Canadian Tara Norton will toe the line at next week’s Ultraman World Championships as the defending women’s champion.
But, from her perspective, the prospect of winning again is not very high on her list of priorities for the event.
“A lot of people will ask me if I’m defending my title, and I guess in theory I have to be because I won it last year,” says Norton. “If you told me I was going to win it last year I wouldn’t have believed you, so now I can’t tell you it’s impossible, because it is possible.”
“But, my goal, the same as last year, is to go and race smartly and injury-free, and finish with my friends and family with a big smile on my face and not a broken leg.”
For context on this “broken leg”, we have to go back a few years.
Just weeks prior to her Ultraman debut at the 2016 worlds, Norton suffered a stress fracture in her femur. But, it went undetected through x-rays, so she raced and finished the event with the injury. Four days later, while hiking, her femur snapped in two.
The 48-year-old Toronto native took 2017 to recover before coming back and winning the event last year.
Having gone through an experience like she did three years ago, it’s easy to see why winning isn’t the main priority for Norton. But, that doesn’t mean her only objective is to finish.
“My other goal for this third time is to execute more of a steady run,” she said. “And that could be finishing first, that could be finishing last. I would like to keep my run pace going for the 84.4 km.”
What does one do to prepare for an Ultraman? Well, for starters, it’s important to outline what exactly this race entails. An Ultraman consists of three days of racing, with a 10 km swim and 145 km bike on day one, a 276 km bike on day two, and then the 84.4 km double-marathon she alluded to on day three.
For Norton, getting in some extremely long training sessions is key.
“Training has gone well. Canada Man (the Canada Man/Woman Xtreme Triathlon) was definitely a good test of ‘keep moving forward,'” she said. “In terms of my actual training, what I try to do for this event is get in a number of 200 km bikes, a number of eight to 10 km swims, and a couple 50 or 60 km runs.”
These lengthy training sessions are what sets preparing for an Ultraman apart from a standard full-distance race.
“It’s the time that it takes, and so the difference is making sure that there are those few long sessions so your body is ready to sit in the saddle for 276 km or be on your feet for 84.4 km,” she said.
And while her preparation has been mostly on track, a recent illness has hindered her training in the water.
“Unfortunately over the last week, I’ve been sidelined with a cough,” she said. “It’s actually more like two and a half or three weeks. So the part of the training that I didn’t get in was a couple long swims, but I did a ride to New York City in September (from Toronto) so I had five days of solid cycling, and I also completed a 60 km run a couple of weeks ago and also did a few 50km runs leading up to it.”
“So, in terms of getting in my goal sessions, it’s the swim that I’m a bit disappointed in, but come race day, race adrenaline, it’s just going to have to get done. I did do a 7 and an 8 km swim, but I would’ve liked to do a couple more of those.”
Beyond the physical preparation, the mindset Norton brings is essential for anyone who wants to finish an Ultraman.
“Fortunately I’m somebody who can stay positive and just go forever, so I use that on the day, well, all three days.”
And quite simply, she loves to challenge herself. That’s what keeps bringing her back.
“My plan is to keep doing this forever, as long as I can, or find something that I can do, and so each year I kind of suss out what the next thing is going to be,” she said.
“But, the ultra-distance I love. I love that I can be mentally and physically challenged, and there’s no pressure on me anymore to win anything. So it’s about having fun and keeping that passion.”