The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt



Jul 08, 2016

Ten Lessons from the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Isles of Scilly 2016



Tarquin Cooper

The ÖTILLÖ is a gruelling swim-run race in which competitors race over land and water. Adventure journalist Tarquin Cooper gives a first-hand account of the lessons learnt from running in wetsuits and swimming in trainers.

It’s the adventure sport that’s exploding in popularity. Forget triathlons, mud runs and so-called Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). The most highly prized t-shirt to get these days is to complete an ÖTILLÖ race. Started as a bet over ten years ago in Sweden, the ÖTILLÖ is a gruelling swim-run race in which competitors race over land and water. And unlike your regular triathlon, competitors race in pairs and switch disciplines multiple times – and therein lies the adventure – they run in wetsuits and swim in trainers and journey in and out of the water throughout the course. The rules also permit the use of external aids, from using hand-paddles to towing systems. But it’s more than just a physical challenge. “ÖTILLÖ is nothing without your partner,” says race director Michael Lemmel. It’s an emotional experience to be shared and that’s the beauty of the sport.”
Besides the signature race in Sweden there are now races across Europe. The latest to premier was the UK’s first edition, ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly.
The Outdoor Journal’s Tarquin Cooper was there. Here are ten things he learnt from taking part.

1. It’s a long swim

ÖTILLÖ ISLES OF SCILLY 2016 Matti Rapila Andersson__MRA8885_HR
Photo © Matti Rapila Andersson/ ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly 16
ÖTILLÖ begins and ends with a long swim. The first, above, is 2km long and is designed as a deliberate baptism into the race, a reminder to racers of what’s involved, and what lies ahead, in case anyone has made the mistake of underestimating how difficult it will be. And there will be a few of those! The final swim is a 2.4km test of humour against strong currents in water that’s just 14ºC.

2. Buildings aren’t the only things to get ruined around here

Ötillö Isles of Scilly Swimrun
Photo © Nadja Odenhage/ Ötillö Isles of Scilly 16
With 239 monuments, the Isles of Scilly officially has a greater density of historical sites than anywhere else on Britain. Racers pass dozens of buildings and forts battered by the elements, which is rather ironic really as after racing for several hours, you’ll feel pretty ruined yourself.

3. There’s a lot of swimming

Ötillö Isles of Scilly Swimrun
Photo © Nadja Odenhage/Ötillö Isles of Scilly 16
Did we mention the swimming? There’s actually a lot of it – 7.5km in total. If you’re not a triathlete, competitive swimmer or don’t swim regularly, this is a lot! Expect your shoulders and triceps to be extremely sore by the end. Most competitors use hand paddles but a lot of practise is required to get the technique right. Many athletes also strap a foam ‘pull buoy’ between their legs to ensure their legs don’t drag in the water like a ship’s anchor.

4. Tool up in the hardware store 

Ötillö Isles of Scilly Swimrun
Photo © Nadja Odenhage/ Ötillö Isles of Scilly 16
Many things define an ‘adventure race’ but one of them is the flexibility given to competitors to work out their own solutions for going the distance. See that guy’s leg? Those are not footballer’s shin pads but (most likely) strips of cut-up roll mat to give buoyancy in the water. That tow rope? That’s a strip of bungee chord to help the weaker swimmer in the water. Most competitors also use hand paddles for faster propulsion.

5. Watch the traffic 

ÖTILLÖ ISLES OF SCILLY 2016 Matti Rapila Andersson__MRA9046_HR
Photo © Matti Rapila Andersson/ Ötillo Isles of Scilly 16
Most of the 30km of running is on trails. “It’s some of the most beautiful trail running I’ve done,” said race director Michael Lemmel. He wasn’t exaggerating. There are some sections on asphalt, like this, but even they’re pretty wild and special. During the briefing Lemmel was adamant that the dropping of litter would not be tolerated. At all. Period. (It was a message racers heeded: just one gel was picked up by the race sweepers – and it had not been used.)

6. Sand is soft – but not when it’s in your shoe

Ötillö Isles of Scilly Swimrun
Photo © Nadja Odenhage/ Ötillö Isles of Scilly 16
It was here that I had to stop to empty the sand from my trainers – a large clump had built up and was putting painful pressure on my toes. Lemmel had some advice for when these moment happen. “You will get blisters,” he warned. “Suck it up.” I failed. Speaking of pain, one of the race’s less endearing features is the “ÖTILLÖ love bite” – a painful chafing on the neck caused by a rubbing wetsuit.

7. Wetsuits aren’t made for running

ÖTILLÖ ISLES OF SCILLY 2016 Matti Rapila Andersson__DSC8070_HR
Photo © Matti Rapila Andersson/ ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly 16
This is me, near the start. I’m wearing a full length wetsuit because the water’s cold and I don’t want to get hypothermia. Mine, made by Head, is designed for swim-run and has a zip down the front to vent. But still, they are not ideal for running. That’s part of the challenge of swim-run. Most competitors cut them off at the knee and elbow. I did not – and suffered as a result. During a 7k running stage my pace dropped, my heart rate increased and I thought I was showing early signs of heatstroke.I have never wanted to dive into the cold sea so badly. An hour later, I had never wanted to get out of freezing water so badly. Even with the full length wetsuit, I’d lost the feeling in my left hand and my feet were blocks of ice. It took two kilometers of running to thaw them out.

8. Swimming trainers?

Ötillö Isles of Scilly Swimrun
Photo © Nadja Odenhage/ Ötillö Isles of Scilly 16
Alas, they don’t make trainers for swimming. But if they did, they’d have a good lace-up system to avoid them coming off, good drainage to ensure water escapes, be as light as possible – and have a grip that works on sand, wet rocks, grass and hard trails. Compression socks are a good idea to keep cramp at bay – along with gels and electrolytes. Thanks to the Swimrun app, a Garmin Fenix3 lets you accurately record the adventure and seamlessly switch between transitions.

9. Do it in pairs

Ötillö Isles of Scilly Swimrun
Photo © Nadja Odenhage/ Ötillö Isles of Scilly 16
What distinguishes the ÖTILLÖ is its camaraderie, the feeling that you’re part of a family of adventure athletes who want to share the experience, and not self-driven athletes only interested in beating the clock. “It’s about caring for your partner,” Lemmel said, “it’s not about being the fastest.” Mine is my real-life partner Sarah Odell. Doing it with your girlfriend adds another dimension of interest to the race dynamic.

10. It’s an awesome adventure 

ÖTILLÖ ISLES OF SCILLY 2016 Matti Rapila Andersson__DSC8154_HR
Photo © Matti Rapila Andersson/ ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly 16
So to recap. Beautiful location, tick. Great vibes, tick. Interesting challenge, oh yes. And pretty high marks on the bragging rights scorecard. Yes, friends and relatives will be genuinely interested and intrigued by you taking part in this race. The only question that remains is how to enter. Fortunately there are now more and more races to choose from, with ÖTILLÖ events in Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and more venues planned. Head over to the website for more.
To discover more about the Isles of Scilly, go to visitislesofscilly.com. To book your journey, visit islesofscilly-travel.co.uk.There are Skybus flights to St. Mary’s from selected UK airports. Prices start from £140 return from Land’s End. From spring to late-autumn, the Scillonian lll passenger ship sails up to seven days a week between Penzance and St. Mary’s. Prices start from £90 return. Tarquin stayed as a guest of Tregarthen’s Hotel, St. Mary’s.
Feature Image © Matti Rapila Andersson/ ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly 16

Continue Reading


Adventure Travel

Jul 31, 2018

Kayaking’s Elite Return to India at the Malabar River Festival

During the week of July 18th to 22nd, the Malabar River Festival returned to Kerala, India with one of the biggest cash prizes in whitewater kayaking in the world.



Brooke Hess

A $20,000 purse attracted some of the world’s best kayakers to the region for an epic week battling it out on some of India’s best whitewater.

The kayaking events at Malabar River Festival were held on the Kuttiyadi River, Chalippuzha River, and the Iruvajippuzha River, in South India on the Malabar Coast. The festival was founded and organized by Manik Taneja and Jacopo Nordera of GoodWave Adventures, the first whitewater kayaking school in South India.

Photo: Akash Sharma

“Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there”

One of the goals of the festival is to promote whitewater kayaking in the state of Kerala and encourage locals to get into the sport. One of the event organizers, Vaijayanthi Bhat, feels that the festival plays a large part in promoting the sport within the community.  “The kayak community is building up through the Malabar Festival. Quite a few people are picking up kayaking… It starts with people watching the event and getting curious.  GoodWave Adventures are teaching the locals.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

Vaijayanthi is not lying when she says the kayak community is starting to build up.  In addition to the pro category, this year’s Malabar Festival hosted an intermediate competition specifically designed for local kayakers. The intermediate competition saw a huge turnout of 22 competitors in the men’s category and 9 competitors in the women’s category. Even the professional kayakers who traveled across the world to compete at the festival were impressed with the talent shown by the local kayakers. Mike Dawson of New Zealand, and the winner of the men’s pro competition had nothing but good things to say about the local kayakers. “I have so much respect for the local kayakers. I was stoked to see huge improvements from these guys since I met them in 2015. It was cool to see them ripping up the rivers and also just trying to hang out and ask as many questions about how to improve their paddling. It was awesome to watch them racing and making it through the rounds. Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there.”

Photo: Akash Sharma


“It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake”

Vaijayanthi says the festival has future goals of being named a world championship.  In order to do this, they have to attract world class kayakers to the event.  With names like Dane Jackson, Nouria Newman, Nicole Mansfield, Mike Dawson, and Gerd Serrasolses coming out for the pro competition, it already seems like they are doing a good job of working toward that goal! The pro competition was composed of four different kayaking events- boatercross, freestyle, slalom, and a superfinal race down a technical rapid. “The Finals of the extreme racing held on the Malabar Express was the favourite event for me. It was an epic rapid to race down. 90 seconds of continuous whitewater with a decent flow. It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake.” says Dawson.

Photo: Akash Sharma

The impressive amount of prize money wasn’t the only thing that lured these big name kayakers to Kerala for the festival. Many of the kayakers have stayed in South India after the event ended to explore the rivers in the region. With numerous unexplored jungle rivers, the possibilities for exploratory kayaking are seemingly endless. Dawson knows the exploratory nature of the region well.  “I’ve been to the Malabar River Fest in 2015. I loved it then, and that’s why I’ve been so keen to come back. Kerala is an amazing region for kayaking. In the rainy season there is so much water, and because the state has tons of mountains close to the sea it means that there’s a lot of exploring and sections that are around. It’s a unique kind of paddling, with the rivers taking you through some really jungly inaccessible terrain. Looking forward to coming back to Kerala and also exploring the other regions of India in the future.”


For more information on the festival, visit: http://www.malabarfest.com/

Subscribe here: https://www.outdoorjournal.com/in/subscribe/

Recent Articles

Tony Riddle Crosses Great Britain Barefoot but Not Broken

Natural Lifestyle coach Tony Riddle put his rewilding practices to the test by running 874 miles across Great Britain entirely barefoot to support environmental sustainability.

Forrest Galante: The Modern-Day Charles Darwin

Except biologist Forrest Galante is not searching for the origin of species, more like auditing the books, and in a few very successful instances, erasing names from the roster of extinction.

Trans Himalaya 2019 – Part 3: The Invaluable Treasures of Ladakh

After the onset of the Northeast monsoon in the lower Himalayas, Peter Van Geit moves on to the high altitude rock desert of Ladakh in the Jammu and Kashmir region.

Privacy Preference Center