15 Oct From zero to ultra
Addnature co-worker Robert Svanell wanted to completely challenge his view on running as a sport and a lifestyle. Preconceived notions of a slow and time-consuming activity that often results in injuries were pushed aside by a newfound drive that has carried him through a half-marathon in a matter of months. It also resulted in an unexpected goal: to run Kungsleden in the north of Sweden.
– I always thought of runners as the people you see in the streets, running around the block on paved roads, and that never attracted me. I’ve also had problems with injuries ever since my youth. But if you can use that as training – to run far in the woods, the real woods, on trails and maybe even in mountains – then that changes everything.
Robert Svanell is 28 years old and is one of the writers behind the product descriptions on addnature.com and bikester.se. As of last summer, he’s a father of two and living in Hägersten in southern Stockholm. A growing insight into what the human body is capable of during long distance runs stoked a desire to experience the Swedish mountains with his running shoes on. To reach that goal, he needed a situation in everyday life that permitted and inspired training.
– Running is a sport you can bring with you basically anywhere. Wherever we go with the family I can go out running for a couple of hours – and at the same time discover the surroundings.
The next step – from trying something and liking it to becoming completely hooked – happened automatically, according to Robert. He wanted to know more about the people practicing the sport, so he read books and articles, watched documentaries and listened to podcasts. And the search for information inspired him.
– It’s not about speed and competitions. I’ve realised that running can be a way of being in nature, spending time together in nature, having fun and moving quickly.
For most of his life Robert has been mainly devoted to mountain biking, snowboarding and surfing, so the contrast in intensity can seem pretty vast. But for Robert there’s a common thread.
– I get the same kick from running as I do from sitting on my board in the ocean waiting for the waves to break. Running is purer and simpler than biking because you don’t really need any extra equipment. That same purity is what I like about surfing. You’re aided by one tool and nature supplies the rest. Except from how you use our body, of course.
Altitudes in the middle of Stockholm
Barely three months into his newfound interest, Robert signed up for a race in Hammarbybacken in Stockholm. He ran 23 kilometres (more than a half-marathon) across steep terrain, reaching up to 1020 altimetres.
– I hadn’t done much running at all at that point, but I felt I had to try it. It was different from anything I’d done before. I’d never run that far and never in hilly terrain. It seemed fun to me, so I thought about how I wanted to approach it.
Smiling, as if remembering his own naivety, he tells us about preparing.
– I tried running farther than I normally do, just to see if I even stood a chance of completing the race. But other than that, there was little preparation. I didn’t even go to test the terrain, so I guess it was a bit cocky. I just wanted something fun and motivating to look forward to.
The race went well. Robert made it to the finish line with some juice left in him.
– It was partly in that moment that the idea of longer distances in steeper and more challenging terrain began to form. I realised I could do it despite a history of knee injuries. Shortly after that, I began talking to a friend about running Kungsleden and how epic it would be to experience nature in that way.
Running in the mountains wasn’t the only idea he had after having survived the altimetres in Hammarby. Integrating running into everyday life and over shorter distances gained appeal. The routes along the Sörmland trail felt more and more possible – as well as inspiring.
The seriousness is approaching
Even though running has come to mean being surrounded by nature, playfully experiencing miles and miles of mountain trails, everyday training looks quite different for Robert.
Robert decided to seek outside help to progress his training. Working with a company specialised in training assistance, he took a series of tests to find out his physical performance and receive a personalised training schedule. Shortly before the test, Robert’s knee started hurting. He pushed himself hard, so the injury didn’t come as a surprise to people close to him (though he felt it was unexpected). It turns out he suffers from an “irritated knee”, so he received a training program adapted to rehabilitate the knee – with the goal of slowly reconditioning his body for long-distance running.
– During the testing they measured oxygen uptake capacity, lactic acid escalation and pulse. It showed me that I’ve good enough conditioning to be able to run long distances. The results were positive, but I have to focus on building up muscle, so my body can handle the stress that comes with running that far.
After a couple of weeks of the program, the knee problems are almost completely gone, and Robert feels a huge difference. The tests also pushed him to keep running daily, something that can be hard to find the motivation for when there are neither forests nor mountains nearby.
– Even though I like doing something and find it really fun, I still need a push from someone telling me to go out and run. Now I have exactly that in the shape of a smartphone schedule. It gives me notifications three times a week with details on what distances to run and when.
In four months, Robert will do another test and get a new workout schedule. But the goal is set, the long distances are within reach and the time when running felt irrelevant is just a memory.
– The insight that we humans have the physical capacity for long-distance running continues to motivate me and Kungsleden has become an image of the joy that surrounds running. It doesn’t have to go quickly or anything, I just want it to work out.