How to sub 9 at ÖTILLÖ World Champs

Yes, together with my teammate Tomas Granberg we did just that in yesterday’s perfect conditions! Men’s category 20th place and 27th overall with a time of 8:57.49. But a lengthy post bragging about that wouldn’t be of much use to the world, so lets leave us aside and instead talk a bit about our modus operandi free for you to mimic. Here’s an introduction to executing at your best potential at ÖTILLÖ Worlds, be that sub 8, 9, 10 or whatever. Obviously the most important thing is training, training and some more training, but today I’ll leave that whole thing out and focus on race execution.

Knowing the course

  • If you are not a repeat participant, scout every section with Google Maps or equivalent.
  • Some people bring a table with distances of all the legs. We don’t. Instead we focus on the key takeaways such as those following below, which are not too hard to remember.
  • On which island is there no energy station for a long time but still enough time to eat a bar? (Answer: Vånsholmen)
  • Where do I need to stock water or sports drink in a soft flash that I’ve carried with me under my wetsuit? (Answer: Ornö church, and more places if very hot conditions)
  • Where do I keep my swim cap on and goggles readily on forehead at water exit, because the next swim is just around the corner? (Answer: after the pig swim, after the 1 km swim, on Mellankobbarna but not Järnholmen if hot weather, etc)
  • If the weather is warm, where do you peel your wetsuit down? (Answer: probably only at Ornö)
  • How long does it take for both teammates to take the wetsuit down and up again? If it takes a long time, would it be better to accept the heat and just drink a bit more?
  • If your team is strong in the off-trail, where do you want to avoid being stuck behind a pack where there is little room for overtaking? You need to know such things.
This course is so beautiful.

Race-day nutrition

  • I consumed about 400 ml of standard gels mixed with caffeine and additional electrolytes. These I put in a soft flask with no risk of littering and no messing around with packaging. Many people find it hard to take solids at the latter part of a race. You probably want to save some gel for the last two hours.
  • In addition to that I brought one bar as mentioned and ate mainly bananas from aid stations. Adapt to your preference.
  • Where do you store these things? In a sports top or bra, your lower underwear or a pocket if your suit has one. Make sure they don’t bounce around too much or fall out while running.
  • Drink plenty of water at the stations. Swimming is such a treacherous activity. It is difficult to sense dehydration at an early stage. Especially when you are in the cold water.
  • If your stomach allows, drink from the ocean while swimming. You might want to try that before to see what amount your stomach can handle.
  • I bring two soft flasks. One containing my gel mix and one for liquid picked up at aid stations. At most stations, ÖTILLÖ no longer provides cups.
This course is so beautiful.

Swims

  • You are aiming for beach flags mainly. Sometimes strobes. Sometimes there are intermediate pyramid buoys for direction (you don’t need pass at a certain side or anything).
  • Draft whenever the opportunity comes along, or even strategically follow a team at suitable speed. You’ll always have your partner draft on you or the other way around, in any case. Side-by-side is wasting your team’s energy total to no use. The men’s front of ÖTILLÖ will usually be a group for a very long time, until a team breaks away on a run. You might realize why.
  • Swimming about 10 km in a day with long runs in between means energy efficiency is key. You don’t sprint or even change speeds if there is not a very good reason to do so.
  • If you realize you are gapping your partner swimming and you don’t have a tow line, slow your stroke down as that will help your partner to get back into your stream. When approaching shore, on the other hand, you could swim a few meters ahead allowing for some exit scouting.
  • Sighting is very important. Even if you are a good swimmer you don’t want to be swimming 740 m when everyone else is swimming 700. Personally I prioritize sighting and swimming straight over pushing it very hard since my ability to swim straight deteriorates at very high effort. Especially so in choppy water.
  • Most teams use fairly big pull buoys and hand paddles but don’t bring paddles so big that you are no longer able to pull through the whole stroke after 7 km.
  • ÖTILLÖ WC is in the Baltic Ocean, which has brackish water. Some people will go without goggles and that works. If you use stronger contact lenses, you might want to bring a spare contact if swimming without goggles. This also being a thing to definitely practice before adopting.
  • You may swim through currents, especially on the swims between Ornö and Utö. Those are the last swim sections of the course when you are the most tired. If the water is moving rapidly, counter already before hitting the current to get some slack. Currents may switch directions from one year to the next.
This course is so beautiful.

Runs

  • The course has everything from tarmac to scrambling. ”65 km of running” is more like 35 km of runnable, 25 km of technical trail and 5 km of complete wilderness expedition. ;)
  • First-timers will likely be surprised by the amount of off-trail and slippery rock. You need good grip. Especially in a wet year when rain is falling on race day or the days before. Non-spike orienteering shoes are popular with ÖTILLÖ Worlds athletes.
  • If one of you is a considerably stronger runner, that person might be pulling with a tow line at the runnable sections. You might prefer pulling a little throughout the whole race instead of one of you bonking two thirds into and the other then trying to pull very hard. Watch out since pulling hard might trigger cramps in the calves.

Pacing

  • What pace would you be able to maintain throughout the whole race? Now take that pace and go just a little faster. You don’t want to underachieve. That should still end up being a bit slower than how most teams pace themselves. This applies in general but not always at the men’s front as there are not many teams to draft on the swims so you might factor that in too. There are a lot of micro decisions like that to be taken during the race.
  • When I say pacing I mean effort-based and not actual speed since the course is so varied. We just avoid going ”red” or even ”orange” early on. This has the drawback that you might get stuck behind a crowd since a lot of teams can’t seem to pace themselves so think of strategies to mitigate that.
  • Again, remember to pace yourself. As they say at WS100, if you’re in the lead after the first climb, you are probably not going to win the race. :)
This course is so beautiful.

Teamwork

  • Leave all pride aside. If the pace is too high for you, let it be known. The other way around, ask your partner if they’ve remembered to take a gel lately. His/her success is your success.
  • Equal swimmers will let the more tired runner draft swims to regain some energy for the next run.
  • Even if you’ve got equal capacity in all respects, maybe bring a line under the wetsuit in case either of you ends up having a bad day.
  • If you are competitive both number one and two are done in-flight. Preferably during a swim or just before, to avoid developing rashes. A wetsuit cut short makes number two much easier. I don’t know why I put this under teamwork.

This covers perhaps 10 % of the things that are handy to know. Dissecting this race you will find it is potentially so complex that you can’t expect to perform at your full physical potential the first time entering. Still worth it! I don’t want to scare anyone from entering and it is not only for the very competitive. ÖTILLÖ World Champs is *magical*! The scenery, the spirit among the racers and the staff. All magical, regardless of how serious you are about competing.

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