#268. It doesn’t seem like a particularly auspicious number. But on August 5, those three digits will become an indelible part of my triathlon journey. Since I first learned about the Norseman Xtreme Tri, through the participation in 2005 of my long-time friend and some-time training partner Bjorn Andersson, it has remained something of a lodestar for me. If there was one race that I simply had to do before I stopped racing full-time, it was Norseman. But even more than that, Norseman was always the ultimate representation of what I thought triathlon should be. It was, for me, the essence of triathlon – a small group of athletes benchmarking themselves individually and collectively against a savage course.
I’ve done – and enjoyed – many races that certainly don’t meet this definition. I’ve done Ironman Arizona eight times, more than any other race, and that’s likely the anti-thesis of Norseman, which is also what makes it a special race. IMAZ represents the shared experience of triathlon, and I would not trade my memories on the course in Tempe for anything. My admiration for Norseman is not meant as a criticism of other races, especially Ironman. I’ve built a life and a career off of the opportunity afforded to me by the incredible array of Ironman races around the world. I love Ironman. And I always will.
But Norseman represents the sort of isolated, singular pursuit that resonates most closely with who I am. Or at least, who I’d like to be. Ultimately, I race because I love to train, alone and out in the wilds. But it’s hard to make a career off being someone who just swims, bikes, and runs a lot. Simon Whitfield, to me, was the consummate racer; the competition was what it was all about. He said that the way he had such a long and successful career was by “game-ifying” training. But for me, I’ve done best when I’ve made my racing mimic my training, rather than vice versa.
Three of my best-ever performances have come in races where I executed this way on courses similar to Norseman in their brutality. Two were in 2011 on the undulating roads of Lake Mead National Park in Henderson, NV – the inaugural Leadman Epic 250 and the ITU Long Distance World Championships. The other was in 2012 in the mountainous terrain of Bend, OR at the second Leadman 250 race. Of these, the inaugural Leadman in Henderson remains, I think, perhaps the most absolutely excruciating and complete triathlon performance that I’ve ever had. I left a piece of myself on those roads and also took a piece of those roads and merged it into who I am. If there was a singular experience that represented a definitive start point in my post-accident career, it was that race. IMAZ 2010 was the closing point on who I was; and Leadman 2011 was my new beginning.
In a similar way, I imagine that Norseman represents a fixed point of sorts in the arc of my career. While my retirement is not imminent, I do know that I have less sand left in the top of the hourglass than in the bottom. And without a clear plan about what I wanted to do in 2017, I decided it was the right time to finally set a course firmly for Eidfjord on the first Saturday in August. I’m grateful to Dag Oliver of Norseman for granting me an exception to the extremely competitive entry lottery. This is the chance of a lifetime, and one that is not granted to all who wish to do it. I do not take the accompanying responsibility lightly.
When I step on the ferry into the frigid waters of Norway’s fjords, it will be with the intent of extracting the very best from myself. I want to see what I can get out of myself, and the relentless course of Norseman offers a truly special opportunity to do so.