SLM: Helena Karaskova Erbenova and Martin Flinta, you’ve had a phenomenal 2018 ÖTILLÖ swimrun season. How does it feel to be the first team to win the Golden Bib challenge?
HKE: It’s amazing – both beautiful and strange to succeed in a sport that is new to me. At the beginning of the season, I’d only heard about swimrun and wanted to spend my time on a mountain bike, or doing cross triathlon and XTERRA but I went a completely different direction and swimrun took precedence over everything. I think it’s safe to say I’m a multi-sport athlete now!
MF: We put a huge mental pressure on ourselves to win 6 races in a row so we’re super happy now that we finally did it. It’s a fantastic feeling.
SLM: How did you improve in strength as a team from Hvar, Croatia, in May to September’s race in Germany?
MF: We’ve improved a lot since Helena’s first swimrun in Hvar, both with better equipment, more specific training and faster transitions.
HKE: The first race in Croatia was just a rehearsal. I thought we’d have no chance, but Martin always comes with the best possible equipment and tactics. When I think about Hvar I honestly don’t know how I survived. I figured the distances, whether swimming or running, would be the hardest part for me, but it was the cold water. It’s cold all the time and that last 20 minutes of the long swim I can’t remember at all!
SLM: What was your favourite race over the year?
HKE: For me, Engadin, I love the mountains and while I’m not as fast on flat ground, I’m at home in the hills. I also like technical courses, so the races in Sweden were also wonderful. But all of the ÖTILLÖ locations have their own charm and are worth seeing … especially when you swimrun because you get to see a lot more. I’m so glad I could be part of it.
MF: I think my favourite moment was when we finished the last swim during the ÖTILLÖ World Championship. No one was close behind and when I looked at my watch I knew that we’d break the Mixed Team course record by more than 30 minutes. [They smashed it by 45 minutes.]
SLM: How did you guys manage to stay injury free after such an intense season?
HKE: I try to listen to my body so when I’m tired I don’t train and try to relax instead. Sometimes it’s difficult, but this season I managed to stay healthy and without injury. It’s true that after the World Championship my legs were fried and I suffered after through my training runs. It’s probably helps to do other sports so I can still cycle or train on inline skates, of course, with poles. It’s always good to have an alternative.
MF: After each race we really rested, with no training at all the first two days after. Then we slowly started to jog easy and swim, and also bike as we both also do other sports. As Helena is still racing XTERRA triathlon and I’m doing multi-sport stage racing plus other swimruns, we did not do any speed training or compete in other races for at least one week after our swimrun wins.
SLM: Martin, 44, you live in Sweden and Helena, 39, in the Czech Republic. Do you train together?
HKE: We actually train separately but we both know that we train well, and always do our best. For training, it was very interesting for me to see how I improved with paddles. I’m not normally a good swimmer, but I like swimming more with them because I feel like I swim faster. In Croatia I used smaller paddles but for the rest of the season I went with big carbon ones. That was a big move for me and I’ve worked really hard on strength training.
MF: We have trained a lot together over four years competing in 15 to 20 events for multi-sport stage Adventure Racing, and we’ve been on many different training camps at the same time. With more than 50 days of racing experience together, so we know each other well.
SLM: So will you swimrun together again next season or was this a one-time goal?
HKE: Martin would definitely like to race even the next season but I’m not so sure. Even at the beginning of this season, we wanted to give it a try but we didn’t expect to do what we did. At least I didn’t.
SLM: Helena how did you find the longer distance in your first ÖTILLÖ World Championship race?
HKE: That 75k distance was a nightmare for me, but it became a challenge and I was able to prepare well, physically, psychologically and in terms of nutrition. Martin and I discussed training and I gave him advice, which paid off. I love to remember the feelings I had when training. I had a very clear goal to run the whole race.
SLM: Martin, what’s next for your adventure racing?
MF: Swimrun swimming is a totally different sport than regular swimming, so I will see if cross-country skiing can replace some of the pool sessions, as I much prefer to train outside. As for more swimrunning, I won’t be in Cannes but Hvar will give me the answer, if I go there, which I hope I do. It would be great to have a sponsor.
SLM: Helena you are a 2-time Olympian cross-country skier who started with XTERRA Triathlon. Now that you’ve been part of the swimrun circuit for a full season, do you enjoy the sport?
HKE: I’m very happy and proud to have been a part of such extraordinary races for the whole year. I think Mats and Michael are doing an incredible job. It’s admirable how swimrun has evolved over 13 years, and I have to say that the live broadcasts from the races are so extraordinary when you realise that this is not an Olympic sport.
SLM: Any plans for the €33,000 prize?
MF: One of our sponsors and friends, Daniel “Race Paddle” Liljedahl, died from a heart attack a few weeks ago so we’ll send some money to Daniel’s heart foundation. By Nancy Heslin
The final ÖTILLÖ World Series race takes place in Cannes on Sunday, October 21.
ARTICLE FIRST PUBLISHED IN SWIMRUN LIFE MAGAZINE ISSUE #8 (OCTOBER 2018).