Earlier this year I received rather a surprise when I got a place in Otillo. My friend Andy had suggested we enter and try to get a place on merit. I thought it a great idea but assumed merit would require a rather better race CV than we had. Andy took all our best race results and achievements, clearly spinning some magic, as we got in on merit.
So, on September 1st the two of us will set off at dawn with a few other teams to race an island chain in Sweden running the islands and swimming between. Over 60k of running and 10k of swimming across 23 runs and 22 swims. The rules are pretty thin on the ground which means you can swim with pretty much what you like but you have to carry it all with you.
Transitions here are far more important than they are in triathlon since there are 44 transitions during the race. This means every second added to each transition time is pretty close to a minute on your overall race time. Adding a couple of minutes getting in and out each time would add an hour and a half. It would appear transitions could be a key factor in hitting all the cut offs.
Since you can use pretty much any swim kit you like I’ve had lots of discussions about what to use. Despite my lack of kicking when swimming my coach is adamant that I should use fins. I’ve more or less written this off for several reasons other than I don’t kick. Firstly there are 65 kilometres of running so using my legs in the swim seems crazy. Secondly most of the entries and exits appear to be treacherous, across slippery rocks, probably requiring putting the fins on and off in the water thus adding timing to everyone of those 44 transition. Thirdly, they need to be carried for the runs and I’ve even got a fourth reason; as I’m the stronger swimmer there seems no need to go adding speed to my swim.
The use of hand paddles appears more or less a certainty. Gordo advised training in a paddle bigger than the ones you’ll race with. I hunted out the biggest paddles I could find and have start using them for lots of main sets. For the first time in my swimming career I can now swim faster with paddles than without.
I’m currently on camp in Lanzarote and the morning of my flight out I woke suddenly with a brainwave. I found my old Blueseventy Helix wetsuit and cut it down to above the knee and above the elbow. I then hunted down an old pair of Vibram Fivefinger Bikila running shoes. The hotel we’re in is about 2 kms from the sea so provides an excellent opportunity to practise running in the wetsuit and swimming in my running shoes.
I’ve done four practise swims now and have noted quite a few things. Firstly the cut down wetsuit is a joy to swim in. I wish they’d make swimming wetsuits with short legs and arms. The flexibility around the shoulders is improved and getting the wetsuit on and off is a breeze. Provided I keep swimming hard it’ s perfectly warm but if I cruise it’s borderline. Given the water in Sweden is colder and my partner is a slower swimmer working out how to keep warm is something I’ll have to think about.
The swimming in Vibram Fivefingers is fine. They don’t appear to get lose at all when wet, they feel ok kicking and running in them soaking wet is absolutely fine. I reckon it’s because they’re fit so snug around the toes and heel so there is no movement. I’ve noticed that several people hanging on my toes far easily than normal and it’s made me wonder just how much drag the shoes create. I plan to test this in a pool. There is not much to do about it as shoes need to be carried and I’m reasonably certain it’s better to wear them than to some how carry them on the swim. It it is, however, interesting as if they are slowing me down it would illustrate how important foot position can be for swimming.
There are still things I need to experiment with and figure out. One is taking a wetsuit down to my waist and putting it back whilst running when it has a zip that zips up from top to bottom. For the longer runs we will certainly want to run with it around our waist as even running the mile from our swims here creates a lot of heat. The simple answer is a wetsuit that zips up the traditional way. There’s also carrying the required gear. We’re hoping that a small bum bag can be inside the wetsuit as swimming with stuff outside will cause too much drag.
All this worrying about the transitions and kit is good fun but what I really need to figure out is the small matter of getting run fit enough to complete 65km of running.