By Thorsten Firlus (Journalist and Norseman 2018 finisher)
Tim-Nicolas Korf is at that moment unaware that his bruised body driven by relentless will is going to write one of the bigger stories in the history of the Norseman – and certainly the biggest tale race director had to tell astounded group of finishers and their friends and families at the t-shirt-ceremony at Gaustablikk on a sunny Sunday morning.
“It started with a sad story”, says Tim-Nicolas months after he made the impossible thing possible and finished with a jump over the finish line. His father unexpectedly passed away only weeks before he entered the lottery for a Norseman slot. Like he did the years before since 2014. “I know so many people who tried their luck and failed. I did not expect it to happen, the chances are so small”, says Tim-Nicolas.
However, once he received that desired email that said to relax, have a coffee and welcomes the 230 happy athletes he made a decision. He wanted to dedicate this race to his father. He decided that once he made it to the top of Gaustatoppen he not only wanted to finish the race gaining a black shirt but bring a small wooden gyroscope made by his father who turned to woodworks later in his life. “My father and I loved the mountains and spent a lot of time there together”, remembers Tim. “The preparation for the Norseman and this idea about taking something up the hill helped me with my grief.”
His dream shattered only a few kilometers into the bike split on the morning of 4thof August 2018 on the old road between Eidfjord and the top of the first of five climbs up Voringsfossen, that majestic waterfall that attracts people from all over the world. “I was already down in the aeroposition on my time-trial-bike”, says Tim-Nicolas. It was still a bit dark. And Tim-Nicolas in his thoughts about the race. “I simply did not see that pothole.”
Tim-Nicolas is not unfamiliar with unexpected situations and is always looking for challenges. Ultramarathon up the Zugspitze. He finished the Swissman in 2014 – “a equally hard race with multiple mountain passes in the alps” – and willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve a goal. “Losing some 16 Kilogram was one of them when I got that slot for the Norseman”, says Tim-Nicolas who fell in love with smaller races in inhospitable landscapes – “That’s why I wanted to do Norseman, that’s where those extreme triathlons started.”
In the immediate aftermath of a crash the thoughts of human circle fast and not necessarily in a logical order. “I took a look at my hand and though, yes, that’s looks a bit funny but I can move it. No problem”, remembers Tim-Nicolas. His brand-new speedsuit – torn. “But not too bad I thought, I gathered that generally I could go on.”
Norseman is a race for friends, family with the athlete at the center of a unifying experience. Tim-Nicolas crew of four – Sylvia, Jens, André and dog Henry – was sitting in a car waiting for their athlete coming up to first stop. Jörg, a friend of Tim-Nicolas, happened to be on vacation in Norway and also decided to join the group and cheer Tim-Nicolas. He had brought his mountain bike along.
Jörg met his friend shortly after his crash. “He insisted I could not go on”, says Tim-Nicolas, “I argued that I still felt able to cycle.” Only after Jörg showed the broken fork of his bike Tim-Nicolas acknowledged the full catastrophe. And did not hesitate. “I told Jörg that I wanted to take his bike.”
Jörg, ready to conclude that his friend after the crash was not in his right mind and possibly even had a small concussion, flatly denied and wanted Tim-Nicolas to return to Eidfjord. “I insisted and threaten to end up our friendship if he wasn’t to give me his bike.” Jörg, faced with a bloodstained but wildly determined athlete, gave in and his bike to Tim.
“I was really well prepared with my bike and even had 56-tooth-chainring mounted to be able to push it hard even the downhills”, says Tim-Nicolas. Now he found himself on a mountain-bike of his friend who not only is 1,85 and therefore much smaller than Tim-Nicolas but also in Jörg’s shoes – “two sizes smaller than I wear.”
Toes cramped into the shoes, his body bent on a frame far too small for him Tim-Nicolas started the race all over again. “All kinds of thoughts went through my head”, remembers Tim-Nicolas. Giving up? No. “Not after all those months of preparation. The energy everyone involved, especially my support had given into that project.”
And the dream of the black shirt not entirely given up – that’s how Tim-Nicolas stood in the pedals and gave everything he had. “I was pushing it too hard”, says he. His mind on his father, his friends, the race, tears in his eyes – “I had to completely focus on a different goal.”
At Geilo, halfway into the bike split, he had to give up whatever was left of hopes of making it up to Gaustatoppen carrying that small gyroscope. After the swim he ranked 54, leaving transition zone one he ranked 59. At Voringfossen still at 157 despite the crash. At Geilo Tim-Nicolas was in position 199. And finally stopped to have a medical team check his wounds.
He got clearance to go on. Despite spitting blood which came from his chin – but not the lungs. The crew and organizers already remarked that something extraordinary was happening. And somehow the race started a third time for Tim-Nicolas.
Time to celebrate. “I was at position 212 after the medical check and out of reach to make it up the top.” But not slowing down. He overtook a couple of athletes on their road bikes. “It’s so nice about Norseman – it’s companionship. They cheered as well.” One, he remembers shouted at him that he wanted to give him a medal if Tim-Nicolas made it to the finish line.
Whoever was fortunate enough to see Tim-Nicolas during the race must have had an amazing impression of an athlete giving his best in some of the worst and unexpected circumstances possible. And a fast one. He finished the bike segment as number 202.
The first 10k of the run went pretty well and Tim-Nicolas started to think again. If he hadn’t lost some minutes here, some minutes with the medical crew – maybe, maybe…
“But I had burned whatever energy I had on the bike. I was smashed.” He stopped occasionally had a chat with his crew, drank and ate and the first time of the day took a look at himself. “We had some kind of a small party”, Tim-Nicolas recalls. He was accompanied by a motorcyclist of the crew who was just as impressed as anyone else. “It was all very emotional.”
After the walk up Zombie Hill “I had to turn left”. He dreaded doing ten rounds around the hotel. Only to find out that the atmosphere was pretty different to what he expected. “It was certainly one of the best things about the day”, says Tim-Nicolas. A party of people celebrating their journeys, the race the people. The crew playing national anthems of every participant and running next to them.
16 hours, 37 minutes and 34 seconds after the horn started the race, Tim-Nicolas picked up speed, raised his hands, stuck his tongue between his lips and jumped over the finish line.
Four months have passed and Tim-Nicolas can’t say when he realized, what he had done. “It certainly was the wildest thing I ever did overcoming all those obstacles of that day.”
Many people – foremost race director Torill Pedersen – instantly recognized what has unfolded before their eyes: A story of willpower, friendship, love. Tim-Nicolas wants to go back. “Even though I usually don’t do races twice”, he admits. He fears that it won’t be the same “the first time you step onto the ferry will be unique.” However – he applied. And failed. Like so many years before. “But I´m not done with the Norseman. I want to try to take that wooden gyroscope up Gaustatoppen.”
Courtesy of Race Director Torill Pedersen, Tim-Nicolas Korf, age 38, will get the race director’s slot for the Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon 2019. The invitation should be in his inbox just about now.