Holding a Hollow Dice

Oh well shit that's not much help

So yeah. The Swedeman.

There’s this little race in the long distance tri world known as the Norseman, one of several races that makes up what’s called the XTri World Tour. The business model is running really bloody hard Iron-distance(ish) races in pretty unforgiving conditions – for example, if you’re lucky enough to be one of the faster competitors on the day, you get to spend the last 10k of your marathon-distance run climbing a mountain. I do not mean that metaphorically.

The Norseman is the first and most iconic of their races, and as such the limited places on offer are really oversubscribed. There’s a ballot that I’ve entered for the last couple of years, not because I felt ready to take on a race that starts with jumping off the back of a ferry into a Fjord in the middle of the night, but because you get additional chances in the ballot for each year you have previously entered and not got a place.

This year, I forgot to enter the ballot. Having also seemingly forgotten to enter the London Marathon ballot, and having not stepped foot in a casino since I walked out of one in Sheffield £50 up and deciding that was all the luck I was ever going to have in my life, past me clearly felt that life was nothing without some kind of random-chance-based financial oblivion. Fortunately, Xtri had added another race to their stable this year, the Swedeman. Oh, that place sounds familiar, thought I, and I marched towards impending doom (physically and financially) via a series of internet clicks.

Obviously I got a place in the ballot. Obviously I ummed and ahhed about this for a few days, and then obviously I made the only decision I was ever going to make. And immediately got my card blocked (thanks Natwest). And then got it unblocked. And then remade that decision, successfully this time. In retrospect I think it was momentous enough that I probably should have been wearing more than my boxers and not being laced in a film of my own hungover sweaty toxins, but c’est la vie. Or Sånt är livet as they might say in Swedish. Which I probably need to start learning again.

This has kinda thrown all my best laid plans into disarray. I did not plan on making a decision on a second key race for 2018 this early, nor did I envisage it being a further dive into the illogical realms of masochistic self-torture – well, past that presented by another Ironman. But this reaches further than that. This reaches way past the microgoals of last week, into the far future of macrogoals. Yes, I’m trying not to focus on them so much, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still have them. Microgoals are great for keeping moving day on day, but there needs to be something bigger in the future to work towards, or what’s the point?

I said, not too long ago, that I’d continue this blog one more year in order to catalogue one more year of redemption. Redemption, in my mind at the time, was either somehow sneaking a sneaky Kona place, or coming close enough that I felt I’d had a good honest punt at it and wasn’t just all talk. This is now out of the window.

Let’s face it, Lanzarote is going to be a great race, but it’s also the earliest European qualifier and tends to attract a pretty high-level field wanting to nab an early spot. I’d also gather from the course profile those who excel in Lanza will be strong bikers. I’m going there to learn, not to challenge at that level. I could maybe squeeze in a second Ironman this year if I fancied a birthday excursion to Argentina. Which I definitely now won’t be able to afford. Unless England somehow win the Ashes and we get a massive staff bonus out of it, but… yeah. Probably more chance of me winning Lanzarote.

But there’s always next year, isn’t there? Well, yes, but by Ironman’s weird age group rules, to them I will be 29 at Lanzarote 2018, because they go by your age at the end of the year. Which weirdly means that as a December child, should I ever grace the World Champs, I’ll be considered a year older than I actually am when I race it. Thieving bastards. Give me my year back.

What this essentially means is that any Ironman race I do in 2019 onwards, I’ll be competing in Ironman’s 30-34 age group. If trying to fight off the other 25-29 year olds is like dipping your toe into a pond with a few piranhas in it, the 30-34 age group is like stripping naked, dousing yourself in honey and jumping into a pit of half-starved grizzly bears. Maybe I can do it, maybe I can’t; but it won’t be anytime soon, and if it ever does happen at some point someone will look back, misty eyed, and proclaim “Well, that were a bloody stupid idea, weren’t it”. The Kona 2019 plan is bust.

The other macrogoals I held for this year – foremost, maybe qualifying for an age-group championships place and getting a shiny GBR trisuit – are also financially imperilled. Also, the events all just happen at the wrong time, now I’ve whacked a great big beast of an event in August. In place of the red white and blue then, I have a new goal… I’m going grey.

There’s another feature of Xtri races – I mentioned above that you get to climb the mountain if you’re fast enough. If you’re not (or if the weather’s bad, in which case you’re shit out of luck), you get sent to a different finish, where they don’t have to worry about recovering your hypothermic exhausted carcass from the top/halfway/the base of a mountain. Each finish has a different finisher shirt; lowlands, white. Highlands, black/grey. At the Swedeman it’s grey. So that’s what I’m gonna go get.

It won’t be easy. A lovely 5am start means it’s an even earlier wake up than a usual Ironman – although that said, the setting for the race is so far north that I’m not sure there will be any night in August. On top of that, it’s actually a 4am start, as you have to catch a coach to the race start at 4am. So up and ready to go by then. Ouch.

Jolly fun

Then, at 5am, things get moving. For a guy who swum like the Hindenburg flew when I started writing this blog way back in 2015, 3.8k swims no longer scare me. What does slightly scare me is 3.8k swims in the Arctic. Well, not quite the Arctic; the area the race is located in is somewhere around 200-220 miles south of the Arctic circle. That’s still far closer to the ‘this is where shit gets COLD’ line than I ever fancied being. I do not deal with the cold well; and on that topic, in my experience, race organisers always lie and say the water is warmer than it is (unless you’re at Challenge Roth, where the sneaking suspicion is they lie in the other direction). I’m going 10 degrees, max. My support crew (who I will come on to) better have the hot chocolate ready. Or I may die.

...MOOOOOOOOOOOOSE

Y’know, I’ve always wanted to meet a moose. So I can look it in the eye, and slowly groan, mooooooooooooose, and maybe get a response. I don’t know why. It’s one of those small things. Being subsequently chased around the middle Swedish wilderness by said Moose would be simultaneously more/less exciting. Also, 205km will be the longest yet in the saddle. 2000m of climbing is pretty savage, but it’s not outlandish for a ride that length.

oh well shit just got fucked

When I said that only the fast people get to climb the mountain? I lied. Everyone gets to climb one mountain. The second mountain, though, is only for the fast lot – of which I plan to be one. ‘Fast’ in this context being able to start the race at 5am, and be at the T2A checkpoint 31k into the run by 6pm. 13 hours. I’ve struggled through a brutal, hurricane-swept Welsh Ironman in less than 12, right? 13 to not even do the whole thing should be easy, right? Well… no. To save on some time (and give me something to write about) I’ll cover my emerging strategy in a separate post. Right now what I’m thinking is that 2600m of ascent total in the run, assuming I get to do the big one at the end, is a freakin’ insane amount of hate for one’s quads.

None of that is the hardest bit. The hardest bit is that you have to have a support crew. This is no longer Half-Rust; this is Half-Rust and friends. At least two people following me around, spending an entire day participating in someone else’s race. And one of them has to do the last 11k of the run with me, whether that be up a mountain or no. Oh God. I have to find someone who loves me enough to climb a fucking mountain with me. Now that, that is truly terrifying.

Listening: Oh Hiroshima – Ruach; foreboding Swedish post-rock is kinda capturing the mood.
Reading: TVTrope’s page on Wind River; because I can’t ever watch a film without immediately over-analysing the shit out of it

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