How to get ready for ‘The Toughest Endurance Event in the World’.

Precision Hydration athletes Ben and Rhian Martin have qualified for the ÖTILLÖ World SwimRun Championships, which has been ranked as one of the toughest endurance events in the world. It involves 65 km of running and 10km of open water swimming across 26 islands in the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden.

Those of you who have read the blog for a little while might remember that our own Andy Blow is no stranger to ÖTILLÖ events, having raced the World Champs a few years back and enjoyed ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly this summer. We think SwimRun is on the rise and, if you’re looking for a new challenge, it’s well worth checking out the ÖTILLÖ series. Anyway, back to Ben and Rhian. They’ve shared their race report from one of their warm-up races for the World Championships, ÖTILLÖ Engadin in the Swiss Alps. Definetely worth a read if you’re considering a SwimRun yourself. Over to you guys…

Thanks Dave. We wanted to let you know that we survived the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Engadin race and, despite it being the hardest race we’ve ever done (yep, harder than an Ironman), we really enjoyed ourselves.

Before we get into the race report, here’s our race by the numbers…

  • 5.8 - The number of km we swam.
  • 9-14 - The temperature of the waters during the swim, in degrees celsius.
  • 46.8 - The number of km we ran.
  • 120 - The number of teams who finished out of 160.
  • 10 - the maximum number of meters we were allowed to be from each other at all times.
  • 1 - our placement amongst GB mixed teams.
  • 2 - our finishing spot amongst all GB teams. (An all male team was 15 minutes ahead of us…)
  • 5 - our placement amongst mixed pairs overall
  • 27 - our finishing place overall.
  • 5000 - the amount, in £, we raised for The Hughes Sport Foundation & Scope. Thanks for your support! 

The race.

Up at 05:30 for porridge, coffee and energy drink, we got all our kit on and boarded the bus to the start line. Thunderstorms were promised and it was already getting hot at an altitude of 1,900 meters.  The start gun went at 08:00 and the race was on. We immediately went straight up a mountain, single file, passing goats.  After an hour’s climb, the 9 degree C lake was looking very refreshing, so we duly dived in and began our first swim leg.

 

ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Engadin swim section

 

Then for the next 6.5 hours we swam and ran our way through 9 separate run legs and 8 lakes.  The views were absolutely stunning, racing up and then back down through the valley, through forests and on and off trails.  At many points the up hills were so steep that all competitors were walking.  We found there are two walking paces; the slow, hands on knees, grimacing kind or a faster pace, with a determined look on one’s face.  We chose the latter and were quickly gaining places.

We were happy with our kit choice; warm on the swims - though we needed to strip down the top half of the wetsuit for the runs - especially as the sun was out and it was now approaching 27 degrees C.  There was no wind and no chance of a refreshing thunderstorm.

At about 3 hours in, we dived in for the long 1.4km swim and overtook many teams, so our endurance training had clearly paid off.  It was easy to tell who our mixed team competitors were, as we all had green hats and green race bibs.  And the double benefit of being fast swimmers was evident when we got out of the water, as we could immediately start a fast running pace, overtaking more racers in the process.

 

ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Engadin run section

 

After the second to last swim Ben’s left knee was showing considerable “wear and tear.” Despite Rhian’s encouragement, every step was very painful.  With an 8km run, 400m swim and then a 3k run to the finish left, we were told we were 5th mixed couple – which was a massive boost to our energy levels.  4th place were 12 minutes ahead of us, so we just had to consolidate our 5th position. But that was easier said than done. Half way through the 8km run, Ben’s knee didn’t want to go any further.  A stop was required.  Rhian provided some motivational quotes, ending with  “I know it hurts Ben, but is it really worse than childbirth?”. Ben’s reply was not noted (but he certainly had some dark thoughts.)

 

ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Engadin

 

We pressed on and the finish line was in sight.  As Ben had leaned on Rhian for the last 2km, he decided now was not the time to be photographed at the finish line in such a position, so he dug even deeper (what a hero) and we crossed the line, hand in hand, at 7 hours 34 minutes.

Then went straight off to the medical tent.

It was such a great race, for so many reasons.  The beautiful race setting, the friendly sprit amongst the racers and the genuine toughness of the race itself. 13% of the teams dropped out mid race, with only 120 finishing.  Of the 4 mixed teams that beat us, all of them had at least 1 previous OtillO winner. 3 of them were professional teams.  And the whole event was won by a mixed team – showing the class in this category.  In any other year we think we’d have been on the podium.

 

Our hydration and nutrition strategy.

The correct nutrition strategy was really important to finishing the race.  We were racing for 7 – 8 hours, in 27 degree hot and sunny conditions, whilst in a wetsuit.  Hydration was always going to be crucial.

We used Precision Hydration 500 tabs whilst traveling to Engadin and then a Precision Hydration 1000 drink the morning of the race. 

We could only take on official race products at energy stations, so we created our own specific nutrition race plan based on our weight and carbs per hour needed  – which we carried on our wetsuits, laminated to keep water proof and then stuck to it.

The race products were Winforce energy gels and carb drink, plus bananas and cold meats.  Due to the hot conditions we supplemented with PH's SweatSalt capsules, which we took every hour or so.

As a result of our careful planning (and the fact that we’d experimented with all the products in training) we were very happy with our nutrition strategy, which really helped us gain places in the final stages of the race.

 

Onwards and upwards...

We’re immensely proud of our achievement; and strangely glad that the journey doesn’t end here.  It’s only 5 weeks until we race in the archipelagos surrounding Stockholm – in a 75km race, which is going to take around 10-12 hours. It consists of 10km of swimming and then running over 26 different islands.   

So we need to learn a new “race craft” – to efficiently climb up and over rocks as we get in/out of the sea.  It’s not at altitude, but the waves are going to prove ‘interesting’.  We think this could be more suited to our strengths – but hey, only time will tell...

 


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