Standing on a small, rocky island it’s no exaggeration to say I’m getting absolutely battered. Strong winds are whipping around me, rain is bouncing off my face and I’m conscious that even with the heavy layers of kit I’m wearing I’m still freezing cold.
Looking back down at the swim beneath me, I can see athletes struggling against the winds and waves. The swim is only 300m, but the currents are jack-knifing their bodies as they fight to make it to shore and even then, the rain is making the rocks so slippery that hauling themselves out of the water is a challenge.
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Luckily for me though, I’m watching the action of the main World Championship race as part of the reporting team for the ÖtillÖ Live webcast. In fact my race over the same part of the course had been two days earlier, in the Final 15 event, when we were lucky enough to have calm weather, a touch of sunshine and no strong winds. I’m reminded, as ever, how much at the mercy of nature you are in these races. The course couldn’t look more different today.
One of the beautiful sheltered forest run sections at ÖtillÖ Final 15. Image: Jakob Edholm
Short and Technical
The Final 15 forms part of the ÖtillÖ Sprint series and allows swimrunners to pit themselves against a slightly-modified version of the final section of the legendary world championship course. In total you tackle 9 swims and 10 runs and although 15km might seem like a short distance, this is deceptive as the technical trail running across rocks, the 18 transitions and the strong currents in some of the swims make it much tougher than you’d imagine.
This is my second time racing Final 15 (read the 2016 report) and this year I’m in a women’s team with Tiffany Lindström. We’ve been paired up by the organisers and I’m already feeling very lucky, as Tiffany lives and works on Utö so does all her training on the course. She’s also a powerhouse of energy, full of excitement about the adventure ahead. I can tell we’re on for a good race.
The race day begins with a ferry ride to the start line on Ornö. A good chance for Helen and Tiffany to check out the course ahead!
Every part of an ÖtillÖ race is an adventure and the Final 15 starts with a boat ride, as a chartered ferry takes us all to the start line on the west side of Ornö. We arrive and the atmosphere on the start line is a lot of fun – everyone’s comparing race tactics and with 30 minutes until the start, jumping in and out of the water to test the temperature and warm up.
Jellyfish and Rocks
Race start and we have a short 670m run up and over a hill then back down to the water. It’s just enough to get the blood moving before we’re in to the first (and longest!) swim on the course, of 1,150m. The water is calm but there are hundreds of jellyfish the size of my palm moving around us. After accidentally scooping a few up (and wearing one on my swimhat for a while!) I realise they’re harmless and just enjoy the company of these surreal creatures. I find out at the finish that other swimrunners were less keen!
The Final 15’s first swim takes you 1,150m round a sheltered bay. Image: Jakob Edholm
Tiffany and I aren’t swimming tethered as this is our first race together and our speeds are similar. In this first swim we realise she’s faster than me though, so I’m using her feet as a guide (luckily her neon run shoes are easy to spot!) and if she builds up too much of a lead she waits for me. You have to be within 10m of your partner in swimrun, so it’s important we don’t lose each other.
Out of the water we’re feeling good and we’re adjusting our kit and starting the second run, which is also the longest at 5km. It’s the easiest too though, as most of it is on farm tracks, so we’re picking up the pace and feeling comfortable.
Later in the race things change, as we start to take on more typical ÖtillÖ terrain. The runs become more technical and we’re hopping across slippery rocks and trying to find a path through overgrown pine forests. There are scraps of ÖtillÖ tape tied to trees to show us the way, but often it’s a case of choosing your own path through the terrain.
Luckily Tiffany is full of tips and is demonstrating her fantastic ninja-esque run technique, hopping high over bracken and scampering across rocks. This is all good advice and overall I’m doing much better than the previous year and keeping my footing more (a polite way of saying I didn’t fall on my butt so much!).