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Race Reports 2013

ŐTILLŐ - Charles Whelan (September 2013)


This O till O Race report, took a while but I first had to have a debriefing with François Xavier Li (FIX) who was was my team mate; which we did over the High Peak 40M. Short report 1st, long one below

On 2 September Fix & I did the O till O. This is a dash across and between 22 islands in the Stockholm archipelago. 40 miles running and 6 miles swimming as team and never more than 10m apart in water or 100m out of the water. We wore cut down wetsuits and running shoes for the whole race. Oh and there are tight cut offs too! Our aim? To finish between 12 and 13 hours.

The race started at 6am just as it was getting light. 140 teams ran the 1km to the first swim along a narrow path. Fix and I were in the middle as we ran into the sea for the 1 mile swim to the first Island. Little did we know that would be the last path we saw for a long time.

Fix is the stronger swimmer so the plan was for me to draft Fix in the water. This worked for most swims except this first one where we got separated. This gave Fix a few minutes to top up his tan whilst he waited for CHARLIE to finish. After this we stuck together and Fix was not kept waiting, although I had to swim as hard as I could. After scrambling out onto the first set of rocks we set off over land. No path to speak of, running over boulders, round trees and through undergrowth etc. I mostly led the way on land and navigated.

As a team we got into an excellent rhythm as we supported each other’s strengths and weaknesses. As we raced over and between the islands we kept moving pretty much all the time. We were passing checkpoints with ease and felt secure that we would finish in the time so long as neither of us blew up. I have a  history of not keeping nutrition in/down and blowing up!

After 17 islands comes a long run over Orno. ½ a marathon lots off road and some on road. The only time we saw a car was on this Island. It is the checkpoint at the end of this Island that catches most racers who miss the cut off. We arrived at the island with enough time to walk Orno and make the Checkpoint. Relief.

However my energy was dropping. Getting food in was proving difficult. Although we were confident of making the checkpoint we wanted a great time and pressed on. By now Fix was stronger than me and he drove us on. A massive refill at the feed station in the middle of Orno resulted in me filling my boots.  I felt stringer and we were able to get back up to 10 -11 kph running speeds. By the time we got off the island with an hour to spare us were both feeling great again.

On the dash back over the final 7 islands Fix started to tire and it was my turn to take the lead. We covered the final islands in 1:20 and over took 10 teams in the process. Very satisfying.


Total time - 12:26. We were very happy!  We finished in the top half and well clear of the cut offs.  We planed race this event rather than complete it, and did .


Background and detail

The Ötillö is a simple concept: run and swim from island to island. It takes place on the first Monday of September in the Stockholm archipelago as it meander north to south from Sandhamn to Utö. Few numbers: 24 islands, 10km swim, 65km run, team of 2. It’s a logistical/equipment nightmare, a physical and mental challenge, a paradise for nature lovers, and a good test of friendship. So let’s start with this latter point.

Team

How do you choose your ideal teammate? For most, it’s a long time training / club mate. For us, it was chance. We bumped into each other on the top of a munro shrouded in clouds during last year Celtman. I was having a nap, Fix was ready for a chat before we both carried on racing; later we talked about the Otillo on tritalk, and the decision was made. A bit of luck, and we were in. Our first proper meet was in mid July between the Celtman for Fix and Alpe d’Huez long for me. This small training session taught us a lot, and during the second and final shared session in August we finalised many important details.

Equipment

This race is unique: the rules are very liberal, but you have to carry everything from start to finish. Wetsuit is compulsory (the water is too cold to do without), and you have to decide how to run with it. Vice versa, do you swim with your shoes or remove them? Some people use fins, some remove their shoes for long swims, some use a tether between them. We opted for what the majority of competitors had: triathlon wetsuit cut above the knee and under the elbows. Light shoes, paddles and pool buoy. CHARLIE had a bum bag with a bottle, Fix a Hydrapack vest.

Pics of my Equipment



















Strategy

We discovered that we both have a strong sailing background, and we used this to gel our team and form our strategy and tactic.  I summarised that we should use an inshore strategy for a short off shore race: don’t settle into a long endurance rhythm, keep everybody on deck all the time and hang on. With 24 islands to cover, we decided to reduce our transition time: never remove shoes, remove top of the wet suit only for the longest runs. Travel light, minimum things to carry, minimum things to go wrong.

Training

We did most of our training separately. More swim (than usual) 10k+ per week in final 6 weeks,  in particular using the paddles, more runs, less cycling (none for me). Be prepared to many strange looks when running in a wet suit, or diving in your local club swim with your shoes on.   When running in and around Frensham during the July heatwave a copper stopped us to tell us we were bonkers.  We were wearing cut off wetguits, hats, pull bouys, paddles, the works!

Included in the race package the day before the race you get ferried from Stockholm to Sandhamn, a very nice gentle cruise through the archipelago. Conor and I travelled out with an old mate of mine (Matt Humphries) who lives on the Archipelago in his beautiful speedboat.  In Sandhamn the equipment is checked, hotel rooms distributed and a briefing takes place before the evening meal is served. Time for a final check of the equipment, a quick look at the competition, and after a very good meal and a goodbye to our supporters (Conor and Mrs Fix), we settled down for a good night of sleep. We manage about 8h before waking up at 4am for breakfast. It was a team effort, roughly 4 h each!


















The sky was clear, a bit windy, and not very warm. Bang the gun goes, and everybody runs in a pack behind a quad/pace maker until the first swim. 1600m to go. Theoretically, we are supposed to stay always with 10m of each other. Rapidly we got split in this first swim, partly because a team with a tether got between us, but it was the only time in the race when we were more than 10m apart. It is much more relax and civilised than and IM swim start, and we met on the first slippery rocks on Vindalsö, the second island. Off we go, not really running but rather scrambling over rocks and forest. Don’t look at the distance and estimate at what speed you can run over a flat-ish terrain. The going is a lot slower, the terrain very technical.


















On the first long run we rolled down the top of our wetsuit to avoid over-heating. It took us too long to put it back on, and we changed our technique: we waited for slower sections close to the swim and whilst one was putting the wetsuit back on, the other was assisting, zipping up etc, then we reversed the roles. We should have practiced this more in training, but the lesson was rapidly learned. We were swimming and running at a comfortable pace, chatting happily, slightly annoying a pair of Swedish who complained that if we could talk like this we should be running faster. To wish we replied that they were like an old couple with nothing to say to each other, when we were like on a first date, with many things to share and chat about . The first cut-off point came rapidly, 3h into the race, and we were comfortably within it. From then on, this was never a problem. One island rolled into to the next island at a relentless rhythm. This is probably the key point of this race: it never stops, you can never relax a bit. We were a bit anxious about navigation, but the organisers are doing a fantastic job in marking the whole course with coloured tape. We got lost only one time when we landed on an island too far right (following everybody in front of us) and spent 10 minutes finding the right track. Otherwise it was very straightforward. We made sure in the swims that our navigation was good and we didn't deviate from the course and we gained some time there. To our surprise we were faster swimmers than the people around us.

















There are 4 really challenging sections on this course: 3 swims of 1600m, 1400m and 900m very exposed with waves and currents (and cold water), and one 19km run section. Not surprisingly, these sections were tough. We both had our bad patches at some point in the race, thankfully not simultaneously, but team work paid and we tough it up, partly thanks to the chocolate bars . Finally we landed on the last island, 3km to go, time to give anything left in the tank. We pushed on, teams who passed us earlier in the race. One last hill, one last push to pass one last team number 56, leaving us to finish happy at the 55th place overall. Did we mention our bib number was 55? We finished happy for a well executed plan, a great race and a lot of fun.