When I was in Hvar, Croatia, over the April 1-2 weekend for the kick off to the ÖTILLÖ swimrun season, I popped my head into to hear Michael Lemmel giving a presentation on the history of ÖTILLÖ and the evolution of the sport of swimrun.
Mentioning there’ve been 650 articles published in more than 20 countries about ÖTILLÖ, he then flashed on the screen the cover of 220 Triathlon magazine’s November 2015 issue with the headline, “The Rise of Swimrun: The New Endurance Race to Rival Ironman?” My jaw dropped.
From only nine teams of two showing up at the first ÖTILLÖ start in 2006, to ten years later when 1,500 athletes took part in ÖTILLÖ events. For 2017, somewhere in between 40-50,000 racers will compete in over 400 swimruns worldwide.
The sport is taking off. Take the US as an example. The first swimrun in the country, California Swimrun (CARS), started in 2015. The following year there were four swimruns but in 2017, the number has exploded 800 percent to around 35, with more than 100 swimrun races anticipated next year across the US. Surely swimrun emoticons are in the process of being created.
Team California Swimrun – Andy Hewitt and Daemon Anastas – was also in Hvar and talked about the growth spurt of the sport back home, and how some race organisers are considering dropping the team rule, setting the way for faster solo performances.
Good or bad, there is currently no Swimrun Federation body to govern one set of rules and regulations. As Joakim Axellson says elsewhere this issue, “Swimrun is becoming a lifestyle but I hope it won’t be like some other sports with a lot of rules, like what length and colour your socks have to be.”
However, Michael emphasised that as race directors, he and Mats Skott will never skimp on safety measures as a way to reduce production costs – Hvar, as an example costs about €110,000 to put on – and that ÖTILLÖ swimruns will always be a team sport, as a safety precaution, yes, but also because it creates a camaraderie you won’t find in other ego-driven individual endurance sports.
Prior to Croatia, I thought that Michael and Mats sat around eating Swedish berries waiting for racers to cross the finish line. This is in no way a criticism, but the races are so well organised that I figured they had all the volunteers and key people in place so their work was done. They just had to practice finish line hugging.
Couldn’t have been more wrong. In Hvar, I did a Sprint race and, for the first time, worked the event. The behind-the-scene action is worthy of an adventure race in itself. I witnessed firsthand 72-hours of all-day-and-night communication and let’s just say Big Brother has nothing on an ÖTILLÖ crew.
On Sunday, race morning, I was out on the boat with Michael inflating extra buoys to mark entry and exit points in the water while Michael, backpack and tape in tow, tirelessly leapt from boat to island to boat to island remarking the course to manage weather conditions.
I better understand when Michael says, “ÖTILLÖ will challenge you but give you every opportunity to finish.” Indeed.
This second issue of Swimrun Life Magazine visits Ivan Verunica (Croatia) and Zoe Perry (Isles of Scilly) who have helped make new race destinations a success, and profiles four additional merit races – in Stockholm, Solvalla, Côte Vermeille and Costa Brava. We also talk to some key players of the sport, the Rain Man of swimming, Mikael Rosen, as well as ÖTILLÖ World Champion Kristin Larsson.
As we focus more and more on the swimrun lifestyle, we also look at the importance of a healthy foot and offer some yoga moves that can help with swimrun performance, while reminding readers how they can help respect the environment.
And for those of you hesitating about investing in a swimrun wetsuit, you might want to check out how HEAD wetsuits are designed. Equipment, as I’ve learned the hard way, is paramount in adventure racing.
Maybe it’s this sense of adventure that is converting a steady influx of Ironman triathletes to swimrun, to experience for themselves what Michael Lemmel describes as, “I used to look at a map and think about how I could run around a lake, now I can go across it. You don’t see obstacles any more, you just keep moving.”
And that you can’t do on a bike.
Nancy Heslin, Editor
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue # 2 (Apr/May 2017)