Photo: The author giving his teammate Tomas Granberg a well deserved hug at the 2018 World Champs finish line. In front: women’s 1st place Kristin Larsson. Photo by Jakob Edholm / ÖTILLÖ.
If you’ve watched the World Championship live or recap on YouTube that probably got you fired up to sign up for a local swimrun race, an ÖTILLÖ World Series race or even the World Champs. Of all these the only one that is really hard to get entry into is the World Champs, which is quite natural. World Champs are open to non-elite, for sure, just like the Ironman World Championship or the Berlin Marathon is. However, there are only a total of 160 teams allowed.
If you are an elite or sub-elite athlete in something like triathlon, swimming, running, OCR or multisport and you are confident that your ability would place you in the top five or so of an ÖTILLÖ World Series event, your quickest option would be to enter one of those and go for direct qualification. To give you an idea that requires about a 2:50–2:55 marathon (and often good trail-running ability). You should also be able to keep about 1:20–1:25/100 m full equipment through the whole race. This year, each World Series race qualified 3 male teams, 2 female teams and 3 mixed teams. But spots roll down if one of the team members is already qualified. Some races have more competition, some less.
Non-elites with a sub 3:20 marathon, a decently swim and who are ready to travel have a good chance at a ”ranking” spot. Your six best recent World Series or merit races (that’s ÖTILLÖ’s partner races) give you a ranking score which is added to your partner’s score to give a team score for the application. Also, there is the ”7/24 Concept” which are spots for people finishing a whole lot of races, regardless of how they perform at the races.
If you are a famous athlete (or just famous), you could apply for a director’s choice spot. Previously these have been offered to ex-olympians, national elite runners, elite triathletes, music artists, early contributers to the sport, among others.
”Team Selection Ticket” is an option where you rely on sheer luck in a lottery. I personally hope they’ll remove this way of gaining entry in the future to instead favour athletes suitable to finish and do well in this very demanding race. After all, it is the World Championship.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. :)
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.
This might not apply to shorter races but could be useful for the upcoming World Champs. Last year I heard people had 20 or even 25 gels with them. Imagine the fiddling. I put my energy, caffeine and salts mix in a softflask instead. Bonus: you can fill up the flask with water at Ornö church avoiding running dry at that crucial part of the race where there will be no liquid served for a long while.
The natural follow-up question would be: where do I put the flask? In the pocket of the wetsuit of course! Problem is, most current swimrun suits don’t have pockets. That’s why I wear tight briefs. A bonus there is a softflask is less likely to cause rashes than pointy gels. Another way would be Head’s tank-top-style swimrun tops that feature a large front pocket. I think a tank-top would be a bit too warm for me, personally. For women, there is also a swimrun bra with a front pocket. Looks very handy! I’d try that i XXXXX large or cut the men’s swimrun top.
Hack 2: Shoes
Wear orienteering shoes for those comps which feature slippery rocks and off-trail. Not really a hack, is it? Well, anyway, VJ Sports Sarva Amas will be my footwear come September 3rd. Forget about all other properties in these races and go for grip. This very much applies to World Champs.
Hack 3: Don’t just train swimrun
Some people stress the importance of swimrun specific sessions. Sure, but when you have that dialed, think running, think swimming. All the best swimrunners do laps in the pool just like swimmers.
Learn from the best in swimming, and running. Don’t compare yourself to just the top people at your most high-profile national swimrun race and settle with that. Compare yourself instead to the fastest trail marathon runners of your country and aim for their level. Don’t set the bar too low. With the rapidly increasing level of competition in swimrun, in a few years, the bar will be unreachable if you do.
Also, think of ÖTILLÖ World Championship as an ultra endurance race. That means Ironmans or 10 h ultra foot races make good preparation to harden the body and learn to handle nutrition under such long races.
As I’m writing this we are almost two weeks out to the main event of the sport of swimrun, the ÖTILLÖ World Championship. Without doubt the most competitive race of the sport, ÖTILLÖ WC attracts the best athletes of all categories. Rumour has it that some of the teams that have been close or on podium last year have made Monday September 3 their highest priority for 2018, setting aside everything else.
Many are the teams returning for another shot where the heavy-weights fight it out, to improve on their previous efforts. With two weeks left, gradual tapering would set in for many of you, leaving time for last thoughts on equipment, race-day nutrition and race planning. Wouldn’t it be perfect if there would be a tool to help you with atleast some of that and add extra psych for the big day?
Enter Swimrun Watch — statistics and analytics for fans and athletes of competitive swimrun racing! I started working on this project almost a month ago and now is the time to reveal it and give you guys a chance to try it. Hopefully, it will be fun and maybe even useful for your pacing and race planning! Which teams are strong swimmers? Which die towards the end? The answers are in the data. Go find out!
I’ve written a bunch of race reports in Swedish, making them more or less inaccessible to all those people of other languages interested in this Sweden-borne swimrun sport. So this time, I’ll give you the tour of one of Sweden’s biggest races: Ångaloppet! Although, I’m not sure its just a race — more like a movement. Ångaloppet is for everyone! There’s a family race where an adult and a child swimrun together, short distances for trying the sport and hand paddles and lines for towing are banned. It’s supposed to be easy and fun to get into this sport and I think Ångaloppet is doing a great job in making a wider audience discover and appreciate the magnificent fun that this sport brings.
At the sharp end there is still a lot of fun and companionship, trust me, although heart is pounding and we’re pressing on in tight competition. The main event of Ångaloppet is no more than 22 km, which is short in the context of swimrun racing but still packs 24 swims. Water entries and exists all the time and a lot of trail/off trail makes for a hectic ride and tons of adrenaline! I so enjoy the feeling of being a hunted animal in the wilderness, or out hunting running through technical terrain and trying to outswim someone to the next islet.
Today I was back racing with my primary teammate Tomas Granberg of TG Swimrun notoriety. With no towline allowed, this race favors our very similar capacities in both disciplines of swimming and running. Also, we are both stronger in technical terrain than on runnable, which makes this course suit us. Usually we’ll for sure screw up something in a race but today was a fortunate exception. We executed a close to perfect race, which allowed us to advance as the race unfolded and cross the line as fifth finishers with the tenth best time ever on this course, to the best of our knowledge. Really pleased with our performance!
This bodes well for the big one, arising on the horizon like a fiend out of the Baltic ocean. I’m talking ÖTILLÖ World Championship 2018 — the relentless race of races that brings all the beauty of the salty and harsh archipelago along with massive fatigue. And we are now only three weeks out. That’s one more week of milage and then gradual tapering for Tomas and I. So looking forward to face the strobe of that first swim!
Oh. And the winners of today’s race, brothers Lars and Jonas Ekman of Bröderna bäver, are contenders for the win of the world championship. Last year they did the third fastest time ever in a world championship race and that was a step up from the year before. They are getting better and better, it looks, and I think that this year it will be gold for the brothers. Remember where you read it first.
Igår körde jag Öloppet med Nina Ellmark. Vi lyckades ta hem tredjeplatsen i mixklassen. Vilken bra partner! Funkade utmärkt tillsammans trots att vi inte ens tränat tillsammans innan och ingen av oss kört den här tävlingen tidigare.
Man ska inte syssla för mycket med ursäkter, så jag river av dem i en mening: Jag hade lite magproblem och jag tappade en lins. Det var det. Men när är ett lopp felfritt? Det är många komponenter som ska stämma i swimrun. Skönt med en förstående partner som gör det bästa av situationen!
Vi simmade helt okej och loppet inleds med 1 km simning. Det gjorde att vi var tvåa den första milen innan Daniel Adams Ray och Charlotte Eriksson sprang förbi. De gick kanske ut försiktigt. De såg så fräscha ut och det var då min svacka började, så jag insåg att vi inte kunde hänga på.
Tanken då var att det var långt upp till ettan. I själva verket var avståndet till Oom/Eriksson som mest 6 min och då de fick problem på Vrångö minskade det därifrån hela tiden och slutade på 2 min i mål. Adams Ray/Eriksson slutade som etta. Det är lustigt vad lite man vet ibland mitt uppe i ett lopp. Man vet aldrig säkert vad som händer framför så ge inte upp!
Jag älskade banan, minus de långa asfaltslöpningarna. Riktigt fint att springa ute på skären. Och jäklar vad fina simningar med lagom vågor för att göra det lite äventyrligt! Det här gör jag gärna om. Jag tänkte innan att pallen var ett rimligt mål och det lyckades vi ju med. Blir det revansch nästa år så kanske ett eller två steg upp är rimligt!
Sitter på färjan från Ornö till fastlandet och senare idag ska jag och Minime till en annan ö — Korsika. Mycket skärgård på sommaren! Tänkte bara rada upp vad som gjorts sedan sist och vad som kommer de närmsta veckorna.
Stockholm Multi Island Run (SMIR): inte så mycket tävling utan mer en fin upplevelse!
Lost Water Swimrun Orienteering: vinst med Ola Lagerström. Jätterolig tävling i Hellas och sköna priser från Silva.
Vandrade/sprang Padjelantaleden (c:a 145 km på 3,5 d) med Ola Lagerström. Kan verkligen rekommenderas för löpare. Norr till söder (Akka – Staloluokta – Kvikkjokk) är det lättsprungen på kalfjäll de första 2/3. Oerhört vackert. Vi hade cirka 4 kg packning var och sov i samestugorna på vägen, som är mycket lika STF-stugor.
MIF triatlon på Ornö: etta för tredje året i rad. Nu kanske jag är klar med denna tävling och kan planera in något annat nästa år? Vi får se. Å andra sidan är det kul att göra något explosivt (~ 32 min) som avbrott mellan alla ultratävlingar.
Tänkte vandra GR20 men det blir mer traditionell semester på Korsika istället, med löp- och simträning, förstås.
Did you ever feel a weird tension in your hands after a while of swimrunning? Well, relax your empty hand and watch the natural form of it from the side. It is not flat, it’s cupped, half closed. I started to experiment with curved paddles when Pontus Lindberg told me he once had paddled curved by design but that they got stolen and he now missed them. I just figured that I could bend a pair of plastic paddles myself. So I did like this. Remove the straps, put them in the oven resting on something but with the side you want to bend sticking out in the air. This is for you to notice when they start to soften. When that happens, take them out, bend to your liking and let cool. Voilà! You now have paddles that feel more natural in your hand and even gives a bit of a scoop to your catch.
Hack 2: Flip your bandana
Some bandanas, like mine, are wider over the ears. You might wonder why. Maybe to allow some peace from a chatty partner? Well, I wear it 90 degrees turned so that the wider part protects the forehead instead of blocking the ears. The only reason I wear a bandana is to protect my forehead from cold water, so maximizing that area while maximizing my hearing is perfect.
Hack 3: Goggles around the wrist
If you are like me and don’t like the feeling of having something tight around your neck you may want to carry your goggles like this. Goggles around the wrist leaves the hands free for scrambling, eating or holding paddles. Goggles resting around my forehead I found them to be foggy/sweaty when it is time for a swim. And as visible in the cover picture, you may even make coffee like this! Another way would be to put the goggles inside the swim cap and the cap inside of your wetsuit, tucking the goggles away but not having them touch your skin.
Ja men det var ju lyckat. Femma i herr på Stockholm Swimrun tillsammans med Fredrik Nilzén. Det blev lite partner shuffle då Tomas ”Maskinen” Granberg körde med megasimmaren Ulf Hausmann. Men det är ju kul att testa en ny konstellation. Jag och Tomas kör fortfarande World Champs och annat tillsammans.
Konkurrensen såg inte ut att vara så hård dagen innan men sen dök Hansson/Moberg och Flores/Sjösten upp på tävlingsdagen som stridsbåtar i horisonten. Ångbryggeriet, vi och alla andra fick finna oss i att kliva ner två steg i resultatlistan. Men det är inte mer än rättvist. Någon klass måste det ju vara på pallen!
Kort sagt: Fredrik har starka ben och drog mig en del på löpningen och vi hade otroligt roligt!
The interest in the sport of swimrun nowadays is clearly not limited to Swedes so I thought it’d be considerate and write this in English. Anyway, last weekend me and Tomas Granberg raced ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Utö as the team TG Swimrun. It’s the second World Series event of the year after Hvar in Croatia and I’d say it is the second most competitive swimrun race on the planet (don’t know about Mars or Jupiter) after the World Champs.
This year, the competition at Utö really took a huge step up. Take our team as an example: 11 min faster this year but finished 17 total compared to 9 total last year. This year, Utö became a confluence of fast teams. There where no new teams in the top 10, but most of the top athletes of the sport had decided to participate, although still missing names such as Hanson, Moberg, Krochak and Olsson.
I decided to take a closer look at the performances of the top 50 teams at Utö this year. 16 of the teams raced the same event in 2017, when conditions were very similar to this year’s conditions. Comparing the times I noticed that almost all of the 16 teams were faster this year yet very few managed to defend their positions, just like us. Deeper front and a step up in performance all across the field.
I think you get the idea. Competition is getting tougher mainly because the existing athletes are becoming faster as they devote more effort to swimrun. The World Series race at Utö is mainly a Swedish concern, although 20 some teams where from outside of Sweden. Regardless, the sharp end is predominantly Swedish. Probably we’ll see national and regional competition sharpening at races in other places around the world the next few years.
There has been some talk in Sweden about athletes transitioning from related sports to swimrun, raising the standard at the front end. I think that already happend and there is not much more to expect from that in Sweden. We already have Swedish top end triathletes in swimrun: Pontus Lindberg (8:11 Ironman), George Bjälkemo (several national medals in mid distance), Eva Nyström (four national gold medals), Jesper Svensson, Oscar Olsson etc. From adventure racing/multiport we have top international level athletes such as Daniel Hansson, Kristin Larsson and Martin Flinta.
I think that at this point the talent pool of endurance athletics in Sweden is pretty much exhausted. There are some obvious world-class athletes fans of the swimrun would like to one day see at ÖTILLÖ, like Åsa Lundström and Patrik Nilsson (eighth in Kona 2017). However, I don’t think the time is ripe just yet for these people as they need to focus 100 % on triathlon. It would be unexpected of a young triathlete to venture off while still in the top international game of a much bigger sport, like Patrik Nilsson is. However maybe some more cases of guest appearances as by active pro triathlete Jesper Svensson while still maintaining their careers in triathlon?
Anyway, back to the World Series race at Utö. I’ve done the race four times now, 2015 onwards. I’d recommend bringing a neoprene bandana as normal condition at Utö mean some swims will be a bit cold. However, I’m not a fan of long sleeve or leg wetsuits. That’s not where I get cold anyway, and they’d be a huge disadvantage on the runs. Sleeves and legs as short as possible since the cold really just gets to my face and forehead anyway. We actually rolled down the top of our wetsuits during the 7 km long run this year. I’m not fully sure that was the best choice as it takes some time and fiddling, but it sure was comfortable. Wetsuit designers have the last few years designed shorter front zippers which I think is a bad idea. Sure, very marginal gains on drag, but the running is much more uncomfortable when you can’t zip down properly.
More about the characteristics of this race, it is a race of short but many swims. Transition efficiency is key. Also, runs are a mix of heavy terrain and flat runnable. To do well at this race you have to be able to run the 7 km flat gravel in the middle of the race at a high pace. If you are a fast off-trail runner, make sure to exit the swims leading into the wilder land sections ahead of any possible packs because at narrow paths overtaking may prove difficult.
All in all, Utö is a compressed version of the World Championship race with the WC being more of everything: longer runnable section on Ornö, even tougher terrain at large sections, longer and more exposed swims. However, the terrain is is very beautiful, but maybe not at unbelievable as at the WC. I leave you with scenery from the World Champs of last year. Can’t wait until the first Monday of September!