Engadin Swim Run

engadin_2016-17:41:04 – 22nd Male team, 29th overall (~47k running, 6k swimming)

Set in the beautiful Engadin valley in Switzerland this is a awesome area for multi sport: pristine lakes, running and biking trails and mountains just asking to be run up.

A big part of these races is racing as a pair. It’s fun to have to worry about what is best for the pair and having banter, someone to motivate you makes the race itself more fun. It’s got me thinking about racing a mountain marathon again. Andy and I have the same priority to these. It’s a holiday and we want to have fun. For both of us it’s more fun if we’re doing reasonably well but ultimately we’re not that bothered about our position. I certainly felt in better shape than when we raced Otillo together. I’d recently done some very good swimming and I’d certainly done a lot more running.

This whole approach meant I didn’t feel any nerves the night before and I managed to sleep right through. We met Pat and Naomi for breakfast before heading for the bus up the valley to the start. Our hotel was at about 1800m and we could definitely feel the altitude effects particularly when climbing  stairs. When we’d done a run the day before it didn’t feel that bad which I think is because you expect to out of breath then anyway. The bus climbs further so the race starts at above 2000m with the first swim at 2,500m – I was quite excited to see what it was like swimming at that height.

We’d been warned that the first big ascent was quite narrow after the first 1km so we lined up nice and close to the front. In fact we’d have been ideally placed if we hadn’t let the favourite mixed pair to get out in front of us – they did go on to win the whole thing so it was definitely the right decision.

Nadja Odenhage

The gun went and we gunned it. I never start training runs fast but we cranked out the first KM in just over 4 minutes and got to that first climb near the front. Then I made a navigational error (it didn’t nearly cost us our lives though) – not cutting a hairpin. 10s down and 4 places. Disaster! not really but it made for some good banter and as we headed up the 350m ascent at an effort level far higher than we knew was sensible. My heart rate monitor beeping constantly at me. We were enjoying it. We were also getting very hot, no idea how those that ran up with there wetsuits done up coped with it.

The field thinned out and we got to our own pace. Then headed down the only technical descent on the course down to the first swim. Andy could have pegged it down there but I had to ask him to “hold his horses” as I’m no where near as good a descender on that sort of terrain.

First swim, the cold one, the one the race organizers dodged the question about the temperature of.  The one that was almost certainly below 10c ! It was cold. Luckily my core was super warm after the uphill route but there was still some hyperventilation as we started. I kept my head up initially. The water was so clear it was gorgeous. My core was warm enough but my face, hands and arms progressively numbed up. As I swam I made a point of looking around. Gorgeous. Only 270m and it was over before you could get really cold. Neither of us had much balance as we exited and warned each other to be very careful for a little steep 6 foot scramble up tree routes on to a forest road. It had been so cold I’d not even noticed if the altitude had impacted my breathing. As we started the descent my legs didn’t feel great and I wondered about the speed of our first few KMs.

Now started the process for the day. Heat up on run then a quick bit of cold water shock. Unlike Otillo this meant taking my wetsuit down straight after each swim and doing them up as close to the next swim as possible. It quickly became quite a slick process.

During the third swim Andy slowed down quite substantially. I had to do catch up to keep him on. As we exited we saw a friend of Andys, Marcus, with two medical staff. He looked like he was shivering uncontrollably. We found out later he had sun stroke. As we ran on Andy said he wasn’t feeling great and had really struggled. I’d nearly cramped in my calf during that swim and it turned out he was getting a lot of cramp. Spirits were still high as we joked that I would have to do catch up on the next swim and focus on not doing the push phase of my stroke

WINNER MIXED

We swam better on the next crossing but were passed on a swim the only time in the whole race. it turned out it was the winning female pair who edged slowly by. We chatted to them at the awards and it turns out they’re water polo players from Sweden. We passed some teams up the next big climb then descended towards the biggest swim on the course but had to hold back on our pace so Andy could keep on top of his cramp. The big swim was fun as it required some navigation, judging when best to turn towards the exit. With hindsight I felt I turned a little late but it still seemed better than any others around us.

On exiting it was clear Andy was very cold indeed. His wetsuit was flushing in water at the arms resulting in a lot more cooling than I was experiencing. (it’s worth bearing this in mind if you’re cutting down a wetsuit for this sort of event. Andy’s had different material on the shoulders for flexibility which is quite lose. When cut it meant the arms weren’t tight to his skin). The wind had picked up a lot. He was shivering close to uncontrollably. Wasn’t able to run that well but had to to warm up. He kept his wetsuit done up but was still shivering 10 minutes later. This was concerning. We kept chatting, he was clearly warming up but there wasn’t long before the next swim which was also over 1km. He needed to warm up by then. At the next aid station he took on a lot of fuel and we headed on. I got in the water at the next swim and looked round to see Andy. He didn’t look keen. I asked “Are you OK to do this?” He said he was but didn’t look convinced. We joked later in the day I should have asked in a more positive manner. I felt we just had to get this done, after this there were just two short swims (under 400m) the first of which was meant to be the only warm water. We set off. I focussed on not dropping him, looking over my shoulder nearly every stroke. I tried to swim close to shore hoping the water would be warmer as it was a beautiful sunny day. The swim dragged with numerous false summits. Finally over, now only two short swims left.

Andy was shivering really bad, even after 10 minutes up hill in his wetsuit. Around us people were sunbathing, going for a bit of a dip in the lake and Andy was shivering in full wetsuit. I was certainly concerned but as we approach the penultimate swim the banter had returned and the shivering stopped. It wasn’t quite the bath water we’d hoped for more like slightly chilled tea. There was a “lets get this over with” look to Andy and we got going. It was short and though Andy clearly cooled down he was OK and with 8km till the final swim we were going to be fine.

Still managing cramp we walked the uphills and jogged the flats. I raced down the downhills, thinking I was cranking it but Andy felt it was just cruising – no matter how tired he can still descend better than me. The final swim was cold again. We started hard, I was swimming solid and Andy was still there but about two thirds across he really started to suffer. During the final run he illustrated what his stroke had fallen two – it made me think of his T-rex t-shirt and what a T-rexs arm strokes would be like.

Only 2.5k to go and cramp management for Andy, including the cramp “in a muscle I didn’t even knew existed”. Crossing the line felt so good. We’d managed what 25% of the field hadn’t…  finished.

Thanks to Primal Lifestyle for my Vibram Fivefinger Trek Ascent. A great off road shoe providing enough protection for rough trails and little drag when swimming.  Thanks to Blueseventy for my great Helix wetsuit which is still going strong since Otillo.

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