© Alexis Berg

Lining up for the 42km BUFF Epic Trail skyrace in July, 24-year-old Swede, Johanna Åström, was a total newcomer. Despite having no skyrunning experience, she pulled off an incredible second-place finish, which she topped a month later by crushing the course record at Tromsø skyrace – arguably the most technical skyrace of the 2019 Migu Run Skyrunner World Series Calendar.

Johanna, who is also part of the Swedish Ski Mountaineering team and has won winter races such as the Romsdal Rando, climbed her way up to 3rd place in the Skyrunner World Series rankings and was in contention for the Series title in Limone last weekend until a hip injury she picked up whilst roller skiing forced her to pull out. In this interview, Johanna chats about her background, her newfound love of skyrunning and what her typical race season training looked like.

© Sho Fujimaki

Tell us about your childhood. You were pretty outdoorsy weren’t you?
I grew up on a farm in a small village outside Sundsvall, Sweden. As children we were very much outdoors and played. I helped milk the cows, built huts in the woods and played outside with my friends. In my spare time I trained cross country skiing, orienteering and football. Not at any high level, mostly for fun. My family and I was also very much in our cabin in the Swedish mountains. There we went skiing, hiking and picking berries.

You now live in Åndalsnes, Norway after moving there to train. Have you seen a difference in your performance since living in the mountains?
I moved to Norway to gain access to the excellent training opportunities available here for mountain running and skiing. The terrain is very technical in Åndalsnes. I notice that I have become better at handling technical parts, because I spend a lot of time among rocks and difficult terrain when I train. I’ve also become better at running very steep up and down.

You’re roommates with fellow skyrunner, Ida Nilsson, and live in the same area as Emelie Forsberg. Do you guys train together?
Yes, sometimes we train together! It is fun and educational to train with those who are more experienced.

© Alexis Berg

Until this year, you’d never competed in skyrunning. What made you give it a go?
I’ve always liked running in nature. When I was 19 I moved to Swedish mountains where I lived for four years. There I discovered the joy of running in the mountains. I ran my first mountain race in Norway in the summer of 2016. After that I have run some mountain races in Norway and Sweden. This summer I thought it would be fun to run some bigger races. I thought the Skyrunning series seemed very exciting. It is cool to compete in such a fantastic environment!

You set an amazing course record at Tromsø Skyrace (57km, 4700m+) this year. How did you find it? And had Emelie given you any pointers?
I had heard about the race before and thought it seemed like a fun race to run. I think it was fun to run a race in Norway, because this is where I live and I like the terrain here. Emelie had told me that the race was very technical, so I practiced a lot on steep terrain before the race.

Tell us about your training. Is most of your running on the mountain trails?
In the summer I mostly run in the mountains. I also train a lot of roller skiing and strength training. I rarely run flat, but sometimes I run intervals on a treadmill.

I vary a lot between long-distance training, intervals and shorter recovery sessions. Since I live in Åndalsnes, where there are very high mountains, the runner rounds often contain a lot of elevation. I really like the easy and long workouts in the mountains. I also enjoy running hard intervals uphill.

© Alexis Berg

Tell me about the roller skiing you do in training?
I like to go roller skiing as an alternative workout to running. I get to work with my whole body and it’s gentler than running. I get good strength and balance in the body by roller skiing.

What does a typical week of training look like during race season?

A typical week looks like this:
Monday: Easy mountain running, 3.5 hours
Tuesday: Morning – roller skiing, 2 hours. Afternoon – strength, 1 hour
Wednesday:Morning – 10 x 2 minutes uphill intervals, 1 hour. Afternoon – easy mountain running, 1 hour
Thursday: Morning – roller skiing, 2 hours. Afternoon – easy mountain running, 1 hour
Friday: Rest day
Saturday: Morning – 6 x 6 minutes uphill intervals, 1 hour. Afternoon – roller skiing, 2 hours
Sunday: Morning – easy mountain running, 3 hours. Afternoon – strength, 1 hour

You’re a successful skimo athlete. Does this mean you don’t get an ‘off-season’ as such?
The ‘off-season’ is not very long when you do two sports. After my last race I will be sure to take a few days off and have some weeks where I just train what I feel like. I think it’s fun to have two seasons. Mountain running and ski mountaineering are quite similar sports. Both sports benefit from each other. The training you do on skis during the winter, lays a good foundation for the summer.

© Sho Fujimaki

How will your training change once the winter season begins?
During the winter I vary between ski mountaineering, cross-country skiing, running and strength training. I do both longer workouts and harder intervals. I don’t run very much during the winter, maybe once or twice a week. I also try to train a lot of strength in the winter.

I am very interested how the body is structured and I like to read about training. “Olympiatoppen” is a good Norwegian website, where you can read about everything from endurance training to strength, psychology, nutrition and much more!

Will you be back on the skyrunning circuit next year?
Yes, I will! Really looking forward the next season.

Are you sponsored by anyone right now?
I have some sponsors that I work with. It means a lot to have people around you who believe in you! Right now I am sponsored by Dynafit, Suunto Sweden, KLEEN Sports Nutrition, Fjällnäs and Julbo.

© Sho Fujimaki

You can follow Johanna via her social media: www.instagram.com/johannaaastrom.