This years’ Rockman Swimrun was a race I hade huge anticipations for an was significantly calmer than last year, even though I have huge respect for this race. For you who don’t know what Rockman Swimrun is, it’s a race with a total of 36km (57.6miles) of running (split over 10 runs) in extremely technical terrain mostly uphill with a terrifying 2500m elevation gain and 6km (9.6 miles) of swimming (split over 10 swims) in fjords and lakes. During the race, you experience an environment which is very unique for this type of race and a challenge that puts the most well-trained swim runner at test.
My partner och Rockman Swimrun was just like last year Daniel ”Sir SwimALot” Becker, with his five Ö till Ö World Championships, numerous other swimruns and ultra marathons in his resume. Needless to say, but he is a fantastic partner and a great friend. Daniel and I have also fought together on Ö till Ö Utö Swimrun in May 2017.
Disclaimer: My previous race report from Rockman Swimrun was quite long, but please read on. I promise it’s worth your time.
We flew from Stockholm to Stavanger, Norway with SAS through Oslo and bumped into a group of familiar swimrunners. It felt pretty good to have done this race before after we got a bunch of questions about the race. We did the same thing last year of course…
Once in Stavanger we picked up our race kit and had a dinner at Døgnville Burger who makes fantastic burgers, even vegetarian ones.
Later that evening it was time for pre-race dinner and race brief. In traditional Rockman Swimrun way it was a briefing filled with a lot of laughter between the serious points. The hot topics during the briefing was the water temperature or whether we were to run the Dragon’s Neck part of the course this year (it hasn’t happened the previous two years due to weather conditions). Both topic where responded to in the fantastic Rockman way:
Water temperature: ”Well, it varies between 8-13 degrees… BUT that can obviously change completely due to the weather conditions.”
Dragon’s Neck: ”We have added not a cut-off but a cut-on, so the fastest of you will get to run Dragon’s Neck. We’d say that’s the top ten of you…”
The start turned out to have been changed again this year. Last year they had a buoy in Fantahålå which we swam around and continued along the fjord. It was messy with the lines and all the testosterone so anyone who has read my report from last year knows what I experienced. No… This year they had changed it into ”touch the rock”, meaning that we should swim to the very back of the little bay and touch the rock and swim on. A perfect recipe for that wonderful swimrun start chaos.
Last year there was a lot of focus on information about the water temperature and they even had medical personell informing us about the signs of hypothermia. There was nothing about that this year, but the organizers warned us for something else. ”There is a Norwegian Jellyfish Party going on in Fantahålå where you will start.” Someone raised his hand asking what to do if you got stung. A member of the medical staff mumbled something that the best is always to pour Coke over it.” OK? I guess both peeing and carrying a Coke can just in case wasn’t very realistic as the race starts with a +900m swim directly from the boats. I guess we just had to swim on and lick our wounds later… with Coke.
Once the race brief was over we took a walk. We bumped into Simon Börjesson who is one of the organizers of the race and asked if we could leave Daniels blood sugar monitor (he’s got type 1 diabetes) with one of them to meet us along the course. Of course it was possible and we decided to drop it off on the boat to the start. I am super impressed with Daniel and how he, once the shock of having that diagnose, just changed his training a round a bit and continued on as before. He’s done a few races previous to Rockman with his diabetes and those had gone fine, but this is something else.
We went back to the room to eat candy and get our equipment in order. My equipment for this race was:
- Camaro Titanium 1mm neoprene hood
- HEAD Tiger-Mid Goggles
- HEAD Swimrun vest
- IceBreaker Merino wool t-shirt
- Tri-Comp Tri shorts
- HEAD Aero Swimrun suit
- Colting Wetsuit Calfguards
- HEAD Swimrun Pullbuoy (x2 glued together)
- Elastic cord with hook on waist (the end part is connected to Daniels hook)
- GoCoCo Compression Socks
- Salomon Speedcross 4 Trailshoes
- Garmin 5 Sapphire HR
- SIS gels (18 pieces; 9 w/ caffeine and 9 w/ electrolytes)
- TONS of Sportslick all over (and I mean ALL over)
At 4.45am we got up and had breakfast. It’s not really easy to find a good breakfast on the hotel so I had oatmeal, sandwiches and coffee. I didn’t want to make the stupid mistake to eat too much as I did on Borås Swimrun in June, but eat enough so I had energy for the first hours of the race. After breakfast we went back to the room to get changed and pack our change of clothes until after the race.
06:30 the boats left for Lysefjord and the tension on the boat was more nervous than last year. Maybe it was because we had done this before? The guy next to us zipped up his suits (yes he had two) as soon as he got on the boat and drank at least 1.5 liters of water, so saying that he sweated rivers is not an understatement. The guys behind us was two younger fellas who constantly for the hour long boat ride talked about how to handle the cold in the water.
07:20am it was time to get to the bow of the boat and get ready to start the race by jumping off the boat. That’s when the nervousness hit me and at first my body was filled with to me ”I don’t want this”-feelings to ”alright, let’s do this!”-feelings. They were all mixed together during a few minutes of silence. Those minutes pass very quickly when you are nervous and feels like forever when you are pumped to start the race. Very weird…
07:30 the horn sounded and the start was real. We jumped off the boat connected with the elastic cord. This was maybe not the best way to start the race, but we didn’t want to lose time and get separated in the chaos. Instead we focused all our efforts to reach that damn rock and swim on as fast as we could. The water temperature you ask? Refreshing for sure, but not too cold for us. Once we reached the end of the little bay Fantahålå they popped up here and there… The ”Norwegian Jellyfish”, but fortunately they weren’t that close to us. At least until I felt something hanging over my left bend of the arm. As I can recall it this was a Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (the world’s largest jellyfish), that I dragged along. Obviously it was not a Lion’s Mane but just your normal little every day ”Norwegian Jellyfish” and I could see its red tentacles along my arm which was fortunately covered in Neoprene. After a few desperate shakes of the arm we went separate ways for this time.
The first swim took about 24 minutes which didn’t feel very fast. Once ashore on the rocky beach the first run, or rather steep climb up to Refsvatnet starts. It’s a climb from the get-go and during last years’ race I through I’d had to DNF / Break because of the pains in my leg. This year I just had a big race-anxiety, was exhausted and it went way too slow. It’s a climb among rocks, mud, small trails and I don’t lie if I say that this start of the race hits you very hard and is a proper wake-up call that you are about to do something extraordinary.
As our routine says, we had programmed our watches to beep every 30 minutes for a constant energy intake, which we did during the climb. It felt like I had lost a lot of energy during the swim. In my head maybe?
As we reached Refsvatnet we passed a couple of teams during the first swim. Lost them on the following run, to then pass them again during the 640m long swim #2 over Refsvatnet. The water temperature you ask? Fantastic and just perfect. You can drink the water in the mountain lakes and rivers, but the fjords I wouldn’t recommend unless you LOVE salt.
After the Refsvattnet swims we started the 4km long run/trekking up towards Preikestolen. Even if it took us some time I felt that we plowed on pretty good and the trail up is absolutely gorgeous so I was just filled with joy.
As we reached Preikestolen, we stood in front of the camera to take the classic photo. We continued quite quickly down to Skogavatnet and a shorter swim. We then moved on to the 4.4km long run that follows. Compared to last year and what 99% of us believed this year (everyone was checking their weather reports like crazy the day before) the temperature was high, sunny and we all became very hot during the runs. We decided to unzip the upper part of the wetsuit and let the arms just dangle around our waists.
Once you reach Bratteli after a quite long steep descent my legs were pretty tired and it is a strange feeling when one have have great energy and the spirit is high. Daniel felt a little sick at this point and threw up a few times but there’s no stopping to this guy.
By Bratteli it is time for the second longest swim during the race with 1600m (1 mile), which last year was painfully against the current. This year the current had turned and we swam with it instead. We passed at least three teams during this swim which felt great.
I have many thoughts going through my head during these longer swims. It’s weird as you at the same time is focused on the race, but still I think about events in my life, work, relationships and at the same time I swim with the knowledge that this fjord is almost 500m deep at its deepest. The water is pitch dark and we passed one or two jellyfish along this swim.
At this point the thoughts in my head was going negative and I fell into some kind of motivational decline. This is not good for the team spirit and fortunately enough I could shake them off until the swim was over. I was a bit worried that Daniel had pulled too hard during this swim, but he hadn’t. Daniel is an exceptional swimmer (and runner) and I’m not as good as him, so you have to be careful not to exhaust the team by getting one team member tired. This sport is all about the team. Cliché, I know but anyone who has done a swimrun knows the importance of team work.
This swim took us about 37 minutes which felt ok for us as we pulled ourselves up the rocks at Bakken Kai. We had some warm drinks and moved on really quickly on to the Seaside Sprint. For those of you who doesn’t know this legendary ”sprint” it is a 2km phase with huge rocks, small rocks, medium rocks… Running is quite rare during this phase and it took us almost 40 minutes which is five minutes slower than last year. We drank water out of the creeks and once you climb over the fence to a pasture once this phase is done, you feel a great relief that you have a 7km asphalt run ahead of you. Uphill of course, but not nearly as steep as the other runs. This run ends with a very steep winding trail, mostly on rocks. Once this descent is done you reach Kåsaklubben. By this time we knew that we had at least 80 minutes to the cutoff at Flørli.
Kåsaklubben is the start of the longest swim during this race. 1 700 m / 2.72 miles over Lysefjorden with waves and wind coming from the right side. Sir SwimALot showed me the bearing and took our team in a bow-like shape over the fjord. During this swim we passed several teams. This swim is a bit charged with anxiety for me after last year. The organizers say that you should aim at the white building at Flørli which you do, but the house seems to move backwards and it is a tough swim. The elastic strings to my pull buoy broke during the swim and the small plastic things which was supposed to keep the strings in place chafed against my skin between the wetsuit and my socks. I got a bunch of small cuts on the leg which were really annoying, but once ashore you feel like you see the end, which you actually do since you ascend at the goal area.
As we ran towards the stairs we met the winners of the race, Staffan and Marika who cheered at us as we started to take the first heavy steps up the Flørlistairs 4444 steps. This staircase is the worlds longest and steepest wooden staircase. It’s 1 700 m long with a 780m elevation gain which can crush the strongest legs. Even if I didn’t have any pain like last year my legs were tired and we moved on pretty quickly, we thought. Strangely enough the stairs went embarrassingly slow which came as a surprise to me and Daniel. We fought the stairs together with two Norwegian teams and one of them looked pretty tired, so you try to help out as much as you can, cheering and offer gels.
I decided to climb the stairs with the top of my suit down, which was awesome and HEAD Aero is a great suit as the freedom of movement in the leg part is just amazing. It served us well in the stairs.
As we reached Ternevattnet, we cheered at our friend Pierre who is a sports photographer and it’s always motivating to see a friendly face during these races. We moved on quickly and swam as quickly as we could. This swim might only be 120 meters but that cold feels like it could chatter your bones. Now you start to see the end of this monster of a race even if we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t do Dragon’s Neck.
The first part during the last run goes over a big rock and due to the cold my thighs cramped like hell. I’ve never experienced this type of cramp before so it was a learning experience that all you can do is to get moving to get the heat up in your body again.
We reached an energy station and had a couple of cups of Redbull and moved on along the gravel- and asphalt road over the mountain. This stretch went quickly for us compared to last year and we ran most of it. It felt great to have more to give after last years painful finish.
We reached the mire pretty quickly and my pace went down. I could see that Daniel was a bit frustrated and I was disappointed as the first part of the run, which is a 7km in total. As we reached the Rocky Drop which is the end of the race and a 5 800 m with a descent of 800 m it felt like it was never going to end. I was keeping lookout for the white house at Flørli, but it took to the very end for me to see it. By this time, no matter if you are elite or an experienced-hobby-athlete as me, your legs are toast and all you want is to reach goal.
It took us about 11 hours to finish Rockman Swimrun and I am very happy that I’ve had the opportunity to finish this race a second time. I am really proud of our efforts and even though Daniel said he had a bad day throwing up and from being sick a few weeks before, I couldn’t tell. This guy keeps up the Positive Mental Attitude for 100% of the race and is a machine that I will have the pleasure to battle with on three siwmruns by now and more to come.
We talked to several swimrunners who said that this was the toughest race that they’ve done and some that said that they would never do this again. I think many first timers, like we did, underestimate the elevation gain during a race like this. For many of us that is just a number and the distance (36km) is something most of us have done before and know what to expect. 2500m of elevation gain in extreme technical terrain is unheard of in the swimrun world.
I want to do Rockman Swimrun at least once more. I love the course and the whole setup. The personal touch that Simon & Co. have organized this race with is worth a lot for me and I hope now when they hand the race over into a new management, that they keep the style they’ve had so far. I’m convinced that this is a big reason why some of us come back to this race.
On September 4th my first Ö till Ö World Championships awaits Team Ducks of Hazard / Team Sports Extreme and it feels like we’re reasonably well prepared with Rockman Swimrun over and done with 2017. Ö till Ö World Championships is a, by far, longer distance both swimming and running, but less elevation gain and not nearly as technical course. However, the swimming is toucher and longer with more exposed areas as well as the dreaded Ornö 20km run in the final half of the race. I’m not expecting us to break any world records, but we’ll pull through with the same positive vibe like we’ve had under Rockman Swimrun 2017.
So before this Rockman Legend #187 (my belt number from last year) finishes this report, I would like to share some of our experiences.
What went right
- Preparations (Daniels sick weeks aside…)
- The Positive Mental Attitude and team spirit
What went wrong
- We should have pushed on harder in the stairs. We lost a massive amount of time there.
Finally, Rockman Swimrun is a swimrun race that gives and takes and I have full respect for anyone who finishes this race, regardless of time and placement. In fact, those who finishes last have battled over more time and probably has expanded their mental and physical horizons by far more than most. This race is definitively not a race I would recommend as your first swimrun or an alternative to Tough Mudder / Tough Viking as some seem to believe. It’s a race for the experienced endurance athlete who loves a true adventure. A more beautiful race is rarely seen.