When we approached the registration, I had already had it with all this winter-induced rain pouring down. I mean, c’mon. How much can it actually rain? Turns out, quite a lot and strong winds as well. I hate it when it rains sideways.
‘It’s snowing on the mountains’, I heard someone say in broken “germ-lish”. Bloody hell. Cold swims, not really what I’m after at the moment. But then again, as a Swede I should be used to snowy-alp-river-outlet cold swimming, or not.
During the race briefing the Race Director of Swimrun Germany, Barbara, informed us that the northern 1 + 1 km swim was too foggy and that the course had been altered to a 1.5 km swim along the coast, and against the 8-10 m/s head wind. I looked at Jude and she looked at me and we both went like, ok, additional time in the water, perhaps best to put on some more protective clothing.
Standing at the starting line, in the pouring rain, we hugged each other wishing congrats, agreeing on taking it slow. I was fearing for my upcoming 100-mile race and Jude was concerned about her achilles not wanting to play game.
‘Hahahahah it’s just like Britain’, Niklass said. ‘The rain you know.’ -Yes, I know. Quite possibly the least of my worries when it came to this, the last of 5 swimruns for me in 2019. The course was ONLY 27km, but I was teamed up with someone who trains on the course of the ÖtillÖ World Champs practically every day, whose veins course with Viking grit and who might shout at me for being too slow.
The race starts
The gun went off and we started to run. Downhill, in this beautiful alp-like landscape now covered in rain and clouds. The cows roaming around with bells hanging off their necks were a treat. It felt like being part of one of those alp-chocolate commercials. Not before long the route took us into this magical forest and we ran on a soft trail, uphill, along a creek. I shouted to Jude that it was like being part of a Harry Potter movie and that I would miss the UK leaving us in 4 weeks. I got a grunt back, and we kept running, onwards and upwards. The Allgau is a hilly place for sure I thought.
Coming out of the woods we met Andreas, the race organiser, pointing to another hill, smiling. -Good luck! We kept grinding and talked to the teams around us. People were still fully dressed in their neoprene, the rain and wind were chilly, but I started to overheat. Perhaps running with a merino wool t-shirt underneath was a bit too much? On top of the hill and the scenery was magical. Nature at its best, providing a great view of the landscape and valleys across. We could make out the lake in the bottom realizing it was a long steep way down there. The rain had started to ease off, but the wind was picking up. We made our way down and over some hills and finally approached the Lake Rottachsee, which was more of a small sea than a lake. The wind was pushing down the valley, increasing in strength, whipping up half a meter waves.
In a lake, really? I was quite surprised to see them rolling and building up white crests. Just like the archipelago at home I thought and started cheering and laughing looking at Jude.
‘This will be fun’, I shouted in the rain and wind, this will be fun and cold!
The marshal pointed out towards the middle of the lake, at a large HEAD buoy.
‘Take a left after the buoy and then swim until you see the exit’, he shouted. ‘Good luck!’
And we hit the water
I can honestly say I hated the first 8km of running. I didn’t care about the lashing rain, the fact I was being blown sideways or the babbling stream we were running next too. I was way too hot, my left achilles was killing me despite the strapping and my heart rate was in danger of maxing out. My attractive rubber hat complete with chin strap was crushing my ears, I had started my period and the perpetually cheerful Viking of a teammate kept smiling at me and telling me how much fun he was having. It would be a relief to get swimming.
The +2 km long 1.5 km swim
Swimming out towards the buoy we overtook a couple of teams. Swimming in waves is like breathing air for me. I was happy and started reading the rhythm how the waves rolled over me. Big, small, small, small, big and so on. Before long I had figured out the rhythm and got to work. It was fresh, not cold, but spending 40 minutes plus in head-on winds, currents and waves would take its toll. I knew that. Best get over this quickly. I had nagged Jude about having more neoprene on before starting the race and myself wore a 3 mm neoprene cap.
Rounding the buoy, I stopped for a mere 30 seconds, shouting to Jude that I needed to get my bearings and focus on a landing point. It was really tricky with the waves and dark clouds, and all I could make out in the silhouette was a white house in the far distance. ‘That will do’, I shouted. While swimming, I saw a team in the passing safety boat, wrapped in emergency foil blankets.
During the briefing I noted we were to swim past 2 bays, but it was hard to read the coastline while swimming in this bad weather. I decided to stay towards the middle of the lake, paying close attention to what the teams ahead were doing. Being exposed, the wind and rain started to pick up and you could feel the heavy drops hitting the back of the wetsuit.
Approaching the first bay the teams ahead were making their way towards what looked to be an exit, by an ambulance parked at the beach. It made sense with such a clear marked exit, but I couldn’t see a flag, which concerned me. After 50 meters or so my gut feeling kicked in and I changed my mind, starting to cross the bay in a straight line instead. Jude kept an awesome pace, frequently hitting my feet alerting me to her presence. Or did she want me to go faster? I couldn’t tell.
Crossing the 2nd bay the teams on our left side were fighting the stronger head-on current close to shore. And suddenly there was a blinking emergency light, and the flag post being bent almost to the ground due to the wind. Right, that’s it. Time to get out of this cold water. I pushed hard since my hands were going numb. No way this was a 1500-meter swim. I am used to swimming in rough conditions and the watch told a different tale. We had spent more time in the water than we should have.
We passed a photographer in the water and when exiting the water, the strong wind hit us full force and a strong chill went through my body.
‘We need to get out of the wind’, I shouted to Jude. She nodded and gave me the everything-is-ok-look.
That first swim. I’ve done longer and in colder conditions, but the shear wildness of it will stay with me for a while. The dark clouds made the chilling wind, spitting rain and angry waves racing towards seem forbidding. Transitioning fast, we strode in and immediately were thrown into a maelstrom of current. It was like being in a washing machine. Early on, I had to have a quick word with myself, to keep focused, to push down the urge to just stop which comes when you know you are on the balance of fear and excitement. But I knew together we were strong, and I was pleased that I could keep pushing on Niklas’ feet. I can tell how far we have swum by how warm I am and knew this was more than 1.5km. Wait until I got hold of the race directors!
At the aid station another team was sheltering, wrapped in emergency blankets. Hot soup was served and despite my instincts kicking in not to eat/drink stuff I am not used to, the urge for something warm overtook my rational approach. A quick gel to get some energy as well. Jude was pouring hot water inside her wetsuit and without talking we looked at each other, being happy we had put on more neoprene this morning.
We started to walk and then run to get the blood and warmth flowing. I offered my reserve neoprene gloves to Judith and she happily accepted. We started going uphill, crossing over to the second valley. While ascending another team overtook us just as a car and a lorry passed us creating a traffic jam on the corner of the road. We passed and kept moving and after some 200 meters another swimrunner approached us from the top of the hill, shouting and pointing. -You are on the wrong path! Making our way down the hill again we realized that the car had blocked the course markings while stopping to let the lorry pass.
We started to laugh, at least we were warm now.
Back on track we entered another magical forest, with soft trails following a creek. Running upwards I thought I should come back with the kids one day. The run was sooth and magical. Switching back and forth with the open landscape we passed cows with cowbells following us when crossing their fold.
-Cling-clang-cling-clang, just like during any skiing competition on TV. I started having an urge for chocolate again. Damn cowbells. Damn Pavlov.
Switching places with teams we reached the summit, just as I started to feel a bit weird in my stomach. -The goddamn soup, I though. We kept a decent pace running downhill and when reaching the bottom of the valley, we crossed a bridge and started going uphill again towards the 3rd valley. Then it came to me, the thing I find really annoying. I started humming on that song that had gotten stuck in my head a while back, and which would follow me during the rest of the race –Up and down And up and down
I hadn’t realised how cold I was until I stepped back onto dry land. Stepped or staggered onto what I knew were my feet even though I couldn’t feel them. Our friend Mic greeted us, and I managed a grin. When you are this cold you have to tell your body what to do. Left foot, right foot, shuffle. Whilst the aid station was a welcome sight, there was no point in spending too long at it. It was critical we got moving and got warm. I was concerned we wouldn’t get warm enough before the next long swim which in these conditions could cause problems.
We came into a small village and met Andreas the race organizer again, on a mountain bike. I asked him how long it was to the next swim and he said between 2-3 km. He joined us and another team going downhill, chatting about the race and the weather. I was pleasantly surprised of all the people being outside cheering us on. Especially the firemen standing in their outdoor-poor-weather-firemen uniforms, directing us and the traffic. They were happy, the spectators were happy, we were happy, and all were wet and cold.
We crossed under a road and were left by Andreas heading the other way. He pointed us along the road smirking and wishing us good luck with the words. – The next swim will be a bit colder, it’s the outlet of the alp-meltwater.
-Hahaha funny I shouted and had a sudden urge to puncture his tire. Off he went and we started making our way along the road, slightly going uphill again. Really. How is this possible, uphill again?
I looked back at Jude and she had slowed her pace a bit now. I checked if she was alright. -Stomach pains, she grinned. I offered her the pull-rope and she accepted. Connected we started to run towards the swim. I kept a low pace but wanted to speed up not to lose the other team in front of us. Jude responded positively and we were making progress. Getting off the dirt road we were met by pink decorations of all kinds.
I had to rub my eyes to be sure what I saw and yes, there were figures and decorations in pink, in the trees, on the side of the road, as signs and whatnot. Going through a small forest we were, again (!) met by a cowbell and a really funny lady dressed in pink cheering us on. I was so happy by this. Her making this effort in the pouring rain and cold. She was so catchy, and we started laughing and enjoying every bit of this experience. ‘Cold swim up ahead,’ she shouted, and I just laughed.
I am pretty sure we looked like zombies but at least we were warm. A missed trail marker had seen to that as we had mistakenly gone up a hill only to turn back and run down again to get back on track. It did make me laugh to see the firemen dressed in their gear and helmets at every road crossing. In this weather no chance of a fire. A great swimrun team work together and when Nik offered the tow line I readily accepted.
At the shoreline Jude shouted, ‘Go go go’. I was happy we were on par with the transitions. Fast and smooth with clear communication. I dove into the water and was hit in the face with a bucket of ice. –Godamn it, this is going to be a cold 1000 meters.
The cold turning colder 1000-meter swim
Now this was cold water. Just as the Germans had warned us about. We passed the other team we had been chasing and, in the distance, I could make out another 3-4 teams. Mid-way was a big red buoy and behind, the visible exit.
With clear conditions I lowered the orienteering frequency a bit but quickly realized we had a slight current coming at us front/sideways, strengthened by the head-on wind which was pushing us to the left. Great. Currents, winds and cold water. I corrected the direction and upped the navigation frequency.
I could tell we were going faster now as we overtook 2 teams. Jude was not hitting my feet anymore, but I could feel her on the pull-rope keeping the pace. As this was the last long swim, I decided to go all out and give it my best. I felt strong in the water and felt I had a good rhythm. A safety boat drove past us, I gave a thumbs up and they sped off. We overtook another team and approaching the beach on the other side, we swam straight into a wall. It just hit me in my face without warning. The temperature dropped significantly and I thought what the F… My face, hands and lower legs started going numb, no matter what I tried. It was really really cold, just like in the Hellas Frostbite Winter Swimrun race back home.
When we hit the beach, I felt like the evolutionary fish-crawling-up-on-shore-developing-legs. The synapses in my brain were trying to connect, and my experience kicked in. -Do not stand up to fast but let the blood do its work, slowly but steadily. Limping over towards the aid station like a caveman I could see Judith behind me being just as surprised as I was.
-How was the alp-meltwater the marshal asked me with a grin, laughing. I responded with a blank look like:
-Dude, not the place, not the time. Let me start feeling my hands first.
The water conditions were much calmer for this swim, and it felt like we were able to get into a good rhythm. I wasn’t smacking Nik’s feet but I knew we were making good speed as every now and then I would sight and see boat moorings and houses on the edge of the water coming closer. And when the water suddenly turned icy, it couldn’t come quick enough. I had brain freeze despite the rubber hat I was wearing. In those conditions when you body is tiring already there can be no hanging about. We pushed the accelerator together and went for it.
Making our way uphill towards the finish line
I took an energy gel and a glass of warm water and looked at Judith. She gave me the look confirming we both thought the same thing. Quick re-fuelling and then to start running again. Another mixed team we had overtaken was just on our heels. We started running still attached with the pull-rope. Making progress we slowly increased our speed. It was still raining but we started to warm up just before hitting the last swim. I started making my way out in the water only to realise that we were not supposed to cross the lake again, but swim alongside it. I had remembered it wrongly and was happy to see the exit flags so close by. We quickly swam over catching-up with a men’s team.
Cold and tired we exited the water. I looked at Judith, she gave me the ok-nod and off we went. The men’s team were like machines and just ran off. That stride was impressive I thought. We were alone now. No teams around but the rain and the wind. We didn’t speak much either, but I could hear Jude breathing more heavily now going uphill. In the distance we could see the tall pole marking the finish line. We slowly made our way uphill and could spot some teams far up-ahead, like small ants slowly working their way, uphill. Running, being tired and being able to see what’s ahead can be mentally challenging, so I didn’t ask but kept running the ascents. -Once the rope stretches, I’ll start walking.
Judith kept pace. It was raining, the wind was strong. We were both breathing heavily. I focused on the ground. I didn’t want to see the uphill’s ahead. For a brief moment the rope stretched. I looked back. Judith was walking but after only 10 meters or so she shouted –GoGo. I pushed my head down and started to grind. This is it. Let’s milk those muscles of everything they have left.
The muscles in my legs were shouting ‘stop for the final kilometers and the wind continued to chill us to the bone. Despite the suffering, there is something satisfying about giving your all to an adventure and so we kept on running up the hills. We could see the tall pole marking the finish from far away but we could hear the team behind us gaining. So no time to be slow and Niklas and I kept pushing. We threw ourselves over the line and were quickly wrapped in towels to warm up. It was like every swimrun to be met by smiles and friends.
Up, up, up. Slowly but steadily. The thighs were screaming now. Lactating. Asking me to stop. Jude was pushing hard. All the way to the finish line. Crossing a parking lot, we turned towards the finish line and Jude came up beside me, and we crossed the finish line together.
We hugged and congratulated ourselves for pushing us to the limit.
What a race. What an experience.
We were exhausted, cold, but happy, looking forward to jumping into those lederhosen. I mean c’mon, we were in Allgau, in October(fest).
Until next time!
/Jude and Nic!