Becoming a strong Ultra-trail runner doesn’t happen overnight
Anna Carlsson is one of the most promising Ultra-trail runners in Sweden. Constantly moving forward, always heading for the next challenge.
I had the chance to meet Anna for a small chat just a few days before TEC this Saturday (Täby Extreme Challenge 100 miles). Anna seemed to be in a very good health and even though we talked about some serious and important things too, she had a constant smile on her face, always close to a laugh.
Anna is a 33-year-old broad-minded and easy-going person that lives and train in the most northern part of Sweden in a small village called Abisko.
She started her running career in 2011, when she ran her first Marathon on the time 3:01. In July 2018 Anna was nr 4 in the Swedish Alpine Ultra (107 km), time 12:33. (1st female and new track-record). In November 2018 Anna crushed the track record and won the women’s class in Kullamannen Ultra on the 160 km race (one of the toughest Ultra races in Sweden).
Today Anna is ranked as one of the top 10 runners in Ultra-trail (ITRA Large) in Sweden, and her next challenge will be TEC this Saturday.
Life hasn’t for sure always been easy and Anna is speaking very open-hearty about it in this blog. Anna is a very brave, honest and determined person and I’m happy to see that Anna finally found her inner peace and happiness in the mountains of Abisko.
This is Anna’s story…
Who is Anna and your story behind?
I’m a little curious about your overall background. I saw you started running 2011 and then had a break for a few years. Coming back 2017 running Ultras, better than ever.
I’ve always been very active, and even before I got into running, I ran 2-3 days/week just to stay in shape and as a compliment to other sports. But 2010 I applied for Stockholm marathon the following year and started some “proper” running. I fell in love with running very fast and it was fun to feel the progress.
In spring 2011 I ran a couple of 10km races and then Stockholm marathon, which all went quite well considering I had only been training for about eight months. It made me super eager to train more and harder, so of course I did the classic mistake of “doing too much too soon”.
My body simply wasn’t ready.
I didn’t have any previous experience of injuries, and in the beginning, I saw the pain as something that I could teach myself to master my mind and my body. Something that I could learn to ignore and become a stronger runner. Although the idea sounds a bit crazy now.
Finally, I ended up not being able to run at all for some time, and at least I learned that this was a stupid way of thinking. An eating disorder I had struggled with on and off since high school escalated and I had a lot of anxiety.
Year 2013 I decided to “start over” and moved from Stockholm to Åre (a skiing resort in the north of Sweden). At this time, I could run and hike a little, and slow-moving on the mountains seemed to be healing my body.
But bulimia didn’t just disappear like I had planned (no shit Sherlock…) and I sank into a depression since I couldn’t see a way out. At last I made an active choice between finishing it or break with this way of living. It sounds very easy, but I can tell you it wasn’t. There were so many times I just wanted to crawl out of my body since I was so disgusted with myself.
But my way of thinking changed, and I shifted focus from training to just be outdoors, since that made my brain stop screaming. I worked at Sylarnas mountain station and running or walking was the only transportation. I spent most of my free time discovering new places and although I didn’t feel I was training I think that gave me a good base for ultra running. I mean, sometimes you ran 20 km to another station after work just to have dinner and watch a movie, and then back home again.
Year 2015 I got my dog Scout, and suddenly I had not just myself to think about. Some people say he’s just a dog, and I know that, but he’s still my family and best friend.
We moved to Abisko and life somehow stabilized.
Year 2017 it was time for a change, and I signed up for Swedish Alpine Ultra (a self-sufficient race from Nikkaloukta to Abisko, 107k) the same year.
My goal was to reach the finish line within the allowed time since, but it went surprisingly well and there and then my passion for Ultra started.
What is most important for you in life?
Time. I don’t like stressing and I do want to live here and now. That is also one of the reasons why I like Abisko and my new way of living so much.
Your passion for Trail-running and Ultras? Where does that come from?
I started with trail running because I needed it and because I wanted to explore new places. Running and moving on the mountain or in the forest is for me still not about training, it’s a way of living and something I do just to “clean my mind”. I love to feel my body work for me, strong and powerful, and to feel like a mix between a kid and a warrior. I play a lot when I run: on and off the trails I can let go of the filter and just be me. And I love to feel the wind in my hair, to hear the silence and losing time.
Running races is something different. I cannot say I love it, but I really like it. I like the challenge of preparing myself in the best way as I can, and I think the “mind game” is very interesting. It also forces me to “train” and not just run which is good because that means I get stronger and can move on the mountain with less effort… It’s also very fun to meet other ultra-runners since most of them are generally very nice!
You accomplished some great things last year, winning Kullamannen Ultra for example. Did you set any goals earlier in life that you wanted to run on this level? Or did it just happen?
I’ve never seen myself as a runner and I still don’t. I just like to move and spend time together with nature and running is the most comfortable way to do so since it doesn’t require a lot of gear.
But when you think of it. Running as much as I actually do it is impossible not to “improve” over time, and I think that the last year’s success was just a result of another extra year of continuous running.
It was actually just before the start of Kullamannen I realized that this was a race I wanted to win and not just complete and was about to go for it. That changed my way of thinking a little and made me accept that I also like this thing with competing.
My brother uses to say that I make it sound like I never train and just run like a hippie on the mountain, drinking wine afterwards. That’s of course just a part of the truth. I run because I love it, but I do work hard as well. And I never drink wine after a morning session.
Can you describe your significant personal strengths that took you all the way to this level?
I’m very stubborn, almost in a stupid way. I live after the device “ok, I’ve hit the wall hundred times now so next time it has to work!”. I’m also quite naive when it comes to realizing my own limits and most often think “how hard can it be?”. Although it doesn’t often go as I planned it usually ends up quite good anyway.
I’m also very determined and not afraid to work hard to reach my goals. Physically, I think I have the right conditions and I have a strong body that usually doesn’t give up on me in the first place.
Which is the most challenging and demanding situations that you been through to get you where you are today?
The years when I couldn’t run was tough. Battling bulimia was very tough. Finding my way back to the joy of running was tough. Running itself is honestly not so tough.
Do you usually push yourself outside your comfort zone?
How does it feel at the time? Can you see that the rewards coming out of this is worth this little extra effort?
That’s a tricky question. I don’t think I’ve ever been outside the comfort zone when running. Of course, there are times when I’m pushing and moving the limits and it would be a lot more comfortable to just stop. But running or not running is always my own choice.
Racing however brings me out of the comfort zone since it makes me so nervous. But it’s getting better and once I start running it’s definitely worth it!
How does your race plans and goals look like for 2019?
I’m running TEC 100 miles in the 27 of April. After that I will start training for TDS (Ultra Marathon Month Blanc, 122.4 km and 7336 in vertical) in the end of August. I will run Keb Classic summer and Swedish Alpine Ultra to prepare myself and maybe some shorter races.
In November I’ll do another try at Kullamannen.
But my main goal with this year is to keep building good base for longer distances. I see running in a long-term perspective and I realize that becoming a good ultra-runner doesn’t happen overnight.
TEC – Täby Extreme Challenge, 100 miles is now on Saturday. How do you feel right now?
I feel very good and I have prepared myself as much as I possibly can. I been free from injuries and sickness the past two years and I’ve been able to train and prepare in a great training environment. But it’s a big challenge and I’ve had some issues with a knee since end of January. But now I hope it’ll hold for a hundred miler!
This week I will take it a little bit easy with training and I’m visiting my parents in “Hälsingland”.
How does a normal week with training and all that look like for you right now?
I have a training foundation, but I don’t follow a schedule. In the winter I basically just try to maintain my fitness the best I can and not get too much frostbites. I run mainly on snowmobile tracks or do snow pulsing, although I this winter was doing some more sessions on the road and treadmill aiming to not lose too much speed. I add up with skiing, snowshoeing and strength training. I train 6-7 days a week, one or two sessions a day of which about 100-140 k is running. I usually put in some specific hill and/or speed work to motivate myself.
In the summer and fall I run more but train less. I try to run about 160-180 k/week, divided into 6-7 days and 1 or 2 sessions per day. Sometimes it becomes more and sometimes less, mostly depending on what kind of terrain I choose. I prioritize beautiful runs ahead of collecting kilometres and I think it’s super boring to just run 15 k “because”. But I do when I’m short of time.
I have not done a lot of specific training until now – if I want to practise up and downhill, I include some peaks in my run. If I want some speed, I take a more runnable trail. As recovery and for strength and coordination I run off-trail. Stones, swamps or whatever I feel for. Every second week I might do a road run.
This summer however, I plan to have a plan… I’ll stay at the same mileage as last summer, maybe try some really big weeks, but include some more speed and hills. I think that might take me a step further. Off trail is also a key in my training – I do it both for fun, for strength, for coordination and as recovery.
Right now, I’m doing the last preparations for TEC 100 miles and I haven’t dared to increase the mileage so much from the winter yet. Instead I’ve done some more flat and “fast” running the last weeks, but I really don’t know about this. It’s a faster course than I’m used to and not really trail, but it will be interesting to try something different!
Example of a weekly schedule (before TEC):
- 17 km incl. 9 km hill-work
- 45 min strength training in the gym
- 37 km on the treadmill. Slow pace with 5 faster minutes every 15 minutes.
- 45 min off-trail
- 45 min off-trail
- 9 km incl. 6 km hill-work
- Intervals (6,5,4,3,2,1 min + 10*30s) + 10 min threshold. 45 min strength training in the gym.
- 25km very slow, trail and off trail.
- Threshold 2*15 min + 2*5 min
- 60 min jog
- 30 km progressive distance.
I always do 10-15 min of strength training at home the days I didn’t train on the gym.
Which are your best training tips to other Ultra runners all over the world?
Don’t be afraid to have fun with running. It’s just running, not about life or death!
Which are your favourite races that you would recommend to other Ultra runners all over the world?
Well, I really like Swedish Alpine Ultra since it was the first ultra-race I ever ran. It’s a small race and you kind of get to know the other runners. I also like that it is self-sufficient. It’s in my backyard as well!
You are also a co-owner in Activities in Abisko. Can you please tell us a little more about that?
Activities in Abisko is a quite small company owned by me and my partner in crime Roger. Winter is our busy season and we offer snowmobile trips, snowshoe hikes, ice fishing and northern light tours.
In the summer we do day-hikes, fishing and sauna raft. Last year we also started up with running camps which is a bit like “my baby”. This summer we will organize three camps: two where we run about 30-50 k/day and one where we run 12-25k/day and have more time for other activities.
However, the focus is not training – it’s about exploring the mountains around Abisko and spend time outside.
Are you involved in any other types of projects that you like to talk about?
This year I got the honour to be an ambassador for Hoka and Umara which I’m really grateful about. I’ve been running in Hoka for a long time in all types of terrain. So, I’m super excited to be a part of their team!
The first time I came in contact with Umara was on Kullamannen where they served their sports drink. Afterwards I read about the company and tried some other products and they work very well for me. I like that Umara is a small company and also their way of thinking. To this year they have also worked on a zero mission, meaning that all carbon dioxide are emissions 100 percent compensated for.
Do you have any dreams and goals for the future that you like to share?
I have a lot of dreams! I really don’t know how I will have time to work! Next year I have a little vision of going up in distance and go for a 200 miler.
A dream would be to run Lake Tahoe (Tahoe 200 Endurance Run).
I also think about trying a 24 h race or a backyard simply because I’m curious of how it’ll affect my mind.
The backyard ultra is a form of ultramarathon race where competitors must consecutively run the distance of 6706 meters (4.167 miles) in less than one hour. When each lap is completed, the remaining time within the hour is typically used to recover for the next hour’s race. The race could be going on for up to 48 hours.
A race I also really want to do is Ice Ultra in the mountains around Jokkmokk. It’s 230 km divided into five days, taking place in February when the temperatures are often around -30-40 Celsius. I think that kind of races would suit me since it’s not just about the running. This multiday running seems “fun”.
There are also plenty of tours I want to do, both summer and winter. Next winter I might try to run Nikkaloukta-Abisko in snowshoes and some time I’d like to run the Nordkalottleden. This summer I will put together some more peaks as a training for TDS in August. I’d also like to organize a winter race in Abisko, for example a backyard.
How does your game plan look like for that?
Hmm. Those questions remind me it might be time to plan a little… But the game plan to increase distances is something I work on all the time. The main goal is to stay as injury-free as possible. For that I try to alter my training, run a lot off-trail and give time to strength training. I’m also very careful with my joy of running.
What is your inner drive?
I really love trail running and it simply makes me happy. Of course, I’m also driven by doing a good race now and then but that’s very secondary.
What is your advice to other ambitious high performing females that is dreaming of an active lifestyle running as fast as you do and/or like to be entrepreneurs in the “Sports & Outdoor” industry?
Listen to others and take advice, but don’t be afraid to apply it your own way.
Name: Anna Carlsson
Family: My Alaskan malamute Scout
Your team or sponsor now: Hoka one one Sweden, Umara
Occupation: CO-owner of Activities in Abisko/wilderness guide
Education: Master in Marine Science, Vildmarks- och Äventyrsguide-utbildningen Åre
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/annafarila
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Activitiesinabisko/
Webpage / Blog: fromabiskowithlove.blogspot.se
Thank you, Anna, for taking your time sharing your fantastic story! And the most important. By talking so open-hearty about difficult things, you will be a great help and inspiration for thousands of female runners out there that might need some extra push to get out of a bad situation and/or wants to achieve more.
You are a great example of that anything you want to do is possible, and it is never too late for a change. You are a true role model!
Wishing you all the best luck on the TNC race this Saturday and of course all the other exciting adventures that you have in front of you.