Markus Rössel and Fabian Eberhard of German Sparkle Party powered by Brooks & HUUB competed in the 2014 ÖTILLÖ event, and Markus sent us a report.
From Island to Island – Up close with Sweden’s foremost endurance experience!
After a 3 hour ferry ride from corner to corner of the sun flooded Stockholm archipelago, the small ferry slows down. On the right hand side a stunning small settlement comes up. The ship elegantly swings in. Mats and Michael are already waiting in the marina. As the passengers walk off board the two organisers shake everybody’s hand and a sincere smile. "Välkommen till Sandhamn - Welcome to Sandhamn!"
Several years ago 4 Swedes came up with a fearless challenge that should revolutionize the local endurance sport scene. Year after year it also fascinates fans all around the globe. A one day expedition commencing in Sandhamn. These guys undoubtedly had the same way of thinking as those folks back in 1978 when they introduced a well known event on the island of Oahu. Whilst the Americans called it “Ironman, the Swedes named their bet "Ö Till Ö" - from Island to Island. The aim still is the same. Cross 26 Islands and swim between them. Ultimately you will reach Üto. 65 Kilometres and 10 kilometres of swimming later. All in one day. Swimming with your Running shoes and running with your wetsuit. Merely the fittest make the tight cut-offs and finish the punishing route. A proper check in fitness level and team spirit.
As the sun is setting on race morning there are no clouds in the sky. The firmament starts to lighten up and the competition gets ready. Despite the perfect weather conditions there anxious faces all around. “This will be a day for a new course record!” Mats’s anticipation during the race briefing the evening before, should be an ideal outlook. Reasonably peaceful waters are laid out. The chilly Baltic sea awaits the competition with no waves or demanding winds.
The canon fires and 120 teams of two are off to a long day swimming and running. The first swim section is the longest and immediately the race spreads out. The teams swim alongside each other or making use of the aqua dynamic by drafting. Some are even tucked together with ropes to not lose the partner. It is forbidden to be more than 5 meters apart from each other in the water, 10 meters while on land. Throughout the first parts on solid terrain there is not much running happening. Scrambling over rocks is the focus. Wet stones make the swim exits dreadful for nearly everyone. While it seems that the locals handle the rocks and slimy stones better, more and more foreign teams do have problems and loose time.
The morning sun warms up the course and the first single trail sections make up for all the tricky scrambles. Now it is simple to switch off whilst running past nature that does not stop to surprise after every corner and ascend. The diversity of the swim and run distances change all the time, so do the attractions all along the course. All these Swedish clichés are so true! Like stirring through the catalog of a well know local furniture store time flies by and the weariness only sets in deliberate. Racing in such a surrounding and in a well functioning team creates matchless spirit. Positive emotions get shared whilst through bad patches there is always somebody to motivate and help. “Two are faster than one!” Lelle Moberg, Swedish armed forces paratrooper and one half of this year’s winning team, sums it up right as he aims for another ice-cold beer along the scenic finish line. Him and partner Daniel Hansson are waiting at the finish line. 8 minutes later, last year’s winning teams pulls in. Lelle and Daniel walk towards them and applaud. After a mere of 8 hours racing this was a tight win.
The sun sets and more teams eventually arrive. Some teams had to drop out, some barely made the cut offs. Eventually they managed to finish this trek south. The small crowd cheers everyone on - essentially every team is a winner after 75 kilometers of racing.
Following a delicate after-race dinner and a couple of hours sleep, the competitors gathers at the Üto harbor the next morning ready to board the ship back to Stockholm. The engine starts and the ferry leisurely navigates out of the tiny port. As the ferry turns in the direction of the open sea all the tired racers on board start to applaud and cheer. There are only two people standing in the marina. They are waving and cheering. It is Mats and Michael saluting all their visitors. Until next year, 75 kilometers up north in another harbor!
The first image shows Markus and Fabian running along towards the end of the race. The second image is Markus scrambling out of the water.