We participated in the third edition of swimrun The Escape from Svartholma. The 30km race organized by Strömfors Outdoor took place about an hour's drive East from Helsinki. Race director Topi Lintukangas and partner Sebastian Dannberg recognized the unique opportunity for people to re-live history in a backdrop of stunning nature. With careful attention to detail they developed a first class swimrun package with a 30km course on Saturday and a shorter 10km sprint race on Sunday.
The 30km race is limited to 40 teams only so I could clearly sense that the organization has put a lot of emphasis on providing a quality experience. My immediate reaction after crossing the finish line was: "Damn, these guys are masters at designing a course to test both your swim and run fitness. In a way it's the perfect "Cooper Test" to see if you’re ready to step up to longer and more demanding point-to-point races. For instance, almost all swim sections are longer than 800 meters making it more demanding than your average "5 minute power swim". Navigating skills, pacing, swim efficiency, equipment set-up turned out to be important factors where 20% (or 5,8km) of the total distance is covered in the sea. Good news for super swimmers like Janne Blomqvist and Juha Lindfors but more challenging for us "self-made swim wannabees"... Luckily the race also provides ample opportunity for the runners to claw back some time. Several fast-paced gravel runs with one suicidal 12km run in the middle make it a tactical race to see which team get’s to the final 3,5km trail section first.
So how did the race unfold for Team Say No! to Doping? Well, on race day we were not sure if we were going to start. Jasmina suffers a lot from breathing complications especially during the dry (hay) season. Having said that (cold) water does wonders for the lungs and throat so the fact that the first 900m swim was already after 300m of running gave us courage to start the race. At least we could say: Yes, we escaped from Svartholma!!!!
After a short bus and boat ride we all arrived at historic island of Svartholma for a collective warm-up. It never get’s boring…pre-race checks, race rituals, last sip of electrolyte drink, dip in the sea, loosen up those shoulders, hug here, tap on the back there. BANG!!!! the canon went off and the Great Escape was on officially on it’s way….try to catch us if you can!!! Entering the water for the first 900m swim I was relieved to see that Jasmina was able to keep up the pace. Not a bad start at all. Just in front of us we saw “swimrun fugitives” Juha and Jaakko (from Team IF Solvalla Vargarna aka Team Ju-Ja) getting out of the water. Not long after we managed to reunite with them and during the second (2,3km) run some very dark clouds gathered out of nowhere and within minutes we were greeted by “the Beast from the East": ice cold rain and wind coming from Siberia. How cool is that? Lucky for us, the shower only lasted for a few minutes before it turned clear skies again.
Entering the water again for the Classic Tripla Juusto" swim (i.e. Classic tripple cheese) you really needed to have some serious appetite to conquer this monster swim. Only three tiny slices of land separate the three swims of 1100m, 300m and 400m. Looking at Juha and Jaakko I was convinced they skipped breakfast in the morning because they went through this part of the course like it was just a little apetiser. On the other hand, we struggled to keep a
constant swim pace and straight line. Not having done this race before meant that we were a bit slow on transitions and aid station stops but that’s all part of the challenge to adapt ad-hoc.
TIP 1: So, if you have a chance to practice the course do it because it’s a big advantage to know in advance the changes in terrain, swim entry / exit points and aid station locations. It prepares you mentally and physically to spread your energy equally over the race. Efficient pacing and as a result heat management are two crucial elements in longer swimrun races.
By the time we got out of the water Team Ju-Ja had already disappeared with a lead of around 3 minutes. While trying to sneak out of somebodies backyard we got spotted by the owner and some friends having lunch. We said: "Sorry for tress passing your property, we are fugitives from Svartholma"... He replied in Finnish with: Aha, no niiin! which can basically mean everything from: "you crazy idiots" to "OK, no problem".. I hope it was the latter.
Back on the course we covered a short (1,5km) undulating run stretch mostly on gravel. By the time we entered the water for another 900m swim I could just see Juha and Jaakko about half way. I said to Jassu: Damn, these swims are friggin long I can barely see the exit points!...only to find out later from other participants that the total swim distance is actually closer to 6km's than 5km's. Well, as they say: "if it does not kill you, it will make you stronger...mmmh I hope so!"
Tip 2: spray your left shoe sole bright red and your right shoe sole bright green. Why? While the lead swimmer is busting his butt off the lag swimmer can easily help out by making sure the lead swimmer stays on course. In case the lead swimmer is starting to deviate from the fastest line the lag swimmer can tap the left or the right foot with a paddle to hint in which direction a swim correction has to be made. In addition, the bright colors make drafting a lot more easier and efficient. In the meantime the lead swimmer can focus more on maintaining an efficient "head down" swim position for longer periods. Jasmina is able to spot an ant with a beach flag at 1km distance, me on the other hand struggle to see anything but “cute dancing girls in bikinis”. Maybe it’s something Topi can organize for next year?
Time to get sweaty….starting the 12km run stretch we put on our turbo and while blasting over undulating country roads at a suicidal pace of around 4:15 minutes/km we soon reached aid station No 4, half way at 6km's. After cooling down our overheated radiators with some cool refreshments we continued our quest to the finish line. Unfortunately we lost too much time on the swims that we couldn't catch the leading team anymore when entering the 800m swim which led to a famous local bridge called “Savukoski”. Apparently when it was build, a unique slim concrete foundation was used. It was a revolution at the time but unfortunately the concrete pillars did not last and so the bridge was commercialy taken out of use way before it's design life. Being an engineer by background I found that stuff interesting but maybe it’s not... Anyway, we survived running over the bridge and while making our way towards the final to last swim of 550m we were wondering which way to go. The sign said straight ahead but there was no beach flag on the other side....did we miss something? Also, no sign of Team Ju-Ja so at the end we decided to just jump in and look around the corner to the left. Luckily we spotted the leading fugitives in front of us but with a broken pulling cord we decided not to mess around to fix it and just swim seperately to the other exit point.
Jasmina got out of the water with 5kg’s of nutritious seaweed attached to the broken pulling cord….I casually mentioned: Did you run out of gels or something?
Following on from there we could sense that we were getting closer to Strömfors because the terrain changed from undulating country roads to rocky trails which were actually good fun to run. Distracted by the smell of food we almost missed a turn and two minutes later we reached the final swim of the day. Not sure if you can call 20m a swim but jumping in the water without taking the effort to zip-up or put gear on was clearly a stupid idea…we both spend double the amount of time to get across and it looked ridiculous…luckily nobody was there to witness and record it...
Tip 3: Even though you can’t control Mother Nature, never assume things, be ready to react to sudden changes in conditions, until you're past the finish line.
A few minutes later we crossed the finish line in second place without any injuries. What a bonus! Team Ju-Ja smashed the course record of last year by over 45 minutes. We ended up being 5 minutes slower in our first attempt at this race. Next year we know more and hit that Iron Nail on the Head! But….first sauna, barbeque and pan cakes. By the way, has anybody seen our kids?
Hereby, I would like to thank Topi, Seba and all volunteers for a great weekend out with the family. We felt a warm and genuine welcome from the minute we arrived. Kiitos!
Me: Thomas Schreven
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