More than 30,000 islands spread off the Swedish coastline in the Baltic Sea. This is home to the worlds toughest endurance race – the ÖtillÖ (“ö till ö”, or island to island). Participants racing as a team of two must run and swim across 26 of the islands, from Sandhamn to Utö. A total of 75km, if you manage to navigate the currents and rocks in a straight-ish line.
They call this a swimrun. A race that alternates multiple times between swimming and running. You can’t stop and change kit during the race, which means running in your wetsuit – usually cut above the knee – and swimming with your shoes on. It might sound odd, but the chance to race across rugged and often wild landscapes easily makes up for this inconvenience.
Six years ago the sport didn’t even exist. There was just the ÖtillÖ race, invented by a group of Swedes on Utö looking for a challenge. But as word of the annual event spread, it picked up imitators and, through one of its early competitors Erika Rosenbaum, the name swimrun.
Now it’s one of the fastest growing endurance sports in the world, with more than 100 events in Europe alone. The world’s best teams still come back to the ÖtillÖ every year, either through qualifying events or a lucky ballot, for what is classified as the swimrun world championship.