Utö swimrun is one of our favourites. Why?...because it was our first ever race as a team, back in 2014. It took us by surprise then and still 4 years later it’s no different. It’s so friggin intense! I think it’s the contrast that is unique in this race: hot runs vs cold swims and fast gravel roads vs technical rocky trails. For us it’s on the Island of Love where the swimrun season truly starts. “You can run but you can’t hide!” We already figured out a few years ago that pacing and monitoring energy levels were going to play an important role on this course.
Brief race recap
After 8 months of intense and sometimes frustrating rehab the main purpose of this race was to see if my quadriceps tendon connection around the knee would hold and also to have a first impression of our combined team shape. Even though the podium was a bonus and we shaved 10 minutes of last year’s time it’s not necessarily a true reflection of the shape we are in. Last year we were 10 minutes faster after 39km’s! (after which we decided to slow down until we reached the finish line). This year was totally different where our main goal was to keep up with the best mixed teams in the field. For sure this was a new experience for both Jasmina and me where we quickly learned a few lessons the hard way when another mixed team started drafting us during the first few swims of the race. Anyway, it’s not forbidden so what can I say: better pay attention when entering the water next time. Not surprisingly the pace was fast from the start and things did not slow down until we got to the more technical parts of the course. Up until 3 hours we were doing pretty good but then we both started to fade a bit. Missing 4 months of essential base training does make a difference but that’s just how it is…”you gotta go with have you’ve got on race day…so we had to dig really deep this time”. The other thing I struggled with during the race was to get liquids in….Basically by the time I drank one cup Jasmina had already downed two! Damn, never mind swimrun training I need to go back to “baby mode” and start learning how to drink out of a cup! You’re never too old to learn I keep telling myself….The alternative is to seriously consider wearing one of those refuelling vests for hot race days (like I have seen some of the other teams use). Just for reference I used to be able (or should I say: stupid enough) to drink a pint of Beamish Red in less than 30 seconds in the good old days. So…maybe it’s time to catch up with my old work buddies from the past. Anyway, all in all the race was very rewarding and it was great to catch up with people we have not seen since the worldchamps of last year. Thanks for all your kind words and support that helped us to get back on the race course!
The other thing we did over the spring period was to change our race wetsuits from HEAD to ARK and shoes from INOV-8 Xtalon to HOKA One One (Evo Jawz). Even though we still need to fine tune our buoyancy aids we felt the ARK wetsuit is extremely light weight, durable and perfectly sealing. It’s best described as wearing a tight fit lycra tri-suit which feels like a second skin. It’s a high performance wetsuit so everything is stripped down to the bare minimum so if you need a lot of buoyancy then you will need a big pull buoy. The best thing about the suit is that it seals really well around neck and arms so no unnecessary heat loss with cold water coming in. The true value of the suit comes out when you start running. Since the neoprene
material is thing there is hardly any restriction anywhere which is important to us because running is what we like best. The reason we changed to Hoka is because these shoes have a little bit more “fat on the bone” compared to the Inov’s (without compromising on weight)….slightly more drop (from heel to toe) to ease strain on the achilles tendon, a bit more cushioning, better draining, a bit more rigid and more toe splash. In short it’s a bit less minimalistic and provides more comfort over longer distances….just what we need with both of us now in our forties…Oops! sorry Jas.
Oh yes, before I forget we are NOT sponsored by ARK, Hoka or any other brand! We have tried to find a sponsor but without success…maybe it has something to do with our suffering finish photos. Jasmina’s parents are our only true sponsors. Their contribution to take care of the kids (when we train long or race) cannot be expressed in monetary terms (or even weight in gold…). Thinking about it…sponsorship brings obligations, to some extent pressure to perform and last but not least a degree of expectation to do and say certain things…. Thank goodness we don’t have that…. yes it’s more freedom!...and worth a lot in times where everybody has less and less time for eachother. It’s a choice.
PRIZE MONEY AND DOPING
Talking about money some swimrun events now offer significant prize money concepts. I understand that it was just a matter of time for it to happen but as a consequence I do think it will gradually change the spirit of swimrun. Yes, it’s for me to adapt and accept it, I know. We as a team are not doing it for reasons related to money or fame. All I can say is this: “I hope to keep sharing the emotions of swimrun with my race partner even when we are long gone past standing on that podium”... Call it my long term survival tactics based on passion, joy and friendship. It’s no secret…it’s tried and tested in our marriage, family and close friends. Again, this is just my personal view and the fact that prize money and big sponsorship deals are gradually entering the swimrun world is only the next logical step in a sport that is rapidly growing in popularity and commercial value. As long as we can keep it clean it’s more than half the battle won. The good news on this subject is that some swimrun races and circuits are now taking doing seriously which is a good thing.
Since our team name is Say No! to Doping we feel we have a role to play on the education side of things so here we go: for those suffering from the effects of hay fever or asthma forgive me for saying this: please check the label on your anti histamine and asthma medication/inhalers as in many cases over the counter medication contains ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine which is a stimulant and on WADA’s Prohibited Substance List. In case people use medication that contains these or other prohibited substances then be smart and inform the Race Director in advance of the race with a doctor’s certificate. More detailed information can be found on WADA’s website. Sorry for nagging on about this but most people are either ignorant when it comes to taking medication or simply too clever knowing there is an underlying performance enhancing benefit. Anyway, with an increase in prize money and lucrative sponsorship deals there is also an increased risk for getting selected for a doping test….which is fair enough if you ask me.
PROMOTING THE SPIRIT OF SWIMRUN
Last week I was asked by Race Director Krisse Vaano (from Järvestä Järveen swimrun) to lead the fast group during a swimrun training session close to Espoo. Finns are not the most extrovert people on the planet but it does not show when they put on their swimrun gear… We had a blast exchanging ideas and thoughts about anything and everything. The best thing was that everybody was experimenting with all sorts of pull buoys, paddles, wetsuits, shoes and pulling ropes. I thought we were crazy but there is a whole army of like minded people living just a few miles from us. Fantastic. Frequently asked questions were related to pull buoy size and shape and the length of the pulling cord. I tried to explain to them that the best thing to do is: what works best for you. The only way to find out is to try! Guess what…we never stop trying all sorts of pull buoy designs…it drives Jasmina nuts but I love it. The only thing that is important to remember is that the pull buoy should stay in the same position at all times without squeezing your legs together because then it’s just a matter of time before your muscles start to cramp. Two ways to prevent this is: ensure that the pull buoy sits tight around your leg using a friction band or elastic. Second, it helps if the pull buoy has a slightly bigger shape on the side that’s facing down when you swim. The length of the pulling cord should be long enough so that there is still a little bit tension in the line. The lag swimmer should swim as close a possible to the lead swimmer without touching his / her feet every stoke. The tricky part is that the rope should have enough elasticity in it to allow pulling during the runs. If the distance between the lead and lag runner is less than 2 meters there is not enough elasticity in the rope. On the other hand if the elasticity is too big and the distance before actually pulling becomes more than 7 meters than it’s no longer practical. After plenty of trial and error experimenting ourselves we decided to call it a day and buy a proper pulling rope from swimrunshop.com and yes once again it works really well! Soon I can close my “low tech” experimental lab because there are now really good products on the market for swimrun.
ALL THINGS IN NATURE AND SMOOTH
One thing I noticed is that all people (except one…) focus on the swimming part but it’s actually the running part where you can really make a difference. For some reason people assume that running is easy….but if you want to do it efficiently and fast on both technical trails and gravel roads it becomes a whole different ball game. The thing is that most (if not all) swimrun courses alternate between different kinds of surfaces….so without probably realising it you have to change your running technique accordingly. When you’re on the trails you really have to scan the trail up and down in front of you. Easy trail: 5-20 meters. Difficult: 2-5 meters. Use your arms for balance and foot placement that’s what they are there for. Make use of natural obstacles by adjusting and shortening your stride length. Work on building a strong abdomen and core so that you feel agile yet strong. Finally, I often see that people forget to breath when they’re moving from left to right or jump up and down over rocks. Whatever you do: “Try not to hold your breath”….but tighten your core and focus on being smooth and fluent. It’s not for nothing that all things in nature are rounded and smooth…think about it if you want to be friends with Mother Nature you got to adapt not the other way around. It’s fun when you get it right.
Next race Engadin! Our other favourite location. We suck in the mountains but who cares….it’s one of the most beautiful and toughest courses we have ever done….so
let’s give it a go again. The cow bell which we won a few years back is Viivi’s favourite music instrument at home. It drives us nuts but what can we do…there are no cows in our back yard to put them on….maybe we can persuade an elk to wear one…..my imagination is getting the upper hand…time to go to bed.
Team Say No! to Doping
Me: Thomas Schreven
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