Imagine jumping from a car ferry into the cold waters of a Norwegian fjord to swim 2.4 miles, then biking 112 miles to and along the snow-capped, fog-shrouded mountains above, and finally running a marathon with the finish being a hike up a 10 percent grade to a 6,100-foot peak.
That's what Andy Balchin, a 34-year-old Hanahan resident, plans to do Saturday in the Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon in Eidfjord, Norway.
"LAVA" magazine, which caters to serious triathletes, calls the Norseman "the toughest race on Earth" on the cover of its July edition. Several other websites list it among the toughest races in the world, keeping company with the Badwater 135 ultramarathon in Death Valley.
The Norseman is so challenging that organizers limit it to 250 participants and require each one to have two support team members.
So why did Balchin, who is only in his second season of triathlon, choose the Norseman?
Balchin first heard of the Norseman in a book called "The World's Toughest Endurance Challenges," which listed only two triathlons: the Norseman and the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. The former appealed to him not only because of the challenge but the location of the race.
"But one of the biggest influencing factors (in choosing the race) is that I have lived a good part of my life in my comfort zone and this race is really going to take me out of my comfort zone," said Balchin, who got married in March.
Balchin's crew includes his endurance sports coach, Anne Ahern Moore, and her husband, Chris Moore, a USA Cycling-certified bike race mechanic. Anne Moore recalls when Balchin first came up with the idea to do Norseman.
"Due to the small field and fact that half of the 250 slots are for Norwegians and other half are open to the rest of the world, I honestly never thought he'd get it," Moore said.
She was shocked when she got a text message saying he was in, adding that "I knew we were going to have to get very creative with the training."
After all, how does someone train for a cold, hilly triathlon in the heat and flatness of the Lowcountry?
Moore had Balchin doing a lot a swimming in the Atlantic ocean off Isle of Palms from November to April to get him accustomed to swimming in cold water. And like many dedicated local cyclists and triathletes, he headed to the mountains of the Upstate and North Carolina to train to climb.
"The mountains in South Carolina and North Carolina offer some of the steepest ascents and descents in the United States and they rival what I will see in the Norseman," said Balchin, adding he ran many of his long runs of 15 to 18 miles going back-and-forth on the Cooper River bridge.
Despite the cold water, hilly terrain and varied weather, Balchin's biggest concerns about the race are logistics and food.
"Since Norway most likely doesn't have the same food as the U.S., I am having to take much of my nutrition with me. One of my biggest fears is eating food that my system is not used to and getting gastrointestinal problems."
Despite the array of challenges for Norseman, Balchin already is looking beyond it. He plans to participate in the inaugural Ironman Chattanooga, set for Sept. 28, a mere eight weeks away.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.
After swimming 2.4 miles in the cold waters of the Hardangerfjord HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fjord" \o "Fjord" fjord, competitors in the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon emerge at Eidfjord for the transition to a 180K bike ride, the first 40K of which is uphill. Ann Kristin Engabakken/Norseman Xtreme Triathlon×
Andy Balchin, 34, of Hanahan, competed in the Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series at James Island County Park earlier this year. The conditions at Norseman will be vastly different. Brian Fancher Photography×
The finish line of the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon is the rocky, 6,100-foot peak of Gaustatoppen. Norseman Xtreme Triathlon×
Andy Balchin, 34, of Hanahan, is an engineer by training. He will attempt the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon on Aug. 2. Provided×
The Norseman Xtreme Triathlon includes a 180K bike (about 112 miles) in the mountainous country of western Norway. Ann Kristin Engabakken/Norseman Xtreme Triathlon×