SLM: Your team, Swimrun4fun finished 2nd in 2017 World Series Women’s Team ranking. Have you both always been sporty?
JH: No, not at all! I played soccer until 16 and Maria has no background in sports at all.
It all started when we signed up for our first swimrun competition – “Öloppet” (“The Island Race”) – in Gothenburg. That’s when we first began to train regularly – we had a set goal and were going to reach it.
The fact that three years later we had the amazing opportunity to compete in the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship – which was our dream – was unbelievable, totally crazy! I mean, to start working out at the ages of 34 and 37 and then three years later being able to get through 75k of rough terrain and sea with a big smile on our faces was nothing but amazing! It was the best feeling in the world.
SLM: How did you first hear about swimrun and become a team?
MM: In September of 2012, Josefine, who was pregnant in her third trimester at the time, saw a clip about ÖTILLÖ on TV. Her first reaction was how amazing to be able to swim and run such a long distance – and also that these people were crazy!”
It became a dream for her, so a year later, when she heard that there was a local swimrun competition taking place in our own backyard, a 21k swimrun here in Gothenburg, Josefine entered us into the race. I had agreed to spend that weekend with her without knowing exactly what I said yes to! I trusted her, and it’s that trust between us that’s proven to be a real strength in competitions.
We like to compete together. This is “our thing” – we’ve been friends for a long time, doing more or less everything together, so it felt like a natural thing to go into this new adventure together.
Of course, we’ve both been curious at times about what it would be like to compete with another partner.
SLM: Swimrun4fun came in 9th place at the ÖTILLÖ World Championship. How have you grown as a team since your first race?
MM: Our first competition was a fun experience. We laughed a lot and fought through what felt like an incredibly long 21k race at the time. The result didn’t matter; we just wanted to get through.
During that first race we already felt the incredible “swimrun spirit” that the sport is known for. All the people we met during the race were happy, helpful and positive. We were totally hooked!
Since then, we’ve competed numerous times together, and our friendship has grown along the way. Being that we know each other so well, we function extremely well together “under pressure”. If one of us feels a bit defeated during a race, the other person somehow always finds the strength to pull through. We’ve also figured out what works best for us during a race, for example, how to best get through each transition between swims and runs, and we’re generally more prepared for each race now.
SLM: Josefine tell us about Engadin and your hip – which you struggled with last year – and your comeback in 2017?
JH: Actually, the first time we competed in Engadin was in 2015 but we didn’t make the cut offs. I was dizzy the entire race because I’d forgotten to use earplugs during the swims in such cold water – which we now always use. We took it a little too easy during the swims in the beginning, which we got to experience the hard way.
So 2016 was the year we were supposed to redeem ourselves but, unfortunately, 15k into the race, I started experiencing trouble with my hip. It hurt so badly that Maria had to be the team anchor and pep talk me all the way to the finish. Even though the result was nowhere near what we’d hoped for, at least we crossed the finish line, which was a goal in itself.
During the race, we kept saying we’d “NEVER DO ENGADIN AGAIN”, but once we’d crossed the Finish Line, we suddenly felt the need to do the race one more time. So despite all the despair in the past, we decided to enter the race again.
Which brings us to 2017. This time around the feeling was entirely different. After a full year of rehab – and “prehab” – and focus on core stability training, we were able to complete Engadin without even the slightest hint of pain – and in doing so, trimming an incredible two hours off our time from last year. This year, we were finally able complete in what we think is one of the most beautiful races in the world with a good result and matching smiles on our faces.
Engadin is an amazing race with crisp, incredibly clear lakes and breathtaking views. It is our love-hate race, the race we hate that we love.
SLM: You did the 1000 Lakes sprint in October, your first ÖTILLÖ Sprint. Will you do another Sprint and would you recommend the Sprint to other people?
MM: We find Sprint races very intense. Since the distances are shorter, you’re able to squeeze more out of yourself – swim a little faster and run at a quicker pace. You can max out. We absolutely recommend them though. For racers like ourselves, who normally do long distance races, Sprints are an opportunity to increase intensity. And for newcomers, swimrun Sprints are great introductions to the sport.
SLM: What do you like about swimrun and ÖTILLÖ races?
JH: How can you not like swimrun? As we’ve said earlier, for us the sport is very much about the “swimrun spirit” – people are generally happy, helpful, kind and including. Everyone is welcome to take part – old and young, super athletes as well as amateurs, there is a place for you in swimrun regardless.
ÖTILLÖ events are generally very professional throughout. It is a great organisation that embraces that hearty swimrun spirit. Their motto, “unique races in unique places” is a fitting description to all the ÖTILLÖ races we’ve taken part in. And when Mother Nature has proven herself too tough to beat, the organisation has quickly stepped up to adapt the racecourse so that every racer can still feel safe and well taken care of.
SLM: Your Instagram account @Swimrun4fun is great. How do you decide to what to post?
JH: Thank you! The thought behind our Instagram account is first and foremost to show that it is possible to balance life and training as long as you prioritise. We try to mediate some sort of feeling with every picture, what we experience while training and competing – happiness, beautiful scenery, weather, nature, hard work, preparations – all in one heartfelt stream.
The goal is to post appealing pictures, but we are not always successful in doing so. The bottom line, we’re just two regular girls hoping to put a smile on other peoples’ face.
Our ultimate goal is to try to inspire others, to get other people to realise what an amazing sport swimrun is and to show all the (positive) side effects of exercising. We think everyone should be a swimrunner!
SLM: Advice and training tip for women looking to try swimrun?
MM: If you already have a partner in mind, make sure you get as much time to train together as possible. It’s more fun to train together, and since it’s a team competition, it’s a good idea to know how the other person reacts under pressure – what strengths and weaknesses you have. That way, it is easier to pick each other up if you fall.
If you don’t have a partner yet, but still want to do swimrun, try posts on different swimrun sites and forums, for example on Facebook, where events show up from time-to-time.
Also, train where other swimrunners train. Don’t be afraid to reach out – you’ll quickly find out for yourself that the sport of swimrun is very including.
Swim a lot – as much as possible outdoors. It’s a lot different swimming in the ocean with big, messy waves or in dark lakes, where you can hardly see, then in a nice, warm pool. You have to get used to it.
Train stamina and endurance. A swimrun race can often take a long time to complete, so you’ll have to prepare for that. Try to get in at least one long-distance running session a week, and challenge yourself to swim longer distances.
Don’t be afraid to sign up for a race – everyone is truly welcome. YOU are the one that decides the level of your ambition.
Last but not least, make sure to have fun together, because that’s what swimrun is all about. Fun and incredible experiences – together.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #5 (December 2017)