Swim and Run of the week – congrats Valerie.

By September 12, 2019Uncategorized

If you are interested in Otilo, the run/swim event growing ever popular then how about some insights from Valerie who swims with us at London Fields who raced at the World Champs.

We are going to create a new category for this report – swimRun of the week 🙂

Race report ÖTILLÖ SwimRun World Championship 2019, Monday 2nd September 

Taking care of the unfinished business was our target (see link for what happened). My sister and I had attempted the ÖTILLÖ SwimRun World Championship back in 2017, when the weather was at its worst in the history of the race; storms, hails, 50 mph wind, you name it, we got it. Eight hours of battling and 45km into the race, we made the difficult decision to pull out at the island Getskär. It was not an easy decision but we were risking hypothermia. Two years on we are better trained and prepared, and so we think…

The pre-race preparation (not to be confused with training!) started on the Wednesday prior when Natalie –my twin sister and teammate – and I flew out to Stockholm to acclimatize, to ready our bodies and minds, and to prepare our gears. Seasoned swimrunners are familiar with the feeling of running around town (especially if you live in a big city like London) as if attending a costume party.  Though our ‘costumes’ are fitted like armours to our weather-beaten frames, everyone agrees that this is most importantly a mental game – It is enough that we go through all sorts of feelings, ups and downs throughout a normal day, swimrunning means alertness is elevated and emotions run high …and in our case, for almost 13 hours.

Thursday and Friday were occupied by a mini-SwimRun session of 1.5 hours, just enough to get used to our new wetsuit (rookie mistake, it is too tight!), studying the race course, laminating it onto our paddles (See picture) and early nights. By Saturday the carb-loading and tapering meant that we could no longer sit tight, I felt especially jittery. To ease tensions, we took a day trip to the beautiful Djurgården (the Royal Game Park). What was initially a plan to visit the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) culminated in a rollercoaster ‘Twister’ ride at the amusement park Gröna Lund, thinking it might expense some of that excitement (or better known as nerves). I am convinced now that I pulled my neck – or at least that’s what I am telling myself seeing as I struggled so much in the swims at the race.

To avoid the queue, we got to the pre-race hotel early. That was proven a good strategy as we had an early lunch, prepared our gears in a timely fashion leaving room for a couple of episodes of Friends to de-stress. At the race briefing, we were told the weather should be relatively pleasant though thunderstorms overnight meant wet, slippery rocks on some of the technical runs – never mind, we always walk those sections anyway… Finally, we were shown the unforgiving schedule – breakfast at 3:45am, ferry ride at 4:45am, race start at 6am on Monday morning. Thankfully dinner was promptly served at 6pm which meant we were all tucked in by 8pm (yup we are grannies).

And so it began – a loud gun shot at 6am on the dot and off we went. Experience showed us that our first hurdle was the cut off at 11:15am (5 hours 15 minutes into the race), which by the time we would have run 24km and swam 5km. It sounds easily achievable, if you are running on road and swimming at the pool; not here, at the Stockholm Archipelagos – we only made the cut-off with a mere minute to spare in 2017, so we were not about to underestimate how slow we would be navigating through the costal rocks – the 2nd and 8th island, Vinadalsö and Käckskar (it is pronounced Shack-shar) had proven exceptionally tricky.  The first run and swim (longest of 1.75km) went relatively smoothly, when we were still in the pack and were able to run without looking for signposts and draft behind other swimrunners. Without any surprise though the second run on Vindalsö was technical enough to separate us from most teams; but that’s ok, after all we only had one goal, to finish the unfinished business.

If there is one thing we have learnt since picking up endurance sports in 2017, it is to eat early and frequently, as such our strategy was to eat two to three clip bloks gummies every 30 minutes. So far so good, we reached the first cut-off point without too much drama, and with about 30 minutes to spare, similar to our pace in 2017. We bumped into fellow 2017 non-finishers Kai and Klaus. This time round they had to pull out due to Klaus’ cold. Though they were in high spirits and encouraged us to carry on. No time to relax as all focus went onto the technical runs and long swims between us and the second cut-off point. We picked up pace when the trail flattened and slowed down when it got rocky. Then the 1km swim was when I first felt the lack of energy on my upper body.

By the second cut-off, we had managed to catch up with some teams including 3 women’s teams and with 10 minutes to spare – a massive improvement from our previous time. So we took some time to ensure that we recharged our batteries, hydrated and consumed salt tablets for the next sections. The infamous and dreaded ‘Pig Swim’ was ahead of us. I thought to myself ‘it will be ok as the weather is much nicer this year’; Mother Nature has quickly proven me wrong – we got to the shore and kind volunteer Johanna reminded us the origin of the name ‘Pig Swim’ – the combination of strong current and head wind often results in losing coordination of the body while swimming. This is coupled with another strong westerly wind pushing us to the left. At this point it was as if I lost control of my arms… no matter how hard I pulled it felt like I was going nowhere. Meanwhile Natalie soldiered on steadily ahead of me but this is why I love swimrun, being a team race means sticking together throughout the entire race, so I drafted behind her and enjoyed not having to sight, something I really need to work on!

From the third cut-off at 41km, three more runs and three more swims later, we reached Kymmendö, officially passing the point where we blew our whistle and abandoned the race two years ago. Forty-seven kilometres in – at the fourth cut-off point – we were cheered on by staff, volunteers, spectators and one of the race directors Mats who congratulated us for coming this far. We swam 300m to the largest island of the course, Örnö, to start the long-awaited half marathon run. Running a half marathon is normally a relatively casual affair, but not this time – we had been battling the elements for 9 hours by this point. Natalie, who also had a cold, was not feeling great and said ‘I can’t lift my legs’, so we adopted a 3-minute run, 2-minute walk strategy, which we were able to maintain quite consistently throughout. It took us almost 2.5 hours, but hey, we are in no rush.

Emerging from the forest the shore is ahead of us again. 7.5km, 6 more islands to go. We have reached all the cut-offs within the time limits, only now we were able to enjoy the rest of the course. I was getting excited but reminded myself not to be too jolly, after all our bodies are probably reaching their limits and we must not lose focus. A few transitions later we got onto Utö – the much-lauded island of love – 3.65km to go. Suddenly our legs, especially Natalie’s felt almost fresh again and we started running, slowly but continuously… wow how resilient are our bodies! The last 500 metres is a small climb to the Utö Värdhus, unsure whether we could run up the whole thing – mind over matter! – we walked the first half, and as spectators, fellow racers, staffs emerged, we started running again – one must keep up appearances!

As always we held our hands and crossed the finish line, and were immediately greeted by race director Michael who congratulated us on the ‘cold revenge’, and we responded ‘no, it was a warm revenge’.

We set out to complete an unfinished business, but the truth is SwimRun is never finished – it is all about an enduring team spirit, an occasion for which to rise and a challenge to overcome. We are still riding the highs from the World Championship, and have yet to make future plans, but we are already looking forward to the next adventure SwimRun may bring!”

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