We were ecstatic to get the call up to race in One Water 2023. Hilary just about hit the ceiling when I told her we had been accepted. We certainly weren’t disappointed. The One Water organization put on a seamless event in a gorgeous yet brutal environment. Here’s our story.
Finally the day had come to race across the Archipelago. The maps were released as the start siren sounded. We had run through the various scenarios for the early routes and wasted no time in grabbing the first map and taking off on the heels of Team 2, determined to race at the front of the pack from the start, and happy to put the other teams out of sight for a while.
We quickly learnt the intricacies of the terrain like which plants hurt, which fences are electrified and why swamps are a terrible option to try and run through… most of the time.
We moved ok, settling into a rhythm but a few small navigation errors and waiting for our boat at a couple of swim entries put us 30 minutes behind at CP1, but we were still able to catch glimpses of the leading teams and knew we had a long way to go.
No matter the amount of training and video calls, you never know how the team will react and work together in a race. While far from perfect, we were still in the race, moving well, comfortable, and happy to be out there together. We each had a role to play physically and mentally. The initial nerves settled throughout the first day as we ticked off the long run legs.
The sun went down on the first day. It was a stunning sight swimming across the Archipelago, admiring the flaming orange ball descending over the horizon, catching a glimpse on every breath. Finally – the first night, now it’s time to race.
We had prepared ourselves to push on the first night. So we did. Zipping across the island to CP3, passing Team 1, arriving in fourth just behind Team 4. Hyped up and ready to carry this momentum, we were made to wait for our boat to arrive before the maps could be released for Stage 3. We watched Team 4 leave the CP and disappear out of sight as we waited.
A few minutes later we took off after them. This was a rugged section of terrain with no trails – but so much fun to navigate. We picked out way across to CP4, stopping for a short swim across the inland channel that had been up for much debate at the pre-race briefing. There was a bit of excitement at CP4, with Mikael saying ‘I’m a bit excited, you are now in second place’. It was a devastating end to the race for Team 7 here but we know they will come back stronger next year.
We pressed on through the night, it felt good to be in our own space racing on our terms not concerned about the other teams. The 8hr time pressure were less of a concern if we could maintain this style of racing.
The second day saw us running a large portion of the Ötillö course. Marcus took over some of the navigation here having a memory of the Ötillö course.
The long chain of islands between CP 6 and 7 was great fun, really testing our swimrun transitions. The only problem is we severely underestimated the time and ended up without food and water for a long stretch. The long run and lack of water hurt – while the ocean here is mostly potable, the warm shallow waters near the islands are not. Damn.
The next boat stop would be one of our slowest as we took on as much food and water as possible before we hit the brutal ‘Pig Swim’ that would see me practicing the vomit-while-swimming technique.
The conditions had turned. Cold water, strong head winds. We would pay the price for running low on food and water through here and into the second night. We arrived at CP8 cold and in need of a lot of food and caffeine to get through the long night run to come.
The wheels started to fall off. What seemed like some of the easiest navigation in the race – a long straight road would prove to be the most difficult as I struggled to stay awake. It’s hard to know exactly what happened as I drifted in and out of sleep. Hilary could hear electric fences buzzing everywhere, the first sign of sleep monsters. Marcus did an incredible job of pulling us along the road and leading the navigation for a while. Eventually, I woke up from the sleepy run and knew we just had to get to CP9 and put this nightmare behind us. We made it to CP9 but our bodies had taken a hit. The clock was ticking, we were running out of time and only stopped for 30 minutes to get some sleep.
The last 12 hours was tough. We seemed to be moving ok but our sense of time and speed was heavily distorted. I was again falling asleep as we trudged along the roads of Utö.
Marcus kept us moving at a reasonable pace. We still had a shot at finishing the race but one sleepy navigation mistake after another cost us precious time. It was hot but we seemed to be losing the sense for what our bodies needed to keep moving. Hilary and Marcus comically argued over a bout of deja vu as we approached CP10.
The last few hours were a blur. After arriving at CP11 we met Mikael running up behind us telling us we couldn’t swim; we had to return to a sheltered bay on the other side. We were low on water and had to stop and rest before heading back to the bay where we could start the next swim. It was a confusing 2.5 hours between hitting CP11 and starting the next swim, which we thought was Danziger Gatt for some reason… it was not, so we waddled stiff legged like penguins in our long wetsuits in the wrong direction – north. Upon realising our situation I will always remember Hilary determined as ever, saying ‘I can tow you guys, I can still run and swim, I just need someone to read the map’.
So that’s where our race finished, standing on a rugged rocky headland of the Stockholm Archipelago, agonisingly close to the finish line, watching another stunning blood-red sunset, deciding if we should take one final swim to a floating sauna…
It was a phenomenal experience competing in the One Water race 2023. We look forward to another incredible race next year.
/Mitch, Hilary, Marcus and Mikael in Team 5 – CAN/AUS/SWE
Photo by Jimmy Hansen, Otto Norin & Anna Åberg