“……..Mother Nature Always Wins”
I don’t think there is a sport today where you are so exposed to the elements as swim running. Unique environments away from urban civilisation this sport brings you back to the roots of being human: survival and taking care of each other! This may sound exaggerated to some but at least for me this race weekend in Rheinsberg, Germany turned out to be a crazy cocktail of extreme impressions. On Saturday we were having coffee and cakes with our friends Nancy and PJ from Team Monaco Life in a local café. Less then 24 hours later we were literally crawling out of the cold water on both hands and knees. Completely disoriented I remember muttering to Jasmina: “Are you OK?”....being cold just got a new meaning this weekend.
Following on from the second (long) swim we tried to speed up in order to get warm. It took a bit longer than expected, my feet and calves were so painful and cramped that I could barely walk never mind run. I tried not to panic and tip toed like a “ballerina in a wetsuit” through the pain barrier - easier said then done. Thankfully at some point the blood circulation picked up again and the muscles softened…it took a hell of a long time though. In the meantime we sucked up the positive vibes from the amazing crowd of people at every transition and energy station. Since the air temperature was less than the water temperature our plan was to keep moving at all times and minimise time spend at energy stations and transitions. We skipped the first (liquid) station and then spend about 9 seconds (on average) at each energy station leaving all the good stuff behind (for PJ). Taking a gel every 45 minutes I was happy to see that my stomach did not reject it. During our last long training session in Finland we had some issues where my hick-ups sounded like a seal lost in the forest.
About two and a half hours into the race we were leading the mixed category and managed to overtake a few mens’ teams putting us in 3rd position overall. Our race strategy was simple but effective in the sense that we tried to keep the intensity level the same throughout the race without fading. As a positive side effect the chances of overtaking teams in the latter stages of the race increased providing a mental boost that is hard to beat. During the three long runs (8,4,3 km) only interrupted by two short swims there were a couple of beautiful straight flat running stretches that reminded me of Mikes ”tunnel of leaves” so
we used it to get closer to Team No 2 (Clapham Bruderwunderz). In fact the two short swims only served to flush down another gel and recover the legs (just like taking a short rest during repeat interval training). Talking about interval training we always put speed elements in our run and swim workouts it really helps to move at a faster pace for longer periods on race day. Even if a race is 45km if you only train volume (i.e. long hours at a slow pace) you will be slow on race day. There are many different forms of interval training but our personal favourite is still running on a hilly cross country ski loop of 3 kilometers that improves all elements of speed, core strength and endurance.
In the meantime Daniel Hansson (from Swedish Armed Forces) and Andre Hook kept popping up all over the course to inform about route chances and splits. “Three minutes down from Team No 2 with less than 2 hours to go….but with a lot of cold swimming still ahead¨. Thanks for letting us know! After coming out of the water from the (shortened) 300m section we found ourselves running in the forest without seeing any markings: ¨Damn, we are lost I yelled…not again!¨ All of a sudden we saw Team No 2 in the distance running towards us: “aha so they are also lost”. We decided to run back to the last point we saw some markings and after a few minutes we spotted one together with a white sign board about 40 meters up the hill. “Great, we are back on track¨. We ran together with Team No 2 for a while but then picked up the pace in a desperate attempt to maximise our body temperature before the start of the long 1200m swim. As far as swimming is concerned we use additional floatation in our compression socks. Jasmina has super flexible ankles and moves through the water like a dolphin so she hardly needs any floatation when she is drafting me. My swim style on the other hand is a bit less elegant and can be compared with a dog clawing through the water. My ankles are so stiff that swimming with shoes on feels like dragging an anchor over the bottom of the lake. The additional floatation in my compression socks lift my feet for the best part out of the water minimising drag. It works for us but it did require a complete overhaul of my swimstroke because body roll and position is different and there is no leg kick. While the legs recover during the swim all forward movement is generated using paddles. Doing it correctly this set-up (for us) generates speed at minimum effort. In the meantime Jasmina is positioned at a perfect draft distance saving energy for the next run. It is great to see that a lot of people develop their own devices that work best for them. I am still working on developing the perfect swimsock for cold water conditions to reduce cramping. The last time Jasmina tested my prototype she ended up with a black toe…..oooops sorry!
Swimming the 1200m swim stretch was a real battle for us. Towards the end I was so drained that in order to keep moving I screamed when my head was in the water. It turned out that Jasmina did the same thing except that she was singing a song. Coming out of the water my vision was blurred to a tunnel of vague images. Soon after I started gasping for air which got worse when I found a camera in my face and somebody asking: “so tell me is it cold?”…Thankfully Jasmina tried to help me but her jaws were completely locked that there was no sound coming out of her mouth. Now I understood why she had become so quiet during the last part of the race.
Stumbling on towards the last 500m swim I am not really sure how we got across to the other side. At some point I remember thinking: “how are all the other people going to get here as they will be spending even more time in the water”. It turned out to be that some survived and some didn’t which is completely understandable. It takes courage and wisdom to abandon a race even though it doesn’t always feel like it. Finally getting out of the water at Schloss Rheinsberg and finishing (hand in hand) in the arms of our friends PJ and Nancy was truly the best moment of the day. “It was good, it was tough, it was pure survival”…
More than ever I realised that swim running gets you out of your comfort zone where the same brutal conditions apply to everyone - no matter how experienced or good you are. In order to continue doing what we love most “be humble because mother nature always wins”.
Thanks everybody for putting such a magnificent races together! It was an experience of a life time.
Partner: Jasmina Glad-Schreven
Team: Say No! to Doping
Me: Thomas Schreven
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