Rockman Swimrun 2016 – Race Report is an incredibly stiff and dry headline to a swimrun race that is beyond anything else. This is a long report and I don’t consider a short report doing Rockman Swimrun justice, so please be patient and read on. It’s worth it.
If you like:
- Flat running on asphalt or maybe the tracks
- A race where every part is exactly as you’ve read previous
- A race that lives up exactly to your expectations
- Love to ”push on” and really make use of all your years of running
- Swimming where you swim from A to B and that’s it
Then I would consider Rockman Swimrun a race for you, as you clearly need to broaden your athletic and adventurous horizons. This race is like no other.
I’ll start from the very beginning. Me and Dennis got a spot to Rockman Swimrun sometime during the fall of 2015. Obviously, I had read about the race and had a hunch of what was to come. Already at the first read, I felt the challenge and wanted to do Rockman Swimrun. This would be MY swimrun for 2016.
Unfortunately Dennis knee problems due to knee surgery, we had to give up our vision of doing this race together and I needed to find a replacement. After organizing Hellas Frostbite Swimrun (SE) with Philip Robson and Daniel Becker, and once I had the opportunity to get to know these two awesome multi-sport athletes, I asked Daniel if he was up for it and he was interested. With four Ö till Ö and numerous other swimruns, plus ultra-marathons in his resume, Daniel was the perfect replacement.
Rockman Swimrun is a 36 km of very technical trail running and somewhat insane 2 444 m elevation gain. 6 km of swimming in fjords and mountain lakes where the temperatures varies a lot. The weather conditions in these parts of the world can change rapidly and it’s almost impossible to plan for every scenario, above the pure physical challenge.
On August 5th, we travel to Stavanger and the morale is at it’s peak. We hadn’t train much together before the race, but we both knew what was expected from us. I had trained hard with intervals, both hills and Hyperoxytraining to boost mine before this challenge. Unfortunately, the intervals had caused my left ankle to swell up quite severely and after Borås Swimrun, my shoulder was hurting badly.
We arrive to Stavanger and do a short tour of the town. It’s a fantastic town and we take the opportunity to have a great burger lunch before we pick up our race packs.
Once we’ve picked up our race packs it feels like it’s getting serious and more and more athletes are picking up theirs. It’s Swedes, Norwegians, French, American… This unique event has brought many nationalities together and you can feel the tension in the air.
Once we’ve picked up our stuff, we sit down to have a chat with Pontus Flindal and Simon Björnholm (Team RWSN), who has done the race the year before. They walk us through the course and we try to memorize as much as we can. In a good swimrunner tradition, we listen to these very humble and experienced athletes with numerous really tough swimruns in their resume.
At 5:30pm, it’s time for dinner and at 6:30 the race brief. I don’t have much experience of race briefs but this one is funny, informative and serious all at the same time. It’s clear that the organizers have learned from previous years and taken on previous contestants feedback. They bring up all the course’s challenges where it’s obvious that the distances published on their website might not be the ones we’ll confront during the race. They also present the risks with hypothermia (like last year where the water temperatures shocked the contestants), how the markings work (there are three different ones and there was a lot of confusion last year) as well as presenting the possibility that parts of the course might be cancelled due to present weather conditions. The one that was in immediate danger of getting cut was ”Dragon’s Neck” which might be cut before OR during the race.
The evening proceeds very calmly with preparations. Me and Daniel arrange our elastic cords, coordinate our energy that we calculate we’ll need (after all it is a race that for most take almost a day) and make sure everything is in place.
- HEAD Tiger Mid goggles
- Camaro Titanium 0.5 Hood
- HEAD Swimrun Race wetsuit (cut legs and 1/4 cut sleeves)
- IceBreaker Merinowool short sleeved shirt
- HEAD Swimrun swimrun vest over the merino wool t-shirt
- FusionComp3 tights
- GoGoCo compression socks
- Inov-8 X-Talon 190 shows (which have since Rockman Swimrun been thrown in the bin)
- Strokemaster mid paddles
- Pull buoy of a regular kids-flotation device (modified) tied to my waist with an elastic cord
- Elastic line with a light-weight hook in the middle
- Garmin Fenix 3 HR
- 8 SIS Gels with Coke och Berry flavor (with coffein, 400 kcal per serving)
The boats who will take us to the starting point in the Lysefjord, leaves port right outside the hotel at 6:10 am and the morale is very high. There are lots of laughter in the cabin and we sit down next to Eva Fridman and Elin Lilja (Team PowerWoman) who are to great war-buddies to prepare for the mental and physical war we have all chosen to march into.
Eva have earlier this morning, in the middle of the racers breakfast in the hotel, taped my left shoulder with Kinetic Tape and everything suddenly just felt awesome. My shoulder had acted up since Borås Swimrun where my swimming technique with paddles must have failed.
At 7:30am we all jump from the boats and swim towards the ”Villain’s Cave”, where the start was last year from the water.
At 7:30am we all jump from the boats and swim towards the ”Villain’s Cave”, where the start was last year from the water. This year we swim from the boats, round a buoy deep entrenched in the ”cave” and then take off along the Sognefjord’s northern coast. This is where Rockman Swimrun 2016 begins…
Start – Fantahåla /The Villain’s Cave
I start the swimrun app on my Garmin and put a timer for 45 minutes to remind us to refuel with energy from our own depots.
Daniel takes the lead and we swim with an elastic cord and paddle on as hard as we can to avoid the chaos among the other contestants. We round the bouy and press on in the somewhat cold water (around 13 C). Someone swims OVER me one (that’s ok), twice (not cool) and the third time I smack this adrenaline high swimrunner over his/hers head with my paddle. I guess it’s the way it goes in a race like this and in any water-start, but one have to look for other contestants and swimming over someone without even reacting three times is just a stupid rookie mistake. I don’t feel bad at all, but sorry chief… We press on and a close to 1 000 m of very refreshing, salty 13 degree water we reach the exit of the first swim. There are a lot of people and the adrenaline is noticeable.
The Sognefjord is Norways largest fjord and at it’s deepest this fjord is +1300m and 100m where it’s most shallow. No wonder the water takes time to ”heat” up and the cold is noticeable but not unbearable. In fact, the Norwegian marine chased submarines on numerous occasions in this fjord during the 80’s. However, at least we didn’t see any submarines on this day…
The first ”run” or land stretch is a climb next to a nice waterfall, up a hill where the rain has fallen weeks before so the ground conditions are muddy, slippery and the path is narrow. My hip starts to hurt, badly at this point, and I seriously consider quitting the race (in my head). I get a slap in the face mentally and a wake-up call serving me notice what I have signed up for. Quitting is a word that doesn’t exist in my vocabulary.
The pain starts to disappear from my hip once we close in to the second swim and short runs (Revsvattnet 1-3). These short swims are much needed for me and we march on as hard as we can during the runs and swims, where Daniel is once again in the lead pulling.
We run next to a Norwegian team who asks us why we run and swim with an elastic cord. Well, I wonder why? During the 400 m swim at the and of this phase they swim to right and left across our path. Once we reach the shore, Daniel points out this us and they seem to understand exactly nothing as we leave them behind us.
We continue on the 4000 m long run from Preikestolhytta to the Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen).
Pulpit Rock / Bratteli swim
A 4000 m run over rocks and up along stone stairs face us. We also face many tourists from every part of the world who cheers us and look at us a little strange as we run by them in our wetsuits and swim caps on our heads.
My hip pains have now left my hip and wandered down into my ankle which have been swollen for three weeks at this point. I stumble and fall. I quickly cool my ankle in a freezing cold creek and it feels better. We plow on over the mountain and up the rocky paths. We reach the ”danger zone” which is a path leading up to the Pulpit Rock and soon we reach this magical place. My energy quickly returns and not only thanks to the ten winegum fishes I stuff myself with but also the feeling of being THERE. After a short break and a photo shoot we continue back the same path as we came.
Soon, we reach a short swim after have battled over cliffs, rocks, forest with tracks where we run knee-deep in mud. This is technical trail running at it’s very best. Sometime along this path we run by a team that has decided to abort. They ask us for directions and me and Daniel point both forwards and backwards. It’s equally far regardless what way they choose to find their way back… We ask if they are ok, they give us a cheer and a smile and we move on.
We make company with Linda Doktár and Sofia Demnert (Team Attack of the Invisible Rubber Ducks) who are chewing barbed wire on the trails. After approximately 5000m of steep downhill trail running we reach the first trial by fire as Daniel calls it, the 1 600m fjord swim. This is also the point where the organizers inform us that ”Dragon’s Neck” is officially cancelled for everyone due to the rough weather conditions and that we’ll be redirected once there.
The long, cold, upstream 1 600m swim along the north side of the Sognefjord from Bratteli will be war. We charge with energy before this challenge and we jump in the water for the second long swim of the race.
Before we jump in we get the opportunity to say hi to Simon Börjesson, Rockman Swimrun organizer and swimrun legend (he swam across the Baltic Sea summer 2015 and won Koster Swimrun with partner Rasmus Regnstrand). Back to the race. We press on as hard as we can, we think, but soon get passed by Linda and Sofia who like two torpedoes outrace us. After passing numerous teams we reach Bakken Kai and get on shore with the help of ropes. The cold has really affected us and it’s refreshing to get whatever warm stuff they served us. I can’t remember what it was. On the dock, there’s a guy with blue lips, white face, trembling violently and I have full respect for anyone making it through this phase of the race. I don’t know if this guy was allowed or even wanted to continue, but if you did buddy, hats off.
Seaside Sprint / Sunshine Hill
”Seaside Sprint is not a joke.” says Simon during the race brief. It’s simply a mistake as they were under the impression that the racers would be able to sprint along the shore to later make it up the hills.
This 2000 m ”sprint” takes us about 35 minutes to over come and suddenly I’m struck by this kick of energy. Perhaps my years with my parents in the Swedish archipelago has served me well. I don’t know, but I push on and jump from rock to rock towards Sognesand and the next energy station. Our motivation and battle spirit is high, despite my continued pains in my left ankle. Not the time to slow down. Daniel feels motivated by my energy kick and we push on even harder. My Garmin beeps every 45 minutes and we stuff ourselves with ClifBar Bloks and SIS energy gels with caffein.
We reach Sognesand and it’s time to face the longest run of Rockman Swimrun, which we knew beforehand would be uphill (like any other run during this race) but on asphalt. We try to pull with the elastic cord but we are exhausted so we move forward in a power-walk pace uphill, run where it’s flat or downhill. We see a team before us and try to reduce the distance between us and them.
After an energy station where we stuff ourselves with waffles packed with jam, it’s time for a very steep decline through rocks. The guy ahead of us slips and Daniel watches as he misses a sharp rock with a few inches. I have to seriously watch where I place my feet and this causes my bad ankle to hurt up in my leg.
The Sognefjord is cold, wide, have strong currents and is very deep. The water is dark and the wind has picked up from the East. We have received instructions in the race manual to aim to the right of the white building on the other side and Daniel aka Sir SwimALot once again takes the lead. My responsibility is to pull the HEAD Swimmers Safety Buoy behind us which is mandatory at this phase.
Like all the other swims we use the elastic cord between us and Daniel pushes on like a Chris Craft V8 day cruiser through the water, determined to gain a few positions during this long swim.
The white building at Flørli seems to move away from us and sometimes during this swim I wonder if all the effort we put in during this swim even gets us anywhere. As I see us passing a few teams my motivation comes back and after about 50 minutes we reach the ladder and are received by cheers and smiles from the fantastic race staff. Flørli is not only the start of one of the toughest phased during the race but also the finish area and suddenly I envision myself standing by the finish line.
On our way towards the infamous Flørli stairs we pass Daniel Hansson and Lelle Moberg (Team Swedish Armed Forces) who have finished the race and have even had the time to freshen up. What we didn’t know by this time is that, not only had they broken the course record, they had also won the race.
Flørlistairs / Ternevatnet
For you who don’t know, this is the longest wooden staircase in the world. With its close to 4444 steps this staircase, after hours and hours of running, swimming and trekking, means a challenge.
We start moving up the stairs and I instantly feel the pain in my foot getting worse than before. I don’t know if it’s the cold from the long swim or the hours we’ve spent to come to this point that causes it, but damn… it hurts. We take on the stairs step by step and Daniel is full of energy, which helps me a lot as I have flashes before my eyes. Desperately I drink a tube of SIS gel and try to regain my motivation. We don’t see an end to these stair and sometimes it feels like an impossible challenge. We stop a couple of times on our way up and talk to an American/British team who take it quite easy on their way up. Nice to meet you guys!
After about an hour we start seeing the end of the stairs and we have reached the top of the mountain. The steps shifts from normal steps to a wooden pathway which helps us regain speed and is less painful.
As we reach the top, a freezing cold, short swim across a lake awaits us. Not a tree as far as we can see and only mountains on all sides of us. We register our time with one of the staff, taking our race bib numbers and send an SMS to the ground staff before we jump in. It’s COLD and we swim like never before. A few minutes later we reach the shore and receive a cup of what I think is one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had in my life.
We push on over the mountain and the wind is freezing cold. We put on our caps to keep our heads warm and move forward and upwards again. We reach an energy station where the organizers awesome staff have dressed up as angels and we are met with a lot of joy and warmth. Daniel, who has stubbornly talked with his Swedish-Norwegian accent, continues to praise every one we meat and as we leave this wonderful crewe we don’t know for certain if we have 6000m or 10k to reach goal. All we know is that we have completed the final swim of Rockman Swimrun and it is now time to get across that finish line.
Rocky Drop – Finish line
We jog along a gravel road through a harsh mountain landscape mostly talking about music. Daniel who has been a roadie for years, talks about his experiences with various bands and my focus turns from my hurting ankle to listening to all his stories. Much helpful and exactly the way a team should work.
We run along, follow the signs and just as we have picked up a nice running pace the track takes a turn across a mire. Mud and rocks… The pain in my foot is so bad at this point that just the thought of a misstep gets my left leg to stiffen up from the foot and up to my thigh. I do my best and feel that I don’t pull my weight for the team, as Daniel seems completely unaffected and move forward.
We reach about 5 km into this phase and this is where the ”Rocky Drop” starts. STEEP downhill along a narrow, rocky path leads us down from the mountain. Every step is painful and I try to run as hard as I can. I take another misstep and my puls goes through the roof. I am really scared of falling this close to the finish line and have to take it easy. My energy is great and my legs are really strong but I am afraid my foot can’t take another fall so I take it as easy as I can.
Slowly we see the rooftops by Flørli come closer and we have reached the end. The road gets steeper and steeper during a serpentine road towards the finish. We are close, run through a sheep herd, across someones land and onto a gravel road. We hear the contestants who have finished the race as well as all the spectators cheer us and Rockman Ragnarøk has come to an end for Team Ducks of Hazard.
We cross the finish line and the first team we encounter is Eva and Elin who cheers us as we pass. We receive our belt and we are officially Rockmen. What a feeling! 11 hours and 25 minutes is our finishing time and we get to get out of our wetsuits, clean up and get into civilized clothes.
We had some food, a few Rockman beers and watched the price ceremony, who as stopped to cheer the last team of the race as they passed the finish line. They, as all others, were received with applause, cheers and the hole place just breathed a very strong personal family feeling. Like it should be.
Personally, I have waited for this moment almost a year and I could not be happier. Surely, our time could have been better but as I write this my left ankle has now swollen to twice it’s size and if it wasn’t for that we could have kept a higher pace. One can have excuses for everything, and there’s mine. I can assure you that if it wasn’t for this foot we would have finished an hour earlier, but I am still proud, happy and thirty for more.
Daniel has been the best partner one could ever have during Rockman Swimrun. For those of you who don’t know Daniel, he is a calm and experienced endurance athlete with years of experience from swimrun and trail running. He is an exceptionally strong swimmer and he has a plan for everything during a race, like the plan of a constant 45-minute energy intake, coaching when every step makes your eyes go blank and he tells me to run diagonal.. everything. I would never had been able to complete this race if it wasn’t for him and I am very grateful we could do this together.
What went right:
- Partner (above)
- No experimenting. 45 minute energy intakes
What went wrong:
- I pushed myself too hard with intervals, hills and hyperoxytraining before the race.
The trip back to Stavanger was a lot of fun after-talks with other contestants. We left our stuff in our room and entered the party-streets of Stavanger to have a burger at Døgnvill Burger, the same place we had lunch at the day before the race. We accompanied Eva and Elin at dinner, had a great conversation and said goodnight in the hotel lobby. What a day and what an unforgettable experience!
Rockman Swimrun is a race that is designed for the adventurous athlete. It’s extremely demanding and is not recommended for you who expect long running distances where all your hours on asphalt and on the paths will come to use. It’s an unforgiving race where you from the very beginning get to expand your mental and physical horizons further than most races. There is no swimrun race that can be compared to this. The Borås Swimrun course has a similar design, but that’s probably as remotely close you can get to this if you ask me. Rockman Swimrun must be experienced and it’s hard to explain in words what we have experienced on August 6th 2016.
This is also a very personal race where Simon and the other organizers have put their hearts and minds into this. One can really feel that they want everyone who signs up for this to experience the adventure they have experienced and see places which we probably would never see otherwise. If I have the opportunity to participate in Rockman Swimrun 2017 I’ll sign up without any hesitation.
Rockman Legend #188 over and out!
Some more photos that I snapped after the race.
Team Swimshop has put together this fantastic video
Eva Fridmans race rapport (in Swedish)
Sofia Demnerts race rapport (in Swedish)