The ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship Course – Total Distance: 74680m. Trail Running: 65135m. Run Sections: 24. Swimming: 9545m. Swim Sections: 23. Longest Swim: 1750m. Longest Run: 19700m. Course Record in 2018, Fredrik Axegård and Alex Flores (SWE) Team Sport Office in a total time of 7 hours 39 minutes 25 seconds.
The Old Man: Nothing great is easy. It’s a good epitaph by channel swimming pioneer Captain Matthew Webb, but then he did die swimming the rapids at Niagara Falls! Obviously, not all ideas are good. That said, signing up for the Envol ötillö racecourse two-day swimrun camp was definitely one of my better ones.
We recently got notice that the Aug 31st 2020 Championship race would be cancelled. Fortunately, as a 24/7 qualifying team, we were one of the lucky few that got to keep their place in 2021. The Boy may not feel so fortunate, but he can fill you in on that later. Even before the announcement, I realized that there was a degree of uncertainty around the race and I really wanted the opportunity for us to do the course together this year. You never know what the future may bring. When I saw that Envol Swimrun was putting on a training camp covering the race course in two days I jumped at the opportunity and signed us up.
We were to start at 08:00 from Sandhamn Saturday 8th August and follow the racecourse over the 75km point to point course to Utö. To avoid a very early start the Boy and I stayed over with friends on the island of Sandhamn and joined the group on the waterfront at 07:45. After a quick briefing we were off!
An easy 1200m run through the sandy trails and we hit the beach for the first and longest swim. In most swimruns you participate in teams of two, for me that is one of the great dynamics of the sport. The Boy has become a strong paddle & pull buoy swimmer but suggested that he take this first 1750m on the tow-line drafting. We’d missed the introductions on the boat but I was surprised by how strong the swimmers were. In the normal weekend-warrior scenarios we tend to be among the stronger teams in the water but here we were mid-pack. We realized that many of Envol’s French top athletes had joined us for the first day. These guys were flying!
I had never been on the course before and the first thing that struck me was that this was a true point to point race. This wasn’t a carefully designed racecourse, this was whatever nature threw at you. Each island had its character, few were alike. We were blessed with blue skies, air temp in the mid-20s and water temp 14 to 17-degree range. Perfect conditions for our two-day adventure.
We called it a Saturday wrap after approximately 36km of amazing swimrunning at the southern tip of Mörtö and were taxied by rib-boat to the Lotsen hostel in Dalarö. There we spent a fantastic evening getting to know the other swimrunners, enjoying Envols’ wonderful hospitality and even getting some welcome recovery rehab from Igor (Igisport), one of the Envol instructors and the camp physio rehab/prehab genius.
The next day we were back at Mörtö before 09:00 and on our way again. Day two would have the famous 1400m Pig Swim and the infamous 19km run across Örnö. I was at least looking forward to the first and we enjoyed almost perfect conditions with a solid 22-minute crossing. It was hot on Örnö but the legs felt good (thanks Igor) and we kept a good pace.
Reaching Ängsholmen was a special moment. On the race day, this would be the last cut-off point. If you get here by 18:00 (11hrs 59mins of racing) then you are almost guaranteed to make it. A series of quite short swims and runs follow before the final 3650m gravel trail to the line at utö värdshus. Finishing shoulder to shoulder with the Boy was special, we’d had some great battles on the swims and running these hallowed trails together had been magical. Another landmark moment on this swimrun odyssey we started in May 2019.
Big, big thanks to le grand patron, Envol head coach Nicolas Ramirez, the safety boat driver Pehr Westman, navigators Julian Dent, Martin Belak and to Sandra and Igor for all the small things around the camp that made it outstanding. Thanks to Catarina Axelsson for the fantastic photos. Also, thanks to all the other swimrunners, sharing these journeys is what makes the destinations so special. Now over to the Boy…
The Boy: This two-day escapade somewhat marks the end of a journey or at least a chapter in my book about my physical training. If you read the first-ever blog post we wrote, you would know the story of how Tom cunningly tricked me into doing this. It all started with him sending me an inspirational video of ÖtillÖ and then going on to tell me how, if I accepted, it would be as if I were a professional athlete travelling around Europe competing with his dad. At the time, this seemed like an opportunity I could not let pass.
There was something special about this past weekend as we were no longer a team of two trying to push our limits but a group of people with differing levels of fitness all trying to move from point A to B in the most efficient way possible. I did not feel stuck in my own head trying to win the perpetual battle with my own mind but instead outsourced the suffering to the group so that the shared suffering made the individual pain seem lesser. This allowed me to enjoy the beauty of the archipelago, the community of swimrun and the joy these lunatics take in suffering for hours on end each week. I had meaningful conversations with people I just met and felt as if everyone around shared a common singular goal. I think this is what humans have experienced throughout our evolutionary history, hunting and moving over long stretches of land together in sync.
“Everybody comes to a point in their life when they want to quit. But it’s what you do at that moment that determines who you are.” David Goggins
Goggins is probably the man that stood for much of the underlying motivation for why I accepted this adventure because of his unwavering willingness to embrace the suck and face the uncomfortable in order to grow as a human. Through voluntarily suffering through all these races and all the training leading into them I’ve probably grown and learned more about the human condition than in reading books or listening to thousands of hours of podcasts. The biggest take away from this chapter is that reaching your potential in life is all about increasing your ability to make good decisions by removing obstacles and increasing your capacity to win the internal battle against yourself. Voluntarily suffering seems to be the best if not the only way to improve our ability to win the inner battle which takes place between your present and future self—an immediate pleasure for long term pain or short term pain for long term gain. Every time you choose short term pain, your capacity for discipline increases and thus makes it easier to make the decisions you know you should.
My passion in life is figuring out the answer to the question of what it means to be optimally healthy in all aspects of being a human. As my knowledge expands, I want to expand my capacity for movement. This entails figuring out how to train the body as to inch it closer towards its potential for movement. I will now try the disciplines of mixed martial-arts combined with functional fitness to become a better mover and ultimately a better human. I will still run as I firmly believe humans are designed for running and should therefore run. And we still have the races that were moved from spring to autumn to complete. So swimrun is not entirely over; there will only be a shift of focus as our time is limited to 24 hours per day.
I would like to end this post by thanking Tom for allowing me to join him on this journey. I might have been tricked initially, but I stayed willingly. I now have a deep appreciation for people who suffer voluntarily and I will incorporate this into my life as a tool to grow. If an opportunity that seems great but difficult arises I urge you to take it on head first. I could’ve said no as endurance sports seemed futile to me, I could’ve let this just be a dream in the imagination of my old man but then I would not have shared an incredible adventure with my own father. And let me tell you, this was an opportunity I am immensely grateful I did not let pass.