Ferma organised a ice skating race in Stockholm ahead of the forum in October. StrategicRISK was brave (or stupid) enough to join in
When Peter Den Dekker, Ferma’s president, asked me if I’d like to compete in the annual Vikingarännet (or Viking run) ice race in Sweden maybe I didn’t put as much thought into my answer as I should have done.
At the time (which if memory serves was a cocktail party on the risk conference circuit) a glass or two of bubbly tricked me into thinking that perhaps my ice skating skills were up to it. When I say “skills” I mean complete lack of experience.
Nevertheless, once I’d agreed to it there wasn’t much chance of backing down (Mr. Den Dekker isn't an easy man to say no to). And the idea of skating across a frozen Swedish lake in winter (crazy as it sounds) did actually appeal to me—particularly if StrategicRISK was picking up the tab.
When the day arrived in February we couldn’t have asked for better weather conditions. The temperature was well below freezing (meaning the ice wasn’t slushy) and for most of the day at least the sun was shining.
This was scant consolation, however, for the fear that had me gripped. A mixture of nerves, anxiety and lack of preparation the night before meant that I hadn’t really slept a wink—even though Ferma had wrangled penthouse suites at the Radisson Blue in Stockholm for the Dutch and British racers.
At 8am on the morning of the race our team assembled at the starting line in Uppsala. It consisted of myself and Peter along with Heikki Hakkarainen from Hannover Re, Erik Borjesson, from Lloyd’s, Mark Vos, of Crawford, and Arjen Ronner, from Aon. Erik’s PA Brenda Wallen agreed to meet us at the half way point with energy bars and hot soup. Standing in my skates on the frozen shore it seemed a long way off.
A conversation in the bar the night before the race laid bare the scale of the challenge we faced. The Vikingarännet is a 80km ice skating race that takes place annually along the shore of lake Mälaren starting in Uppsala and finishing in Stockholm.
A few thousand (mainly northern European) skaters take part in the race every year. And a good number of these people either injure themselves on route (usually by colliding face first with the ice at 20km an hour), or they don’t complete the distance in the time allowed (my main concern). Click here for photos from the race
Another thing my limited amount of pre-race training hadn’t prepared me for was the number of cracks in the ice. Swedish ice is notoriously evil it turns out. That’s why Swedish skaters use poles to help themselves balance. Dutch skaters, who I had trained with before the race (once), don’t.
Peter, a Dutchman, had explained before the race that “no real man” uses poles when he ice skates. But that didn’t stop me from accepting them when Erik Borjesson (another of Peter’s recruits) offered them to me the night before. The kind Swede and insurance professional quite literally saved my skin.
In fact, you’d have thought someone who writes about risk every day would have engaged in a little more risk mitigation before undertaking such a serious challenge. But you’d be wrong.
“The annual Ferma conference takes place at Stockholm's Waterfront Congress Centre on 2-5 October
Being seasoned risk management professionals most of our team were happy to self insure their personal risk. The only real bit of risk management we did was to carry “ice prongs”.
These crafty devices help a skater to extradite himself if he is unfortunate enough to fall, crash or slip into the icy depths. I didn’t see anyone do this but I did see my share of bloody patches of ice and oddly disjointed limbs.
Arjen Ronner was the most experienced member of our team. A Dutchman he has completed the legendary 11 cities race (the stuff of ice skating folklore).
But proving that no amount of experience can prepare you for the Viking Run Arjen was forced to hike practically bare-foot across 2km of snow trail after he decided to forego a backpack with spare shoes. Competitors are encouraged to carry boots so that they can wear them on the short hikes that connect bits of frozen water along the race track.
Meanwhile I was having my own set of dramas. Having dropped to the back of the pack immediately and then lost site of all my colleagues after about a kilometer things were looking bleak. Somehow by midday I made it to the Lloyd’s pit stop at 41km with all of my bones intact.
Brenda handed me a steaming cup of coffee and told me that I was only 45 minutes or so behind the main pack.
Spurred on by the news I returned to the racing ice almost immediately. The last third of the journey was a hard slog. The ice was “fudgy” (later I learnt this is the technical term for cracked ice that has a layer of snow on top preventing you from seeing or avoiding the gashes).
My legs and shoulders were burning by the time I made it to the final pit stop before the finishing line. In one final act of humiliation as I approached the pit a steward waved me over to explain that I’d missed the cut off point by 15 minutes. I wasn’t allowed to finish the race, I was told, because dusk was descending and this magnified the already plentiful dangers.
So at 67km I was forced to retire from the race. My colleagues did their best to console me when I made it back to the hotel—they even bestowed on me the pet name “brave Brit”—but it was hard to hide my disappointment.
Fortunately there are plans to make the event an annual affair so I may yet have a second shot at it. And perhaps next time I’ll do a better job of practicing what I preach. A little more proactive risk management and it could have been a whole different story.