Last weekend I participated in the Battle of Rande, a long distance open water swimming event in the bay of Vigo, Spain. It was the 7th edition of this event, which is held every year in honor of the late Carlos Conde.
By all accounts it was an epic swim. First, the distance alone – 27 km – makes this swim one of the toughest in Spain. Then, there is the setting: in the beautiful bay of Vigo with starting point in pristine Islas Cies, a natural reserve and home to Rodas beach – arguably the most beautiful beach in the world. And of course the swimmers and all the volunteers that take part in the event- it was a great experience!
Not only is the setting beautiful, but the conditions it presents only add to the epic: open Atlantic ocean with 1 to 1,5 meter waves, water temperature as low as 14 Celsius, winds of up to 14 knots, and strong tidal currents. In other words, it’s not for the faint of heart. But hey, at least it was a sunny day! 🙂
From the very moment of pre-registration (participation is by application, and only those with sufficient credentials/OWS experience are selected) I knew it would be a great event. The organizers truly leave no stone unturned in their efforts to put together a perfect event. They thought of everything, from safety to feeding points; it was all flawless. For safety, we were accompanied by number of vessels, including three motor boats each with a doctor, nurse and lifeguard on board, as well as medical equipment. Kayaks were numerous (about one kayak for every 2-3 swimmers), and there was always one nearby. The feeding points were very well organized, and they always had whatever the swimmer wanted to eat or drink at the ready. Live GPS tracking made it possible for friends and family to follow each swimmer’s progress from the comfort of their mobiles (I found this to be a great motivation).
And then there are the participants: 95 men and women, a record number for the Batalla de Rande, braved the waves, the cold and the wind this year. Juan Carlos “Kimbo” Vallejo, Olympic swimmer in Moscow ’80 and Los Angeles ’84, finished first in a time of 6 hours and 24 minutes.
For safety reasons, we started out in groups according to our pace. After the 13th kilometer, once we are in the relatively calmer waters of the bay, the groups would be allowed to break up and swimmers to set their own pace.
The group swam very well together the first 13 kilometers. Although we are in a group, there’s of course not a lot of talking going on, but there is a nice feeling of camaraderie as we swim side by side – not racing against each other, but simply swimming together towards our common goal.
After the first 5 km, we stopped for our first feeding. The organizers executed the feeding points flawlessly: every swimmer quickly got whatever they wanted. They provided power bars, chocolate, energy gels, bananas and oranges, as well as water and sports drinks. After the first stop, we would have feeding points located every three kilometers.
On and on we swam. At about half way through the swim, we were allowed to set our own pace. We could now see the bridge, making it easier to find one’s bearing in choppy water. It was also very motivating to see the bridge slowly approaching, as I knew that once we crossed it, we would be very close to the finish line. I checked my watch. It had taken 4 hours to arrive at mid-point. I thought: Ok, I’m on track to finish in eight hours, I guess that’s reasonable.
After the groups broke up, I was still feeling rather strong, and I had a clear line of sight to my target, so I decided to go at it alone, increasing my pace ever so slightly. For the rest of the swim, I was by myself, swimming freely at my on pace. It felt amazing.
I made it to the bridge after about six and a half hours. Suddenly I was swimming under the shadow of the behemoth. After swimming under the sun for over six hours, the dark water in the shade of the bridge gave me a bit of a thrill. Then I saw the last feeding point. Thinking that I was on track for eight hours, I figured I must have had 5 kilometers left at this point. I stopped to eat and drink, and asked: how long to the finish from here, 5 km? The answer surprised me and gave me a huge boost: “nooo… much less than that! It’s about 3 km from here. You are almost there!” Wow, had I swum that fast in the last 10km?
Having crossed the bridge and with this last bit of morale boost, I felt invincible. In the distance, I could now see San Simon island and a white dot (a building) where the finish line was located. There were some strong winds and choppy waters during these last three kilometers. The water temperature dropped to about 14 Celsius. It didn’t matter now. I had lost feeling in my hands and feet long ago. The cold water just felt refreshing. Nothing could stop me now.
I slowed down my pace in the last kilometer. I was enjoying myself with the fact that I was about to finish my longest swim to date. I looked at my watch: 7 hours. I approached the stone dock, climbed out of the water, and stood up with the help of two volunteers.
Finished! 27 km in 7 hours and 4 minutes. Sore shoulders but very happy to have participated in such an wonderful and epic swim!
Red Cross fundraiser
I do these sort of long distance, open water swims to encourage people to support my fundraiser for the Red Cross emergency aid projects. I cover all my own costs for these events (registration, travel, etc.), and then share my experiences through this blog in the hope that my readers will in turn support the Red Cross. Your donation goes entirely to support the Red Cross’ emergency relief efforts. Be it war, famine, earthquakes or tsunamis, the Red Cross volunteers are always there to aid disaster victims, providing food, water and shelter. Please visit my fundraiser page in the betterplace.org platform and consider making a small contribution to this project. I would really mean a lot to me.