Meet a World Champion: Annika Ericsson
Swedish-born Annika Ericsson is one of the most successful swimrun athletes in both the Women’s and the Mixed Team categories, and an outstanding overall athlete. She is two-time World Champion in the women’s class – with Kristin Larsson (2016) and Maja Tesch (2015) – plus she won the mixed category in 2013 (before ÖTILLÖ was called World Championship). She has raced ÖTILLÖ five times and won three of them. Exceptional.
Annika started swimming at the age of five, so being a strong swimmer she teamed up with Kristin, a fast runner, and the Swedish duo complemented each other perfectly in ÖTILLÖ 2016. Using their respective strengths, they crushed the women’s course record by almost an hour, crossing the finish line at 9:32:03.
Annika is a humble force and true inspiration. She started her swimrun career in 2012 with Ångaloppet and then ÖTILLÖ the same year. Since then, she has competed in 28 swimrun races around Europe. She talks to Josefine Ås about training, work and family.
SLM: You’ve won three of the five ÖTILLÖ World Championships you raced. What’s your secret?
Annika: It’s hard to really believe that I won three times since my goal from the beginning was just to try and finish the race. I am not superfast but I can keep a good pace for a very long time. I think the most important thing is to enjoy training and have fun. Also, if you integrate training into your daily routine, like bike or run to work if you can, then it’s a no brainer – the training’s already done!
SLM: You have kids and a full-time job, so how do you manage to stay on top and find the time to train?
Annika: I have a PhD in Medical Biochemistry and work as a Senior Scientist at the biotech company Zymenex A/S. My work is, as you can imagine, demanding but I try to stay focused and then leave the job at the office, which is not always easy. I usually train very early before work, most often swimming, and use the commute to and from work for either running or biking. Then when my kids have activities in the evenings, I again use the travel time for training – for example, they bike and I run. I also often train when my kids do, instead of just sitting watching them like many of the parents I see.
SLM: What’s your most memorable swimrun moment?
Annika: This is hard since I have so many good memories. Certainly last year, winning ÖTILLÖ together with Kristin Larsson is one of the best memories. Another one is the 2015 Xterra Swimrun in Norway. The start was in the dark at 5 am and on the first swim, you could see the sun coming up on the horizon, absolutely amazing.
SLM: What would you was your strongest performance?
Annika: I’d have to say last year winning ÖTILLÖ together with Kristin. We found great team harmony right away, managed to stay strong all the way through and beat the record by nearly one hour. We thought 10 hours was doable but to almost finish at 9:30 never crossed our minds.
SLM: What’s so special about swimrunning?
Annika: I love the variation of the swims and the runs. I never get bored like I did with triathlons. Plus, you get to see places that you would never easily get to otherwise. Also, I like the simplicity and would encourage racers to forego all equipment that swimrunners tend to tack on, such as paddles, fins, etc … the easier, the better!
SLM: What makes ÖTILLÖ such an exceptional event?
Annika: That it’s one of the world’s toughest and most mythical one-day races. The long and tough distances force you to push yourself both mentally and physically. Just the fact that you are going from Point A to point B across all these islands – I love islands and I love to swim! And if it’s really windy with extra big waves, it’ll get a lot more challenging and extra fun on those swim sections.
Mostly, I really enjoy the closeness to nature and that you race in the Stockholm archipelago, which is incredibly beautiful.
I like the simplicity and would encourage racers to forego all equipment that swimrunners tend to tack on, such as paddles, fins, etc … the easier, the better!
SLM: What are your swimrun goals for 2017?
Annika: The first goal for 2017 is ÖTILLÖ Hvar in Croatia. I’m teaming up with Stefano Prestinoni and it’ll be fun to race with someone who is a very strong swimmer. I see myself jumping on the express train for the swims and it’ll be a completely new experience to not be the front swimmer and navigating!
Then I will do ÖTILLÖ Utö as I did last year and Rockman in Norway, which I expect to be a very beautiful race but also extremely tough. I’ll keep my calendar open for some other races and at the end we have the ÖTILLÖ World Championship in September.
SLM: You and Kristin seem to be an ideally paired team. Will you race together again?
Annika: Kristin and I matched up really well and enjoyed racing with each other. So for sure we will team up again. We both love to find new races with exciting challenges, and we have a few in mind.
SLM: What do your kids think about your swimrun training and do they like to join you on a smaller scale?
Annika: Both of my kids are training at the Neptun swimming club and love the water so swimrun training has been a lot of fun to do together. It’s a new adventure for them with open water swimming, kind of scary with the dark water, and then running off-trail with wet shoes. We just decide where to go along the way and point to the next shore!
Last year, I did the family race Ångaloppet together with my 7-year-old and it was cold and tough wavy swims but she just crawled through them! We plan to do the same race this year and maybe some other short races.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue # 1 (Feb/Mar 2017)