Trail Running in a Wetsuit
Sweden’s ÖTILLÖ race takes trail runners over 26-island archipelago
Photo © Jakob Edholm / ÖTILLÖ2013
Being the only Kiwi who’d ever raced Sweden’s ÖTILLÖ swim-run endurance challenge, I felt I had to knock this one off. The waves crashed my body against the rocky shore, then sucked me out back out just as quickly. I looked for finger holds in the rock face. Floundering in the water with hand paddles looped around my wrists and my (mandatory) personal buoy banging against my legs, I became more worried about my life than representing my country.
On paper, the race had sounded perfectly doable to me and my race partner, Renata, an accomplished Irish long-distance triathlete. ÖTILLÖ boasts 75 kilometers of racing—65 kilometers of running and 10 kilometers of swimming—over 26 islands of the Stockholm Archipelago, the second largest in the Baltic Sea. For safety reasons, the race is completed in pairs, with partners having to stay within 10 meters of one another all day long. Renata and I called ourselves “Team PenRen.”
Some runners opted to stay connected with a rope between them. Photo © Jakob Edholm / ÖTILLÖ2013
We’d obsessed for weeks over our gear and how the distances, when broken down between islands, would be achievable. We had calculated goal splits, being very generous on the timings to allow for getting in and out of the water. With these times laminated and glued to our swim paddles, we knew we would have a tough day, but were confident we could make all five cut-offs and finish in time for beers before dinner.
The first island that morning was nature’s slap in the face. The rocky shoreline, boulders and slippery granite that greeted us were not conducive to easy running flow. We worked up a fast scramble and picked our path along the shore, through scrub and over boulders, following carnival tape hanging from the trees.
At the race briefing, we’d been told we needed to skirt several islands due to land ownership issues. After 4400 meters of wobbly walk-running in ankle-deep waters, we were cursing the land owners.