This will get long and I’ll most likely revise it a few times as more memories come back to me or I find more photos of me during the race.
I’d like to start this race report off with a huge thanks to my wife. Back in September/October 2019, pre Covid, I asked her if it was ok if I were to attempt a 42km race. I explained that it would mean lots of extra swimming for me. She gave me the ok. Little did anyone know what was coming our way and a 11 month training plan would eventually turn into a 23 month commitment. Without her understanding of the level of training I wanted I would not have been able to be in the swimming shape I am today.
Sept 28, 2019 I get an email from Vidösternsimmet with the official invite to swim a special 10th anniversary double Vidösternsimmet they called The Viking Edition 42+km. They gave two options. I could either swim solo or with a partner. I was quick to decide to swim with a partner and that partner would be Hampus Carlsson. I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take to get Hampus onboard with my plans, but 2-3 texts later and we were registered.
During the rest of the fall of 2019 it was Masters training as usual. Moving on to 2020, to help my focus I also took on the million meter challenge. New for me in 2020 was swimming with our coach Nedal every Wednesday. Wednesday’s turned out to be one of the biggest changes to the way I practiced and felt about swimming harder and longer in a pool. Instead of my usual 2500m sprint workout in 60 minutes, we were pushing 5300-5600m in 90 minutes. One day when I was not at practice, they swam 6000m in 90 minutes.
2020 started off really bad when it came to swim meets. Local meets were cancelled, Swedish Nationals for Masters was cancelled and by May/June we saw the end nearly all races. One by one open water races were being cancelled. But it was also the end of business trips, which gave me the opportunity to rack up the meters in a pool as well as open water. From June to August I swam at least 3km/day. By the end of the summer I convinced a few swimmers to join me in a 21km swim in Växjö. Two week later I swam 42km by swimming 3km every hour for 14 hours.
By the end of 2020 I had accumulated roughly 1240km swimming. So why not try for another 1000km in 2021 to help me get ready for the Viking swim in August. Even if 2021 was not a better year for swim meets, still being grounded meant I could still swim as planned, but also make it to Växjö Tränings Fabriken i Växjö for strength and conditioning.
To keep my strength and increase my mental awareness of my limits I spent a lot of hours in the gym. Ever since my stroke in 2016 I have been very aware of my pulse and tend to get uneasy when my breather gets hard and my heart is pounding. Since I do not like lifting weights alone I did 99% of all of my workouts with a coach. Crossfit or Crossfit themed workouts at 06:30 in the morning, during lunches, Fridays after work, or Saturday mornings. In addition to building muscles, Crossfit has helped me push my mental ability to fight through the struggle of giving up, or continuing forward. Like they say, we don’t stop when we are tired, we stop when we are finished. But no one expects that everyone lifts as heavy, or runs as fast. You work hard with what you’ve got. I’ve learned a lot about my limits through Crossfit training.
Back to swimming, both of my wetsuits had seen better days, so I was frantically looking for replacements. Neither of the ones I currently had were available in the sizes I needed, and there were the third time in five years I had to replace them. So I decided to look for a new brand. In a simple email to Olanderswim.se, where I was asking about the difference between two models as well as double check that I should get XL, but the web shop support was not able to support me so she forwarded my inquiry to Valter. Once in contact with Valter we started talking about all the models of wetsuits he had. By the end of the day, I decided on the Sailfish G-Range. It was not the top of the line for Sailfish, but more than enough for me. After just one swim I realized I would even need a sleeveless suit in case the water was too warm. So after a few attempts I found a Sailfish Attack. Now I am ready for cold and warm water swimming.
With the help of Hampus as well as the rest of my masters team with plans to swim the 21km race I was always able to find someone to swim with nearly every day all summer once the pool closed down. We moved from swimming 1500m laps in the Växjö lake to swimming anything from 3km to 12km in the various lakes and around the various islands all summer. It was actually an inside joke, about all of them having a schedule for who’s turn it was to take care of me each day. But thankfully I only had to swim alone a hand full of times from May-August. By the time I got to Värnamo on Friday the 13th 2021 I had nearly 900km swimming for the year. If I hadn’t got the support I got from the swimmers from Växjö SS Masters I am sure I would have not been as motivated to go out nearly every day and swim.
Tuesday before the race, those of us swimming the Viking Edition had an online pre-race meeting to go through the schedule for Friday as well as what was expected of us. We had receive a swimming schedule that was about the pace each of us was planning on holding while swimming as well as a food schedule so the kayak pilot would know what we wanted to eat and drink as well as when. Hampus and I had spent some time the days before and even Wednesday going over our pace. Our energy/food plan was rather simple, a stop roughly after every 3km or 45min. But the pace was hard to put down on paper. We had been swimming all summer around 1:25-1:28/100m. But in the week leading up to the race we tried to swim around 1:30/100m and it felt really good. But then when we started to think in terms of our best times in the 21km swimming, 1:30 seemed way off. Considering Hampus had a best time of 5:47 and my best time was 5:54 and a 1:30/100m pace would be 5:24 with out rest. But after a few swims, we decided to make three pace charts: 1:30, 1:35 and 1:40. Then of course the weather forecast change for the umpteenth time. The day of the race we started to look at 1:28/100m pace. A decision we would have to take Friday night when we would meet with our kayak pilot.
In addition to Hampus and I swimming the Viking Edition there were a total of 11 swimmers with a connection to Växjö were registered to swim the 21km race. Because of various reason, only 9 of them started the race. Even though we didn’t have to be at the 21km pre-race, Hampus and I joined the others. It was really cool that Växjö made up nearly one quarter of all the starters in this years race. In a normal year, we would have been about 10% of the starting list.
After a pasta dinner with the team, Hampus and I get a ride to the start with Jeanette. She was going to have a huge support role for my race, just as Hampus’s parents would have for both of us. We get to the starting area just after 21:00. We sign in, get our buoys, find the supplies for the night swimming and start packing our food bags.
Our race strategy was to have six stops every 3km or roughly every 45 minutes, but we packed for an eventual extra stop. The last stop would be used if we needed it. So we labelled 14 bags with Left 1-7 and Right 1-7 so the kayak pilot would know which side of his kayak to serve which bag. We also had four bottles each. Hampus had two warm and two room temperature and I two bottles with coke and two with a sport drink. Once we have our food bags ready, we walk down to the water to meet our kayak pilot, Isak. He is a really nice guy. We go through our swimming pace options, we double check the routes, and our food schedule. We had been told that the pilots would switch up after 6km and 17km, but Isak told us that he would take us the whole eay. We give him what he needs to support us, and then leave him alone to figure out the best way for him to have all of our stuff and what he needs in a location on his kayak so he could reach every thing with out having to go on shore during our swim.
22:00 the first pair of swimmers head out. I am not sure the starting time of all the swimmers, but I know that one left at 23:00, another pair left at 23:30, we had plans for 23:40 and the last two swimmers behind us would leave around 23:45 and midnight.
Our race plan
Start 23:40 – We walk down to the water just before the start, get in the lake, make a few adjustments to our wetsuits, let the race organizers know we are ready, get the thumbs up from Izak and we start our long night swim.
Both Hampus and I knew that the first 40-50 minutes would set the pace for the rest of the night. However, we decided not to stop after 1km to check our pace, but to go with our relaxed swimming pace. Based on my watch data, we started the first km at 1:24/10mm pace, but then got into a 1:29/100m pace for the next two kilometers. I have no splits from the night swim, but based on my watch, we had a 1:27/100m pace the first time we stopped. Izak asked me how he was doing, and I told him it looked like we were going to be following the faster schedule, but I asked if he could try to stay closer to me, since I was having a hard time with depth perception in the dark. Feeding went well, and before I knew it, we were ready to continue swimming. Because it was pitch black, the only things I saw were Izak’s kayak and Hampus’s buoy. It was pretty easy to just focus on a relaxing pace, and keeping myself just to the back left of Izak, and watching that Hampus was always to my right. We get to our second stop. I am feeling great. Hampus is feeling surprised how warm it feels in the water. I tell him we are swimming slightly faster than our plan, and ask if we should make an attempt to slow down, or keep going. He says what I was thinking, swimming feels so good, that slowing down would just make swimming feel weird. So we continue to the next stop.
At roughly 8800m it was time for our third stop. Again we are holding pace. Since I only breathe to the right I am not sure when we started to pass the other swimmers. But once I did start to see lights from swimmers ahead of us at this stop I know it was going to be mentally hard not to chase them down. Good thing for me Hampus is the king of pace work. The next 2+ hours the race was really uneventful. Kind of boring actually. I was not working hard, I was not struggling, I had not thoughts of why I am here. It was just a cycle of stroke-stroke-stroke-check on the kajak- stroke-stroke-check on Hampus. But just before our 5th stop I started to think about what they said during our Tuesday meeting. All of the buoys from 22 down to 5 would be light up. Since the sun rises around 5:40 the last 4 buoys would not be lit up. So as we get to number 6 I ask Izak, do you know where we are going next? He kind of laughed and said maybe that way. After a few jokes, he said he would radio for help. Since both Hampus and I felt good we made a quick change to our schedule and asked Izak to only stop one more time after 45 minutes. The last section of our race for the night would be what it would be. That turned out to be a good idea. Because as we stopped for the last time before reaching the beach, Izak pointed out that Ted Molin who started what we thought was 5 minutes after us was approaching. I jokingly said, if Ted only catches up to us on this leg, then I will be happy. His course record for the 21km swim is roughly 45 minutes faster than my best time.
With about 1500-2000m Ted finally swims up next to us. The sun is slowing rising and we can now clearly see our kayaks and each other. I am debating the entire time in to myself, should I follow with him, how do I inform Hampus, and how will that effect us on the second half. Luckily for me, Ted was happy swimming in with us. He knew he was the leader of the race once he caught the two of us so he had no reason to push passed us. We get to the shore at the same time.
As I look down at my watch and see that we just swam 21km+ in 5:45 I looked over at Hampus and said that was a lot faster and easier than I had ever imagined. PB for him by 2 minutes, and PB for me by 11 minutes. Ted’s Course Record 5:10 was never threatened 😉
The race set-up was that we would start our return at 07:00 with the rest of the 21km swimmers. This meant that we now had 95 minutes to rest up, eat and swim again. To be honest, this was the hardest part of my day. I was warm, I was awake, I was full of energy. So I did my best to keep moving. It seemed like all of the others had issues with being cold up on land. Since I had told Jeanette not to expect me until 0545 I had already found my jacket and socks and was walking around when she came. It was a good thing she showed up, because the other Viking swimmers were not so chatty. Hampus was doing his best to get warm, and feed during the break. I even saw that Ted was alone so I invited him over to our warm foot bath, and shortly after he was sitting down his wife arrived to help him with snacks and recharge before our second half of the race. As mush as I would have like win this race, I didn’t want it to be because someone had a bad rest. (Not that it matter, since Ted swam the second half like a monster) I managed to find most if not all of the Växjö swimmers before the start of their 21km swim to wish them luck, and for those that asked I gave them a quick summary of our night swim. All of a sudden, its 15 minutes to start and only 10 minutes left to get into the starting area. So my last 5-10 minutes was a little stressful. So much so that I forgot put new Vaseline on my neck.
07:00 that start of our return. Since we had a tailwind all night, you guessed right. We will now have a headwind all the way back. Little did we know at 07:00 how bad it would get. After the start signal, it is a long walk out until the water is deep enough to swim. I position myself with a few of the Växjö swimmers, and when people start to swim so do I. during the first 4km I was swimming about 50-75m to the left of 8 or swimmers. I assumed they were the lead group of swimmers. But I could not get a good look at their caps, so I was not sure who was in that group. By the time I get to the first floating depot, I think that I will just take the slow lane and enjoy some coffee, but I was told I had to go to the FAST lane to get my time registered, so I switched sides, and then quickly went on my way.
I push through the next 4km and to my surprise as I come up on the beach, I have Pär right behind me. I know he didn’t swim behind me because I saw when he came up from the outside. but it was funny all the same. As I look up we see Ola on his way out. No way, wow, that was so cool to see OIa in front of us. It made me think that it was going well for Pär and I as well. When I get up to the food table I ask one of the volunteers if any other black caps had been through. He was quick to say, yes, you just missed Ted he’s about 7 minutes ahead of you. At that moment all the positive feelings about swimming well disappeared. I really had no idea that there where so many ahead of us. Jeanette is there to cheer me on and tells me that Ted was the only 42km swimmer she had seen pass. So the joy of thinking I was in first, turned into a fear of how long it would take Hampus or anyone else in the 42km group to catch me. All of a sudden I see Josefin and Martin on there way up. Now way, even cooler. Ola, Pär, Martin, Josefin and myself all within minutes after the first 8km.
During the third section roughly 5.5km all I could think about was how much the first 8km hurt, and that it was all for nothing. I had a real hard time focusing on swimming. I was debating to continue to push it, or just finish. The wind was picking up every hour, so I knew the longer I was in the water, the harder it would be at the finish. At the next depot, I come in, but this time Ola and Pär are out of site. But I do see Josefin and Martin on their way out. As I turn around to go out I see Hampus on his way in. But a race is a race, so I take off. The fourth swim is the shortest between depots, and during this swim I started to find more motivation to not just finish but to finish strong.
I get to the last land depot, and I take my time. I can see Martin and Josefin and I wish them luck and joke about swimming the last section as fast as they can. Then another swimmer comes up and he looked drunk. He could barely walk, and the volunteers sat him down and eventually took him out of the race. I eat some candy, drink a coffee, some soda and turn around to head out and see that Martin and Josefin had not gotten that far, so I stop for one last picture with Jeanette and then joke about going to catch them. Jeanette and the others near by kind of laugh, like ya right.
The last 5500m or so would turn out to be one of the hardest swims in my life. From the beach I can see how the waves just off to the left are breaking. White tops all over the place. I threw up the first year I swam this race and the thought of doing this time popped up. Again as I go out, I see Hampus coming in, this time just a little farther back, but still in sight of me. I give it my all now. I am either going to swim hard and take second place, or I am going to swim hard and find Hampus passing me on the final section. I make it out to the choppy waters. I cannot see a thing. It takes a while to find the next buoy, and then I have to find a reference in the trees behind it because the waves were so high I couldn’t see the buoy while swimming. I feel like I am in a coast guard video. The waves are hitting me in the front and on the right. Almost like a pillow fight. I slowly catch up to who I think was Martin and pass him. I make it to the next buoy and have to again stop to find the next. By the time I get to the last floating depot I can almost see the finish line. I ask about Josefin, but they say they had not seen any lady swimmers in a while. Ok, I must have passed her too. Good, but looking back I can not see either of them, nor can I see Hampus. But I know it is less than 2500m left to the finish. But now it is not only the buoys I can not see, but I can not see any of the boats out watching us.
I struggle to find the next two buoys and around the time I get to number 21 of 22 I can finally see the bridge and finish line buoy. Hoping that someone I know was standing on the bridge I stop to wave and smile for the camera and then swim the final 100m or so knowing that I finished second and that Hampus was going to manage to take third. I cross the finish line and roll over on my back and just rest. It took an 30-45 minutes longer on the second half than I had expected. It hurt more than expected on the last half, but I never had an energy pitfall and I never doubted being able to finish.
Coming up out of the lake I had the same if not better feeling as to when I crossed the finish line of my first Ironman back in 2014 and heard the speaker say “Ryan you are an Ironman”. In comparison I feel that swimming 42km+ is a better achievement then finishing an Ironman. Hat’s off to everyone that finished an Ironman, but in my mind the nine swimmers that managed to swim the Viking Edition at Vidösternsimmet have accomplished something even fewer people have done, or even would think of trying.
While standing around the finish area I hear that Hampus is on his way in, so I ask the two Värnamo swimmers handing out the medals if it was ok if I gave Hampus his medal. We did after all spend all night swimming in the dark together. They were happy to let me do this.
Then shortly after Josefin and Martin come in to the finish, so I ask if I could also give them their medals. What I joy to know that Pär and Ola had finished before me and with in minutes of my finish three more Växjö swimmers finished. While getting dressed and finally getting some real food in my stomach I can see that Johan Stålhammare finishes. Then Martin, Katarina and Markus. Everyone from Växjö Swim Club was in the finish area!
It turned out that Ola had a very strong finish in the last 5km and moved up from 6th to 3rd! Josefin finsihed 4th amoung the women, and Pär, Martin and Johan squeezed into the top 10.
Thanks to the Vidösternsimmet team and all the supporters along the way.