This week’s Running The World interview comes from the gorgeous country of Sweden. I have a bit of a girl-crush on Sweden – doesn’t everyone? Its people are beautiful, its design skills are legendary, the country itself is beautiful, it gave us Abba, Ikea and Lisbeth Salander. It consistently ranks as one of the top five countries for pretty much everything good. So I was intrigued to find out a little about how running fits into this beautiful country.
Today’s interviewee is the lovely Sara. I found Sara by contacting Urban Tribes, a running club in Stockholm and their chief, Colm, put me in contact with Ann-Sofie, who works for Runners World Sweden. Ann-Sofie wanted to be part of this but was just too busy, so she put me in contact with Sara…and this is what she told me.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am Sara, I have recently moved from Stockholm which is a city bustling with life – to Åre, a quiet little town in the north of Sweden (about 650km north of Stockholm) famous for its world class skiing. From my windows, I can see the mountains and a lake, and life here is about skiing, running, trekking, cycling and just enjoying life outside. In a way, you could call this downsizing but really it is not – I find myself living in a huge trend where you pack up your life and move away and live life how you really want to live it, and it’s just as expensive as in the city because here people have expensive bikes and skis and stuff. I work with content management and digital PR and have done so for the last 5-8 years. I’m born in the 80’s and want my work to be part of my lifestyle. I write one of Sweden’s largest blogs (in Swedish) within Health and Wellness and want my work to be fun and ever changing.
I like to travel a lot and running is a great reason to do just that. I love travelling in Sweden, it’s absolutely gorgeous, but I would really like to go to Iceland and South Africa. And I love traveling in the States, I’ve been there several times. I just got back from NYC a few weeks ago and will go back in November.
How did you get into running?
Running is so simple, so it’s always been a part of my life. First it was something I “had” to do to get fit but now it’s a way to experience life – and the world. I went to Cyprus to run the 4 day challenge with a friend in November and we’re looking into more fun races. I also ran the Midnight Sun half marathon in Tromsö, in the very north of Norway, last June. Running in cool places is a way of experiencing life. You are close to nature – and to your soul, it’s fascinating! I run everything from 5k to ultra marathons, my longest race was 80k. I never run to beat a time. I’ve come to the conclusion that running a 10k race 30 second faster, or so, won’t make me happier. But running in beautiful places will. That’s quite an insight which has completely changed the way I run, and made it more fun and more meaningful.
(Cat’s note: She’s so right. Please remind me of this next time I forget)
How popular is running within Sweden?
Running is extremely popular and more people want to run longer distances. However, I believe that extremely short races like a few hundred meters will soon be popular too. Many races sell out in no time. The shores of Stockholm is crowded with runners and some people (who don’t run) think this is a nuisance.
Is running new to Sweden or does it have a history of running?
Running is not new to Swedes but the way it has increased in popularity is unheard of. However, many people say that even though more people are running today than before – fewer people are as fast as the “old school runners” who trained very hard and always ran as fast as they could when they were out training. Many runners of today want to train like the elite and have expensive gear and good knowledge of the lactic acid threshold and pose running, but many of the records are old and those times are hard to beat.
Sweden is a big country – do you have any idea about running’s popularity in different parts of the country?
People run all over the country but how people run – and why – differs. People in the cities have a larger tendency to be all geared up with technology while runners in the countryside run in clothes and shoes that might not be from this season but they prove that it works just as well. They don’t need to show off as much.
How do Swedish runners handle the brutal winters?
Running during the winter is all about the right clothes. I prefer to run shorter distances when it’s cold, if it’s colder than -20 degrees C, I usually consider training indoors. We have thicker winter tights with wind resistant material for instance, and I always wear 2 or 3 layers. There is a lot of technology in winter clothing to keep you warm and dry and that makes all the difference. If it’s icy outside I might wear shoes with spikes (Icebugs) but I’ve only recently started doing that. Here in Åre I run on the lake during winter times, in the tracks from snow mobiles. That’s great – and very flat…
What kind of people run in Sweden?
Women are driving the Health and Wellness awareness but when it comes to running specifically it’s hard to tell. In racing, men are still dominating although there are many women’s races as well. I would definitely say that most of the runners are middle class and typically well educated with good jobs. You can usually tell a lot from a person depending on the clothes he or she wears…
There are some initiatives empowering less fortunate people by running and I think that is great. There is also a trend to make workplaces more healthy by the means of running and sometimes that doesn’t end well because there is usually a pressure to perform and to run for Personal Bests instead of well being.
Are there any issues relating to female runners in particular? Any safety issues?
I know that sometimes women, often living in the countryside or in smaller cities, don’t prioritize their own health (running) and instead end up doing stuff for others. Which, ironically, might be taking care of the kids while their husbands go training… and that’s ok I guess, if the husband also make sure there is time for his wife to go training.
I have always felt safe when running. I enjoy late runs and sometimes end my runs just before midnight and I have never felt scared or so. Sometimes I’m more scared when running in the forest or in the countryside because we have bears and moose and stuff and sometimes they can be a little angry when a runner comes and disturbs them.
Can you tell us a little about the racing scene in Sweden?
There are a lot of races in Sweden – the largest one is the Göteborgsvarvet half-marathon with 65 000 runners. The first start is like at 1pm and the last start is at 16pm. It’s quite a party! We have a lot of ultra races as well and I have some friends running a trail race called Transcania in southern Sweden, which is 246 km long. I think it might be the longest race we have. The ultra races are fairly cheap – at least compared to the big 10k or half marathon races. Stockholm marathon costs nearly than 900 SEK I think. ($135/80 GBP).
If you could encourage a traveller to do any Swedish race, which would it be?
I would recommend some of the ultra trail races; maybe the TEC 50 and 100 miles (the Täby Extreme Challenge, in Stockholm)although it might be a bit cold because it is in April. I prefer to run races abroad, I guess Swedish races are not so interesting to me. They’re too small and not enough people are cheering on.
And for those of us who don’t run quite as far on a regular basis?
I’d recommend the Tjejmilen 10k – a women’s race, for the fun of it or the Göteborgsvarvet 21km because it is like a big party. However, for those who seek a more genuine experience I’d go for the smaller races. There is a race in Halmstad in August called “Prinsens Minne” (the memory of the prince) and you can choose between 10k and half a marathon. It is drop dead gorgeous and you run alongside the shore.
What is becoming popular in Swedish running circles?
A huge trend is running camps. You could probably go on a running camp any weekend you want. They are organized everywhere; usually by a run coach together with a hotel or so. They are usually a lot of fun. My advice would be to go running in the mountains because it is amazingly beautiful!
What brands are popular? Where do people buy their running things?
People in Sweden buy a lot of stuff online, and very often from abroad because it’s cheaper. I am a fan of running shoes and have more than 30 pairs. I usually buy my shoes when I’m in the States – but because I have a well known blog I also get to try out shoes and share my views on them.
GPS watches are a big thing and people like their gadgets. They want to track everything; from the basics such as pulse and speed to how long they should recover after their training session (based on pulse). Avid runners know a lot about clothing and dress in high performance gear: compression, high performance socks and such things.
Any particular Swedish brands?
Craft Sportswear is a Swedish sports brand from the 70’s (you can find it more or less worldwide) who have done a lot of research and are tremendously good at base-layers. They equip both cyclists, runners and cross country skiers (e.g. skiing stars like Marit Björgen and Charlotte Kalla). When you’re out during winter time you see a lot of Craft apparel. Other Swedish brands are Casall and Röhnisch who make clothes for women in particular. I think that overall Swedish women are very interested in wearing good looking clothes for training and running, while guys don’t really have the same supply to choose from in shops.
Who are Sweden’s running heroes?
I believe that many people in Sweden run to empower themselves. I can’t really point out any stars within the field of running that are well known to a lot of people. I believe many people have their local stars; it could be someone who has overcome a challenge or who run for charity or things like that.
I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned Emelie Forsberg, the Skyrunning champion (who I have to admit is a massive heroine of mine). She’s in pretty much everything that I read or watch about running.
I think Emelie Forsberg might be a bigger star abroad than she is in Sweden actually. Jonas Buud would be more of a household name and there has been more publicity about him. It’s a pity because Emelie is cool!
What do Swedish runners use to fuel and hydrate when running? Any Swedish specialities?
I’m all into chocolate milk while running but I seem to be the only one. I think people who run long distance have a good knowledge of what works for them. But ultra races in Sweden always serve crisps and salty licorice.
Is Twitter/Blogging big within the Swedish running community? Any cool blogs/twitterers that we should follow?
Social media overall is very big in Sweden and there are many running communities among bloggers and there are also some sites where people can track their runs and find other runners to discuss and share things with. The biggest blogs are written by women and there is a general tendency that big bloggers run longer distances (like marathons).
If I landed in your city or country, where would you send me to find out about the local running routes, group runs, and local races?
Funbeat.se – one of the largest sites with a list of all the races in the country, where you can track your running and find new friends. In Stockholm there are many free groups which you can join to run with but the Nike Run group just closed down.
(Cat’s note: Urban Tribes were really friendly and helpful when I contacted them about this post.)
How do I say (and pronounce) ‘I love running’ and ‘I am a (female) runner’ in Swedish?
I love running =Jag älskar att springa. (jag elskar at springha)
I am a runner = Jag är en löpare (jag air en loparey)
What are the best thing and worst things about running in Sweden?
The best thing is the nature. Regardless of where you run – it will be stunning! The most challenging issue is probably the weather; you need to build up a good wardrobe!
Sara, thank you so much for all your help pulling this post together. You can follow her blog if you read Swedish (or use the translate button)…find it HERE. However if your Swedish extends no further than mine, you should definitely follow Sara on Instagram HERE – her feed is beautiful.
For other Running The World interviews, click HERE.