In the swim with Mikael Rosén, the Rain Man of swimming

Apr 25, 2017

Mikael Rosén (Photo: Steen Sodemann)
Steen Sodemann

SLM: Why are you known as the Rain Man of swimming?

MR: I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and ADD, a condition that makes me very powerful in certain areas, which gives me confidence and energy. Tested by doctors, my working memory scored at the 99th percentile – in other words, I can retain and process verbal and non-verbal quantities of information better than 99 percent of the general population. The downside is that when the task doesn’t challenge me, I’m not as effective. For example, packing a bag is often hard to execute.

My obsession with swimming has given birth to a 352-page book – Öppet vatten: simningens historia, vetenskap och träning (The history, science and training of open water swimming) – that is now being translated into English.

SLM: How does swimming technique differ for swimrunning say from triathlon or open water competitions?

MR: Swimming in a swimrun competition is different from open water swimming competitions in a number of ways. First, swimrun seldom offers any tight packs with the body contact of triathlon swims, which is a relief for many. You do need to be within a certain range of your teammate, though.

Second, navigation may be less obvious then in a swim race. Scouting the course gives advantage to the well-prepared team.

Thirdly, swimming often is a way to rest legs, or even to rest your circulatory system. In terms of equipment, paddles are allowed in swimrun and you wear shoes. To come up with the right equipment and the right way to handle it sustainably is like Gary Oldman said to the old lady in the Nokia commercial who asked: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall”. He answered, “You gotta practice lady, you gotta practice”. It is the same to get the most out of your swimrun race.

SLM: What about swimming with shoes?

MR: Swimming with shoes could cost the swimrunner more than 10 seconds per 100 metres because of increased drag. The key to minimise that loss of time is to reduce the drag, and that is performed best when the feet and shoes travel behind the rest of your body. Increased intensity in the kick may be counterproductive as well, in terms of energy consumption and biomechanics.

SLM: You are the Swedish Swimming Federation Open Water Manager. What’s the biggest mistake seasoned swimmers make?

MR: Seasoned swimmers miss out on some of the fantastic rides you can get by discovering the fine art of swimming. People spend millions to be weightless directed by NASA, but all we need is a pool or a lake. Plus a swimmer doesn’t need that clumsy and distracting spacesuit.

In season, a no-suit swim is the closest a human can get to nature. But there is plenty to discover on how your body works in water when you’re swimming in a pool as well. The best thing good pool swimmers can do for their swimrun is to practice a lot with their partner, and to practice straight swimming through brilliant navigation.

Swimming with shoes could cost the swimrunner more than 10 seconds per 100 metres because of increased drag.

SLM: What should ÖTILLÖ racers consider when swimming in the Adriatic Sea in Hvar, Croatia, compared to Sweden’s Baltic Sea?

MR: The Adriatic Sea, like the whole Mediterranean, offers a lot more sight than the Baltic. This opens up even more magic to your swimrun, particularly for those who aren’t in a hurry. As for aggressive marine life forms, the nastiest could be the sea urchin. Even though it is not an (aware) conscious? predator its (thorns) can penetrate the skin and leave you with a painful infection. If not treated rapidly it may take up to four weeks for the body to clear? (waste it). Since you swimrun in shoes the danger is of course minimised.

SLM: Would the super-salty Adriatic Sea offer a buoyancy advantage to some swimrunners, say those less strong in the water?

MR: You are looking for a quick fix, but the best way not to be a poor swimmer is to practice to be a better one. There are different levels:
a) You want to survive the swim just to be able to run immediately – practice in the expected circumstances.
b) You want to hold your speed for the whole race – go the distance in practice.
c) You want to be a faster swimmer – get a towing partner or work on your flexibility and technique.

SLM: You run all sorts of training camps – Camp Darkness, Camp Snowman, and coming up Apollo ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Camp (May 13-20) and Apollo Open Water Corfu (May 22-29). What’s the secret of your swimming technique?

MR: The right genes and over 25 million meters with good coaches.

SLM: You have 9,000 followers on your Instagram account @human_ambition. How do you keep people tuned in?

MR: I try to share wisdom and/or inspiration about swimming daily. The coolest thing is that my most watched video, the one I took of 92-year-old Edwin Graves, got 631,000 viewers and was Instagram’s most viewed swim-race-video of the year.

Right now I am on the way home from the Maldives. One of my coaching followers lives in the Maldives capital of Malé and saw a video Fredrik Wannerstedt made of me. He asked if I could come and hold a workout with him and some others. When we arrived by boat, I had time enough to conduct a two-hour workshop with 20 kids in his amazing team.

SLM: Instagram and your website keep you pretty busy but we hear you are also a fan of music?

MR: Yes, spandex rock from the 1980s is something I never get bored of, especially less mainstream names than Bob Jovi, like the obscure Canadian group Harlequin and the forgotten Italian band Elektradrive. Is taste in music inherited? Let me say this: All three of my given names are members of the Beach Boys, who also happen to write my old man’s favourite music.


Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue # 2 (Apr/May 2017)

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