The Making of an Incredible Challenge

The 2019 ÖtillÖ World Champions George Bjälkemo and Pontus Lindberg recently challenged themselves to swim and run the entire Stockholm Archipelago from North to South in 3 days - covering 242km across 76 islands. This challenge they called Kraken Epic had apparently been discussed and done before but apparently not yet tackled in that short time. On their journey across these islands George and Pontus had company on some segments, but most folks who joined them only did shorter stints. 2018 female team World Champions Annika Ericsson and Kristin Larsson however also covered the whole distance, but they did so as a relay in this case.

On the first day George and Pontus went from Arholma to Möja, and it took them 12 hours for the 80 km distance. There were 32 islands and a 16km to swim and 64km to run, with the longest swim 1.5km from Ålandet to Gåsö and the longest run 10.5 km on Yxlan.

On the second day they ran and swam from Möja-Ornö and that 86km section took them 15 hours and was apparently the toughest day for them with 8.7km of swimming and 77.3 km of running across 22 islands. The longest swim there was the famed 1.4km m Pig swim and the longest run was 18.5 km on Ornö. That island is usually also the place where in the ÖtillÖ World Championships teams pretty quickly find out if they have it or not.

The last day they traveled from tackled the 76km segment from Ornö to Landsort. This day also took them 15 hours and they had to swim 13.7km and run 62.3 km across 25 islands. That included a monster 6.13km swim across the Danzige Gatt and the longest run on that last day was 13.8 km on Utö.

We asked George Bjälkemo a few questions about the Kraken Epic and he kindly obliged.

Slowtwitch: Who actually came up with the idea?

George Bjälkemo: The idea to SwimRun across the entire archipelago from North to South has been around in the SwimRun community for years. However, the idea to actually do it came up just a few weeks ago at the post swim Fika with our the training group KRAKEN SwimRun. As far as we knew it had been done once before in six days but we got something else in mind. In the absence of the ÖtillÖ Swimrun World Championship the timing was perfect and we wanted to do something truly epic, so we decided to attempt doing it in three days. To us this made sense as each stage would then amount to about the distance of the ÖtillÖ race course. So our challenge would correspond to one ÖtillÖ race per day for three consecutive days. We would cover the actual ÖtillÖ race course on day two, pass the finish line only to continue heading south. Pretty rad!

ST: What was the hardest part?

George: Day two the first couple of islands turned out to be even more time consuming than we had calculated. We were aware that there wouldn’t be any trails but had underestimated just how tough the terrain was - hilly and with dense undergrowth. Navigating those islands was by far the hardest part. Also the sky opened up with heavy rain and strong winds that continued throughout the day. We missed our targeted time by 2-3 hours.

ST: What did you do in terms of course safety?

George: We had one safety boat with us on all of the swim sections. There were also always some people on the boat that could help out in different ways, making sure we kept warm when we stopped for refueling, filling up soft flasks and got the gels, bars and hot food etc when needed.

ST: What did you do in terms of nutrition on those days, before, during and after?

George: Nutrition wise we had pretty much a breakfast buffet each morning at 3:30 to 4:00 am with yogurt, oatmeal, eggs, bread and coffee etc. We then also prepared at least two 0.5 liter soft flasks with sport drinks and another 1.5 liter mixed to have ready on the boat. We also each prepared a thermos with hot water. That all of us did so was crucial to minimize longer stops and stay on the targeted time. Apart from the scheduled stops there was no room for individual stops if it meant we had to wait, cause we wouldn't. Basically Pontus and I were always carrying energy to last us 3 to 4 hours, for example 1 liter sport drinks, 8-10 gels and 1 bar. The sport drinks from Vitargo, gels and bars from Clif Bar. We also carried salt tablets, caffeine pills and aspirin. In that same interval we also for the most part had hot food once, freeze-dried food - Blå Band from Addnature and hence the thermos with hot water. Once done for the day we had a proper dinner pre-ordered from local restaurants and then went to bed. At best we got about 4-5 hrs of sleep per night.

ST: How did folks who only did shorter segments get to that spot and back?

George: They never needed to go back, they just got on the boat when they were done. Also they needed to be ready in the water or on land for that section when we got in or up. The plan depended on us being able to just keep going and never having to wait for anyone. There simply wasn’t any time for that.

ST: How about you? What did you do about transportation?

George: Once we started in Arholma Pontus and I never set foot on the boat until we were done and left Landsort.

ST: How did your feet hold up? People new to the sport always wonder about running in wet shoes so long. We know it works for 65k of running and 10K of swimming, but likely has not been done 3 days in a row?

George: No real issues during the event itself but at least my feet were pretty swollen the days after. I have some big cuts and cracks in the arch of my left foot bothering me but I'm not sure it is due to the wet shoes or because of the distance itself. Both of us have had the most issues with a lot of cuts from thorns, bushes and tall grass on our ankles from all the trail running and bush whacking. I didn't see it as a big problem then but every little cut could lead to a small infection.

ST: Talk about the gear you and Pontus used over those 3 days?

George: As for gear, we both used the My Boost Pro Aero SwimRun suit from Head. For the long swim on day 3 (Danzige Gatt) we used the Head X-tream wetsuit. Underneath we used the B2 Function vest with storage for soft flasks and energy. For cold swims we also used the My Boost FX vest on top of the SwimRun suit. As for GPS watches - we have our old ones Fenix 5X ones from Garmin.

Sponsors for the journey were:

- HEAD Swimming
- Access Rehab
- Addnature
- Clif Bar Sweden
- Carly's Natural

The boat driver:

- Pehr Westman

The other Kraken Epic SwimRun group and crew:

- Thomas Ogander
- Pär Kristoffersson
- Joakim Axelsson
- Fredrik Åström
- Kristin Larsson
- Annika Ericsson
- Ludvig Myrenberg
- Fredrik Granström