Guest Contributor: Marcus Barton
Read Time: 5 mins
Isn't that just an aquathon or a triathlon without a bike? The answer is "no", not even close. Swimrun, born out of a drunken bet between four Swedes is a growing sport that is very unique, very hard, and tons of fun. Let's jump right in ...
Originating in the Stockholm Archipelago, swimrun started off in 2002 as a bet amongst friends who also happened to be four men who adventure raced together. They wanted to see if they could get from point A to point B under their own human power. Why is that important? Because point A started on one island and point B on another … 26 islands away. They ran across one island, swam to the next, ran across it, then swam to the third island, so forth and so on, until they reached the final 26th island. The course was roughly 6 miles of swimming and 41 miles of running in total.
One important aspect that I think a lot of people familiar with swimrun may not take into consideration is the fact that the “original four” were adventure racers. Adventure racing, although there are many variations, is predominately a 4-person team working, together to acquire checkpoints, within a given timeframe. This is accomplished through a variety of modalities such as mountain biking, paddling and trekking/trail running. These checkpoints, which are UTM coordinates handed out by the race director, must be plotted on a map just before the race. The team must not only determine where the checkpoints are, but also figure out the best path to obtain them. The team that gets all the checkpoints (or the most), the fastest is deemed the winner.
So why is adventure racing so important when it comes to the invent of swimrun? Well, the original four were adventure racers at heart. First, they understood the value and importance of working together as a team. This is why they went out in teams of two for the first swimrun. Not only does this add an additional level of safety, but it also adds an aspect to the sport that is truly unique. Working together with a teammate to overcome obstacles, both mental and physical, while making your way through nature is one of the things that I really love about this sport. I always tell people that until you’ve tried a swimrun event, you won’t truly understand the communal swimrun aspect.
After being just a friendly event that took on more and more friends each year, it became an official event in 2006 called ÖTILLÖ (Swedish for “island to island”) and as the sport grew across Europe, the original ÖTILLÖ course and event became the Swimrun World Championship. At that time, it was still, mostly referred to as “ÖTILLÖ” which later became a series of races with the original course being referred to as the World Championships.
I was pulled into this crazy sport by good friend, fellow off-road triathlete, trail runner and fun-seeking junkie, Dan Kimball. He found ÖTILLÖ via a CNN article calling it one of “The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges“. He sought out to finish the race in 2014 and entered via their tough application process. Accepted, he raced it with fellow friend, Bjorn Erik Norman. As soon as they finished running in their wetsuits and swimming in their shoes for over 10.5 grueling hours forging technical land and 56’F water, they both wanted more. Having checked the ÖTILLÖ World Championship race off their list, Bjorn set his sights on racing Rockman Swimrun in Norway, his home country, in July of 2015. Dan agreed to join Bjorn but didn’t give up on doing the ÖTILLÖ World Championship race again. And so he began recruiting me to join this new adventure style sport.
After pestering me for several weeks, I reluctantly agreed to race the ÖTILLÖ World Championship race which was scheduled for September of 2015. Predominately an XTERRA Offroad Triathlon racer, my focus was still on training for XTERRA races which was, at most, a 1-mile swim, 20ish mile mountain bike and a 6-mile trail run. Most of the races were over in less than 4 hours, with most of them being shorter distances and around 2 hours in length. Taking on 6 miles of swimming and 41 miles of running was a daunting task, to which my training and abilities, at the time, were certainly not ready. Given that it was in September, and most of my XTERRA races were in April, May, and June, I figured I had plenty of time to ramp up the volume over late June, all of July and all of August. No problem, right?
Dan had other plans. In early June, still in the height of my XTERRA racing, Dan approaches me with a plea. Bjorn has just injured his knee in a pick-up game of soccer and would not be able to make Rockman in early July. Dan was already signed up, flights booked, hotel paid for and everything else except for bags being packed. He was in dire need of a partner and fast. I explained that although we had gone out for a few swimrun training sessions, I still was clueless about what was needed and certainly wasn’t trained up for it. He assured me that there was no pressure and that if I didn’t agree, that he’d be simply out of luck… and out of the money he had already spent. I agreed to race and Dan immediately began kicking my butt with some of the toughest training I had ever experienced. Why? Because Rockman Swimrun consisted of 22 miles total of running, 3.5 miles total of swimming and 8000 feet of climbing, including the world’s longest wooden staircase (4,444 steps).
I raced Rockman Swimrun in July and was immediately hooked just like Dan and Bjorn the previous year. I dove headfirst into training for the ÖTILLÖ World Championship race in September which we completed and then quickly transitioned swimrun as my primary sport. Since Rockman, I’ve raced (to date) well over 30 swimrun events during which, not only have I experienced some wonderful connection to nature in so many different places, but I’ve also connected with some of the greatest people on the planet. The swimrun vibe and culture is very laid back, super helpful and non-pretentious. It doesn’t matter the ability level, from beginner to some of the fastest on the planet, everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming in this quickly emerging discipline. This is something I have not experienced in any other sport, and it keeps me coming back for more, race after race.
So, what exactly is swimrun? Yeah, it’s another sport and yeah, it is a new way of covering distance but swimrun is also way more than that. It's drunken Scandinavian bar room bet that has turned into a welcoming worldwide community that has embraced me and thousands of others. I'd be happy to help bring you into the community as well! Contact me or read more about my first swimrun, Rockman and my racing of the ÖTILLÖ World Championship race in 2015, along with all my shenanigans at my blog, SpeedyLizard.com.
About the Author:
Marcus Barton is a lunatic in all the right ways. By many accounts in the swimrun industry, he is the most experienced and accomplished American in the sport today. The former Mr. XTERRA is a true multi-sport athlete and has always pushed the envelope of what is possible on the bike, in the water or throughout the trail system.
Marcus has been inspiring others around him for decades and shows no signs of slowing down.
Journal - What is swimrun?
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