11:05:56 – 56th Male Pair, 90th overall
(~ 10k swim, 65k run
This time we knew what we’d let ourselves in for. We’d both trained consistently all year and each race we felt we’d raced better. Until Breca Buttermere. We pulled out due to Andy’s sore achilles and in the three weeks since then Andy had followed the advice that rest was the best approach. Following my 50k race two weeks prior I’d been very tired (surprise surprise) as well as suffering from an annoying lingering cold which was getting worse race weekend.
So excuses all set up! We discussed how despite out best efforts we were almost certainly going to fall apart on the long run again.
The race weekend had changed slightly and rather than staying in the hotel at the start the night before we were bused to a lovely spa hotel which was a very journey away. Even though the field was bigger the registration was very efficient. The making new friends at these events started in the line for free compression socks when I struck up a conversation with the guys in front of us – Chris and Luke. Small world – Luke knows Roger, he’s his bike coach.
Following the briefing Andy and I had a couple of beers whilst we waited for our dinner sitting and hatched a plan to return next year with Rachel and Lotte and make a proper weekend of it by racing the ‘Final 15k’ on the Saturday.
I had a poor nights sleep before the race I think brought on by having nearly twelve hours sleep the previous night in our Stockholm hotel room without any windows ! It was an early start with breakfast at 3:45am. I just had some cooked ham and cheese whilst Andy sticking to the oft given advice “Always try something new on race day” had this bizarre looking Swedish delicacy – it looks like some meatballs, pickled cabbage and ‘something else’ in a kind of hotdog roll. He didn’t choke. Good start.
We sat with Piers and Claire on the ferry to the start. A bit of banter with friends ahead of a race certainly helps keep any nerves in place.
Knowing the neutralised first run does not make it slow we placed ourselves a little further back in the start pen. The gun went and the pace where were wasn’t too bad. In fact, at times we had to stop due to squeeze points. We hit the water in the second half of the field and set off to the left to try and avoid any congestion. This swim was quite a bit rougher than last time with us swimming directly in to the wind and thus straight in to the chop. In the dawn light the sighting still wasn’t too bad due to the strobe light marking the exit. We had a very pleasant swim passing lots of people. This is the longest swim on the course so it spreads people out nicely but the standard is so high here it still means the exit is quite congested. We knew how slippy the rocks are so were careful on the exit. This together with using paddles meant we got out without mishap.
The next section is a series of trackless islands with short swims between. The first run is around the coast and it’s very rough technical terrain. I’m very cautious on this so we were passed by quite a few teams. On the later islands we caught Claire and Piers who were moving slower than us over the tricky terrain. They hopped on our feet for a couple of swims before we hit the first longer run on Runmaro. That was the last we’d see of them during the race as they edged in to the distance, ultimately finishing the best part of an hour ahead of us (a very impressive effort!).
The section on Runmaro is very runnable but I wasn’t feeling too well suffering numerous coughing fits. This made me very happy to run very conservatively. The first aid station is on this island and was very welcome. After this stretch the island hopping all sort of blends. Mixed terrain, some tricky, some pretty, some runnable, some boggy, some grass higher than my head. The swims were generally very calm in this section and there was one particular unpleasant swim which they’d warned us about. Is stank, was not every clear and had lots of weeds in it. So different from five years ago which we remembered as one of the more please swims.
After this was the next larger island; Namdo. I was hoping to start feeling good on this island like last time but I didn’t. I was already struggling and we were a fair way off halfway. There’s the out and back aid station here and much to our delight they were serving hot dogs ! We stayed for two. It certainly boosted my spirits even if it didn’t particular boost my running. Andy seemed to be running well which only made me feel worse !
Yet another series of island hopping before the Pig Swim. 1.4k over an open channel. I was so looking forward to all the swims. We were swimming well and the cold water helped my legs. This year it was very choppy. Once in the water I just couldn’t see the exit. I had to stop and figure out it was about halfway across the island but even then I reckon 50% of the time I sighted I couldn’t even see the island. It was also choppy enough that regularly I wouldn’t get a breath and sometimes it was several strokes without managing to grab a breath. As we got closer the water got colder and the chop reduced and sighting was easy.
You’ve guessed it. More island hopping followed and another 1k swim which was tricky as once in the water the flag was not visible due to an island in the way you had to swim round. We were now preparing ourselves for the 20k run. The ‘Florida Manoeuvre’ had been executed last time we were keen for it not to happen this time. We caught The Hippocampes as we finished the swim before this long run. As in most races we were pretty much running at the same speed as them. We got moving quicker and were running quite well, discussing how it would be great if we kept running like this. I was finally feeling a lot better but kept it to myself. We were 8 hours in and hoping we were fitter and had paced better than last time.
There was far more trail running at the start than I remember but the kilometres were clicking off. We had a discussion about walkable hills and came to a kind of consensus on what one was though during a rather rough patch I questioned whether Andy needed to start carrying a spirit level so he could correctly identify walkable hills.
It was getting warmer after the drizzle early on so it was a welcome surprise when some locals had set up an surprise aid station – complete with cold shower, sweet drinks, crisps and dextrose tablets. This really boosted morale. Just before this the Hippocampes had passed as with encouraging words and headed off in to the distance running well. Soon after the official aid station arrived. We took another fill and left without any prompting. This was far better than previously when we’d had to persuade each other to leave.
We’d clearly paced it well as we were only really passing people along this stretch. I was feeling great now and was happy pushing the pace along but Andy was suffering. So, when asked how I was feeling, I said not great and at times intentionally just dropped slightly back hoping it would hope Andy feel strong. Despite all this we ran all but the walkable hills and managed it so much better than last time. We had vague hopes of getting a time that had a 10 in it (and not at the end!).
Yep! Another section of Island hopping. Andy was struggling with a painful foot and at some point in this section he said “For some reason it’s not hurting so lets make the most of it” and he upped the pace. The wind had now picked up and switched direction. This swims were very rough indeed and the strong winds require often aiming 45 deg off course. Most were also straight in the sun. My goggles were a nightmare, the glare making it impossible to see. I kept stopping and shouting to Andy “I can’t see a thing. Are you sighting’. It took several confirmations by him before I believed he’d stop me if I went wrong. It seems I swim straight as on one of the crossings the marshals told me I’d swum an excellent line: I’d not managed to sight once. On one occasion though I ploughed on to the left of the flag which cost us a little time.
During this part an extra short swim and run was inserted. I’m guessing last time we must have some how swum round as the extra swim was a mere 20m but it was an interesting 20m. I just ploughed across and stopped without stepping up. In an instant I was being washed to the left and quickly got both finger tips round a rock. It was all I could do to hang on and claw out.
We approached the final swim. It was short enough that the Marshalls on the other side were cheering as we approached the entry. It was rather intimidating and I certainly didn’t remember it from last time. You had to edge down a steep rock to about 6 feet above the water and then jump. It wasn’t 100% clear it was deep enough so we jumped a long way out. It was easily deep enough (remember for next time). Final 3.5k. Andy’s foot was sore again so we stopped for a walk. It was short just enough time for Andy to steel himself for the final effort. Once we got running we very slowly clawed in the mixed pair ahead so that as we approach the final climb, which, much to our horror, was slightly longer than before, we were right with them. We agreed if they ran the hill we’d walk and if they walked we’d run. Again to our horror they walked so we ran. Across the line for that amazing feeling of satisfaction, an amazing hug from Andy and the wonderful hug from Michael.
Didn’t quite make the sub 11 hours but 11:05 was very pleasing. Despite the rough seas we’d been faster swimming pretty much every section. Our running was better paced with us making up time on last time in the second half. See below for some graphs comparing the two. Each shows the difference in our times for each section and the cumulative difference. Positive is this year being faster.