Hi Johan and congratulations on your tenth Swedish Championship gold medal! On August 15, you were the first to finish at an empty arena in Uppsala. Have you had time to digest your success yet?
"Thanks! Yes, I have, actually. Now I look forward to the next competition, because it has been a strange summer. I fell ill in Corona in April and was ill for five weeks, which made spring and the beginning of summer quite heavy. So, it's really nice to have made such a strong come back, and I have a lot to thank my team for, they have supported and lifted me back, just in time for the Swedish Championships. I'm grateful for that."
What is it like to compete with empty stands?
"It is very different, but when you are in the middle of a race you do not think too much about it. You struggle with so many other things, pain and how to position yourself and so on. With that said, it is a lot more difficult to get hyped in a dead-quiet arena, because you do not get the feeling of a race. But I have competed in the Swedish Championships several times before, so maybe I have a little more routine and can get the right feeling before the start anyway."
What is it like to be an elite athlete during a pandemic?
"Normally, I travel a lot this time of year and compete around the world. Now I have been more at home. Otherwise, I do not have a hard time keeping my spirits up, because I am not only driven by competing. I am also very passionate about training – to plan, puzzle and optimize my training for goals in the short and long term. And in practical terms, it is no problem for runners to train during a pandemic, because we do not depend on any special facilities. On the other hand, the uncertainty surrounding the competitions makes it a bit difficult to set up my training, because I do not know which races will be cancelled. But overall, things are going well."
You are studying Physics at Chalmers and as a national sports student you can study part-time. How are your studies going?
"I started in 2012 and aim to finish in November, so it has taken eight years. I think I could actually have finished my education in the normal five years, but I have chosen to invest in reaching the world elite. The Swedish Sports University has created the conditions and space for me to invest in both. I can prioritize running, but still get an education in a good way, without losing any knowledge. My plan has been to take more courses in the autumn when the running training is a bit lower in intensity, and fewer courses in the spring when I normally have a greater focus on training, travel and competition. Routine, planning and discipline are a must to make it work, but also something that we as elite athletes already live by."
This autumn, you will be doing a dissertation in a district close to you as an athlete – what can you tell us about it?
"Yes, me and Johan Högstrand (orienteer in the Swedish national team) will look at non-invasive lactate measurement. It is becoming more and more common and in sports contexts to look at the lactic acid levels in the blood, as a measurement of how tired you are.
Today you need to stop in the middle of training and take a blood sample in your finger and read the results in a machine. I use it myself in my training, but it is a bit cumbersome and the test strips are quite expensive. We will look at methods that can be analysed in real time, without having to stop and without having to stick a needle in your finger.
Everyone who trains cardio can benefit from such a method, and lactic acid is also measured within healthcare, so there is potential for a broad interest, perhaps even for larger international companies. So, this is exciting – we'll see what will happen later on this autumn!"
Text: Helena Österling af Wåhlberg