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Rocks in My Shoes – Rockman Swimrun

Mirko and Hendrik of Team Amphibia Wolfsburg passed us again, getting out of the water just ahead of us. It was definitely the coldest swim so far and it showed. As the four of us stumbled into the aid station, all of us cramping. Thor asks us each how we were doing. We were all smiles and thumbs-up on the surface, but underneath, we were all suffering in some form or fashion.

Up to that point we had just finished our 4th swim and were on our way onto our 5th run, inappropriately named, “The Seaside Sprint”. Inappropriate as there is nothing “sprint” about it. It was one of the most technical portions of the course with tons of boulders, waterfalls to traverse and cliff-side scrambles. It was a cruel joke for a name, but we loved the joke just as much as we loved the extreme technical nature of this section

Let’s jump back to the beginning of the race. Dan and I had raced a ton and trained even more for this race. We knew It would be the biggest race of the year so far and definitely the hardest. I raced Rockman back in 2015 as a last-minute, fill-in partner for Dan. It was my first swimrun and as you can see, certainly not my last. Dan saw the course again last year, so we felt like we knew what preparation was necessary going in. And prepare we did. Like most weekend-warriors, Dan and I both have full-time jobs and families. We’ve struggled over 2018 to fit in everything and still get in plenty of training. Somehow, it has worked out and I think we were as prepared as we could be going into the race. As we stood on the plank of the ferry, getting ready to jump in, Thor, the race director snaps a selfie. As I smile into the camera, the butterflies hit… or was that my need to go pee?

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We hopped in the water and took off swimming towards the lead mixed team of Simon Börjeson and Marika Wagner (an Otillo World Champion). She was part of the winning team last year and has also finished 2nd overall at OtillO.  Simon, well, he designed the Rockman course. We knew they would be a force to be reckoned with. After jumping off the ferry and starting our swim, It wasn’t but about 500 meters in when Mirko and Hendrik passed us. We had seen quite a few jellyfish in the crystal-clear water, but we didn’t see the three-footer that Dan swam right over until it was too late. He managed to escape with just a minor sting on his left arm.

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We scrambled up the hillside keeping them in sight all the way up to three more swims and then running up to Preikestolen, also known as Pulpit Rock.  For the racers new to Rockman, this would be a very quick preview of what they were in store for.  The bulk of the “running” in Rockman is scrambling across very technical terrain.

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The climb up from the fjord to the top of Preikestolen is a good 2000 foot climb with its share of muddy, mossy fields and non-stop boulder step climbs. Although some of the climb up is a tourist path that thousands of people visit per day, very few RUN up it. Dan and I walked as little as possible, usually reserved for the steepest steps. The rest, we were running. They advertise it as a two-hour hike. We would ascend it in less than 40 minutes. Luckily for us, it was foggy and raining. This meant minimal tourists. On the flip side, it also meant we wouldn’t have the privilege of some of the most epic scenery on the planet.

This is what the final climb up to Pulpit Rock looked like during the race.  Since we were in the clouds, you couldn’t really get an idea of how far down it was.  The rocks were very wet with the rain, making it difficult to find sure footing and not sliding off the side of the mountain.

With other friends from the U.S. making this race, I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t get to experience all of the beautiful views that Pulpit Rock has to offer.  They had no idea how much they had truly climbed since they couldn’t see the fjord below.  I would later go back the next day to capture t for them.  We had clear skies for the most part, so I captured :

On our way back down to the fjord, we would hit some more technical train running. I’m not talking your typical “technical trail running” like what we have back in the United States. These trails would be classified, back home, as very technical hiking trails. Most runners would not think these were running trails. Not even close. We caught up to Mirko and Hendrik and passed them. They stuck with us for the bulk of the run, even with us swapping places a couple of times. We chatted a little, joked a little, but for the most part, we were all just concentrating on the run and not breaking something. Towards the end of the run, we pulled away a little, but not out of sight.

As we entered the “Hillside Swim”, named for it’s beautiful cliff-side views, we knew it would be a cold one. The second longest swim of the day at 1500 meters, we settled into a good pace and tried to watch out for the jellyfish, like the one that tagged Dan in the first swim. Mirko and Hendrik passes us right before the exit and we climbed up the chain out of the water.

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Heading into the Seaside Sprint, I was ecstatic. I had figured out that with the training that Dan and I had accomplished, coupled with what we had experienced so far in the race, that this would be our strength. If we were going to gap these guys, it would have to be on this section. For most of the first half and even into the second, they kept up with us. However, when things got really technical, Dan and I pushed harder and eventually pulled away.   This portion of the course is the most technical.  You use your hands just as much as you use your feet.  You’re constantly jumping down off of boulders, grabbing rocks, trees and what-not to help propel you forward.

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In addition to the constant battle of overcoming rocks, boulders and other land-based obstacles, you also have to contend with water crossings as well.  These aren’t your typical creek crossings, but fast moving, rapid water.  At this point in the race, I had somehow picked up small, sharp rocks in my shoes, so I was hoping that with each water crossing, they would somehow make it out of my shoes.

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We arrived at Songesand and picked up our GPS device (that somehow missed the ferry to the start) and ran up the 6 km (4 mile) paved run up to the farmer’s house (Kåsen Gård). As we pulled out of sight on the road, there was still no sign of Mirko and Hendrik.

Arriving at the Farmer’s house was a welcomed relief. It meant that most of the climbing on the pavement was almost over. Although not very steep, it just seems to nag at you, especially that late in the race. We arrived at the aid station there and were welcomed by waffles!!

After another steep, technical downhill section where the rocks in my shoes were jabbing my toes.  They’ll eventually come out, I thought, not wanting to take the time to stop and clean them out.  On this section of steep downhill, all of the rocks were slippery and mossy.  After descending and trying to keep sure footing, we finally made it down to Kåsaklubben which is the dock for the 1700 meter (a little over a mile) fjord crossing. This was the longest swim of the day and one where you have to fight the tidal currents. I was tired and my arms didn’t want to swim. They had been used so much during the technical runs that they were not happy having to do more work in the water. I know I was holding Dan back. Just like last time, every time I looked up, that huge white building still looked way too small and not getting any closer.

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Finally making it across the fjord, we had a team pass us just before the ladder. As they climbed out, I recognized their jersey number as Mirko and Hendrik. They had closed the gap!! We managed to get through the aid station and onto the long stair climb ahead of them. As we climbed, they stayed about 30-50 steps down.

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The Flørli stairs make up the longest wooden staircase in the world. An advertised 4,444 steps, they rise over 2,000 vertical feet in less than a mile. Following the water pipeline up to snow-fed lakes, they vary in pitch, as well as height and depth of the steps. Several times I stopped momentarily to allow my legs to rest, even if only for 2 or 3 seconds, and to throw out a few choice words. Each time I did, the two following teams would close the gap more. At one point, we were so on top of each other, you could barely make out that there were three teams on the GPS tracker (teams 45, 67 and 76).

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Near the top, team 67, Hetland Sport (Andreas Alsos and Jørgen Grønsund), passes us. Once coming off of the steps, all six of us, along with the lead sprint-distance ladies team, waded our way into a refreshingly cold swim. All four teams stayed together through the rest of the swims and it wasn’t until the gravel road headed back to the final technical trail descent that the pack started to split apart.

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As we entered back into single track, the other three teams had pulled out of sight. Dan and I decided to settle into a good pace as we didn’t feel that we could do anything to change our position, and knowing we had to race Casco Bay Swimrun the following weekend, there was no use in pushing it. Until…

Once the trail started to turn into steep, technical switchbacks, we spotted another team ahead of us. Although it was the sprint-distance ladies team, we also spotted on of the men’s teams just ahead of them. Dan turned on the afterburners.

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We quickly passed the female team and, just as quickly, caught up with Mirko and Hendrik. As we passed Mirko, Dan catches Hendrik who matches his speed. Every hard downhill step, the little rocks in my shoes were jamming into my tips of my toes.  Every step.  It was extremely painful but I couldn’t stop and as we put on the heat more, I thought a lot less about those little bastards in my shoes.

At this point, Hendrik, Dan and I were all pulling away from Mirko causing a bit of an issue for their team. Rules state that you have to stay together as a team and he was pushing the maximum distance. Climbing over a fence ladder, I stated, “Gotta stay with your teammate.”

Dan and I pushed the pace all through the houses and as we stepped onto the final stretch towards the finish line, I yell to Dan that he could “dial it back” because we had the position. No sooner did I state it, I looked behind me to spot those boys making a sprint run for it. “Go! Go! Go! Sprint!” I yelled to Dan as the four of us took it to the line. Luckily we held the position and finished for 3rd overall and 2nd mens.

Here’s a full video of how it went down. I’ll warn you, it’s very shaky, but it’s fun to relive it.  Keep in mind that in this video, it is ALL steep downhill, even through the houses.

We barely pulled across the finish line ahead of them and it was truly a blast to race against them all day long.  We were leapfrogging pretty much the entire race and it made for some fun and interesting racing. I love the atmosphere of swimrun and the other athletes are what makes it so wonderful.  It’s laid-back, relaxed, fun and unpretentious.  It reminds me a lot of the atmosphere around XTERRA.  I hope that it stays this way, especially as it grows in the U.S.

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This race is nothing short of phenomenal.  I’ve raced it twice and Dan has raced it three times and we’re still wowed by the scenery, the friendliness of the locals and the outstanding job of the race staff along with their volunteers.  This is the hardest swimrun I’ve raced to date.  Don’t get me wrong, ÖTILLÖ is hard, but I think it has more to do with its distance/duration.  Rockman is technically challenging, mentally challenging, and couple that with the venue/staff, is extremely rewarding to finish, especially as well as we did.  If you want an epic, fun, kick-ass race to put on your bucket list, THIS is the one.

Race Recap:
Rockman Swimrun
Location: Stavanger, Norway
Date: April 4, 2018
Distances: 9 swims, 10 runs, 3.75 miles of swimming, 22 miles of running, 8000 feet of elevation gain
Result: 3rd Overall, 2nd men’s
Full Results
Products used: Orca Core Swimrun suit, GU Roctane and GU Brew, First Endurance Multi-V.

Rockman. T-minus 2 Weeks

Do these screen captures look familiar??

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They’re from the trailer of the new Mission Impossible movie. If you look careful in the bottom one, you’ll see Tom Cruise climbing up Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock). This is part of our race course at Rockman coming up in two weeks.

I just finished my morning workout, climbing and running at my own little mini version of Preikestolen.

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Special shout out to the folks I met doing stair repeats, this morning, getting ready for their Spartan race. Good luck in your race, ladies!

Check back here over the next week or so when I’ll give you full detail on how you can follow our progress during the race (if you’re into that sort of thing). Of course, I’ll be posting a plethora of travel pics along the way. :)

What SwimRun Gear Do I Need?

So you’ve been eyeballing swimrun.  You know you want to get into this crazy sport, but you have no idea what gear to get or why.  Heck, you may have even signed up fgor a race and NOW you’re trying to figure it out.  In this two-part video, I’ll go over swimrun gear beginning with wetsuits.  Yes, there IS a difference, so check out the video to find out.

So Why You Ask??

So why you ask? Cause this is why…  #xterra #triathlon #weareswimrun #whowantstobeavideostar

Music by Bombs Away

Keeping Motivated, Coldwater Mountain and Improving Your Swim

Going into the holidays, it’s hard to stay motivated, especially with travel.  A few tips, a Coldwater Mountain trail highlight and some swimming Q&A… oh boy!  Grab your Santa socks and your eggnog for a quick vid…

Two-fer Riding, Racing Ride and Seek, SwimRun Thanks

 

So you’re probably sitting around eating Thanksgiving leftovers, or you’re licking your wounds from you’re local Black Friday brawl while fighting for the latest Furby.  Either way, you got nothing better to do, so check out the latest update.

 

Slippery When Wet – SwimRunNC Report

Whew. Yep, it’s that time of year again.  Race season is winding down and 4th quarter at work is ramping up.  The end of the race season is usually filled with “A” races which means after-work training takes precedence over everything, including blogging.  I usually only have time for a Facebook or Instagram post, but that’s about it.  With work, ramping up, it usually means more travel and getting work done after-hours because travel time is not always productive time.  Now that the post-season break is here, I have some time for blogging (or blerhging as Rich calls it).  With that said, let’s get started with a SwimRunNC report-a-rooo.

Some of my regular readers (all 4 of them) might be wondering why I’m doing a report on SwimRunNC before I do one on the Virginia race, since I raced that one first.  Dunno.  Let’s just do em in reverse order, so be on the lookout for that one soon.

Caleb and I raced SwimRunNC last year and had a BLAST.  We battled it out in the last 100 meters (or so) of the race to win the 3rd place overall spot.  It was a tough battle, but we squeaked it out.  This year, we went into the race with hopes of doing just as good, or better.  We showed up to the pre-race briefing hosted by Jeff Beckelhimer, Jan Kriska and Herbert Krabel and attended by a ton of fast racers at the Green Heron Alehouse.

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We were presented with our racing jersey which had a number that gave us some big shoes to fill.  We headed out to get some eats and I ended up at Jan’s brewery, Thirsty Souls Community Brewing.  Their Octoberfest celebration was in full swing, complete with German outfits.  I couldn’t help but to snap a pic with Jan, his two beautiful beer maidens, wife Maria and daughter Paulina.  GREAT beer on tap!

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We arrived race morning and did the usual warmup and pre-race stuff and before you knew it, we were lined up under the beautiful, WOODEN start/finish arch.  With a countdown, we were off!

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With the mass start, there was a lot of jockying for position as we ran down the gravel road headed towards single track trail, averaging a sub-6:00 pace most of the way. Once on the single track, your options for passing are limited and you almost have to go off-trail to get around.  We wanted to be up near the front and had already planned on when/where it would be OK to pass.  In one such area, we decided to pass during a creek crossing.  In true Marcus fashion, I ended up on tripping in the water and going down briefly.  I managed to keep my face out of the water, but still ended up landing kneecap first into a boulder.  Within the first mile or two, we moved up to the lead and ran hard to extend the gap.

The first portion of the race involved a 4 mile (or so) technical run up (1000 feet) to the Hanging Rock Lake, with a quick run through Window Falls.  The race organizers included using the Window Falls as part of the course with several hand-over-hand climbs up the falls and over.

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We made it to the water’s edge ready for a dip in the lake where the temp was in the upper 50’s.  We hopped in and proceeded with two “laps” of a 500 meter swim and a short dip across the cove near the dam.

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Photo by Kim Baity

At the end of each lap, you have to traverse the spillway just below the dam.  This proves to be a bit of a challenge as you scale down the bank and over a very large, car-sized boulder.

On our second trip around, I almost went back into the lake for a third swim.  Between Jan and Caleb, they got me pointed in the right direction which was up to Moore’s Wall.  I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I had my goggles on and was ready to go.  Instead, we headed for Moore’s Wall.

From the dam, the top of Moore’s Wall is another two miles of running, but with another 850 feet of climbing up over 600 steps.  These “steps” are mostly rocks that have varying heights from a few inches to over two feet.  Also, they’re not evenly spaced apart, so it’s quite a challenge to get into any sort of rhythm.

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Once at the top of Moore’s Wall, we paused for a quick picture and then headed out for our quick, technical scoot back to the lake.

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When I say “technical”, this is the most technical section of the course.  For the two mile descent, you are met with jagged rock, after jagged rock.  Having sure-footing and strong ankles is key to being able to go fast through this section.  Since it had been raining and foggy all morning, they were all wet and slick.  One wrong step could end with a heavy penalty, especially if you like your front teeth.

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Once back at the bottom, we had to do the same two “laps” around the lake.  Again, the cold water was welcomed as we jumped back in for another short, 500 meter swim.

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Descending from the lake was the same trail/course that we ran up with the exception of Window Falls, descending the steps next to the falls instead.  Once back down to the Dan River, we had to run alongside the river for a short distance before meeting up with race staff at the water entry.  We dove in and began the last 800 meters of the race swimming downstream.

The Dan River is very shallow. Some spots are swimmable while others you have to stand up and wade/run.  It is also strewn with underwater rock croppings and boulders, so you have to “feel” your way through the river as you swim.  At one point, I rolled over on my back to spot where Caleb was and to warn him of an upcoming boulder just below the surface.  I glanced at my watch and noticed that we were only 3 hours into the race.  I quickly realized that we had a shot at beating the course record.  Caleb looked up at me and I pointed to my watch.  “We can beat the course record!  Let’s get it!” I yelled back to him and rolled back over to begin swimming again.  Once we hit a sandbar, I stood up, looked back at Caleb and again stated we could beat the course record.  We both took off running.

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We made our way to the stair exit just behind the Green Heron Alehouse and with a quick run up the steps, ran across the finish line.

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Photo by Kim Baity

We ended up breaking the course record with a finishing time of 3:06:28.  We had all but dismissed our chances of breaking it and it was a total surprise when we were in the Dan River and determined it was possible.  We were just too pre-occupied with being chased.

Our friends, Jim Fisher and Michael Harlow from Richmond, Virginia, came in second and the third place team was Jade Costen and Tim Starets.

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Here’s the winning male, female and mixed teams.  For the female team, it’s Kristen Jeno and Jennifer Ledford.  For the mixed team, it’s Amy Krakauer and Marcus Carson.

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SwimRunNC is one of the events I was really looking forward to this year.  We had such a good time last year, but this year Jeff, Jan and Herbert stepped it up another notch.  Their combined passion for this sport and this event is unsurpassed. They are equally passionate about the venue, purchasing a mobile firefighting apparatus for the park with the proceeds.

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You could really tell that they tried hard to improve every aspect of an already great race.  Some things were easily noticeable like the beautiful start/finish arch, while other small details, although not as immediately apparent, were not overlooked.  Trophies and swag were improved upon as was the after-race food and drink.  Another improvement was an increase in fresh, crisp Benjamins for the top three teams in each class.

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We really, really love the laid-back, unpretentious, non-elitist atmosphere of swimrun and this race proves that even further.  If you have thought about giving a swimrun a try, if you’re tired of pounding the pavement, if you’re ready for something fun and different, you should definitely give this race a shot.  Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and smiles were abound.  Why would you want to go to a race where the racers are all so serious?

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Unless otherwise specified, these great photos came from Brian Fancher photography.  Brian and his son took AWESOME photos.

If you want more information on the race itself, head over to the SwimRun NC website, which has good info, but the BEST information is continually posted on the SwimRun NC Facebook page.

Race Recap: Swimrun NC
Location: Hanging Rock State Park, NC
Date: October 29, 2017
Distances: 11 runs, 9 swims, 14 miles of running, 2 miles of swimming
Result: 1st Overall
Full Results
Products used: GU Roctane, First Endurance Multi-V.