© Catarina Axelsson
Since Swedish athlete Fanny Kuhn completed her first swimrun event in 2014, she hasn’t looked back, winning a stack of races with her swimrun partner, Desiree Anderson – including the biggie: the ÖtillÖ World Championship, which includes 10km of swimming and 65km of trail running! (Yes, really!)
However, the former competitive swimmer isn’t content just to compete – she’s on a mission to encourage more women and girls to give swimrun a go via WILD Swimrun,the business she launched with fellow swimrunner, Maria Rohman, which offers women-only swimrun training camps, along with advice and help via an online community.
I put some questions to Fanny about training, racing and everything swimrun.
You grew up swimming competitively. I imagine this meant a strong work ethic from a young age?
Yes indeed, swimming and training have always been part of my life, almost so much that I take it for granted and as something that is essential to life. I appreciate how the sport has shaped me to have a strong mindset and an ability to work towards my goals in other areas of life as well.
How did you go from pool swimmer to swimrun athlete?
After my college swimming career in the United States (I went to the University of Louisville and swam for their Division I swim team), I wanted to try something new. So I joined a triathlon team to try it out, and there I met another former swimmer, Pär Kristoffersson, who told me about Swimrun.
One day, he asked me if I wanted to do a race with him, it was the ÖtillÖ Utö full distance. I had only run 10km in one go before, and this race was a total of 35km running. I hesitated a bit, but then the little adventure devil inside of me could not refuse the challenge, so I said yes. It was such a cool experience and we actually managed to win the race, although let’s just say it was not because of my running skills! Since then I’ve been hooked on the sport!
Did you have any swimrun racing disasters or did it all go smoothly from the start?
Well, the race above in the last question wasn’t really a disaster, but it was tough. I cramped up in my whole back at the end and I also did the whole race with a full-length wetsuit! Looking back at that, I don’t really know how I got through all that running…
You’ve competed in lots of swimrun events. Which has been the toughest so far?
The ÖtillÖ World Championships are one of the toughest races for me. It’s an unusually low percentage of swimming, and in the last third of the race, you have to run a half-marathon without any swimming on a flat road. Flat road running is definitely my weakest point in swimrun, and because of that, it’s always a challenge getting through that part of the race, when you’ve already run about 45km! This is a fight inside in my head, every time.
Can you recall any moments when you’ve really had to dig deep to keep going during a race?
There’s another moment that I remember, from Utö Swimrun 2018. I had a rough day that day and didn’t feel 100%. It was a close race, and we were fighting head-to-head with another team. I remember a certain moment in this race when they passed us running on a flat stretch. I felt so bad at that moment but somehow decided in my head that now is the moment [to go for the win]. If we cannot keep up with them now, we will not be able to win. So I increased the pace, despite struggling, and Desiree followed. We didn’t say anything to each other, just felt it together, that we can do this.
We followed and eventually passed the other team, running at a pace that was way beyond what we usually do and managed to hold off and win the race with just a minute’s margin. This was one of those moments when you have to make a mental decision and rise up to your challenge. It’s amazing what your body can do when your mind is in the right place. In general, I think endurance sport is so much more mental than physical.
Tell me about your swimrun training – what does a typical week look like for you?
I usually do about 3-4 swim sessions, of with three are 1-hour sessions and one is longer – about 6000-7000m. I run about 3-4 sessions, of which one is a long run on the weekend. Then I also spend 1-2 sessions on yoga and strength training. When I can, I switch out the long weekend run for a swimrun session.
Some weeks I have time to train more, and some not at all this much. I try to keep a healthy relationship with my training and fit it into life in a sane way. If I have a ton of stuff at work or feel stressed, I cut back and listen to my body. But training is also my way to relax my mind and let my creativity and thoughts flow, so I cannot be without it for too long.
What kind of run training do you do?
The weekday runs I do on asphalt usually, and they are around an hour long and with a purposeful set, such as intervals. For the long runs, I go on trails or gravel roads. To be honest, I don’t really like running in the city and on roads. What I really like is to take the train up to the Colserolla National Park in the mountains around Barcelona (Fanny lives in Barcelona) and get lost in the steep trails up there. Trail running is more of an adventure; you never know what is going to appear around the next corner!
How much swimming do you do in open water vs the pool?
In the summer, I try to do as much open water as possible because it is what I love the most. But I keep at least one pool session as well, as I think it’s good for technique and speed. I train with a group for my pool sessions. I mix using equipment and swimming without it. It is important to have swims without equipment so you don’t lose your technique and posture in the water, always relying on the pullbuoy.
You race with Desiree Andersson. Are you pretty well matched in terms of your swim/run ability?
Yes, that is also why we race so well I think; we are very evenly matched. I’m a slightly better swimmer, and she’s a slightly better runner, but that’s not something that is a problem. Instead, we use it to our advantage, Desiree usually keeps the pace and pushes me on the running, while I usually take the lead and navigate on the swims.
Since she lives in Stockholm and I’m in Barcelona, we don’t train that much together. Sometimes we go on training camps and when I’m back in Stockholm we always try to get a few sessions in. But all our competitions together have made us very tuned in to racing together, and we feel confident racing as a team even if we don’t train together every day.
How does your training change in the off-season?
I usually cut back on running long runs for a few weeks, and spend time on alternative training like strength and yoga, maybe some biking. Lately, I have gotten into yoga and found it very helpful for both posture and peace of mind. I really want to get better at it so this is something I will do more of this off-season! It’s a different type of challenge, to learn how to control your body and thoughts.
What do you typically eat before a swimrun?
I try to eat what I usually eat the day before – I like to eat a lot of vegetables, fish and maybe some rice the night before. I always eat some beets because apparently that’s good for opening your blood cells for oxygen reception. For breakfast, I usually eat a little bit of oatmeal with peanut butter, but not too much as I don’t like to run with a full stomach.
You’re on a mission to get more women into swimrun. Tell us about WILD Swimrun and the swimrun camps you run?
Yes! As you probably know, in most endurance sports there are often less than 20% women on the starting line. We want to show how rewarding outdoor endurance sports are in all aspects of life, and show women the way in through our events and brand, WILD Swimrun. We think a fun and good way to do it is to go on a training camp with a bunch of ladies and have fun while you try out the sport.
Apart from the camps, we also have an online community and you can ask to join the group WILD Swimrun Community where we share thoughts and content around swimrun and other inspiration. We’re also working on another branch in our business, which is to help young women find their way to swimrun. When you grow up, you find many challenges as a young woman and we think sport, especially swimrun, is a phenomenal pillar to stand on along this phase in life. Swimrun connects you with nature and the supportive swimrun community gives strength, support and energy. For our next camp, we have recently launched a scholarship application for women between 15-20, where two ladies will be able to come to the camp for free (you can apply until 31 December – more info here).
Our next camp in 2-5 April 2020, in Costa Brava, Spain. You can read all the details and sign up here:
What are your favourite items of kit for racing and training?
I like to use the HEAD Aero wetsuit, HEAD Tiger MID goggles, Swimrunners pullbuoy, strokemakers yellow-size paddles and the HEAD Swimrun bra underneath the wetsuit.
Who are you sponsored by right now?
I work with HEAD Swimming, and through Team Envol, also Vivobarefoot, Precision Hydration, Gococo Sportswear and Swimrunners.