Q&A: Training, terrain, gear and general chat about Rottnest Swimrun co-director Dan racing the
Hi All! Angus here. I interviewed fellow race director Dan about his recent experience racing the Ångaloppet in Sweden. The Ångaloppet is Sweden's largest SwimRun in terms of teams participating across the weekend (family race, sprint, and main event) and takes place near Nyköping south of Stockholm, with swims in lake Ånga and the Baltic Sea.
A: This is your 3rd ? Swimrun as a competitor and first since being on the other side as a race director for our race in April, what was it like?
D: Actually it's only my second SwimRun! I competed in the Utö SwimRun in 2015 and then was focusing on running and a half ironman in 2016, but after watching everyone else race in Rottnest in April I was feeling envious and signed myself up for this race.
Overall it was a great experience racing alongside a close friend and pushing my body to its limits, at the same time very tough going and challenging for a number of reasons. When you race alongside someone who is a faster swimmer and runner than you then you sign yourself up for a tough day out!
But Ångaloppet is an interesting race and has a couple of unique characteristics as a SwimRun, firstly in terms of gear it is one of the few races where a wetsuit is not mandatory and tow ropes and hand paddles are not allowed. This means pairing with a stronger swimmer who can tow you is not possible. Secondly there are a huge number of transitions (24 swims) over a relatively short distance so it is an extremely technical course. So from both those perspectives it was an interesting experience and a bit different from racing Utö SwimRun.
A: Tell us more about the course, it sounded like the terrain was pretty crazy...
D: Yeah the setting is Ånga, which is an hour or so south of Stockholm and home to an inland lake, but also situated on the cost (Baltic Sea) with many small islands. The total swimming distance is 2.5 kms split across 24 swims, so as you can imagine many of the swims are very short. The longer lake swims were quite warm, 20 or so degrees and the swims in the baltic were shorter and a bit cooler, 17 or so.
Like most SwimRun's in Sweden the running is very technical, and here was no exception, with a mix of trail, rock scrambling, and even wading through thick mud and marshland at times. It was raining a lot before the race too, which meant it was very slippery. I spent the whole time staring at the ground in front and trying not to fall over. I think we did almost 3000 m elevation too, so it is a lot of up and down, with some parts of the course so steep you needed to walk up.
PICS: Alexander Hoglund photos
A: I’d consider you to be an elite level runner (3hr flat full marathon) but somewhat average swimmer (lets say 1:45 min per 100m in the pool), talk me through the 8 weeks leading into the race.
D: Elite is a bit strong but thanks, and you are actually being generous with my swim times, I'm more likely to average 1:50-2:00 min per 100 m). So yeah I should have been focusing on swimming, but the 8 weeks prior I was still running more than swimming, and in the end Ångaloppet is more a runner's course (20 km of tough trail running). I was swimming about twice per week, at least one session open water with Markus, my partner for the SwimRun. It's good to get used to the cold water, but I normally hop out of the lake in Stockholm shivering uncontrollably.
We did a mix of intervals and long swims, I hadn't been swimming much in the year prior so needed to build back up. Running was basically as per usual for me, working as a running tour guide I get a lot of base kms on tours and then I did a bit of trail running and tested myself with a fast paced 19 km run 3 weeks out. I was also running intervals once per week. Markus and I also did a couple of SwimRun sessions to test out our gear for the race and to practice staying together.
A: So for me, I’m the exact opposite to you (think 4hr marathon - once and never again - but more like 1:25per 100m in the pool when fit), what advice would you give me?
D: Run run run. Haha. Well obviously you should be focusing on running, and depending on the length of the race, you'd want to build up your running endurance (distance) over time and combine that with running interval sessions. For a swimmer of your ability you should definitely be investing your training time in running and swim running. We would be the opposite when it comes to heart rate, mine is sky high as I come out of the water and then I can get it down while still running reasonably fast, you would come out of the water feeling fresh and then as we start running your heart rate would shoot up.
A: So we’d be a very odd combo but that is the whole thing with Swimrun - It is a team race. For a beginner to the sport, how does your choice of partner alter your preparation and race strategy?
(Dan was partnered with German-born Markus Rössel, who introduced him to SwimRun in 2014 when coming to Stockholm for the ÖtillÖ. Markus, who normally races with other elite level athletes under the name German Sparkle Party is well known in the Swimrun community and on paper, had Dan's measure in all aspects of the race. Markus is also considerably bigger than Dan, as was Tim in 2015 when they raced as "Biggie Smallz".
D: It's important to think about what you want to get out of the race before you choose your partner. For us it was a chance to race together as friends, and that was more important (especially for Markus) than our finishing time. One of the best things about SwimRun is the opportunity to race aongside a friend, partner, family member etc. as it's a special bonding experience going through a tough endurance challenge as a pair.
In saying that, although Markus is faster than me the difference is not huge, especially running, and I wouldn't reccomend SwimRunning with someone who has vastly different abilities. I don't think it is that fun for either the person waiting or the person that feels like they are holding the other back. I should also say that in races where you can tether being matched runners is more important than being closely matched swimmers as the stronger swimmer can tow their partner.
A: I see from the pictures you wore a pretty interesting new style of SwimRun -specific kit, talk me through everything what you wore and used on the day (suit, shoes, buoy, etc).
D: So this race is in August and therefore in the Swedish summer. As such the water temperatures were at their warmest for the year (I think they said 21 in the lake and 18 in the Baltic). The funny thing was it was actually 16 degrees and raining/overcast on the day, more like Perth winter. But because of the summer conditions, and the short swims and longer runs, wetsuits are optional.
Markus and I were wearing Colting Wetsuits new neoprene Swimrun shorts, as well as their new calf flotation guards. The Swimrun shorts have more float than your standard swim trunks, and the calf guards help counteract the drag from the shoes. We were very happy with the combination, which I think would also work really well in Rottnest. I wore SwimRun shoes from Vivo Barefoot called Primus Trail SG's, they are an earlier version of the FG's that they gave me to test out. They were also great, but I have built my way up to tolerate running this far in barefoot shoes, you need to be careful transitioning as there is extra sress on the calves and achilles. I had googles from Huub, a SwimRunner's pool buoy, and my Garmin Fenix.
A. So you said tethering was not possible in this race, right? Why is that?
D: Yeah it is one of the few races in Sweden where you can not tether. There are 24 transitions in and out of slippery rocks so the potential to get others tangled in your rope is high, I think that's why they do not allow it. It was a shame for Markus and I though, we would have been faster with a tether.
A: Thanks for the insights mate, what's the next race going to be?
D: No worries, not sure actually, I have a strong desire to run a sub 3 marathon so that is high on the list, but other than that I'll be looking out for more opportunities to SwimRun, and see you back in Australia in March for Rottnest Swimun 2018!