Stage 1 Norrtälje: Arholma-Fejan (CP1) – Granö (CP2)
Started at Arholma Nord at 7 on a Tuesday after a couple of days of transport and preparation. We started off very slow on the running sections and mixed running and walking not to stress Annika’s knee injury that had been a problem for the last weeks before the race. We were dead last from the start, but with a good route choice and on-point navigation we reached CP1 on the south part of Fejan in third place and felt awesome. The race continued over to Räfsnäs where Joakim had prepared chicken with couscous, the first of a large variety of hot meals, and then a long swim to Yxlan and a long run towards CP2 on Granö. It was a bit tricky to avoid the private areas, in particular when there were discrepancies between reality and the map. We were passed by Team 4 a number of times along the way, but were not stressed but stayed with our comfortable pace.
Stage 2 – Österåker: Granö (CP2)- Lökaön (CP3) From northern Ljusterö we took a straight route towards the northern part of Möja, which included a significant amount of swimming. We switched to a long OW wetsuit and swam 3,3k to Husarö at dusk. A couple of friends appeared on a boat and cheered for us, which really injected new energy. The last part towards Möja was pitch black. Joakim used the spotlight to get an aiming point on the swims and Annika was amazing keeping a straight line towards a diffuse contour on the horizon. Pär was constantly participating in keeping track of the direction whereas Henrik just kept his head down focusing on the safety line that was rocking back and forth in the blinking light from the headlamp.
Stage 3 – Värmdö: Lökaön (CP3) – Boskapsön (CP7)
We reached CP3 in fifth place, a few minutes behind Team 4 and 5. We switched back to the short swimrun wetsuit, because now the night orienteering on land without trails was waiting for us. Just what we’ve been longing for. We searched for some easier passages across the islands and took a safe entry to CP4 from the south. Towards the checkpoint we came together with Team 4 once again, and were surprised and sad to see that Team 7 had been forced to quit the race, due to illness. On the way out we saw that Team 4 followed the water line across some hills towards the next swim. We felt it was smarter to take a more straight route between the hills, but it turned out to be stupid because that area was filled with fallen trees and we lost some time.
Across Harö the morning approached and we made a really good choice to follow the power line. Everybody felt pretty strong and we could even run on some easier sections. Then we entered familiar territory since our training session in June. Of course, when you relax a bit, mistakes happen easily and we made a wrong turn and caught up with Team 4 who had made the same mistake. Down towards the safety boat at the swim to Eknö we couldn’t find the trail, so we just took a bearing instead because “you never want to waste time running around looking for a missing trail”. Henrik had just taken off his headlamp, carrying it in his hand, not realizing that the Lumonite lamp has a magnetic contact! The bearing was completely wrong and it took us some 30-40 min to figure it out and get back on the right track. Rookie mistake. But bygones-are-bygones and we marched on across Eknö down towards CP5 on southern Vindalsö. Pär noted that “this terrain reminds me of the ÖtillÖ-course” before realizing that we were actually standing on the initial stretch of the ÖtillÖ-course.
you never want to waste time running around looking for a missing trail
The 24h mark passes and we are now 40 min behind Team 4 and another 2 hours behind the leading Aussies. We continue down to Runmarö. Annika is having problems getting sufficient energy into her system and is struggling. We use the safety line to pull her and mix 2 min jogging with 2 min walking, and it works alright. Some tricky parts between the houses but we finally got through on the marked trails and roads and suddenly we passed Team 4 again, although just barely. After Runmarö there is again a lot of swimming and Henrik and Annika switch to the long OW suit again, because the water temperature is just too cold. It is a sunny and very pleasant day and we enjoy being in the middle of the race. Team 4 moves slightly faster but we take a straighter route and we reach CP6 on Böteskobben simultaneously.
Reality is catching up on us and the low energy is clearly visible in Annika’s eyes. She tries to eat whatever works but we let Team 4 go and continue at our own pace to Jungfruskär, making another switch to the short wetsuit. Some amazing but brutal islands are waiting for us, with fallen trees, taken down by beavers, bushes and thorns everywhere. Pär is half asleep. We suggest that he sings a song, but all he can think of is psalms (Pär has later clarified that he actually does not know any psalms).
We wade through swamps, get attacked by vast amounts of mosquitos that we whip with spruce debris. We feel sorry for our camera runner, Nina, who is on the live-stream and must stay completely still and gets completely covered by mosquitos. We have brought insufficient amounts of energy on one of the long runs and we are all low on energy. A navigation mistake costs us some additional time and we have to find our way back on track again. We reached the water entry before the swim to CP7 rather beaten up. Joakim has prepared another great meal and we get back in the long suit for the 1,7k swim, but the break is a bit too long before we get going. Annika is now at the back of the swim to save some extra energy, but instead she gets very cold.
Stage Haninge: Boskapsön (CP7) -Kymmendö/Ornö (CP8-OUT)
At CP7 Annika is shaking from the cold and we start to despair. We have now been racing for 36h and we have a 2x2k swim ahead. We are now 5h behind the leading Australians so there is still some margin to the 8h cut-off. Our original plan was to sleep on Ornö, but with the current status we have to adjust and decide to sleep at CP7. We plan to sleep for 1h while Joakim prepares the gear and food. Me and Pär have trouble falling asleep and after what feels like 2 min Joakim comes to wake us up. An hour has passed. We feel uncertain if we will be able to continue, but Joakim wakes up Annika and there is no doubt.
Let’s GO. It takes some time to get the gear back on but the feeling when we leave is that we are rejuvenated. Let’s take on the final 24h. We haven’t kept very good track of time but realize we need to go strong. Starts off on the first of two 2k swims towards a small island where we can do a quick stop to warm up before the second 2k. It is completely black. It is a mighty feeling to swim out in the open sea in complete darkness, but there is nothing to aim at. The spotlight can’t find anything to reflect on and there are no lamps or contours on the horizon that can help us. Joakim tries to keep track of the bearing from the boat but it is extremely difficult. We swim and we swim. Annika is counting the strokes, 2k passes, we adjust the direction a bit, 3k passes. It is cold, we can’t see any sign of land and the feeling of desperation is approaching. Suddenly we stop and shout out to Joakim: -You have to find us some land, NOW! Finally he finds a glimpse of land, probably another km to go, but we get there and everyone is ok, but shivering cold. We heat up using each other and dryrobes and consider the upcoming section. A short swim to Kymmendö-Bunsö, then along the ÖtillÖ-track to Kymmendö and CP8 just before Ornö.
You have to find us some land, NOW!
If we can make it to CP8 we should have a better margin ahead because Team 2 has slept on Ornö. We swim the 970m from Kymmendö-Bunsö that Annika and Pär have done “a thousand times” before, and then a short 250m swim to Kymmendö. The last part towards Kymmendö Annika is pushing on and we all follow. But, when we look up again the island is gone, there is just open sea in front of us. What happened? After a few seconds of panic we realize that we lost the direction slightly the last 50m and soon we are on familiar grounds for Pär and Annika. They follow the ÖtillÖ course Henrik catches on. Suddenly, Henrik asks, where is the track going? They look completely puzzled: -Aren’t you navigating? It feels like we have been randomly placed on Kymmendö and have to find the checkpoint in the northwest corner. Nevermind, just move to the west and see what happens.
After a while we can locate ourselves on the map and we move steadily the last bit to CP8. The feeling is good, we have recovered, the sleep has done its magic and night orienteering on Ornö is waiting for us. But all the problems have taken time, when we reach the checkpoint Joakim notifies that the adventure ends here. We are now more than 9h behind and may not continue. Relief mixed with disappointment, but we also realize that we would not have been able to reach Landsort within the maximum time of 65h. We hug and the feelings take over. What an amazing adventure. We feel proud of our achievement and our teammates. Of course, we have made some mistakes that finally cost too much time, but we didn’t give up and we always came back.
Finally we have to say that One Water Race is an extremely well organized race. Even if it is a rather extreme race, one of the toughest races in the world, the security and care for the athletes is incredibly professional. It is a privilege to compete and participate in this adventure under such optimal circumstances. We also want to thank our sponsors who made this adventure possible: Havsfonden, Orca Sportswear, VJ sports, Gococo, and Maurten.
/ Annika, Henrik, Pär and Joakim in Team 1 – Sweden
Photo by Jimmy Hansen and Otto Norin