Anders Hofman: The Iceman

The Iceman

Anders Hofman is the first person to complete an Ironman distance triathlon in Antarctica. We spoke with Anders when he was in the final stages of preparing to take on the planet’s deadliest endurance challenge.

'If people don’t question what you’re doing, it’s because you’re not pushing yourself enough.'

For me, why I’m doing this is much more important than what I'm doing. I want to show that limitations are perceptions. I want to show that despite being an ordinary person and not a professional triathlete, I can still do the most extreme triathlon ever completed.

A lot of people have told me I’m crazy. My idea is extreme, but I don’t consider myself extreme or crazy. With a challenge like this it’s very easy to see the progress and see when you have achieved something. There is an end date and a clear result, but with a lot of other things in life it’s not that clear cut. Yes, it’s a crazy challenge, but I’m not trying to do it without the right preparation. Like anything in life, I’m taking small steps in order to make this possible, but lots of people seem to just look at the end goal and not the steps I’m taking to get there.

Besides, if people don’t question what you’re doing and whether you can achieve it, it’s because you’re not pushing yourself enough. You need to divide people. I believe that’s critical in order to make a difference. 

"So much of our limitations are really just based on our own perceptions."

Look at Usain Bolt. People have seen him running a handful of times. That means they’ve only seen him perform for a couple minutes, tops. Say he has been training on average 20 hours a week since he was six years old – just as an estimate – that would mean he’d been training for more than 17,000 hours. Those minutes represent 0.0015 % of all his effort. We don’t see all the small steps in order to do what he has done.

That’s not to say the small steps can’t be hard too. The painful bits in my training are definitely the ice water tests. In January when the water was around 0 degrees here in Copenhagen I jumped in the water seven days in a row. On the first day I was only in the ice for 35 seconds. The whole idea is that when I eventually go into the water with the wetsuit on, I can stay for at least 10 minutes before it starts to affect me.

During the course of that week I built up every day and on the seventh day I was in ice water for 11 minutes 5 seconds. My body’s physiological response hadn’t changed over such a short time; it was all in my mind. I focused on my breathing and relaxing the body. That was a massive eye opener, demonstrating to me in no uncertain terms that so much of our limitations are really just based on our own perceptions.

"Breaking intimidating challenges into small, manageable goals works so well."

Breaking intimidating challenges into small, manageable goals works so well. While training, for example, after 30km on the bike I didn’t think I would be able to finish, so I focused on completing one kilometre at a time. The same thing happened on a run where I was completely drained of energy. I set the bar so low that I couldn’t help but succeed. For the last 11km of the run I only ever focused on finishing the next 250m. Since I could always force myself to go that short distance, I didn’t stop.

I train at least three hours a day. That might sound like a lot, but according to studies for what’s most effective, 80% of your training should be low-intensity. That means below 70% of your max pulse. At that level of intensity, I find I am able to enter an almost meditative state. A lot of people prefer to focus solely on the training, which is good if you’re a professional athlete but for me I use training as mindfulness. It lets me get away from all the stress of modern life and gives me a jolt of positive energy.

Training to be in such a cold environment has taught me other life lessons too. I’m more open to things and up for a challenge than I was before. Take ice baths, for example. They’re horrible when you’re in them, but the feeling you get afterwards is always amazing. It’s the same with most uncomfortable things in life; when you jump into them it can be unpleasant, but the way you feel when you emerge on the other side is always going to be great.

Try it yourself. You don't need to swim in freezing waters or take an ice bath. Tomorrow, instead of drinking a coffee in the morning, take a minute-long cold shower. Your entire system will reboot right away, you’ll instantly feel totally awake and alive. Not only that, you will have already achieved something, making the day’s other challenges seem surmountable.

"Even though you’re one of seven billion people on this planet, you can be different."

I would like the legacy of Project Iceman to be that even though you’re one of seven billion people on this planet, you can be different. I want to show that an ordinary guy – a nobody from a Danish town no-one’s heard of – can achieve this. People can then say: If Anders can do this, I can achieve whatever I set out to do, no matter how tough it seems. For me, the Iceman challenge symbolises the dreams and ambitions we chase for ourselves.

Anders started Project Iceman in the early morning of 22 February 2020. It took him 72:54:09 hours to finish his extreme challenge. He's the first person in the world to complete a long-distance triathlon in Antarctica, proving that limitations truly are just perceptions.