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Casco Bay Islands SwimRun

So, finally finding the time to sit down and write about the Casco Bay Islands SwimRun. It was an epic adventure that I participated in about two weeks ago. I have to admit that I had NO IDEA what I was getting into when I said “that sounds like fun, sign me up!”. Of course, this is how I roll, so no surprise here.

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I had heard of the Casco Bay Islands SwimRun, originally the ÖTILLÖ back in it’s inception year of 2016. It was definitely something that was intriguing, but not something I had ever jumped to sign up for. Then, I was at a holiday party last December and perhaps I had a glass or two of spirits when a friend asked me if I might want to do it. Her hubby had signed up for it with her, but had a significant shoulder injury, and was facing potential surgery. Anyway, I said “Sure, sounds like fun!”.  Shortly after, race registrations were transferred and I was in. Then, I put it on the back burner of my mind.

Next thing I know, it is the middle of June and I decide to look at exactly what I signed up for (the short course)… “Hmmmm, ok 2+ miles swimming, 9+ miles running… I got this!”  Then, I printed off a course map to check into the details. This is when I realized this is a Big Deal that requires a lot of prep!! So glad this hit me in June and not a week before the event.

Casco Bay Islands SwimRun

SwimRun events started in Sweden in 2006, known as “ÖTILLÖ”, which means “Island to Island”.  They involve partners tethered together running across islands and swimming between them. The first event in the United States was held in 2016 in Casco Bay by Odyssey SwimRun (formerly SwimRun USA). The Casco Bay Islands SwimRun was cofounded by Jeff Cole of Kennebunk, Maine, who passed away in 2018. Currently, Odyssey SwimRun is producing three other races in the United States in 2019: Boston Harbor, Les Cheneaux, and Orcas.

Three Different Ways to Participate

There were three different ways to participate in the 2019 Casco Bay Islands SwimRun:

  1. Short Course Solo: The short course involved 2+ miles of swimming between 4 islands with 9+ miles of running on the islands.
  2. Short Course Team: This was the same as the short course, but partners participate and they are tethered together during the event.
  3. Long Course Team: The long course included 4+ miles of swimming between 10 islands with 17+ miles of running on the islands.

What Equipment Can Be Used?

There is some required equipment: a compass or GPS watch, a pressure dressing, and a swim buoy (for the solo event). Then, there are several optional items that can be used.

My Experience

Training

As I said above, I procrastinated on preparing for the event. However, once I realized what I was getting into, I quickly did my research! The short course race started and ended on Long Island. Fortunately, I have a friend who lives there, so she took me out to the island to check out parts of the course. I did the first swim from Long Island to Vaill Island while she paddle boarded along side me. Vaill Island is a small uninhabited island, that looked like a “short run” on the map. I was completely surprised with the terrain when we got there!

Vaill Island

We decided to make our way around the circumference of the tiny island. This involved rock climbing, dodging poison ivy, and maneuvering around washed up lobster traps. It also required careful footing on slippery seaweed covered rocks. It took me about 45 minutes to make my way around the island. I was a little frazzled, as I did not expect it. This was completely out of comfort zone!

Anyway, onward I went to swim back to Long Island. The swim was short as I came to a sandbar to cross, then back in the water to swim across Shark Cove. No sharks there, but the water was very cold. After this swim, my friend took me around the island to see some other parts of the course. We ran into some locals that had some very helpful advice and tips about the event. They forewarned me that the swim from Long Island to Chebeague Island had the potential to be very rough with strong currents. It did not disappoint on race day.

I learned a lot that day and truth be told, it scared the crap out of me! I went home and immediately started checking into specific equipment for the event. There was no way in Hell regular running shoes were going to cut it on those rocks. Also, I knew I needed all the help I could get, so time to find out about the shin floats, etc.

This quickly became a very expensive adventure as I ordered:

Fortunately, all the equipment came quickly…thank you Amazon! So, I was able to train it a few times before the event.

 

Pre-Race

I went to packet pick-up and the athlete meeting the day before the race. It was very informative and I found out that they had made a few last minute changes to the course. The run was shortened on Chebeague Island, and a rock scramble, beach run, and extra swim were added…Oh my! They reinforced that this event is NOT A TRIATHLON. In other words, athletes should be prepared and self-sufficient. Yes, there would be a few aid stations. However, people were not lining up handing out nutrition. In fact, we were given a collapsible cup to use to get water ourselves at the coolers.

Race Day

The long course race started at 6:30am and people were taken by ferry to Peaks Island where it started. I did the short course event, so I took a ferry to Long Island for the 8am start. It was a gorgeous day in Maine and I was excited to be participating in this adventure.

The course started with a 2 mile run on a dirt road down to the beach followed by about a 600 yard swim over to Vaill Island. Vaill Island proved to be a challenge again on race day to traverse, especially since I had all the equipment with me. However, I made it through and was happy to get back into the water.

The swim across Shark Cove was uneventful, but getting out of the water proved to be a challenge. The rocks were incredibly slippery and a I climbed up them on my hands and knees until I got closer to grass. At this point, I ran through someone’s yard back out to another dirt road. Then, there was a very narrow trail run through a forest that was rough for me as I have next to zero experience on trails.

However, I powered through and made it to the next swim. This was about 1,000 yard swim from Long Island to Chebeague Island. There was an aid station there and volunteers warning of the intense current near Chebeague Island.

Swim to Chebeague Island

The swim started off ok, but about half way across, I heard people yelling to stop. Then, I noticed a ferry heading through, so I treaded water as it passed. I was having trouble with my pull buoy, so I took the time to adjust it on my leg. The strap on it was too loose and I could not tighten it, so it kept flipping around. It was also very heavy and a huge pain in the butt while I tried to run with it.

As I got closer to Chebeague Island, I could feel the pull of the tide and it got stronger and stronger. In fact, it became so intense at one point that I felt like I was going no where. My friend had already made it on shore and said she could see me caught up in the current and it looked like I was swimming in an endless pool. That was exactly what it felt like too! Somehow, I broke out of it and made it to shore. I am not a fast swimmer, but I am a strong swimmer with a lot of open water experience. I have never experienced anything this rough before! I am so glad I had paddles to help pull me through.

Chebeague Island

After this, I was bit rattled and just wanted to make it through the rest of the event. I also started to have some serious GI distress as I had taken in a lot of salt water during my swimming struggle. Fortunately, this is where I saw my family! They had boated out to watch the event and it was the boost I needed, as I headed to the beach run and rock scramble.

Next up, was the short swim that was added. I ended up getting tangled up in mobs of seaweed…ugh! Then, back on Chebeague Island for the longest run of the day. Unfortunately, I was plagued with GI issues and did more of a run/walk to the next swim.

Chebeague to Little Chebeague

By the time I made it to this swim, the tide was low. So, what was supposed to be a short swim ended up being more of a seaweed crawl over to Little Chebeague Island. Once on Little Chebeague, it was more narrow trail running while dodging brush and fumbling with my pull buoy.

Next up, was the last swim of the day and I was feeling relieved! First, I ran on the beach to make it to the water. There were several people warning everyone of the ripping tide between the islands. They were right, the tide was so strong that one of my paddles flipped on my hand. I stopped to adjust it and held on to a boat anchor rope while doing so. As I hung on, my body was being pulled from the rope. I was only 20 yards from shore, so I angled my swim to the right of the beach and ended up at the far left side of the beach when I made it!

Yes, l made it to the last run of the day! As I exited the beach, volunteers were there checking off the names as people came out of the water. I shuffled my way along the dirt road over the next 2 miles to the finish line. What an adventure!!!

Will I do this again?

Of course it would have been an emphatic “NO” if you had asked me as I crossed the finish line. However, now that I have reflected on it, I am certain I will do it again. It was such an incredible challenge and unique experience. It also happens to be right in my backyard! It really was an incredible way to get to see the islands too. I am thinking of dubbing 2020 “The Year of Swimming” so this would be a great event to add to the list (but don’t hold me to it 😉 ).

So Tell Me…

Have you heard of ÖTILLÖ or SwimRun events? Have you ever participated in an event like this or would you in the future? Thank you so much for stopping by. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Have a great weekend!

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Tiffany

Tuesday 31st of December 2019

I would not do a SwimRun event. But it's cool to read about. :) Great job!

joyfulwellnessgirl

Wednesday 28th of August 2019

HUGE congrats! That sounds like an exhausting but also empowering race! It looks like your open water swim experience really helped you in the race! I often feel the NO about certain races, and then I sign up for them again :)

Julie

Tuesday 27th of August 2019

WOW!!!! This was such an adventure. It seems like a real challenge and you have a lot to be proud of for finishing!!!

Leslie

Tuesday 27th of August 2019

First of all, you are such an inspiration. I'm so impressed with your dedication and zeal to try new things! This would terrify me! Second, thank goodness you did your research when you did! These types of events can be scary if people don't know what to expect!

Coco

Tuesday 27th of August 2019

Wow, this sounds like an amazing and amazingly challenging event. Congrats for doing it -- and considering doing it again. I'd have to do a lot of swimming to train for something like this.