Otillo Malta 2019

SHORT REPORT
6:05:54 – 38th men, 63rd overall

LONG REPORT
At the briefing we discovered a couple of things: 1. This is the biggest Otillo race this year (210 pairs); and 2. The weather was going to be bad and the wind would pick up. It will be a westerly and thus the first swims (to the north east) would be sheltered but as we came round to the west side of the island it would be very rough. This meant two changes:

  • The 500m swim third from last would be cancelled. Not due to our ability to swim it but rather than they would not be able to have a safety boat in there in the predicted conditions
  • The final swim, which was the same as the first yesterday (which had such a difficult entry) would be shortened by changing the point we entered the swim.
    We calculated this would mean close to 1km of swimming lost and in it’s place couple of KM extra running – certainly not playing to our strengths.

Rachel, Mel and Paul kindly drove us to the start gaining us an hours sleep and reducing the time we were stood in the rain prior to the start. Everyone was in the start pen with 10 minutes to go just as it started to really tip down. There was some chanting of let us start before a Icelandic clapping chant started. It was quite impressive as everyone clapped their hand paddles getting quicker and quicker.

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Gun goes. Usual fast start. We’re running faster than we would normally but so much that were don’t start the swim in the second half of the field. We, apparently, pass over 30 pairs in that first 400m swim. This ended with an extremely slippy exit which gave a taste of what was in store for a large proportion of the entries and exits. Following this their continues a series of uninspiring 1km runs through town by the sea with various 100-500m swims across bays.Otillo Malta 2019

The second swim ended at a concrete wall with a lido behind it. I could see a small ledge/ crack in it horizontal just below the surface. The top was about 4ft above the water. I managed to get my foot on that and get enough grip on the top to perform a mantle shelf and get out. I was thinking how cool it was to have quite a neat technical exit when I spotted the steps most people were queuing for. We were still tethered so Andy unclipped and I waited for him to managed to get to the steps.

Later there was a 100m swim; short enough that Mel cheered us in and then pegged it round to Paul and Rachel to cheer us out. As we approached the entry we were told repeatedly how slippy the flat step we were stepping down to was. Even confirming it and joking about it Andy went flying straight on his arse. This prompted him saying to the Marshalls “you really must warn people this is slippy”.

The run now moved away from the buildings, with a mix of road, hard pack trail and rough rocky terrain.. It made for more interesting running but the scenery still was great. In fact, about the best thing was the waterpark we saw which prompted a short discussion about how cool it would be if they incorporated it.

49117503476_f3514ccc98_oNext up was the longest swim and finally the teams would be really separated. It was around a headland and there was a reasonable amount of swell already even on this side of the island. People seemed to be going wide but I kept left trying to minimise the distance. I was aware that with the swell it was perhaps not wise to be too close due to the waves but tried to judge it to balance short distance and better conditions. I think we managed a good course but as we turned I struggled to see the exit and had to stop a few times to get some water in my goggles. Andy pointed out a better feature to sight for which helps a lot. These are goggles I’ve raced with since we started and all season I’ve commented how bad they are but not changed them. (Note to self: chuck them out). As we got closer we could see Rachel. She has this top which is easier to see than the flags so she always wears so we can see her. I did a few strokes concentrating on ‘non windmill arm’ and hoped she’d notice. Perhaps I didn’t do non windmill despite thinking I did was there was no comment.

There was a short technical rocky run along the coast before a pretty choppy (they were getting choppier) swim across to a beach before another uninspiring run around the coast on a road with the sea one side and the town the other. It was pissing down and quite miserable but at least it was runnable. We were now in the bay our apartment was on and the first big crossing. It was yet another swim you could jump in for. The description of the exit was a little vague. I couldn’t see the flag but felt I saw an orange buoy just below the left end of this broad rectangular building. We set off and though it was ‘sheltered’ this only meant the swell was hitting this crossing. However, it was far enough out for a lot of wind chop to have built up. It proved difficult swimming. The chop would regularly cut my stroke or make me miss a breath. It meant it often took three or four sights before I timed it so I could see above the waves. It was also pushing us around. Normally when I sight I immediately see what I’m sighting on but on this swim every so often I’d be looking quite a way off and have to adjust. This was bad enough that on a couple of occasions Andy stopped to check I was heading for the right spot. I think it sounded like I snapped at Andy when he stopped us. I wasn’t intentionally doing this but think it’s just because in rough seas I’m a little on edge. After the swim I told Andy he’d done the right thing to stop us if I thought we were going wrong.

Yet again I spotted Rachel stood beside the flag before I saw the flag. The next section was possibly the low point. About 4km around the coast to the next bay. We’d been told at the briefing that, due to the rain, there’d be a tough section in the clay. We’d not expect it would be this bad. 4km almost totally through clay. It stuck to your shoes making them weight several KGs. It was so slippy so even flat paths were tough but when it undulated, and it did a lot, it was so slippy. The descents you had to commit to as trying to stop would just result in slipping. Andy was a lot better than me at this but I wasn’t he worst out there. In fact, some couples appeared to have lost all hope. Luckily for us we always abandon hope just before the start. In places, it was like sand dunes of clay which had us giggling at how slippy it all was. We tried walking on the ridges, in the valleys trying to find the most grip but it was all bad.

It took us over 40 minutes to get round this 4km section. Next up was another 1.4km crossing just like the previous one. Another vague thing to aim for – a kind of triangular wall on the other side. Though big, it immediately camouflaged itself in to the background once swimming. With the wind coming from the left I erred left a little to try and keep on track. The other side just never seemed to get any closer. WE also didn’t see any one till quite near the end it was reassuring to rapidly come upon a male pair. As we exited there were loads of people exiting and I commented “It’s strange how we can see no one all the way across then loads at the end’ to which Mel quickly quipped that that was because I’d took a different line to everyone else.

We were now running round the coast to the north of the island and we could really feel the wind. It was quite pleasant running here and far more scenic than earlier. A few pairs slowly passed us and we chatted a bit. Perhaps a little distracted we missed the turn. We’d kept following the others and slowly not seeng markers dawned on us. Eventually we stopped and reversed back on to the route. The other continued and looking later on Strava flyby we could see they had taken a longer course but kept going and came back to the course. Our turning back maximised our error but I felt better than it meant we’d done the right course. As we returned we could see more pairs a ways off to our left making the same mistake.

The next swim being hit properly by the weather and was very rough. It was in little bay and was only about 100m but required a large arc to get for start to finish. It was proper rough. It was fun.

Now the wind was hitting us full tilt and it was strong. It would take hold of your hand paddles and almost push you sideways. At one point I whacked Andy’s arm as we ran when a big gust hit. A short run found us at longer rough swim. Luckily there was a high rise that helped with the sighting as again it was rare to time your sighting well enough to see the flag.

Next up was the longest run which now was longer than expected as the 500m swim in the middle was remove. We walked up the hill along side the cancelled swim and you could see why it was cancelled. It was getting the full brunt of the wind and the waves crashing over the entry point was tremendous. This latter part of the course was the best running. Finally away from built up areas and the running was hilly and across a variety of terrain. It was hard going but eventually we ended up at the “Popeye” swim.

This starts with running in to the bizarre almost film set like village populated with various people dressed in costumes of the Popeye characters. We were rather distract by looking at the swim we were about to attempt – 200m across the bay with massive swell. We could make out the exit – with what looked like a 6-8 foot ladder where the hand hold looped over the top. We could see that the swell was such that at the low point the bottom was only just in water and when waves crashed over it completely swamped the ladder. It looked exciting to say the least. The entry was being swamped as well. The Marshall assured us we could do it to which we commented we liked rough water. This was rough. If we’d turned up for a training swim there is absolutely no way we would have got in to this. Swim muscled through the swell which was made worse by it rebounding off the cliffs making it very chaotic and impossible to time breathing to guarantee getting a breath. As we approached the steps we were rapidly catching two other male pairs. I decided to go max effort to try and hit the steps first. There was no way I could change my line so I went between them. I was ahead of the guy to my right but level with the guy to my left. As I approach the ladder I had to time releasing my right paddles and lunge to grab the bottom step. As I did a wave crashed through and washed us all left. I’d missed it. Now when I looked up the ladder was 2m to my right. I now went absolutely max. Holding my paddle with my fingers. I had to get it before the next wave. I got one hand on and held on for all I was worth as another wave crashed through. The guy to my left was clearly a weaker swimmer and hadn’t managed to get anywhere near. I quickly climbed up and had my hands near the top when another wave hit sweeping me off my feet. I was not letting go and ended up hanging from the ladder before getting my feet back on. The cord was at maximum stretch and I was ready to pull on it to help Andy. By now another swimmer had managed to grab the ladder. I was not letting go so hung to one side to let him climb up beside me. Finally Andy got on to the ladder and we climbed up and off. At that point another wave crashed through and almost swept Andy off his feet.

After the race we saw photos of the leaders coming through that section about 75 minutes ahead of us. It was nothing like this. In fact there were photos taken through the top of the ladder as swimmers approached it. When were there there was no way the photography could have been in that spot. Turns out that about 15 minutes after we went through they closed the swim. We feel very lucky to have done it. It was absolutely EPIC and great fun.

We were buzzing and near the end. This got us through this next run and I actually ran pretty darn good down hill on this section. I must have because Andy even commented I was running well.

All we had left was the final amended swim and this was quite a sting in the tail. It started with a very steep descent down disconcertingly dilapidated stairs. It then went down to a small concrete ramp which was being completely swamped by massive waves. The marshal suggests walking out along this wall to the left of the ramp but I didn’t not fancy it as you could be swept towards the cliffs from there. I felt if I was in the ramp the wall would stop me. (Seeing photos later this was a wise choice). I was swept off my feet several times, with Andy stopping me going too far, before I just went for it and swam out head up, goggles off to clear the waves and fix my goggles. We could see how big the surf was and after trying to catch them a couple of times I felt we would be better unclipped. I stopped and suggested this. Not sure, can’t remember, whether I really waited for Andy’s reply before I unclipped. I caught the odd wave. They felt big and in quick succession so only limited time to get ready for the next. Each time preparing myself to be tumbled which never quite happened.

I arrived on shore and waited for Andy. Then I noticed we’d actually passed another male pair who were just trying to get out of the surf. I shouted to Andy to hurry. Despite not looking that impressed he did and we managed to run up the improvised finish chute (the original had blown down) to finish just ahead of them.

I was buzzing. The second half of this race had been a lot better that the first and the final part had made the it truly memorable.

Thats the 5th OtillO race Andy and I have done this year and it’s done wonders for our ranking* which should guarantee us a place in the World Champs next year.

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