Only the Swedes could invent a one-day sports event as mad as the Ötillö SwimRun World Championships. The SwimRun movement, started by Mats Skott and Michael in 2006, and has already been ranked by CNN as “one of the toughest endurance races in the world”.
Ötillö means island to island. So running a total of 65 km in wetsuits across 26 unchartered islands in the Stockholm Archipelego – dense forest, scaling moss-covered rocks, knee-deep mud so technically challenging that one wrong move equals a snapped ankle, broken wrist or worse – is so exhausting that you long to get back into the open-water, despite the 10 to 15°C Baltic sea temps. Yes, there’s also 10 km of swimming in your running shoes, with the longest leg being 1.75 km, in this dawn to dusk race.
Tack on the added hurdle that the teams of two must remain within 10 metres of each other throughout the race; you never know what could go wrong.
So a week from today, Monday September 7th, 2015, together with my husband, we will be competing in the Ötillö SwimRun World Championships 10th anniversary edition. We’re probably the oldest team on the roster, I’m 46 and he’s 50, but it won’t stop us from staying on the footsteps of our rival, Pippa “Posterior” Middleton, who is also competing in the mixed team category with her Cycle Across America buddy, Jöns Bartholdson, to raise money for the Michael Matthews Foundation 1.
Kudos to Pippa and all my other female contenders for completing the training in this very testosterone dominated sport. On the day, there will be a total of 122 teams (of which 15 are women’s) made up of 26 nationalities competing.
I am writing a destination article about the event for Women’s Running magazine in the US, and have been training since June, which has included 4am wake-up calls in the last eight Sunday mornings of my life. My biggest training weekend had me SwimRunning nearly 100 km over three days. So, essentially, I’ve been pooped for the last two months.
We finished the qualifying Üto SwimRun, also in Sweden, on May 31st, where this year there were 250 teams (with a waiting list of 500) and 25% did not finish the 34.770 km run plus 4.285 km swim course.
During the freezing-cold race, my hubby twice temporarily lost vision in his eye over the last two swims, brought on either by the crippling 8°C water or the relentless waves smashing our sinuses as we braved 35km/h winds. I couldn’t feel the bottom of my feet for the first two hours or even straighten my fingers to put on my hand paddles – my partner had to force the fingers into the loops. (I also learned this day the near-immediate impact of eating an authentic Swedish cinnamon bun on offer at the energy stations. Note to self: no buns next week).
Four days after the May race, I still could not put full weight on either foot. Even after finishing Ironman France, I did not suffer such physical consequences.
In the end, I’m pretty sure next week’s Battle Royale will all come down to me and the future King of England’s sporty aunt.