Enduroman swim-3-2-1

I should know better by now… When you see someone post a race on their social media, do NOT visit the website of that race… A few weeks ago a small ‘mistake’ led me to the website of the Enduroman Festival of Ultra Events. Enduroman is most well known for their Arch-to-arc adventures (run from London to Dover, swim the channel, cycle to Paris, as coach Jacomina is going to do in june…), but their ‘Festival of Ultra Events’ (who came up with that name is a genius!) hosts a triple-iron triathlon, a double (both in a continuous and a ‘one-a-day’ format), a full, half and running events that vary from a marathon to a 200mile run (and plenty of distances in between, including the ‘run2max 24 or 48hours’, where you just run as long and far as you want). Flying to the UK with my bike seemed like too much of a hassle for ‘just’ the half or full, and a longer distance won’t fit in my season (there’s a double coming up in just four weeks…), but the swim… Well, that sounded awesome!
At first I decided to enter the 12mile (19km), but eventually the ‘swim-3-2-1’ sounded like more fun! So, what is the ‘swim-3-2-1’? It’s actually very simple: on friday the triple-triathlon starts, and you swim with those athletes for 11.4km, the day after you do 7.6km with the double athletes, and the final day is 3.8km with the full-distance athletes. Sounds like fun!

So I make my way to the UK, and meet quite a lot of interesting people before the race start (and catch up with some old friends as well!). Everyone is worried about the temperature of the lake, and even with all the winter-swimming I’ve been doing (so I shouldn’t worry about temperature!) I’m getting slightly nervous… Well, nothing to do about it, and when most of the triple-swimmers suit up in full winter-kit (suit, neoprene hat, booties, gloves), I just put on my wetsuit and an extra swim hat… (But then again, after my swim today I’m done for the day, so I’m allowed to lose some energy…

Friday may 17th, midday
Swim #1 – 11.4km

After a short race briefing (“we’ve all been here before, except koen…” – the ultra-triathlon community is quite small…) we get into the water, and it actually feels warm…

Racebriefing: ‘just swim 39 laps…’

When we start the field spreads out quickly, there’s only about 12 or so swimmers today, so I get into my own rhythm quickly. Just 39 laps of 295meters to go today… After the second lap we have to swim through a little area marked by buoys, where there’s a lap counter sitting on a chair. All there is to do is swim by, and shout your race-number. No need for high-tech electronic systems on a small event! After lap 3 I see two swimmers in front of me go towards the lap counter again, but I make my way straight to the next buoy, since I (mistakenly) understood that we had to go to the counter every two laps… So after lap 4 I check this with the counter, and I now realize that I made a mistake, it’s ‘after lap 2, every lap’ (the first two laps are used to spread out the field, so we won’t be swimming in each others way at the lap counter). But they saw me pass anyway, so no extra lap needed!

And then it’s just a long swim… I’ve broken it up into 6-lap blocks (about 1800meters), both to make it mentally manageable, but also to get nutrition in after every 6 laps. The first time I stop for nutrition someone asks me if it’s cold. I can only answer that I’m completely overheating. Apparently, I’m the only one complaining about that…

With only a few swimmers on course, it’s easy to swim in my own relaxed ultra-stroke. No need to worry about slower swimmers in front, or faster swimmers behind, and if there is one, plenty of room to overtake or be overtaken. Except at the lap-counter, it’s narrow (to prevent swimmers passing all at once), so the few times I’m about to overtake a slower swimmer before that point I just wait and relax for a bit. Most of these people are doing a triple triathlon, and I don’t want to be the one to break their focus!

‘Number ten!’

Not much happens during the swim, it’s just swim a lap, shout ‘number ten!’ to the lap counter, and repeat the process… Every 6 laps some food (with always someone asking ‘still warm?’) and continue on… And after 39 laps it’s all done. I have no idea how slow or fast I’ve been swimming, just been trying to take it easy and relaxed, but when I stop the clock I’m surprised: about 20 minutes faster than my previous best time on this distance!
After the swim I stayed for a bit to cheer on the triple-triathletes, and then it was time to get back to my hotel and rest…

Saturday may 18th, 9:00am
Swim #2 – 7.6km

Originally about 5 swimmers signed up for the ‘3-2-1’ option, but after day one it turned out that only two started: myself and Gareth… So all we have to do is finish to make it onto the ‘podium’. After day one I’m in number one place, not something that I thought I’d ever say (especially in a swim event…). I think physically we both feel the same this morning: yesterday was a long swim, that was way faster than would have been smart, so shoulders and arms hurt… A lot… But no time to worry about that, after a short race-briefing (which is pretty much the same as yesterday) we enter the water and start to swim…

all swimmers on the swim-3-2-1 in one photo… Just before day 2

There’s about 20 swimmers in the lake today: mostly double-triathletes, but there’s also a few swimmers that are doing the 12mile swim (they started a few hours before us), so, just as yesterday, I try to not be in anybodies way, since I’m ‘only’ doing the 3-2-1-swim…
Right from the start the pain in the shoulders disappears, and I can get into a nice and relaxed rhythm. It takes me a few km to get my mind in the right place, for some reason I feel as if I’m racing, which I’m not, but after the first hour I start to relax… Occasionally my rhythm is disrupted by some swimmers (or maybe just one, you never know on a lap this short) who don’t  know when to overtake: a few times I get overtaken just before a buoy, to then almost crash into that swimmer who’s still in the water, figuring out where to go (it’s not that complicated, it’s just ‘left-left-left-left!’). Two other times I get overtaken just before the lap counter, to then have to find a way around that swimmer who’s chatting to the counter… (It’s fine if you have to stop to ask how many laps you’ve done, but if you know you’re going to stop to ask, don’t first overtake someone!). But in the end: if this is all there is to worry about during a swim it’s still a good day in the lake…

I break up the swim in 7/6/7/6 lap parts, and time just flies by… Swim a bit, get some nutrition in, swim a bit more, shout my race number, and then it’s over… This one went faster than expected, even with feeling yesterdays swim still very much in the shoulders….

Tired after a 2,5 hour swim on day 2…
Sunday may 19th, 6:30am
Swim #3 – 3.8km

Early start today, since the full-distance triathlon starts early (and the half starts as well). The body feels shattered, and I’m actually thinking that todays 3.8km is going to be a long swim…
But again, when we start I feel good, and decide to just relax and swim to the finish… Nothing special happens today, and with two laps to go I pick up the pace a bit, and the final lap I try to go even faster… When I stop the clock I surprisingly see that I’m only about a minute slower than my fastest ever 3.8km swim… So apparently a warm up of two hard days helps me become a faster swimmer!

Oh, and I actually ‘won’ the swim-3-2-1… I know, only two swimmers ‘raced’, but I’ll take any win I can get… And in all future stories I’m just going to leave that ‘only two swimmers’ part out!

The rest of the day is spend cheering for all the triathletes and ultrarunners on the course, and chatting to a lot of other crazy-ultra-endurance buddies… It’s been a great weekend: a nice few hours of training done, met a lot of great people, and saw a lot of inspiring people race… Congrats to all who finished, and to all who didn’t: still: well done! At these events finishing is never the obvious outcome, so recover, and come back stronger…

Thanks to the Enduroman-crew for hosting a great event, I just might be back one day…

Enduroman swim-3-2-1
1st place
11.4km – 3’47’38
7.6km – 2’30’14
3.8km – 1’08’26
(Time according to my own watch, since I consider the time it took to get the timing chip to the timing system not official ‘swimming time’ 🙂 – and yes, the finish did have an electronic system!)

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