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.
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.
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.
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.