This years adventure number three after Ireland and Swissman had to be something absolutely new and challenging. And I can tell you in advance, the Engadin Swimrun was and still is both. I would call it a lucky bag or in our case a grab bag. We didn’t knew what’s in it. And to be honest: on the evening before the race we were not sure about opening it. It was raining the whole week, the days were cold and the temperature out in the lakes freezing. Written on a paper this challenge was only 45K of running and 6K of swimming. But racing it was so much different than just saying: we are tough guys, ladies.
Let me first say something about the swedish duathlon Swimrun. In our region Swimruns are almost unsung. But I guess they are more famous than ABBA in Sweden. And they are tough. ÖtillÖ – the world championship and most famous one – is ranked among the hardest one day races in the world. The Engadin Swimrun is the first ÖtillÖ-qualifier outside of Sweden. To get one of these tickets was the reason why so many professional and perfectly trained teams came to Switzerland. 100 teams from 17 different nations started this race. 25% of them came from Sweden – very well experienced in swimrunning with perfectly optimized material. Customized material is an important factor as you are allowed to swim with pull buoy and paddles. And you wear your running shoes in the water and the wetsuit while running. Yes, that’s how you do it, in the wetsuit. It’s the only way how you can cope with the very cold water and push your ass through these swims in a safe way. I am not explaining how you will get a warm extra boost when you’re too cold … And last but not least it’s a team of two race. I guess it’s for safety reasons when racing it a full day in the choppy baltic sea connected with your partner by a rope. But team also means: You have to finish as a team.
Just 4 weeks before the event i had to find a new partner. Quite fast came the message from Alan Magee: “Patrick, I want to do that and I can go hard. I’ll come over from Ireland for that.” After a Skype chat we decided that we want to do this together and that i will pace in the water to give Alan a perfect water shadow. Last thursday then Alan came over from Dublin and I picked him up at the Airport. After organizing some things like shortening his wetsuit and optimizing mine, we went off for a test swimrun at the Landiwiese in Zürich to find the pace and strategy in the water. Could you imagine the reaction of the runners and walkers passing by when we were running by like this? Even worse, we were overtaking them … By the way, Alan was doing that with far more style and easiness than I did when we took these pictures 🙂
After the training we had some excellent vegan food and a long sleep to leave in the morning for the Engadin where we met all the athletes and supporters for the race briefing. I will never forget this briefing. Race Director Michael Lemmel told us three things that will be for sure: It will be a really tough course. A beautiful one. And a lot will not finish this race. How right he was. But hearing that is always different than being out there.
At 7 in the morning we drove up towards the Maloja Pass to start the race well prepared on 1800 meters over sea. The weather was promising. It was a bit like getting ready for one of those epic battles in leather and steel with them only difference that we were the rubber boys and girls this time. If somebody came over just before the race started, he would have thought that this is one of the biggest outdoor SM-parties in Europe.
Bääännnnggggggg. And off for a stroll in the forest.
The first run was a few meters flat and then a hike: we went up 350m over a distance of 2km. First learning: Never close the swimsuit before you swim 😉 The water was running down my arms after about 15 minutes. And after that DOWN by 20% over a distance of 1km to Lägh da Cavloc a very nice small lake surrounded by promising small snow fields at 1900m. Yes, snow. You know what happens when snow is melting?
As Alan and I didn’t had the chance to swim a lot together we agreed that I will lead the swims and he can draft in my water shadow. This would save approximately 20% of his power and therefore to go faster than without. By knocking on my shoes Alan was influencing the pace. No knock meant slower, ongoing knock steady or a bit faster. We were struggling a bit in this icy lake in a big field of swimmers. Wooohoooo, Alan was trying to follow the right pair of feet 😉 The first was done. We did good and our pace was not that bad. I heard after the race that the temperature there was something around 10°C. Material off, food in. The legs were a bit stiff.
Now running down to the “lej da segl”. The water was as beautiful as the one up there, crystal clear. It was like flying over the green ground of the lake. But cold again. I didn’t feel a difference to the first lake and this time we had to go over 400m. All went better and better and we ended up on the other side. Standing up in the water was difficult and getting out of it a challenge. The legs were cold, the muscles stiff. Pinocchio time. And again the same procedure as before: material off, food in and let’s go for the next run. It was quite flat in the beginning but after a short time the trail was leading us up to 2000m again to follow a beautiful but very demanding downhill section. Somewhere in the middle of this downhill Alan said something like: “Patrick can we walk a short distance, my foot is a bit sore”. I met Alan in Ireland this April and I knew that he can go very hard. It didn’t sound good. While walking and running we had to follow the last downhill section of -19% to reach the same lake again to swim now 820m across it. Alan was following and did good. There was a slight drift on this swim but did well and arrived at the yellow flag. This time the water exit was much harder. My legs got stiffer and stiffer. I had some cramps in the upper legs. Swim 3 was done, 1’470 meters done.
Alan suffered but pushed his ass hard without saying a word or making a noise. I took out a bit of the speed and realized that he adapted very fast. We didn’t talk about that. After a short refreshment the trail was going again up. This time a bit less steep but again over 2km and then down again to the lake level, this time to the third lake “lej da silvaplauna”. We both looked forward to swim again in the fresh water. What a surprise. While running to the lake we met Roberto Rivola and Kristin Myreen. Two of the best ultra runners I know. They are living up there and were running towards us to give us the boost we needed. Great. A short chat, the message that we are in the middle of the field, some jokes and good words helped to reach the lake full of new energy. Thanks for that.
This swim was 920m and the water was still as cold as the one before. But the freezing boost came in the middle of the swim when we had to pass a meltwater river mouth. It was a bit like a washing machine and extremely cold. We pushed on and did excellent when we passed some teams out there. And there they were again. Roberto and Kristina took some more pictures and gave us the rights words to push on. But this time I failed when I tried to stay up. My legs were totally stiff. And Alan struggled too. His ankle got the form of a big fruit and Roberto was bandaging it to give more stability for the coming long downhill section … guess what … first up 200m on a distance of 1km then down for something like 4km with -5%. Poison for his ankle and for my right knee. It was hard up there, but we really suffered on the downhill section.
Close to the next check-point and cut-off point, Michael Lemmel was waiting for us to say that we should walk now easy, enjoy and then exit the race. Cut-off. I was quite happy that Michael took this decision. Sometimes the head is not right and should listen to the body.
Alan was very disappointed. I can understand that. We both wanted to finish it. But I am still very proud of what we did mainly in the water and he is a strong runner. We didn’t finish but my legs were really soar the next day and hey, out of the 100 teams only 52 finished. It was a pleasure having Alan on my side, we had great days together and with the family.
Alan, it’s a fact: you never know what you get when you buy one of these lucky bags. But it’s still not empty now. We will be back to ride this beast again. With much more trail and swim power, loads of learnings and tons of energy. The race in Ireland will be the ideal training for the Engadin Swimrun. So let’s hope we will get a slot and – very important – another sunny day.
Beside cold, pain is a sucker too. It takes all the energy of you. While driving down from Silvaplana to Zurich after the race, Alan took a nap before we had some swiss ice cream to brighten up our soles.
But Alans food didn’t look better on Sunday when he left over again to Dublin. Good recovery and let’s hope you’re back on track soon.
And here is the official video: