How to burn 300 calories in 5 min., can you take the food away from natives, what is a sport Tsaheylu, how a man can grow a C size breast, and why the queen of races lives in a red bottle?
In far 2002, four drunk guys – Anders Malm, Janne Lindberg, Jesper and Mats Andersson in one of the Sweden bars, decided to find out, which of them is the toughest. Yet, not by kicking each other’s asses, but through quite a non-standard way. They took a napkin with a map and with an unsteady hand draw a 75 km long route on it, going from the hotel on Utö island to the hotel on Sandhamn island.
The curved line passed through 26 islands and straits. Having divided in pairs, they made a bet on who will be the last on this route. And this one had to pay for the hotel accommodation, dinner and drinks. They agreed on a single rule – to visit five pubs along the distance.
Next morning they started, and it took them 24 hours to get to the finish line. They were so tired, that there was no discussion about the evening party, but this was the day, when the sport swimrun was born. In 2006, this route became an official race, and 10 years later it turned into the world championship in swimrun – Ö TILL Ö.
It is one of the most difficult one-day races for endurance, and in Swedish it means “from island to island”. It takes place on the first Monday of September in Sweden, between 26 islands of the Stockholm Archipelago in the cold waters of the Baltic Sea.
A team of two participants (MM, WW or MW) swims from island to island, and travels overland by running. The participants have to overcome more than 50 stages, which amount to 10 km by swimming and 65 by running. The estimated time is not more than 14 hours. Particularities: cold water (12°C) and rare feeding stations (one per 8 km).
Another distinctive feature of the swimrun lies in the fact that the participants must carry all the equipment with them. Therefore, sportsmen recourse to non-standard innovative solutions – they swim in running shoes and run in wetsuits. Some of them take fins, tubes, and even inflatable mattresses. Paddles, pull buoys (floaters made of a porous material, which is held between the legs) and a rubber rope are recommended for use during the swims to not get lost. This is due to the fact that according to the rules, sportsmen should not part away from each other by more than 50 meters on land and 5m in water.
Participation is expensive, about $ 1,500 per team, but it includes the transfer to the island, 2 nights accommodation, meals and the slot itself. Even if you have money, it is difficult to get to this race, because even despite the huge number of people wishing to participate, there is a limit of 120 teams. There are three ways:
1. To win in the category at one of the qualifying competitions.
2. To win the lottery – the chance is very small.
3. To be selected according to merits – it was our option.
Its very easy: you write a letter to the organizers, that you passed the Ironman, ran the Ultra-marathon, swam 10 km in open water or, for example, that you are a Moldovan champion in running (this one is about Liviu), and that your marathon rate is 2:30 (again about him) – and that’s all, you just have to wait for the letter with the invitation. So, the approximate formula is like that:
But in that time it was a surprise for us, the one that we didn’t really count for. Yet, it’s possible that we were invited for expanding the pool of participating countries…
Shortly, HOORAY! We are going to OttilO!
We means me, Liviu Croitoru (the main Sporter coach) and our beloved doc – Vladimir Botezatu – the God of tapes and Lord of trigger points.
If you ask me, Stockholm is a beautiful European city with quite a predictable architecture and sights. A lot more pleasant than Helsinki. It resembles Copenhagen quite much. Everything’s quiet, proper and regular.
Having walked a day through Stockholm, admiring the city of Carlson, taking photos of the famous multi-colored houses and getting stuck in the narrowest street in Europe, we went to the pier.
There, we got acquainted with the Belarusian-Russian team – Dimon Egorov and Marina Ivanova. Ferry in Stockholm is the gathering place of all participants. The guys are participating for the second year already, so they behave confidently and mysteriously. By the way, they also organize Russian swimrun in St. Petersburg.
All 120 pairs are loaded onto the ferry, and we go to the start place – the island… 2.5 hours later we approach the town of Sandham. At the exit, each of us is personally greeted by the organizers of the race, we hug and go for the registration and the hotel accommodation.
Registration is a little slower than for the usual marathon – the participants are checked for the availability of the following equipment:
Wet suit, goggles, whistle, compass, first aid kit and the rope for banding together – I call it Tsaheylu. Because my companion and I make up a unified whole.
If you have them all, they put a bracelet, give you the chip, the starter shirt, swim cap and promotional materials. The atmosphere is very warm, smiles everywhere, pats on the back, some people even dance:)
We didn’t find the Expo – sportsmen of such level don’t need to shop in the last day. But we are not like them, so we hoped on buying some souvenirs.
After the accommodation and armor placement on the floor, we went to the briefing. Having sat in a relaxed manner on the floor, we have been listening to the cheerful Swedes, who were giving explanations on how we may save ourselves from injuries, drowning or getting lost – in short how we may survive on the road and reach the finish line safe and sound within 14 hours.
The pasta party suddenly turned into the butter party. Taking our pasta and joining our friends at the table, we got surprised that each of them took half a pack of butter.
– Namesake, – Dimon told, – you have to eat the butter if you don’t want to freeze.
Me and Liviu didn’t wanted to freeze, so we took part in this butter party, hoping that half a pack of 82% butter will magically warm us the next day.
So, with the feeling of a brick in our stomachs, we crawled up the stairs to our room to fall on the bed and try to get some sleep.
Vovka does not let us sleep and is taping us from head to toes. By the way, thank you Doc – it really helped us…
And there I am already lying in bed, yawning, I remember that I did not put down all the stages on the paddles… What was left to do – I get up and quietly, having switched on the table lamp, sit down at the easel…т…
Morning started at 4 A.M. First of all – breakfast, although after yesterday’s butter loading I am totally not hungry. I pushed myself to eat the cereal and a toast with butter, and Loperamide for dessert. We put on our gear and get out into the street. It’s still dark, but people are crawling out of their cells and move towards the start point.
Before the start, they scan the chip on the leg, and it happily blinks in response. It’s quite cold – about 10 degrees, we start to limber up, warm up and wake up. How beautiful it is around – parked yachts swaying in the dark waves, in which we will have to swim in an hour. A leaden gloomy sky is resting on bald boulders of the size of a house, on which we will climb soon. Shortly, all thoughts come down to the race – how will it go? Will we make it? Will we not get cold? Will we manage to crawl till the end? Bang! – a hit on the shoulder. – Hi!.
– Dimon, why are you standing here staring at the water? – our Russian/Belarusian friends came.
– I am just meditating … and also – bang on his shoulder!
– O, so that’s how you are? And we started a friendly warming mix up. After pushing with Dimon and “beating” Liviu, we warmed up and went to the starting line, discussing the weather.
There we stand in the crowd in front of the arch and are jumping together. Tsaheylu is already fastened, and through it I can feel the heart beats of my partner.
And here the helicopter flies above, the starting shot sounds and we fly away from the start! Fly out, damn, that’s a wrong word – we are flying along with the crowd at 4 minutes per km! If it goes on like this, I will fall down on the roadside in half an hour. But, slowly, the adrenaline evaporates, and the rate decreases.
We approach the first and the longest water stage (1700 m). Everyone happily jumps into the water and starts rowing.
It looks like “a summer camp goes swimming”: who is the first into the water? Splashes, vanity! Who swims faster? Camp Counselor rushes along the bank with a whistle, but no one listens. Imagining this lovely picture from my childhood, I smile broadly, run up and dive…
Childhood finished at once. The icy water hit me into the face, blood vessels in brain narrowed to the size of threads, and this small nuclear explosion of pain brought me back to reality. I’m in Sweden, swimming between the islands in the cold water of the Baltic, and the finish is at a distance of 75 kilometers and 25 islands.
I get back into reality and start working. Somewhere behind me Liviu swims with his 7% of body fat and is probably swearing and shaking from the cold.
Ok, were should I swim? Oh, I start recalling on the briefing – they promised a flashing lighthouse. I raise my head and see over a wave… The crowd of the swim runners swimming away and the blinking “lighthouse”. To better understand how it looks; imagine a turned off TV with 1.5 meter diagonal and one blinking pixel. And you are looking at it from a distance of 10 meters. Such a nano-lighthouse.
But that’s not all. In about 10 minutes, my goggles get misted due to my stupidity – I forgot to slaver them before entering the water. And the flashing pixel-hope disappears in the dark gray veil of the misted goggles.
I say to myself, different words and try orienting. It’s sunrise, but there is no sun, the sky is covered with gray clouds, almost everyone had swam forward, 3 islands are looming on the horizon – but which one is ours?
I stop. Liviu swims up to me and points his hand to one of them. Whatever, we swim to it. Actually, till this moment I was sure that I can swim. On the competition in Chisinau I was in the first four winner places. But here I understood that everything is relative. Probably, the same feeling has a gold medalist from Bubuieci, who came to study at Harvard.
“Swim”, I periodically hear Liviu screaming loud: “To the right!” and I turn, understand that I am swimming perpendicularly to the route. I don’t see anything and feel blind, and Liviu is my guide dog. I turn around. The coast is slowly approaching. Somehow really slowly.
But it seems not enough to the Universe, and it decided to finish off the dunces, who decided to grab the sports God by his balls. And the next step of torture has come with the morning cereal, toast and eggs, floating in yesterday’s piece of butter. They slowly but surely began to climb to the entrance, and soon I realized that they don’t belong in my stomach.
The ration told me that I should not lose calories, so I squeezed all the sphincters to keep stomach contents inside.
Here comes the coast. And that’s not the coast that we see in Turkey. There are huge cobbles, which we climbed for about five minutes, helping each other.
We stand up. My head is spinning, everything is floating before my eyes, I feel terribly dizzy, and I have no idea what to do next. We are standing alone on the island, shaking from cold and sadly looking back we understand that we are the last. The first cut-off will be in two hours, and both of us understand clear that this is where our race ends.
But Moldavians never give up! – and we began climbing the rocks that were marked with the tape.
In 200 m, I understand that sphincters are already out of control, and I stop near a tree, were my breakfast is coming out to the nature. Goodbye 300 kcal! In 5 minutes, I already feel better, the mind clears up and my body realizes that all its efforts to stop this torture are unsuccessful. That’s why it mobilizes and prepares for the long struggle.
When I planned our race, I hoped that running will be slow – 6:30 per km. How sweet… in fact, there is no running at the beginning of OtillO. At all. It’s rock climbing with a rate of 14 minutes per km.
The right choice of the sneakers plays an important role here. They must be light, even when wet, and offer good surface traction with wet rocks. It’s difficult to swim in sneakers – they are slowing you by about 10 – 20 seconds per every 100 m. That’s why they must be light, streamlined and mandatory leaky – to drain water on the run.
Despite the recommendations to use spikes, I ran in asics ds racer – they turned to be an excellent choice due to their light weight and holes in the sole for water draining.
Having crawled to the next water obstacle, we flopped into the water, almost being happy for overtaking two pairs. The joy was short – they made us in 10 minutes. In short, we sailed the worst. Yes, I understand that this is a world championship, the participants are the best of the best, the elite, not people – horses, but damn, how unpleasant it is to be the slowest…
Run, swim, run, swim. The first cut-off at 9:00 is near, It seems we will be right on time. On the clock – 8:45. We did it… We gasped, sucked in a couple of gels and rushed on further, hoping to increase the time reserve. It was not about any result or place. The scope was absolutely simple – like the form of liquid in the weightlessness – just to finish. We really understand that people in Moldova are waiting for us with the shield, but not on the shield…
On the briefing, they warned us that we will pass farmers places. So we should respect the owners and shut the wooden gates behind us, so that the sheep don’t get wandering along the island, like it happened a few years ago. They have been gathering them about one week, people say…
Forest trail, we run, nothing foreshado… Bang!!! Caboom!!! …fuck! …crunch! Holy sheet… I lie on the path, hands-feet are intact, I get up – and I see that my right paddle turned into two small paddles… Damn, now I will have to swim without them, not to mention the fact that my guidelines regarding stages will not always be in front of my eyes. I put them into the wet suit and voila – I got the C-sized boobs!
From now on, to find out what we should expect in next 30 minutes, I will have to unzip the wet suit, take out a paddle, look at it, put it back, and zip the suit back. Before, all I had to do was to turn my hand.
For the second cut-off at 12:00, we arrive 30 minutes earlier. Oh goody, there is hope that we will make it. And there, on the feeding station, I saw HOT SOUP!
Here came the music, everything vanished, there was just me and the pot with the steaming soup. With shaking from the cold hands, I took a plate and… Waltz, a symphony orchestra plays march, whirling couples, fireworks…- I am eating a hot soup!
Liviu could not tear my ears from the pan for five minutes. But time is running out, and when it inevitably wants to slam finishing gate before your nose – you run!
We are squishing through some bog.
I feel that something is wrong with my hand – I look at it and see that it is suspiciously blue and swollen. I would even say, inflated. And the second one, as well. Like somebody pumped the air into me – I cannot make a fist.
This is something new. I try to find some positive sides and… of course! – it will be easier to swim – hand became wider, strokes will be more powerful. Great, I will try it on the next stage!
And next was pig swim, not pig sweep, but pig swim. Looking at my swollen hands, I understood all subtle sense of humor of the Swedes… And giving a funny grunt, stepped into the depths, pulling behind Liviu hinging on rocks.
Pig swim is the second by length and first by difficulty swimming stage – 1400 m with even more cold water, stream and waves. That’s right. Cold like Phelp’s sight, and restless like Mumu in the boat with Gerasim.
Who could imagine that jellyfish live in such cold water. Small, not stinging, cute little jellyfishes, which were appearing and disappearing, probably floating away to warm up in their cozy, jellyfish houses…
Some thoughts come into your mind, while you are exhausted and frozen, floating on the cold Baltic waves.
Due to the stream, we crawled out to the shore not exactly where we were expected. Another thanks to the organizers – sawing that we, like two pieces of jellyfish, were washed ashore 200 to the right of the corridor, they ran to meet us and show the right way.
On the feeding station, you may usually find gels, bananas, water, electrolyte, sometimes hot soup, cinnamon rolls, and candy. And if you mix the words Red bull and Cola you will get red co (in Russian ‘redco’ means ‘rare’). And that’s exactly how we met these drinks – rarely.
But even more rarely we met local people. This was, probably, the most deserted race in the world – 90% of time you are running without fans – not counting some volunteers on the feeding station every 8 – 10 km, I remember only 2 – 3 groups of people that saluted us! It was unexpected and very nice.
The only thought that remained after such meetings – do they really live here? That’s why when you take part in OtillO you have a lot of time to think about the eternal. And even better – about nothing. Such a meditative race.
On that segment, another unpleasant swimming stage was waiting for us – 1 km with the stream. And it would be ok, if the paddles were intact. But now I have to work harder, so that Liviu did not to have to pass over me. And, increasing frequency of strokes, I naturally had killed my shoulders. I understood it in the moment, when I was getting on the island, and I couldn’t chin up, and had to search for a flat way out of the water.
Probably, it was not worth to rush like that, but I cannot change anything, even though I am glad that only a short swim is waiting for us ahead, and I will be able to hold on till the finish line.
Till the next feeding station, we got in 30 minutes till the closing, and it means that we are slowing again and we have to spur the horses. But horses need to eat, like horses, and this was not to happen …
So we come to cut-off at 16:00 and find out that at least a herd of horses was grazing off here – there is almost no food left. There are chocolate wafers, pickles and water. It’s good that we had 3 gels with us, which we fraternally shared. But this is not enough – there is a long running stage in front – 21 km and we are running late.
Having eating the wafers, I understood that I can no longer bear eating plastic gels and other petroleum products. I want human food! It seems that I voiced my thoughts, because one nice old man, looking scared into my eyes, reached into his backpack and took out from there PASTA with CHICKEN!
It was his lunch, but he will be very glad, if it will help us finish. That old man makes the meaning of the entire race.
Ottilo is not like a multi-thousand marathon, were nobody cares about you, were an army of volunteers is standing every 2 km, with tones of food and drinks, doctors, police and fans.
Here you participate in a real survival race, just like in the nature. You are alone with the reality. Nobody cheers you, only jellyfish and sheep. Feeding areas stand each hour and a half. If you have a leg cramp – you will drown, if you twist a leg – you will be lying down in the woods until your friend brings help.
But exactly this thing makes people’s relationship different. Here, you feel a member of the big team. Here, nobody will pass near a lying, or just a sad participant sitting on a rock. Here, they will give you their lunch, because you need it more. And only here on the finish you will be hugged by the race directors. And that’s cool.
Shedding a few tears, but without ceasing to chew on pasta, we with a loud champing expressed gratitude to the old man, and, joining with the three-meter tsaheylu, ran further.
After half an hour of running along the forest paths, I began to feel that forces are leavig me – we were already 11 hours on the road. I look at Liviu and see that he is also far from cheerful – tsaheylu is sagging between us, like an old suspension bridge in Himalayas.
But the pasta’s doing just fine – lying there in the belly, as if nothing had happened. And that is correct – the body now has no resources for digesting complex foods. At the same time, my legs have filled with iron, and every step doesn’t give up with a fight. Our speed decreases, and, judging by the devices, we do not manage to get on time at the next cut-off.
With such unhappy thoughts we come to the small, unsightly table, where a couple of volunteers offers refreshments. The clock already shows a delay of 5 minutes, and on the cut-off, after 7 km, it will be even bigger. And there are no chances to accelerate….
Looking sadly through the table, I suddenly saw it – the queen of racing, the elixir of vitality, the living water, and the blood of the Gods! Although by appearance it is just an ordinary red can, but its contents many times saved me in difficult moments of my adventures, when I could neither escape, nor eat and drink. It was Coca Cola!
Three cans drained in like in the sand. Giving a happy burp, I felt that the battle is not yet lost and looking at each other, we, without saying a word, decided to fight to the last!
These 7 km were the most difficult for us in Ottilo. To make it till 18:00, we had to rush. However, the word “rush” is not the right way to mention the rate of 6 min per km. Yet, Cola knows its work very well, that’s why it was easier to run.
We overtake a sadly walking couple of men 52, Spain.
-Guys, hurry up, you can do it –its 5 km and 30 minutes till the cut-off! The guys are trying to run, but stop after 100 m and wish us luck. Turning back, I can see their last look.
I will remember it – a fading hope, disappointment and a sad smile… I saw it before in people on the marathons sidelines, at the finish line, closed on by volunteers at Comrades and on the boats, carrying participants to the finish line. But such a piercing look, like a man has, who does not manage to beat 10 minutes before the cut-off on Ottilo, was something that I have never seen before.
If I would be an artist, I would paint a portrait of this guy, as a symbol of the fact that sports is not only the joy of victory and overcoming yourself. Sports is also pain, frustration, and sometimes the loss of self-belief. But it makes us stronger, intensifies the emotions, and we come back. To win.
While I was mentally drawing the picture to stop myself from feeling a burning pain in the legs, we were approaching the long-awaited, the latest cut-off at 18:00. Here it is. The clock shows 17:52. We did it, cut my legs short and call me shorty!
Those 8 minutes were very hard for us – we hugged and felt on the rocks in total exhaustion. Now we can rest, eat, refresh and get on with the final fight – five islands till the finish line (1 km of swimming and 6 km of running).
We have 2 hours for all these. Now we have to do it. We simply must, God damn it! Having rested for 10 minutes, we again jumped in the cold water of Baltic and floundered towards the finish line.
Suddenly, near us appeared a guy that was swimming alone. During a breath in I saw his face – he was smiling to me. Strange – I thought – May be the guy is not aware of the fact that he lost his partner and is glad that it is so easy to swim? I didn’t want to disappoint him before time, and so, smiling to each other, we came to the island. Reaching out his hand, he helped us to get on the rock and told us that if we need help – he will be glad to run or swim together with us.
It was one of the race organizers, and he was there to help the teams that are tailing the race. We refused his help, but there was one thing that I did ask him.
Otillo has another peculiarity – it was the first time, when I remembered that I have a camera with me only after 5 hours from the start. And after 8 hours it was the first time when I took it out. Somehow, I didn’t really have the time or forces to think about it J And since we are not the fastest swimrunners, the photographers and cameramen were not waiting for us, and were running to shoot those, who were in the top.
That’s why there is not enough photo and video materials, and my request was evident. The good man took my cam and made a photo of us in the water, rowing with one hand. Thank you, the unknown volunteer. By the way, they have to build a monument to the Unknown Volunteer – were he is such a hero, dragging tired sportsmen out from the water.
Another short swims of 50 m and we are coming to the finish three km line. It’s strange how our body works – after 13 km of running and swimming in difficult conditions, tiredness and pain are going away to the second plan at the moment that organism feels the finish line is approaching. The hormonal storm covered us from head to toes.
We ran so fast, like we didn’t run today, we began to talk to each other, which we didn’t do during the last 6 hours, we started smiling, understanding that everything will finish soon, and we managed to do it!
And before the finish, the Russian – Belorussian team is meeting us, Vovka gives us the Moldavian flag, and we, tired, swollen, frozen, but happy, like two mice escaped from the python (cut-off), cross the finish line!
The director of the race, Michael, hugs us, and journalists ask us to say something to the camera, we make a silly joke that it was very easy, and that we are ready to go through this again right now.
Everyone believes us, but first of all offer us to visit the sauna. And when I saw my swollen face on the photo, I understood that I was swollen because of pride! Liviu, smile, you’re on camera!
We hug with Liviu, and only beer could tear us apart.
Song about Ottilo
Take the guy into the race, risk!
Never leave him alone,
Only together with you –
There you will find out, who he is…
Shortly, thanks to Liviu, who has been correcting my course in water, didn’t complain on pain and tiredness, and for the fact that our tsaheylu was stretched in hard moments. If it wasn’t for you – we couldn’t reach the finish line.
Total: we finished on the 105 place from 120 teams, 9 teams could not get to the finish. Time – 13:42, 18 minutes till the finish closing.
We have overtaken 7 mixed teams, 6 men and only one women team. That’s how tough are the women in this race!
Now, for me, I consider this result an excellent one, even though a day before the race we hoped for getting in about the middle of the protocol. Silly.
It was harder that Ironman, but easier, than Comrades. However, changing the activity enables muscles to recover. But I think, that all of this is a Sunday-school picnic compared to what is expecting me in half of the year.
Marathon Des Sables, 250 km in Sahara Sand.
I wrote it and nervously swallowed…