Vidösternsimmet 2022 – 21km “the half race”

It feels wrong to call the 21km race for the half race, but considering I did manage the Viking swim 42km last summer it will be for me considered “the half”. I thought about referring to it as the shorter, but don’t want to confuse it with the 6km or 500m.

For the last 11 months I’ve been going through shoulder rehab. Nothing directly connected to the 42km swim, but more my lack of ability to allow my body to recover properly. Last year I went back to pool swimming the day after. Before 2021 I had accumulated 850km from January but before this years swim I was just below 250 km swimming. It basically meant I was not going to swim fast and my focus during the race would be to hold back and trust that I could reach the finish line. It’s not in my nature to quit, so if I started the race I would finish, no matter the damage to my shoulder.

My wife and I arrived to Värnamo Friday afternoon with my oldest daughter and our dog. Friday is very relaxing for me, after all I have no expectations about my performance. I eat a really nice burger and fries from Shady Burgers with a nice cold IPA.

Around 18:00 others I know start to show up to the hotel. Some I see daily, others I only meet once a year in Värnamo.

18:45 pre-race. I’ve heard this 6 times before but it’s always exciting to be I room full of crazy people. Nothing really new, but they decide to reinforce the rules for following the buoys. Previous years we’ve been told how to swim but not boats/ volunteers around to make swimmers follow the course.

After the meeting it’s time for pasta dinner. At 21:00 I head up to my room. It’s like 27C in our room. Try to go to sleep at 22:15, but I’m waking up all the time. Not nervous, but hot, sounds from outside and maybe I drank too much during the day.

04:50 my alarm goes off. I was already awake playing games. Get down to breakfast around 05:00. I’m a simple person so eggs, bacon and juice. Go back up to my room to get my bag and head out to the bus to go to the start.

As we pull up to the lake we can see the Viking swimmers about 1500-2000m off the shore line. Last year when Ted, Hampus and I came out of the water none of the “half” swimmers had arrived. So it must have felt good for the five of them to be greeted by over 100 people.

For the next hour or so, it’s meet and greet the others. Finally I put my wetsuit on and walk into the starting area with about 5 minutes to spare. Previous years I wanted to be on the front line. This year with no expectations, I stood about 4-5m back from the water. My non-wetsuit swim from 2018 was 7:30 and the second half of my 2021 Viking swim was roughly 7:40. So I really only hoped to swim under 7:30. The canon goes off and the long walk begins. I think I was able to swim after 150m. Felt like lots of people were in front of me and a few swimming past me. After the first kilometer I stopped adjusted my goggles and cap, mostly to stop thinking about the other swimmers since it felt like I was swimming too fast. Turns out to be the right decision. I was swimming 1:23/100m. After the short stop I was able to hold 1:40/100m for the next 7km.

When I arrive to the first depot, a float, I see 2 swim away, and we are three getting served. As I leave another swimmer arrived. At this point I’m guessing 20 swimmers in front of me. Swimming feels forced but ok as I head to the next depot.

From 4-8km there are four of us swimming within 100m or so with me farthest back. Something happens around the 6th buoy. Swimming gets easier. That was my longest warm up ever. I get a better flow with everything. Recognizing I am close to the second depot I think I unintentionally speed up. My 1:40 pace was 1:35 as I walked into the depot. And the four in front of me are now one behind me and the others around me.

With no intention of trying to beat anyone this year, I took my time at the depot. My oldest daughter had a red bull and water mix in a bottle, and I enjoyed some of the snacks they had at the depot. I give my daughter my swim cap. It was too hot in the water to be wearing that. I asked her to bring it to the next depot in case I changed my mind. As I head back out to start the third leg of the race (5+km) I put an extra gel in my wetsuit.

During the third leg I focus on one buoy at a time. The water temp is starting to be the focus of my wondering mind. Around 10-10.5 km I stop to take another gel. I am not sure I needed it, but I was getting hot so removing the gel allowed for the water to fill up my wetsuit and gave a cooling affect. The swimmers that were around me were now in front of me again, but my focus was not beating them, but finishing the race. around 12km I call over a boat, I needed a drink. It was not as easy to order from the boat as I had hoped. Asking for a sport drink mix, I got thrown a gel. Asking again for a sport drink mix I was given a water bottle. I put the gel in my suit and drank the water, gave them a thanks and swam on. Again the four around me were now longer in front of me. 300-400m later the gel I got from the boat was itching me chest, so I had to take it out and eat it.

Going into the third depot I felt fresh, but warm. I can see how the other are also red, and seem to be having similar issues with the warm water. I tell my daughter that she can toss the cap in the car, because I won’t need it again. I eat a Bounty (coconut chocolate similar to a Mounds) take in lots of liquids, eat another gel and take another one with my in my wetsuit.

This time going out there were only two others around me. One seemed to be stronger than the other. the fourth leg is the shortest, but for some reason always the slowest part of the race for me. During this leg I was all alone. One swimmer 100m ahead and the other more than 100m behind. Going out of the water at the last depot I am in no rush to go back out. I eat, I drink, I joke with my wife and daughter. A volunteer asked me if I could see anything in the water when I was swimming. I jokingly said, my hands. It turns out that I actually swam away from four I was with the previous 13km and now I see the person in front of me is a woman, and as she went back in the water I thought to myself, there is no reason to chase after her, since it will not effect my ranking. My only goal today was to finish. Had it been another man, I might have reacted differently since I was feeling really good. I tell my family that i will be in the finish line in no more than 2:02. That would give me a 7 hour swim.

During the last leg there where other rules to how to approach the buoys. No 18 was to be passed on the right, then angled back over to No 19. I stopped for one last coke and gel around the 19.5km. At this time the swimmer in front of me is just leaving, and the swimmer behind me comes in as I am leaving and I can see he is really struggling. Knowing I am feel great, and that I am very familiar with the last part of the race, I head out. I also notice that I am well under 7:00 pace that I had just told my family and looks like I could swim under 6:30. After swimming by No20, I start to angle against No 21 that also has to be passed on the right. Luckily for me the volunteers on a boat near by see this and signal to me that I had to pass through the two yellow pins. I knew this, but after nearly 6 hours of swimming I had forgotten. I adjust again and swim through the right side of the two pins. Looking up I notice that the swimmer in front of me is drifting to the right, I stay on line with No21. I round the buoy with less than a meter gap, she was more than 15-20m out. No22 is far to the left, and as we swim towards that buoy I notice she is again drifting to far to the left. As I swim by No22 I am now ahead of her. I focus on the finish line and keep swimming relaxed. I pass the last buoy, swim under the bridge and cross the water finish line in 6:23:43. An hour faster than I had hoped, and 27 minutes faster than I told them at the last land depot.

Turns out that I was the 8th fastest male wetsuit swimmer and 15th overall.

Extra good news as I get up into the finish area is that my teammates did well. Hampus came in second place overall, and Iris was the 4th fastest female, fastest Swedish female swimmer.

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