Maja Tesch won the ÖTILLÖ SwimRun World Championships in 2015, and although going well faster in 2016 she placed 3rd with new partner Bibben Nordblom. But it is not just about the result alone for Maja Tesch, it is about the journey and the adventure.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Maja.
Maja Tesch: It is an honor to be considered interesting enough to be interviewed!
ST: Have you to some degree recovered from the fast ÖTILLÖ experience?
Maja: Actually I felt impudently alert after the race, or maybe well deserved because I have been training for this all year, knowing that the race will come. I also felt very strong during the race and I guess it is a sign that I came prepared. Last year I was completely destroyed but by then I had never done something like ÖTILLÖ before, the longest run I had done was less than 50km and I had only been swimming for about 4 months.
ST: I wish I could swim as well with only 4 months of swimming in the bank.
Maja: Well you probably do because I was not very good at that time.
ST: That speaks to a lot of confidence for Annika to have picked you with relatively little experience.
Maja: It sure does! She was aware of that, but she also knew that I was used to being attached to the cord and swim on feet of others to save energy. In that way I never have to concentrate on navigation or keeping speed, I was only focusing on Annika’s shoes. She is also an exceptional good swimmer so she could probably manage to literally drag me through those 10k, haha.
ST: Last year you indeed won the race with Annika Eriksson, but this year you partnered up with Bibben Nordblom who won the race in 2014 with her mother. Why the change?
Maja: Last year I stepped in to replace Annika’s teammate only one week before the race, so the spot was never mine to begin with – and when Bibben’s mom decided not to race - Bibben contacted me and asked if we should team up.
ST: How well do you think you and Bibben matched up?
Maja: Very well! We didn’t talk much and we didn’t have to because we knew we were focusing on the same thing.
ST: Who pulled whom and when?
Maja: We were great complementing the strengths and weaknesses of each other. Bibben is a stronger swimmer so she pulled me during the swims and I am the faster runner so I pulled during the runs.
ST: The previous course records were smashed in every division. Do you think we will see faster and faster times similar to Ironman in the early days?
Maja: The course records this year are really impressive and I definitely think that it is possible to push the times even more, especially in women’s category. I think the results depends not only how good you are as a SwimRun team, but also a lot on weather circumstances and the start field, so they will vary from year to year. This year was really favoring speedy results; good temperature on land and in the water, dry rocks and trails and 8m/s wind in our backs. A lot of teams did not have to experience how unforgiving the Pigswim can be, how it feels not being able to run due to cold muscles and cramp, how slippery the rocks are when they get wet in a storm etc.
ST: What is actually your athletic background and when and how did you stumble upon SwimRun?
Maja: As a kid I tried a lot of sports, but I was so bad at it that I stopped with everything before I even turned 12. I didn’t do sports at all until I moved to Norway and got a membership at a gym by the age of 19. I had a lot of years where I was mentally ill and finding something I managed to do was kind of a lifesaver for me. In 2012 after a year in med school I didn’t have money to go to the gym and I decided I would start running, so I did. I started at Utö during the summer and I remember how hard it was. Everything hurt and I wanted to quit so many times but I didn’t. I tried some amateur races for fun during 2013 and 2014 I volunteered for the ÖTILLÖ SwimRun Utö where I got to do the sweeping (run after the last team and take down the course markings). It was the longest distance I had ever run and later I also swept the ÖTILLÖ course. That’s when I decided that I wanted to try the race myself so I registered my cousin and me for Utö SwimRun 2015 were we somehow managed to qualify for the ÖTILLÖ.
ST: Is your cousin still racing?
Maja: No she does not. But we talked about doing one more race together now that I swim better. If we do, we will be dangerous for the other teams!
ST: What hooked you?
Maja: Actually nothing hooked me! During my first race on Utö with my cousin I thought I was going to die because I had such a bad experience, it was so painful! I had never been more exhausted and I decided at the finish line (in tears) I would never do that kind of race again. But then Mats Andersson asked me if I wanted to race mixed class in Engadin, and since I love the Alps, I took the opportunity to spend some time in the mountains. I had a much better feeling at that race, actually so good that we went up north in Sweden and raced again only 7 days later. And then I got a spot for ÖTILLÖ with Annika, we became world champions and I then I was hooked because I couldn’t just stop after that!
ST: Earlier this summer we met in Engadin where you raced with Marcus Roessel in the mixed division. How did you two connect and do you race mixed more often?
Maja: We met in Engadin when I raced with Mats Andersson (one of the original 4) 2015. Me and Mats were on our way up to a glacier and we met Markus and Fabian (his team mate) when we were waiting for the the elevator/lift/cabin) to take us up. They asked if we were there to race and then we got a good chat, we actually ended up having lunch together. We stayed in contact after the race and later Marcus asked if I wanted to race with him the following year – and of course I did!
ST: The Engadin race did not go well as Marcus kind of fell apart. But I believe your day did not end at that early aid station.
Maja: Unfortunately he got ill, and to begin with we were both disappointed of course but five minutes later I decided that life doesn’t end because a DNF and after all we where in beautiful Switzerland! I dropped the wetsuit, put on a pair of shorts and went to explore other mountains. I ended up with a 6-hour training day having more vertical meters in my legs than if I would have done the race and I got to see a beautiful lake called Lej de la Tscheppa.
ST: Will you go back next year to give it another go either in a mixed or female team?
Maja: I definitely want to go back! Not only because it is a spectacular race, but also for the bells you get if you win. I have been dreaming about standing at the podium ringing in one of those since I was there in 2015. I have not decided with whom I will race with yet, maybe third time lucky in a strong female team!
ST: What about triathlon?
Maja: To be honest about triathlon - it doesn’t attract me. It seems so non-adventurous, everything is about details and you have to be so serious - am I wrong? Will I get killed for saying this, haha. You can all tease me forever if I end up doing an Ironman somewhere! In addition I really hate tarmac, so if I ever try, it will definitely be an XTERRA! I think adventure racing seems like much more fun.
ST: I noticed your tether and pull buoy setup at the recent ÖTILLÖ race. How much time and money did you spend on it?
Maja: It is a gift from Jesper Mars who is also one of the original four. He built a lot of them last summer and I was lucky to have one. His family members started to look a bit orange because they had to drink so much orange juice as that was the best bottle. The price depends on what kind of juice you buy, and the time on how skilled you are making it. Mine took less than 1h to build.
ST: How does that water bottle pull buoy compare to other pull buoys you have used?
Maja: It is really light and floats like a feather, plus the bonus is that it is super cool! I know a lot of people think it looks amateurish but they are wrong. Everything doesn’t have to be bright and shiny all the time, especially not if it works great.
ST: What about the rest of the gear?
Maja: Neoprene headband from HEAD plus the swim cap, the AERO wetsuit from HEAD, wool underwear from icebreaker, short socks from gococo socks, SwimWing paddles (they rock) and an elastic tether with two carabiners. My favourite and last pair of Merrell "bare access trail” shoe. They are completely finished after this season and I will miss them forever!
Plus as discussed that specially made pull buoy made by Jesper Mars
ST: So what event is next?
Maja: I am really thrilled to improve my running even more. During ÖtillÖ this year I felt unstoppable and even though we raced 42min faster than last year I felt much stronger the whole way through. I would love to do some more sky racing – I tried Tromsö sky race this summer and it was really challenging! I hope I will be able to race the ÖTILLÖ race in Germany but right now it looks like my wallet is still on vacation so I will have to work a bit to afford fees and travels.
ST: What is your day job?
Maja: I am still studying! The perfect day job, only thing is you do not get rich from it until you finish! Next summer I will be finishing my studies and I am already not looking forward to actually have to apply for vacation.
ST: With SwimRun events popping up in North America, will we maybe see you compete there one day?
Maja: I have never been to America and a SwimRun event sounds like a great reason to go! Tell me when and where and I’ll show up.
ST: Well, there is a very mountainous run heavy SwimRun NC race in late October in North Carolina, plus there is a very beautiful swim heavy SwimRun Casco Bay in Maine that takes place in August.
Maja: Both sounds like fun, I will look them up!
ST: Anything else we should know?
Maja: Well I can write a book about things I am passionate about, but it would take a long time and maybe no one would be interested in reading it. If you want to know something – fire away and ask! I am a friendly person, so send me a message or inbox me on instagram @majatesch and I’ll answer.