(Disclaimer: This text is in English so that the organisers can read it too. I gave my best and my friend Bob Bloodworth polished it.)
The year 2016 marked my third failure to participate in the long distance triathlon Isklar Norseman. More than three years have passed since my first attempt to get one of 250 slots in a race that most people would consider insane even thinking about attempting to finish. Not only is it a race over the full 226km Ironman, the prospect of good weather is almost zero. And even if the Norse Gods would deign to allow a race under blue skies – those lucky 250 start by leaping from the wide open deck of a ferry into the 14 C water of the fjord . It never gets warmer. And we are talking beginning of August. And if that’s not enough to discourage you: The bike course is hilly. The final run divides the field of 250 into one group of 150 and one of 100. The slow group get white shirts for finishing (if they finish). But the 150 fastest athletes are allowed to climb a long hill just one hours drive from Oslo at the very end of the marathon course.
The Isklar Norsman is an extreme triathlon.
It all started in 2003, with only 21 starters, all from Norway. 19 finished. The 15th edition in 2016 saw some 3000 people enrolling for the lottery. The entries come from more than 60 nations. I didn’t stand a chance.
I was waiting nervously for mail concerning my registration, and although I had failed twice before, this time I had a good feeling. I wanted it badly, and when it didn’t happen, I felt a sting.
I shared my thoughts with friends and family and people might have wondered why it was this particular race that I wanted. Most of the time if you ask someone who has done an Ironman, or any other long distance triathlon, what race she or he would love to race and you’ll get: Kona, Hawaii,where it all started and the water never gets colder than 20 something degrees. It’s the home of triathlon and I would be happy one day to be one of those 2500 starters. But I figured out long ago that I’ll never qualify, and I’m fine with that. Whatever it takes to get there: I am not prepared to sacrifice all of the things necessary to get that fast. But that’s okay.
The thought of possibly never racing the Norseman makes me sad, though.
So why is that? What makes it so special for me? Why don’t I just try to enroll for one of those other crazy races out there? Celticman, Swissman? There’s even a copycat-triathlon in Norway which even tries to be a little bit crazier and more demanding. What makes me want to race in the Norseman?
I have thought about it for quite some time now. And the best I can do to explain is like this:
Let’s talk about music.
Edvard Grieg. Norwegian Pianist and Composer. Griegs most famous work is the music written for Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt”. It’s a suite.
The music itself must be considered to be from the ‘Top 40’ of classical music. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you have still probably heard it, as the work is often misused for TV-documentaries and infomercials. It sounds so – empty – and seems to perfectly describe the vast and rare beauty of the landscape of that region of the world.
Now there are several recordings and they are all fine. From the many I have heard in my life, one does the trick for me, just like the Norseman. To me, they represent something similar, if not the same thing that speaks to me, that appeals to me and to my life. The beauty of Grieg’s melodies, the atmosphere of his composition, remind me of what I expect to experience , should I ever get the chance to start that race.
I have been to Norway, Sweden and Finland – but not for long and not really beyond the big cities except Trondheim in winter. I am certainly not bound to those countries any more than say, Portugal. I liked them, but I don’t feel that I have to go there regularly, let alone live there.
And it would be far too simple to state that Grieg’s work describes the landscape of the race course or the emotions that I would expect to feel on such a day. The work I am talking about does not DESCRIBE the race. Let’s get that clear. (Yes, there are moments of sadness and a big bang that could illustrate a flat tire or fighting exhaustion, but that’s not what I hear.) And yet there is something about the music that strikes the same chords as the race does.
The recording is by the Gothenberg Orchestra (Sweden to make it more complicated) and conducted by Neeme Pärvi (An Estonian fellow, to take things even further). Though the work is by a Norwegian played by a Swedish orchestra and conducted by an Estonian – and therefore is a solidly “northern” interpretation – what touches me is the authenticity and the peace of mind it gives.
It’s full of drama, like a good long distance triathlon and certainly one like Norseman containing cold, harsh weather conditions and a steep climb over rocks at the end of the day. But – all of that drama is presented in the most calm manner possible. Strong emotions live quietly, without superfluous and – in my eyes – unnecessary exaggerating and stressing of the moments that touch your heart and soul. The crew organizing Norseman seem to have managed to set up a competition worthy of its own story, without betraying their ideals and keeping alive what this race is all about. At least it’s clear that they haven’t exploited the race, and have kept it small and renowned at the same time. Being small is one of the key features.
I am not sure if you can still follow my thoughts. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Maybe you think I’ve gone nuts. Maybe you think you should go nuts too. The Norseman lures people from all over the world to the northern hemisphere. Each one of them has his or her own reasons to want to race here. Some surely for the pure challenge of racing under such forbidding conditions. For me it is a longing that will not be stilled, and I will go on failing until I make it.