ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship
Comprising of 65km of trail running and 10km of open water swimming the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship is not an event for the faint-hearted! Considered one of the toughest endurance races in the world, ÖTILLÖ is now in its 14th year and we’re proud to be supporting this event for the first time and were on hand in Sweden watch the race unfold.
ÖTILLÖ Swimrun famously began life in Sweden as the result of a drunken bet between friends. In 2002, during a late-night of drinking, Anders Malm, the owner of Utö Värdshus (now the finish line hotel of ÖTILLÖ) his friend Janne Lindberg and some of his staff (the Andersson brothers) challenged each other to a race across the Stockholm Archipelago (75km over land and water) to the Island of Sandhamn. The losers had to pay for the hotel, dinner and drinks of the other team at the end of the race. Two teams of two set off and ended up finishing more than 24 hours later, too tired to actually party at the end!
In 2006 Michael Lemmel and Mats Skott were asked if they could make a commercial race out of this epic challenge. They called the race ÖTILLÖ (which means 'island to island' in Swedish). This brutal course takes competitors across 24 islands and now starts at dawn in Sandhamn with teams of two (men, women and mixed) racing to the finish line at the Utö Värdshus hotel.
As a precursor to the World Championship this year, there was a ‘Sprint’ race that covered the final 15km of the World Championship event, which allows both team and individuals to compete and gives a real flavour of the action to come two days later.
We were there at the start to watch the competitors take off in near perfect conditions, before following the race by boat thanks to the awesome guys at Ark Swimrun. The pace was rapid from the start and the leading pack of racers nailed the first run in no time before heading into the first swim.
The Sprint event was won by a former world champion Adriel Young, who wasn’t able to compete in a team in this year’s World Championship, but still managed to bring it home comfortably in 1:34:25. Henrik Wahlberg and Erik Rosenborg won the men's category in 1:39:59. First place in the mixed event were Peder Sahlqvist and Annica Sahlqvist in 1:55:42. Therese Lindberg and Lorraine Axegard crossed the line first in women’s race with a time of 2:01:29.
Ahead of the World Championship race, all the teams headed to Djurönäset
to spend the night there before catching the ferry to the start line on Sandhamn. That evening the Race Director Michael Lemmel briefed all 320 racers, from 24 different nations, about the course, safety procedures, rules and things to look out for. Anders Malm, one of the original four swimrunners (who proudly describes himself as the first-ever loser of ÖTILLÖ!) gave a rousing address.
There was a great atmosphere as all the teams had dinner together, before heading off for an early night ahead of a very early start.
Breakfast for racers opened at 3:45 am and they needed to be on the ferry heading to the start line at 4:45 am. There was an intense nervous energy on the boat ride, with the teams psyching themselves up for the huge challenge ahead. There had been thunderstorms overnight and it was still raining when we arrived at the start line, meaning that conditions would be very slippery out there on the rocks at the transition points between running and swimming.
At the start, the nervous energy turned into palpable excitement as the tension ramped up. On the stroke of 6:00 am a crowd of friends, family and media saw the teams off as they started their journey to Utö.
We headed back to the ferry to follow the event from there for the day. Not only would we get to catch up with the race at certain points, but there was also the ÖTILLÖ live stream of the event on big screens on the boat.
The ferry caught up with the race leaders at the start of 3rd swim and we witnessed first hand how treacherous the conditions could be, as competitors found themselves slipping on the rocks at the shoreline.
At the first energy station on Runmaro, racers were coming through thick and fast, all on different fuelling strategies, some taking the opportunity to briefly rest up, others powering on through to the next point in order gain time on the leaders.
We then headed to Munko to watch the teams as they repelled down the cliffs to head into the next swim. Another skill you need to master when taking on this sport! They were cheered on by an enthusiastic crowd, offering their support to all the competitors as they went through.
The weather started to turn for the better and the sun came out as the races reached the 8th checkpoint. As well as being another opportunity for racers chance to recharge this was also a cut off point and racers who didn’t make it here by 11:15 am were not able to continue. Emotions ran high for teams who both made it in time, and those who just missed out and would have to take the ferry back to Utö.
The race for the men's title was closely fought for a large part of the race, with the four leading teams ran and swam neck and neck for over five hours. Pontus Lindberg and George Bjälkemo of Team ATG Sport were first across the line though in a time of 7:47:48, just short of last years record time of 7:39:25. The defending champions Fredrik Axegård and Alex Flores of Ark Swimrun came 2nd in 7:50:14. Lars Ekman and Jonas Ekman Fischer of Sailfish team Bröderna Bäver took third place with 7:55:10.
In the mixed category, Charlotte Eriksson and Simon Börjeson from Team Garmin crossed the line first with an impressive time of 8:38:10. They were joined on the final run up the hill to the finish line by friends and family cheering them on. Jasmina Glad-Schreven and Thomas Schreven were second in 8:47:31, followed by Diane Sadik and Knut Baadshaug in a time of 9:01:28.
In the women's category, the favourites Fanny Danckwardt and Desirée Andersson of Team Envol lead from the start and took first place in 9:05:29, rolling across the line to celebrate! Team Envol racers Susie Moonan and Anna Hellström crossed the line in second place in 9:27:31 followed by Isabella Hedberg and Helen Wikmar of Team ARKsouls Addnature in 9:32:37.
That atmosphere at the finish line was never anything less than joyous, with everyone coming in getting cheered across the line by the crowd and receiving a big hug from Race director Micheal Lemmel.
The Swimrun community is incredibly supportive and the biggest cheer of the day was for the final two teams, who came in together after being out there for nearly 14 hours! Everyone who takes part in this event is a legend in their own right.
After everyone had crossed the line the prize-giving ceremony saw all the racers gather to celebrate the winners, thank all the staff and volunteers and the epic achievement of all the competitors.
As well as the medals and trophies, the podium finishers all received Official ÖTILLÖ dryrobes as prizes. By all accounts they’ll come in handy at the next Swimrun world Series event next month, bring on ÖTILLÖ 1000 Lakes in Germany!