All About Odyssey Swimrun: America’s Pioneering Swimrun Series

Odyssey Swimrun is America’s original swimrun with 4 races across 4 different US states. Swimrun.com caught up with Race Director, Lars Finanger on the series inception and what participants can expect at races.

After a decade in triathlon, Lars completed his first ÖTILLÖ race in 2014 and was instantly hooked. Lars along with his partner and co-founder, the late Jeff Cole wanted to bring this unique sport to America. The resulting race came to Casco Bay a few years later in 2016.

Jeff and Lars at the start of ÖTILLÖ World Series.

Jeff along with Lars, had done an enormous amount to grow the sport in America. Jeff was an avid outdoorsman and waterman and fell in love with swimrun because of its adventurous nature catered to athletes who could roll-with-the-punches and find a way to overcome any challenge thrown their way. Jeff leaves behind a great legacy in the sports history.

Tell us about the name Odyssey? 

An “odyssey” is a long, epic journey and this seemed a perfect word to sum up what swimrun meant to us. Race day is like a party where you get to share and express the weeks and months of training with other likeminded peers. But the real magic happens over the course of all those weeks and months of training, planning, scheming with your partner. It’s all part of the journey.

Who would be your dream swimrun partner for the day?

I was lucky enough to twist Simon Whitfield’s arm into teaming up at our Odyssey Orcas event in 2019. Simon won everything there was to win in triathlon, including a gold and silver medal in two separate Olympic Games, yet it was always his charismatic personality and passionate approach he had to sport which was more always most inspiring.

I’d like to extent an invitation to former professional baseball player Eric Byrnes who would be a fun teammate. He’s always doing insane multisport adventure and he’d have an endless number of hilarious stories for when the running turns into a shuffle out on course.

How would a trail runner or open water swimmer get into into swimrun?

Swimrun is a mindset and a yearning to experience moving through nature. It’s perfect for the person who loves to spend their training out on trails versus roads or treadmill and in lakes, oceans and rivers instead of the swimming pool. Pure trail runners and open water swimmers have that adventure mindset too, as do off-road triathletes. So the next step for those groups is to simply sign up and give it a go.

What makes a good swimrun course?

It’s all about finding a great flow. Finding what makes a natural environment unique and working to find a safe, yet challenging, way for athletes to move through that environment. One of the amazing aspects about swimrun is there are no set distances or guidelines which means you can get creative.

Lars, Jeff and Anders Malm, one of the original three in Utö.

Tell us about the early days and the first ever Odyssey Swimrun?

From day one, we put a premium on safety and our flotilla of safety boats and kayaks out on course was a spectacle to see. An island-to-island course had never been done in the US before and I think we did a great job of building the mystique and preparing athletes for the challenge ahead.

In the first year, we had a five page map for athletes to reference and put way too much emphasis on navigation and being able to read a compass. In our pre-race briefing there were some very wide eyes when Jeff spoke about compass readings! Needless to say, we mark our course so well with flagging tape and signage there has really never been a need for any knowledge of orienteering!

Which one of your races is the hardest and what can participants expect?

Casco Bay is the most difficult for swimming. Long swim legs, cold salty water, tidal changes and current all make for a challenge. Orcas is our toughest run course as there is not a flat section to be had, including some very steep uphill and downhill sections. As is often the case, the most difficult courses also tend to be the most visually stunning.

What is the vibe at Odyssey races? 

Our races are a celebration of the months it takes for athletes to prepare their bodies, minds and emotions for the day. We aim to always have the professionalism of a national brand but the local feel of a grassroots event. None of our courses can be easily accessed outside of race day so it’s a special day for athletes and all of the local volunteers who are out there. Music, good food and celebratory drinks are never too far away from the finish line as our athletes have earned them.

How important do you think solo entry options are for swimrun?

Odyssey was an early adopter of the solo division as it is a perfect way to introduce a new athletes to swimrun and to meet others who they might decide to team up with at a future event. With that said, we do always try to encourage team racing as that style truly sets swimrun apart from individual pursuits.

What would be your one top tip or piece of advice for a first-time swimrunner?

Be willing and ready to adapt to change. Place a premium on building a good base of fitness and worry less on having the right gear. Remember that for the first ten years, not a single person who attempted ÖTILLÖ  had swimrun specific wetsuits or even lightweight trail shoes.

For more information on Odyssey Swimrun, you can visit the race series website here.

Lars with his daughters, two key members of the event team!