Vidösternsimmet 2019 – 21km & 6km races in one day

Back in Dec 2018, one of my Masters swimmers, probable the least likely to do so, announced that he was going to swim the 21+km OW swim. He had been speaker the year before and was inspired to give it a try. It didn’t take much convincing from him until a second swimmer signed up.  After last years tough non wetsuit swim I decided, I should give it another try, but this time with a wetsuit.

So after talking with Lily about her interest in swimming the 6km race I signed myself up for the 21+km race and Lily for the 6km race. Not very long after getting the email confirmation for Lily and myself, the idea of swimming both races to pop into my head.  The 21km race starts at 0700, the 6km race at 1400.  That would give me 7 hours to swim 21km and then get transports 6km back to the start of the shorter race.   I managed to do this back in 2014 when the second race was only 5km and I was at the prime of my swim and triathlon training.  But I am currently overweight and do not train/workout like I wish I could and should.  So I decided that I would register for the second race.  I got a follow up mail from the race director if that was a mistake or if i was trying to change my registration from 21km to 6km.  I answered back, that it was not a mistake and my intent was to manage both races on the same day.  Later on a fourth swimmer from my team signed up, he was also looking to improve from his 2018 swim.  So we would now be four from Växjö Swim Team

The only problem for me building up to the race was that I was not in the pool as often as I  had planned. In fact, I missed 31 swim practices in the first five months of 2019.  Luckily I have lots of OW friends and an understanding wife and I was able to get in those kilometers of swimming I would need if I was going to be able to first finish the 21km swim and then secdon make it to the start for the 6km race.  With 103 workouts and/or race days under my belt, I truly felt that I was as ready as I could be with all things considered.

My race plan was simple.  Average swim pace 1:45/100m and make sure I took in energy as often as I could out along the race. This would put me at the finish line after 6 hours and 35 minutes, including 15 minutes at the feeding stations.

One week prior to the race I tested my both my mind and body, by swimming twice a day for 7 days. The idea was to swim 5km in the morning and again in the evening. One bad weather day, a hard morning swim and a date night resulted in

Summary nearly 75km swimming…

Monday 6.4 km +5.2 km = 11.6 km

Tuesday 5 km( pool) + 5.2 km = 10.2 km

Wednesday 6.5 km + 3.8 km = 10.3 km

Thursday  6.4 km + 5.2 km = 11.6 km

Friday 7.5 km + 2.6 km (pool) = 10.1 km

Saturday 12.3 km (date night)

Sunday 6.3 km + 3.8 km = 10.1 km

The week building up to the race I just wanted maintain the feeling of swimming at that tempo, but not long. So I swam about 2500 m/day  Monday to Thursday.  Friday was a rest day, since I had to work until lunch and then travel to Värnamo for the pre-race meeting.

Friday night at the hotel I joined the pre-race meeting and a sort of a mingle with the other swimmers of the 21km race.  This was to be my fifth race, so it was more of a mingle than an information meeting for me.  After a good meal with my three teammates, it was up to my hotel room for some sleep.

04:45 Saturday morning my alarm goes off. By 05:00 I am eating breakfast, and talking with the other swimmers about the challenge that lies in front of us. By 05:40 I go to the bus that will take us to the start. Not everyone had such a rush to go to the start the we waited on the bus for 20 minutes.

From the time we get to the lake until the start, there are lots of smiles, anxiety and joking going on between all the swimmers, volunteers, friends and family.  One swimmer was about to swim his 8th race, another her 7th and even more that were going to try to finish their 5th, like me.

Before the race started, I knew that Hampus would go out a little harder than me, that Pär had planned on drafting off of me, and that Martin would have to be slightly more conservative at the start of the race. At the start of the race, it is a very long walk until the lake gets deep enough to swim.  There is a slight rain, and there is a head wind around 7-8 knots (4-5 m/s) which made for an interesting start.  As usual there are lots of people that take off like a rocket.  But not this guy.  I knew better. I had a race plan and I was going to try to stick with it.

First leg of the race is 3700m, my goal was to reach the feeding station around 08:05 (1:05 swimming).  During the first 500-800m I was not sure I would make it to the first stop at all.  But with Pär on my feet and Lily eventually waiting for me at the start of her race I pushed on.  It took the first 1000-1500m to really get into my swimming and the wind, rain and waves were no longer and issue.  By the third buoy things felt so much better. Pär and I get to the first station in just over an hour.  We both take an energy gel and some coke.  I joke about us being ahead of schedule.  I think that I see Hampus leaving the station, but convince my self he must be farther ahead.

The second leg is 3900 m and it should have been easier, but the wind never let down.  I had hoped to be at the second feeding station by 09:15 (1:08 swim time).   The swim time was correct, but since we were ahead after the first section and only rested 60-75 s we were now nearly 5 minutes ahead of schedule.  Lots of friends are now at the feeding stations.  The first one is out on the water, so no audience, but now that we are on the beaches, there were over 40 people there to cheer us on. I had a coke, a gel, as well as some water.  It was the third section of the race that hurt me last year, but I felt confident in my head that it would be ok. As we go out into the water we hear that Hampus was in 5th place.  One swimmer ahead of four others and Hampus on the chase. There must have been another swimmer between Hampus and us.

Pär and I head out for the third leg of the race (5500 m) and confidence is running high. I feel good, and even Pär seems happy swimming on my feet.  There are buoys about every 900-1000 m along the course.  Every time we passed one I would look at my watch and got a boost every time we passed one and I knew we were keeping up a good tempo.  According to my plan, I should reach this feeding station around 10:55, but Pär and I get there at 10:42.  What?!? did we really just swim in another 7 minutes.  My goal was to swim it in around 1:36, and we managed it in 1:33, so now I understand that we didn’t swim that much faster than I had planned, but didn’t stay at the feeding station for the full four minuters I had planned for.  But at the time I thought it was because we were swimming a little faster. We also get a new update that Hampus is closing the gap.

I tell Pär as we head out of the fourth leg, that it is the shortest, only 3500 m.  I had told my wife a head of time that we would reach the last land feeding station around 12:00, assuming that I would swim this leg in 1:01 and that if I was not there by 12:15 that I would not be able to make it to the start of the 6 km race.  We get to the beach at 11:42, I didn’t know how long we were at the 3rd feeding station, but I knew that we swam and ate in just about an hour.  it would turn out that we swam the fourth leg in 58:30. Just under my 1:01 goal. Again lots of friends, but no family.  We were 18 minutes ahead of schedule, so I asked a friend to inform Jeanette that unless something major happened during the last leg of the race, that I would make it in time to swim the 6km race. At this point Hampus has joined up with the lead pack.

The final 5000+ m.  I say plus, because the race is 21.5 + km long. There is a feeding station out on the water, and I decided before we started to swim that no matter how I felt,  I would stop for a drink and a gel.  During the entire swim I was thinking about my finish time.  If we left the beach around 11:45 that means if we swim in 1:30 like I planned we could finish under 6:15.  Wait, what? 6:15? My goal time was 6:35.  It was driving me crazy doing all of these calculations in my head.  As we swim up to the last feeding station around buoy no 19,  I let Pär know that I would not be offended if he had the energy to swim ahead of me, I only needed to swim the last 3km in an hour to have time to make it to the 6km. I thought he would have a chance to swim under six hours if I wasn’t holding him back. Pärs answer was short and to the point, “Never, Not going to happen.” so I smiled and replied, ok, but just so you know it is 100% ok if you change your mind.

During the last 3km or so, it was not the wind that was a problem, but the rain and the clouds that made finding the next buoys slightly harder.  So when ever we reached  a buoy we took a short pause to find the next.

We pass buoy no 20, only two more buoys to go! Swimming is getting easier, energy feels good. No 21, the finish line is in sight, even if it was blurry.  No 22 and we can start to see the silhouettes of people standing on the bridge.  When we get to the bridge, we stop to wave to the crowd and then put our heads down to swim the final 75-100m to the finish line. We finish at 6 hours and 6 minutes.  29 minutes faster than I had planned, and nearly 90 minutes faster than last year.

We finished as no 7 and 8 out of 98 swimmers who started the race.  Afterwards we hear that Hampus managed to fight his way up to 3rd.  He swam the last 18km or so 1 min/km faster than we did.  Awesome.

After I get my finisher medal and a gold medal for completing my 5th race, I say hi to the crowd, congratulated the other swimmers at the finish line, find my bag, grab my phone and call my wife and head to the start of the 6km race……

To be Continued…

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