DSC_0416What do you get when you cross aquathlon with adventure racing? Swimrun. Ö TILL Ö (Island to Island in Swedish) is the Swimrun World Championships. It covers a total distance of 75km between 26 islands in the Stockholm archipelago and is ranked as one of the toughest endurance races in the world by CNN. 46 stages means transitions are critical and most competitors (in teams of 2) wear wetsuits and shoes from start to finish.

I first heard about Ö TILL Ö a few years ago and following yet another close race with Mat Clarkson in the OWS Aquathlon series, said that we would have to race it together sometime. Step forward Team Huub, 1st September 2014 was that time.

To balance the demands of swimming 10km in the Baltic Sea and running 65km across very varied, mostly offroad, terrain we knew that standard kit wouldn’t be up to the task. Trail shoes for maximum grip on wet slippery rock were a must but just as important was a wetsuit which didn’t restrict the legs too much for the running. Huub have been working with Rasmus Henning to develop a swimrun specific wetsuit. Not available yet, they were kind enough to provide us with two top of the range Archimedes suits in order for us to cut the knees off.

The weather forecast for race day was great. The water temperature in the days just before the race plummeted. With this in mind, we had a quick test swim the evening before the race. It was cold, but after a few minutes I warmed up enough and decided just a trisuit and two caps would be enough. Mat decided to go with an under shirt and neoprene cap.

The short first run to break us up before the longest swim of the day was congested and frustrating. I lost Mat when I pushed forward through the tight packed field and had to stop and wait for him to catch up. Before long we hit the water and it quickly became apparent that I should have opted for warmer kit. I struggled with the cold water and now it was Mat’s turn to have to wait for me.

After the first of many wet scrambling exits we passed the first timing point in a very disappointing position (although we didn’t know this at the time). Half a dozen swimruns later, I continued to struggle in the water, we asked a marshal taking down numbers what place we were. The reply wasn’t what we wanted to hear but we were slowly gaining places.

I was coping with the shorter swims reasonably well and with the longest run (12 miles) and just one long swim late in the race (the so called pig swim) the prospects weren’t too gloomy. With the majority of the swimming in the first half of the course, we knew we could continue to move up the field.

That is how it played out. During the long run we overtook 12 teams. This was despite Mat, quite inexperienced at long distance racing, having GI issues and slowing a bit in the closing miles. Indeed,for the first time I lead the next few short swims after this, having followed for the first 17 swims. Mat recovered well and resumed his position at the front for the last couple of short swims.

11 hours 11 minutes 20 seconds after starting, we crossed the line, just a few minutes behind German Sparkle Party, another Huub supported team. We had gained 43 places since the first timing point and ended up in 31st place, beating our ranking by 10 places.

3 September 2014

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