It was a grey January in Wales. We were looking for inspiration. I'd heard of the OTILLO World Championships which led us to something called Uto SwimRun, this was it. We entered.
We vowed to train hard, record our progress, experiment with different combinations of gear, tow-floats, hand paddles, types of wetsuit, shoes... it transpired that come race day Janek was stood on the start line having swum 500m in a wetsuit he had borrowed 48 hours earlier. We didn't have a clue, but we knew we could swim, run and persevere.
The journey to Uto from Aberdovey was an adventure in itself. It involved my truck, a train, a plane, quite a lot of running through Stockholm Airport, 2 more trains, a bus, and a ferry onto the island. When we saddled up to the bar at Uto Vardshus we felt quite proud that we had made it this far. This feeling encouraged us to drink the local ales. It was one of those nights when you ignore the price of a pint and trust it will all work out in the end.
Having out-drunk our fellow competitors we left the bar feeling strong.
We hit breakfast with abundance, particularly as it was buffet style. And what a fine buffet it was with all sorts of meats, cheeses and unknowns. Such a good spread is dangerous on the morning of a race as my in-built “I’m at a buffet, must stuff myself repeatedly” gene kicks in. And indeed I was stood next to Janek on the start line, him in his peculiar wetsuit, and me with a ham and cheese roll in my mouth.
As we walked up to the start Janek asked “what’s our strategy?” this took me by surprise. My usual race strategy is “leg it and adjust”. I considered the question, these things need to be considered more when you are racing as a pair. Janek suggested that we start at the back away from the mayhem and see how we go. Agreed.
We were off. The combination of running through forest and over rocks into sea swimming was brilliant. I loved the transition between running/swimming and swimming/running, it felt primal. During the first hour of the race I experienced some abdominal discomfort due to my earlier performance at the buffet.
Half way in and we were feeling strong. We were overtaking people on the running sections and I noticed we were particularly quick in transitions. Two thirds of the way in at a drinks station someone shouted “you’re only 25 minutes behind the leaders”. We were shocked. We stepped it up a gear and started to overtake even more people running through the woods.
Then we started to slow. It was this point, in the last third of a race, this is the point were all that training pays off. For us there was no pay back. We weren’t in credit, we were in debt. Janek was in particular trouble, I suspect the full length 3mm neoprene on his legs took its toll. In the end we finished 38th out of 120.
More importantly, despite finishing 38th, we somehow managed to be first into the post-race buffet. Impressed? I was.
This was followed by some solid camaraderie at the bar and an highly enjoyable after-party. Uto SwimRun is my favourite race ever and I will return.