Written by Fanny Kuhn
Last fall, I decided it would be cool to give it a shot at winning the Swimrun World Championship 2018. I prepared for Monday 3 September 2018 since then, working hard to improve my running. As the weeks and months progressed, I ran faster, harder and longer. It was an exciting journey and I saw results fast, being able to hold a faster comfortable pace and felt strong in the most daunting hills. It was exciting to compete in the spring, as I could put in another gear in the running sections that I didn’t have before. I raced many races with many friends in fantastic places with quite successful results. It is fun to win, but it is not everything. You often realise this when you loose, as it forces you to think of all the things you won but the gold medal.
Desirée and I didn’t cross the finish line first last Monday, but we had a true fight, a incredible day together and gave it all we got to get there. On race day, we were the second strongest team with no excuses. The winners, Annika and Kristin, are a true power couple that will always inspire me. It is an honor to compete together with them.
ÖtillÖ is not really about how fast you run, how fast you swim or how good you are at swinging around your pull buoy and sliding on your paddles in the transitions. It is all about how fast you think you do this. As with everything in life, our brain determines our actions. Your body only can do what you envision it to. I think that starting a race containing 65km running with almost 2 months absence of running training is a good example of this. You can read the story of my summer in this post. Now, I’ll tell you a bit more about the race.
This year, the day before was a bit different, as the ÖtillÖ base camp moved from Sandhamn to Djurönäset; a beautiful centre on the mainland a 30-minute ferry ride from the start. We arrived with bus from Stockholm City, which only took about an hour. Upon arrival followed the usual procedure with equipment check, registration and Gococo socks. After some chill time and last preparations in the room, it was time for the always-inspirational race briefing, dinner and an early night to try and get a few hours of sleep. Those hours went by fast, and soon it was time for a 3:45-am breakfast. Yum! I ate my usual pre-race power meal: one boiled egg and a few spoons of oatmeal with peanut butter. After breakfast, we put all our gear on and walked down to the ferry; a trail of torches led our way to the harbour in the dark and the orange lining of an early sunrise behind the islands and the mirror-calm Baltic Sea gave us a preview of a spectacular day ahead.
THE RACE, PLAY-BY-PLAY
At 6 am sharp, the starting shot startled me as usual, waking the body a little extra and telling it to get ready for a few hours of hard work. Desirée and I started close to the front, and made sure to keep together on the small trail during the paced start; the only minutes of the race it feels crowded. We jumped in and had a great first swim, which is also the longest (1750 meters), and got out of the water as the first women’s team. We managed to keep this lead over the first few rocky islands, pacing ourselves to make sure not to trip during these technical runs. In the beginning I felt slightly less stable on my feet as I didn’t do trail running for a few weeks, but got into it quite fast. One of the first longer runs, Annika and Kristin passed us, and we caught up in the following swims and got passed again on the first larger Island; Runmarö. Here, we tried to keep our pace without pushing too much. Although you’ve raced for more than an hour, there is quite a lot of distance left to the finish line at this point. We kept a good pace, and felt quite well both of us.
We continued in good faith, knowing that we still had plenty of long swims ahead, over the next small Islands with short runs and some good swims. We arrived to the next big island, Nämdö, as leaders and knew we had Annika and Kristin “hack i häl”. Although it was starting to get quite hot now, we decided to not take our wetsuit tops off. We continued in a good pace, and got quite thrilled that we were still in the lead after this island with relatively high amount of running.
The chase continued, and we kept on going in our pace. We lost speed on some technical parts, but swam steady. When we reached the most daunting quest on the course – the 20-km run over Ornö – Annika and Kristin were right behind us. We knew that this would be a tough challenege, but kept on going at a good pace after taking off our wetsuit tops for this long run in the sun. Annika and Kristin passed us almost immediately at an impressive pace that we could not keep up at the moment. We paced ourselves and kept on as best as we could. The first part of this run is in the woods and on trails, and you eventually get up to an asphalt road where you run most part of the mid-race half marathon. I had to dig deep on Ornö. Desirée was extremely strong during this part of the race, despite she had pain in her knee. I started to feel the mental ghosts creeping up in my mind, reminding me that I in fact didn’t do any running training for the last two months… it was tough to fight those thoughts along with my excruciating muscle ache as well as a flicker of pain here an there in my injured tibia bone. I would never have made it though the Ornö without Desirée’s positive attitude and encouragement. She kept the mood up although she was also struggling at the end of this run with pain in her knee.
Despite a low point during the race’s longest run, we kept on going al the way and didn’t stop in a single uphill. Finally, it was time for the magical moment: jumping in the water after almost two hours of struggle on land. This gave us plenty of energy, and we swam like crazy over the next few Islands and picked up the pace. We knew we were behind at this point, but you never know and we didn’t give up until it was over. We kept a good pace over the rocks and swam happy until the last 3-K run up on Utö to the finish line. At this point, we realised we were scarily close to make it under 9 hours, and made our best shot at it, sprinting up the Utö hill. Desiree pulled out some hidden force and almost dragged me up that hill, she was incredible. Sadly, we missed it by 15 seconds, and we finally finished in second place behind Kristin and Annika. It was a tough fight, but we had an incredible race together and gave it our all, reaching the finish in a time that beat my personal record (from 2016 with Pär Kristoffersson) with 32 minutes.
STRATEGY AND TEAMWORK
Desirée and I are tuned in to race side by side through all moments, and we don’t use a physical cord between us neither in the swimming or running stretches. Both of us prefer to swim without a cord, as we feel more free and can extend our strokes. To conserve energy and swim the best we can, usually I stay ahead and Desirée drafts on my feet. In the flat running, Desirée is usually the pace keeper and I run right behind or beside her. I bring a cord in case we would need it, but we already have such a strong mental version of it that Ive never uncoiled it during any of our races together.
I think both Desirée and I were born positive, which helps during a race like this. Even though we experienced rough moments and pain at some point during our nine hours on the course, we never complained. We communicate well about difficulties and tell each other when we have a low point, but never in a destructive way.
In Swimrun, you get a chance to be close to nature in a very intense way, and it is amazing to see how it changes. Comparing this race to last year’s, it was as different as it could be. Now, it was like stroking through a Baltic-sea swimming pool instead of battling 3-m waves and intense current. We got to cruse through mostly dry rocks and didn’t have the wind blowing us off the archipelago cliffs in the transitions. The sky was blue and sunny instead of grey and rainy. I have to say that both these versions of the Swedish archipelago has its charm as a racer. I feel much happier, however, for all the volunteers, supporters and safety staff that probably had a slightly better day this year! But no matter what comes at them, the ÖtillÖ organisation always pulls off a fantastic race experience.
I want to call out my appreciation to my (real life) partner Jonathan that dedicated his own birthday to follow his crazy girlfriend running through the archipelago the entire day, together with my dad, mom, Peter, Harry and Thomas. Thank you for being there for us, and big thanks to everyone that wished us good luck and believed in us ahead of this adventure, we could feel it! Thanks also to the amazing Team Envol squad and our sponsors Head Swimming, Precision Hydration, Vivobarefoot and Clifbar for top-class equipment and nutrition.
Last but not least, congrats to the fantastic performances of everyone that finished this race. It is an enormous achievement.