Monday, 24 February 2020, 3:30am. Cape Legoupil, Antarctica
The climate window of 24-36 hours has handed and I’m nonetheless right here. Lowered to a stroll and with the snow coming in sideways, I’ve needed to make camp. Now, I can barely arise outdoors the tent. The glacier is on the centre of a blizzard, with gusts of greater than 90mph. There may be nothing to do however wait. For a way lengthy, I do not know. It’s not a race, it’s survival.
A yr earlier and greater than 5,000 miles north of Cape Legoupil, Anders Hofman stood shivering in weak winter daylight on the sting of Copenhagen harbour.
Sporting solely a pair of black trunks, he plunged into the nonetheless, darkish water beneath. The temperature was barely 1C. Thirty-five seconds later he clambered, shaking and gasping, again onto the boardwalk. This wasn’t the beginning of his coaching, however it was the work that might are available most helpful.
The goal of Mission Iceman was easy. Hofman was searching for to turn into the primary human to finish an Ironman triathlon – a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike leg and a marathon – within the least applicable continent for such a feat; Antarctica.
The preparations alone have been, to say the least, sophisticated. The 28-year-old needed to assemble a staff to information, assist and doc his try on what’s a largely uncharted land mass. He needed to discover package that might permit him to run, cycle and swim with out perishing within the excessive chilly. He needed to discover sponsors to fund the expedition. And eventually he needed to put together himself.
No less than it was not Hofman’s first Ironman. A eager footballer and health fanatic, he accomplished one in his residence metropolis of Copenhagen in 2016, ticking it off amongst a bucket listing of athletic challenges. He did not catch the Ironman bug although, and thought it was the top of his triathlon profession.
However then, two elements coincided to carry him again to it. First, Hofman started work for a start-up that used synthetic intelligence to assist triathletes tailor their coaching. With the game forefront in his thoughts at work, he then stumbled throughout a video on-line. It featured fellow Dane Nick Jacobsen kiteboarding off the helipad of a Dubai resort, the sky-scraping five-star Burj Al Arab. It was the highest kiteboarding leap ever.
Hofman wished his personal piece of historical past. However he additionally wished to push his psychological boundaries in addition to triathlon’s bodily frontiers.
“I am not an enormous fan of the chilly or the disciplines of triathlon themselves,” he tells BBC Sport.
“However I like that it’s a coaching of the thoughts, of mindfulness and the way you overcome.”
And that’s the reason, together with hours of coaching, journeys to specialist sub-zero chambers, Greenland, Iceland and Norway, he went for his early-morning dip in Copenhagen harbour.
Over the course of the subsequent six days, he repeated the check. Every day he tried to remain in longer.
When he obtained out of the water on day seven, his face drained ghostly white and his physique blotched crimson by damaged blood vessels, he had managed 11 minutes and 5 seconds.
“My physique couldn’t have modified that a lot over seven days,” he says. “It was actually simply staying in command of your thoughts when your whole physique and system is below excessive stress.
“We will do greater than our minds allow us to imagine.”
Saturday, 22 February 2020, 5:30am. Mission Iceman startline, Antarctica
We left Copenhagen 20 days in the past. Flight to Frankfurt, onto Buenos Aires after which to Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina. Per week at sea, one other week at Bernardo O’Higgins – the Chilean Antarctic analysis base – and now, lastly, I’m standing on the beginning line. It’s a clear morning, solely a slight present, two assist boats prepared, excellent circumstances for the swim. It begins.
As Hofman dived into the Southern Ocean, the crew on one among his two assist boats have been centered solely on the opportunity of him being joined by a much better, greater swimmer.
Leopard seals can develop to three.5m lengthy, weigh 500kg and swim at speeds of 25mph. In 2003, one attacked and killed a British scientist diving in waters off Antarctica.
Whereas his assist boat was poised to haul him aboard on the first signal of hazard, Hofman was wrestling together with his personal demons.
“For the primary kilometre, my unconscious was simply attempting to get me to surrender,” he says.
“It was saying that it is a dangerous thought, it’s too far, it’s too chilly, that the entire thing is not sensible.”
That foreboding gave method to a trance-like state that even a trundler in a leisure centre experiences sometimes; the mind lulled by the rhythm of the stroke, the gap softly eroding away.
After which, together with his view alternating between inky depths and the polar heavens, Hofman noticed land. Practically two-and-a-half miles of sub-zero water was behind him, glacial ice was lastly again below his toes and his least favorite of the three disciplines had been accomplished.
Together with his naked arms and toes first numbed by the chilly after which buzzing with the ache of returning blood, it took half-hour to modify package. It took one other 20 minutes of strolling to revive his frozen legs. Lastly he was on his bike and pedalling via the snow.
As the primary 5km breezed previous, his thoughts wandered to what it will be like to complete. The second 5km made him suppose he by no means would.
It lasted two hours; his common velocity didn’t attain 2mph, his journey punctuated by deflating falls. Because the morning had worn on, the rising, warming solar had left Hofman ploughing via a treacherous, energy-sapping sludge. The ice was not the one factor melting down.
“I wasn’t exhausted at that time, I had solely been going 4 hours, however the distance and time nonetheless remaining was so troublesome to understand,” he says.
“Trying from the surface, all the pieces I used to be doing was actually sluggish. However in my thoughts all the pieces was racing – there was the bodily problem, the frustration that I used to be not going quicker and all of the damaging ideas intruding.”
Hofman was caught in a twin-speed world. His psychological state and feelings manically darted about in his head whereas his bike edged painfully slowly throughout a whiteness perma-lit by the mid-summer solar.
To maintain management, he deployed the techniques he had utilized in Copenhagen harbour a yr earlier than. Within the water, he had counted his breaths – teams of 60 earlier than beginning over – to interrupt down time into comprehendible chunks.
In Antarctica, he centered solely on chalking off the subsequent kilometre.
After 27 hours within the saddle, with no wink of sleep, he nonetheless had 60 of these kilometres nonetheless in entrance of him earlier than he may start the marathon.
“I began doubting whether or not I may truly end. That was my final low, bodily and mentally – I am unsure if I’ll get to that time in my life once more,” says Hofman.
“The entire message behind the venture was that limitations are solely perceptions, however I do not suppose I realised I must break my very own, in addition to different peoples’.”
With the chilly suppressing the hormones that stimulate thirst, Hofman’s assist staff took on the job as an alternative, forcing him to hydrate at hourly intervals. As he battled on, one other issue grew to become a risk.
Hofman’s staff – which included knowledgeable Antarctic guides, in addition to photographers and filmmakers from Denmark, the US and Norway – had allowed a day and a half for the try.
Contemplating he had carried out a half-Ironman within the Arctic Circle in fewer than 11 hours, it appeared an affordable estimate.
However with the try effectively delayed, their window of delicate climate was closing.
By 1:30am on Monday morning, 44 and half hours for the reason that begin however with greater than half of the 26-mile marathon nonetheless to finish, Hofman was pressured to take shelter.
His run had turn into little greater than a stumble because the wind and snow whipped round him. With provides dwindling however the end comparatively shut in distance if not time, all however one among his guides was evacuated.
Hofman and his remaining companion made camp. And waited.
“The circumstances have been so loopy, however, remoted on the glacier, we could not transfer anyplace,” explains Hofman.
“Had we been again on the Chilean base, we in all probability would have cancelled the try. However we had no alternative however to attend it out. Having obtained to date, I wished to complete it, no matter it will take.”
Hofman spent 27 hours huddled within the camp, spinning out his meals and ready for the climate to go.
Ultimately the wind dropped, the snow stopped and he emerged to assert an eerie, quiet victory over the weather and the superior psychological and bodily process he had set himself.
“Ultimately it took me simply lower than 73 hours,” he says.
“It was a surreal feeling. At instances it felt prefer it was by no means going to finish so it was troublesome to understand that it was carried out.
“It was a loopy large sense of aid as a result of it was approach past what any of us had predicted as a worst-case situation.
“However there isn’t any bodily end line, like in a daily Ironman or triathlon. Simply all of the sudden I used to be there, with the identical guys on the identical glacier, however completed.”
Tuesday, 3 March 2020, South Atlantic Ocean
I hadn’t thought additional than the Iceman. However as quickly as I completed on the glacier I used to be carried out with ice, snow, and being chilly. I simply wish to be residence. I’ve instructed the staff, I’m carried out. However we’re nonetheless at sea, nonetheless per week away from Ushuaia in Argentina, 10 days away from Copenhagen, nonetheless speaking with the surface world solely by occasional texts and emails.
When he docked in Argentina, Hofman realised the world was a special place to the one he had left behind.
Again then, in early February, coronavirus was confined primarily to China. The most important outbreak outdoors of its borders have been 61 circumstances on board the Diamond Princess cruise liner, quarantined off the Japanese coast.
The time period Covid-19 was but to even be coined by world well being officers.
On his return to Ushuaia in Argentina on 10 March nonetheless, a wave was breaking over Europe. Italy was in lockdown after lots of of deaths whereas Spain, Germany and France have been all reporting greater than 1,000 circumstances.
“We had been fully off the grid,” remembers Hofman. “We hadn’t had any web connection since we first set sail from Argentina, with solely the odd textual content from residence.
“That was the primary time we realised the seriousness of the scenario – it was all around the information.”
It was the beginning gun for a brand new, sudden race.
The Prime Minister of Denmark was publicly discussing whether or not to shut the nation’s borders. Flights have been being cancelled. The shock social gathering Hofman’s family and friends had deliberate was already postponed. Briefly it regarded as if the visitor of honour may be indefinitely delayed.
Hofman made it residence 11 hours earlier than a ban on overseas residents coming into his nation got here into impact. Now as he seems again – from 35 seconds in Copenhagen harbour to 72 hours on the finish of the world – he thinks his expertise can assist these struggling in these most excessive instances.
“The mindset could be utilized to each a part of life,” he says. “A variety of issues we’re coping with are crammed with uncertainty and our objectives could seem distant proper now.
“It may be powerful to be content material and comfy with your self and maintain going within the face of intense challenges.
“However dividing our journey into smaller chunks and never being overwhelmed by the gap nonetheless to journey can assist you get there.”