An Epic Excursion: ÖtillÖ 2017 Race Report

Epic. This is the word that most correctly describes the Swimrun World Championship’s 2017 edition. We certainly became one with nature and got a taste of its immense power while we ran through the strong winds and swam in incredibly high-current waters on our excursion from Sandhamn to Utö. This year I competed in the Women’s category as Team Orca Women with my incredible Barcelona friend and training partner Sarah Hansson.

Race overview

I like to think of the course in four sections. The first one includes the initial long swim, the following short runs and relatively longer swims, and ending with the 8-kilometre run over Runmarö. Our strategy was to pace ourselves and not push in the front right after the start, and to take a right-side entry on the long swim. This we did as planned, and had a good 1800-m lap over to the next island that started out calmly and ended with quite high waves that created a few bungee-shoe kicks for Sarah that she had to protect herself from with the paddles (luckily she survived like a champ and we actually was the first Women’s team up from the first swim). The first runs were slow as we had to watch out for the slippery rocks, and a few teams passed us. After this, section three went excellent and we felt really good, keeping a great even pace on the flat Runmarö run and kept our position as the third team in the race.

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The second section, which ends with the second longer run over Nämndö, went on as the first. Although, I has a small dip and got tired during the long island run. But after a gel plus taking a calm swim section after I was back in the game. Nothing unforeseen happened and we continued as third team.

The third part of the race includes the infamous Pig Swim and the following 900-m swim before reaching the half marathon on Ornö. Here we both felt amazing I believe; we killed the transitions and just kept going at a steady pace. We were mentally ready for the 1400-m Pig Swim, which didn’t turn out as bad as we thought. We held an extreme left to compensate for the current, which was necessary. The only tough part was getting so cold after this long time spent in the water, and we didn’t get warmed up for a while since this swim is followed by a short run, more swims and another long one. At the energy station right before Ornö, we met the second-placed team that unfortunately had to step off the course. Hence, we were now the second team and kept this spot steadily throughout the race.

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The fourth part includes the eternal Ornö run and the Final 15. Compared to other years, this part felt reversed to me. Normally, I have struggled through Ornö and have had to walk in the uphill parts and have stopped several times due to different injury or health issues. Now however, we ran (or jogged is probably a better description of our movement), the entire way. Although we never used the cord for running, Sarah was a great pace keeper and made sure we moved ahead in an acceptable pace. I can sometimes struggle with keeping the pace as my attention and mind wanders during these long and often boring parts of the race. Small goals along the way, the thought of Utö’s Sauna (and Sarah’s craving for Jäger shots and Ahlgrens Bilar) and a few good laughs helped greatly. Moreover, my dad and his friend Peter supported us at different spots along this long run. It was such a moral boost and we are so grateful for their cheers and encouragement. After this never-ending run, I have viewed the few swims and short runs left as quite pleasant and easy as you are getting so close to the finish line. This year it was different. Our pace decreased significantly as we had to fight the strongest current I have ever felt in the water and a wind that was over 20-m per second as we climbed up on the slippery rocks of these smaller islands. We had to take it easy and stop for a few minutes at the last energy station to assemble our forces. But we got though it, and fought up the last part of Utö’s hill and finished as the second Women’s team at a time of 10 hours and 49 minutes.

Highs

Teamwork and equipment: we had a phenomenal team performance. We learned from our mistakes at Utö Swimrun and did everything right to improve them. First of all, we each added a pull buoy. I have been against using this extra flotation device previously as I usually have enough floatation from using a wetsuit. But when using the cord, your position in the water changes. Adding a big pull buoy helped me correct the position so that my shoes almost floated over the water surface. That also Sarah had one made it easier to pull as well. We trained with this equipment together and with Sarah improving her swimming technique as well we were able to move faster in the water. Aside from the pull buoy, another change we made was to take off the cord after each swim. On Utö, the strong bungee effect made us more harm than help on land, and we were better of without it. We communicated very well the whole race, and had a lot of fun. You would think it is all chewing iron and being serious while getting through an extreme race like this, but we race the best with a smile and keeping a positive attitude even through the roughest moments.

I used the following equipment:

  • Orca RS1 Wetsuit (with sleeves the entire race)
  • Sports bra and seamless briefs under wetsuit
  • Orca compression socks
  • Innov8 X-talon 220 trail shoes
  • Stokemaker paddles (size 1)
  • Orca Killa180 open water goggles
  • Orca Swimrun Bungee cord and belt
  • Home-constructed pull buoy (made out of kids floaties)

Pace: we kept a very steady pace throughout the entire course. We followed our strategy and did our own race. Of course we always knew our position, but the nature of the Women’s race made it easy to keep to our plan. We realized that the multi-World Champion team Addnature steadily kept inching away from us and that we didn’t have a chance catching up. The same went for the teams behind us: the gap increased as the race continued.

Foot injury: I went into this race knowing that I might have to quit. Due to a stress fracture in my fibula bone, I didn’t run for about six weeks before ÖtillÖ and had no idea how my legs would behave. But luckily I didn’t have any problems. Sure, it started hurting a bit but not until the second half of Ornö. And it was a manageable pain that didn’t disturb much.

Energy intake and distribution: I started eating “normal” food at the first two energy stations as I felt a bit sick at the beginning of the race. This helped and my stomach feel better after the first hours. I then started eating the home made energy bars throughout the course, but also continued with bananas and took a total of about 6 gels during the whole race. Normally, I take two cups of sport hydration drink at each station. At Ornö we brought liquid in a silicon flask as well. Thanks to Sarah that fed me from her miracle fruit bars towards the end, it all turned out very well. I’d also like to highlight the fact that the race organization has made an effort to reduce waste and preserving our beautiful race course by eliminating packaging at the energy stations. Thank you for setting the tone.

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Lows

Stiff legs: Because I didn’t run the last couple of weeks, I think my legs felt more tired and stiffer than usual at the end of the race. This was a bit hard to fight through mentally.

Slower time: we were out on the race course almost 1.5 hours longer than I’ve been previous years due to tough swim sections and being very careful on the rock running to avoid falling and getting injured on the slippery rocks in the rain. I think this took a bit of a toll on the energy and pace towards the last part of the race.

 Freezing: Although the colder weather could also be seen as a high as it was very comfortable running in the wetsuit, the extreme conditions made us cool down a lot. This made it a bit tough and stiff to run, sort of like you have cement feet, and also took a lot of energy.

Epilogue

The feeling of completing an anticipated race like this is always a bit strange. You have prepared for such a long time for the challenge, both mentally and physically, and then it’s suddenly over. I’m very happy with our performance and result, but also with the journey towards it. Sarah and I have trained hard together and have had many memorable moments along the way, which all contribute one piece each in the preparation puzzle and have their impact on the end result.

As always, ÖtillÖ and everything around it is an amazing experience. It’s a privilege to get to spend a weekend among such incredible individuals and friends. Thank you all for making it epic!

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