The journey to this year’s ÖtillÖ was a little bit more tumultuous than last year’s, but all in all we were well prepared on the startline even this year. Last year our reflection after the race was that the journey had been less difficult than we had expected, but this year struggle exceeded the expectation. This was in large part due to the weather conditions which were on the extreme end of the spectrum this year.
Usually Johan thinks that he is sick or injured the day prior to the race and on race morning, but this time it was me. My throat hurt, my stomach hurt, I had cramps. Looking back, all but the cramps could probably be blamed on nerves. Until race morning, I had felt quite confident in my form which had been improving at a drastic pace the last month and I felt very sure that I could handle the event just as well as last year if not better. However, the morning of, the weather and the competition built up the level of nerves to an unusually high level. Before the start of the race both of us were so nervous that we could barely talk to each other nor focus on each other’s eye contact. Both just wanted the whole thing to start so we could deal with the challenge as it came.
The first swim was tough. We had been given advice the day prior that if the weather is very rough it’s better to not use a dragline, but since we always swim with the line we did the first swim with it. It felt like we were getting nowhere when I was pulling! It felt like every time you started to get momentum forward you would subsequently get pulled back. After a few hundred meters Johan came up ahead of me and pulled for a bit and I felt quite the disappointment not to have the power and flow in my swimming that I was looking for. After another few hundred meters I pulled up ahead and tried pulling again, but unfortunately it felt no better so after a while I turned to Johan and asked him to pull the last bit. I was disappointed, but decided to try my best to make up the time we had lost in the water on being braver in the cliff running than I typically am and to mine and Johan’s delight we were significantly more successful at passing people on these technical sections this year than last year.
Through the rest of the race we didn’t use the line on the swims, but had no problems staying behind each other’s feet and taking turns pulling. It was not the best swim day for me, but luckily Johan very well during the swims when the conditions are worse so we were near even in the water and divided up the pulling almost 50/50. Despite my sluggish feeling in the water and the rough waters, it was during the swimming that we gained the most time compared to last year. Last year Johan used fins on the swims and pulled all of the swimming. Turns our that without the loss of time in the transitions and by dividing up the pulling we are even faster without the fins.
During the first part of the race this year Johan felt strong and on the two approximately 8 km runs during the beginning of the race he pulled the flat sections. We had no idea which place we were in the mix category until we caught up to our good friends Anna and Johan whom we have a tradition of catching sometime in the middle of races. To our surprise they let us know that we were teams 5 and 6 at that point. Based on the startlist we had expected that there were at least 6 teams that would beat us without problems.
The longer swim sections, the pig swim and the 1000 m sections shortly after it went well for us and we had much less problems with the cold than last year. After these it is on to the 20 km run on Onö. This is where we started to slow down compared to 2016. Johan stared struggling and I pulled most of the section. When you have finished this run, it seems mentally as if you are close to the end. Last year we caught up to two other mixed teams after Onö and the last hour of the race was truly a race for us. This year it was a slow struggle! The last swims are short, but were incredibly challenging due to strong currents and strong wind. They required coming up to max effort just to keep from washing out to sea. After 9 hours of racing, having to go up to max effort even just for a few minutes is a challenge to recover from. I had hoped that I would be able to pull all of these swims and Johan would be able to recover and come back and pull the last 3 kms of running as he did last year, but that was not the case. Both of us were exhausted and Johan cursed as he jogged behind me up the last hill up to Utö.
It was a tough day, but we are incredibly happy with finishing so high up in the rankings (4th mix and 21st total) and to come in under the 10-hour goal time (9:54:25). Now, just a few days later Johan only has positive memories of the events and wishes that he didn’t have to wait an entire year until next time 😉 I am making a strong effort to rest and keep training to a minimum for a month before making any plans for next year.