I know for a fact that even if you win a race, you look back and take stock of what you did well and what you need to work on. This is not because I win races but I have spoken with others who have. I think its important to look back and assess your training after every big race or season. When you do this, though, you can’t be too tough on yourself. Beating yourself up is just going to lead to a spiral. These races are a challenge, but most of all, they should be fun.
For Nancy and I this is only our third swimrun and we are learning by leaps and bounds. I have to go back to our first swimrun if I’m going to be talking about what I’ve learned. Thomas and Jasmina first convinced Nancy and I to do the Uto course last year. I took a look at the course map and thought ‘phhht no problem. A 40 odd kilometre jaunt through the woods with a few swims thrown in. Cake walk.” Since I’d done Ironmans, ultra-marathons and other long distance events I didn’t see this as a problem. Nancy trained and I ate through the winter and spring while throwing in the odd run in every now and then. She would look at my growing stomach (the ledge as she calls it) with a wary glance. Each additional notch on my belt said, “We’re fine.”
I couldn’t have been more wrong. There are two things that make these races so tough, even if you are an experienced endurance racer: 1) quick cut off times 2) the cold. I’ll break both down.
If you look at the times and maps of the races you can just make the cut off times with a 6 minute kilometre run and a 20 minute kilometre swim. This is possible for many people but if you throw in a technical course (race jargon for scrambling over boulders and losing your shoes in waist deep mud) plus having to futz with equipment every time you go in and out of the water - you’ve got to be fast when you can actually run. Tides, wind, waves and water buoyancy can also dramatically slow down your swim. The cold simply saps your energy and makes you slower. So, if you’re a back of the packer like me, the cold drains your batteries by the end of the race.
I was shocked at how tough Uto was and not only gained a new respect for the sport but was hooked because of the challenges. From that first race I learned to to take it seriously and knew that I had to incorporate a lot more speed training. If you do speed interval training you can take advantage of portions of the course that are not so technical.
Our next race was Otillo. What I learned from that was spend the extra money and buy the right equipment. I chose to do Otillo in a 15 year old wetsuit that I used for surfing when I lived in Los Angeles. The night before I cut the sleeves off and in the first swim, my alterations turned my wetsuit into a sea anchor as buckets of the Baltic ballooned into my shoulders and splashed down through my upper core. refreshing
For 1000 Lakes I learned that we did a lot of things correctly. We severely upped our mileage on the weekends. We spent four solid months training and several training sessions were close to the distance of the actual race. We also tried to mimic the course as best we could with run and swim distances on our long workout days. That way we knew before going into the race what kind of leeway we’d have with regards to the cutoff times. This really paid off on race day because we we made the first cut off time with about 15 minutes to spare. Had it not been for the cold, I am confident we would have made the second cut off time. Generally, our pace was picking up on each long day training session. In fact there were a few times that we purposely slowed down the pace even after 4 hours of training to make sure we had something left in the tank near the end and to prevent injury. And, we bought proper wetsuits…nice ones that chopped about two minutes of my per kilometre pace.
We also learned to not be too hard on ourselves during training. A slow pace on a long run, a long training day that had to be cut short because of the heat, or sometimes just not going out at all because we were so beat, didn’t lead to an entire day of regret. We learned to listen to our bodies better and allow ourselves to rest when we knew we needed it. There is a difference between ‘I don’t feel like it’ and ‘I’m beat’. Don’t go out when you’re beat.
What I need to work on: Not letting myself go during the off season. I can gain 5 kilos in a week without working on it. This is because I have a weakness for sweets, savouries, semi-sweets, pastries, sweet and sours, beef, fish, vegetables, gluten, vegan, breads, cereals and handfuls of anything. I like to eat and I’m basically constantly hungry. If we go out to dinner, I have a sandwich just before we leave so I’m normal person hungry instead of grumpy hungry. By trying to be reasonable (which I doubt) and keeping up some half decent mileage (which is possible) I can avoid the ledge.
Nancy and I are also both going to try and work on improving our speed in the water. We’re going to do more interval training and I’ve looked into the benefits of ergometer training. There are several ergometers in the gym where I work and I’m going to try working out on those a few times a week at lunch. Also going to do more strength training in the off season so that I don’t sound like Darth Vader plodding behind Nancy when we start training next season.
In the swim, we’re also going to incorporate using the tow rope more often. As I said before, when we train, I’m usually a bit faster but for some reason, on race day, Nancy is much faster than I am. If we do more training with the tow rope, it won’t be alien to us on race day.
I might also toy with swim fins. I think they’d be helpful on long swims but not worth it to put on with every swim since we’d probably lose any time gained by putting them on and off. I also suspect that trying to run with them in hand or put them in a knapsack during the race when not in use may not be feasible. We’ll see.
I grew up in a small town north of Toronto. I started running on country roads and fell in love with long distance running when I was twelve years old. I loved (and still do) getting up just before the sun and going for a run in the country. Running in Canada you get everything from 30+°C heat in the summer and minus 20°C cold in the winter. I started challenging myself when I was 13 and would just run for hours on the weekends not really knowing the distances or pace but just seeing if I could run to the next town and back and then set a new challenge. I first heard about an Ironman when I read an article about it in Sports Illustrated when I was about 13 years old. At the time, an Ironman was a disorganized, crazy endurance challenge and I set my sights on doing one. Finally did my first Ironman more than ten years later in Canada out in British Columbia after completing several marathons and several smaller triathlons. I finished. I still remembered how exhausting that first one was. Although I’m not fast, I love the endurance aspect of sports. This led me to the world of ulra-marathons where I’ve done a 50 mile, 100KM and 100 mile race. A few years ago, my wife told me about these swimrun races in Scandanavia. Easily the toughest endurance event I’ve done because you need to not only have endurance but you have to be quick. Then there’s the challenge of nature, the cold and trails. The best thing about it is being a team with my wife and sharing the highs and the lows that a demanding endurance sport brings. One moment you’re telling each other to fuck off and the next you’re kissing at the finish line.something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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