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ÖTILLÖ, The Swimrun World Championship is a truly unique endurance race, it’s both the figurative and literal mother of all swimruns!
The 17th edition of this extraordinary event did not disappoint; there were epic performances from the world’s elite swimrunners, inspiring camaraderie between teammates and a strong sense of community from competitors who had travelled from all over the world to take on one of the wildest sports out there.
What is swimrun and how did it get started?
Swimrun actually began as the result of a drunken bet! In 2002, after a late night of drinking, two pairs of friends were discussing how they could connect more with nature and challenged each other to a race across the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden from a hotel on the Island of Utö to a hotel on the island of Sandhamn, a huge 75km over land and water. The only rule was that they had to pass three different restaurants on the islands between the start and the finish line. 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 a day later. They enjoyed the experience so much that they did it all again the next year.
In 2006, this challenge became a commercial race and was named ÖTILLÖ (which translates as 'island to island' in Swedish). ÖTILLÖ is now considered one of the toughest one-day endurance races out there, and a world series of ÖTILLÖ swimruns has taken in stunning locations across the globe, including Catalina Island in California, the Isles of Scilly off the coast of England, and the Engadin Valley in the Swiss Alps.
What sets Swimrun apart from other endurance sports is the teamwork element. Racers compete in teams of two, which not only harks back to the origins of the sport, but is important for safety. You cannot be more than 10 meters from your teammate, and teams can opt to join themselves together with a tow rope, which can help on some of the swims and runs. If you get injured, you have a partner there to help you, and you are less likely to get lost on course if there are two of you following the route!
Also, there can be few sports where you are this connected to nature. Swimming between islands, battling currents, before scrambling up slippery shorelines and running on trails through forests, before having to do it all over again a few km down the track, is an exhilarating experience that keeps competitors coming back to the archipelago year after year.
The World Champs always takes place on the first Monday of September, and the weekend kicks off on Saturday with The ÖTILLÖ Sprint Final 15k on Utö, which takes some of the short sections towards the end of the world championship course.
This is a great opportunity to get a taste of what ÖTILLÖ has to offer; for many people this was their first taste of swimrun. The 9.5k of trail running combined with 2.6k of open water swimming, across some stunning scenery, makes for a challenging and intense race. Finishing at Utö Vardhaus Hotel, competitors were crossing the line with smiles on their faces.
On Sunday, all competitors arrive to stay at the Djurönäset hotel, to catch up with old and new friends, fuel up for the next day over dinner and take part in the mandatory race briefing.
This gives the 160 teams taking part in the race, a rundown of what to expect on the course and important saftety advice from the race director, Staffan Björklund. To get participants even more fired up for what lay ahead the next day, some of the favourites were brought on stage for interviews along with previous winners and three of the original four friends who came up with the idea for ÖTILLÖ over a drunken bet!
At Djurönäset, we caught up with Team dryrobe®, friends Markus Rössel and Daniel Rowland. This was Markus’ eighth time, but Daniel’s first go at the world championship. Ahead of the race, Daniel was both nervous and excited, whilst Markus was eager to show his good friend this legendary swimrun course.
Race day starts early; a 4:30 am ferry to the start line in Sadhalm meant competitors were up and ready to go in the middle of the night. The ferry ride over was a buzz with nervous energy, as the sun rose over the archipelago.
Before the starting pistol fired at 6 am, racers warmed up, took selfies with friends before getting in the zone, and focussed on the huge challenge ahead. Once the race got underway, there was a rapid start as teams headed to the first of 23 swims. The weather was seemingly perfect with glorious sunshine all day, but tricky conditions, including strong currents and headwinds, actually made this a tough race. By the second of the 24 runs, many teams were already significantly off last year’s pace.
Following the race, you really appreciate how phenomenal these athletes really are. Hopping between islands to watch racers, it’s sometimes inconceivable how quickly a team you passed at one transition point by boat, will be swimming ashore by the time you’ve hopped onto a jetty on the next island!
In the men’s event, Max Andersson and Hugo Tormento (Team Ark Swimrun), last year's winners and the favourites, dominated the race again, eventually pulling away from closest rivals Tom Ralite and Matthieu Poullain, and finishing 21 mins ahead of them. This achievement is even more impressive, given that Max had COVID-19 until just 10 days before the race!
History was made in the Mixed category, with their finishing time of under 8 hours, Adriel Young and Amanda Nilsson (Ark) became the first mixed team ever to finish on the overall podium, an incredible achievement. Adriel and Amanada arrived at Utö Vardhaus Hotel 40 minutes ahead of 2nd place Teemu Toivanen and Heidi Hyvärinen.
Desirée Andersson won her 4th women's title, this time racing with Anna Hellström (Team Dessi & Anna), beating out a very competitive field. The first half of the race saw close racing between them, Ulrika Eriksson & Hanna Skåbratt and Sabina Rapelli & Eugenie Plane, but Desirée and Anna built up a strong lead eventually winning by over 13 minutes, which was very impressive given that they had only paired up a week prior to the event!
Markus and Daniel (Team dryrobe®), were doing well in the men’s event, hovering around the top 15 and were having a great time until a fall on one of the slippery transitions, saw Daniel injure his coccyx and sadly have to withdraw from the race. We caught up with them as they waited for the ferry back to Stockholm to get Daniel checked out at the hospital, and despite the obvious disappointment, they were in good sprints, accepting that injury is part of the risk you take in this sport. Both were already talking about taking on the event next year (get well soon Daniel!).
On the day, there almost feels like two races are taking place: the battle at the top end between the teams fighting for podiums and a field of swimrunners who are out to complete this monumental endurance challenge, whatever it takes. What unites them is a strong community of passionate athletes who support and look out for each other on and off the course. Emotion runs strong at the finish line, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the joy, relief, pain and as the racers cross the line.
The biggest cheer of the day was for the final team who crossed the line after nearly 14 hours out there. The magnificent nature of the archipelago provides may the perfect setting, but the international swimrun community are the heart of this extraordinary race.
Top 3 results ÖTILLÖ, The Swimrun World Championship 2023:
1. Max Andersson (SWE) and Hugo Tormento (FRA), 07:32:13
2. Tom Ralite (FRA) and Matthieu Poullain (FRA), 7:53:13
3. Lars Ekman (SWE) and Daniel Hansson (SWE), 7:58:05
1. Adriel Young (AUS) and Amanda Nilsson (SWE), 7:57:53
2. Teemu Toivanen (FIN) and Heidi Hyvärinen (FIN), 8:35:43
3. Karolina Sydner (SWE) and Mattias Isberg (SWE), 9:18:38
1. Desirée Andersson (SWE) and Anna Hellström (SWE), 8:39:13
2. Ulrika Eriksson (SWE) and Hanna Skårbratt (SWE), 8:52:43
3. Sabina Rapelli (SUI) and Eugenie Plane (FRA), 8:59:39
Check out the full results here.
dryrobe® are proud to be an official supplier of the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Series. The official ÖTILLÖ dryrobe® Advance changing robe is available to buy online now.
Inspired to give an ÖTILLÖ swimrun race a go? Head to otilloswimrun.com to find out more.