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  • Martin / Gaetano

Swimrun (Gaetano's Race) (English)

Swimrun events are not very common in Italy. It’s more of a northern European phenomenon and actually started in Sweden where the most famous race is the ÖtillÖ (but even that race only started in 2006). The races consist of a series of running and swimming fractions but without any changing areas between the two disciplines. You swim with your shoes, you run with your swim cap and goggles (you can remove them from your eyes of course!) and wetsuit if you need it. Pull buoys are allowed, as are hand paddles in order to help the swim part of the course. The distances are short (10-15km), medium or half (20 – 30km) and long (40+km).

Gaetano originally approached me to train him for some trail races but I already knew that he had done at least swimrun and was gunning to do some more. A new challenge for him, and also for me as his coach.

Gaetano’s Swimrun

If, of the three swimruns I have done in my life, two were at Brasimone Lake, there must be a reason, no?

More than one, to be honest: the first is that the natural park of Brasimone and Suviana is a lovely place. The second reason is that it is one of the more trail dominated courses among those organized in Italy. The last reason is that the official competition must be done as a couple, just like the original Nordic swimruns, the ones that, as my wife says, who again has followed me and waited patiently with our kids, "is Nordic stuff"; she says it with a look that seems to imply “more crazy people", but I am keeping the doubt for myself.

In short, since my mum made me with light eyes, I feel a bit Nordic, too, and the ÖtillÖs attract me a lot. What was missing to make everything perfect? Well, a companion, to begin with, but I found one in Fabio, an expert athlete from Bologna who I had met at the Trans D’Havet trail race a couple of years ago and then found here last year; and of course a typical Nordic "lovely" hard and severe climate. And yet we didn't miss this last part.

The pre-race briefing on Saturday afternoon was similar to one of those by Pollo (nd. mythical race director) at the Trans D’Havet trail race: forecast of terrible weather, recommendation to carefully evaluate the necessary equipment, maybe there will be a course change, could be shorter, maybe the race will be stopped.

Actually the weather will be worse for those who will be there waiting for us: Silvana and the kids, and also for my dad, who went down with my brother directly on the morning of the race to keep him company along the journey. Together with Bubu (nd. Silvio, Gaetano’s brother) we decide to wear the wetsuit, more to amortize the expense than for a genuine need (seeing as the water temperature is 20 ° ...). Fabio, my companion, is more minimalist wearing just a triathlon costume and is surprisingly calm even under the rain of the start. His aplomb will accompany me throughout the total 28 km without ever betraying disappointment for my lack of speed and without ever uttering a word even remotely vulgar; a lord of the English nineteenth century that seems to have arrived here from a novel by Emily Brontë. And indeed, some "wuthering heights" were also found here.

The race starts with a short run and I immediately realize, as we run through the woods, that Fabio is pretty good on the downhills. Then a short swim with the confirmation that even in swimming Fabio doesn't mess around. Poor Fabio, who knows at which point he'll realize what a poor choice he has made to team up with me. But in fact, he never mentions anything of the kind and I will be eternally grateful for this.

The first two swims in Lake Brasimone slip away quickly; at the first refreshment point my Dad is filming awhile scrutinizing the horizon to look for his other son. And Silvana who jokes about the fact that it doesn’t look like much fun to her.

But we are having fun, a whole lot of fun. Indeed, in the next 6 km, four of which descend into a forest far from civilization, they are like an unexpected ticket to Gardaland (nd. Italian amusement park) given to a child. The only problem is that my shoes, bought because they were recommended for swimrun events, are very swim and only a little bit run, especially in mud and on wet rocks. Not very ÖtillÖ style: I look like an obese Carolina Kostner (nd. Italian ice-skater).

Too bad that it’s not possible to take the phone for photos though, because when you come out of the woods and you see Suviana in front of you, the second lake, well ... beautiful! I can't imagine what it could be like with the sun. Double crossing (one prudently reduced by the organizers due to the weather) with two trails along the lake which, Fabio rightly says, recall a little bit the run around the lake of Misurina that is done at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail. Check point control, tea-based refreshment (probably warmed up at the nearby nuclear power plant, it was so hot) and up again returning towards Brasimone. I decide to remove the top part of my wetsuit. Now: this is a non-trivial exercise, at least for me. Usually I find myself with the suit half down and half up with my arms blocked and a look which is similar to Houdini during the escapology tests. Only I'm not Houdini. But there is Fabio who is thankfully on hand to help me. The climb is tough and, as you know, it's not really my bread and butter. But it actually goes quite well. Thanks to Coach Martin, he had said that the training program would probably mean losing a bit of swimming speed but result in a big improvement in general. Along the lake we also run quite fast; at this point we begin meeting the first athletes of the long course who are in the finishing straight; true that they left an hour and a half before, but they had a course of forty km of which, I think, 6 of swimming. Much admiration!

Now we are in the common part of last year's journey, this is not just a detail for me: I trust my memory far more than a GPS to know how much is still to do. Fabio says that the time is in line with his of last year. Excellent! Except we still have come to terms with my ballerina shoes in the most technical part of the route ... porcoggiuda (nd. Italian dialectic swear word) I can’t even stand up straight! It’s raining hard but at least inside the wood it is beautiful, even though I risk slipping on the roots and taking a closer look at them a couple of times. Last crossing. A little bit for pride, a little bit for gratitude, I offer to go first in this swim so Fabio can follow in my slipstream. But after not even a hundred meters the rain is thick and raises an annoying mist on the surface of the water, my sight is not good and my technique of "sighting" of the buoys is even worse. I reluctantly allow Fabio to the front and am soon following my companion's orange cap more easily. Last little hill, I am already forecasting an under 4 hours and 50, to tell the truth a bit cheeky, immediately reduced by a damn cramp to the right hamstring. We walk the last climb and then run down to the last field that in normal conditions would be a wonderful sight, but today there is no way to appreciate it. Just a short swim to reach the last meters before the finish chute: I hear the good-natured insults of my family: "dad, you are very slow", "but where did you get to?" "Come on, it’s raining" and other similar amenities. We let two Long course pathletes pass and climb the bank that leads to the finish line. It is not the center of anything, there are no onlookers watching, yet I am happy as if I had finished an Ultra. There are Dad, Silvana and the twins. I don't need anything else. Just under five hours, 28 km with at least 4 swimming and, although no one ever talks about it in swimrun, almost 1000 meters D +. And I enjoyed them, every single meter!

A huge thank you to Coach Martin, the work has paid off.

And even bigger thanks to Fabio, who surely would have been so much faster on his own.

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