September 3, 2011

Sweden Highlights Week 1

We set off from Cape Town a week ago with hopes and an expectancy of some great racing and beautyiful places to come. The goals for this trip are simple: Complete O till O, race hard at Xterra Switzerland and have some fun in the middle. The flight into Stockholm is green and lots of lakes, beautiful in all the best ways and totally set the tone for the beauty that I have experiences on this trip. First off, here is a bit of a overview of Stockholm City itself.

The bicycle culture here is amazing. Everybody is on bikes and the city is totally geared completely towards cycling. Bike lanes, cheap city bikes available everywhere and people in work suits and high heels riding to work and back.

The food is expensive as is booze – but only in restaurants – extra taxes make for it being so expensive in restaurants. Wine is really expensive and you’ll pay R450 for a bottle of Two Oceans in a restaurant. The food is rich, very cozy, very South African in a way.

The culture is amazing – very diverse, very honest people. The Swedes pride themselves on being straight down the line, non-flashy but providing incredible infrastructure and service as a nation. A spade is a spade here and mediocrity is not accepted, but neither is flashy wealth. An amazing, warm hospitality is felt everywhere you go and english is spoken almost everywhere. The culture is very sea-faring in terms of fashion sense, which is no surprise considering the past of this fantastic country. Lots of the clothing is military inspired, people dress to impress, even to work, but everyone dresses more or less the same. This is one of those “lagom bra” things, its just so, neither flash nor poor.

After a few days in the Stureplan/Ostemalm/Djurgarten area we took a break for some team training for O till O to the island of Orro in the Swedish Archipelago, where my race partner, Pistol Pete the Swede, has a family cottage. To say that its incredible is an understatement. is incredible. I am hook, line, sinker that this is somewhere I want to come back to someday (probably with a little less swimming in shoes). The natural environment is unreal. When swimming, there are pink jellyfish in the water everywhere, thousands of them. They are not dangerous at all. The water is crystal clear. There are moose on the islands, very dense forest areas just off the water and everything is a fairytale, really. The quiet is my favorite thing about it, however. A few times a day I went outside to sit in the quiet, letting my thoughts flow and go and felt myself being more and more removed from the world. Bliss.

The race route is incredibly varied – single track forest running, rock clambering, clean, smooth tar, open dirt road and jeep track and oh yes, 11km of swimming between islands where the water conditions vary from 11 to 18 degrees and the conditions could vary from smooth, glassy water to 2 ft waves, depending on the wind.

Some of the islands are small, some are quite long, all with rocky exits. the forests are rooty, which is great. My footwork, learned from following Katya at African-X, should help on all these as well. We spent a morning cutting up brand new wetsuits to suit the race conditions and the water temperatures. We practised running in these suits and doing multiple in-and-out the water repeats, which will be crucial on race day. A couple of things gear wise, for the gear heads out here:

1. I am racing in Puma FAAS250’s – without socks. I am loving them and looking forward to showing their potential running 54km in one day in them sans socks, over trail and islands.
2. We are racing in Orca S3 suits, cut above the elbow and knee. The suit offers quite a bit of floatation and didnt break the bank, considering we may not use them again. Enjoy the photos and the nervous laughter on the soon-to-be-released video as well.
3. The calf piece I cut off the wetsuit, I have modified to use under a compression sleeve to offer extra floatation, considering swimming in shoes without a pull buouy for 11km is a big of a drag.
4. I am able to fit my hydration pack under the wetsuit for the swims as well.
5. I will be carrying extra Rehidrat Sport to refuel every 2 hours or so.
6. I have stuck with my bigger paddles, as they are the ones I trained with to get ready.

I have done a few tests on Pete to work out how fast he can run comfortably, how hard he breaths at certain paces and where he becomes uncomfortable without telling me. It’s crucial for me to manage his energy as well, as he may not tell me he is 5-7 beats over what he can sustain which could end out our race 3/4 into the race. He is a strong guy, a beast that belies his 45 years of age and I intend to use his diesel engine, not his powerflow exhaust. Our aim is to hit 2/3rds into the race strong, so that when we have to run a 21km stretch after 6-7 hours of going already, we are able to run strong.

As his partner, and the stronger half of our team, it’s my responsibility to carry medical gear, compass, maps, extra nutrition and make sure he has nothing holding him back at any stage of the day. Most of all, we are going out there to have fun, race in a spectacular setting in one of the toughest one day races in the world, and kick some ass while we are at it.

Yes, I miss the slight care-free attitude of my South African people. I miss the vibe and the attitude and the beauty of South Africa that is unlike anything else on earth. But I am here, spreading this vibe, this attitude to a new world for me, taking South Africa and South Africans to new people, who have common misconceptions about our beautiful country. How the world perceives us is still a long way off what we know to be our own reality.

On Tuesday I will be putting up a race report for you all while on Monday, you can follow the race live by looking at the article before this, clicking the links and being a small part of this incredible race.

I have put all the trip photos up on my Posterous Page, check them out at here

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