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Kryathlon Apr 17 Main Image

Jonathan and Kerry celebrate surviving the kryathlon


Jonathan Cowie heads to the Czech Republic to take part in a weekend of winter swimming – and the ultimate winter triathlon


If 2016 was my year of saying 'yes', 2017, by comparison, seems to be the year of saying ‘f*ck it’. Hence the following email exchange earlier this year.

Jack: “Do you want to do a kryathlon?”
Me: “Go on then. What’s a kryathlon?”
Jack: “Swim, run, cross-country ski.”
Me: “Oh. Does it matter if I can’t ski?”
Jack: “No, I am sure you will be ok.”

And so here I am, on the edge of a river in Prague in early February. The air temperature is 2 degrees Celsius and the water 1.5 degrees. Wetsuits are not allowed. A group of “performance” and “recreational” athletes are waiting to scramble down a rocky bank into the freezing water. I am not sure if I am classed as performance or recreational, but there are some serious swimmers here: ice milers and English and North Channel swimmers. I am hoping to hold my own in the swim, smash the run, before being overtaken by everyone on the ski.

There are three distances in the kryathlon – short, standard and super. I am doing the standard (250m swim, 2.5km run, 3km ski). Jack Bright, co-organiser and the man who persuaded me that not being able to ski isn’t a problem, is competing in the super kryathlon, where the distances are double the standard.

The announcements are all in Czech, so the start of the race is a bit of a surprise. Fellow British competitor Kerry O’Hara and I are still shuffling down the riverbank on our bottoms when all the other competitors surge ahead to the start line in the river. Luckily we are in the water by the time the starting horn sounds, but we are stuck at the back of the pack. The water temperature is so cold that it makes racing difficult – even catching your breath in 1.5 degree water is hard. We breathe every two strokes and manage to pick up a good few places before we get to the end of the course. After an unceremonious exit from the water over rocks and up a muddy bank we run into the first transition.

Kryathlon Transition One

Setting up transition one

Kryathlon Walk To Start

The long walk to the start of the kryathlon

Kryathlon rules state that nudity is allowed. And when you can’t feel your hands and feet, modesty is the last thing on your mind. So I strip off and fumble into my running kit before sprinting off as quickly as numb feet allow. As hoped, I pick up a good few places on the run, which goes along the riverbank before looping past a racetrack to the ski course.

Kryathlon rules state that nudity is allowed. And when you can’t feel your hands and feet, modesty is the last thing on your mind. So I strip off and fumble into my running kit before sprinting off as quickly as numb feet allow. As hoped, I pick up a good few places on the run, which goes along the riverbank before looping past a racetrack to the ski course.

Into transition two, and the first task is to get my skis on. Cross country skis are very narrow and clip into the front of flexible boots. So flexible that I can’t get the clips to lock into the skis. Finally I am clipped in and I set off towards the little ramp up on to the track. And then promptly fall and slip back down it. I manage to push myself up the ramp on my second attempt and now I am on the course. Happily, I only fall over two more times, which I am quite proud of. My ski style is mostly pushing myself along with my poles, but it seems to work ok.

I finish and am handed an ice lolly to cool down with while I watch Kerry complete her laps. She moves with glacial slowness but doesn’t fall over once. Despite being one of the first out of the swim (she is a Channel swimmer, and very fast), overall she comes dead last.

“I don’t care,” she says. “I didn’t fall over. That is a win for me.”

Kryathlon Riverside Walk

The riverside walk to the beginning of the races


Prague Winter Swimming Weekend

The day before the kryathlon I also competed in the Plavecky Klub Otuzilcu annual winter swimming races. I say competed, but my chosen distance of 500m in 2 degree water was officially classed as “just for fun.” The swimming club has over 200 members who were very welcoming to the foreign swimmers from Slovakia, Russia, Italy, Ireland and England. Swim distances ranged from 100m to 1000m. Only the 750m and 1000m were classed as races. The oldest competitor was 86-year-old Bozena Cerna, who competed in the 1000m. Andrea Svobodova was the youngest swimmer at 15 years old. She swam 100m.

The swims are down the river Vltava in Prague and afterwards competitors warm up the traditional Czech way – with hot ginger tea, squats and press-ups, accompanied by lots of shivering. If you love winter swimming it is a lot of fun, and combining the two events with time exploring Prague makes for a great weekend away.

kryathlon.com

Kryathlon Portrait Pix

Left: Bozena Cerna, Andrea Svobodova and Czech English Channel legend Jan Novak; right: fuel your winter swims with traditional Czech food

Cover October17

Issue 7 October 2017

  • Extend Your Season – Swim all year!
  • Pool Training Special
  • Beginners' Guide to Swim Training Aids
  • Wild Swimming in Dorset and Orkney
  • Century Swim - Sarah Thomas's mind-blowing 104-mile record!
  • Plus, wildlife, nutrition, training, event reviews and full event listings

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