Brothers Jesper Mars and Mats Andersson, two of ÖTILLÖ’s Original Four, returned in 2016 as Team Utö-Home of Swimrun
Mats Andersson is one of the Orginal Four who came up with the idea to swimrun from Utö to Sandhamn in 2002, even though he had never run before and was not a strong swimmer.
SLM: Where were you born in Sweden and how well did you know the islands and terrain?
Mats: I was raised in Stockholm, but I spent every summer at our summerhouse on Ålö, the island just south of Utö. After I got a kayak for my 14th birthday, I went all over the south part of the archipelago.
First, it was just the four of us but by the end there must have been at least 20 people there, everyone celebrating what we all felt was a brilliant idea.
SLM: Before the Uto to Sandhamn challenge, now known as ÖTILLÖ, what kind of sports did you do?
Mats: I’d completed some long tours with my kayak, paddling straight for 24 hours, while my brother had done some big wall climbs. However, we didn’t run and we were poor swimmers.
SLM: How much drinking was involved in the dialogue in 2002 that led to the Utö to Sandhamn dare?
Mats: Well, on that evening there was a lot of drinking going on. Utö is a party island during the summer and we were sitting down by the harbour at the Sailors Bar. First, it was just the four of us but by the end there must have been at least 20 people there, everyone celebrating what we all felt was a brilliant idea.
SLM: How long after the challenge was made did you guys actually do it?
Mats: We actually tried out the swimrun concept that night. Everyone around the table got up and started to run towards the nearest beach, about 800 metres away. At the beach we swam out 100 metres to the nearest island before coming back to the bar. I finished last, I fell after about 200 meters. The winner was a friend, whom to my knowledge never ran before or after that night. It was a very inspiring evening, but the date for the long run was three weeks later.
SLM: How did you and your brother Jesper prepare – what equipment did you take along and what did you wear?
Mats: Other than some shorty surfing wetsuits we didn’t use much. I had an old pair of sneakers that I wasn’t afraid to ruin. We brought rucksacks with food and water and a change of clothes so we could get into the nightclub at Sandhamn.
SLM: How many hours did you calculate it would take?
Mats: We figured it would take us two days. The only worry we had was that we would be run over by a boat, so we had big red waterproof bags that we towed.
SLM: Take us though the first time you did this swimrun. What are some of your strongest memories?
Mats: The idea to do this came from a conversation about how the four of us had gone this distance in boat, kayaks and sailing but we had missed many of the islands along the way. So this was a way to actually visit more of them. My best memories are actually of how nice it was to move in nature in this manner, to see the different islands – it was like we were exploring. I think people who try swimrun for the first time all have a similar experience.
SLM: How did you prepare differently for the second time the four of you did the race?
Mats: In fact, we prepared the same way and although we were hoping to have more teams, in the end it was only the four of us. We loved doing this and wanted others to love it as well but just didn’t have that many friends that were interested, which felt kind of sad. We did a similar competition around the nearest islands that summer and got 15 teams to come, but they just weren’t into the long event.
It took us 24 hours on the move. It was forbidden to swim after sundown. We slept under a tree.
SLM: You had a rule that each team had to check into three restaurants along the way, and the first team would order what the second team had to drink and pay for. So what did you guys drink?
Mats: It was very friendly. We were in the lead so we ordered things that we knew would make our friends happy: a cold beer, Calvados and a cigar, gin and tonic …
SLM: The first time took 26 hours. How the heck did you island to island swim at night?
Mats: It took us 24 hours on the move. It was forbidden to swim after sundown. We slept under a tree.
SLM: How exactly did you manage all those kilometres over land when you weren’t a runner?
Mats: Well, we took it very easy, walking most of the distance. It was harder the first year when Mats and Michael turned it into a real competition. That was the first year that we actually tried to run the distance, which was one of our proudest performances. We were in fourth place when we missed the cut-off at Kymmendö.
SLM: Did you ever imagine the ÖTILLÖ event would develop into its own sport?
Mats: I thought that it should be a big thing but we couldn’t convince anyone to do it with us. So we almost gave up.
I’m proud that a drunken night in my little corner of the world could lead to something like swimrun and ÖTILLÖ
SLM: What’s it like to be known as one of the crazy drunk Swedes who made a bet that launched a movement?
Mats: Well, I’m proud that a drunken night in my little corner of the world could lead to something like swimrun and ÖTILLÖ … and that something good came out of all those crazy summer nights in my late twenties.
SLM: Over the past fifteen years, how many swimruns have you done?
Mats: In the first years it was only ÖTILLÖ but after a few years other events were born. I’ve done about 15 different swimruns, and a few of them many times and I try to go to new places every year. Swimrun is like the best guide to nature. Someone else has marked out a path showing you nature at its best right at that spot.
SLM: What’s the first thing you want when you cross the finish line?
Mats: The first thing I want is a cold beer. I have found that the only thing that gets me through the last part of a long race is that thought. With ÖTILLÖ, I am running to get home. So if the finish line is on Utö, I want to hug my children first … then get a cold beer.
SLM: How would you describe yourself?
Mats: I think I’m slacker trying to be an adult … I really need to play as much as I can.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue # 1 (Feb/Mar 2017)
Mats, it was great to hear your story in person when you came out to San Diego, California last month!