Saturday, 2 April 2016

On point with Staffan Björklund

The chronometer above the ÖtillÖ 2015 finish line on Utö Island stopped at 8:55:39. A new course record in the mixed category was in the books and Marika Wagner and her partner Staffan Björklund looked overwhelmed as they crushed the old race-best into pieces. Marika was the first female competitor to go sub-9 hours on that harsh course across the Stockholm archipelago.

Staffan and Marika had trained on the course for quite some time and also gave the overall competition a tough run for the podium - in the end they finished fifth overall.

I sat down with Staffan to chat about last year’s ÖtillÖ, their equipment and the sport of SwimRun in general.

Runssel: You live on the ÖtillÖ “start island” Sandhamn and are a professional adventure sport racer. The ÖtillÖ competition must be a particularly special for yourself as it’s just in front of your doorstep. When was the first time you heard about the race and how would you define the one-off magic of a race like this?

Staffan: This race has great meaning and importance to me. I read about ÖtillÖ when I saw the first ever race poster on the local notice board on Sandhamn. The informal notice spoke about a race, hosted in September by two legends of Adventure Racing, Mats (Skot) and Michael (Lemmel). Some years earlier I had applied for a place in their Adventure Racing Team, Human Link. So it was with great excitement and curiosity I read that the participants had to swim and run between the islands of Sandhamn and Utö in only one day. To me, it sounded like absolute craziness. A week or two later we were asked to help out with safety boats for the race, since I worked for the Guides of Sandhamn (Sandhamns Guiderna) and lived on the island. That was year number one for ÖtillÖ. Later on I ran the course and for a few years I worked with Mats and Michael taking down the ribbons after the race. We got to know each other and partnered up with other types of work during the year.
This race, in the heart of the Stockholm Archipelago, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I have been traveling the world but have not seen a place more unique yet. It’s pretty cool to have one of the toughest one-day racecourses just around your doorstep.

Staffan somewhere in the Telluride Mountains. (Picture: Mike Thurk)
Runssel: As an adventure racer you have certain experience in team racing. Generally you race in a group of four. How come you raced with your crew colleague Marika Wagner?

Staffan: I got Marika into Adventure Racing. We first meet a few years back, at the price ceremony on Utö Island after ÖtillÖ 2013. As my season 2014 went on our sponsor, Apollo Sports asked if I were interested in racing ÖtillÖ 2015 for them. They wanted a victory and I was in. The year passed and they had a hard time finding a partner good enough to challenge the elite with me. As 2015 began and Marika came into our Adventure Racing Team, the fit was perfect. She had two SwimRun podiums and I had won Utö SwimRun and had finished top 5 in ÖtillÖ. We thought we had a good chance.

SwimRun Selfie while training and course marking for Höga Kusten SwimRun.
Runssel: SwimRun is still a very young sport. How do you prepare for an event like ÖtillÖ? I know you scouted the course for quite some time but besides that how would you shift your training towards a race like this?

Staffan: As the years have past, I have trained on the course but somewhere on the way I lost the count for how many times I have done it. Today I am probably the one person who ran the course the most times. To prepare for this race we are very meticulous. Training is a long-term and year around commitment. We started focused training for 2015 ÖtillÖ 10 weeks before the competition.

A relaxed smile after battling with Team Peak Performance. (Picture: Alexandre Socci)
Runssel: There is quite some discussion about the perfect gear for SwimRun races. Tell us about your equipment. What did you use for ÖtillÖ and why did you use it?

Staffan: For gear we’re extremely picky. We used 2 mm minimalistic wetsuits that where custom built for us. It was made for running, not for swimming. We used SwimWins as hand paddles, a performance paddle made with carbon and extra ordinary grip. NO swim goggles. Our buoyancy devices were also custom built by the founder of the sport, Jesper Mars. Also, if you pay close attention to the pictures from the start last year, I look bigger than normal. The reason is explainable. Under my suit I have a vest that I made by myself - I can store 2 L of water, 12 gels and 36 Saltsticks. Marika also custom sew her bib to fit her better.

Team Number 211 "Team Peak Performance powered by Apollo Sports" heading for the sprint prize at Solvik during ÖtillÖ 2015 (Picture: Ötillö - The Swimrun World Championship)
Runssel: SwimRun is growing steady and fast. What does the future hold for this sport?

Staffan: Who knows how big this sport can grow? It's up to us athletes and all race organizers. If we like it to move towards the Olympics or stay in this free spirit surrounding, I don’t know. I will do what I can to contribute to the sport. I like people to acknowledge this as a well-accepted sport where you can make a living on a professional level.

SwimRun Training with partner Marika Wagner. (Picture: Jonatan Fernström)
Runssel: What’s on the agenda for you and your team for the rest of the year? What goals are you chasing next year?

Staffan: My/our agenda for 2016 is as usually packed with training and races. We chase a lot of new achievements and have big dreams for this year. However, in the end of April we’ll release our season of 2016 via our Social Media channels.

Catch Staffan via his Facebook and Instagram accounts!

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