Race season 2016 is over…..it was short but intense! After the birth of our daughter (Viivi) end of June Jasmina had 2,5 months to get in shape for Solvalla swimrun in September and then another 6 weeks for ÖtillÖ 1000 Lakes (Germany) in October. While my training buddy was effectively on a 9 month “tapering period” I decided to work on my overall running skills. I ended up doing two half marathons, Paavo Nurmi marathon and Nuuksio Classic Trail marathon before the baby was born. The two half marathons served for the purpose of improving speed endurance, Paavo Nurmi marathon to improve threshold running and Nuuksio to improve trail running form and core strength. All said and done I struggled to get the volume in due to sickness which made the last 5 kilometers of Paavo Nurmi marathon a mental and physical struggle. At the end I was pleased to see that I could stick to a 3:58 minute/km pace for 36km’s, ending up fourth overall.
Following on from my 6 months road racing adventure I needed to get my act together for the tough but absolutely stunning Nuuksio Trail Marathon in September which is not without coincidence also the same playground as Solvalla swimrun (40km total of which 6km swimming). Practising the course a couple of times in Nuuksio national park turned out to be so much fun! It made me realise once again that “being one with nature is a beautiful and peaceful experience”. At the same time it was also a rude awakening that compared to road racing maintaining a constant pace is a waste of energy on the trails. Trail running is so different compared to road running. I found road running mentally very tough and confronting in the sense that there is nowhere to hide….meaning that in order to maintain that “live or die” threshold pace it put’s your full cardiovascular system to the test as well as your mental toughness. Whereas in trail running you are trying to delay the moment of critical muscle fatigue onset and a complete meltdown of your nervous system. Running uphills and downhills on different terrain means that your muscles are making more eccentric (i.e. elliptical) movements instead of concentric (round). Without going into too much detail eccentric movements are induced when the muscles are over stretched (e.g. the braking effect on downhills or abrupt corrective movements) this in turn results in a gradual decrease in performance. Knowing this, the trick is to run smooth on the trails. Good trail runners seem to fly and take off the edges in terms of sudden accelerations and decelerations as it will deteriorate your muscles much faster. In order to achieve this they are masters at spreading the forces of impact using different muscle groups of their body. In Nuuksio trail run I found out the hard way that my core muscles and leg strength is not anywhere close to what it needs to be and is something I have to focus on during the winter months. After the race I could barely walk and it felt like somebody just hit my quads with a sledge hammer for an hour…
Also working with the terrain (i.e. rocks, roots, trees) and knowing what’s ahead of you is not just key but absolutely crucial to optimum pacing and running economic. Knowing what’s ahead of you takes away the UNCONTROLLABLE element. All of a sudden you are in a position to perfectly dose your effort and arrive at the finishline with a “100% empty tank”. If you have time and money to practise and memorise the race course than you have a huge advantage over a team who doesn’t. Taking this to the extreme some people spend the whole summer practising the ÖtillÖ course until they know every turn, every hill, every tricky water entry. When you know the course inside out you don’t necessarily have to be the fastest in the water or on land to win the race.
We practised Solvalla swimrun course and mindmapped the entire course to the extent that we recognised points where you can go fast and for how long and where to go slow and recover. Like this you stand a better chance at winning the race then a lot of your competitors who often waste too much energy in the wrong places.
Based on this you might argue the following: “is it fair for ALL competitors starting a race to keep the course exactly the same every year?” Perhaps changing the water entry and exit points and location of energy stations a few 100ms every year (without significantly changing the overall length of running and swimming distances) neutralises the huge advantage of teams that know the exact course upfront. Then again, if you really want to win the race and gain a competitive edge on the competition you need to invest time, money and energy in it and getting to know the course is a natural part of the process. There are always two sides of the story.
Anyway, I ended up being 10th overall whilst having a great day out with the family in this beautiful national park.
Solvalla swimrun was our first long race together after Jasmina broke her foot in July 2015. As mentioned, we practised the whole course twice and decided to focus on saving energy and good recovery in the first technical (hilly) loop of 13kms and then pick it up on the second loop of 25kms with some longer stretches of faster trails. Thirty minutes into the race Jasmina said to me out of the blue: “I feel absolutely horrible today”. Interestingly enough we were leading the race at that point. I thought for a moment what to say but then replied: “It’s OK I will help you, just keep moving without blowing yourself up”. Shortly after I got my pulling rope out and being hooked up for most of the time she gutted it out all the way to the finish line. It is amazing what you can still do if one has a crappy day and the other one has a great day. It almost felt like I was able to metaphorically charge her battery with the pulling cord. Afterwards Jasmina told me that the cord provides some kind of mental support since I am hardly pulling her physically. I can feel the cord getting under tension when she slows down (so I can pull her) or in cases where I simply run too fast (so I need to slow down). The funny thing is that you can literally feel each others momentum! This feeling (without saying a word) reflects the beauty of swimrunning being an ultimate team sport. Also, I believe that being a couple ads even more to the advantage, not in the least because you can pick up a fight and yell at each other without feeling bad about it. We do try and limit it to training days because it does consume unnecessary energy… So in my humble opinion: swimrunning is a perfect sport for genuine couples who love each other to bits by simply telling each other how things are….good or bad! The other reason why I think this sport is great for couples is the fact that women tend to have good intuitive and adaptive skills while men tend to have good physical and rational skills. On race day in particular you need to be mentally prepared and be able to deal with uncontrollable conditions and unpredictable situations on the spot. Since women follow their gut feeling (in my view better than men) they are more efficient and save more energy. It’s true that men are physically stronger but this can be offset by the fact that women are more energy efficient because they know instinctively better how to save energy. That’s at least my theory why you see more and more mixed teams getting on the podium in races. Women have something men don’t have to the same extent and the other way around….we basically complement eachother’s skill set! The longer the race the more obvious and advantageous this becomes.
One thing I have not yet discussed in this post is our joint progress in openwater swimming compared to last year. It’s an important topic especially for swimruns like 1000 Lakes and ÖtillÖ where 25% of the distance needs to be covered in ice-cold water. Time wise this actually means that we spend about 1/3 of the total time with our heads submerged.….”now it sounds a lot more scary doesn’t it?..”
One thing we do different is that we use floatation devices and after endless practising, building prototypes and heated discussions we managed to come up with a set-up that works for both of us. I think there is still room for improvement but it’s a good start. My late nights of gluing, taping, spraying and cutting finally paid off in Solvalla and 1000 Lakes swimrun where we both managed to swim efficient all the way to the end (i.e. minimum effort resulting in optimum speed). One thing I learned is that the relationship between swimming effort and speed is not linear….what does that mean? You can put in 25% effort and swim 1km/hr but putting in 50% effort does not automatically mean that you will swim 2km/hr. In other words you need to figure out your own optimum speed that you can both maintain for all swim sections. It takes time and practise to figure this out but it’s fun to do.
Let’s get ready for 2017!
Me: Thomas Schreven
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