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First World Series Race after 2 year baby break: Race Report ÖTILLÖ Utö 2024

Laying on my parents’ sofa yesterday, trying to forget the pain in my legs when I have to stand up, I came across an instagram reel while mindlessly scrolling. It was about a research study on tennis players, where they looked at the difference between the top 5 and the top 25 athletes. It was not their diet, not their training or even their skill level or talent. It was their mind, and especially their ability to think positive that made the top 5% stand out. 

You know who is the most positive athlete on the Swimrun course? My partner, and Swimrun queen, Desirée Andersson. No doubt, her positivity is one of her superpowers. I always have so much fun racing with her, and the 34 km long course of ÖTILLÖ Utö 2024 was no exception. 

Race Prep & Training for Utö Swimrun

Desirée and I had decided to do a Swimrun race together this summer. We looked at many options, but Utö was the most convenient since I was going to be in Sweden at the time. I was really looking forward to racing with her again, but was also nervous about my ability to keep up and contribute to the team. The past two years Desirèe has won race after race and broken record after record while my life shifted more towards breaking records in speedy diaper changing and sleep deprivation. Being a new mom is wonderful, but not the easiest when you also want to be a top-level athlete. You can read more about my thoughts on that here

I almost chickened out a month before Utö, asking Desirée if we should do the Sprint. No way she was going to agree to that, and I was quite easily talked into doing the long race after all. Which I am very happy about now.

The month of May I squeezed in as many long runs as I could and did some Swimrun transition workouts around my community pool here in Miami. My swimming form was in good shape as I had been training for El Cruce. 

As usual, I took it easy with the running the week before the race. Desirée and I got in a sync workout on wednesday before the race in and around the marvelous little lake Barnsjön close to my sister’s house in Tyresö. We felt ready to go. 

The day before the race my parents kindly took care of my little Will, and I went to sleep in my apartment in the city. My myself. I got an entire night of uninterrupted sleep and felt absolutely amazing when I woke up on race day, Saturday 8 June. 

Race Day – Together again 

Racing with Desirée again was great. Everything felt so easy and natural, right from the moment she picked me up by Skanstull Metro station until we were out on the course. 

Coming with the ferry to Utö always brings special feelings within. I’ve been here many times before throughout my Swimrun years – especially thinking about those 5 World Championships I made it through that all finishes on this island. It’s a good feeling to be back. 

We arrived with plenty of time and started to get ready. Prepping all our kit – including new Ark suits we got to try for this race for the first time. I must say, right from the moment I put the Ark Ornö on, I knew it was a game changer. The arms were so flexible and the entire suit so smooth. (My only pet peeve is the name, Ornö is the Island I like the least as it is where you run the half marathon with no swimming on ÖTILLÖ!) 

As always, it somehow gets a bit stressful the moment we have to go into the starting box. We make it there and feel the anticipation build up among the races. Countdown from 10, and we’re off. 

I know so well that I am going to get tired on the first run. Running fast on flats is not my strength, and I was prepared to push. We ran in 4:15-4:30 per km pace those first 2 km, really it was way too fast for the training I’d done. I was exhausted when we finally reached the first swim. Instead of getting relief running into the water, I got a cold shock followed by slight panic. I have been out of nordic conditions for a while, and although I thought I was ready, this cold water took a little bit to get used to again. I swam with my head up the first strokes, struggling to keep up with Desirée. I saw her looking back and probably wondering what was going on. Eventually I calmed myself down with some breathwork and finally put my head down. I got over it after about half that 400m swim and then it was all good and I stayed behind Desirée’s feet to catch my breath. 

Coming out, we followed the field past a questionably marked turn. It turns out we were wrong and got lost with probably 20 other racers. I got very frustrated as we had to plow through a swamp with disgusting shoe-sucking mud to get back to the correct course path. 

After this eventful start to the race, it started to feel quite good. My body felt strong and I could keep up fairly well with Desirée on the runs. My legs luckily remembered how to run through roots, rocks and trails and I got reminded of how much I miss running like this. Home in Florida we have a few trails but they are flat and sandy and not very challenging. My legs also remembered how to run up hills, taking me back to all those Catalan mountains I ran up back in the day. It’s amazing what your muscles remember. 

Quite early into the race, there was a longer run of almost 4k. Then we put the tether on. Both mentally and physically, that was a relief. I now only had to focus on keeping my legs going behind Desirée. We picked up the pace thanks to my strong partner and we slowly but steady took the lead in the women’s category. We were close to 2 other teams in the beginning, but every swim we got a little more ahead. 

We kept the tether on the runs and took it off on the swims. In the beginning we took turns leading the swims, but eventually I told Desirée I needed to catch my breath on every swim to be able to keep the running pace. She understood and kept going, with her always positive attitude and spirit. 

At a few points during the race, both Desirée’s family as well as mine showed up with happy cheers – it was so good to see them and it always gives a huge boost in energy! 

At the end of the race, we got a taste of the cold open ocean when some swims got down to 11 degrees Celsius. That made my feet stiff and I struggled a bit the last few km. But, soon enough we made it! Running through the finish line together was a familiar and wonderful moment, and arriving first was a fantastic bonus.

Photo cred: Jean-Marie Gueye

After the race, we stayed and had a lovely dinner at one of the restaurants together with the Envol crew. Looking back, I am surprised what my body could do and it felt amazing to be on the course again as a true Swimrun athlete. 

Recovery – Another Story

What was the most different this time, from what I remember with my World Series races pre-baby, was the recovery. I felt good after the race, no injuries or anything, and I could walk and move just fine. The day after I was incredibly stiff, like usual. It got worse the second day, as usual. But it honestly took a full week for my stiffness to go away, and another week for me to feel truly recovered. That I also had an incredibly stressful 24h flight back to Miami with Will that second week probably did not help though. Again, I must attribute this slow recovery to lack of sleep (or, maybe I am just getting old… 🤣). As I wrote in this post, I think that is the one variable that makes athlete-mom life challenging. In all other ways, being a mother makes me a stronger athlete. 

As I always tell myself, I do this because I love it and because it makes me feel good in both my mind and body. I love to feel strong and fast, it is a part of me to be like that. Even though I cannot be at my absolute top level all the time as a mother, I still want to work out and race. It is hard to not put the same pressure and have the same expectations as I did pre-baby, but for my own health’s sake I need to get better as this life is going to be sustainable ❤️