A Champion's Reflections, Eric Nilsson On The Kingdom

A Champion’s Reflections, Eric Nilsson On The Kingdom

Last Saturday, Northwestern University All-American swimmer Eric Nilsson won the World Open Water Swimming Association 10 Mile World Championship at the Kingdom Swim in Lake Memphremagog, Vermont.

After pushing himself to the limit and being pushed by teenager Feodor Orlov over the entire 16.2 km course, we asked the veteran about the Kingdom Swim.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How did you feel before the 10-mile Kingdom Swim?
Eric Nilsson: The morning of the race, upon waking up, I actually felt surprisingly good and alert which was a nice surprise. There’s nothing worse than waking up feeling groggy and not up for a long race. Everything went smoothly before the race with checking in, finding my kayaker and getting to the start line. I am never good at eating much before a long morning race, but I managed to get a granola bar and some Gatorade in.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How did you feel in the first half of the race?
Eric Nilsson: I felt strong from the beginning of the race, taking it out pretty smooth but concentrating on a long efficient stroke and light kick that I thought I would be able to hold for the duration of the race. I found my kayaker with relative ease and I was able to see each of the buoys that I needed to without too much difficulty which was a relief because there was a good bit of distance between each buoy. I like knowing where I am going. I maintained the stroke and was in a good mental state for the entire first half of the race. I would say it went by pretty quickly. The only hitch during the first half was that my kayaker dropped her life jacket and in her attempt to retrieve it, fell behind me and had to be towed back up to me by the state trooper. So I had to choose my own line and swim by myself for 15 minutes or so.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How did you feel in the second half of the race?
Eric Nilsson: Right at about halfway through the race, I started having trouble seeing any of the buoys, so I had to blindly trust and follow my kayaker’s lead which makes me a little uneasy. But I did trust my kayaker Sandy, so I did not waver from her. There were some buoys that I couldn’t see until I was about 20 feet from them, but luckily Sandy could see them well before me. At about two-thirds through the race, my entire body, both arms and legs, and especially hip flexors began to fatigue. This is the point where it seems like the race is at a stand-still and no progress is being made. The addition of not being able to see the buoys makes it seem to go by even slower. Knowing that progress is being made and that the race will end soon helps push me through this though. I didn’t have trouble seeing the last buoy which was nice, but at that point all of my muscles were right on the border of cramping, so I couldn’t really make any different motions aside from my standard stroke, and needed to keep sighting to a minimum because my hip flexors would cramp each time I did. I managed to get a little momentum going for the finish. Seeing the finish line always gives me some energy. A beach finish meant I needed to get on my feet to get across the line which can be, and was, a little difficult after several hours in the water, especially with leg muscles on the verge of cramping, but I managed to hobble across.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How did you get over the fatigue during the race?
Eric Nilsson: I started feeding early in order to help alleviate fatigue later in the race, but some still came at about two-thirds through the race. At this point, I would just focus on keeping my stroke even on both sides. As my arms were fatiguing slightly greater than my legs, I picked up my legs just a little bit. Other than that, just keeping my mind off the fatigue helped.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What did you eat or drink? How often?
Eric Nilsson: I drank a small cup of Gatorade every 15 minutes, and added a gel pack to the Gatorade at every other feeding.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Did you and your kayaker talk during the race?
Eric Nilsson: Very minimally, but we would exchange a few words during the feeding, just checking up on each other.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was your strategy versus your competition?
Eric Nilsson: My general strategy in races is to go out strong and try to hold on. During this race I tried to take it out smoother than I have in the past, because I knew I was not in the shape I have been for some of my other long races, so I knew I needed to pace myself in order to be able to finish. Other than that, I just try to not let people draft off of me. As I was in the lead pretty much from the start in this race, I tried to not let up during any part of the race, knowing that Feodor would be right there passing me if I did. I did check back every now and then, seeing where my competition was at, although I tried to do so less in the second half of the race.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How did you feel after the race?
Eric Nilsson: My muscles felt pretty spent after the race, but I felt good and accomplished, as I often do after a long race or workout. I don’t think there are many better feelings than just after an endurance session, when you can relax and get something to eat.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Was this race easier or harder than the 10K USA Swimming National Championship races?
Eric Nilsson: I can compare it to the 2011 10k National Championships. This race was completely different than that race, mainly because of the conditions. I was swimming in the lead in this race, as compared to chasing the lead pack in 2011. This race had some mild swell, but it was a lake swim and had generally good conditions. The 2011 10K National Championships basically occurred during a storm with large swells and limited visibility. That race was decided for me at the beginning when I got caught in a group and couldn’t get out past it for 15-30 minutes. After that I may have caught the lead pack a little but it is tough swimming solo in an open water race when others are in a group, and I never managed to re-enter the pack with the leaders.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What are your next open water swimming goals?
Eric Nilsson: This summer I have just a couple more races lined up including the Trans Tahoe Relay which I have done the past 2 years, the 8-mile Boston Light Swim which I competed in last year, the RCP Tiburon Mile which I’ve done the past 3 years, and some local New England races. My main goals include getting enough swim and workout time in my schedule to get into shape. I plan on competing in some competitive races in the next couple years, possibly some FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix races and 10K USA Swimming National Championships.

Photos courtesy of Phil White.

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