The ÖtillÖ World Championships 2021

The End or Just a Beginning?

If you have been following our blog you might be expecting the father-son swimrun odyssey to reach its glorious end. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Max’s knee started hurting mid-race at the Utö World Series in June. A lingering injury that put him out of the Swimrun World Champs on September the 6th. Super-Sub Niklas Lindskog stepped in. You will hear from them both later.

The Old Man: I always get nervous before big races. It isn’t some self-inflated idea that I can compete at the business end of the race, but as Steve Prefontaine immortalized “to give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift” and I think in some ways, would dishonor the race organizers, the hundred-plus volunteers and the amazing athletes that we would share the day with. With that thought in mind, I boarded the bus that would take us to the Djurönäset Hotel where all the 157 qualifying teams would meet for the registration and race briefing.

I had been following a training program designed by swimrun evangelist, founder, and Envol head coach Nico Remires. The guidance and camaraderie of Nico and Team Envol athletes had been fantastic, an amazing 44 of the field represented his swimrun coaching squad. After registration, Michael Lemmel, the spiritual god-father of the ötillö race, took us through an emotional race briefing. The atmosphere was electric!

At about 21:30 we called it a day and headed back to our room for the final kit check. Even with race nerves, I managed to sleep well before the 03:30 alarm and a simple breakfast. My Whoop (recovery tracker) said 95%, the taper had been perfect. At 04:20 we were packed and making our way through the dark night on a short walk to the water’s edge where a ferry would take us to Sandhamn and the start. The sun slowly emerged above the horizon as we reached the harbor and we were welcomed by the sight of some friendly faces that would follow us by boat during the race. The start would be 06:00 sharp.

The Day Breaks in Sandhamn

We settled toward the back of the start pen and as the gun sounded we followed the procession as it slowly gathered pace through the winding gravel streets on the 1200m run to the beach. I had been a little worried about the water temperature (less than 15 degrees) but it felt fine as I stuck to Niklas’ feet and settled into an easy rhythm stealing views to my left as the orange sky started to fill the day with light. 1750m later we hit Vindalsö and joined the steady procession in front. These next islands are rocky with lots of very technical ‘trails’ so we were in no rush to take places. At Time 3 as we hit Runmarö 10km into the race the watch said 1:32 – so far so good. 

The Runmarö leg is the first of the longer runs, almost 9km with an energy station midway at Time 4. As we ran through we saw that Nico’s partner had been injured and was receiving medical help, they don’t call it the sharp end of the race without reason! Unfortunately, the race ended for them there. We kept a steady work rate through this amazing landscape, mindful to take on fluids with a rough plan to take a gel every hour and additional salt/electrolytes every second. 

Game Face!

The Ötillö World Championship course is a true point to point taking the path of least resistance 75km from Sandhamn to Utö across and through whatever nature put in the way. The course was well marked for race day and we took it one section at a time winding south. My friends were picking up Max at Mörtö and I was looking forward to seeing them on the course. But first, we would see Niklas’ wife Ingela volunteering at the Nämdo Solvik energy station, refueled and reenergized, we continued.

We met The Boy at the 5-hour mark at the end of Mörtö (36.3 km). Now it would be a few short runs and swims before the infamous “pig swim”. At 1400m not the longest swim but one which is often cold, exposed and at this point in the race known for sapping energy. A gel later we were in the water and taking a right curved track to work with the currents as we fought our way to Kvinnoholmen.

Old legs were taking their time to get going again after cold immersion, but we knew that at the 47km mark the big run on Ornö would start. First a 12 km stretch to the energy station at the Ornö church and then another 8 km to Time 15 and the final cut-off. For this run, we put on a tether, the emotional and physiological swimrun umbilical cord that joins two souls in the pursuit of suffering.

We saw our fantastic supporters again at the church and with renewed resolve ran those last kilometers to the swim that would take us to Kullbäling and the 5km series of short swims and technical scrambles. With heavy legs, we landed on Utö for the final 3km of easy gravel until the final 600m winding up the final hill to an emotional side-by-side sprint to the finish line. Job done! 65km of running and 10km of swimming in 10 hours 41 minutes of steady effort. No major dips, no drama, just a great day out sharing the adventure – a race plan well executed.

The Boy: An anticlimactic end to a very special adventure. Two plus years of exploring the long neglected, innate love or maybe drive for endurance in me that resides within all humans. When doing something like this you have to put a lot of your metaphorical training eggs in one basket. As a complete nerd of human health, let’s just say that it’s suboptimal. But being able to say that you’ve competed in the world championships in a team event, with your father makes all of the time spent in the swimrun trenches worth it. It is bittersweet that I can’t say that now, and might never. 

I know more about human health than most, yet I make mistakes I shouldn’t. In late April I ran the last 45km to support my friend’s solo 160K Ultra with barely no running in my legs. After the run my hip was nagging me. I took two weeks off from running. And came back hard. Starting off with a fast interval session pacing Niklas and then the day after doing a solid swimrun around Kärsön. My left knee started complaining almost instantly. With 6 weeks until Utö the pain wasn’t bad enough to rest so I just kept on training. 

June 20th, the knee felt good. No complaining, no nagging pain while sleeping, ready to go I thought. The first 2 hours felt great. We held a solid pace, keeping up with some strong teams. I was feeling good and decided it was my time to pull on a swim for probably the first time since we started. I swam hard. Zooming by teams in the water and looking back every now and then to make sure The Old man was on my heels. Coming out of the water I felt like a wolf about to chase down its target. Eager to start I made the transition quick. I had failed to keep The Old Man on my heels and he had worked hard to keep up with me in the water. For the first time since the start The Old man’s suffering became apparent. 

After my strategic mistake we had settled into a more steady pace. On one of the islands in the middle of nowhere about 3 hours into the race we got passed by a team. One of the members turns around and says “nu börjar det kännas va?”. Literally two seconds later my knee starts complaining. For the rest of the race every step comes alongside a stabbing pain in the front of my left knee. 

The day after was bad. The weeks after were even worse. I could only walk with a straight leg, I woke up many times during the night and had to turn to one side with a straight leg before bending it. The hope of doing the ÖtillÖ WC slowly faded as reality set in. The thought of a two year journey that turned into three (thanks COVID) not reaching its opus magnum was sad. But as the stoics have taught me. Reality is what it is, accept it and be graceful and so I was. 

The Old Man still got to do it so that made the blow easier to take. Viewing the race from the outside makes me appreciate this epic race even more. It is one hell of a spectacle. The people who do it are insane in the very best of ways. While watching the finish I cannot say I didn’t imagine myself running that last hill. The idea of doing the WC next year is on the surface appealing. But knowing what it takes to get ready for it I don’t know if it is worth it. This might be an anticlimactic end to a great story or the beginning of a new one. I guess we’ll see in a couple of months if I can be tricked (again).

The Super-Sub: It´s been an absolute honor stepping in at a very late stage to be a small piece of the puzzle in finalizing the endeavor that The Old man and The Boy set out to do. To be honest the ÖtillÖ WC was not at all on my radar until late July. I have always considered it too long a race, not an event for me. This is a race for real athletes with endurance skills and experiences way above my capacity, so when the question came I did not know what to say. Is he serious? Does he think I can do it? 

There must be plenty of more capable and motivated candidates in The Old Man´s network, which anyone that knows the old bugger will confirm is an enormous spider’s web of runners, triathletes and swimrunners. And yes, there are plenty of more capable endurance athletes that would have brought more to the table than I could, but I came to recognize that a match in motivation, comradery and race day mind-set meant more to The Old Man than I first understood. 

Niklas Super-Sub

So with that, and an honest set of expectations plus a positive anointing from The Boy, I accepted the challenge – or more truthfully, my wife Ingela did. She was on board way before me! Therefore, with a prompt 90-degree shift in training focus from roller-skis to running, the preparations began. The rest is history. I was given a chance, I took it, and had a great day in the archipelago with a great friend. I sincerely hope that I met the expectations and the trust invested in me from both the older and younger Jenkinson. So would I, will I do it again? We will see. Ingela and I are now trying to get enough ranking points in the mixed class to get a bib in next year’s race. I Hope The Old man and The Boy will join us on that journey too.

The Old Man (again): I’d like to thank everyone that has been part of the three years it took to get to Monday’s race. Magdalena, Max, Niklas, Nico, The Westside Swimrunners, The Peking Seals, The Marauders, Team Envol, Bromma Sim, Ängby Runners, Stockholm City Tri, Mikkeller Running Club and many others; training buddies that shared early morning pool sessions and amazing days in nature. Thanks too to the volunteers, without you, we couldn’t even start to enjoy the suffering. Finally enormous gratitude to the ötillö race series organizers fronted by Michael Lemmel and Mats Skot. Coming to Utö feels more like you are being invited into someone’s home than to a race venue. Truly special.

The Bloody Bar Keeps Moving!

For eight weeks leading to last Sunday, I took part in Whoop’s Project PR which was a recovery-based structured run training program for the 5000m distance. Whoop is a wrist-based sensor with a big-data backend that automatically tracks your body’s unique physiological state to determine your personal readiness to perform each day.

There are four key metrics that make up the Recovery Percentage: Heart Rate Variability (HRV), Resting Heart Rate (RHR), Respiratory Rate, and Hours of Sleep. So each day I am given a recovery score, 0-33% Red, 34-66% Yellow and 67-100% Green. The program gave slightly different volume and intensity workouts depending on the result.

A year ago I had never run under 19 minutes for the distance. This summer I had only managed 18:32 but I had an ambitious sub-18 goal in mind and two pacers I’d instructed to hold me to it. The attempt was scheduled for Sunday the 6th of December incidentally the same day that Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie would attempt to set a new world record for the half marathon in Valencia.

We both had perfect 7-degree running conditions and we both smashed our records, him in 57:32 and me in 17:33.

Rediscover Your Mission

My time pales in comparison to Kandie but I was actually the fastest 50-59 age grouper by a good margin and 25th overall from the 2500+ Whoopers that recorded a result on race day.

Yet only a few days later I was less impressed with myself. This is something I believe psychologists call “arrival fallacy” where you easily adjust to this new state of being so much so that actually achieving a goal turns out to be less satisfying than expected.

That’s just stupid, the joy of those good days should be savored so I have intentionally dedicated a little thought-time to re-orient back to the mission. The pursuit of a better me, valuing the process over the end result.

Value The Process Over The End Result

I am happy that the process worked and I am very proud of the result, but it isn’t the result that brings me the most satisfaction. The camaraderie I get from my training groups and buddies of all abilities is all the joy and motivation I need.

I was humbled that friends and family turned up to cheer. That my pacers Johan and Thomas were willing to give up their time was a major motivation, and I was driven by a need to honor that commitment. With four laps to go, I had to get the shovel out and dig really deep to stick with them.

A week later I remind myself to enjoy the achievement but recommit to the process and focus on the question of what I can do daily that moves me forward – simple things that are to be done well every day.

Recognize That Success is Fluid

Success is fluid. There will always be faster (and slower) athletes, the pursuit of being the best you can be is multi-faceted and is a very individual journey of growth. Define success on your own terms and embrace the many opportunities you encounter along the way.

I suggest that rather than having only fixed end-goals it is important to view training as a succession of practices that build an imperfect yet wonderful big picture. In these chaotic months of the pandemic, this has never been more true. Greatness and that is YOUR greatness comes from years of grit, effort, and many stumbles along the way – so I encourage you to enjoy every second of it!

Hope to see you along the way. 

Tom J

Stockholm December 2020.

Every Journey Has a Beginning

C-19 may have put a few bumps on the road but 2020 has been a special year for me, not only did I hit the big 50 but 2020 also marked the ten year anniversary of my start in endurance sports. We all have our stories, this is mine. Some people cross your path and change your whole direction. Mike Porter is one of those people. 

One of the many Sunday long runs with Ängby Runners

Hitting 40 and simultaneously leaving an alpine skiing coaching role left me with time to try other sporting pursuits. I started training for a marathon loosely directed by a friend who’d been trying (and failing) to go sub 4 hours in his previous attempts. My past performances, 50+ minute 10km races and half marathons around the 2hr mark would suggest that such a goal would be appropriately challenging. Mike had other ideas! 

Sthlm City Tri Champs 2020 – About to run from 9th to 4th place

Mike was over in Sweden visiting his brother and I agreed to take him on one of the local trail runs. After that run, my new goal was to run a Boston Qualifying time! Madness you might think? I know I did, but Mike saw potential and I was willing to follow his plan.

An early race – hoping the finish line comes before my head explodes!

At the same time, my 4 hour friend lent me a book, Dr. Nicholas Romanov’s Pose Method of Running. This predated the March 2011 release of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run which popularized the idea of “natural” running. At that time I had no idea about different running philosophies. But we can go back even further. Gordon Pirie a 5000m and 10000m 1952, 1956 and 1960s Olympian was telling a similar story decades before (see LINK).

Ängby Runners Beer Mile 2020 (5th Place)

The shoes I was using at the start of 2010 were recommended by a leading running store after video analyzing my gait. As a heel striking over-pronator I was recommended a pair of Nike stability running shoes. After reading Pose I ditched them for the most minimal racing flats I could find and started running with a fore/midfoot strike. The change was instant, as if I’d released a hand-break. Running was suddenly a state of freedom and flow.

Running trail with the Boy

Three months later I lined up at the Frankfurt Marathon successfully crossing the line in 3hrs 15 in all I can say was a truly transcendental experience. A year later my 10k PB was 38:22 and I’d embarked on a journey that would lead to my own swimming and triathlon coaching passion.

Gubbing the Competition
Ängby ROH – Fast 5k

Back to 2020, if you read my Blog Post on the Four Disciplines of Execution you’ll know that I had an ambitious plan to podium at the 70.3 Triathlon in Staffordshire. That race obviously didn’t happen but in the month of that race the numbers were lining up. I estimated that I’d need a swim threshold pace of 1:34/100, a run vLT of 4:02 (roughly equivalent to a 10k race result of 00:39:10) and a bike Functional Threshold Power (FTP) of over >3.7 w/kg (260w at 70kg) to have a chance. So how did I do?  I was at 1:32/100 for the swim, running 10k twice under 38 minutes (new PB 37:26) and a bike FTP of 264w and with a weight at 68kg that gave 3.9w/kg. You never know what happens on race day so I’ll reserve judgement, but I was proud of the work I’d put in. With the races moved to 2021 I’ll even get a second chance!

First time under 38 mins May 2020

Covid has also given me time to open new doors and meet other people. I am very glad to have met the Team Envol swimrun crowd. The head coach Nicolas Remirez shares a passion for hard work, natural running and French wine and I hope to get more involved with their training and coaching sessions next year. See also the BLOG on the Envol swimrun training camp Max and I attended HERE. When Utö was cancelled at short notice we went to the island to what turned out to be an impromptu swimrun festival. We had a great weekend.

Swimrun Gathering on Utö after Late Race Cancellation

Another new acquaintance is Matt Hill from Masters of Tri, recently moved to Stockholm and quickly established himself in the triathlon and swim scene. I have always been a bit of a Brett Sutton fanboy and Matts’ no-fuss approach to the essence of performance has been an inspiration. After all, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication! Matt has been involved with my Bromma and Stockholm City Triathlon swim squads and I’m sure that cooperation will continue.

Sunday Track Session With MOT Matt

The Boy and I still have the Hvar World Series Swimrun event in November which should be a great end to 2020. Then we’ll be looking forward to 2021 – Grit is the Shit!

The Boy wondering if he had properly understood Coach Nico’s hydration advice

Post-Script: A couple of years back Mike Porter left Vancouver for Newfoundland and his current passion is bringing high-quality spinning classes to anyone, anywhere, on any bike- at the gym, at home, or in a hotel. Check him out at www.positiveedge.ca

Nothing Great is Easy!

The ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship Course – Total Distance: 74680m. Trail Running: 65135m. Run Sections: 24. Swimming: 9545m. Swim Sections: 23. Longest Swim: 1750m. Longest Run: 19700m. Course Record in 2018, Fredrik Axegård and Alex Flores (SWE) Team Sport Office in a total time of 7 hours 39 minutes 25 seconds.

The Old Man: Nothing great is easy. It’s a good epitaph by channel swimming pioneer Captain Matthew Webb, but then he did die swimming the rapids at Niagara Falls! Obviously, not all ideas are good. That said, signing up for the Envol ötillö racecourse two-day swimrun camp was definitely one of my better ones.

Lotsen Hostel on Dalarö

We recently got notice that the Aug 31st 2020 Championship race would be cancelled. Fortunately, as a 24/7 qualifying team, we were one of the lucky few that got to keep their place in 2021. The Boy may not feel so fortunate, but he can fill you in on that later. Even before the announcement, I realized that there was a degree of uncertainty around the race and I really wanted the opportunity for us to do the course together this year. You never know what the future may bring. When I saw that Envol Swimrun was putting on a training camp covering the race course in two days I jumped at the opportunity and signed us up.

We were to start at 08:00 from Sandhamn Saturday 8th August and follow the racecourse over the 75km point to point course to Utö. To avoid a very early start the Boy and I stayed over with friends on the island of Sandhamn and joined the group on the waterfront at 07:45. After a quick briefing we were off!

What a team! [photo @cataxel]

An easy 1200m run through the sandy trails and we hit the beach for the first and longest swim. In most swimruns you participate in teams of two, for me that is one of the great dynamics of the sport. The Boy has become a strong paddle & pull buoy swimmer but suggested that he take this first 1750m on the tow-line drafting. We’d missed the introductions on the boat but I was surprised by how strong the swimmers were. In the normal weekend-warrior scenarios we tend to be among the stronger teams in the water but here we were mid-pack. We realized that many of Envol’s French top athletes had joined us for the first day. These guys were flying!

The Boy leading the charge! [photo @cataxel]

I had never been on the course before and the first thing that struck me was that this was a true point to point race. This wasn’t a carefully designed racecourse, this was whatever nature threw at you. Each island had its character, few were alike. We were blessed with blue skies, air temp in the mid-20s and water temp 14 to 17-degree range. Perfect conditions for our two-day adventure.

Point to Point Sandhamn to Utö

We called it a Saturday wrap after approximately 36km of amazing swimrunning at the southern tip of Mörtö and were taxied by rib-boat to the Lotsen hostel in Dalarö. There we spent a fantastic evening getting to know the other swimrunners, enjoying Envols’ wonderful hospitality and even getting some welcome recovery rehab from Igor (Igisport), one of the Envol instructors and the camp physio rehab/prehab genius.

Look who’s wearing the big pants!

The next day we were back at Mörtö before 09:00 and on our way again. Day two would have the famous 1400m Pig Swim and the infamous 19km run across Örnö. I was at least looking forward to the first and we enjoyed almost perfect conditions with a solid 22-minute crossing. It was hot on Örnö but the legs felt good (thanks Igor) and we kept a good pace. 

@bartpast77 had found a castaway on one of the islands! [photo @cataxel]

Reaching Ängsholmen was a special moment. On the race day, this would be the last cut-off point. If you get here by 18:00 (11hrs 59mins of racing) then you are almost guaranteed to make it. A series of quite short swims and runs follow before the final 3650m gravel trail to the line at utö värdshus. Finishing shoulder to shoulder with the Boy was special, we’d had some great battles on the swims and running these hallowed trails together had been magical. Another landmark moment on this swimrun odyssey we started in May 2019.

The Boss [photo @cataxel]

Big, big thanks to le grand patron, Envol head coach Nicolas Remirez, the safety boat driver Pehr Westman, navigators Julian Dent, Martin Belak and to Sandra and Igor for all the small things around the camp that made it outstanding. Thanks to Catarina Axelsson for the fantastic photos. Also, thanks to all the other swimrunners, sharing these journeys is what makes the destinations so special. Now over to the Boy…

The Boy: This two-day escapade somewhat marks the end of a journey or at least a chapter in my book about my physical training. If you read the first-ever blog post we wrote, you would know the story of how Tom cunningly tricked me into doing this. It all started with him sending me an inspirational video of ÖtillÖ and then going on to tell me how, if I accepted, it would be as if I were a professional athlete travelling around Europe competing with his dad. At the time, this seemed like an opportunity I could not let pass.

The Boy and @Bartpast77 [photo @cataxel]

There was something special about this past weekend as we were no longer a team of two trying to push our limits but a group of people with differing levels of fitness all trying to move from point A to B in the most efficient way possible. I did not feel stuck in my own head trying to win the perpetual battle with my own mind but instead outsourced the suffering to the group so that the shared suffering made the individual pain seem lesser. This allowed me to enjoy the beauty of the archipelago, the community of swimrun and the joy these lunatics take in suffering for hours on end each week. I had meaningful conversations with people I just met and felt as if everyone around shared a common singular goal. I think this is what humans have experienced throughout our evolutionary history, hunting and moving over long stretches of land together in sync.  

The Safety RIB at Lunch [photo @cataxel]

“Everybody comes to a point in their life when they want to quit. But it’s what you do at that moment that determines who you are.”  David Goggins

Goggins is probably the man that stood for much of the underlying motivation for why I accepted this adventure because of his unwavering willingness to embrace the suck and face the uncomfortable in order to grow as a human. Through voluntarily suffering through all these races and all the training leading into them I’ve probably grown and learned more about the human condition than in reading books or listening to thousands of hours of podcasts. The biggest take away from this chapter is that reaching your potential in life is all about increasing your ability to make good decisions by removing obstacles and increasing your capacity to win the internal battle against yourself. Voluntarily suffering seems to be the best if not the only way to improve our ability to win the inner battle which takes place between your present and future self—an immediate pleasure for long term pain or short term pain for long term gain. Every time you choose short term pain, your capacity for discipline increases and thus makes it easier to make the decisions you know you should. 

The Beauty of Movement [photo @cataxel]

My passion in life is figuring out the answer to the question of what it means to be optimally healthy in all aspects of being a human. As my knowledge expands, I want to expand my capacity for movement. This entails figuring out how to train the body as to inch it closer towards its potential for movement. I will now try the disciplines of mixed martial-arts combined with functional fitness to become a better mover and ultimately a better human. I will still run as I firmly believe humans are designed for running and should therefore run. And we still have the races that were moved from spring to autumn to complete. So swimrun is not entirely over; there will only be a shift of focus as our time is limited to 24 hours per day. 

Finish Line Photo [photo @cataxel]

I would like to end this post by thanking Tom for allowing me to join him on this journey. I might have been tricked initially, but I stayed willingly. I now have a deep appreciation for people who suffer voluntarily and I will incorporate this into my life as a tool to grow. If an opportunity that seems great but difficult arises I urge you to take it on head first. I could’ve said no as endurance sports seemed futile to me, I could’ve let this just be a dream in the imagination of my old man but then I would not have shared an incredible adventure with my own father. And let me tell you, this was an opportunity I am immensely grateful I did not let pass.