Wednesday, 12 October 2011

MILK FACTS!


Today I'm going to talk about a wonderfully nutritious food that most of us probably take for granted. We splosh it on our porridge and maybe add it to our tea and coffee. Some of you might even drink it neat (good for you!). Yes, I am of course talking about milk.


The good stuff


However milk, and more specifically “whole” milk has gained an increasingly bad reputation, in our crazy “low fat” obsessed world. It is often the first food that is called into question when people look to reduce fat intake in their diet in the misguided belief that it will help them loose weight.

It seems to be the de-facto advice to anybody starting a healthy eating regime. Dietitians and health professionals the like will quickly advise “Reduce milk and dairy consumption or make the change to skimmed milk”.

Well as we all know, eating fat does not make you fat, and reducing fat does not help you loose it – the body just doesn't work like that.

In fact, the opposite can happen, as many “Low Fat” dairy products are loaded with sugar (well if you remove the fat, you gotta get taste from somewhere!).

Danone say this of their Activia Fat free yoghurt...

The new fat-free Activia yoghurt from Danone combines many benefits for your health: not only is it delicious, but it's now available with zero percent fat and without artificial sweeteners”

What they don't say is that is contains more sugar gram for gram, than a fizzy soft drink like Fanta!! Yes..more sugar than Fanta!! So don't eat these products thinking they are doing you any good at all – they are not. You might as well drink a can of pop.


As bad as each other and far from healthy!


So here's my attempt at restoring the name of one of natures most nutritious and healthful foods....


So... “whole”, “skimmed” and “semi-skimmed”. Basically, all milk but with different percentages of the “Butterfat” removed.

As I will hopefully illustrate, butterfat is where a lot of the good stuff can be found and removing it reduces the nutritional value of milk.

Butterfat is a valuable commodity and the stuff that is removed from milk goes on to become other expensive food commodities such as butter, cheese, cream, ice-cream etc. (all the good stuff!)

So skimmed milk must be cheaper right? Otherwise it would be a complete con?

Nope...

It's not any cheaper than whole milk, and, yes, it is a complete con.

It's like charging you the same price for two bits of bread as they do for a filled sandwhich (and then selling you the filling elswhere as a salad!!)

Well that's what happens with milk, and while they can get away with it, there is clearly real financial motivation to push the supposed (but fictitious) health benefits of skimmed milk.

So what of nutrition?

Well, most people know that milk contains calcium and protein – good for the bones and teeth right? Advocates of skimmed "milk" are quick to point out that skimmed actually contains more calcium. However, remove the fat from the milk and your body can't digest the protein or absorb the calcium – not so good.

People may well be confused if they are consuming large amounts of skimmed milk and following a low fat diet, yet have to de-mineralise their bones to get adequate calcium. Osteoporosis anyone?

Simply put, the various components of milk are there for a reason, take out any one and the “bio-availability” of what's left is reduced (or eliminated).

All milk contains vitamins A and D. It's actually removed, along with the fat, from skimmed milk – and then put back in again! (fortified). However, vitamins A and D are fat soluble, and you also need vitamin D to absorb Calcium! - See! It's all linked! 

 
Actually, ALL milk contains only very small amounts of Vitamin D anyway – you get most of your needs from the sunshine in the summer! Many people in the UK are vitamin D deficient, but you'd need to drink A LOT OF MILK to make up for that! (but you all know that because you've read my blog post on Vitamin D right?)

You can read my blog entry on Vitamin D here if you want to know how best to make sure you are getting enough.

Milk fat contains glycosphingolipids, this is a type of fat linked to immune system health and cell metabolism. Consuming dairy is therefore a great way of bolstering your immune system.

The fat in milk triggers the release of the hormone cholecystokinin, which helps produce a feeling of fullness so you are less likely over eat. Fats also slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, reducing the amount that can be stored as fat. In other words, the more fat in your milk, the less fat around your waist!

Even the scare mongers who harp on about the life-threatening dangers of fat are having to take notice of recent studies into fat intake from milk. These studies have shown that people who consume calorie reduced diets containing whole milk loose more body fat that those consuming the same number of calories from skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. Explain that one low fat fans!!

Off course they are still not prepared to admit they are just plain wrong about dietary fat, they suggest that milk has some other “magic mechanism” that renders the, usually harmful, fat benign – or better still beneficial! They just can't explain it, but they are working on it. (and may be for some time!)

I can help here.... If it looks like a duck and quacks....it's probably a duck as opposed to a bi-lingual chicken in a duck “disguise”! As my regular readers know, there is nothing harmful about dietary fat! (except trans fats and hydrogenated oils of course!)

Quack - Quack!!


Additionally, 80% of the protein in milk is in the form of casein (the rest is whey). Casein is a slowly digested protein. As a food additive, casein is cheaper than whey and, for this reason alone is often the main type of protein used in “off the shelf” recovery drinks. These drinks, while “ok” are substandard in terms of recovery and are no better for protein synthesis than a pint of milk with some sugar added. So for speedy recovery and exercise adaptation, whey is your friend (ideally isolate or hydrolised), not casein. For goodness shake, I mean sake, check your labels ;)

But casein does have it's advantages. It's digestion is slower so results in a less rapid, but more prolonged, increase in blood amino acids. Perfect time for a glass of milk? Just before bed of course! Just like when we were kids right! Perfect for providing a steady stream of amino acids to reduce muscle protein breakdown as we sleep. Speed of digestion is also slowed by fat so reduce the fat content and loose some of the benefits of prolonged protein synthesis!

Ok, big one this, nothing new to my regular readers, but worth repeating... low fat and fat free diets do not help prevent heart disease – fact! Science has now revealed that the link between saturated fat and heart disease was based on bad science, selective data analysis and incorrect assumptions. In actual fact, saturated fat has an overall positive affect on blood cholesterol as it raises both LDL and HDL cholesterol (Not all LDL is bad. Some LDL is actually good and essential for health. It's the good LDL, the so called “large fluffy LDL” that milk increases.)

We need look no further than human breast milk which can be over 50% saturated fat (and high in cholesterol). Seems odd that nature should deem it appropriate to feed infants a type of fat who's sole purpose (we have been lead to believe) is to cause heart failure??

It is amazing stuff like Lauric acid (found only in saturated fat) that makes breast milk so important to babies.

Lauric acid is antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic and helps nurture the immune system. Without it, few babies would survive beyond the first few months of life before becoming malnourished and highly susceptible to any number of infectious diseases.

While we are on it – Lauric acid is also found in abundance in coconut oil, one of the many reasons it makes such a brilliant addition to a healthy diet. (use is to cook, fry, bake, and spread – hell, even eat it by the spoonful!)

It's also worth noting that the body chooses to store fat in it's “saturated” form. The same fat it uses for fuel. Surly another shot in the eye for anybody who says we should not consume saturated fat!

I've wondered off track, but to summarise, yes, whole milk contains saturated fat, but thank goodness!!

Healthy food are natural whole foods, or as close to "as nature intended" as possible. Meddling with milk and removing the fat throws its nutritional profile out of whack and removes many of the health benefits. The best milk is straight from the cow, unpasturised and unhomogenised.

It gets a little more complicated now, but bear with me.

The majority of milk on our shelves, since leaving “Daisy” has undergone 2 main processes.

Pasteurisation” and “Homogenisation”.


Pasteurisation and Homogenisation


Keeping things pretty simple (it helps me understand it!), pasteurisation uses high temperatures to kill off any bugs. It kills the bad bugs but sadly kills the good guys as well. So, it's fair to say pasteurisation doesn't make milk “bad” for you, it just makes it “less good” for you.

Homogenisation is a different story. This process is simply about aesthetics. It makes our milk a uniform shade of white – people prefer it that way apparently? If you can see a layer of yellowy “butter fat” on you milk, then it has NOT been homogenised. Depending on your age – you may remember this from your childhood as “Gold Top”. Think your self lucky that you got to drink the good stuff as a kid, rather than the watery rubbish kids get treated to today!

So what happens? Simply put, the milk is passed under very high pressure through very fine metal filters which break down the fat globules to such a size that they can't reform. Bingo! Milk is now a uniform colour, and the separate butter fat layer is “homogenised” throughout the milk.

Additionally, to make skimmed milk even whiter, some companies fortify their product with powdered skim. Powdered skim is produced by spraying the liquid under heat and high pressure, a process that oxidises LDL cholesterol. Oxidised LDL triggers a host of biological changes, and can lead to plaque formation in the arteries (the precursor to arteriosclerosis) and heart disease. Not so good then.

The really bad news though is that the structure of milk changes during homogenisation. Another brilliant example of man being so “clever”, he thinks he knows better than mother nature.

So what's the big deal?

Well firstly, homogenised milk just doesn't taste as nice! But more worryingly it could have implications to our health.

Now this is an area of study that is not widely and completely understood so proceed with caution and keep an open mind for the next few paragraphs.

Milk contains an enzyme called xanthine oxidase (XO). We need this enzyme, but not from our diet because, our body actually makes it's own supply. Our bodies are also very careful what they do with XO as it can cause health problems if allowed to enter the artery walls and heart tissue (it has been suggested it can lead to arteriosclerosis and CVD).

In NON homogenised milk, XO is found on the outside of the fat globules and so can be easily and safely removed during digestion.

By homogenising milk, XO becomes bound up or “protected” within the modified fat globules allowing it to pass through the digestive system “undetected” and into the bloodstream where it has potential to do damage.

I don't want to dwell on this one, because this theory is still being debated. But I think it is fair to say, that milk is best drunk as nature intended. Full of fat and unmolested! 


I'll take mine straight from Daisy!!
 

If I had to choose, I'd say pasteurisation is the lesser of the two evils. For that reason I have given up trying to source a reliable, cost effective supply of “Raw” milk (straight from the udder). It's just too difficult. (In America it's actually illegal to sell Raw Milk and many “underground” retailers have suffered police raids at gunpoint before being carted off in handcuffs! I kid you not!!)

Thankfully, Unhomogenised milk is now available in most UK supermarkets. Sainsbury sell unhomogenised milk in their “Taste the Difference” range and Prince Charles' “Duchy Originals” milk is available in Waitrose. Both are absolutely delicious! I know my milkman also still sells Gold top!

It's also worth noting that even all raw milk is not created equal. Try where you can to obtain milk from happy, outdoor reared, grass and clover fed cows. Avoid milk produced by unhappy cows fed on grain, soy or chicken crap (poor things).

There is another important variable that contributes to the quality of milk (and it's affect on the body) and that is the “type” of cow that produced it. We've talked about what they are fed, but I'm referring here to the specific “breed”.

Most milk in the UK comes from Holstein, Freisian and Ayrshire cows.

Now again, without getting too bogged down in biochemistry, these breeds are comparatively “modern” in terms of human evolution and have a specific genetic mutation that causes them to produce the amino acid “Histidine”, instead of “Proline” in the casein protein of their milk. This is known as A1 Casein.

Histidine forms a weak bond to it's neighbouring amino acid.

So what? You may well ask.

Well this weak bond between Histidine and it's neighbour is easily broken down during digestion into a “peptide” (chain) of 7 amino acids called beta casomorphin 7 (bit of a mouthful that, so often referred to as BCM-7). Some BCM-7 can then "leak" from the GI tract into the bloodstream.

BCM-7 is problematic because it’s an “opioid”. This makes it equivalent to a narcotic with morphine like effects. It’s also an oxidant (opposite to the good things called anti-oxidants we hear so much about) This particular oxidant is known for damaging (oxidising) low density lipoproteins (LDL) and we spoke about the damaging affects of oxidised LDL earlier (plaque formation in the arteries, heart disease, etc)

BCM-7 itself can also have adverse health affects ranging from minor stuff like diarrhoea, cramps, bloating and gas, to rather more serious stuff like, Osteoporosis, Arthritis, Heart disease, Cancer, Type 1 diabetes, Infertility, Leukemia and Autism! Hells bells!!

The “minor” ailments listed above may sound familiar to anybody who may think they have a lactose intolerance.

There is some good news though.

Guernsey” and “Jersey” cows (as well as African and Asian cows) produce much lower levels of A1 Casein. Instead, they produce A2 Casein which contains Proline instead of Histidine. Proline forms a much stronger bond with it's neighbour so is less likely (if at all) to be broken down into the damaging peptide BCM-7 during digestion.

What other animals produce A2 Casein? Well goats and sheep for starters. This explains why many people who believe they have a lactose or dairy intolerance find they are able to consume goats milk without ill effect.

In reality, people with a suspected lactose intolerance may well just be more sensitive to A1 casein and would experience similar beneficial results to goats milk if they simply switched their consumption to milk produced from Jersey or Guernsey cows!

So, “Lactose intolerant”? Switch to Jersey produced unhomogenised whole milk and see how you get on!

There is actually a growing body of evidence linking heart disease not to saturated fat or whole milk consumption per se, but specifically to “A1 Casein” consumption.

As I've often stated, observation studies and epidemiological evidence has to be viewed with caution, however, it's impossible to ignore some very interesting correlations...

The populations of Iceland and Finland for example. These groups are ethnically very similar, as are their diets. Finland has one of the highest levels of heart disease in the world. Iceland's levels are 60% that of Finland. Could this be linked to Iceland's consumption of A1 Casein consumption which is around half that of Finland?

What about the home of the A2 casein producing Guernsey cow?

Well, inhabitants of the island of Guernsey (who naturally consume A2 casein from their own Guernsey cows) benefit from rates of heart disease about that of the UK mainland. There can be few confounding variables between two such similar populations.

Also interesting are the Masai tribes of Africa. They consume large amounts of milk but have very little heart disease. However, the milk they drink comes from cattle and goats that don’t produce A1 beta casein.

Smoke and fire spring to mind?

Labels on unhomogenised milk, will normally tell you what breed of cows were used in the milk's production. I also asked our milkman and he was able to tell me that their gold top is produced from Jersey cows – great news!

Sainsbury “Taste the difference” is produced by Jerseys (Low A1 high A2), but Dutchy Originals is produced by Ayrshires (about equal A1 to A2).



So in summary this one should be a no brainer..

Whole milk tastes great
Whole milk is better for you
Whole milk promotes fat loss
Whole milk satisfies appetite
Whole milk boosts your immune system
Whole milk promotes protein synthesis as you sleep
Whole milk has a “neutral” affect on cholesterol – it could even be beneficial to your heart
Whole milk will not clog your arteries, give you a heart attack, or kill puppies

A quick note to “Paleo Dieters”

I understand that milk / dairy is off limits to fans of the “caveman” diet.

While it is highly unlikely that paleolithic man had domesticated livestock (ok, they didn't have domesticated livestock), paleolithic woman would certainly have breast fed her young. Paleo man may even have consumed any excess human breast milk from nursing mothers (seems strange now, but it wasn't that long ago that advice given to mothers producing an excess of breast milk was to give it to your husband!!) I think it highly unlikely that this valuable, nutritious food would have been wasted.

Also, one might surmise that paleo man would have observed other animals “feeding” their young and made the link between that and food.

Is it so fanciful to believe that paleolithic man might have had a crack at obtaining some of that food for himself?

No doubt, he wouldn't have just approached the nursing sabre toothed tiger and tried to milk it – at least he wouldn't get to try it more than once! Maybe the animal would have been killed?

If a lactating mother was killed for food – most parts of the animal would have been consumed, including no doubt the mammary glands which could have contained milk. Cavemen were probably less picky than we are today!

In the same way. Bushmen of the Kalahari will kill camels because they know they can obtain a source of almost pure water from an area within the stomach of the animal.

Paleolithic man would have known, for sure, that certain animals, at certain times, would contain milk in particular areas of their bodies and they would no doubt know how to obtain it.

So yes I think paleolithic man probably consumed small amounts of dairy – And if he did, it would definitely have been unpasteurised and unhomogenised!!

What is indisputable is that a healthy percentage of modern man and woman are able to consume dairy without ill effects, whereas some are not.

Dairy is incredibly nutritious and healthful, and if you can consume it without problems then you would be mad not just because somebody has suggested that cavemen didn't have access to the local dairy!

Love this animation - lots more like them on Youtube

My advise, therefore, would be to maximise the beneficial effects and minimise the harmful ones by drinking whole, unhomogenised, ideally from Jersey or Guernsey cows.

Hope you found this of interest, please feel free to Tweet or Facebook a link to my blog if you think it might be of interest to others!!


Bedtime now - Time for a lovely glass of white gold!!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

My Greatest Race Ever!!

Firstly, an apology...

I have been a little slack on the blogging front recently - I do apologise.
In the ongoing balancing act of training, racing, socialising, working (in relative order of importance for me right now!) something has had to give and it's been my blog.

I count my lucky stars though as I have it pretty easy really with no sprogs and an equally driven Triathlete wife who is easily satisfied with 300g of fillet steak and a green leafy salad!! I don't know how you guys / girls fit it all in with families, and long suffering partners who may demand (and deserve) a little more romancing than plate of cow!

So I'll make it up to you all with a flurry of great posts soon, I promise!

The original goal of my blog was to impart (hopefully) useful information to fellow athletes and health conscious individuals. I didn't really want to make it "all about me" as it would be rather narcissistic to imagine you'd give a stuff about what I get up to!!

However, a few weeks ago, I competed in a race which I'm going to list as "My Greatest Race Ever!". Not because of any particular level of achievement (though I was quite chuffed with that) but due to the incredible beauty of the location, the support from my lovely wife, my brilliant Mum and my good mate and the simple challenge of overcoming a course hailed by many as "the Toughest".


So I'm going to deviate from the original intention of my blog and write a race report. The event was called "The Norseman". Held amongst the Fjords and mountains of Northern Norway and billed as the toughest endurance event it is possible to complete in a single day. 

Grab a cuppa, settle in, it's a long report! I hope you enjoy!


------------------------- 


Getting ready to leave for the Norseman was much like packing for any other Ironman.

A few notable differences included packing my road bike instead of my TT bike and fell shoes in addition to road shoes. I also crammed in virtually every piece of bike kit I owned as I had been warned about the unpredictability of the weather during the mountainous bike course.

Our flight passed without major incident and I considered our adventure to have started properly once we landed late at night in the lovely city of Bergen.

We picked up our hire car (a Volvo C60) and then had some fun and games trying to squeeze two bikes (in boxes) one wife (Claire), one Mum (Janet) and all our bags into it's deceptively compact interior before heading off for our overnight accommodation, a lovely guest house in the centre of Bergen.

Our Lovely B&B in Bergen in the sunshine of day 2


Wednesday morning greeted us with beautiful sunshine. A lovely breakfast of cheese, meat and eggs was consumed (I like the Norwegians already!) before we headed off on the 150k road trip to Eidfjord via the scenic highway 7. As we neared Eidfjord, a small ferry trip was required to cross the Hardanger Fjord before the final 10k into town.

This was the first chance to get a decent look at the water I would be swimming in on race day. What a location! Quite breathtaking! And to cap it all off – the water was like glass! No a ripple on it!

Crossing the beautiful Hardangerfjord by Ferry

Our time in Eidfjord would be spent in a lovely little cabin on the “Saebo” camp site, 6k out of town, on the shores of the glacial lake that feeds Hardanger Fjord. 

"Home" for the next week
 
On arrival, I unpacked the bikes and headed out with Claire to spin the journey out of our legs. We headed off along the Fjord to explore Eidfjord.

video


5 miles later we were in town, grabbed a coffee and then headed back along the race route (past Saebo Camping) and up the first few kilometres of the first climb. Legs felt good and I got the feeling this was gonna be my sort of bike course! The remainder of the day was spent chilling before supper and an early night.

First visit to the little town of Eidfjord

Thursday morning we all headed back to Eidfjord. Claire and I went for a dip. It felt pretty nippy to start with. I'd guess around 11 degrees. I thought I could cope with that - just, but it would be no picnic! It actually got warmer as we swum away from the shore so my confidence grew that race day would be ok! Above all though, the water was incredible. Calm as a mill pond, clear, fresh and easily the most beautiful location in which I have ever swum.

Testing the water!
We spent the remainder of the day resting, reading, preparing kit and registration. This was a very low key affair. We only ever really saw one or two fellow competitors. I found this great. It kept stress levels down and made me feel like I was taking on something really special. Weather was now pretty unpredictable. A mixture of sunshine and showers but, thankfully, rarely cold. This pattern would remain until race day!

So, supper and another early night beckoned as I knew I would get precious little on the night before race day!

Friday – Day before race day and I was now climbing the walls! I couldn't wait to get racing! I had a little brick session planned. 30 minutes / 15 minutes with a few race pace efforts. I headed back up the first climb to explore the “old tourist road” that we would be taking on race day. I just didn't want to turn back! What an incredible road!

The "Old Tourist Road"

All that was left was the final race briefing. This was where the news broke, that the Fjord was now too cold to swim in! I was confused. I'd swum in the Fjord yesterday, it was fine! This is supposed to be a tough race! However, it transpired that the large cruise liner that had floated into Hardanger on Thursday, had churned up the top “warm” layer of water and the Fjord was now somewhere around 9 degrees – fair do's probably a bit too nippy for 3.8k! Particularly for a tin ribs like me...

The Ship that churned up the fjord and dropped the water temp to 9 degrees!

So what to do? Simple. Move the swim nearer the sea and add 20k to the bike. It's the Norseman ok! - The Worlds toughest blah blah blah! Man up people!!

Claire had also entered the “Supports Mini Tri” in Eidfjord. This had now been made into a Duathlon due to the cold water. So we headed back to town to get her set up and cheer her on. It would be a good day for Claire as she finished first female in pretty dreadful conditions – more rain! The pressure was now back on me

Claire bagging first Girl in the Mini - Duathon
So back to Saebo for a light supper and I was off to bed. 4 hours later, the alarm sounded.

2.00am.

Race day had dawned – Gulp!


The swim...

So it's probably fair to say – The Norseman is not the ideal competition for the nervous competitor!
During the dark, cold, rainy drive from Saebo to the Brimnes Ferry port, through long eerie tunnels, at 2:30am I felt a little like a condemned man on his final journey to the underworld to meet eternal damnation!
I half expected to be me met by a cloaked boatman, demanding a coin for my passage to Hades!

I wasn't of course...

I was met by a rosy faced Norwegian, who simply asked for my race number, so he could “mark me up” and let me board the car ferry that would be our transport to the start line somewhere in the middle of the fjord that was, for now, hidden by an inky blackness..

Athletes gathering on the car ferry
The time was 3:30 as the ferry chugged out of port and headed off through the dark clouds that clung to sides of Hardangerfjord.
Both the car deck and passenger areas were littered with rubber clad athletes, some engaged in lively banter – others in their own personal worlds. I decided to find a quiet corner where I did my best to grab another 30 minutes of shut-eye.
A voice soon crackled over the tannoy announcing that it would be 15 minutes before we all had to “jump” so we were all to assemble on the car deck.
I ambled to the front of the ferry where the hatch was now already open.

Ready for "the jump"

I stared out into the surreal darkness. The sky was now dense with, very ominous looking dark clouds. Through the darkness I could just about make out a strobe, blinking away, marking the far swim turn. I picked out a shadowy landmark that I thought I'd be able to sight once in the water

3.8 k swim "somewhere" out there!
 
Once given the all clear...I jumped!

My breath was taken from me as I plunged into the fjord. To my relief, the water temperature seemed ok. Probably around 15 or 16 degrees by my reckoning. The ferry had left it's props running which quickly pushed us away from the other athletes who were now raining down from the sky above onto those already in the water. The sight from the water of the car ferry, illuminated against the dark angry sky was incredible and shocked me back to reality! This is it Dunc!

"The Jump"
Prior to our “jump” we had been told to make our way to the line of kayaks that would mark the swim start. Trouble is, I couldn't see them! Oh well, just start swimming I guess! Several minutes passed before a line of head torches became visible. They still seemed a long way off! I exchanged a few concerned words with the guys around me, before getting my head down and continuing to the kayaks. They must have been 400m away!

The still water felt incredible though – I was cutting through the calm with an effortless ease! This was gonna be a breeze! (or so I though!)

Finally at the kayaks, the rest of the field started to assemble around me. We all became aware of a strange buzzing and we looked up to see a large remote control camera drone moving between our ranks like a giant, mechanical mosquito! This was bizarre! I felt like I was in some James Cameron movie! I imagined we were all being scanned and at any minute an enormous robotic arm would descend from the cloudy sky and some poor, unfortunate triathlete would be plucked from the water – his race day over!

Needless to say, the robotic arm didn't appear and before we'd had time to properly assemble the ship's horn sounded and I was off on my most epic day's racing to date!

Since Norseman is only open to 250 competitors, I quickly got myself into a nice little group that seemed to be somewhere around the top 30. None of the usual Ironman “Bun fight”. As I suspected, the strobe marking the turn was invisible once in the water so I aimed for the marker I had picked out on the ferry deck. The turn was over 2 kilometers away and there were no intermediate buoys, so it was simply a case of head down, and swim straight!

After 30 minutes of swimming, the strobe finally blinked into view. It still seemed a long way off. But I kept pushing on. Before long I became aware of an increasing swell and some fairly sizable waves. Then came the rain! And boy did it rain!

This was most definitely NOT ordered!

Finally at the turn, things had got pretty rough and rounding the small boat marking the turn I instantly felt why the outward leg had felt relatively easy. We were suddenly met by the full force of the tidal flow. I could feel the water coursing over my back as I battled into the swell. Anyone that has swum in an “endless pool” will know the feeling!

The return leg was closer to shore with a second small turn. Breathing to my right I was able to sight the shore line. The scenery was passing by painfully slowly! This was some hard swimming now and the shoulders were starting to twinge with the effort. Keep it smooth I thought – don't over cook it!

Another 30 minutes past – I was thinking I should be out of the water now but I was still to make the second turn and that bloody rock on the shore doesn't seem to have moved for 10 minutes!

During my return leg I had picked up a swimmer drafting my wake. Now I've no issue with this, but he was brushing my feet with every stroke! I was getting really cheesed off. As I moved around to search out calmer water – he came with me. In the end I had to stop to make it pretty clear I thought it was now time he did some work! He took the hint and I drafted him back to shore to exit the water in just under 1hr 20 minutes. It looked like this race was living up to it's billing as the “Worlds Toughest Ironman”!

I would later learn that the swim cut-off was extended and the swim shortened for the slower swimmers. Even still, 26 swimmers were unable to make it to the finish after 3 hours trapped in the increasing tidal flow. Sadly they were pulled from the water – their attempt on the Norseman finished for 2011.

Once out of the water – I quickly spotted Claire who guided me to my bike which she had expertly set-up with my Mum that morning. I was quickly out of my wetsuit then Claire began helping me into my bike kit. The rain had eased to light drizzle and it didn't feel too cold so I opted for arm warmers and a waterproof gillet. Besides, the first 2 hour climb that lay in wait was sure to warm me up!

I sped out of T1 in 41st position amongst camera flashes from Mum and cheers from the soaking wet spectators – so glad to be finally leaving the fjord behind me!

Heading out on the 200k (125 mile) bike
The bike...

OK, so we'd had the news that the bike would be 20 k longer but that didn't phase me too much. Firstly, the bike is normally my strength and secondly, the 20 k that was added would be predominantly flat / rolling and would give us all a good chance to get some nutrition on board before the start of the 1200m accent to Drynut.

The rain was persisting, but air temperature was hovering around 15 degrees so I felt pretty comfortable. I had asked Claire to put my arm-warmers on my tri-bars, so I grabbed those, pulled them on, hunkered down on the bars and gradually wound the bike up to race speed.

My plan for the first half of the bike was to keep the effort fairly low and try to get on lots of calories. I'd been in the water for longer than planned so I chomped down an energy bar and started taking on-board my “secret” super drink which has become known as “egg nog” amongst my friends!

The first 20k was as expected. It rolled along, hugging the side of the fjord, heading back past the ferry port and back to Eidford where there bike course would have started. Once back at Eidfjord, the road starts to head upwards, gradually at first, but then steepening to around 8% as it passes Saebo camping

The Old Road (Taken after the race)

I had covered this section of the route before so I settled into a rhythm which I would carry for the next 90 minutes and 25 miles of climbing.

A few kilometers beyond Saebo, the race route was diverted onto the old tourist road. This avoids the many long tunnels and heavy traffic on the main road.
Old Road for us!

The old tourist road is a fabulous route. It clings to the sides of the mountain as it winds it's way up through rocks, deep woodland, waterfalls and tunnels. It really is quite the most beautiful road. The complete absence of traffic and the very “rustic” nature of the road surface made me feel like I was travelling through a lost kingdom – quite breathtaking in places. I would not have been at all surprised if I'd seen Pterodactyls circling overhead and Velociraptors hiding amongst the undergrowth! Although physically demanding, the constantly changing vista made it hard not to smile through the effort

The incredible climb to Drynut


Past amazing torrents

And Waterfalls

From time to time I was thrown back into reality as the old road crossed above, below and sometimes through the new main road. Eventually I re-joined the main road and had a further 45 minutes of so of unrelenting gradient before arriving at Drynut and my first check-in with Claire and Mum.

Arrival at Drynut through the fog and rain!

Now well over 1200m and raining hard the temperature had plummeted. There were patches of snow to the sides of the road and the rain now had an icy chill. I decided to stop for another jacket, knee warmers and gloves, a quick re-fuel for the bike and I was off on the exposed 50k stretch along the mountain plateau to Geilo

More clothes! - Bloody Freezing!
The "Egg Nog" production line!

It wasn't long before I was regretting not putting more clothes on. The wind was fierce and the exposed nature of the terrain quickly chilled me to the bone. Time to start working a little harder as I knew it could be over 1½ hrs before I would see my support crew again and get more clothing. I have discovered this year that my legs don't like the cold. They rarely see the light if day unless it's in the 20's. I began to feel the familiar ache that accompanies cold muscles, but pushed on, hoping things would improve.

The road was far from flat but there were a large number of exposed downhill stretches. It was at this point that I started regretting my bike choice as well as lack of clothing. A number of riders started passing me on full aero time-trial bikes and tear drop helmets. One guy was even riding a disk! I was happy on the ups though and I found my road bike to be very comfortable, so on balance, I was happy with my choice, I was sure it would pay dividends when I finally climbed off to start the marathon and hoped that I'd see the majority of the “TT boys” again before long!

During this stretch I was really trying to lift my pace – if only to keep my body temp up when “BANG” my front wheel shot sideways and started wobbling violently! Bugger! I knew instantly I'd broken a spoke! Not good at the best of times, even worse when you only have 16 spokes to start with and your wheels are made of carbon! I took my foot off the gas to access the damage. The wheel was now about 20mm out of true and rubbing badly against the brake blocks. Geez! Like this bloody event wasn't hard enough!

I reached over the front of the bike and tried to back the brake off using the adjuster. My hands, now completely numb with the cold, were not playing ball and I just fumbled around for a few minutes with no joy. My next scheduled stop with Claire was not for another hour so I decided to pull up at the next support vehicle I saw to ask for help. The Norwegian chap I found proved to be very helpful. He quickly backed off the front brake and had me on my way within seconds.

The wheel was still wobbling, there was nothing I could do about that, but at least it was no longer rubbing on the brakes, at least not sufficiently to affect my speed. The only minor downside was that I now no longer had a functioning front brake! Re-energised by my lucky escape I pushed on to Geilo where I met with Claire and Mum for the second time.

More fuel!
Although it was still cold, the rain had eased and I felt the sun starting to appear. I could feel my body starting to warm and I knew I had 4 mountain passes to get over in the next 50k and that was sure to warm me up. For the time being though, I was going to keep my gillet on. So I grabbed some food – more drink and I was on my way.

The climbs now came thick and fast. The first three were each about 5 k in length and not too steep. The perfect gradient for me and I started working my way back through a series of riders that had clearly gone off too fast. Each climb was followed by a fast a furious downhill where I did my best to avoid looking at my front wheel which was still wobbling violently and threatening to collapse at any moment!

Never ending climbs
I had been told that the last climb of the ride, up to Imingfjell, was more significant, but it did mark the end of the really hard stuff. Although not planned, I was really happy to see Claire and Mum at the base of Imingfjell. You really can't imagine what a life-line your support crew becomes. It's a really big part of what makes the Norseman so special. For the last few hours my nutrition hadn't been sitting too well. I was so conscious of taking on enough calories, but due to the cold, my sweat rate was greatly reduced. I figured I just wasn't processing the fluids quickly enough. I decided to switch to more simple carbs and some banana. What ever happened – I knew I had to keep getting the nutrition down. The success or failure of the marathon would depend on it

Heading off to Imingfjell
I shed a few layers and pushed on up Imingfjell. About 8k to the top followed by a rolling 10k plateau. The sun was now making it's presence felt and I could feel my bones starting to warm – I felt so good. The climb was tough, but my fluids were now going down much better – I started to feel some descent power returning to my legs!

The summit came in no time, Claire and Mum were there for one final fuel restock. Their work on the bike course was now done and they had to “high tail” it to the start of the run to get T2 set up.

The top of Imingfjell

After the 10k rolling plateau, the road literally fell off a cliff! What a descent! I topped out at 55mph – helped by my complete lack of front wheel braking. The only spoiler being my continued fear of catastrophic front wheel failure!

The road snaked steeply downwards for 10k before arriving in the sun drenched valley 20k from T2. All that now remained was a blissfully gradual downhill which followed a majestic stretch of white water all the way to the town of Austbygde. The tarmac was rippled and bumpy but I was now feeling great. Comfortably cruising at 28mph but being thrown left right and centre by the continual bumps and ripples in the road.

I eventually rolled into Austbygde 7hrs and 10 minutes after climbing out of the fjord! I was greeted by Claire who grabbed my bike and guided me into T2.

Arrival in T2

Austbygde was the most idyllic spot. On the shores of the beautiful Tinn Lake and bathed in golden sunshine. I quickly stripped out of my soggy bike kit before donning a fresh singlet, cap and nutrition belt.

I pulled on my racing flats then wobbled off across the grassy transition to the start of the tarmac road that hugged the shore line.

26.2 miles lay ahead including 12 of the hardest I'd probably run in my life!

How would my legs feel I wondered?


The Run...


So how did the legs fee? Honestly?

Bloody brilliant!

The last 30k of the bike had been fabulous. The gradual downhill gradient, warm sun and dry roads had re-energised me. I was able to control my effort, stretch out my quads, calves, hip flexors and back while maintaining a pretty descent cruising speed.

I had also made sure I was fully fuelled for the start of the run.

I sped out of T2 and hit the Garmin to start logging mile splits.

Feeling good starting the marathon

In Austbrigde I had been joined by my good friend Breck who had moved to Norway with his lovely wife Gabriel. Breck was on his MTB and, although not able to pace me along the first 25k, was able to act as a “shuttle” between myself and Claire in the car. Breck would keep me fuelled, and cool throughout the remainder of the day and since temperatures were now climbing, this would prove invaluable.

Breck did a grand job with Claire and Mum, keeping me fed and watered
So the first 25k is really quite pleasant. The smooth tarmac meanders along the lake shore dipping in and out of shade as it makes it's way to the infamous “Zombie Hill”. The road rolls a little but is predominantly flat meaning it is possible to keep effort constant and monitor mile splits.

Within minutes I'd started passing people.

The beautiful lake shore road
Mile 1 – 6:50

BOOM! Take that!

Mile 2 – 6:54

BOOM! And again!

Mile 3 (including a slight rise ) - 7:04

BOOM! - This was brilliant.

I felt terrific, I can run like this all day I though!

Breck was in a bit of a flap. “Slow it down Dunc!” “It's a long way mate!”

As a Norseman veteran, I knew I should take heed. He was right of course. Maybe I was getting a bit over excited I thought? I glanced at my Garmin. 138 bpm. 75% Max – All good!

So the numbers seemed encouraging but I decided rein things in a little. I tried to let my heart rate stabilise at around 135-140 bpm. The miles ticked by. 10K in under 44 minutes. Man this still feels good!

Breck, Claire and Mum continued to do an amazing job, keeping me permanently supported with carbs, Coke, water and cold wet towels. They did an incredible job and my run speed would have been impossible without them – beyond a shadow of a doubt. I didn't want for anything for more than a few seconds – they were awesome.

Working hard to keep the pace up
15k came and went and I still seemed to be holding form. And had been constantly passing runners looking far worse off than me! It's at this point that I got my first glimpse of the “Gaustatoppen”, the mountaintop on which this crazy race would finish. I raised a smile because it looked frankly ridiculous! Through the haze and rising above the surrounding wooded mountains it seemed ludicrous to imagine that the radio mast up in the clouds was where my days work would finish. I could just about make out a feint scar through the distant trees, rising sharply from the valley floor.

Zombie hill...

The Big Ol' pile of Rocks - Gaustatoppen

However, I had another 10K to run before I had to worry about any of that. My early pace was now requiring more effort. The road was now rolling more and the temperature had continued to rise. I was now out of the shade and in the full strength of the sun. At this point I really had to knuckle down to prevent my pace from dropping too much. I was still happy to be running between 7:15 and 7:45 pace but the effort was now starting to show. Nothing specific, just a general malaise that fogged my thoughts.

Caffeine I thought – I need caffeine!

Feeling the heat

No sooner than I uttered my request, my support shuttle jumped into action and quickly returned with a couple of caffeine gels. Quickly necked and chased down with a good glug of water – the effect was almost immediate.

Come on Zombie – let's have ya!!

I eventually turned off the valley road and was finally confronted with the first ramp of Zombie Hill. My caffeine hit really had really revived me and I set off determined to run as much of this giant as I possibly could.

Zombie hill gets it's name from the state most people find themselves in when the reach it. For the vast majority, from 25k to the finish becomes a “death march”. I knew this was were my cautious approach to the bike would pay dividends and I would start to reel in the uber bikers that would now be reduced to Zombie status!

I'm not gonna lie – this hill was steep. It rises over 1000m in 10k. If anybody has been to the Alps, imagine running up L'Alp D'Huez – that's pretty close. Those more familiar to UK “hills” might consider running up a Tarmac covered Snowdon...twice. Or Ben Nevis and a bit more for good measure

The last 17k of the Norseman - put into context!

Naturally, my mile pace took a nose dive. 10 mins/mile, 11 mins/mile, 12 mins/mile. But I was still running 3k up the mountain's flanks.

I felt like I was in a oven now. I could feel the sun frying my skin so asked Claire for some sun-block. Breck continued supplying me with fuel and wet towels that he kept soaked from the icy cascades that were falling from the mountain above us – Bliss!

I had my eyes fixed on two athletes about 500m in front of me. They were locked in a walking battle. I locked my guidance system onto them and began reeling them in. Minutes past and they really didn't seem to be getting much closer, yet I was still running. I think this is when the penny dropped. “Walking with purpose” seemed only marginally slower than running, yet running was carrying a huge metabolic cost.

I needed to moderate my efforts if I didn't want to become a real “Zombie” where I would see my mile pace drop to around 20 mins/mile.

I therefore took the decision to use a run / fast walk approach for the remainder of Zombie hill. Running when the gradient reduced, walking as fast as I could when it was steep. This allowed me to continue passing athletes and would see me ascend the hill 1hr quicker than the Zombies.

Trying not to become a Zombie on Zombie Hill!

At about halfway – I caught sight of fellow Brit and 3 times Norseman finisher – Dave “Chopsy” Chapman. He was leant against his support vehicle and not looking great. Matt, his support was doing his best to bring him back from the brink of Zombie status. I trotted on by and asked if he was OK, doing my best to look as fresh as a daisy. I think I probably failed!

With about 5k till the mountain checkpoint we passed the “black T-Shirt” cut-off. Those not making this point inside the top 160 or within 14½ hrs would have to satisfy themselves with a white T-shirt and a finish at the Guastablikk Hotel.

My run / walk strategy was working well and I felt in control. The air was now decidedly cooler as I continued gaining altitude. I asked Claire for a lightweight top, the last thing I wanted now was to start getting cold again!

The last 2k to the mountain check-point became a little easier. The gradient relented and I was able to break back into a reasonable jog. The road had now become a mass of support vehicles and I had to weave my way through in search of Claire who was stationed at the small gate that lead to the mountain path.

The Mountain Checkpoint - This is where it gets fun!
Another unique aspect of Norseman is that you have to complete the last 5k of rocky ascent with your support crew. You are not allowed into the mountain without them. I knew I had a safe pair of legs with Claire!

Claire and Mum had sped on ahead to park the car and get my compulsory ruck-sack and equipment checked by the race marshals. They also prepared my off-road shoes that I would wear for the final assault.

I entered the check-point amongst cheers from the crowd – I changed shoes which was a challenge in itself! Standing on one leg was almost impossible and I needed physical support from Breck to stop me falling over!

Shoes tied, rucksack on and the last leg of this epic race had begun.

The short breather at the check-point had given my legs a rest and knowing that the end was now hopefully less than an hour away I set off optimistically at a steady jog.

However, the dirt track quickly became a sea of boulders that would kerb any real attempts to run to the top.

The only real guide through the rock fields were a series of red painted “T's”. I quickly found my best approach was to pick my way through the maze using the larger, flatter rocks, that gave my aching limbs at least half a chance of supporting my now ailing frame.

Anyone seen the path?

About a kilometre into the rock field I was greeted from behind by Chopsy! Seemingly back from the dead he had sparked back into life on Zombie and was now going great guns up through the rock fields. His confidence over this arduous terrain was clearly a testament to his previous successes in the Norseman and also his training on this very stretch in the weeks previous. At this point he had even gapped his supporter Matt who was cursing Dave for making him run to keep up!

I was now on autopilot and was really unable to increase my pace. I knuckled down to keep in contact with Dave as, if nothing else, he would help spur me up the final 4k and maybe together we could bag a few more places.

I ran when I could – which wasn't often as much of the terrain required both legs and arms to safely negotiate!

From here on I just kept my head down and kept pushing. Helped by the constant encouragement from Claire behind me. My heart rate was now racing, yet my pace was painfully slow. The muscle recruitment needed to navigate the rock fields was clearly having a much higher oxygen cost and that was in short supply as we pushed on through 1800m

Onward and upwards through the rock fields

Madly after over 13 hrs, I still couldn't let my competitive instinct die. Athletes in the distance were targeted and reeled in, albeit very slowly. Groups of ailing athletes were caught and passed as I pushed on for the top that now seemed tangibly close. 

Maybe 1 kilometer to go!
 
One guy who I'd past a few moments ago looked to be making one last bid for glory and I sensed his sudden urgency and increase in pace. I couldn't believe it! I was going to have to muster the slowest sprint finish in my racing career! I felt I had to break his spirit there and then so put in a burst of speed, bounding from rock to rock to give the impression I was still full of running. This had the desired effect and I was left with a clear assault on the final 400m stony staircase of rocks that lead to the finish line.

The maddest finish chute in Ironman racing!
At last - The finish!

I crossed the line in 13hrs 25 minutes and 3 seconds. In 31st position and 3rd Brit behind Keith Garbutt and Dave Chapman. I quickly collapsed on a nearby bench and was wrapped in a blanket by a friendly official.

At the Finish - With Chopsy

My marathon time was 4:45, the fastest by a Brit in the history of the event and quicker than 2009 winner, Norwegian Tom Remman who had finished 3rd earlier in the day with a 4:46.

Take that Tom! (We'll gloss over the 1hr 15 minutes you took out of me on the bike!)

I was elated.

The view from the top was breathtaking! With a fair few Ironman and crazy race finishes now under my belt, I thought I'd moved on from blubbing at the end of races. But I must profess to being quite overcome with emotion at knocking this one off.

Or maybe it was just a bit of dust in my eye...

video

The mountain hut beckoned, but I really couldn't face the fare that was on offer – waffles with jam? No thanks, not yet!

I quickly got changed into warm clothes and exchanged a few words with the female race winner Susanne Buckenlei, who had finished 15 minutes in front of me. What a lovely, friendly girl.

Separated by less than a minute in the swim, we had been battling with each other during the early part of the bike before she pulled away to build a commanding lead going into the run. I don't think I ever saw her off the tri-bars! That girl is a machine! I had been catching her on the run, but not fast enough. She'd even managed to run the entire length of Zombie Hill – Incredible!

All that was left for me now was to get back down the mountain to our car and onto our lodgings for the night.

I had two options...

Take the lift that runs down inside the mountain (open to competitors only on race day) a comfortable, warm, seated, 15 minute journey or face the 2 hour trudge back down the mountain with Claire.

Did I take the lift?

Did I bugger! I'm a bloody Norseman!

The end of the trudge back down the mountain


The aftermath...



So what an incredible race.


Our overnight lodgings were the cool grass roofed ski cabins at the base of the Gaustatoppen, a short 5 mile drive from the mountain checkpoint.

 
Overnight Accomodation - Norwegian Style

It was gone 7:00 and we'd all had an incredibly long day having been up since 2:30 that morning!! A bowl of Norwegian stew and enough bread and butter to floor a Rhino, just about made me feel human again. Our beds beckoned and I slept the kind of sleep that only an Ironman competitor knows. 


Complete exhaustion, and complete contentment!


The following morning would bring the awards ceremony and my chance to finally get my hands on the hallowed "Black T-Shirt"


The Norseman Finishers

I hope you enjoyed my report and it's maybe inspired you to consider having a crack at this incredible event in the future. Next year they plan to double the size of the entry list by running the even twice on consecutive days. So even more chance of getting an entry next year!!

Still not convinced? Maybe watch this video - really captures the essence of Norseman!

United Bakeries Awesome Norseman Video


Thanks for the amazing photos go to:
My Mum
Claire
Eric Wynn from NXTRI
And me!!