The plan is to return in 2021 when we can hopefully stage a race that is as safe as it is spectacular.
2020 is nearing its end, and it will go down as a year that will long be remembered, but seldom fondly.
It has changed the world we used to know forever, and what it leaves us with remains to be seen. Some of us have lost loved ones along the way; almost all of us have lost out financially and in terms of opportunity, but the night is darkest just before the dawn, and we know that soon, this too will pass.
I first heard of the coronavirus in February, and as many of us did, I thought it was over-exaggerated. I remembered avian flu and SARS and how the doom-mongers had predicted the end of the world, only for those diseases to die out seemingly as quickly as they had arrived.
How wrong I was.
On March 17 the European Championships in soccer were cancelled. Shortly after that, the Tokyo Olympics were put on ice. One by one, sporting events fell by the wayside as we struggled to contain and control this invisible virus.
The Norseman was quickly added to the list of cancellations, and anyone who knows anything about the race would understand why. Perhaps more than any other race in the world, the Norseman is a tribute, an homage to Mother Nature. And when she decides it’s not safe for us to play, we don’t play.
Our race is a collective undertaking, the result of thousands of hours of work by athletes and organisers and volunteers, painted on a canvass that stretches over 220km wide of the rugged Norwegian countryside. There was no way a safe race could be held – at least not for all the participants.
One man did undertake it, though. Allan Hovda did the Norseman solo, and in doing so he sent a signal – we accepted the warning of Mother Nature, but we want her to allow us to visit her again as soon as possible. We’re ready. And we’re waiting.
We can be delayed, but we cannot be denied.
For those of you familiar with the Norseman course, 2020 as a year has been Zombie Hill, a test of strength and spirit that has been a trial even for the toughest of the tough. But as those who have reached the top of the mountain will tell you, Zombie Hill is only part of the journey – so too with 2020.
And when you finally get past it, and past the climb that follows, you get to the top of that mountain. The crisp, clean air fills your lungs, and Zombie Hill looks tiny from above.
What was once a mighty, almost insurmountable challenge is reduced to mere scratches on a map, robbed of its power by our enduring spirit.
2021 is now the top of our mountain, and our first task is to go back to the start and dream it up all over again. The pandemic has forced us to change not just how we do things, but why.
The endurance athlete knows that much of the suffering is done alone, but in the best of all worlds it is never lonely – we surround ourselves with those of like mind and we spur each other on to greater things than any of us can imagine.
Our limits are being tested. Our powers are being tested. Our spirit is being tested.
And if we come through all this, we owe it to those who don’t make it to carry on this legacy, to honour their memory by doing what it is that unites us all – striving for the Olympian ideals of Citius, Altius, Fortius – higher, faster, stronger – but even more so, doing it together.
For no man or woman makes it to the top of the mountain alone in the Norseman. For the last stage they are supported, encouraged, urged on by their team. And at the top they are met by those who have ensured their safe passage and embraced in the warmth of an unforgettable achievement.
We will remember 2020, even if it won’t be fondly, but the best way to banish old memories is to forge new ones. This is what 2021 is for – to begin to relive our lives put on hold, to seize the opportunities that it offers, and to do so in a spirit of community further strengthened by what we have been through.
We’ve waited a long time, and we still have to wait a little longer, but believe me, sooner or later, when all this is over, we’ll be once again swimming in Eidfjord, and I can’t wait to see you there.