This is a guest post from Kieren Jon Lawrenson. Kieran recently completed a 3km swimming race through the Arctic circle and finished in 2nd place in a field of 120. It was a phenomenal effort and we asked Kieran to share his thoughts on the event with us..
I recently had the fortunate experience of swimming in a unique event in Lapland that gives you the chance to swim back through time……
The region has a strong tradition of swimming and sauna – a great combination.
All it took to get there was a 11.5 hour flight from Australia to Qatar; throw in a 9 hour layover with searing 42 degree Celsius plus outdoor temperatures; a 6 hour flight to Stockholm, a hop off the plane to catch an SJ overnight 12 hour train north to Luleå; followed by a 2 hour car-trip further North to eventually reach the Swedish village of Juoksengi situated on the Torne river. Across the river (which acts as the border between Sweden and Finland) is the Finnish village of Juoksenki. In winter the river freezes over and an ice road is maintained between the two villages.
The Swim the Arctic Circle is a 3km downstream race from Finland to Sweden across the Torne. It takes place under the summer midnight sun and the swim route crosses the Arctic Circle and a time zone. This means that most participants begin the race at the Finnish start (pun intended) early on Sunday morning and finish before they started late on the previous Saturday evening. There are large analogue clocks setup at the start and finish lines for photo opportunities to prove the time travel feat.
During the swim each breath you take is interspersed with an incredible view of a deep red semi-sunset and intense Nordic scenery. The water temperature can vary from about 15 to 22 degrees Celsius year on year depending on the prevailing conditions. For our race the water was warm and dark and navigation was relatively easy. We were required to follow a series of large buoys painted alternately in Swedish and Finnish national colours. The current proved to be a bit tricky to negotiate at the shallow sections of the course and you needed to get your trajectory right as you veered off towards the channel leading to the finish platform where the touch pads and timekeepers were situated.
At the mål (the finish) you were met with biscuits, hot soup and a warm welcome from the crowd gathered to watch the race. Naturally, there were hot tubs available for swimmers to warm up a bit more and portable saunas to really warm up. After that we all gathered at the wood-panelled club house for the presentations and prize-giving. I was pleased to have finished in second place behind Adrian from Sweden and ahead of Samuli – a local Finnish triathlete (see photo in header).
Some of the challenges I faced included a serious bout of jet-lag which was not made any easier by the continuous light of day and mosquito and horse-fly bites which left nasty sores that would linger on for days. It didn’t help matters either that I came off my bicycle the ‘night’ before the race whilst surveying the finish area. This left me with a nasty haematoma on the front of my right thigh and a smashed non-functional iPhone. A wetsuit that had a split in a seam shortly before the race added to the discomfort….
What helped me get through it all was the unconditional long-distance support from my family together with stubborn will combined with perseverance – this is the potent mix that disintegrates obstacles and leads to great outcomes. It also helped to know that there was a traditional Finnish smoke sauna followed by an Elk and Chanterelle mushroom meal awaiting me the day after the event!
The midnight sun swim was a fantastic escapade with great people running it and enormous camaraderie amongst the swimmers. I thoroughly recommend it for competitive and recreational swimmers alike. The race in my year was capped at 120 entrants so if you are up for the challenge make sure to get your entry in early.