Before I moved to Stockholm in early 2014 I had never heard of SwimRun, a sport which seems to be rapidly increasing in popularity in Europe. This is partly because I was less interested in races involving swimming, but also because before 2014 most of the SwimRun events that existed were held in Sweden. For the first time last year an official SwimRun World Championship event was held outside Sweden in Engadin, Switzerland, and the number of SwimRun events continues to expand. In 2015 there are numerous races taking place in Switzerland, Norway and Denmark. Here in Sweden, there are almost 40 SwimRun events scheduled, with SwimRun the second fastest growing sport in the country.
So what is SwimRun? The premise, as the name implies, is to swim and run across a set distance. Sounds simple enough, and when put like that not particularly innovative, but there are several differences between SwimRun, as it is known here, and a traditional duathlon or combination-style event. One of the main differences is that because you swim and run interchangeably on a regular basis, participants swim in their shoes and run in their wetsuits. What also makes SwimRun special is that it is a team sport, with both team members expected to complete the course alongside one another. Throw in the fact that most events take place in beautiful natural settings such as the Stockholm archipelago and in extremely cold water, and you have yourself a unique blend of enticing, challenging, and somewhat frightening... i.e. an appealing endurance sport.
The ÖtillÖ is the original and best known event on the Swim-Run calendar, with its 10th year anniversary this year. Considered one of the toughest one day races in the world, teams swim between 26 islands and run on them, covering 75 km in total (10 swimming and 65 running). The 120 spots are highly sought after, with a waiting list of 550 teams worldwide. I found out about the ÖtillÖ shortly after moving to Stockholm, when two German friends (German Sparkle Party) came to compete in 2014. I was inspired by their effort, swimming and running for over 11 hours straight to finish the race!
Shortly after finishing the ÖtillÖ, my friends notified me that there were places for another SwimRun event called the Utö SwimRun (considered an introduction to SwimRun) available for 2015. A Facebook plea for a teammate and a few deep breaths later I found myself signed up for 5.5 km of swimming and 31.5 km of running through the Baltic Sea. I knew the 31.5 km would be fine after running marathons in 2012 and 13 but 5.5 km of swimming was daunting for someone who could not swim more than 50 m continuously in a pool.
But that was the end of 2014, fast forward six months and the race is almost upon us. In 2 weeks I will race Utö SwimRun with my friend Tim as part of team BiggieSmallz (@thinkbiggiesmallz). Although we have trained hard, our goal is to complete the race without freezing to death. The current water temperature is 7 degrees. This will be my first, but hopefully not my last, SwimRun...