Fanny and Sarah’s excellent adventure: Wild Coast Swimrun training camps for women
By Josefine Ås
Fanny Danckwardt and Sarah Hansson finished the 2017 ÖTILLÖ WC in 10:49:14, a time that placed them second in the Women’s Category. Fanny, a sports marketing expert, was a Swedish Junior Champion in breaststroke, and Sarah is a personal trainer who runs a digital music company. The dynamic duo have set up the Wild Coast Swimrun – a training camp for women only.
JA: You are both Swedes living and working in Barcelona, who became friends and now training partners. What’s it like to be a swimrunner in your part of the world?
SH: In Barcelona, swimrun is still a rather unknown sport so you get a lot of curious looks when wearing gear while training. This has provided plenty of fun anecdotes, from old ladies laughing at us until they almost cried to drunk tourists running with us along the beach at 6 am.
FD: The best thing about Barcelona is that you can pretty much swimrun all year round and there are fantastic places to discover while practicing the sport, like our favourite, Costa Brava. Obviously, it’s a great advantage to have the sea around the corner as well as challenging trails only 20 minutes away.
The warm summer months test your limits and force you to be aware of hydration and nutrition while training. The heat in Barcelona is mentally challenging because you should be in your best shape ever yet every session is a struggle, as proven by the time on your watch. That being said, when the temperature drops or if you go to Sweden, the hard work will pay off.
JA: How did you find each other and what are your strengths as a team?
FD: Sarah and I met at the first edition of Costa Brava Swimrun in 2016, when Orca sponsored the race and I did a work presentation of the sport. We connected on the spot, and decided to have a coffee as Sarah was interested in this crazy sport. We have been friends and training partners ever since.
SH: That day I had no idea what I was getting myself into but it turned out pretty well!
Our strengths are that we are able to train together, we know each other really well and know how, and when, to push, but also when to back off and give space. Most of the time we manage not to dip in energy at the same time, which is very important for staying on track during a race.
JA: Fanny, in your blog you write that you had phenomenal team performances during the 2017 ÖTILLÖ WC. Can you tell us a bit about that and how to succeed as a team?
FD: Our race at the World Championships went very well because we really worked on our weaknesses and improved as a team during the summer. Four months beforehand, we had a tough day at ÖTILLÖ Utö in May, and from there we took note of what we needed to work on. For example, we optimised the entry-exit technique with how we managed the cord and we both added pullbuoys to our equipment to add extra flotation.
JA: How would you describe your experience at the 2017 ÖTILLÖ WC?
FD: You can read the details at fannyfromswe.wordpress.com. But in general, it was very exciting. The tough weather conditions really made it epic. The more adversity we faced and conquered, the stronger we felt. We both had a great day. As always you have your ups and downs but overall we had fun and completed the race in very good spirits.
SH: In one sentence: One hell of an adventure in the archipelago with a good friend! I was super excited yet scared before the start. We had trained a lot in high waves and rough sea so we felt that it could benefit us. At the same time, my longest race so far had been 7 hours so I had no idea how my body and mind would react but it went great, a few dips but much better than expected. Fanny was injured before as well but she pulled it off like a champ!
JA: Fanny, you are a former Swedish Junior Swim Champion and Sarah you are a personal trainer in all sorts of sports disciplines. Tell us how you complement each other – or not!
FD: You can indefinitely notice our individual characteristics in our team, which also help us excel as we use them to our advantage. I pull on the swimming, and Sarah keeps the pace in the running stretches. Also, Sarah uses her experience as a coach to encourage us, and plans out the race very well, including necessary energy intake that I can sometimes overlook.
SH: Fanny has helped me a lot with my swimming, and the other way around when it comes to running. For me it has been an extra motivation to keep pushing the swimming so that I can improve and make us faster. I’m not sure it would have been the same if we were on the same level.
JA: Why have you chosen to excel in swimrun?
FD: I love the sport because every race is an adventure, and you have a chance to experience a unique closeness to land and water, where you completely disconnect from your everyday life, at places you would never have seen otherwise.
Compared to competitive pool swimming, it is indeed a big change: you have time to plan your race and adjust during the course and still perform on top. In a 100m race in the pool that’s over in a minute, you are out if you miss a turn or are a few hundredths of a second late in the start. In swimrun, you race for a long time and no race is like another. It is the perfect sport for discovering exceptional places in the world and at the same time competing at a high level. Moreover, it is fun to play a part in developing a completely new sport internationally.
SH: I moved to Spain 2006 and first heard about swimrun in 2014. Back then I was running but could only swim breaststroke so it caught my attention as a really cool sport but nothing I would do. Later on I signed up for swimming classes at my gym so I could try triathlon with some friends. However, in late 2015 I heard about the first Costa Brava swimrun, and I knew I had to do it. For the last 10 years I’ve spent most of my spare time along Costa Brava so it means a lot to me, apart from its incredible beauty. I placed second in the Mixed Category on the 21-km course and loved every second, so there’s been no turning back. It’s the simplicity mixed with teamwork and amazing natural surroundings that make it so special.
JA: You guys have started Wild Coast Swimrun – swimrun training camps for women only. Amazing! Tell us the details.
SH: We want to see more women excel in swimrun. We connected through the sport and our relationship has turned into a great friendship. We also we met our third member, Maria Rohman, the same way. Sarah has been working on several wellness retreats and had the idea of doing training camps so we looked into it.
We have great training opportunities here most of the year and a good network of contacts for accommodation and logistics. We host our first camps in March and April 2018 so before the season starts, yet the Mediterranean will be warmer than Utö in May.
The Camp in March is sold out but there are a few spots left for April. For information, see the Facebook event, https://www.facebook.com/events/400559807040527/?ti=cl
FD: It will be a fun girls’ weekend, but we also hope that the comfort of a group of likeminded women and coaches will help the participants to step out of their comfort zone, to challenge and believe in themselves. We aim to make the camps a kick-start for the season for performance, as well as inspiration, and that the participants will make a lot of new friends and, hopefully, new teammates.
JA: What are your swimrun goals for 2018?
FD: I want to help the sport grow in as many ways as possible. It’s such a fantastic experience to race in swimrun and I want to encourage everyone to try it. Also, I’m looking at the top spot on the podium at ÖTILLÖ this year, together with my old swim club friend Susie Moonan.
SH: Together with NU Complements, I’ve just co-founded Barcelona and Spain’s first swimrun club so my main goal is to share the world of swimrun with weekly trainings, weekend escapes and other activities. The club will launch in 2018 and is open to everyone, beginners as well as experienced athletes – and visiting swimrunners are more than welcome to join. We want people to try the sport and see it as a way of training and not just for competing, which is the current situation here.
When it comes to competing, I’ll do some races with Xavier Garcia Carabi, who placed 8th in the Men’s division at the 2017 ÖTILLÖ WC, and with Maria Rohman. I’d love to do Isles of Scilly and Engadin and to hopefully be back on Sandhamn in September.
JA: And what are your winter training tips?
FD: Pool swimming and alternate strokes! I think swimming medley in training really helps a swimrunner as it practices switching between muscle groups.
SH: I always try new sports, so next year mountain biking and skimo are on the list. It’s good training, and great fun, where you use different muscles and movement patterns. You also learn a lot about your mind and body when you try new challenges and the better you know yourself – the better you’ll be prepared to handle the hard races and events that come your way.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #5 (December 2017)