History Of Swimrun

Swimrun is one of the most exciting new sports in the world. It has grown quickly from one race of 22 people to a global phenomenon, here we look at the short and quirky history of swimrun.


Swimrun is commonly agreed to have originated in 2002 in Sweden. The story goes that the brothers Matt and Jesper Andersson, Anders Malm & Janne Lindber the ‘original 4’ sat around a table drinking. They were playing with a napkin with a map of the area and debating how far it was possible to travel up the Stockholm archipelago, a myriad of 24,000 islands without a boat.

They set upon upon an almighty endurance challenge stretching 75km made of many swims and land based sections. How long would the journey take and how far might they get? Questions the four friends asked each other. They decided that route from Uto to Sandhamn must be achieved by human power alone with the ‘last team of two to Sandhamn pays for hotel, dinner and drinks’.

They woke up the next day and started their adventure, the only rule being that they should pass through three different restaurants on the islands with one quirky agreement; the last team to reach each of the restaurants must drink what the team before had ordered and pay the tab.


Fast forward a few years to 2006 and Michael Lemmel and Mats Skott had organised the first swimrun race which they named ÖTILLÖ. ÖTILLÖ literally means ‘island to island’ in Swedish. In the first few years, 11 teams of 22 participants stated with only two teams finishing, Petri Forsmann & Ville Niemala taking first place. 


The ÖTILLÖ race from 2007 onwards went through various different iterations, with races even seeing ladies bikes used as part of the course so participants could finish within the time limit.

These original swimruns also saw wonderful iterations of equipment with surfboards, snorkels, fins attached to shoes and rucksacks worn. There is one nice story of a pair who created an amazing looking rocket tow float to play mind games with their fellow competitors. The tow float was unused but demonstrates the fun and playfulness of the sport. These were pioneers forging a new path and a new sport.

By 2009, ÖTILLÖ had 50-60 teams start the race and the sport had established a base. 


Swimrun only took its name in 2012. Erika Rosenbaum is credited with coining the name ‘swimrun’ to which Michael Lemmel (Co-founder of ÖTILLÖ) said ‘that sounds really cool’ and the the name ‘swimrun’ was adopted.


Swimrun is a distinct sport and entity, and as such ‘swimrun’ is the correct way to refer to the sport.


After 2012, swimrun became a global sport with the first identifiable swimrun outside of Sweden, the Swimmer in London. There are now hundreds of swimrun races in Europe, America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.


The beauty of swimrun is the constant evolution of the sport and subtle changes. You can climb mountains and swim along rivers, there are short entry level swimruns and elite challenges like the One Water Race. Outside of organised events, personal swimrun challenges have been set up, the Frog Graham round perhaps one of the more famous.

It is a sport which lacks any sort of standardisation and regulation and therein lies much of its beauty, courses are shaped by the environment that they operate in. Swimrunners come in all shapes and sizes, united by a sport which is at one with nature.

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