Race report: Frostbite Winter Swimrun with Niklas Karlsson

Hi Niklas. You just participated in the world’s first ever winter swimrun, the Hellas Frostbite swimrun race, …and survived?!

Hi and thanks! Yes, we really didn’t know what to expect from this awesome cold winter race, but it went well!

We do short race reports to give swimrunners a feel for different races and help them pick the ones best suited for them. So to kick-off on this theme, how was the race? Can you describe it?

watertemp - daniel becker
Credit Daniel Becker

It was a fantastic race, taking place in the area where I usually do my swimrun-training. Even though I know the area well, I didn’t know what to expect since the course hadn’t been announced beforehand and that the water was only 3 degrees. I never do OW-training this late in the season, so preparing for the race was more of a mental challenge and trying to figure out what to wear.

Actually, no one really knew what to expect, not even the organisers. But as it turned out, more than 40 (crazy?) people came, eager to get the race going and to hit the much dreaded water. The time leading up to the race-start, most of us prepared with the same type of face expression, saying something like. –What the hell am I doing here? This caused people to burst out in sporadic laughter here and there, making you feel like being among your everyday friends despite being around a bunch of complete strangers. And even though the rain was hanging over us, the spectator crowd was just as big as the race group. On top of this, despite the smaller size of the event, a couple of swimrun brands had made their way there to showcase new gear, talking to people and lending a helping hand where needed. All-in-all, this just added to the already positive and very friendly and fun atmosphere!

Credit: Jens Söderblom

Credit Magnus Lindström

Credit Jens söderblom

The race was designed as a lap-type course, consisting of three laps. Each lap was made up of 2.7 km of trail running and circa 80 meters of OW-swimming, 9 km in total. We ran on a prepped trail and swam close to land (for security reasons) and exited the water by climbing up the stairs of a wooden pier. At the start of the race, a small group immediately took off, clearly going for the win, but most of the participants stuck together in larger groups, not going full throttle.

 What do you think about the course?

It was ok. We did 3 laps and since the water was so cold, this being the 1st ever winter race, the organisers had focused more on the security aspect rather than the somewhat warm weather. In December we normally have snow on the ground and ice on the lakes, but this year winter hasn’t really mad an appearance yet, so it was quite warm during the running segments. In hindsight, running in a wet suite for 2.7 km, building up heat, we could have easily swum at least double the length, or had an additional swim-segment on each lap. The swim/run ratio was less than 3 %, making this a race designed for the fast trail runners.

swimming - jens söderblom
Credit Jens Söderblom

Credit Magnus Lindström
Credit Magnus Lindström

What was you “Kodak-moment?”

When approaching the water for the 1st time, there was a group of people in front of me hesitating to get in, which made me decide to enter the water “bomb-jump”-style. Not really the safest entry, but the most fun :).

Swimrunning during the winter sounds crazy, did the race go according to plan?

Well, as I said in the beginning, it was really hard to know what to expect. In normal swimrun-racing I usually get really warm, which is why I do all my racing in a shorty. But this time I had prepared myself for the worst by putting on a merino wool t-shirt and knee-long underwear. This turned out to be way to warm for me and during the running segments I almost got to the level where I started to suffer from overheating. The first lap I ran with all my gear on and swam with a neoprene cap and gloves. But for the second and third lap, I had to cab-down the wet suite and take off the cap and gloves during the swims. I even left the back zipper open just to allow water to come in and help me cool of a bit more.

Any advice on what equipment to use?

Well, if we would have had snow on the ground, I think the balance between the water and land temperature would have been more equal, helping you decide on what gear to use. For this race, a normal shorty suite with calf protectors and a cap would have been enough. Given the shorter swims there was no need for paddles, goggles or any flotation device.

…and what’s next?

Now the 2015 season comes to a close and we, team Ultraswimrun, will start preppin’ for 2016, which has a lot in store for us. We are doing several races such as Utö Swimrun, Scilly Swimrun, Hells Hop, Höga Kusten Swimrun, Rockman swimrun, and perhaps a couple more if time allows.

But for us, the next big thing, will be our Stockholm Archipelago Ultra Swimrun event (SAUC). It will be majestic to once again embark on this mega-challenge of swimrunning over 250 km. In addition we’re planning a couple of shorter weekend-ultras, where we will go out and do segments of SAUC but also try out new routes. Trying out new routes is part of our adventure swimrun series, where we do swimrun expeditions into previously uncharted swimrun terrain. Here focus lie on exploring and experiencing the unknown, rather than the typical chasing-time racing. We go self-supported i.e. with a map, a point A and B and your own skill-set, bringing back swimrunning to its original form. 

Finally any advice to those trying winter swimrun next year?

As always, try shorter segments of the race on beforehand, to trim the gear you are planning to use. And prepare for the cold water because when it trickles down your back, it’s just awful 😀

 /Team Ultraswimrun

– We go further

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