On September 1, 200 swimrunners gather on the island of Sandhamn, 30 miles due east of Stockholm in Sweden, for a race. The competitors are heading to the island of Utö, about 46 miles to the southwest — an impressive distance, but certainly not deserving of the title “one of the toughest endurance races in the world” awarded by CNN. That’s until you realize that the race is called Ö Till Ö, which literally translates to “island to island”.
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Six of the race’s 46 miles are completed in the water, and the other 40 miles are run atop islands, 26 of them in all. This amounts to 52 transfers between land and sea, forcing racers to scurry up and down the smooth rocky shorelines of islands small enough not to have names, or refueling stations; there are only nine hydration/energy stations along the course. To put this in perspective, a typical New York half marathon has around ten stations, on courses under a third of Ö Till Ö’s distance…on paved roads.
Michael Lemmel, the race director of Ö Till Ö, become involved with swim/run events during his time as a professional multisport athlete, during which he participated in more than 70 of the world’s toughest adventure races. Drawing on his experience, and working with fellow racer Mats Skott, Lemmel commercialized the Ö Till Ö — which up until 2006 was a fringe race spawned from a bet made at a late night of drinking at a bar. Today the race is recognized as one of the toughest competitions internationally, and it’s only becoming more popular as more people hear about it. We spoke with Lemmel about the Ö Till Ö, from strategies to conserve your legs during a swim, to equipment used, to exactly how many teams finish the 46-mile island hop.