How to become a World Champion

After decades of competing and now years as an endurance athlete, you think I’d know my mind and body outside and in by now. It’s curious that they both still surprise me sometimes. Something that you never stop doing, is learning about yourself and the capabilities of the human body – mental and physical. 

This race report will be mostly from the perspective of preparation, because it really is not only about race day if you want to win, or even take part in, a challenge like this. If you want to read more about the ÖtillÖ course and specifics about the race, I’ve written about that in detail in reports from some of my previous four starts in ÖtillÖ – read them under News. After a review of the preparation, you’ll get a summary of the race itself. 

What it takes

Confidence, happiness, passion, friendship and a hunger for revenge were the main ingredients for our success this year. This foundation enabled my Swimrun partner Desirée Andersson and I to take home the ÖtillÖ Swimrun World Championship title 2019. Continue reading to find out why these ingredients were key to our performance, racing from Sandhamn to Utö in 9 hours and 5 minutes on 2 September, finishing as 1st Women’s team and 19th overall.  

Photo: Catarina Axelsson

Confidence

To stand on the starting line, and being confident for real, is not the easiest. It requires proper preparation in training, a belief in yourself, your partner and your goal. It is preceded by grit and dedication throughout the year to achieve the small goals along the way that build up your confidence little by little, and staying on course with your training and recovery.

I changed my training this year slightly, to ensure not getting injured (as I sadly was the past two years). I know this was the key and I wanted to try some new things while keeping on the right side of the injury-and-overtraining border. Roughly speaking, I ran less kilometres and focused on 3 to 4 quality running sessions weekly rather than going for easy runs just to add kilometres. I did that in the pool instead, where I know nothing strange will happen to my ankles or hips. Instead of extra running, I put time on alternative training, adding a 1.5-hour session of yoga a week, and continuing as well with 1 to 2 strength sessions. For the swimming part, I kept it about the same, except for adding a great Saturday long session with the Marnaton training group here in Barcelona. 

Last year, I couldn’t help but compare my training to various ultra runners and long distance triathletes, worrying and adding running km to my week without thinking. I’m pretty sure that’s what got me injured and to be honest, also pretty miserable. I like running, but I love swimming. I don’t know my running body as well as I do my swimming body, and stressed a lot about wondering when enough is enough and if something is hurting or not. This year, I’ve been focusing on making those fewer running sessions really good, and trusting my plan. It seems to work pretty well so far. 

All in all, I knew on the starting line I had done what was right for me and my body, and that I was in good shape. Moreover, Desiree and I spent much more time than usual preparing the little things together before the Swimrun World Championship. We had a pull buoy workshop, went to practice both ends of the course (including some slight difficulties on Skarp-Runmarö lol) and did some lunch jogs and swim sessions together the weeks before when I was in Stockholm. This helped make sure everything was perfectly in order ahead of race day. 

Happiness & Passion

Only focusing on performance does not work, at least for me. I like to often remind myself of why I am passionate about this and why I am doing what I’m doing, being honest with myself to ensure that the struggles and hard moments are worth it in the end. Swimrun is a fantastic sport, and I appreciate every day how lucky I am for being pretty good at it, and get to practice it in training and competition, connecting with nature, the amazing community of athletes all over the world that I get to meet and the adventurous lifestyle this sport allows. 

Team Envol at Djurönäset

Another part of happiness is balance. I like to do other things apart from training and competing Swimrun as well. Achieving this life balance is sometimes not easy, referring to spending time with friends and family, working, and putting time on other exciting projects. 

This year was full of new things. I got married to my soul mate Jonathan in July, and also started a new job as Account Manager at Race.se in August – a job close to my passion that I’ve always wanted (If you’re a race organizer, make sure you check out our platform or send me an email to fanny@race.se and I’ll tell you about all the great things we can do together).

These things took up space and focus, but also contributed to a general state of happiness that I think helped me in the end. It is all about creating a flow that works, and gives energy rather than stress. 

Friendship

My first race with Desiree was ÖtillÖ Hvar 2018. Then, we were a great team technically, but didnt know each other very well yet. After a year and a half competing, training and traveling together, we have become good friends and the teamwork is beyond technical. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and push each other to work on them, while we can also lift each other up mentally when needed during a race. Because we know each other so well, I was sure that Desiree wanted the same thing as I: to just win this thing. This shared sense of achievement put our focus straight. 

Hunger for revenge

To compete, you have to want it. No other time have we wanted to win so badly and had the taste of victory on the tip of our tongues. This, because we were so close the year before – only 3 minutes after the queens of Swimrun Annika & Kristin (that still got to keep their record). 

The Race 

We both admitted it, it felt different this year – somehow nicer, and more relaxed, arriving to Djurönäset the day before the start. This feeling of being nervous and ready was creeping up, but only in a positive sense of way. Because of our thorough preparation, we just felt everything was right and ready. 

And we were. At 4:15 the alarm went off, and it was time for breakfast (or if we should call it a nightly snack). Up in the boat, and out to Sandhamn. It is special walking down the candle-lit path down to the ferry, feeling the anticipation from the 150 teams that travelled from across the world to challenge themselves in the archipelago, getting contained inside this small space on the boat. You can almost touch the Swimrun spirit of we-can-do-this with a touch of inter-team rivalry among the top contenders. 

Well on Sandhamn, we see Desireée’s family and many others that have come to support us. We are happy and excited, and ready to go. The starting shot goes off, and we are on the course to just do this. 

The start is always a bit chaotic, and the main focus is on not tripping on roots or getting shoved by elbows or paddles. We made it without scratches to the first swim, and got well away in our own group to the left of the pack. I like swimming in free waters, so it was a conscious choice not to follow the main group. 

After this waited slippery rocks. The cliffs were the most slippery I’ve experienced them throughout the years, especially during the beginning of the race, wet from the previous night’s rainfall. It was challenging on these first islands, to keep balance and speed. 

Arriving to Runmarö, we decided to deviate from our plan slightly, and kept our wetsuits on. We were actually chilly, and felt the energy to take the suits down was not worth it. We kept our carefully studied nutrition plan intact and split a pack of Clif Bloks throughout this run. We held a steady speed we could hold even, with the rest of the race in mind. 

After Runmarö comes a few ups and downs, until you reach the second long run on Nämdö. All went well so far and we got reports we were increasing our lead. Here my family’s boat met up with us and we had a steady cheering squad on our feet to keep us company the remaining journey. We kept a steady pace, and did as we had planned and took our suit tops off. We have actually practiced this a lot. With experience, we have realized it is so worth it to cab down, not only for the feeling of running free and cool, but also to get a chance to fully relax your shoulders and recover for more swimming ahead. 

Throughout the rest of the course, up to Ornö, we kept going and just followed our nutrition and race plan. The hours went by, and apart from a bit of a naughty stomach and a quick bathroom break from my side, we got along well. 

Even throughout my always most dreaded part, the half marathon without any swimming over Ornö, we kept up well. Desiree pushed and saved me there. It was amazing to have her positive voice in my ear when my legs really really just wanted to give up. But with her help, and what we wanted to achieve in mind, I could push forward and we held a good pace all through the island, with some extra strength given from our amazing cheer squad at Ornö Church. Desireée pulled out some incredible forces the last kilometres there, and for the first time racing together, we put the rope on and she pulled me along. It was inspiring to see her strength in this moment. 

Once the cold water at the tip of Ornö finally surrounded our drained quads and calves, also I got some extra energy. We had by this time realized that we might have a shot at the course record, and despite having several minutes lead we gave it all we had. We flew (it felt, but most likely did not look so) over the last few islands, only to get to Utö and realizing that it would be very hard to run those 3.6 km in 11 minutes… I was quite bummed at this point and just shuffled forward with my crampy calf. But Desiree never gave up, she somehow believed it was possible to run that fast, and put the rope on my waist and started to pull, it was an impressive effort.

At this point, you just want to get there. And finally we did, with half of the team (me) realllyyy struggling up the last hill, we crossed the finish line with a quite coordinated somersault for being us, and I got a nice champagne shower by my fellow World Champion. 

Epilogue

Summing up, the preparation resulted in a perfect race day, and a plan well executed. It feels pretty cool to be a World Champion, but even cooler to be World Champions together. 

Photo: Catarina Axelsson

Thank you to everyone that made this possible: ÖtillÖ for making this race a reality, our sponsors, all our team mates, all the Swimrunners in the race, our families, our friends, my husband and everyone else out there that believed in us – we could feel it. 

The body feels good after some recovery and lighter training, and we just can’t get enough… So you will see us on the starting line in Germany for 1000 Lakes on Sunday! 

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