Natalie's Take: Otillo Swimrun
August 24th marked the start of one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had so far in this life. Earlier in the year, I crossed paths with some fascinating people who little did I know would soon become beautiful friends. Also, little did I know that id be invited to take a trip from my little island of Catalina, to the Stockholm Archipelago, over 14,000 islands on the other side of the world, to experience all things Otillo.
Now you’re probably wandering, what is Otillo?
Otillo is the mother of all swimruns. Yes, swimruns. New to the US, but a favorite sport amongst our European and Scandinavian neighbors. Its similar to triathlon, minus the bike, and transition stations and with an added scoop of adventure. Its more raw, more real, more rugged. Not nearly as clean cut as your typical racing event so to say. Thats what I loved about it. Not to mention, these races take place in some of the most beautiful places in the world.
Truth be told Otillo (actually meaning island to island in Swedish) is so much more than just another race event. That was my favorite part, and I was able to witness that first hand after being immersed in the world of Otillo during my time overseas. Otillo is a community of what some would call crazy athletes, but these athletes have the biggest hearts and a sense of adventure to match. In addition, the races all take place in some of the best nature has to offer, allowing the participants to soulfully coexist amongst the elements. This is a very important and emphasized part of Otillo.
Take these words from the race directors, the amazing Mats Scott and the wonderful Michael Lemmel-
“How fortunate are we to be able experience nature and indulge in swimrun? But this brings with it responsibility: the responsibility to communicate what we see and to try to initiate change by inspiring others to take a step out of their comfort zones and to experience new things.
Take cold water. A couple of years ago, we’d never have imagined swimming in the outer Stockholm Archipelago at the end of November, let alone in mid-April. Now we do. Why? Because by pushing boundaries we remove our mental barriers and new dimensions open up. The clarity of the water and, more importantly, the clarity of the mind is amazing when swimming in single-digit water temperatures. On the other hand, what is horrifying is that after 13 years of exploring waterways around the world, we’ve never seen so much plastic garbage everywhere. We all need to act, whether it’s changing your consumption of single-use plastics or stopping to pick up plastic litter.
More than ever, we are committed to providing the best swimrun experience possible while encouraging each of you to become global citizens because every step in the right direction counts.
Hopefully we can inspire you to take a step outside of your comfort zone but also to be part of creating this change. The survival of humanity starts not just with you or us, but with all of our swimrun community acting together.”
All of these themes are widely upheld and practiced amongst everyone in the Otillo family, making it a very impactful event. Not only are fond memories instilled upon participating, but so is a sense of stewardship for the nature we intimately interact with. Its a beautiful race, in a beautiful location, with a bunch of beautiful people.
Needless to say, even though we didn’t speak the same language (with over 40 different nations present), we spoke the same language ; ) Love.
Since returning from Sweden, I've been trying to explain just how incredible the event was to everyone asking. And while I've been using words like amazing, incredible, unreal and fantastic, words can't really describe my time there. It was definitely all of those things and more! Magic, beautiful, inspiring... all the emotions.
The race itself was a blast! Unlike anything I have ever done before. Swimrun is a funny sport, sending its athletes across terrain running in their wetsuits and swimming in their shoes with hand paddles on. That was all very foreign to me! And while I run and swim all over back home, I never really combined the two together – at least not quite in that way! I knew going into the race that that would be something I would have to play with and try and get used to. We did a few practice runs on the charming island of Uto, and it wasn’t nearly as strange as I thought it would be. I actually enjoyed playing with all of the new techniques and running in my wetsuit wasn’t bad at all. I actually had a blast being amphibious, running through the forest and then jumping into the water. I loved how present it made me and how connected to nature I felt.
Another concern of mine in the weeks leading up to the event was the temperature of the water. I was anticipating freezing temps! And with summer back home spoiling me with 76 degree water, I would get goose bumps just thinking about it. But, to my surprise, the water was a very pleasant 70 degrees! Which, after running through the forest, felt quite refreshing!
The landscape in Sweden was absolutely gorgeous, with more trees than I’ve ever seen before! It was enchanting how the sunlight filtered through all the layers of forest, highlighting the many shades of green. All of the running took place on little single track trails littered with roots, ferns, rocks, and tall trees. It was technical, and challenging but also stunning! Lots of twists, turns, hops, skips, and jumps! It was never boring, that's for sure! I loved that aspect of the course.
Another funny element was the slippery rocks skirting the edges of the islands where you exit the swims. Thankfully they don’t have barnacles, but these rocks are next level slippery! Unlike anywhere else in the world according to many of the racers. The best way to handle it...channel your inner seal! And then help those behind you so they too don’t slip and crash! There is certainly high levels of camaraderie amongst swim runners and no man gets left behind.
Which brings me to my next topic! Your race partner! Everyone who does this race, does it with a partner. This is for safety being that you trek though some very rural locations and its always good to have a helping hand. I was excited to have my brother participate in this adventure with me. He is 6’8” and one of his running strides is the equivalent to 5 of mine! The majority of participants actually keep a tether rope around each other to prevent them from getting separated during some of the long swims. This was also a new twist for us to experience. In all the races I've ever participate in, I’ve been a team of one. Solo. But thats not what Otillo is about. Otillo is sharing camaraderie, nature, adventure and endurance with a friend. I love that its not just about you. And that consideration goes even beyond your race partner, and on to everyone in the race. People stop to help each other out of the water. If someone trips over a branch, someone will be there to help them up. Teams cheer other teams on, give support, and are always happy to sacrifice time to lend a hand when needed. Its just as much about them as it is about you. And that was a beautiful thing to see. Like I said, its so much more than just a race. Its an experience and every mile is a memory. George and I ended up coming in 18th in our division. Being that George had never done a race of any sort before, I was so proud of and thankful for him. Such a fun way to get to hangout with my big brother who is often far away on business. We will definitely never forget our first swim run and we are already talking about our next Otillo adventure!
All in all, Otillo was a beautiful experience. Truly inspiring in a way I haven’t encountered at any racing event ever before. Its the vision of the race founders, Michael Lemmel and Mats Scott, and how they share that with those who take the time to come and participate in their events, their Otillo family, it simply heart warming. Sounds silly, but its absolutely true. And they prove it by giving a warm hug to everyone who crosses the finish line. Literally. What they have created through Otillo is something so unique and so special. Between the nature, the camaraderie, the challenge, the struggle, the elation, and the bliss, Otillo was the time of my life and it was truly an honor to get a taste of such an event. No doubt I will be back for more. For more adventure, more nature, more time coexisting with the oceans, trees, birds, and my fellow athletes, my new Otillo family. I have so much gratitude for it all!
If any of this sounds fun or intriguing to you, I strongly encourage you to checkout the Otillo race series or even just get outside and go for your own swim run. You can find their race series on their website www.otilloswimrun.com. Be sure to follow them on instgram for some serious inspiration. And if you want to take a few minutes to live vicariously, check out a film they made for this years Otillo World Championship event, an event just maybe one day ill take place in...the skys the limit! https://www.youtube.com/user/OTILLOrace
I also want to extend this thanks to my friends and family back home, especially my SeaVibes family for always cheering me on and supporting my adventures. Many Mahalos and much love to you all!