The 17th edition of ÖTILLÖ, The Swimrun World Championship came against the backdrop of the winds of change. ÖTILLÖ, recently announced the acquisition of Ödyssey Swimrun and it is clear that a bright future awaits the race series.
This is a race with plenty of build-up as nerves, energy and excitement reach a crescendo. Athletes stood on the start line from 22 different countries. Motivations vary hugely, from the elite who will leave everything out on the course to those who come here as a right of passage on hallowed ground.
For this is where the sport of swimrun was born and the route follows that first ever swimrun journey. All are united in an effort to voyage down the archipelago, trying to make it from Sandhamn to Utö before the sun sets at the end of the day. The 2023 edition was far from easy. Dominik Leu who is a partner at Tridem AG:
‘’ÖTILLÖ delivered what it stands for: strong currents from southwest made the race very challenging for the racers. That in combination with the beautiful sunny weather made for an excellent day of Swimrun’’
The Swimrun World Championship is gruelling and uncompromising and broadly speaking, the race can be split into three thirds:
Section 1: Big Swims And Slow Technical Running Across Islands
It is a brutal start to the race, a short run and into choppy seas, currents and headwinds. The first swim is the longest of the day at 1.7km (although this year with currents, it could be closer to 2km). This swim feels titanic and doubts creep into minds, the end point is a long long way away. Screaming arms yell out in rebellion, yet dawn arrives and with the sun rising behind us it is a magical time to be in the water.
What follows are a series of islands with slippery rocks and boulders, athletes slow down and try not to take any risks. Progress and forward momentum is key. And a pattern of the race set in, longer swims followed by scrambling around or over remote islands.
The culmination of this section is the infamous Pig Swim. In the hour leading up to this swim, fear builds again. The Pig Swim is an exposed long swim where currents, winds and siting can be extremely challenging. Fortunately the weather gods smiled, and conditions were manageable, the relief at making a safe exit is palpable. If you can get through the Pig Swim, you can get to the end.
Section 2: Ornö The Long Run Which Makes You Cry
Why should a 18km run on a decent surface fill anyone who is trying to complete an ultra-distance event with fear? Quite simply, you arrive on the island of Ornö, knackered. Depleted legs are forced to run as your stomach churns from energy gels. This long run gives you ample time for mental demons to rear their ugly heads. You crave the cool water and sanctuary of the sea yet still you must run on and on down tracks, trails and gravelled roads. Ornö can break spirits.
Section 3: Island to Island Swimrun
The translation of the word ‘ÖTILLÖ’ from Swedish to English is ‘island to island’ and the final section is unbridled joy and a near flawless display of swimrun at its very best. Fast-paced and all out action with constant transitions over volcanic rocks and quick swims across fast flowing channels where the current squeezes through the islands.
Just How Hard Is the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship?
Extremely tough. It requires determination and courage along with the ability to be highly adaptive to the terrain and conditions which throws up constant challenges. The seas can be calm on one swim, only to have strong currents and winds on the next. Running varies from scrambling over rocky shorelines to faster sections. Yet you don’t have to face the challenge alone, your teammate is there to have your back. And that is the true spirit of swimrun.
What next for ÖTILLÖ?
ÖTILLÖ nailed the organisation with excellent safety cover on wild seas, the course which was supremely well marked and perhaps most importantly hundreds of satisfied racers. For Dominik Leu:
’We saw a lot of very happy faces on the finish line and that is what we have been working for. We are now going straight into preparing our extended race series next year, especially our new events in America’’