On the record: Helen Maalinn
By Magnus Ormestad
ÖÖ: Tell us a bit about what you do when you’re not tethered to your swimrun partner?
HM: I grew up in Estonia, but have been living and working in Sweden for the last nine years. I have a Masters degree in Environmental Engineering And Corporate Social Responsibility and currently am working at the Public Transport Administration in Stockholm County in strategic planning for social sustainability and security.
ÖÖ: How would you describe your background as an athlete?
HM: Training and outdoor adventures have always played an essential part of my life and something I enjoy very much. During summer, my brother and I would play by the lake. Even though our parents forbid us, we used to challenge each other who could swim across the lake the fastest.
My experience in competition actually comes from yacht racing, which I did for about eleven years. I only recently started racing seriously although I’ve been running and swimming for a long time.
I started running when I was about 8, I used to run every day before breakfast, until the snow started. Swimming for me has been pretty much learning by doing; I have not been a member of a swim club until now.
ÖÖ: You did your first swimrun when you were just 10 years old?
HM: Yes, you could say that. Actually it was my brother who pointed this out when I described to him my first swimrun competition here in Sweden.
Every summer there was a sort of swimrun/duathlon competition by the lake which consisted of swimming across the lake (800m) and then running one lap around the lake (1.5k) – some participants swam in their shoes and others ran barefoot to save time. The competition was originally only for grownups, but I really liked the concept and wanted to participate so I convinced my Mom and the organisers to let me start with everyone else. I was 10 years old at that time.
I didn’t manage to swim the whole distance because I got frustrated by the fact that everyone else was so much further ahead of me. However, that didn’t put an end to my passion for swimming, running or competing; after that event I did the same thing many times myself. I took my bike to the lake to swim across and run around the lake.
It is the people and the lifestyle I love about swimrun and what makes every season so memorable.
ÖÖ: What do you remember from that experience?
HM: I remember that I really wanted to do the race because it seemed such a brilliant and fun thing to do. Also swimming and running that way represented freedom in terms of deciding for myself what I can or cannot do. I liked the closeness to nature I felt while swimming outdoors. Also the adrenaline rush I got from swimming in deep waters far away from the shore was part of the thrill at that time.
ÖÖ: Do you think that swimrun is a good sport to try out as a kid?
HM: Yes I think so. Why? Because it’s very playful. Swimrun involves water. I loved water when I was a kid and I still do! In swimrun, nature is your playground. In addition, swimrun is a simple and playful way to learn how to swim and how to become confident in open water. You don’t get bored as easily in swimrun like you do when practicing long distance running or pool swimming since it’s a social sport and you alternate the two disciplines in different distances and conditions all the time. I am also convinced that swimrun is a really great way to learn to appreciate nature and the importance of fighting against irreversible environmental change.
ÖÖ: Do you think that the world of swimrun should welcome kids into the family?
HM: Yes! The swimrun world must become better in welcoming kids! It is such a fun activity to practice together as a family, since it is a team sport plus all the positive points I mentioned above. There should be more family events and parent-kid friendly training sessions. I think we need to put even more focus on safety and create swimrun challenges and competitions that are not extreme. Most swimruns would be too tough for anyone who hasn’t tried the sport before, like a sprint race that takes two hours to finish for a first-timer.
ÖÖ: Aside from a wetsuit and shoes, what part of your equipment is most important during a race?
HM: Fog-free goggles and pull-buoy.
ÖÖ: Do you have any hints or hacks that you want to share with the less experienced swimrunners who are already racing or are curious to give it a go?
HM: Just try it! Join a group, there are so many on Facebook nowadays – Swimrunpodden, Ångaloppet, Wolff-Wear … Stay safe, always have someone with you and wear bright colours in the water!
ÖÖ: Do you see winter as a welcome break from training?
HM: I appreciate the autumn and winter seasons. It’s indeed a nice break from racing, also a necessary one to stay injury free. I usually rest completely from training for three to four weeks in October/November. It’s a perfect time to try out something new, do lots of yoga and run/swim lots of junk-miles.
ÖÖ: You said you had a “busy, tough, successful and memorable” 2017 season. Any highlights worth mentioning?
HM: The most memorable race from this season was Rockman Swimrun where I raced together with Matilda Bertlin. It was a tough but spectacular course. Cool memory.
Low point of this season was when Matilda got injured, I was super sad.
Another experience from this season is DNF from the ÖTILLÖ WC, a race every team is preparing for and looking forward to the entire summer. We had been racing around seven hours when we had to quit. It’s not a scenario you allow yourself to consider before the start, but you always have to be prepared for that. Anyway it wasn’t a tough decision to make at that point – no race or ranking is more important than health and safety.
One of the funniest memories from this season would probably be the post-Rockman road trip with Matilda, Erik Froode and Magnus Myhrborg, including my Estonian-style pop quiz, we were howling so much it would definitely have beaten the world record of laughing.
It is the people and the lifestyle I love about swimrun and what makes every season so memorable. I am always super tired after every race season but charged with good memories and positive energy.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #5 (December 2017)