“You will not get a medal from me - because you will get yours on the podium.” These are the words that Michael Lemmel said proudly to Lene Sandvoll Stern when she crossed the finish line of the ÖTILLÖ Sprint Üto race on Saturday, May 21st. “It was an unreal moment,” said Lene, that she would remember forever.
Lene stood on a podium for the first time in her life.
What was your favorite moment in the ÖTILLÖ Sprint Üto race?
Feeling strong on the swims, despite that the water was 7 - 8 degrees, and it was wavy with strong currents. For instance, there was one swim where I passed four world series teams standing on the cliff, evaluating whether to enter the water or not - and I just ran past them and jumped in.
What did you learn about yourself in this race?
In tough conditions - I am a stronger swimmer compared to others. I am not a fast swimmer in the pool, but in tough waters I tend to be quite fast in a group.
To keep a high frequency, breathe as seldom as possible - especially when it is wavy. Because underneath the surface it is always calm, although there is chaos and wind over the surface.
What was the single most challenging aspect of racing by yourself?
That you are completely alone. You are alone with your thoughts. You are alone with nature. If you panic on a swim, there is no one there to calm you. If you miss a ribbon - there is no one else that notices that you are running in the wrong direction. When you are mentally down, there is no one there to push you. And I am alone with my running pace, too. Normally Åsa, or another partner, pulls me on the runs and they set the pace - which creates a push to go faster.
What is the single most beneficial part of racing by yourself?
The transitions are much faster. You don’t have to think about the tow line, and you don’t have to wait for your partner up and down. Even if you are really fast in transitions as a pair, it will always be faster to go alone. I have seen that as a volunteer, that solo racers often come first, even before the fastest teams.
Do you prefer solo to teams after this experience?
No, I prefer to be a team. For sure! I only did this solo race because my partner got sick just a couple of days before. But - I don’t regret doing a solo race. Rather the contrary, I think that it is a valuable experience that will make me a better swimrunner and teammate for the future. Because now I know my own strengths and weaknesses better.
In preparing for this successful race, what did you do differently?
In the fall of 2021, I realized that although I trained systematically in terms of the number of sessions, I did not have a very good plan for these sessions. I followed Envol Swimrun’s general plan, which is a great plan, but I tended to just pick a few of the sessions. I typically did three runs per week and one swim of 2000 m.
I decided on a more individualized plan, and Envol swimrun paired with their certified coach, Sabina Rapelli. She is one of the best swimrunners in the world, and also a gym teacher and a gymnast. Since November, she has made my training plans. I now have two swims every week, which are typically 3000-4000 m. I still have three runs, but clearly structured - one interval run, one fast distance run, and one longer run. Sometimes she puts in three swims or four runs in one week. I have not been able to follow the schedule of Sabina completely, but it has still given me a much better structure of my training.
What other races are you planning to compete in this season?
Åsa Larsson and I will race the ÖTILLÖ Cannes World Series. That is our main goal of the season. I really long to go to Cannes. The pictures from that race last year were just incredible! And I haven’t raced abroad since Malta November 2019 before Covid-19 hit.
Is there anything in particular that attracts you to Swimrun and its community?
Several things!! I love the fact that the course is in the wild. You experience beautiful scenery everywhere you go. This is a huge difference compared to triathlon or city marathons, for instance. Furthermore, the atmosphere in the community is amazing. Everyone is so welcoming - world champions talk to amateurs and are truly interested and encouraging. I think that is unique to Swimrun.
You have really pushed yourself in all sports such as cross country and touring skiing, training non-stop. What keeps you so motivated to be so athletic?
As a child I had quite severe asthma, and did not do any kind of cardio sports. I trained in classical ballet and played musical instruments. This also meant that there were many things I felt I could not do. I had a hard time following others for mountain hikes, for example.
When I was pregnant, my asthma worsened, and when the children were small I was not fit enough to run after or carry them without pain. So I contacted a Personal Trainer and asked, “Can you help me strengthen my body so that I can carry my children?” And she did.
I began training once a week, then increased to twice. Then I started seeing that the training enabled me to do things I wanted to do, but could not have done before. I could run with my children, or ski with them without getting tired. And this continued into an active lifestyle.
Today I am motivated to stay healthy, to live a longer and healthier life. And I am driven by my children. This winter, I went ski touring with my 12-year old. I could not have done that ten years ago. Plus, I depend on that dopamine kick to get the best sleep, and to find the right focus at work.
You are a partner at a growth firm and have several children. Yet you still find time to train. How do you manage all of the demands in your life?
First of all, I think that the training enables me to do my best at work. Research shows that physical activity improves your focus, productivity and attitude while also coping with stress. Often, when I have a challenging problem at work, an hour of swimming or running will clear my mind. But that said, it can of course be hard to find the actual time for the training.
Some of my best advice here is:
Train in the mornings.
This means only one shower and get ready routine per day. You can basically pull on your training clothes straight from bed and go out the door.
Plug training sessions into your calendar just as you schedule meetings.
Then they are much more likely to happen
Train when your children have their sports and music activities.
I have often done strength sessions while watching a swimming lesson or a football practice.
Train together with your family.
I love doing runs and strength training with my boys, like running alongside them while they take their bikes.
What did you wear under your wetsuit? ;)
I raced in a full swimrun top with a lot of pockets, because another aspect of racing solo is that you have to carry all mandatory gear yourself. And my suit had no pockets, so I had to have a swimrun top. But in races in the hot summer, I prefer to have only a bra under the wetsuit. And then the problem is that the bra does not fit all the gels, soft bottle, whistles, etc. In addition, bras often are more wet than the wetsuit, and take longer to dry.
Is there anyone in particular who gave you great inspiration to perform as you did yesterday?
Sabina Rapelli. My coach gave me the confidence before the race that I would be able to do it, and that I should push hard all the way. Sabina prepared me specifically for the running and swimming pace of this race. She was also present at Utö. It was a great last motivation to get that pep talk from her, right before the race, particularly her encouragement to move the arms fast in the water due to the very cold conditions.
Mia Rohman. Because she is always there, pushing and cheering. Also this time. And every time you hear her in the forest or along the road, you just want to go harder.
And first and foremost, my partner Åsa Larsson who fell ill before the race. I wanted to race for the both of us.