Within us all lives an adventurer. You just have to let him out.
The seed for swimrun adventures was planted already in 2009 when I started to train for my first ÖtillÖ race. Not really knowing how to prepare for this new challenge, my partner and I did as the originals, swimrun-exploring the islands in- and around or summerhouse along the course.
These training explo’s grew longer and later transformed into regular ultraswimrun adventures.
The conquering of the archipelago had just begun.
The experience of ÖtillÖ left a sweet aftertaste, and I wanted more. To explore new parts of the vast archipelago and experience the amazing nature by own force, became like a drug. No race-bib, pre-set route, starting-time or fee. Just you, your own strength and the unknown to conquer.
The Stockholm Archipelago Ultraswimrun Challenge (SAUC)
The classical delimitation of the Stockholm archipelago lies in-between the northern island of Arholma and the southern island of Landsort, who each boasts its own big lighthouse. Whenever you buy a map, book or a nautical chart of the archipelago, this is the framework you’ll get. Between the two islands lies approximately 24,000 islands and islets, making the setting a haven for swimrun-exploring.
A group of friends and I had regularly started to explore untouched swimrun areas. The aim was to have fun of course and to get outside, but also to establish new swimrun-routes for others to try. The idea was simple. Identify and set a starting point (A) and a finish point (B), and then let every challenger choose their own route in between. This way a challenger would race against the fastest known time (FKT) of that specific route and nothing else. Whenever they felt like it. Free. On their own terms.
While exploring, the idea of conquering the whole archipelago was launched. And why not? The classical and historical delimitation of it, between the two islands, each with its own lighthouse, made it perfect for a FKT ultraswimrun adventure challenge. In 2015 we gave it a try, however ill-prepared, with poor timing, and only managed to secure a small safety boat the week before start. Despite this, we decided to give it our best shot, and managed to swimrun more than half of the archipelago before having to abort for a number of reasons. For me personally, I wasn’t mentally present for such a tough challenge having just had twins 4 weeks before, and suffered an injury already on day 3, making it impossible to continue.
But now I had the experience. Now I had the know-how.
For this year’s attempt, unfortunately none of the original team were able to join. After haven given the idea much thought, I decided to give it a try anyway, by myself. The logistical preparations were on point and I had secured the perfect big support-boat I needed. It was going to be captained by my father, with a life-time experience on the water, including a couple of years of off-shore racing. So I felt safe and confident being alone in the water. I also had all the necessary gear, broken in and live-tested, including extras, so I was prepared for the worst. And I was going to need it.
Training wise it wasn’t as good. With new-born twins I hadn’t really been able to do as much exercise as I had wanted to during the year. But on the upside, a constant state of fatigue and endless hours of walking with the baby stroller, had strengthened my endurance capacity. Or at least so I hoped. And in a strange way I felt ready, perhaps more mentally than physically, and this state of mind was going to become crucial for me during the week to come.
I planned for the whole expedition to take 6 days, averaging between 40-45 km per day, within a window of 12 hours, 07:00-19:00. I had a rough idea of the route I was going to follow and kept the final day open since I had no idea what it would be like to swim over Danziger Gatt, or how long it would take. There wasn’t really anyone to ask and the Internet came up blank. People don’t swim there since it’s a military area and that there are several water-ways for big passenger and cargo boats passing by on their way to Nynäshamn. On the map it looked like a 9-10 km swim, however in a straight line not taking wind, currents and waves into account.
The idea with the general 12 hour time set-up, was to enable me to have some R&R each night. I didn’t expect each day to last more than 7-8 hours of continued swimrunning. And how wrong I was going to be. The forecast promised strong winds from the south, and cold weather the whole week. Winds from the south meant swimming in head-wind and cold weather meant cold water.
The forecast turned out to be wrong. It got worse.
Day 1, Stage 1: Arholma Lighthouse – Blidö Stämmarsund
The weather was nice. Sunny but windy, why I decided to take a different route compared to last year’s attempt. During the day I had quite some traffic in the water and I had to wait a couple of times for really big boats to pass. The swims were long and quite cold. The runs pleasant and warm with a trillion flies. The stage landed on 40 km, 29 km run and 11 km swim, and took around 8 hours in total. The winds came up to about 6 m/s, as expected, and most of the day I swam with head or side wind.
Day 2, Stage 2: Blidö Stämmarsund – Möja Långvik
What started off as an OK day quickly took a turn for the worst. Forecasted 6 m /s winds suddenly became 8, then 12. A steady 12 with up to 15 m/s in the gusts. Head on. Improvise, adapt and overcome. I rerouted the planned course of the day and started island hopping to avoid the strong wind and waves. At the end I couldn’t avoid it more and decided to go straight on. A real fight. The day landed on 42 km and 10 hours in total.
Day 3, Stage 3: Möja Långvik – Runmarö Styrsvik
I guess the wind just decided to park itself around +12 m/s. It felt so-so having to start the day by jumping into cold angry water. The ocean was completely white. Instead of fighting the elements I decided to reroute, again, and instead try to surf the waves. This meant having to run longer and then to back-track-swim with the waves towards the designated island. At lunch I had a happy moment when I got to change to the southern map. The day finished after 42 km and 9 hours of swimrunning.
Day 4, Stage 4: Runmarö Styrsvik – Ornö Church
Felt strong this morning. Have grown up in the area and more or less know the route by heart. In addition, Daniel Becker, the man with the plan showed up. A super morale booster. Daniel is the mega-grinder you need. A real Diesel truck! We were going to have to fight for it today. 12 m/s South and 11-13 degrees in the water and when we approached the Pig-Swim, it was just brutal. After 3 days of hard wind the waves were just big and everywhere, all at the same time. The runs went smooth. On the larger islands, you run on actual roads which is nice since it allows for you to open up your gait and really stretch out. In total we did 51 km in just around 11 hours.
Day 5, Stage 5: Ornö Church – Nåttarö South
I felt soar from yesterday’s mega grind. The body is tired now. I can feel it in the muscles. Daniel was happy, as always, and we got off to a good start. We had a good first 10 km run. I was really cold after the first swim and pushed on hard in the technical terrain to get the heat back. My body resisted and during a catastrophic jump I pulled a muscle in my front left thigh. Snap and pop at the same time. Realising the potential disaster I jumped and zombie-ran towards the next swim as fast as could, hoping that the really cold water would cool it off. Reaching the boat I put on some gauze bandage and some cool gel. Grabbed a quick coffee and some energy. Didn’t want to sit still too long and started walking. We started running again after a couple of kilometres, but it went slow. The day turned into a real fight and we reached Nåttarö later than expected. 41 km, mostly easy trail or road, took 7 hours and 30 minutes.
Day 6, Stage 6: Nåttarö South – Landsort Lighthouse
The last day.
I started at 06:00 since the forecast had promised a low 2 m/s head wind. I had been given a window of 4 hours before the wind was supposed to pick up, so I wanted to cover as much distance as possible. It was really cold. The weather station at Landsort said 12.8 degrees in the water, my watch measured 12, but with the wind and the waves constantly washing over you, it felt way colder. The light head wind was manageable, but the previous day’s strong winds had stirred up the ocean, leaving ‘old sea’ behind i.e. residual waves and an irritating current from the south, making me drift a lot. It was also hard to navigate in this big open space not having any fixed points to lock on to when swimming, and the islands never seemed to come any closer. It was just mentally tiresome. The swim over Danziger Gatt turned out to be an approximate 13-14 km long exercise, and I was sure glad when I reached shore, and cold. We had to seek shelter for me to get the heat going again and that took some time.
Once back in the game I opened up strong and ran through the islands with lightning speed, that is, until my front left thigh gave up again. After that I had to fight for every meter. Especially when the wind picked up and went back its normal 10 m/s.
The last couple of islands were just terrible. Very steep crevasse type, with huge thorn bushes making them nearly impossible to pass. Cold and tired I reached Landsort lighthouse after 12 hours and 42 km.
1st ever finisher.
A total of 57 hours.