Wez Swain on Swimrun: 'An incredible journey'
Wez Swain and Alison Stedeford travelled to Stockholm last week to take part in the 2017 ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championships, billed as 'one of the toughest endurance races in the world'.
The pair, from St Mary's and Bryher respectively, managed to complete the gruelling 75km race in Stockholm, despite battling 'gale force winds and raging seas'.
The 148 teams had to swim between 26 islands, totalling 10km open water swimming and 65km trail running. The rules state that a team must not be more than 50m apart on land and 5m apart in water.
Read Wez's write-up of the event below:
"On Saturday 22nd June, I received an email to say that Alison and I had qualified for ÖTILLÖ, the Swimrun World Championships. We were elated and shocked, with the race in just six weeks' time, and with no training for six weeks was it worth the gamble of going all the way to Sweden and could our bodies stand the challenge of 65km of running in a wetsuit and 10km of swimming with shoes on?
After a few days we decided it was too good an opportunity to say no, so we accepted the invitation. Both Alison and I had holidays coming up and knew any training time would be difficult, but we agreed to just do what we can. Over the next six weeks we ran or swam when family and life commitments allowed. For Al this was many early morning sessions, for me it was lots of late evening sessions, plus spending hours poring over maps and time/distance spreadsheets working out what pace we needed to be travelling at to beat the cut offs.
As we got ready to leave Scilly I felt massive pressure as during the last few days, it seemed like every other person stopped me to wish us good luck, It was then I realised the tremendous support and pride Scilly was showing towards us and although everyone was very real and saying just enjoy the experience, I really didn't want to let them down. As we boarded the Scillionian I said to Al that I gave us about a 65% chance of success due to so many unknown challenges ahead, the main one being can we keep going for up to 14 hours?!
The boat, train, plane and bus journey went well and we met in Stockholm 44 hours after leaving Scilly, with 300 competitors and over 100 support staff, to get the chartered boat to Sandhamn twohours away. On the boat the locals told us of the storm the next day; 40mph wind and 3m swell! As if we weren't concerned enough!
We were welcomed personally on to the island by the two race directors and later attended the race briefing. Here we were told that the storm was due to hit but we had all proved ourselves already and so we would be fine, no need to worry - although nobody was going to make us go to the start line, it was our choice! After a good meal we went to bed nervously at about 9.30pm, listening to the windows shaking in the howling wind!
At 4am we awoke (not that we had slept much!) and headed to breakfast, peering into the darkness hoping to see that it sounded worse than it was, each time slightly disappointed. We got our race kit on, adding a last minute base layer due to the cold, and headed through the dark to the start line. Our nerves built until at 6am the gun went off and the sea of red, orange or green race bibs and swim hats moved towards the first and longest swim.
We entered the water near the back of the pack and after spotting where we were hoping to go, we started swimming. We swam well, although due to the salt level being so much lower in the Baltic, I found I sat much lower in the water than I expected. We beached ourselves on the slippery rocks 30 minutes later and over the course of the morning followed a similar pattern of running or scrambling over slippery rocks on the edge of the island, sliding into the water, swimming through rough choppy water followed by attempting to climb out over polished slippery rocks.
We reached the fourth energy station at 11am, 15 minutes before the cut-off. This was 26km of running and 4.5km of swimming into the race. Knowing we had made this cut-off picked up our spirits as at this rate we should get to the final 6pm cut-off with 45 minutes to spare. After a few short swims and short runs our jaws dropped as we turned the corner to see the start of 'the pig swim. This is notoriously hard due its distance of 1400m and frequent strong currents. Today, though, it was the mass of white horses crashing over the sea which made us slow. At home we'd never go swimming in this.
It is everything you'd expect from swimming in 40mph winds. We entered the water 20m behind another team, and although they exited at the same distance in front, we only saw them once over the next 45 minutes. These 45 minutes were the hardest swimming I have ever done, we were thrown all over the place, we swallowed loads of water, and even though we were tied together with a 5m rope we were still pulled in different directions. Trying to 'sight' where we were going was nearly impossible without stopping for a good look around. It was one of the only times when I finally reached land after swimming that I have been really glad to get out of the water.
It was here that I had got really cold and with the wind whipping through my wet wetsuit, I found myself shivering for the next few hours as we swam and ran over the next few islands. At 3.30pm, we were greeted at an energy station by Mats, a race director, who said: "You are doing great, you will make it!" This made us feel brilliant as after the next short swim came the 20km (half marathon) run across the island of Orno. It was half way through that my jaw finally stopped shivering, which made the running more pleasant. Knowing we had over three hours, we could allow ourselves to walk some of the steeper hills and 'enjoy' the running and scenery.
At the end of this island we had covered nearly 58km running and 8.5km of swimming with just a few more shorter hops to go. We made the final cut-off time with 50 minutes to spare. We relaxed our guard, which at ÖTILLÖ could be disastrous! We knew we only had four swims left each of less than 300m; what we didn't know was that the current between these small islands was so strong, it was more like a river and we found ourselves swimming our hearts out, thrashing as fast as we could to get to the next island. We would then be clinging to the slippery rocks with cold, tired, weak fingers, praying to find some purchase so we didn't slip back in and get swept off into the larger sea, and disqualification. 45 minutes later on this physical and emotional final roller coaster we pulled on to Uto, where we were welcomed and told we had completed the last swim.
We jogged the final 3km and finally crossed the finish line as dusk took hold at 7.05pm. This 13 hours and 5 minutes race was an incredible journey. The race for us was only against the cut-off times as the winners completed the course in under eight hours. We finished, team Splashy and Dashy, 109th out of 150. With over 25 teams not finishing due to cut-off times or injury we feel incredibly proud of our achievement, especially in the wildest conditions in the 12-year history of Swimrun.
Our 36-hour journey home was made much more enjoyable with our aching bodies due to the constant stream of messages though phone and social media of congratulations and support, by which we are incredibly humbled."