By Carlos Eduardo Lopez Romero
As with many good stories, ours started over a few beers at a bar on September 16, 2006. Two friends, Carlos and Antonio, with a passion for life, looking to embark on a new path that would change our lives forever.
Over the years, our journey has taken us to many countries for various events – marathons, ironman, mountain climbing, crazy open water swimming, and all sorts of adventure races. For me, “crazy” is the nature of the swimrun community.
Living in a small Mexican town like Cordoba, which is about 300 km southeast of Mexico City and has a population of some 142,000, our story really started to have impact on the community. Not only did we feel good physically, but we began to promote sports through triathlon to help young teens get on the right path, away from the drug cartels.
We wanted to take it to another level when all of a sudden ÖTILLÖ crossed our path.
We didn’t know anything about ÖTILLÖ or swimrun, and had no idea how to train for it, yet we were thrilled to try this new challenge. When the team list was released in January 2015, we didn’t know if we should be excited, scared, nervous … it was a unique situation for us, with the added value that it tied in nicely to our purpose to the community. When Antonio and I saw “Mex Swimrun team #36” selected, it was a new beginning.
Fortunately for us, the greatest asset of the Swimrun Family is the camaraderie with the community. We tapped into this to find out what type of equipment we needed. We were pretty worried about not having the right things, as here in Mexico the weather is warm year-round, and we don’t have cold water to swim in. It wasn’t just a question of where would we get all equipment but also where would we find the right place to train?
There was one problem, no one dared to swim in the lake because it’s bewitched.
Training was a hit and miss for us at the beginning. We tried everything, from a triathlon camp in the US to an 18,000-foot volcano. And running in a wetsuit at 35°C was no fun either. Nothing quite worked for us, until we discovered Lake Alchichica, only three hours away.
Alchichica had some ideal conditions for us – high altitude, cold mornings to run in wetsuit and cold water swimming – but there was one problem, no one dared to swim in the lake because it’s bewitched. We heard all sorts of deadly tales about Lake Alchichica. In the beginning, the locals begged us not to swim in the lake, because it was bad luck, and then they started freaking out when they saw our equipment. In this little pueblito (village) no one had ever seen a wetsuit, much less someone running around in one looking for water to swim in.
After a few weeks of training with the mandatory transitions and simulation of jumping from island to island, locals gave us a nickname “Los Locos” (“The Crazy Ones”). These are the incredible memories that swimrun leaves with you, the time you spend with your training partner, sweating through the pain and joy, talking and, in our case, sharing this with our wives, Majo and Andrea, who supported us throughout.
Finally ÖTILLÖ came, we arrived from Mexico in Stockholm two days earlier, full of excitement, and feeling very strong. Taking the ferry to Sandhamn was a special moment, as you get greeted by Race Directors Michael and Mats. We did an interview and everyone was welcoming and interested in how on earth did the Mexicans train and end up at ÖTILLÖ. That night, we didn’t sleep well, it was though a something special was brewing in the air.
Race Day, September 6, 2015: here we go … at the start, a stampede of athletes and amongst them two Mexicans, yes incredibly, two Mexicans. As we reach the water for the first time, it’s still dark and at the end of the skyline, you can see the lights of the first island, It looked far, very far, and the water was super cold. Our minds were racing as fast as our bodies … there are no words to express what we felt.
After a huge amount of effort we got to the first island, but were behind schedule. We were down but not defeated, and knew we had to push it in order to reach the first cut-off, which we made by a couple of minutes. And it continued like this, we crossed every one of the islands, getting stronger and stronger. Of course, we were full of the joys, but our bodies were showing signs of fatigue, and we felt ourselves, like the legend of the phoenix, rising from the ashes to fly and reach the finish line.
While Carlos was freezing, Antonio was getting stronger, even though the conditions were becoming more and more challenging as the Mexicans crossed from island to island. Finally, we were at the second-last part of the race and running 20 kilometres to the last cut-off, with only two hours left to reach it. At that moment we knew we could have gone farther than 20 km, but not at the 6-min/km pace needed to reach the cut-off time. We tried, we really pushed ourselves, holding onto the dream we’d had for months, knowing it would be only a few more hours before the Mexicans would become a legend, an almost impossible task for a couple of guys from a small Mexican town.
Then, as we all experience, we both felt extremely tired, and needed to stop and walk. We made the calculations, and we were going to miss the cut-off by five minutes. We looked at each other and, in spite of our stubbornness, we agreed to take it easy.
We have always believed that there are no bad days in life, just character building days.
We were not going to make it, so we stopped. It was a hard decision but the right one, and we each had 3 minutes of silence, thanking God for the opportunity to do ÖTILLÖ and all that we learned from this experience. After that, what cemented our relationship – the jokes, the fun, the talks, and the admiration we have to each other – all came back.
Arriving at Utö, where the race finished, we were greeted by Michael and Mats, and we will always be very grateful for the beautiful words they told us.
We have always believed that there are no bad days in life, just character building days. So for us, all goes well in the end, if it doesn’t go well, then it’s not the end. So for those who thought we’d never be back, we’ll see you again in September for the ÖTILLÖ Final 15 Race.
That’s right, that Mexicans are back!
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #3 (July 2017)