A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a friend, Robert, whose team mate, fortunately or unfortunately (depending on who you are), had cancelled his participation. I have known the event for several years, but I had not found the right partner to race with, nor prioritized the race. But only signing up can be a challenge as well, the 2012 race was fully booked (100 teams) in only 32 minutes last year… Clearly the race draws contestants from all over the world, Swede, Finland, UK, Germany, USA and many other countries. The participants are often either one of three categories: armed forces (Marines, SEALS etc), long distance triathletes or persons that want to challenge themselves with an ultimate experience.
Before I begin; Thanks for all the support; Ecco, GoCoCo, triathleten.se/sailfish, Sportlife, Maxim, Duells, Continental, Hilleberg, [YOUR BRAND HERE], Charlotta.
In short, the Ö till Ö, is a race where you get yourself in teams of two from Sandhamn to Utö in the Stockholm archipelago. The distance is about 10k swimming and 56 k running over very rugged terrain on 19 islands. It is incredible if you check the distance on Google Maps. Waves and current can be a big issue too. The race is quite difficult to manage, most teams focus to stay clear of the cut offs (40% don’t make it due to time and/or conditions) where the most natural cut offs are Mother Nature and the Dark…
Before going into the race: thank you Robert for asking me to participate in your team. It took me about 1 second to decide ,even tough I had to “ask” my wife first. Tis is what we call fake democracy (skendemokrati…)
The weeks we had before the race consisted of the ironman Kalmar competition and some job travel, which did not leave much room for any specific or joint training. I and Robert actually don’t know each others that well, and we only got 1 very short training session together. The training was a swim run training just to get the equipment arranged.
As the race includes almost 40 transitions, there is no room for changing gear every transition, meaning that you have to swim in your running shoes and run in your wetsuit. Apart from that only minimal gear is carried. I carried 4 energy gels, 2 small bottles of energy drink and some mandatory equipment, all in a small bunny bag. I also had a rubber cord, which we could use during the long runs in order to equalize an difference in running strength, the stronger runner pulls the weaker.
I am also very fortunate that triathleten.se provided me with a great Sailfish Attack wetsuit that I could cut the legs off. I was running in my Innov8 Xtalon shoes, which provides excellent grip in these conditions, and drains/dries extremely fast -but they lack any form of cushioning…. As always, I wore socks from GoCoCo, guaranteeing no blisters…
I was, owner, a bit concerned of the shoes as I had not been using them for more than a year, so I actually feared both blisters and even more nervous of injuries -after all I am doing Kona Ironman in a month which I don’t want to miss….
The race came closer, and we was transported by a ferry out to Sandhamn. While chatting with the other athletes we understood that many had been here several times before, certainly all of the athletes with some kind of ambition. Our wild guess was to race hard and finish top 10.
Breakfast at 4.20 in the morning, and I was actually not too fired up about the race, I just felt it would be a very long and hard day. But I also knew that when the gun goes off….
And the gun surely went of at 0600 and 102 teams ran a couple of kilometers over Sandhamn down to the first 1650 meter swim. Conditions were ok, the weather was nice, but a steady headwind of 7-9 m/s meant the the swimming surely would be a challenge.
We knew the first swim would be splitting up the pack, but already now we learned that our swimming capacity wasn’t as we hoped/expected. I and Robert were quite uneven in the water, and we had to accept being left behind of many many teams. It was probably annoying for both of us, as I had to idle on the swim and I could do nothing to help Robert, and I am sure he was angry with me many times when I had left him a bit too far behind. We believe that the waves were unusual to Robert, more choppy than on the west coast, making the swim irregular.
In fact, we had expected us to be quite even on the swim, but we expected me to be a bit stronger on the run.
In any case – a team competition is about finishing together, and we did what we could during the day to make use our combined strength.
Eventually we finished the first long swim, a bit dissappointed, but we also knew our strengths; performing steadily on long (e.g. Ironman) competitions as well as the inning legs. So we expected that we would in relative terms be stronger towards the end of he race. The end of the race is less long swims and more long hard runs…
Directly after the swim I took over the gear from Robert, mainly for making it slightly easier for him during the swim parts but also the running. I was running a bit more effectively too.
The day carried on, and island after island passed by. The terrain was very rough and many times completely impossible to run – it was more about being fast over the terrain. The pattern was clear though – we lost a number of positions during the swim, but climbed in positions during the run parts.
On one swim, we actually tried to use the rubber cord during the swim, but it was too short to use for swimming – had we only known this during practice that we needed it we should of course have tried it out before.
The middle part of the race consists of several long swims about or over 1000 metres and I was a bit concerned how we would do. During a particular 1400 meter swim (which later proved to be a nightmare for most teams), we were very slow. The wind and waves were from against us or slightly from the side, meaning that we soon were off the most direct line. I had good control of our final destination, but the flashing beacon showing our destination was not visible – we were way out to the left.
During this swim I got colder and colder as I had to swim slowly. I tried to show the way for Robert, but eventually he was mad with the waves and conditions – shouting to me “WHERE THE F*CK ARE WE GOING?”. At this point my greatest fear was that we would be forced to pull out of the race – but I calmed myself with the fact that Robert have completed many long hard races before…
After ages, we climbed up on the cliff – we were fine by now, but we had several long swims still to do.
The remaining swim parts became better – less waves and we managed to cross them more effectively.
During the mid part of the race we were at worst in position 34, but when having finished the long swims, we certainly started to take positions one by one.
Ornö offers in total 17 k of running, a combination of rugged terrain and roads. We just knew we were going to hammer it there. We took of the wetsuits completely there and tied us together with the rubber cord. I tied the wetsuits around my neck – felt a little bit strangling but ok, and we were off. I went out very hard and we made good pace over the island. We passed several teams, and all teams we passed were very very slow in comparison. I guess they must have felt the same thing when passing us on the swim earlier during the day…
After several k of running, my legs started to become very tired from the towing, in any case a great feeling to maximize the effort. After a while it felt better again.
After Ornö, there are only some short swim legs and some running over some very rugged islands before arriving on Utö for a 3 k final sprint. And we sure sprinted. When coming up on Utö, we just passed a couple of teams, and after 500 meters yet another one.
We didn’t need to look back, but maybe maybe there was a team in front of us to beat? The last part was hard, we were of course tired, but either we calculated wrong, or the notes on the map were seriously wrong. The goal proved to be about 1500 meters further away than expected, and also an uphill finish… Very hard for sore legs but mentally very hart to continue the last 1500 metres.
Nevertheless – it was a fantastic feeling to finish after 12 hours as team 19, meaning that we took 15 positions from our low at position 34.
No major problems during the race actually, I felt a bit sore in my knees as well as my left shoulder and elbow – but that would be quite natural after 10 k open water swimming with paddles – without any specific training before.
Again very happy to be able to participate in such an epic race. We did not manage top10, but with a bit more specific training and training together we could easily have shaved off the 45 minutes needed.
The race provided very good energy stations, I did not need to use any of my 0.8 litres of energy drink during the race. I brought 4 gels, of which I used 2 on Ornö, but i took many gels on the energy stations. I expect to use much more energy if we optimize the race and go faster another year.
Great moment of the race was in the morning when the BIG Siljaline ferry passed just some hundred meters behind us, with a helicopter filming us from above in the sunrise. Magic.
Thanks Robert and Ö till Ö for a great race!
Robert’s blogg about Ö till Ö is here: http://www.marathon.se/bloggar/robert/2012/9/ö-till-ö
Thanks for all the support; Ecco, GoCoCo, triathleten.se/sailfish, Sportlife, Maxim, Duells, Continental, Hilleberg, [YOUR BRAND HERE], Charlotta.
Photos: Stefan Permander (all except finishing photo)