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Åland Swimrun 2018 Race report – Are you tough enough?

I used to be tough enough but my shape this year has not been what it used to be. But no excuses now, it’s not over until ”the fat lady sings”. That’s a great motto.

The goal of going for gold today seemed rather grey, but hey, at least I felt hungry for racing. My Öloppet attempt in August got spoiled, but I never underestimate my own feeling of being hungry, this feeling can help me take my team very far. Nic and I have trained together so we know our strong and weak sides.

As the race start approached I knew I was in for a great challenge. Here I am, finally doing an actual race with Daniel, the super strong and fast ultrarunner with 7 ÖtillÖ:s and more under his belt. But we’re doing a sprint, what an oxymoron. Two ultra-people setting up to do a 15-km sprint race, however with a 33% swim ratio and still in very hard conditions, but a sprint. How do I even keep up with both Daniel and all the other strong racers around?

I mean, this is like going at full speed all the time, from start to finish. It’s not something I’m used to, and I could feel I was getting more nervous. Or was it perhaps the adrenaline kicking in? I couldn’t be sure.

[PANG!] AND OFF WE WENT!

The race started, and we ran off in an up-tempo, not to lose the front group. I kept the speed rather controlled instead of sprinting off. The body reacted slowly but my Garmin Fenix 5X plus showed me that we were on the right side of the edge of our plan. We passed some teams, and some passed us, and this kept on going until the first swim.

As the group raced off, Daniel being the way stronger runner, set a high pace to keep up with the front group. The first 3.5 km on flat gravel road went at a much high pace than I am used to, I mean, I just love to hover around 6 min/km for several hours. This was a completely different story. We opened-up well below 5 min/km and my body resisted strongly, my pulse went up and my breathing became heavy. As a reaction I decided to skip the feedback from the watch, avoid overheating and placed myself on the heels of Daniel. I lowered my head, focused on his heels and feet moving in front of and kept repeating to myself. – ‘It’s only 15 minutes to the first nice cool swim’. As we approached the 1st swim I felt relived. Daniel did a great job keeping us in the top-tier of the race.

Swimming in turbulent water has become somewhat of a speciality of mine and I felt strong and confident taking over the lead position and to navigate us across.

THE 1ST SWIM

Just as we entered the first swim I saw the pack in front of us. They had a 2-minute lead, but finally, our best card this day. Swimming. We connected our pull-cord and Nic took the lead. The winds where strong today and it was a new situation for me to be in the back when swimming. You have a lot to gain being pulled and at the end of the rope during the swim sections. On the other hand the cold can become a problem. Anyway, we exited the first swim and started to trail run for real now.

The swim went fast, and we overtook a couple of teams. It was a messy swim, but the wind and waves were manageable, hitting us sideways. The water was cold though, below 12 degrees, but this just woke me up and made me hungrier. Daniel stayed on my feet the whole time, repeatedly hitting me to alert me about his presence. Or was he trying to tell me that he had more energy and wanted me to speed up? I couldn’t be sure, and the strong wind made it really hard to communicate making our way out of the water. I remember thinking, if he’s this strong swimming now, maybe he should take the lead further down the course.

THE 2ND RUN

My weight right now is not an advantage running uphill in the terrain. This race is not really Rockman Swimrun but more of an island-hopping type in the exposed east sea, however not flat at all. It’s a bit more in the sense of what a sprint race can be. During the tricky run two, we gained meters on another team. We could see them in the distance ahead but they didn’t seem to turn on the road as the marking told us. I told Nic to help navigate and look for any markings and reminded him that we were fighting for the podium. Keep sharp and let ́s move! We found the markings and grinding on entering the forest with our VJ:s on the feet. At times we got company of a Russian solo racer but we dropped him hitting the rough and wet terrain making our way down to the 2nd swim and this one was going to be rough. Nic took the lead and we’re going to fight the waves as smart we could.

The 2nd run was also fast, but manageable and on gravel road. I could hear Daniel talking about podiums, other teams, the times we were keeping and to keep an eye out for markings. I did my best looking around but stayed tucked-in behind him running on his heels as we were going up up up up. Damn, Åland is not as flat as I thought, and the heavy rain during the night made everything mushy and slippery. Not that I care, but when I’m tired, and have strong winds hitting my face, my eyes tend to over-liquid. This forces me to blink a lot to get rid of excessive water, to be able to see if I want to go fast in the terrain. I looked forward to the upcoming 2nd swim, some 800 meters with strong headwinds.

Photo: Heidi Ikäheimo

THE 2ND SWIM

Our equipment where solid, after trying and trying this summer. Nic built from his own skills a super-trooper pull-buoy. The water where chilly but not ok. We took some more teams during the swim.

It was hard to spot the exit point across and when we hit the water I could see the leading team in front of us. This was the most challenging swim as the waves were many coming at us irregularly and with no rhythm. You never knew if you were going to be able to breathe when popping your head up and when you did, you had direct sunlight in your eyes. I aimed at a couple of trees on the other side since I couldn’t make out the exit while in the water and decided to try to make up some distance to the leading teams, all while pulling Daniel in our rope. This swim went much faster than anticipated but when we exited the water there were no teams in front of us and a couple of teams making their way across the water behind us. It was beginning to get really cold in the water and this swim was much colder than the first with the waves rinsing over you, cooling you down.

THE 3RD LONG RUN ON THE WESTERN ISLANDS

We passed the first energy station three minutes after the first group of five competitors, a short stop for drinks and off we go. Uphill walking for a couple meters on gravelled road. Soon one of my strong sections on the race started. Nic told me to pace up on the long runs and so I did or at least tried as much as I could. The weather there excellent so far, a bit windy, but nothing that bother me. At the end of run three we got company from another solo swimrunner. We did a turn close to the beach and aimed at a swim section with loads of strong waves and current.

The exit was a sharp climb up a mountain and I felt a bit dizzy while making my way up. I tried to communicate with Daniel to make sure that everything was ok, but the roaring wind made this near impossible. A head-nod gave the go-ahead and I pushed on through the terrain until we hit the 3rd run, a +2 km run on gravel road. Daniel caught up and overtook me and I immediately positioned myself behind him again to use his superior ultra-running strength to my advantage. I really don’t know why I asked Daniel to up the tempo, but I did, I guess I wanted to test my abilities to see what pace I could keep this late in the day and race, but I’m not sure. I was going to have to pay for this decision though. We hit the 1st aid station on this stage and I forcefully drank Powerade instead of water. A big mistake on my side. I’ve never been on good terms with this type of drink, but I really wanted the sugar. Or so I thought. More or less immediately after my stomach reacted negatively. From there on I had to fight keeping up with Daniels high tempo, swearing to myself in silence. But as we came down on the south side through the forest, we could hear the 18 m/s wind roaring. When I saw these 2-meter-high waves rolling in hitting the coastline, sending water 3 meters up high in the air, my grin grew as my adrenaline kicked in and I started to laugh. Now the race begins I thought. How I just love fighting the elements in these conditions.

HAD WE MADE AN ERROR IN THE MORNING?

As I am diabetes type-1 guy since last year, I know that anything can happen but my skills in monitoring my energy have never been better. But on the other hand, 6 kilos up from last year is not perfect.

During last year I’ve focused a lot on flat running outdoors, on treadmill, with gas but also indoors on a track-and-field circuit. Sure, I been in the forest as well, but not as much as I have wanted. To become a father for the first time, has meant a lot of sacrifices. In a good way. Believe me. But the training calendar has become what it is. On this year’s Jättelångt 70 km trail ultra I June, I secured an 11 place on 7:34. My slowest result so far, but the best performance this year.

I love ultra-running on trails, doing endurance races, but standing here watching the big waves rolling in, angry, with the wind blowing steady at around 18 m/s, I thought to myself that maybe we had made an error. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for us to do a full lap of the course just before the race to begin with. The exposed swimrunning on the south side was way more challenging than on the north and west side. We could make out what we though was the leading team in the water in the distance, but had we already depleted our energy levels to the extent that we wouldn’t be able to catch up? It was hard to hear anything in the strong wind and when I looked at Nic, and he looked back at me smiling, I knew what was about to happen.

Ok then, let’s do this!

[stay put for part 2 next week 🙂 ]

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