Team Australia , One Water Race Report 2023, by Julian Dent
After competing in the inaugural One Water Race in 2022, Team Australia made up of Glenn Wilkinson, Elizabeth Dornom, Rob Preston and myself, Julian Dent were all keen to return in 2023 to try and go one better than the 2nd place finish we achieved in the first edition of OWR. The whole experience in 2022 was so enjoyable that despite the pain and suffering over 50 hours in the 1st edition, Glenn, Liz and Rob seemed totally dedicated to come back and do one better. Discussions quickly turned to what could be improved and where our weaknesses were as a team during the 2022 race. As self proclaimed Swimrun first timers in OWR 2022 there were some areas which certainly could be improved to try and reach that top step.
Central Coast, Australia. June 2023
Our team gathered for a training camp on the Central Coast of New South Wales to test new equipment and develop our weaknesses which we had identified from OWR 2022. Our focus really shifted to swimming and our efficiency in the water, testing paddles, pull buoys and different tow lines. Swimming with migrating whales and reef sharks was a little different to the Stockholm archipelago but kept us entertained during the long ocean swims. We were able to build that team feeling and improve our swim speed. This would make a significant difference to our overall speed in OWR. We finished the camp confident in our equipment choices and motivated to focus on swim training during the final months before OWR 2023. Elizabeth would also prepare by competing in the 24-hour World Rogaining Championships in the USA before making her way to Sweden.
Stockholm, Sweden. August 2023
The team gathered in Sickla, Stockholm at our number one supporters house, Nicolas Ramires of Team Envol Swimrun. Some easy Swimruns were organized in the lakes and forest of Stockholm to test the water and find our feet in the Swedish forest again. We were confident in our routines from last year. We completed our shopping for food, drinks and nutrition and settled into the race hotel to rest up for the race. We were aware of the potential for much tougher conditions during the race compared to OWR 2022.The first initial lake swims felt much fresher than a year earlier, so it was clear that managing the cold and just reaching the finish line would be the biggest challenge. Plenty of time was spent in some Swedish saunas prior to the race to help build some warm memories and we would certainly be looking forward to this after the race.
The professional organization of OWR is an honor to be part of and while watching all the logistics come together in Arholma, silent trepidation grew within the team as we knew what lay ahead from last year. Our agreed game plan was very similar to last year. Goal 1 - keep moving and get to the lighthouse. To get there we needed to focus on our own race and routines. Eat, drink, keep moving, minimize the navigation errors.
Race morning again turned on the fine weather and with positive reports about the water temperature warming up, Glenn, Liz and Rob were keen to get started and get moving towards the Landsort Lighthouse. Stage 1 started smoothly with similar islands to OWR 22. However, CP 1 was definitely further east which meant more distance in the trip to Landsort. This would set the tone for the remainder of the course with extra distance added by the increased zig-zagging to CP’s throughout the route.
One small navigation error on an early island set us back around 5 minutes, otherwise we settled into a familiar second position around 10 minutes behind Team 7 SWE/AUS. We found ourselves around 15 minutes behind Team 7 at CP 1. We opted for a simple route to CP 2 which included some long runs and long swims. The feedback from Glenn, Liz and Rob was positive about the water temperature and they felt OK in the water and were not too cold.
We finished stage 2 after a 20km run on Yxlan and 32 minutes behind Team 7. Glenn, Liz and Rob were in positive spirits and traveling well.
This section traveling south to the Island of Möja is characterized by many smaller islands and we knew that it had potential for route choice differences which could create big time differences. The afternoon wind had disappeared and the conditions for swimming were excellent with the team feeling very comfortable in the water. With sunset approaching, as a team we felt we could take advantage of these conditions by aiming to reach the island of Möja in daylight. The team really looked smooth together in the evening twilight and with no wind the conditions were great for swimming. We could see Team 7’s boat just to our left throughout the swim as they island hopped not far from us. We could see we were closing the gap significantly. This was a great mental boost for our team going into the first night where the technical tricky islands awaited, an area of strength for our team. We reached CP 2 23 minutes behind Team 7 and we knew we were within striking distance with the colder conditions setting in during the night.
With some technical orienteering directly through the night, Team 2 navigated smoothly through the tricky islands and hit the lead of OWR for the first time at CP 4, 11 minutes ahead of Team 7 Sweden. This gave the team a real boost to keep moving and pushing through the first night as they were warm and taking on energy really well. We continued to move south and executed our route choices smoothly though till dawn when we arrived at the large island of Runmarö. The clear calm skies made the conditions enjoyable as we watched our lead grow to the teams behind. By this time the news of Team 7 pulling out of the race had come through to us. This just reinforced our focus on our own routines; eating and drinking and just kept moving towards Landsort. The weather really helped during the day towards CP 6 & 7. Crossing some magical islands in warm weather and no wind gave our team a good feeling during the second 24 hours of the race. We saw moose swimming between islands, the water was warming up and we were navigating and moving smoothly. By the time we arrived to CP 7 we were very keen to see the remainder of the course and what route choices would be available.
As we arrived at CP 7 with a 3 hour lead over Team 5 Canada/Aus/Sweden we knew the race for us was just to get to Landsort. When we received the maps for the next stage there were some very big swims to get across to the large island of Örnö. As we closed in on CP 8 our movement had slowed down and Rob made a small navigation error of around 10 minutes. This created a good conversation within the team about rest and when would be a good time to have a strategic rest. We knew the race was planned for a longer winning time this year compared to last year, so we had discussed the possibility of having a short sleep on the second day or night. Once the team arrived at CP 8 we knew this would be the best strategy. Luckily Liz was able to get a good 50 minutes of sleep, while Glenn and Rob had some rest but were not able to sleep due to the constant buzz of mosquitoes. The team started off again after a good feed and bit of rest into the dark of night two. Luckily the rest ensured Rob carried out some very focussed navigation and we didn’t have any significant nav errors through night two, making it to the end of Utö for sunrise. Although it was a welcome sight to be coming into the third day and daylight again. It also was quite sobering to think we still had such a long way to go to get to Landsort, even after we had been racing for 48 hours. We battled through the rough islands of Alö and CP 11 then prepared for the big swim across Danziger Gatt on the wharf at Nättarö before our final push to Landsort. We set off in the morning light across Danziger Gatt feeling nervous for what lay ahead. On the one hand we felt really positive that Glenn would have some really clear navigation points to aim towards in the daylight, as compared to last year when we did this swim in the darkness. However, after 48 hours of racing already behind us, the challenge of swimming 6.2km, which would turn into 7.2km due to water currents, was still immense. We planned some nutrition stops along the way to break up the swim, but due to wind and currents these were not as effective as we had hoped. Despite a close call with a ferry and stuttered nutrition the team reached the end of the swim in the warm sun with an enormous sense of relief and realization that, yes, we could and would make it to Landsort. The team took on some quick energy and kept moving to get warm in the sun. Although the big swim was done, the part no one talked about was still to come after just 1 km of running. The next 1.8km swim to CP 12. This turned out to be the most stubborn swim of the race. Directly into the headwind which was starting to gather strength, this seemed to take an eternity as the Blue OWR CP 12 inched closer. Finally we arrived at CP 12 to receive our final set of maps which would take us to Landsort.
When we received the maps at CP 12 which showed our final route to Landsort, we were very relieved to see it contained minimal swimming! After 9 km of swimming over the previous 4 hours the team were looking forward to some running on land to finish off OWR. The sun was out and the team warmed up as they moved smoothly and directly through the rough forest to the final island of Landsort. The mood was really positive and the desire to finish stronger than ever as we could sense the victory was near. With the evening light providing a great backdrop the feeling of elation to finally reach the island of Landsort was just incredible. After countless islands throughout the race, to reach the final one knowing we had a clear lead was something very special. The team ran well along Landsort and closed in on the lighthouse with the sun setting in the distance. To climb those steps and finally place our hands together on the lighthouse door as winners of OWR 2023 is a moment we will all never forget! This is what we returned for in 2023. To win OWR after our second place a year earlier. Many hours of preparation had gone into this moment and the feeling of pride among the team was strong.
We would like to thank Thomas and Patrik for creating such a challenging and immense competition, which is run in such a professional manner. It is truly an honor to be part of such an incredible event.
We look forward to defending our title in 2024!