Paul Krochak moved from Canada to Sweden in 2010 and has since won the ÖTILLÖ SwimRun World Championships in 2013 and 2015, together with his Swedish teammate Björn Englund. In 2014 this Swedish-Canadian duo was beaten and finished in the runner-up spot, but that only added fuel to the fire. We reached out to Paul Krochak and he was very kind to share some of his thoughts about racing, training, and gear for SwimRun events, and also his personal life, with slowtwitch.
ST: Thank you for your time Paul.
Paul: My pleasure!
ST: Now with the 2015 ÖTILLÖ SwimRun World Championships behind you does that mean you get to enjoy other interests such as cooking?
Paul: Oh yes! I’ll still race a few more times this year on the road and track, finishing the season with Amsterdam marathon later in October. But cooking some extravagant meals will definitely be a priority.
ST: What would you consider an extravagant meal?
Paul: I’m really into Indian and North African cuisines and dishes that use complex blends of traditional herbs, roots and spices. These dishes can take a while to put together but are always worth the effort. I’ve become a bit of a geek when it comes to sourcing ingredients and recipes.
ST: I believe your mom has inspired that passion.
Paul: Yeah, I suppose she did really. But my wife Katie is a huge foody so it’s something the two of us share a passion for together.
ST: Do you two invite others to these meals or are you more to yourselves there?
Paul: A bit of both. But I would say we host a lot more dinners than being hosted. Hey, good food can only be bettered with good company.
ST: You mentioned the Amsterdam marathon earlier. What time will you be aiming for?
Paul: I’ve been trying to crack 2:30 for years now so that goal still stands. But anything under 2:33 I’ll be pretty happy.
ST: What were some of the sports you pursuit as a younger man?
Paul: I started playing hockey and competitive swimming at a very young age and took them both to a fairly high level. Then in my mid-later teens I basically played every sport I could, football, basketball, skiing, mountain biking etc. Eventually triathlon and long distance running came into the picture.
ST: Were your athletic interests also supported or guided by your parents?
Paul: Probably swimming was to a large extent. Hockey is just a natural part of being a Canadian boy. The group of kids I grew up with, we were completely obsessed with hockey. We played before school, during recess, lunch, after school and all weekend. Actually I grew up with an extremely competitive group of kids. We pushed it in every sport we were involved with, even from a young age. It was pretty cool thinking back about it.
ST: Are you still connected to some of these kids?
Paul: A couple of them actually. One of my childhood buddies, Mike Murphy has become an absolute demon at mountain running. He takes me out on some pretty epic adventures every summer when I’m back in BC. I get completely worked over.
ST: Where in Canada did you grow up?
Paul: I grew up in a smaller city right in the middle of the country called Saskatoon, known for its really cold winters and really hot summers. I moved to Vancouver when I was 19 and stayed there for about 15 years.
ST: Since 2010 you have been residing in Sweden. Was it a relatively simple and smooth transition?
Paul: Hehe, let’s just say there was an adjustment period. But yeah, it was pretty smooth. Swedes and Canadians are actually a lot alike and I managed to fall in with a great group of athletes and friends to train with from almost the first day.
ST: Was the same true for your wife?
Paul: It was probably a bit harder for her since she came without a job. But she eventually met up with a really great group of friends and landed a cool job.
ST: When and how did you first connect to Björn Englund?
Paul: Björn and I ran for the same club, FK Studenterna. He and I have always been equal over all the distances so we naturally became training and sparring partners. We were out on a long marathon specific session together in 2012 and he mentioned that we should form a team for ÖTILLÖ and that we could win.
ST: When he told you about that race, what was your initial thought?
Paul: Actually, I had heard of ÖTILLÖ before, from another friend, right when I moved to Sweden. I thought it sounded interesting until I found out that everything you start with had to come with you the entire way to the finish. I thought this was crazy. But then after talking to Björn a bit more it started sounding less crazy and more like fun. Björn started talking about real strategies to be efficient with the gear and to how ‘race’ ÖTILLÖ rather than just ‘survive’ it. Probably if anyone else had suggested it I would have never agreed to race it.
ST: In June of 2013 you two then won a race called Kustjagaren. Did that go as planned?
Paul: Yeah, it did actually. We had started planning for the 2013 season about 1 week after Björn raced in 2012. We started doing all these swim-run specific sessions in the pool and out in Hellas, the local training grounds for multi-sport in Stockholm. No one else seemed to be doing these sort of specific sessions yet. So when we got to the starting line to Kustjagaren we said ‘we need to send a message’, so that everyone knew we were taking swim-run seriously. I think we won with something like 30mins.
ST: When you two came to ÖTILLÖ that year, did you feel ready?
Paul: Yes and no. We knew we were strong contenders and had been putting in some quality specific session but I had never even been on the ÖTILÖ course before nor had I ever done such a long race in my life. But Björn had raced several times and has an 8:30 Ironman. We also had a few ups and downs in the final weeks leading up to the race so we were feeling a little humbled. And there were 3 teams with a real shot at winning.
ST: Who did you think were your biggest challengers?
Paul: We knew Lelle and Magnus would be strong and we were also concerned with Jonas Colting and Jesper Svensson who beat us earlier that year at Amfibianman.
ST: Were you familiar with many of the other competitors?
Paul: Björn knew everyone quite well. I knew some of the competitors from the swimming pool and also from former triathlon days but definitely a lot of new faces. And there were a few foreign teams that no one really knew anything about.
ST: You said “former triathlon days.” Does that mean you are all in with running and SwimRun now?
Paul: Yeah, pretty much. My triathlon days are long gone now. I just couldn’t manage the long hours on the bike – as great a sport as it is. And travelling with a bike is, well, not always as enjoyable as travelling without one. That said, I’m actually gonna give cyclocross a try this fall.
ST: How many hours a week do you devote to training?
Paul: Maybe 15ish hours in the winter and spring, then bump it up into the low 20s in the summer. I’m pretty lucky with my job since we work slightly shorter weeks during the summer months. And the summer holiday is generally an extended training camp.
ST: In 2014 Lelle Moberg (who finished 2nd in 2013 with Magnus Olander) grabbed Daniel Hansson as a partner, and subsequently captured the win and the course record. Your runner-up time also beat your old record. Talk about that day.
Paul: Ouch, that was a tough day mentally. There was a lot of drama in the week or 2 leading up to the race. Many last minute injuries, dropouts and teammates switches. I think Björn and I sort of assumed we would win…easily. We went out really hard for the first half of the race but weren’t really focused on the second, much harder half of the race. The water was also really cold that year and after the pig swim we just started to fall apart. On Ornö we seriously talked about abandoning the race but somehow were able to get some motivation back. Still, despite the fast time and second place we took that result really badly. I would say we needed some revenge after last year’s result – not against Lelle, Daniel or anyone else, more so with ourselves.
ST: What did you change in terms of preparation for the 2015 event?
Paul: This year we got really specific with our training. A lot more focus on trail running and many long sessions out on the ÖTILLÖ course. We actually had memorized every single part of that course, where and how to get in and out of the water before and after each swim, and all the tricky parts on each island. We also planned our season a lot better so that we would really peak for ÖTILLÖ.
ST: Has your gear been refined by now?
Paul: Not really. The HEAD wetsuit is starting to evolve in a good way. Otherwise a couple of minor tweaks here and there but no real changes. We follow the ‘travel light’ philosophy.
ST: How light do you travel, or better said could you describe what you took along during this year’s race?
Paul: Both Björn and I use the same kit: HEAD swimrun race wet suit with HEAD-shorts/swim-run top, Shoes are inov8 x Talon 190, timing is handled by a Suunto GambitA3 sport and paddles are by Strokemaker. The pull buoys are custom, made from a pool noodle toy.
ST: Did you and Björn create that pool noodle buoy for weight saving reasons?
Paul: I don’t know really. It was Björn who came up with that one. A lot of people just use regular pull bouys but I think they don’t quite stay on right. You can also customize the length with the pool noodle which is nice. But any pull bouy will be a huge advantage since you don’t have to kick on the swims.
ST: What about race nutrition? How is that managed?
Paul: Pretty simple really, gels and fluid at every station and salt tablets every couple hours, and a few mouthfuls of seawater when needed.
ST: You won the 2015 event again with a roughly 7 minute advantage (which has been the winning gap of the last 3 events) and I assume you are happy even without the record.
Paul: Of course. It was not a fast day with the wind and waves. I’ll admit that cracking the 8-hour barrier was in the back of our minds all year but winning was the main goal. So I was totally happy with the day.
ST: What will it take to get that record back?
Paul: Despite a slower time this year, the race is getting faster. Athletes are taking the sport seriously now, not just as an afterthought when the triathlon season is over. So the speeds and paces are getting faster. I think the 8-hour mark will be broken within a year or two, but for this to happen a team will have to know the course well and really be able to push a hard but steady pace right from the gun, in the water, on the roads and on the more technical sections.
ST: Do you have any advice for folks who are considering SwimRun events?
Paul: It’s a great sport and would really recommend it to anyone looking for a challenge. This might sound like a cliché, but it’s amazing when a sport can allow one to enjoy being outdoors training with friends for long periods of time and basically exploring the outdoors. Best advice I could give would be to find some people you really like personally and can work well with, particularly when tired. The team aspect is really important to SwimRun.
ST: Any closing thoughts?
Paul: It will be cool to see how this sport evolves. It’s already exploded in Scandinavia and is making its way into other parts of Europe. It will be really exciting to see the sport in 10 years. Personally, I hope it catches on in North America sooner than later.