In the beginning with Jesper Mars

Jul 27, 2017

Sophie Darsy

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?

JM: Teamwork.

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)

More magazine articles

Confessions of a swimrunrunner: first time at ÖTILLÖ

To non-Swedes, the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship seems like a way the natives spend a day outdoors frolicking with friends before the long dark winter sets in. But for those of us not born in the country that bares a yellow Nordic cross on a field of blue, ÖTILLÖ – 75 km that cross 26 islands, known as one of the toughest endurance races in the world – is daunting. Here’s what teams racing the WC for the first time have to say.

No training? No problem, ÖTILLÖ still needs you!

Volunteerism may be the fastest growing trend in global tourism, but you don’t have to travel half way across the world to give back: you can make an impact at a local level and swimrun is a cool place to start.

The rise of the swimrun Sprint

When ÖTILLÖ launched the Engadin Sprint three years ago, 19 teams signed up. Last week, the compact alpine swimrun attracted 100 teams representing 19 nationalities. Best friends, fathers and sons, husbands and wives – you name it – swimrunners are loving the shorter distance “unique race in a unique place” that ÖTILLÖ has become famous for.

Quest for Golden Bib climbs to new heights at Engadin this weekend

It’s been the most spectacularly competitive ÖTILLÖ swimrun season to date with neck and neck finishes in the Men’s, Women’s and Mixed divisions. The July 7-8 weekend in Engadin promises to be equally a nail-biter as Golden Bib teams look for their fourth consecutive wins. Here’s what to expect.

Team Briefing: Baby on Board returns to Isles of Scilly this weekend, eh?

During training for the 2017 ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly, Sophia Chadwick found out she was expecting. She and partner Brian McArdle decided to do the Scilly Sprint instead, and crossed the Finish Line when she was five months pregnant. The couple return this weekend to race the full distance Scilly course.

6 things to know about new ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Cannes

The first-ever ÖTILLÖ Cannes weekend on October 20th and 21st 2018 will have a Sprint course on Saturday and the World Series race on Sunday, plus a few new elements, too. From water temps to getting to Cannes, here’s what you need to know.

International partners
  • Head
  • Campz Addnature
  • Garmin
  • Vivo Barefoot
  • Mr Green