2020 was going to be the year I finally got a little faster and maybe on a good day, with some luck, got a good age group result… maybe the chance to go to Kona.
As with everyone, Covid changed everything. Tight lockdown in mid-March and races cancelled or rescheduled. The swimming pools closed and the police sending me home as I tried to jog more than 3k in April…
I was fortunate that my work could continue from home and my family was safe. We all settled into the new normal.
As the lakes heated up above 10C, I managed to get in for some good swims, although the pace I could hold was truly disturbing – anything above 2mins per 100m felt like sprinting.
Eventually lockdown lifted, little by little, and normal training resumed. I worked with my coach to keep on training, with a kind of „ready to go“ mindset… hopeful that something would come up.
A chance meeting at the pool with a fellow expat, Pete would be that something.
The something that came up was SwimRun. A small race was happening in the North of Austria in Ottensteinersee. We were both of similar swim and run abilities… so it could be interesting.
The race was in 2 weeks, so prototyping and training started the next Sunday! We both showed up at the local lake with tons of gear… at least 5 types of handpaddles, strap on buoys, belts and ropes and shorty wetsuits.
The first thing we found was simple… bombing along the side of a lake then diving in was great fun! This didn’t feel like sport, it felt more like playing… and we were both hooked.
We ditched the tow rope after one swim, the near misses with choking, tripping and general faff made it impractical. Both us were fine drafting without it and we found an easy rhythm. Pete’s ability to sight and swim high in the water made up for my ability to go fast in the wrong direction.
Paddles became an experiment that lasted until race day… too small – too slow, too big – sore shoulders… eventually we both found our sweetspot paddles.
Shoes were more critical, with calf guards and floats it was important that they didn’t drag legs down like anchors, plus could handle the trails. Pete found a pair in his collection and I splashed out on some excellent Salomon amphibs.
With gear set, we did a few more training sessions and were really enjoying the free nature of the sport.
Race weekend came around and we headed off to Ottensteinersee… around 4hrs drive. After leaving the main alps and into the flatter countryside towards the Czech republic, we wondered what the lakes would be like.
We found a swimmers heaven. A warm fjordlike system of water… with loads of trails either side and no speedboats!
After some initial exploring we settled into a cheap hotel. We had registered for the half Marathon distance… around 19k running and 5k swimming.
Our race plan was simple, get the 5k run in the middle done, then push a little if we had any energy. Temperatures res were around 28-29C so we would need to watch for overheating.
At the start, everyone looked way more professional than us, and we were glad to be starting 3rd from last from a field of around 100 athletes. The start was a socially distanced time trail with starters every 15 seconds.
After the off we ran past a few teams and hit the first swim… there we could see most of the field spread in front of us… a good job as there was no chance of seeing the exit flag.
We motored into the swim, Pete leading off until we dialled in sighting then we swapped positions and I motored through the rest of the swim at a relatively relaxed pace. Strangely we seemed to be passing a lot of people.
After the first swim, the pattern repeated and we were passing people on every swim and on some of the runs. By the time the longest run came around… there was no one in sight. Instead of thinking that we were close to the front, we spent most of the time think we might be lost!
Gradually we wound the pace up and felt great as we hit the last swim. Pete noticed a pair in the water maybe 2 minutes ahead on the 500m swim… with a final km of running to go.
The pursuit was on and we both somehow sprinted across the water, breathing every two strokes and almost straight arming the paddles… not pretty to watch but fast. As we got out of the water the gap was down… to maybe 1 minute… and we let rip.
I don’t know how we did it, but we turned ourselves inside out for the last km, covering it in 4:20…. a grade adjusted pace of 3:27… we caught the team with 100m to go and they were out of gas… so we rolled over the line with a 12s advantage…
In the end this was just a relatively small race, but we managed to win the age group (total age of team greater than 90) and come second team overall. Only 7 minutes from being the fastest team… more than doable had we been used to racing.
The whole race, its feeling and its execution really rang true with me and I already felt a connection with the sport. Without the massive branding and clearly much smaller than tri, it felt more connected.
The most important memory for me was the chance to actually race with a friend and pass through some beautiful nature… the constant transitions somehow keeping it fresh and fun.
The decision for me was made… next year I would focus on SwimRun and see where that journey would take me. Not saying goodbye to Tri but maybe doing it less while the world recovers.
Pretty much signed up for an Ötillö sprint race the next day… that’s another story….
PS – It’s so much nicer travelling without a bike!
Gear – https://swimrunshop.com
Other Races – https://otilloswimrun.com