participants share their experience with family and friends, who will form their support. Let the race end on top of a mountain, to make it the toughest full distance triathlon on planet earth.”

The race starts at 5am, which in reality meant getting up at 2.30am to catch the 4am ferry.

The swim stage in a stunning fjord. Credit: Andrew Todd
Credit: Andrew Todd
Credit: Andrew Todd

Iain says: “What they do not show you on the videos of the event is that the ferry has a very comfortable TV lounge showing Norwegian breakfast TV. Most of my fellow competitors were warming up or repeating race mantras to themselves to get into the race zone. I sat watching Norwegian Peppa Pig.”

Iain described the jump off the ferry as “great fun”. He says: “I used my patented Todd belly flop dive. Most of the fjord ended up on the ferry. The swim was cold but not too bad. I enjoyed it and the distance passed quickly.”

Credit: Andrew Todd
Credit: Andrew Todd
Credit: Andrew Todd
Happy! Credit: Andrew Todd

The bike leg starts with a 40K climb. He says: “I’d broken all the climbs down into units of measurement known as ‘crow roads’. That is, this climb is five crow roads. I find cycling more manageable if I break things down into things I already know I could do.

“Similarly, on the flatter section, I’d think of in terms of how many commutes to work it would be.

“I do not particularly enjoy long bike rides but I got through it. My support team said I was like a stroppy teenager. One minute I’d be demanding a banana but then as soon as they got one I’d say, ‘Why’d you get me a banana. I wanted an apple!’ ”

Iain was supported by his wife Nicola and twin brother Andrew.

The weather improved as the day went on and by the time Iain started the run is was warm and sunny. He says: “My aim was to get to the bottom of ‘zombie hill’ in two hours or so and then walk from there.

“The great thing is that from that point I could have a support runner. I was really looking forward to having someone to speak to but after my stroppiness I worried that they probably weren’t looking forward to speaking to me.”

Iain describes zombie hill as hard but because he had cycled it a few years previously he knew roughly what to expect. He was not in the top 160 competitors so he was told to run to the village rather than the summit.

He says: “The village finish is 10 laps of a hotel complex. There’s a great atmosphere as competitors finish, music blares out and Norwegians wave flags.

“I was happy to cross the finish line in under 16 hours. I couldn’t have done it without my support team. They had to work even harder than me and all I did was some exercise.”

Rockman swim-run 2018

Alan and Gregor were team 55.

Gregor Love and Alan Kennedy teamed up for the Rockman Swimrun 2018 in Norway. While Alan has taken part in the Rockman before with Mark Cohen, it was Gregor’s first time. (Unfortunately, we do not have any pics of Alan and Gregor in this race.)

GTC couple Helen Newstead and James Overell also competed in the Rockman short course.

Helen and James. Credit: Rockman

The race comprises:

10 swims, 6 km in total
10 runs, 32 km in total
2300m elevation gain
Lowest point 0m
Highest point: Pulpit Rock at 604 m
Also at Flørli: 4,444 Stairs and 750 m ascent.

The event is completed as pair and your partner must be no more that 10 metres away on the swim and 15 metres on the run, so it’s a great team effort.

A Rockman pair contemplate the start of the race. Credit: Rockman

After a great spell of weather in Norway, the rain arrived for few days before Rockman, which meant the course was slippery underfoot rather than dry and fast. It also meant the water was chillier in the fjord than the pair had hoped, although the swim sections in freshwater in the lochs were a little warmer than they had expected.

Due to an ankle injury, Alan had been unable to do any run training for four months but he had been swimming and cycling. He said: “I didn’t want to let Gregor down but from the first run I thought, ‘Oh shit.’ Gregor let me run in front so I could be the pacer.

A river crossing. Credit: Rockman

“And, fortunately, in the swims we were strong. We were like synchronised swimmers, but without the make-up.”

The race starts with jump off a ferry into the water of a fjord.

Gregor says: “The water felt cold because of the previous rain but we were well matched in the swim sections and because of our similar pacing there was no need for the swim rope we had brought with us.

“After the first swim, I got a rude introduction into how the ‘run’ was going to unfold for the day. Basically, it was a vertical climb on a precarious muddy and rocky trail.”

All those steps. Credit: Rockman

Alan describes the race conditions as tough. He says: “The rain had caused trails to be like rivers and rocks like ice, so I was like an old man stepping cautiously around the course.”

Gregor says: “The trails in Norway are nothing like trails in the UK. Essentially, someone has painted a T to follow and that’s it. So you end up going down mountain streams and waterfalls, over boulders and rocks, through knee-deep mud and there are places where you need to hang on to a chain (less said about that the better!).

“Everything was slippery and it was really slow going. In fact, the swims were a welcome respite and the only time I could relax on the course as total concentration was required the rest of the time.”

After 9.5 hours, 6.2k swimming, 25.7k of running including around 1700m  of ascent, the pair missed the last cut off at Florili by about 20 to 30 minutes. Only 44 of the 80 teams got past this point.

Gregor says: “We weren’t cut up about missing the cut-off. It was a brutal day out and even though we didn’t get the last bit finished, it was a huge challenge.

“To have swum in the Norwegian fjords and lochs and clambered over their mountains felt like an amazing experience.”

“Chapeau to Alan for getting through what we did.”

Jumping in. Credit: Rockman

Alan said that time flew by during the race. He adds: “Although we were out for more than nine hours, it didn’t feel that long. You have to concentrate so hard and the terrain is so tough, clambering over rocks and trying not to trip or fall.

“My legs were a bit broken, so we didn’t make the final cut off but to be honest I was happy at how far I got, happy not to do any more climbing and happy to get through without further injury, although had a few scary moments.

“It’s great to be ‘racing’ again and to have a fun weekend away with friends.”

Helen and James race Rockman short course

Helen and James. Credit: Rockman

Helen says: “We  did the short course although it still took us 6.5 hours!

“The organisers chuck you off the ferry halfway round the course, so you get to experience the fun, iconic bits, such as crossing a fjord and going up 4444 steps, and there are more generous cut-offs than in the full race.”

Helen describes the terrain as very “technical”. She adds: “This is code for ‘clambering over wet, slippery rocks’ and we got completely lost at the top of the mountain because visibility was so poor and there were no markings.

“However, it was all part of the Rockman experience. We loved it, though.”

Helen and James were the only mixed pair doing the short course and therefore the winners. What a great result.