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September 9, 2011

O till O : Report

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For a few days I have been trying to digest what happened out there on Monday. How big was the experience? How hard was it out there? How amazing was the scenery, the organization and the experience of sharing it with a good partner?

I feel I may never sum it up completely into one post. I can say that this race isn’t for everyone. It’s a big day out and the cut off times are a lot harder than an Ironman, for example. Add the continuous movement across 19 islands (38 ins and outs) to the stress. Add 1 meter chop and swell and going the entire 70 odd kilometers into a 30km/h headwind and you’ll understand why the race had a 62% finish rate this year.

I am going to run through some of the high and low points of the race so that you will hopefully get a sense of what it’s about. It’s a magical race and certainly one I will be back to race again. But first…

It’s 5:40am and I can see my partner is overwhelmed by the experience. His eyes are classic deer-in-the-headlights and I am trying to calm him down. He is a good man, a strong man and I want him to have the best experience possible on the day, as he has trained incredibly hard for the day.

At roughly 6:15am we enter the first swim, a big, 1650m open-water swim. The water is black, the chop is 1m high with rhythmic waves over the incoming Baltic currents. It’s an ugly sight and 50m in, my partners eyes tell me he is near panic. I know the feeling well. You feel you aren’t going to make it. I resolve to keeping him on course, telling him to chill and have some fun, as we have 10 hours, at least, ahead of us today. I can tell he thinks the training was for nothing, that this isn’t doable. Around us, people wash up onto the rocks, looking for their partners and I know that we’ll get through this, if Pete can calm down.

The islands are mega technical running and there are very few paths in islands 1 through 5, a rock scramble really, in a wetsuit and racing flats carrying hand paddles and trying to keep the heart rate down. It’s raw, its epic and I am loving the vibe. Pete is starting to relax a little and we make our way from islands to island, one step at a time. Pete is having stomach issues but the Rehidrat is curing that. The Orca S3’s are wonderful and easy to swim in, probably the perfect suit to modify for a race like this and our Puma shoes are holding up like champions.

At roughly 10:40am, we get to the first big stop. There were a few swims in the first 4 hours that will go down in my mind as the 3 toughest swims ever. You are being thrown side to side, it’s cold, it’s windy and you are aiming for a little yellow banner you can hardly see. We are swimming very straight compared to other teams and despite being 40min off our target pace, we are holding pace and starting to speed up on the open stuff. Pete is holding tough, despite himself and I applaud him for that. To face demons like that for 4 hours before it starts coming right is the sign of a tough man, someone I would always be proud to go to battle with. A good thing, considering we have 6 hours to go. We are 25th at this point.

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The islands are beautiful and when crossing big swims, we always have a boat with us. The organization is incredible and the volunteers are the best I have ever seen. We are very much into a rhythm by now, after strapping my feet at 6 hours in. You can test gear all you want over 2 hours, but at hour 6, things rub through. I have blisters on both heels, both undersides of my feet and at the base of both feet’s toes. Strapping helps where possible and we continue on. It’s a part of the experience, so I am not too worried and pain is relative when out doing something as amazing as this.

We are running loads of single track in the middle of the race. Beautiful, natural single track over rocks and through dense forests. My partner is tracking me, about 10m back at most, gaining speed all the time. I merely keep him motivated by showing the route and dictating a steady pace. I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of the experience and really have no regrets if we were off pace, this race has no prize for me at the end, the prize was in every second I was out there.

8 hours in and we hit the longest run, 17.5km split by a water stop at 10.5km. At about 6km we are laughing because both our shoes are a little red, from the blood seeping from our toes. We haven’t seen another team in about an hour and have made our way int o 17th by now, slowly but surely speeding up. Pete has his best run on Orno, about 30sec per km faster than when we started. He says he is ****** but his legs are telling a different story so I keep pushing him where possible.

The long run has 2km of incredible forest orienteering towards the end, fantastic for me, hell for Pete. We have a few short swim/run combinations left, but I reckon its an hour to cover the last 7km, which was spot on. No roads, few markings, very rough entries and exits on the last few islands, I am told.

The photo at the top is from the last exit. On the last 2 exits, I would swim onto the rocks, hold on for dear life, throw my paddles into the bushes and roll back down the rock to catch my partner, who by now was hanging onto the thinnest of threads of energy. He had washed onto the rocks, opening both elbows on the swim before, so we took no chances on the last 2.

We have a team about 30 seconds behind us but we know we can outrun them, so we cruise into the finish. We walk, laugh, high five and hobble our way to the finish where we have a grand, old fashioned sit, smack talk and recollection session. It’s all over.

Really?

All over. Just like that. So simple, so beautiful.

To Pete – who turned himself inside out and personified what endurance is about, I salute you.

To the organizers – thank you for the most professional event I have been to.

To Guy and the rest of our support crew – thanks for keeping us motivated and for making Pure Planet Racing a family experience.

To my sponsors – who make it all possible – humble thanks – Fairbairn Private Bank, BoE Private Clients, Garmin, Velocity Sports Lab, Axis House, Rehidrat, Puma… all part of Pure Planet Racing – wait till you see what you are a part of when the coverage comes out. We are making a difference.

For now, I will continue to internalize the experience. It’ll be with me for years. That quiet, that pause I love so much, I found it out there.

2 Comments on “O till O : Report

Andre
September 12, 2011 at 10:59 am

Grats! Sounds awesome.

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Michael Lemmel
September 13, 2011 at 10:38 am

Thank you for à great report. It was an honor to have you participate in our race. You are always welcome back. Best regards, michael

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