Göteborgsimmet – The Butterfly has become Free

We’ve been living close to Göteborg for almost three years now and have had countless encounters with Lake Delsjön since then. My first dip there actually dates from Göteborgsimmet 2012. I had completed the 5000m in just under 1 hour and 40 minutes in butterfly and ended up 7th out of 7, which I was actually quite happy about (happier about the time than the placing, obviously!). I had not taken part in the race last year due to a bout of back pain (and massive freakout just a month before my Channel swim) and as a result I was really looking forward to competing this year. This was my chance to actually race, Vidösternsimmet was a great test of endurance and I forced myself to not push too hard for most of the swim in order to give myself a chance to finish it, Göteborgsimmet was going to be very different!

This year again I signed up for the 5000m race, due to start at 10:00. The swimmers in the 2500m race would start at the same time, which resulted in a field of over 100 swimmers, almost evenly split between both distances. I got to say “Hej” to a few friends (among them was Anders Blomgren, who’s cooking up something fun for september/october, more about it soon) right before the start and before I knew it, it was already time to line up right by the edge of the water (“Get your toes out of the water!!!”). I was standing in the first row on the left side of the pack, feeling like I would be fast but certainly no competition to the guys and girls standing on the right end of the beach.

The first hundred meters were chaos, as expected. I tried to hold a straight line toward the first buoy while swimming some variation of water-polo-front-crawl and trying to avoid any collision with any of the surrounding swimmers. My strategy was to try and start fast and accelerate during the second lap. In my pre-race dreams I was able to hold on to the fast guys for at least a little while and go into survival mode to finish the swim in under 70 minutes. Dream scenario. My actual target was to get under 1 hour and 15 minutes, which would be a 4km/h average, a speed that I’ve been able to hold for about 4000m earlier in the summer, before I dialed down training some more.

Photo by Jarek Figas !

Anyhow, after 100 meters with my head out of the water, I was very aware that the fast ones were indeed very fast and sadly much too far away already for me to even dream to see them again before the finish line. And so did the navigating begin. I’m somewhat more familiar with Delsjön than Vidöstern, having swum probably close to 1000 kilometers there in the past couple of years. I usually swim around the two islands, each lap being 2000m. For Göteborgsimmet the buoys are layed out to mark a slightly wider lap. I had to resist the urge of taking a shortcut or two, swimming closer to the islands, camouflaging under some branches. Having in the end decided against using such manoeuvres, I’m pretty sure my local knowledge didn’t help me all that much during this race.

About half-way through the first lap, came a sharp 90° turn to the left. A couple of minutes before reaching that buoy, I could see the group of furious tortoises already well past this marker. But I could also see a couple of green hats (male 5000m competitors, aka “targets” !) not that far ahead of me. I’d have to work hard to catch them, but that I knew from the start. I wasn’t planning on saving anything for after the race. This was after all my second and last race of the summer!

I reached the finish line for the first time after a bit more than 35 minutes! Wow, didn’t see that one coming. My arms were very heavy but I could see that I was closing in some more on one of the green hats. I focused on gliding efficiently, on rotating my body just the right amount and complemented it all with some extra kicking (I like kicking !). Soon I was only a few meters behind the fellow in green. I considered drafting off him for a while but eventually decided against it as I felt that this would have been too sneaky. I passed him just before reaching the sharp-turn buoy for the second time and was now very close to reaching a lady-swimmer. There was now just one kilometer left and most of it was one long straight line with the final 500m marked by a few wooden platforms attached together using pool lane-lines. I managed to pass her before the first platform and in the process went from her right-hand side to her left-hand side i.e. close to the lane-lines. I could see that she had been breathing to the right as I was passing her and switched to left-side breathing as I was only slightly ahead of her and to her left. This switch meant that she was not going to let me cross the finish line before her without a fight!

Game on!

I turned my kicking a couple of notches up, started breathing every other stroke and focused on keeping my head down whilst sighting off the lane-lines and platform. I sensed that I was getting close to the end so I chanced a glance on the right … and there she was, kicking and windmilling and getting right past me! I did my best to still keep my head down and swim as efficiently as possible but couldn’t help but notice that she was now a couple of meters ahead of me. There were only fifty meters to go. I felt like this was it but then thought back about what another swimmer once told me: if you’re struggling at threshold pace, try and start sprinting for a while, you’ll use different types of muscles and it will feel easier for a little while. I thought that I was already in sprinting mode, but somehow managed to increase my stroke rate, straighten my arms and give absolutely all I had … for a mere 20 meters … and ended up 5 seconds behind my competitor. I wanted to shake hands with her but she was just as fast out of the water and disappeared in the crowd.

I got a time of 1:11:02 which left me in 13th place out of 44 overall and 9th out of 30 males. The winner on the mens side clocked in at 0:56:05 (5.3 km/h!!!!) and the winner on the womens side completed the 5000m in 0:59:42 ( > 5km/h!!!). I was extremely happy with my time which gave me an average speed of 4.2km/h.


Jarek, Anna & jag :)

Two hours later, time for the 1000-meter race. The course consisted in one 500-meter-long straight line following the lane-lines until the final platform and back. This was actually the main race of the day. It is one of three races that are part of the “Göteborg Classic”, along with a cycling and a running race. As a result, over 1000 persons took part in this event. Most participants covered the distance using breaststroke. There had been a few waves starting every 10th minute after the end of the morning’s long races, followed by a 30-minute break meant to clear the lake before the “Competitive Heat” (Ooooooh!). There were a few other swimmers who had entered two races like I did. However the very best speedsters seemed to have called it a day.

I put back on my super-FINA-approved AQUADEUS jammer, waited on the beach for the start signal and started rotating my arms frantically. I could see a lot of splashing all around me and some more splashing a bit further in the distance. Damn it, some people can move fast through water! I was staying really close to the lane-lines in order to not have to swim more than 1000m, passed one young fella at the turn, put my head down once more and headed towards the finish banner. Once again I tried to fight off some late charges (one swimmer actually swam over my legs, bringing me to a halt) and touched the time-pad after a lady-swimmer and before a group of I-don’t-know-how-many others. I got out of the water, received another finisher medal and got congratulated by Greta:

- Well done! You came second!
- What? No, I didn’t.
- Yes you did.
- I don’t think so. How many finished ahead of me?
- Just one.
- That doesn’t make sense.

Stealing the silver medal from a little boy … sorry !

Turned out I finished second male (a long way) after Johan Ekstedt (who had already managed a 6th place in the 5k) and that only the swimmers from the competitive heat were eligible for prizes. That meant a silver medal for me! Even if I later found out that I had come 3rd male when combining all the heats. Third out of 390 males and fourth out of 1022 isn’t too bad a result, but as mentioned, this last race was less about speed than about popularizing open-water swimming in Göteborg.

A successful day! Even for Greta, who did manage to not get wet despite a weather forecast (and a wake-up call in the form of heavy rain pounding against our windows) that did not look too promising.

Greta = not wet.


About Sylle

Swimmer specialised in relatively cold water and relatively long distances, English Channel Swimmer 2009, Butterfly across the English Channel in 2013
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