HOTSHOT is thrilled to be a part of the first Swimrun event to take place in the US on August 14. The endurance event, inspired by the international Swimrun series OTILLO, consists of multiple, alternating swim and overland running legs, covering nearly 10 miles of terrain and a combined 4 miles of open-water swimming between eight islands in Portland, Maine’s Casco Bay. There will be 125 teams of two that will tackle the course, carrying all of their necessary gear with them at all times. The event director, triathlete Lars Finanger, knows that having the right teammate and equipment can make all the difference. Here, he shares his personal experience with muscle cramping, and why he’s encouraging all athletes to carry HOTSHOT:
The original Swimrun event has an interesting story.
It began as a drunken bet between four Swedish friends to see who could get from the bar they were having drinks at on Uto, one of the southernmost islands of the Stockholm Archipelago, to a hotel on one of the northernmost islands, Sandhamn. Rules were few: travel between the 26 islands by human-powered means, which meant running or swimming. Whatever they started with they had to arrive at the finish line with -- be it fins, an inflatable raft, wetsuit and more -- and they had to stay together with their teammate. The losing team picked up the bar tab for the winning team at the finish. The next year, in 2006 it was produced as OTILLO (literally “island to island” in Swedish) by world champion adventure racing teammates, Michael Lemmel and Mats Skott. They recruited hardcore triathletes, adventure racers, military special operators, and flipped the direction of the race course to start north and finish south, and established a set of rules. Now entering its 11th edition, OTILLO remains the longest, most challenging event and is the most prestigious with worldwide media acclaim from publications like Outside Magazine, naming it a “Worlds Toughest Endurance Race”.
What will be different about the race in the US?
This is the first Swimrun event in the US true to the OTILLO values of an island-to-island race. Athletes will compete in two-person teams, have a mandatory set of equipment they must bring for safety purposes and whatever they start the race with they must cross the finish line with. This is the only event in North America designated as an Official Merit Qualifying Race for OTILLO World Championships in 2017.
As an athlete and race director, you have said that having HOTSHOT at the event is vital.
Our Swimrun event consists of nine swim legs and nine run legs, alternating between the two, and covering nine different islands. Running legs are not done on perfectly paved roads but over harsh trails, rocky shoreline scrambles and wading through very shallow water so there is more effort required in making forward progress. While moving through the incredible Maine landscape, the body is constantly reacting to new and inhospitable environments. When the body is compromised, overstressed and broken down is when intense cramping can set in. Having HOTSHOT available to our athletes so they can take steps to alleviate cramping before it ever starts, or kill them off when they attempt to stop someone dead in their tracks, will save the day for many athletes on race day. As a race staff, we are strongly encouraging athletes to carry a HOTSHOT with them as a safety net out on the course should they experience cramping at any point in the day.
You have a personal story with severe muscle cramping during a race. What happened?
In 2014, I had the opportunity to race OTILLO. During one of the longest and coldest swims on the course, my calves, quads and hamstrings completely locked up in a series of cramps — the debilitating kind endurance athletes often refer to as “Mad Calf Disease”! In an individual race, my day would have been over as I was unable to move. In hindsight, it was also a very dangerous situation, as the race does not guarantee a safety boat will be next to you and ready to assist in the case of an emergency. Luckily, one of the rules of Swimrun is competing as a team and carrying a tether as a part of the mandatory equipment in which teammates can fasten to one another and a stronger swimming teammate can provide the weaker, or in this case temporarily disabled, swimmer an assist. My teammate tethered us, told me to roll over and lie on my back, and he pulled me through the rest of the swim leg and to the safety of shore. I spent the remainder of the race having to stop frequently and put patchwork on a pair of legs that had rebelled against me. But, nothing struck home about the seriousness of cramping as much as when it happened in the middle of that cold swim leg in the middle of the Baltic Sea!
What are some of the dangers of cramping mid-swim? How does running and swimming add to likelihood of cramping?
Swimming, and particularly open-water swimming, tends to make athletes anxious because it is difficult to feel in complete control of your body in such a powerful natural environment like a river, lake or an open ocean. A high heart rate coupled with managing the demands of an open-water environment like cold or hot water, contact with other flailing bodies, as is the case during a race and trying to navigate to an exit point while potentially dealing with choppy waters can make the athlete anxious and the body tense. In a Swimrun event, with the multiple legs of running and swimming, the body is in a constant state of distress and muscles break down and are compromised the longer the event goes on. This is a major reason why there are so many built-in rules calling for teammates, mandatory use of wetsuits and optional use of pull buoys for floatation and tethers for assistance. In case of emergencies, like cramping in the middle of the open water, these safety measures could literally be lifesavers.
How do you personally train for Swimrun?
I focus on swimming six days a week, usually with long pull sets using paddles and pull buoys, and running four days a week on trails near my house. One day each week I do a longer run carrying my paddles and pull buoy (13-15 miles) with a few planned breaks along the way at local swimming pools where I will swim for ten (10) minutes before carrying on. During these longer sessions, I carry a small waist belt with a HOTSHOT stored inside to take at the first sign of a cramp. HOTSHOT is a new revelation since I last trained for OTILLO in 2014 and it was a no-brainer to implement into the training!
MORE ON THE HOTSHOT BLOG
HOTSHOT Science: Let’s talk science: Our team shares information about TRP Channels and why they are impacting muscle cramps.
HOTSHOT Science: What causes a muscle cramp? Read here.
The Nerve is the Boss of the Muscle: Take control with HOTSHOT. Here’s how.