There are now 4 ÖtillÖ Swimrun Merit races in the USA and that makes it much easier for North American teams to qualify for the ÖtillÖ World Championships in Sweden. Previously teams had to travel to Europe to collect enough merit points, because the 2 races in the USA were not enough. But it is not quite so simple. Since there are fewer female teams competing in general, a female North American teams could possibly get to the promised land with 2 good placings, but for mixed and male teams 3 or 4 results are much more helpful. At the World Series races in Europe teams can directly qualify but there are only a couple spots in each race for each division. Thus most teams have to collect points if they want to race the arduous 65km running and 10km swimming ÖtillÖ World Championships. But it is not only about qualifying for the big dance, a merit badge also is a sign that athletes can expect a high standard in terms of the organization and the course itself.
Ödyssey SwimRun Casco Bay Islands and SwimRun NC at Hanging Rock State Park have been merit races the last couple years, but starting 2019 SwimRun Lake James and Ödyssey SwimRun Orcas Island also received the merit badge and that is indeed good news for all North American based athletes. These four races are also spread out enough where it is possible to do all of them - personal schedule and financing permitting of course. 3 of these races are on the East Coast, with 2 of them in North Carolina and one of them in Maine, and the 4th one in Washington State. Each of these races is uniquely different and I will try to talk about each of these events here, in the order that they take place.
SwimRun Lake James
April 20, 2019 / Nebo, North Carolina
SwimRun Lake James is a second year event and it takes place in Lake James State Park and is pretty close to the mountains in Western North Carolina and not too far from Asheville. Teams run about 14 miles and swim close to 4 miles spread out over 13 runs and 12 swims. 22% swimming is relatively high when compared to other races, but truly no race is like any other. The available land and water dictates the course and the distances, and at Lake James there is a lot of swimming in the second half of the race. Teams run across very small islands within Lake James as they are charging towards the finish and great swimmers will love this course.
The longest swim at Lake James is 1300 yards and the shortest is 25 yards.
The views are stunning from every angle.
The longest running section is 7 miles and here Marcus Carson and Amy Krakauer are seen running in 2018 towards the win in the mixed division and 4th place overall.
Ödyssey SwimRun Casco Bay Islands
August 11, 2019 / Portland, Maine
Ödyssey SwimRun Casco Bay Islands was the first SwimRun race in the USA and it is a true island to island race similar to the ÖtillÖ race in Sweden that started it all, and ÖtillÖ actually is Swedish for Island to Island. But is the name of the race unfamiliar to you? The race recently rebranded and changed from Cole Classic SwimRun USA to Ödyssey SwimRun. The race also favors strong swimmers, but all teams have to be able to run too. Casco Bay also offers a short course race and an individual option, but for the purpose here we will focus on the long race with 14 miles of running and 5 miles of ocean swimming or 26.2 % of the race is swimming. Athletes get shuttled by a ferry to the starting point of the race and then tackle 11 swims and 11 runs while getting very cozy with their team mate. The team aspect is actually one thing many athletes really like about this sport as it brings in a completely different dimension.
The scenery is always changing at this race and here Erin Hunter and Emily Finanger are seen on their way to the 3rd female division win in as many years.
Jumping in requires a bit of nerves, but teams can also get in the water via the boat ramp. But this is faster.
Making sure everything is ready before the next run, but ideally these transitions are fluid and fast.
Ödyssey SwimRun Orcas Island
September 22, 2019 / San Juan Islands, Washington State
Ödyssey SwimRun Orcas Island is the sister race of Casco Bay and 2019 will be the second edition of this event. Athletes tackle 6400 feet of elevation gain in this race wile running over 20 miles on tough and scenic trails. The 2.5 miles of swimming all take place within various lakes on Orcas Island - the largest island of the San Juan Islands chain on the coast of Washington State. All of this is broken into 13 runs and 12 swims, but 2 mountains have to be tackled along the way. So do not get cocky when on top of Mount Constitution - there is still a long way to go. But those not yet ready for the long haul, Orcas Island also offers a shorter option. Merit points however are only awarded in the long race at these events.
Fluid and fast transitions are indeed always appreciated, plus it is too easy to get cold when you slowly get into the water.
If this does not remind you of some magical island where you might find hobbits, maybe nothing will. But here you go either up, up and up or down, so get ready.
Swimming and running, for hours and hours.
October 27, 2019 / Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina
The 2019 race will be the fourth edition of SwimRun NC and it is considered a very tough race. Teams run about 16 miles on very technical trails and swim around 2 miles in the Hanging Rock State Park Lake and the Dan River, and along the way climb through various waterfalls. And the trails are pretty much either uphill or downhill, and the feet of the athletes actually get wet relatively early on as the Indian Creek has to be crossed 8 times before the first swim and the very first waterfall. But this race has a very high return rate and has filled up fast the last 2 years. Athletes especially seem to like the personal notes from local elementary school kids that they receive during package pickup - and these notes are very cute.
About 3.5 miles into the race teams have to navigate and climb through the Window Falls section. And most are in awe by the stunning beauty of this section. But there is plenty more of that.
The very top of Moore's Wall is a welcoming sight for athletes who have just tackled 642 undulating stone steps and the views from the top are superb, but it is not so easy coming back down. Actually much harder than most expect and many teams have gotten in trouble and had to walk sections.
The Dan River at the end often requires some scrambling as the water depth varies depending on recent rain falls. But the majestic rock face is always impressive and awe inspiring.