Look out Team Swedish Armed Forces, here come the Ekman brothers
By Nancy Heslin
SLM: So you guys came in second this year at the 2017 ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship. It was quite a race for the Men’s division, with four teams hovering close together throughout the race. Describe race day, the level of competition, and the conditions you faced?
J & L: In such a long race when faced with pouring rain and winds of up to 20m/s, the entire thing is about balance and not to get sucked into a “too fast” pace from the start. That being said, with the wind and waves, it’s equally important to stay in that first group of teams, especially during the swims, if you want to compete for the win. As all four teams were together during the swim sections, it became quite clear that each of us did what we could during the running sections to close any gaps.
SLM: At what point did you realise that you couldn’t catch Swedish Armed Forces? What happened in the final stretch between you and Team Loplabbet, who finished one minute behind?
J & L: We kept a pace close to our maximum throughout the race and although we did our best to stay with the other two teams during the 20k run on Ornö, we got the feeling that they both had an extra gear switch that we might not be able to match.
After Ornö church, about 12 km into the section, Swedish Armed Forces switched into that gear and it was clear that, unless they were going to hit the wall later on, there was not much to do expect keep our pace and try to go for 2nd place. We thought Team Löplabbet would keep up with them but apparently they were as tired as we were, and during the last stages of Ornö we managed to build a gap which was due to us keeping a steady pace.
SLM: What is your sport background? How did you get hooked on swimrun?
J & L: We both did competitive swimming back in the day. Lars finished that career when he started military service in 2005. Through the military he got into the Naval Pentathlon where he won the World Championship in 2012 and finished second in 2013.
Jonas kept swimming until 2009 winning, in total, two bronze medals in the Swedish Nationals with the relay team from Upsala Simsällskap and 9th place in the 200 individual medley.
For swimrun, in 2011 Lars finished second at the ÖTILLÖ World Championship. Two years later, we teamed up for Amfibiemannen and came 2nd, and it’s been snowballing ever since.
I think what we both like is that you compete as a team, you always have a partner there to get you through sections when you are struggling and it also gives you someone to share the experience with. Plus, you’re free in the nature – sure there’s a course, but there is a charm to making your way through nature on your own with minimal gear. Of course, it also helps that we turned out to be quite good at it.
SLM: You both have a strong background in swimming. What advantage does this give, if any, over teams who are strong runners?
J & L: I think you need to be a strong swimmer to be able to compete at the top of swimrun. That being said, it’s hard to gain a gap on your opponents in the water if there’s little difference in swimming levels. When you follow someone in the water you save lots of energy compared to being the one who leads.
I think our biggest strength is that we are equal, both in swimming and running, and as a team. This gives us the ability to stay with or close the gap on teams that are strong in the water without wasting too much energy, and then gain time during the runs.
SLM: You blew up the course at ÖTILLÖ Engadin 2017, finishing 13 minutes ahead of the second team, with a time of 5:16:10. Was this expected, and what were some of your other highlights of 2017?
J & L: We actually didn’t know what to expect at Engadin. With the altitude, the vertical gain and fewer transitions, it was a different race from what we’d done before. Our plan was to stay with the first group in the run sections and maybe gain some time during the swims but we ended up taking an early lead and just kept going from there. It did take every bit of our effort though and after the race we were completely exhausted.
ÖTILLÖ Engadin was absolutely one of the big highlights. It’s an exceptional course and we actually spent one week prior to the race hiking in the mountains, which was an amazing experience. The ÖTILLÖ WC was definitely another highlight. Sure we were going for the win but as the race turned out, our 2nd place felt like a win. Another highlight was winning the Kustjagaren swimrun in Karlskrona, Lars’ hometown, for the third time in a row, and for Jonas, the overall win in Kalmar Swimrun, his hometown, with his wife Amanda Ekman Fischer.
SLM: Without giving away any secrets, how do you prepare for ÖTILLÖ – what goals do you set and do you spend time studying the course beforehand?
J & L: This season we have been focusing even more on long-distance training since we feel that we have the speed to beat all other teams in races up to 5-6 hours. During both our ÖTILLÖ appearances together, we’ve lacked something during the last hours of the race so we have been putting in some more miles, especially in running, in order to improve that, and we also feel that doing ÖTILLÖ twice will get us experience in itself.
We do try to learn about a race before starting it. We usually have a preliminary plan regarding how we want to race, but that frequently changes along the course. One of the big things is to keep talking throughout out the race so we can adapt and change our strategy as the race changes.
SLM: Is it tough racing with a family member? How do you celebrate a win?
J & L: Racing as brothers is only an advantage. We push each other through the race, we can also have a clear communication if necessary, but we always finish the race as friends and brothers.
I believe we celebrate pretty quietly. A good dinner/barbecue, preferably with friends and family who live near the race … and maybe a beer as well.
SLM: How did you choose your team name?
J & L: Our team name is actually based on two characters from a Swedish kid’s show called “Fablernas Värld”. When we used to swim, our coach sometimes referred to us as “Bröderna Bäver” (translated: The Beaver Brothers) and for our first race we picked that name and just kept it.
We are currently representing Sailfish and Olanderswim. Both Sailfish and Olanderswim are very keen to develop the swimrun gear, which gives us the opportunity to give direct input about the how wetsuit and different gear function in race conditions, and then they try to apply the changes. The Sailfish Swimrun Pro wetsuit was designed in this way, which is why we find it the best wetsuit on the market today.
SLM: Where do you think the future of swimrun is going?
J & L: We believe that swimrun is here to stay, with races popping up in Sweden and spreading more and more around the world because it appeals to anyone who loves racing in nature. Plus it’s easy to train for since you only need shoes and a wetsuit.
We think swimrun races will take on many different forms and faces and we look forward to being part of it and to keep racing for a long time!
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #6 (March 2018)