Challenge Tønsberg, Norway


September 13th, 2016 by



10th place – 4:26:09

Having never visited Norway, I decided to travel over the North Sea for this Challenge event largely for this reason alone – a tourist if you like. I had raced in Dublin a couple of weeks prior, and I knew I was travelling again the following weekend for another event. However, as much as a weekend at home in the Shire would likely have been the smarter decision, as my woefully underperformance on race day highlighted, I’m still glad I visited Southern Norway. Sometimes it’s not all about the racing and results.

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Riding to ‘The End of the World’ on the southern Norwegian coast: the next stop is Denmark apparently. 

The organisers at Challenge Tonsberg kindly hosted a number of us (athletes) in a little camping ground nestled on the outskirts of the town. Our accommodation was a wooden ‘hut’, as they appear to be affectionately called in Scandanavia, in the midst of a caravan/camping ground. I loved this because it brought back fond childhood memories when our family holidays would be spent on the shores of Loch Morlich in the Cairngorms. The similarities (for me) were abound: water, midgies and big skies! It was almost worth the flight into Oslo just for those couple of nights, because we were treated to some superb sunsets across the sea right there from our ‘hut’.

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I was sharing the hut over the weekend with my old Scottish mucker Ritchie Nicholls, who ironically I now only ever see whenever we race the same event. Last time we caught up was in May for the 70.3 in Barcelona (despite the fact that he lives near to Dublin where I last raced!) We were joined by Italian Massimo Cigana who I last spent some time with in Bilbao a couple of years back. Now in his mid forties, he has so many stories from his long career as a triathlete racing all over the globe but even preceding that from when he was a pro bike racer too. – He was a youngster on the same team as an aging Marco Pantani, the book about whom I still find to be one of the most troubling and sad that I have read: I’m always intrigued to hear first hand about any aspect of professional sport, especially those out with my own sphere of understanding…be those dark tales or otherwise.

So it was a fun couple of days in the Norwegin ‘hut’ with these dudes, and Massimo even served us some Italian prepared pasta for lunch, which certainly ticked all of the stereotypical boxes!

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As I alluded to above, this race wasn’t a racing occasion for me to shout about from the rooftops. I raced poorly, no two ways about it. I started off reasonably well in the water, although some choppy sea conditions (which I have never managed to master over the years) coupled with too few marker buoys in the water left me losing the feet of the lead 3 swimmers. I hit dry land alongside Ritchie (as we did in Barcelona incedentally) with another German athlete, Horst Reichel. I knew Horst would ride strong, and I did my best to hang onto his coattail during the early portions of the ride. Hang on, I didn’t. Indeed a few more guys, including my roomie Massimo came rolling by and not one of them I could keep pace with. – Empty was the overwhelming feeling.

In these circumstances it is almost never likely I will ‘find my running legs’; a phenomenon that others often seem to chirp brightly about! I have long since learned that my good days of racing come when the whole day feels strong, across the disciplines. The fact that Challenge Tonsberg incorporated a really demanding half marathon really didn’t help matters for me either. We even had to negotiate a flight of over 100 rough hewn stairs (twice!) – and worse, the corresponding steep descent! To stamp home the sense of uselessness Ritchie came trucking past mid run, making it look frustratingly effortless! I finally hit home some twenty minutes after the podium, and I’ve rarely been as glad to see a finish chute over a half distance race, but once it’s done, well, it’s done and you can reflect on the day at a later time.

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The race started at 2pm, which made for an evening half marathon through the streets of Tonsberg, and gave some long shadows at the finish next to the towns’ marina.

It was a short couple of days in Norway, and as I said already, not an entirely successful venture from a racing perspective. Nonetheless, I was still top 10 which is not disastrous I suppose, but most of all, I got to travel to a new country and part of the world plus hang out with a good buddy. There are worst ways to spend a long weekend…