As you know, my other half, Karianne and I had been training together for months to take part in ÖTILLÖ. Unfortunately, just weeks before the race, Karianne went in for surgery on a serious knee injury. Half of our pair was out of the race. ÖTILLÖ is raced in pairs for safety reasons so our team needed a last-minute replacement.
Though I have many athletic friends, I only know one person who would jump into ÖTILLÖ with a few weeks’ notice, my Troubadour co-founder, , Abel Samet. His focus and determination has proved essential in building our brand and I knew it would also be crucial to our running and swimming through Sweden. With minimal coaxing, Abel agreed to take the spot.
With our team finalized, the week of the race quickly arrived and before we knew it, we were on a plane to Stockholm, nervous, excited, and in hindsight, slightly overconfident about the challenge that lay ahead…
One of the remarkable things about ÖTILLÖ is that the racers and crew spend two days together in Stockholm leading up to the race, and take a boat together to the island where the race starts. As the race was more than five times oversubscribed, everyone felt lucky and excited to be there. The boats and helicopters chartered by the international media who were filming and photographing the race only added to the atmosphere of anticipation.
The day before the race we got a comprehensive briefing, a weather report predicting beautiful conditions, a good dinner and a nice bed – exactly the pre-race prep we hoped for!
The gun went off just before 6am and we started running at a pretty quick pace. There are nearly two kilometers of running before the first swim. Our strategy was to get to that swim near the front, to avoid the risk of a tangled mess with other racers in the early part of the race. We settled into the first swim nicely and found our rhythm.
Our strategy to go with simple gear was a good one. We barely needed to break stride getting into the water. At the end of the run sections we’d put our cap and goggles on, adjust our pool buoys and we were off swimming in the chilling 10-degree water.
Getting out of the water was a little slower – it often involved pulling ourselves up slick, algae-covered rocks. I often found myself quite dizzy coming out of the water. I would struggle to stay on two feet, taking the first few steps on all fours as I regained my balance. Within a minute my balance would be back and we’d be into a nice rhythm again.
We were moving well, the views were stunning and we were feeling fresh – everything was going according to plan. However, our chipper attitude changed when we came uncomfortably close to the 2:30pm cutoff. Since the cutoffs get more difficult as the race proceeds, the question arose of whether we would be able to make it to the finish and not.
Both Abel and I have done endurance races before and this helped in being able to increase the pace at this stage of a race. After two more hours we came up on the next time check and found that we had increased our margin and gained nearly 10 spots in the process.
The Last Push
The second to last section, leading to the final 6pm cutoff, was a half marathon. This was the point where we both started to really hurt. With nearly 10 hours of racing done already, our legs started to scream. We did our best to keep the pace as high as we could despite our bodies starting to break down. Abel asked me how I was doing, I had been feeling great, hooting and laughing all day – at this point I paused for a while before responding, “I can hold this pace for the run but it will not be easy.” There was no point in telling him I was feeling crap – that didn’t matter at that point – keeping up the pace was the one thing going through my mind. We held that pace as best we could and at 5:30 hit the final cutoff. One more section to go and we would finish ÖTILLÖ!
One of the two race organizers was standing at the final cutoff to offer congratulations to everyone who hit that point. We had a mini celebration, took a quick photo, and refocused on finishing the race. There are 7kms between the final cutoff and the finish line, and the terrain is some of the most challenging on the whole course. By this point our legs were shot and I was severely chilled – getting in and out of 10-degree Celsius water when the sun is setting, my glycogen stores were totally depleted and my body was starting to shut down: not fun. These final kilometers were hard work over the wet rocks and through the frigid water – at this point all we wanted to see was the finish line.
The Finish Line
After 13 hours and 42 minutes the finish line was in sight. It was a wonderful day, but we were very pleased to see it come to a close! The other race organizer, Mats, was at the finish line to give every wet and dirty competitor who crossed the line a hug. Combined with an ÖTILLÖ beer and a warm meal, it made a good start to the long recovery process.
Overall, I’m glad I decided to take part in ÖTILLÖ. I was warned it would be challenging, but it was harder than I thought it would be. It was also better organized, more beautiful and more interesting than I thought it would be. Now on to the next challenge…