The Swimrun Isles of Scilly event is located almost 30 miles offshore, in the extreme South-West of the United Kingdom, and is the ONLY Ötillö race in the U.K. The islands have a mixed climate, with tropical palm trees and beaches, and a sub-tropical feel in summer, while being set 30 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean off Land's End. Held near the beginning of June each year, the weather can be unpredictable.
We did this race in 2019 for charity in memory of Mogsy's daughter's fiancé Jay who tragically died aged 28 from a heart condition he was unaware of, whilst out for a run on his first Fathers Day. He left his little 8 month old son - Mogsy's grandson Remy.
The location contributes to the difficulty of the swimrun race here, with strong currents through the islands, and almost 5 meters of tide. This is no place for the faint hearted swimmer! The run legs offer stunning views of white beaches, summer flowers in full bloom, and tricky ascents up coastal cliff paths, combined with some beach running, and rocky entry and exit points. Ötillö directors Michael Lemmel and Mats Skott have definitely found a unique venue for the U.K. leg of their World Series events!
There are 3 - (THREE) - distances at the Isles of Scilly.
The main event is the World Series race, 37km (25 miles) which is made up of 8km (5 miles) of swimming, and 29km (18 miles) of running. These disciplines are divided up into 8 swim legs and 9 running legs. The longest swim is a brutal 2.5km (1.5 miles), while the longest run is a more manageable 7.7km (about 5 miles). The winning time is expected around 5 hours, and the final finishers must be over the line within 8 hours of the starting gun.
If you compete in the "long distance" race at an event, you will score points in the TSR Global Ranking System. You can check out your World SwimRun ranking at the TSR site HERE.
The "middle distance" event is the Sprint race, which is made up of 3km of swimming, and 12km of running, divided up into 8 swim legs and 9 run legs. The longest swim is just 1000 meters (a bit over half a mile), and the longest run leg is 2.7km (about 1.5 miles).
In a recent development, Ötillö have now introduced the possibility of taking part as an individual, for those people whose partner may have had to drop out, or those who just want to try the sport on their own. Of course, swimrun is traditionally a team event, with teams made up of 2 people. (2 men, or 2 women, or 1 man and 1 woman). The individual option is NOT available in the full-distance World Series race.
The shortest distance available at the Isles of Scilly is the "Experience" event, for those people who want to try the new sport of swimrun, but at a much shorter distance than the 37km+ of the full World Series race. The Experience race is just 950 meters of swimming (over 3 swim legs) and 6.9km (4 miles+) of trail running, over 4 run legs.
There is also the possibility to take part as an individual (ie. solo) in the Experience race.
Here is the official 4 minute Ötillö video of the Swimrun Isles of Scilly race;
The video gives you some idea of the amazing course at the Swimrun Isles of Scilly!
Here is the official map for the long-distance World Series race;
Here is a link to the official Ötillö website.
OUR 2019 RACE REPORT
We traveled to the Isles of Scilly by small 16-seater aircraft (a Twin Otter) from Newquay airport, taking just 30 minutes, rather than by the ferry from Penzance, as that trip takes 2 1/2 hours and is notorious for being a rough crossing.
Race day dawned dry and sunny, after the rain and wind of the previous day. We had arranged accommodation in a Bed and Breakfast just 10 minutes walk from the start, at Beachfield House. After our standard pre-race breakfast of porridge, a banana and coffee, we spent the next hour back in our room slowly preparing for the race.
We put on our wetsuits, but carried the rest of our gear in our drop bag. The drop bag area is basically inside the big marquee tent, in a corner somewhere. No security as such, but they've never had a problem with theft.
We entered the start box 15 minutes before the start, made our way to a quiet corner near the back, and chatted to several teams nearby. Everybody seemed quite apprehensive about the distance and time, with water temperatures from 12 to 14 degrees Celcius.
At the start, the younger teams raced off, while we settled into our normal Marathon pace, trying not to get sucked into the excitement and setting off too fast! After 500 meters we were near the back, but happy with our pacing. When we got to the steep climb up the hill around the golf course, other teams that had started fast were feeling the strain already, and were walking uphill. We trotted past them, maintaining our speed, and passed several teams. Downhill again, but through a narrow track, to the water. We reached the sea after 2.8 km running in 17 minutes, and started the monster 2km swim across to the island of Tresco.
It was difficult to see the orange exit flag from 2km away, (over a mile), but there was an orange windsock on the shore for the small airstrip on Tresco, so I aimed for that.
I had talked to some locals before the race about the currents we could expect. I aimed to the right of the exit, as we had started at High Tide, and the tidal ebb current was flowing from right to left on every swim leg. There was only one other team swimming to my right - everybody else was off to the left, some by quite a long way! It's hard to say if they were being carried off course by the current, or whether they were just aiming too far left for the exit.
At the end of the 2km swim we had passed a number of teams, and clocked up a good time by the second Time Station - 65 minutes from the start, which was 15 minutes inside the cut-off. There is a LOT of seaweed around the finish area.
But the cold was starting to bite. Mogsy was shaking quite badly as we jogged along the beach for 1km before going straight in to another big swim - 1.2km - still feeling cold from the first swim!
The second swim leg across to the island of Bryher was colder than the first, and I could tell the current was getting stronger, from right to left. Again, the exit flag was impossible to see from the swim start, but there was a buoy indicating general direction.
There was only one team to my right, and the rest of the field was way off to the left. I could tell from the long seaweed on the bottom that the current was flowing strongly from right to left, and this time I'm sure that the others had under-estimated the current. I kept aiming right of the buoy, and finally spotted the swim exit.
We made it out onto the beach, having passed a few more teams, but now we were both quite cold. We set off across the sand and eventually onto a trail up to the first energy station. There was water, isotonic drinks from Precision Hydration, and protein bars. There was one other team there, having a rest with a thermal blanket, feeling the cold even more than us!
After re-fueling, and making sure the cold team were OK, we set off across Bryher. Although we were cold, we were making decent progress and had a number of teams behind us. We started to warm up a little.
Then Mogsy had a bad fall, tripping on a large stone and falling into sharp rocks. The worst injury penetrated her wetsuit and caused a bad gash to her forearm. With blood running out, I decided we should stop and check things out. Our friends the "cold" team caught up with us, and stopped to help. We got Mogsy's wetsuit arm off to check the injury - I could tell it was deep after washing it with some water from our drinks bottle. Rather than apply the one waterproof dressing we had, we decided that the wetsuit neoprene would compress the wound enough to suppress the bleeding, so Mogsy put her suit arm back on, and we set off.
But now we had cooled down again, and Mogsy was understandably shaken. The cold seemed to suck energy out of us, and Richard was having problems with his legs, lacking any energy to run. We were being overtaken by teams coming up from behind, coping with trail running much better than us.
We finally got to the east shore of Bryher for the short swim back to the north of Tresco, and thankfully the current here was slight. The exit from this swim is across sharp rocks, and ends with a near-vertical scramble up a muddy wall. Off again for the long run around Tresco, including Tresco Gardens. which were beautiful, but we were concentrating on keeping going!
It seemed a long way around Tresco to the next swim from Grimsby, but the amazing white sand and azure sea along the east coast of the island made us feel like we were in the Caribbean! This run is not hilly, but goes on for a long time.
When we got to Time 5 Station, we had just 1 hour to make it to the next cut-off at Time 6 at the Karma Hotel. The guys at the energy station said it was entirely possible, but I was feeling drained.
We set out for the next 3 swims with short runs in between, and immediately felt cold as we hit the water, fighting (again) through what seemed mountains of seaweed to reach clear water. The currents in the first 2 swim sections here were moderate.
As we entered the water for what turned out to be our last swim, a staff member yelled that we had 15 minutes to beat the cut off at the Karma Hotel on St. Martin's.
And then I made a bad decision, which I later realized was down to impending hypothermia. Instead of heading directly to the exit flag at the Karma Hotel, aiming right to compensate for the current, I elected to go left around a big patch of seaweed. This almost doubled the distance to swim AND put us into the middle of a very strong current, which we then had to swim directly against, as opposed to across.
As we battled the current to get to the Karma Hotel, I was wondering why I had made such a bad choice. We eventually made it to the beach, but had lost so much time that we missed the cut-off by 5 minutes. At that point I realised that we were both on the point of hypothermia, and that the Ötillö cut-off times were serving their function as safety filters.
After confirmation of our cut-off by race director Michael Lemmel in person, we had a glass of prosecco while we waited for the following men's team to arrive, also outside the cut-off. There was an awesome selection of cake at this energy stop too!
We were given a lift back to the start area by safety boat, and collected our drop bag, warming up in the sun with a drink.
The image above does not reflect my almost total exhaustion.
WHAT did we learn about the Isles of Scilly World Series event? Here are the most important lessons be brought home;
Obviously, in Swedish, the word "dinner voucher" has an entirely different meaning to English!
This race is very tough, very cold, and you have to be a very strong swimmer to complete it. I would recommend weight training as well as sea swimming, and practise trail running up steep, rough trails IN YOUR WETSUIT. The race itself is easily under-estimated. It's harder than it looks. And wear a cashmere wool vest under your wetsuit. Even the Swedish competitors found the swims very cold.
Will we do it again? Probably! It's a great location, and we have unfinished business there. And next time around we will have a better idea of how to tackle it.
On our last day, we had to check out of our room about an hour before we got the taxi to the airport. We were able to spend the time in the bed-and-breakfast lounge, with a cup of tea and biscuits.
While we were waiting, an older couple in their 80's came in, while our room was being prepared for them. We got talking. We explained why we were on the island, for the swimrun event.
The man told us that he had helped organize the first ever London Marathon with Chris Brasher (who had paced Sir Roger Bannister to the first sub four-minute mile); he had run many marathons himself.
His advice to us was "Do as many events as you can, while you can. There will come a time when you cannot do the events you want, due to age. Do what you want, as soon as you can, while you are still able."
This was probably the most wise and the most important advice I have received. I will do my best to honor the wishes of that fine man.
Have you taken part in the Swimrun Isles of Scilly event? We would love to hear your feedback and comments!
Are you thinking of doing this Swimrun in the future?