One of the ÖTILLÖ Original Four, Jesper Mars started swimrunning with his brother and now races with his daughter.
SLM: You were born in Stockholm. What is your sports background?
JM: My background is all about team sports. I played hockey and football when I was little and later, baseball. I was always struggling with the endurance element because I had asthma and all kinds of allergies.
I started climbing when I was 17 and was hooked. That led to alpinism and my stamina got better and the asthma disappeared.
I did my military service in Lapland, Finland, as a ranger to learn how to better cope with cold – all to help improve my climbing! My biggest climb was the Troll Wall (1 000m) in Norway but Trollryggen (3 400m of climbing) was longer and took 60 hours to finish. I also met my wife in the process, so it’s an ongoing event!
SLM: Let’s go back to that drunken bet night. Tell me your version of how the Sandhamn to Utö challenge unfolded.
JM: It’s a bit of a blur but it started with the idea that you wouldn’t need a boat to cross the archipelago. I didn’t have a boat and looking at the map on the napkin, Sandhamn wasn’t very far from Utö so it seemed like a good goal.
SLM: There were three weeks between the night of the bet and actual first swimrun. What did you do in that time to prepare – or were you thinking “Are we crazy?”
JM: I never thought it was crazy. There was no time limit and even if we weren’t “athletes”, we all had endurance backgrounds.
For some of us it was a long time ago … we spent the time borrowing wetsuits, studying charts and optimising our backpacks. We had to carry gear for two days and a night out in Sandhamn, which we put in waterproof bags that also served as safety buoys.
SLM: Did you guys have any safety concerns?
JM: We had identified two swims that would be dangerous without a safety boat – the “Pigswim” and the last swim to Sandhamn over the ferry passage.
I had a close encounter with a speedboat between Mörtö and Nämdö in the dark that forced me to unclip from the bag and prepare to dive. Apart from that, my strongest memory was spending time with my brother, Mats Anderson. This and what followed have brought us closer.
If you have water and land where you live, you can swimrun. Swimrun is what happens between water and land: the transitions.
SLM: Did you ever imagine the ÖTILLÖ event would develop into its own sport?
JM: No. In the beginning it was something that complemented other sports. Now people are “swimrunners”.
SLM: What’s it like to be known as one of the drunk Swedes who made a bet that launched a movement?
JM: It makes me proud, but I feel that it’s Mats and Michael who’ve had the biggest part in this.
SLM: What gives Swedes the “crazy” reputation when it comes to endurance sports?
JM: I didn’t know we had a reputation.
SLM: Can you share some ÖTILLÖ stories?
JM: One of my best memories is from the third race. My wife was pregnant and was due around race day. We decided that Anders Malm (another of the Original Four) would stay close to Mats and me in his boat thorough the race. On the fourth and last swim to Långbäling, Anders was coming up close and my brother was furious, screaming that my wife could hold it in a bit longer so we could finish (and some other things). But he was just wanted to cheer us on.
SLM: Swimrunning isn’t simply a triathlon without the bike. What advice would you give to people thinking of trying the sport but who can’t train in the environment?
JM: If you have water and land where you live, you can swimrun. Swimrun is what happens between water and land: the transitions. When it comes to equipment, always ask yourself whether you really need it because the less you have the easier it gets.
SLM: What would you say is the best equipment developed for swimrun?
JM: Homemade pullbuoys.
SLM: What words would you use to describe yourself?
JM: Inventor. Problem solver.
SLM: What word would you use to describe the sport of swimrun?
SLM: What does the partner element add to the sport?
JM: It’s very similar to a climbing team. You have to know each other well to perform.
SLM: Can you tell me about Rope Access and your work?
JM: I work as head instructor in a training facility in Stockholm. The company is very strong in the wind turbine industry but we do all kind of hanging jobs. My speciality is in complex work environmental risks and advanced rescue. I teach others how to stay safe in potentially dangerous situations.
SLM: How did you start racing with daughter?
JM: It’s all about their will. I have to be careful not to get too competitive. My daughter doesn’t like to train but she’s a fighter.
SLM: Why do your kids like swimrunning?
JM: I’m not so sure that they do.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #3 (July 2017)