Four years ago I asked Jasmina if she would consider moving to Finland. Not knowing much about the country other than that Santa Claus lives up North in Rovaniemi it was a complete shot in the dark. Nevertheless, the things I heard were mostly positive so I thought: why not give it a try? Four years later, I am still in Finland without having committed suicide or becoming an alcoholic. On the contrary, I have found a new passion in the sport of swimrunning and there is hardly a better country to practise it with well over 168,000 lakes and 98,000 islands that constitute the Finnish archipelago. At the end it was also a good decision because everything here simply works and there is a lot of (personal) space and beautiful nature to train in.
The only downside is that Finnish is really a difficult language….if not to say: friggin impossible! My conspiracy theory is that the Finns intentionally made up words just to make sure that it does not exist in any other language… Here’s a good example I picked up from Elvin’s favourite kids program: lohikääärme. It literally means “salmon snake” but for the Finns it means dragon…..or what about “hyppytyynytyydytys” which literally means bouncy cushion satisfaction….say no more. Now you understand that I am running out of memory space to store all these impossible words and my internal processor (Jasmina calls it my half brain cell) is still frozen after Germany 1000 Lakes.
Having said all that, I have really come to appreciate the beautiful seasons here as they are so clearly defined. The whole society revolves around it. It’s winter now which means that it’s dark and cold but at the same time very peaceful and serene. The days are short and you see less people outside. Everything just slows down and gets quieter. I guess the snow dampens all the sounds and people seem to get into some kind of natural hibernation mode only to wake up a few months later. At first it’s a weird thing to experience but after a while you get used to it. Especially when you live in the middle of nowhere (like us) you think it’s already midnight when it’s only 7:00 pm.
While getting lost in our backyard forest I often follow reindeer tracks for a few kilometres until I realise that I have no idea where I am. In those cases I simply turn around and follow my own trail back home ending up at our neighbour’s front door. Completely cold and wet I drink hot chocolate, sit in front of the fire place and prepare for a hot Finnish sauna. This, to me is Scandinavian lifestyle at its best.
Whilst Finland is an ideal place to practise swimrunning for most part of the year it would not be possible without having support from Jasmina’s family and I am not saying this because it’s Christmas time….It’ a simple fact and as such we are very fortunate that they are happy to take care of our kids for some of the training sessions. Before we had kids we always used to train together without even thinking about it but now it’s the other way around. There are only certain days and times when we can swim and / or run together. In fact the whole family has to jump through multiple logistical loop holes in order to be lined up at a certain time and place. Everything is roughly planned a week in advance but the final details are mutually agreed with everybody a day in advance. We have our own “swimrun traffic control center” in the form of Jasmina who tells us when and where to pick up the kids, where to drop them off, when to meet at the pool, airport, shopping center or wherever…we are always on the move….it’s insane sometimes. You know what….the only time when I have complete peace and rest in my mind and body is at the start line of a swimrun race. Maybe that’s why I sign up for them…..to get some peace and quiet….Everything before that gunshot is pure commitment and dedication from everybody in the family to make things work on a daily basis. I think it’s one of the reasons why our training sessions are always quality and fun….because the time to be able to train together has become so precious. I am sure that a lot of people who have kids can relate to that. Still, we do train a lot together with the kiddos. For instance for long runs on gravel roads we take Elvin with us in the running stroller and Viivi is already best friends with the instructors at our local pool and gym.
So to conclude training in Finland: Whatever people say or think about Finland, until you have actually lived here “Finland (and the Finns themselves) stay one of the best kept (swimrun) secrets of Europe in my view” … but I am sure the Finns don’t mind.
Before moving to Suomi (Finland) I lived 6 years in Brazil of which 2 years in Rio de Janeiro with Jasmina. It was a completely different environment for both of us although I struggled less with the relaxed (or should I say intense?) Latin American life style, compared to Jasmina. We were fortunate to live in Ipanema and only three kilometres away from the biggest urban rainforest in the world called “Parque National de Tijuca”. The first time we went there with our close friend Somulo Nogueira I could not believe my eyes and ears…the sound and smells of a mini jungle with monkeys and waterfalls just a tone throw away from our apartment. We used to bike a lot up the mountain roads straight into the jungle until we hit a beautiful viewpoint called: “Vista Chineza”. I am still not sure what the Chineze were doing in Brazil but hey they had build a nice little temple half way up the mountain.
Now the thing is that a full time job often forced me to train from 4 – 6 am in the morning and do long sessions in the weekend. Safety was the biggest concern when living in Brazil and at some point I really started to ask myself the inevitable question: “is this still safe or simply suicidal…?” Twice a week we would get up at 3:30 am and cycle a 3km loop close to Copacabana on the main road. We had a safety car behind us to protect us from racing taxis, trucks , donkeys, people coming out of discos and bars in the early morning. In the weekend we would drive to a stretch of highway about one hour outside Rio. There we would meet up with our friends Somulo and Alonso and cycle on the white line of the highway from 4:00 am to 6:00 am. In hindsight we have been very lucky to have survived these training sessions. We saw many accidents on the way to the training spot but also friends being hit by traffic or getting their bikes robbed (at gun point) while training. At some point it’s no longer “if” you’re going to get hurt but “when”. Respect to all Brazilian athletes who get up in the middle of the night or drive hours on end to get to a safe training spot. Just to put things into perspective….at some point things were getting so complicated that we started training on an abandoned race track or even at home in the living room on the turbo trainer with 30+ degrees C outside and an overflowing (sweat) drip tray underneath the bike. What did impress me a lot about training in Brazil was that almost everybody in Brazil is member of some sort of club, coach or organisation. Training is done collectively in groups so in the weekends you could find dozens of stands put up on Copacabana and Ipanema beach each representing a club offering members refreshments, massage and training equipment. I found there is no limit to the hospitality of the Brazilian people, they embrace you in Latin American style despite the countries rising difficulties of dealing with safety and corruption.
The Brazilians in my view are true optimists and very resourceful in trying to keep living their daily lives. Looking back it’s the people that made Brazil special but in the same sentence I have to mention the Brazilian food. Fresh coconut water and tropical fruit juices after an intense work out will always be my number 1 recovery drink….and believe it or not sushi! Brazil (and in particular Sao Paulo) has the biggest population of Japanese outside Japan. It was heaven, during lunch I would get a plate and just fill it up to the rim with sushi and other fresh food. Then I would walk to the counter where they would take the weight and then I had to pay per kg of food. After a while the girls behind the counter called me Mr “a Kilo” because I normally ate well over 1kg of food during lunch time….which they thought was hilarious. I have good memories of Brazil but at some point it was time to turn the page and return to Europe.
One day I really hope that our Brazilian friends will come to Europe. Who knows...?
Me: Thomas Schreven
NEW!! Subscribe to receive notification to your email about our latest blog post.
info (at) advenu.fi