in the beginning – a new experience

Clouds are hanging low, everything is grey – the absence of colours and occasional drizzle are not damping my excitement. An undecided thermometer hesitates between 18.2° and 18.3° Degrees Celsius. Crows are picking apart the nearby bin. Its 30 minutes past 8 on this Saturday morning, Finnish summer in its prime. I am picking up Beni at the railway station of Kirkkonummi. Everything is ready and we drive south towards Upinniemi garrison, but half a click away from the entrance we hit the end of what seems to be a queue reaching the gate of the garrison.

What are we doing here?

We have embarked on a new adventure and now within an hour or two we are about to experience something absolutely new. But let me give you a brief summary of how we have gotten here. In January of this year I somehow was able to convince Beni to try out a new discipline called swimrun, quite a feat as swimming means stepping out of his comfort zone 👏🏼 👍🏽 So we registered for the event and team Gäili Stächer is born!

Swimrun should you not know what it is about, has people gear up in a wetsuit (preferably with cut sleeves and legs so your knees are freely moving), goggles, running shoes and possibly hand paddles and a pull buoy. It is rather simple: with all the equipment people run cross country while swimming every once in a while to cross a body of water just to continue running on the next island or main land – wetsuit stays on all the time!

Yes, at first this sounds mad and if you think about it, it is. But why not try? I am a very curious person and like to experience new stuff above all physical ones. Call me a curious experience junky, not minding stepping out of my comfort zone too every once in a while.

So much for a set up.

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Ready to rock and roll!

The race starts and ends in the garrison area and participants therefore have to show identification upon entering, and non-Finnish citizens are required to provide their passport numbers well before the event to authorities. After roughly 40 minutes the queue starts moving more swiftly and we show our credentials at the gate and enter. A few hundred meters into the area, we park and go to the registration. The personnel is friendly and procedure handled in a straight forward manner, a very cozy atmosphere has everybody relaxed, smiling and chatting.

Finally here and ready to go!

Porkkala swimrun

So today’s Porkkala swimrun race is only the 2nd edition of the Finnish version (of the original Swedish swimrun event called Ötillö). The area occupied by the Coastal Brigade in Upinniemi hosts a long course (27’240 m running / 5’362 m swimming) and a short course (11’963 m running / 2’666 m swimming). We as novices picked the short course.
The athletes competing for the long course (28 pairs all male, 7 pairs all female and 14 mixed pairs) start 30 min prior to us others, 41 pairs.

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Swimrunning!

Maybe the best aspect of the race is the land or rather seascape. After the initial 2k of running (avg. 5min/km) on garrison pebble roads we come to the shore and prepare for the first swim leg. The water as cold as it is feels sweet and soothing since running in the wetsuit has raised my core temperature quite a bit. Furthermore I had forgotten to unzip my front zipper, which for the remainder of the running legs I do not forget. It takes two or three entrances and exits to perfect the putting on and pulling off of the paddles and goggles and zipping on and off.

Running right after the swimming is not a problem, but others are feeling dizzy and stumble around when exiting the water. Mostly there a trails but at times it is just chasing the blue ribbons which mark the running course through bush and woods. You have to place your steps carefully on the smooth rocks, especially when they are wet, they are treacherously slippery. Open water swimming and especially in the sea is of course very different from pool swimming. There are many new variables to account for. The water is salty, obviously! Waves can be a major issue and underwater visibility a curse or blessing depending on whether have seen Jaws or not =) and of course some people cannot stand the touch of algae, sea grass and other plants reaching out for your hands and legs…

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Breath taking seascapes!

But once you get the hang out of what you are doing you lift your head and realise that in the mean time you have come quite a distance and rather far away from the main land and your island hopping has brought you to places where trees grow very short or are absent altogether. Bushes and rocky beaches make way for long stretches of smooth rocks. The view is magnificent, just you and a couple of other competitors and the occasional sea bird. The sea is very calm, almost wind still – just stunning!

After 2 h and 41 min we arrive at the finish line, exhausted but happy and a tremendous experience richer. If you are interested in more data you can have a look at what my Polar V800 has recorded. The race is very well organised, the running route exceptionally well marked and participants are having a good time, everybody is friendly and cool. Exactly what I imagine it must have been in the beginning of triathlon before it became a rich white folk’s sport, a commercial product, gear-pornography, spoiled and utterly competitive losing the unique social aspect of camaraderie.

In any case team Gäili Stächer will be back and “compete” in the upcoming Laketolake swimrun event on Aug 14, 2016.

Aftermath

Next Sunday (31 July) I will be racing my last triathlon race, for a while at least. It is going to be a sprint the Next Triathlon Helsinki. In the paragraph above I shortly describe what I think about triathlon and what it has become. After only five years of involvement with this discipline I probably am not really the right person to make a statement about the state and direction it is going but as a regular participant I have some insight and an opinion nonetheless. With brands such as Ironman (globally) and Finntriathlon (locally) dominating the sport many things are going in the wrong direction: registration fees have become horrendous just to mention one. For me triathlon simply has lost its appeal – it has become too serious!

Moving on

Personally after ticking off an item off my bucket list – a full distance triathlon – I think I am ready to move on. I have never been a fan of cycling long distances and thus I think with swimrun I have found an excellent new discipline. Future plans involve longer runs and team Gäili Stächer has even envisioned a trip to the Swiss Alps late next summer. We mean to be running up and down a few peaks and conquering the incredible Hardergrat.

Thank you for reading this far, stay safe and happy runs!