I don’t even know how and where to start. Maybe 18 months back, a morning 3 h run in Redmond Watershed, a cold morning in April. Anna was the first person I met that have heard about Ö till Ö, my dream race. We met and decided to go for a short run. Anna asked how much time I had and I answered 3 hours and she said that it sounds like a nice, short morning run, I think I like you already. Our short runs gave us a lot of time to talk. I think we talked about the race very run we did for a few months. The only problem was that I didn’t swim very well. When they released the lottery tickets we got so excited so we bought 4 and waited for the big day. Anna moved back to Sweden, I broke my elbow and my wrist in a bike accident but we stayed in touch waiting for the lottery result. And I started working on my swimming, just in case.
The race is divided in about 65 km running and 10 km swimming, you run over 24 islands and swim between. You swim in your shoes and run in your wetsuit. It is called the World swimrun Championship and most of the participants apply on merits. You need to win a couple of Ironmans and World Championships in swimming to get a spot and its people from all around the world that applies for the 100 team spots. Interesting crowd. And we got a team spot for the magical race September 2nd 2013 Stockholm archipelago, Sweden. And after a lot of training, thinking and basically learning how to crawl I found myself looking out over Sandhamn harbor dressed in a wetsuit and a heart beating like never before.
We started in the back row and did a short 1,2k run and reached the sea. The Baltic Sea. I cannot tell you how worried I’ve been about the swim part of the race, the almost 10k ocean swim. We started out really slow, tried to find a nice pace. I somehow got a bit stressed, started to swallow saltwater and vomited after about 50 meters. Anna didn’t even notice so we just kept on swimming. We reached the first island after 1650 meters of swimming, one long mile and I felt good for finishing the first long swim. And then we started climbing cliffs, chasing cut offs and we never stopped.
The running part was almost no running, it is everything but running. You climb cliffs and try to get through really bad terrain. We kept a good “running” pace the whole race, we kept moving forward but we didn’t go fast enough. We knew from the beginning that our problem would be the swim part. We did ok, kept a steady pace but we didn’t swim fast enough. We had to chase every cut starting with the one at 9am and we felt stressed like crazy. When we reached Ornö after racing 10 and something hours we heard a big thunder and it started to rain. We checked the time and realized that our legs did not move fast enough to take us 20k to south Ornö before 6pm, the last cut. On a normal day we could have done it but not after 10 hours of racing. We decided to jog the 12km to the next energy station and take the boat back. And we felt pretty ok with it. We knew that we did our best. Maybe we could have made it if we had a better day without jetlag, sleeping issues, more swimtraining… but we did what we could that day. And it sure was an interesting day.
I will try to describe the islands, the swims and the surroundings another day but I still feel too tired to even think about it. My body hurts on few places but I am surprised it’s not worse. I have big bloodblisters under my big toes and a messed up toe from running with a rock under the nail for 10 hours. It feels like my left calf is about to fall off but I am sure it will get better soon. My lefts foot is swollen and unstable from twisting it a million times. But my biggest concern, my left elbow feels ok. I am trying to sort out what happened in my head. I did drink and eat the whole day but I could have done better, as always. We rushed to every energy station/cut and felt like we had to grab something and leave in a few seconds. I had a cold cup of coffee at the 2.30pm station, best cup I’ve ever had. And someone handed me a piece of Twix after the 1,4k brutal swim and it felt like I got a million dollars in a piece of chocolate. Heaven. All the volunteers and race staff did a fantastic job. We felt safe with all the boats around when we swam. We spent two excellent nights at Sandhamn and Utö and could not have asked for more.
We had the equipment worked out pretty well, but you learn from your mistakes. My paddles really helped me but it also took time to get them on since my fingers turned purple after the first swim. Even if we had big hooks for the rope we used for the swims (and some runs) it was time consuming since our fingers didn’t work. I have to use ear plugs when I swim in cold water but that took time too. Everything gets difficult when you are cold and it took me hours to figure out that I was cold. Spending a whole day in a wetsuit is not very much fun but it worked. It felt pretty cold after a while and we only got the arms out a few times on the bigger islands. The problem with the wetsuit is that your heart rate gets higher, you have a constant pressure over your chest and that makes it difficult to push on your runs. It steals energy when you run. And it takes too much time to get your arms out so it is easier to suck it up and run. I didn’t say many words during the whole day. I am usually the one that talks when we run and Anna is the quiet one. I heard that Anna tried to talk, ask questions and get me prepared for the next swim or run but I couldn’t answer. My lips couldn’t move, I had to look down at my feet because of the terrain and I was too exhausted to waste my energy on words. I heard her but I couldn’t answer but I heard the answer in my head. Scary. It probably means that I didn’t eat enough. I also had the map and course memorized in my head but could not remember one single island. I had the distances written on my left leg on my suit but I couldn’t focus long enough to read. We just kept moving.
And here comes the strange part. I almost cried one hundred times because it hurt so much. My left calf could barely move forward and every step felt all the way up to my brain. The stress was the worst part, the constant chase after minutes and cuts. It was cold. The terrain was brutal. One wrong step on the cliffs and you fall and break every bone in your body. But I loved the swimming parts. The body felt light and pain free (if you don’t count bad calf cramps on the longer swims) when I jumped into the water. We had one long 1,4k swim in bad waves from NW that sucked the energy out of us but it still felt better than running. And I don’t even like swimming.
I heard myself say never again in my head over and over again, this is a race for crazy nuts and extremely mentally strong people. But when we talked on the boat on the way back to Stockholm today I hear myself answer yes, I will do it again if we get the chance. I know how to do it now. I have never experienced anything like it and I could not imagine before what it would be like. Indescribable. Something happens when you’ve been out for 6-7 hours and you can’t compere it with a short marathon or a shorter swimrun. A terrible and a fantastic day. And somehow the bad parts and the pain fades away after a nights sleep. I wonder when they release the lottery tickets?