Paul's Racing Otillo 2018 (On Monday!)

Swim Smooth's Head Coach and Founder Paul Newsome is racing at the ÖtillÖ World Championships on Monday - a mighty swim-run multisport event taking place in south east Sweden.

The race starts at 6am Swedish time (5am in UK, 12pm in Perth, 2pm in Sydney, 12am NYC, 9pm Los Angeles). There's a full live video feed which you can enjoy here:

On his way from Perth to Sweden, Paul's filmed us a special run-through about training for the event and what it means in the wider context of his life. Whether you're interested in swim-run events yourself or the enjoyment and fulfilment of overcoming challenges, it's well worth watching:

Paul gives us a bit more background:

On Monday 3rd September 2018 I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate in what will undoubtably be my biggest ultra endurance challenge to date, the ÖtillÖ SwimRun World Championships in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden. It’s a challenge which fills me with dread and excitement in equal measure, given how the event will likely take 10+ hours and will see us covering 75km comprised of 10km of open water swimming and an unfathomable 65km of trail running.

I’ll be lining up alongside my teammate and former University triathlon training / racing partner, Andy Blow (founder of Precision Hydration who sponsor the event) as we race together “against” 160 other duo teams from right around the world, all of whom have qualified to take on what many believe to be the hardest endurance event anywhere on the planet.

I say “against” simply because one of the beauties about this particular event is that the sensation whilst racing is an awareness of other teams around you but the need to focus totally upon the synchronicity and team-work being played out between you and your partner to make it across the terrain in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. The racing aspect is almost secondary, team work is everything, and that’s a unique thing all in itself for ultra endurance events and what makes this event so appealing and intriguing on so many levels.

Many people believed that myself and Andy were once literally joined at the hip (you be the judge - see pics below!) we’re the exact same height, weight, shoe size, separated by only 3 weeks in age, both studied Sport & Exercise Science at Bath University between 1997 and 2001, both competed for Great Britain on the British elite junior and U23 teams and are both to this day still actively engaged in the world of endurance events through our respective companies.

We were the best of mates and operated on a level in training and racing whereby we brought out both the best and worst in each other (given the competitive soloist nature of our chosen sport, triathlon, and our own adolescent development). Nine times out of ten though, our understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses saw our collective strength equalling much more than the sum of it’s two parts. But like many, sadly we drifted apart after University and it wasn’t until the sad passing at the age of just 46 of our good friend and mentor Julian Jenkinson in 2016, that we jointly reached out to each other and decided to aim to qualify for the World Championships in Sweden together as a team once more; we’re very much getting the “band back together again” you could say 😉. 

In many ways, we are the perfect pairing for such an event and the shared goal of doing this together on the eve of our respective 40th birthdays has reignited this friendship. For that, I am truly grateful. And that’s what this sport does, it brings people together on a level which belies the outsider’s perspective that this is just a “Mickey Mouse sport” with it’s maverick “anything goes” attitude towards equipment rules and regulations. SwimRun is so much more than that.

The very birth of the sport of SwimRun in 2007 started with this particular event, which is very much seen as the “grand-daddy” of them all. To this day, it’s still the longest and hardest event of them all. I’ve now competed in three such SwimRun events in the last three years, each of which have totalled about 38km of racing. On Monday, we’ll be doing double that, and in much harsher terrain too. 26 individual “legs”, 52 transitions, a total of 10km of open water swimming in the Baltic Sea and 65km of gnarly trail running over rocks, boulders, through dells, marshes and world-class single track. The longest swim leg will be 1,700m (just over a mile) and the longest run (occurring at about 6 or 7 hours into the event) will be a half marathon of 21km (or 13 miles). “Epic” on a whole different level.

Pain will be on the menu for this one, and pacing for a long day at the office will be an essential ingredient; neither of which have been my personal strengths over the years, but they are Andy’s, and I’m hoping that through the symbiotic literal umbilical cord of our silicon tether that this proves to be the ultimate measure in self improvement. Maybe so, maybe not, we’ll see.

The other angle to this challenge for me is purely personal. In 2013 I suffered a back injury which, at the age of 35, required major spinal surgery. It was just months after the highest of highs from winning the world’s longest marathon swim event (a 46km or 28.5 mile circumnavigation of New York City). Business was going gangbusters and everything in the garden was rosy. Life was where I wanted it to be.

But within months I wasn’t able to function at all - work was nigh on impossible and I had to bypass playing with my young kids in favour of heavy pain-killers and anything that would numb the pain. I found myself convincing myself that one or three glasses of wine a night was totally acceptable given how much I perceived I was dealing with. I was a miserable mess and heavily depressed, fearing I’d never be able to return to a functional life, let alone the type of sporting events that I have come to love.

The slippery slope had begun, but I frequently told myself that this was “OK” at my age. Added to this, the notion of my 40th birthday (which is next week) began to loom over my head and a very troublesome 2016 / 2017 with respect to copyright and trademark infringements of my baby, Swim Smooth, seemingly left, right and centre brought me to a cross-roads. A mid-life crisis loomed ominously. Sink or swim. I sank at first, deeply.

But with the help of friends, family, my psychologist Peter and particularly the sure-footed advice, support, and wisdom of my other partner in all of this, Adam Young (a truly unsung hero and someone who was dealing with all of that above as well as my response to it and the unexpected passing of his own father at the same time), I began to resurface and focus on something that has truly brought me back to life. A goal.

In my literal foetus-like defensive demeanour following the issues of 2016 / 2017, I was doing anything possible to seek “comfort” and “protection” from the big bad world, but ironically was steering myself further and further away from what truly brings me to life, being on the edge of my comfort zone. I think that in today’s world of technology and creature comforts, it’s so easy to lose track of what really fires you up and brought you to the pursuit of sport in the first place.

I’ve put together this video diary (a whopping 46 minutes) which discusses in further detail what the process of training up to this event has looked like from a training perspective, from a management of mid-life niggles viewpoint, from a balancing work, life, and a young family overview and to give further insight into what we are likely to tackle on Monday, both physically and emotionally with some excellent footage courtesy of the ÖtillÖ SwimRun World Championships.

I hope you enjoy it and I hope it helps you find the edge of your own comfort zone, because trust me, that’s where you will really find where life begins.


Andy Blow (left) and I racing triathlon back in the 90s. I don't think we're at all alike do you? 

With my beautiful wife Michelle

My two fantastic kids Jackson & Isla 
Racing the Rottnest Swim-Run with super-fish and close friend Brad Smith

Great team-work is essential with Swim-Run events.


Bill Schwabenland said...

Great story! Thanks for sharing your journey.

I have only just heard about SwimRun this past week as they have added an event near where I live in the Seattle area (event is in the San Juan Islands on some awesome terrain) and I am considering trying it next year. I understand that they make a special SwimRun wetsuit that you wear the whole time - but what do you do about shoes?

With that kind of terrain you must need some pretty gnarly trail shoes; you don't swim with those, right? Do you carry them in a dry bag?

Anonymous said...

I have been one of Paul’s squad swimmers here in Perth since not long after he moved to Claremont Pool - I guess about 2010. Despite swimming in the squad 2/3 times a week, I can attest that at no time did Paul allow his problems in either 2013 or 2016/17 to affect his professionalism with his squad. It is a tribute to his personality and character that he always displayed enthusiasm towards us all. It has been great to see him move through this bad time and into something that he is doing for himself.

Good luck Paul!

Anonymous said...

Yes I second that. Always coming across totally positive and encouraging - I'm amazed you've not let any of it impact on your interactions with your squad. Life will always throw these tough things at us and to come through the other side - maybe a bit bruised, hopefully stronger and certainly wiser is the key to life itself. Thank you Paul- you are my inspiration.

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