Team Valhalla Racing was the top American team at ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championships but did not finish the race as strong as they started. After emerging from the first and longest swim of the day in the lead, Minnesota-based pro triathlete David Thompson and Slowtwitch’s Lars Finanger matched the pace set by the eventual winners, Lelle Moberg and Daniel Hansson, and the runners-up, Paul Krochak and Oscar Olsson, if only for the first few hours of racing.
The duo learned the hard way ÖTILLÖ is more of a marathon effort than a sprint and finished the race nearly an hour behind the course record setting winners. Here they share the good, the bad and the downright ugly details from this epic Swedish endurance event.
SLOWTWITCH: What is the first thought that pops into your head when you hear the words ‘ÖTILLÖ’ now you have experienced the race?
DAVID THOMPSON: Epic race in the wild amidst fantastic people.
LARS FINANGER: A rollercoaster of a day with an unforgiving course and conditions that will chew you up and spit you out. In the same breath, it’s impossible not to be inspired by the stunning landscape out in the Stockholm Archipelago.
SLOWTWITCH: You raced the eventual winners and podium getters for the first few hours. Do you think this compromised your ability to run at a later stage in the day?
DAVID: Hell no. We cramped up around the four hour mark from lack of distance training not the speed. The speed was slow for what I'm use to racing, but the distance was massive.
LARS: I enjoyed the experience of racing with Lelle and Daniel and Paul and Oscar but I would be lying if I didn’t admit I was scared shitless of the oodles of miles yet to be run the second half of the race. I kept looking down at my Polar V800 and thinking ‘holy smokes we’ve got a helluva long way to go still’. We swam really well throughout the day. We screed through the forest well. We need to improve our strength for the long tempo runs.
SLOWTWITCH: Do you like the team aspect of swimrun?
DAVID: Loved the team aspect of it and the camaraderie amongst the team. Teams help push each other out of the water and double check teams were together on tight trail sections.
LARS: One of the main things I missed while training and racing triathlons this past decade was the team aspect you have in other sports. In swimrun your teammate is vital to your success or failure. I dig that.
SLOWTWITCH: Did you like the equipment aspect of the race?
DAVID: I’m a fan of going minimal. It was good to have the tether for an emergency or if a physical discrepancy developed between us. No equipment besides paddles and pull buoy were necessary to have.
LARS: The mantra from all of the top Swedish teams was ‘less is best’ and I would agree. You wanted to be as light as possible out there as the race organizers, Mats and Michael, had plenty of aid stations stocked with everything needed for fuel from Clif Shots to cinnamon rolls to Red Bull to hot dogs.
SLOWTWITCH: If you were to tackle this race again, how would you train differently?
DAVID: Run more. I need to build up some impact endurance to prevent cramping.
LARS: Incorporate specific swimrun sets into workouts at least 1x per week. Running at ÖTILLÖ was not unlike running off a hard bike in a triathlon where your quads are already trashed and compromised to some degree. I’d do a few long trail races, some XTERRAs, and try to find a few shorter swimruns throughout the year. I need to hit the weight room and toughen up my legs.
SLOWTWITCH: Did you like the navigation and orienteering aspect of the race?
DAVID: Yes, I wish there was more orienteering. The course was well marked. I was generally the navigator on the team for most of the day but it was nice to have a teammate for back up to correct any sighting mistakes late in the race. Lars had done the course before. Experience helped with general course knowledge.
LARS: I tended to veer left while open water swimming so it was helpful to have David swimming the correct line to be able to sight off him and make adjustments on the fly. On paper, I would have thought the trail scrambles would be our team’s strong suit but we’ve got a lot of ground to make up if we want to close the gap on the top Swedish teams. They were extremely nimble moving across the slippery rocks and through the forest sections.
SLOWTWITCH: Any other thoughts or comments you’d like to share?
DAVID: The country is beautiful and it was a pleasure to do the race. I am glad we had cramping problems at the same time during the race. That helps team cohesion.
LARS: We need to work on our pronunciation of ‘ÖTILLÖ’ so locals don’t give us that clueless look when asked why we are in Sweden.
Photo credits: World of Swimrun