The Sunday Interview: Erika Borgström

The Sunday Interview: On Running, Life and the Love for Nature with Erika Borgström

Kicka här för hela inlägget på svenska: Söndagsintervjun: om löpning, livet och kärleken till naturen med Erika Borgström

Today, we have the great pleasure of finally getting to publish the first interview of what we hope will turn into a long series of inspiring, interesting conversations about everything under the sun. Our inaugural interview object is a person we’ve actually never met in real life, but someone we’ve followed on Instagram for many years. And while Erika Borgström is mostly known for her athletic achievements as a trail runner and ski mountaineer, we’d like to say she has captured our interest just as much through her carefully worded reflections on life through social media. A person you can’t help but to love, it feels like. Let’s get started.

Would you like to tell us a little bit about who Erika Borgström is, for those who might need a quick introduction?

If I were to elevator pitch myself in the simplest way possible, it would go something like this: I’m 29 years old, was born in Östersund, went to school in Umeå och then returned to the province of Jämtland and moved to the mountains. That’s where I feel at home, and that’s where I learned how wonderful it is to move my body in that environment. Through running in the summers, sleeping under the stars at night, with skis under my feet in the winters, in front of a fire when it’s time to cook or some of the other awesome things the mountains can offer.

My other half in life is my sister Fanny, and we live together in a cabin. Although I’ll have to admit neither one of us spends particularly long stretches of time there each year. The past few years we’ve both been driven by our desire to explore and discover the world by moving our bodies upwards, downwards, forwards, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, all the while focusing on running and ski mountaineering.

And I guess I often forget my military background, which has taken up significant time the past few years as well. The most recent thing was a UN mission in Mali.

“we’ve both been driven by our desire to explore and discover the world by moving our bodies upwards, downwards, forwards, sometimes fast, sometimes slow”

Yeah, all of us following you on Instagram have seen you set up camp sometimes here, sometimes there in the world lately. And we’ll get back to that military background of yours later on. If I were to ask you where or what home is to you, what would you answer?

When I was 20 years old, I had lived in 11 different places. That means I had moved more than once every year. So having a set place to call home is not something I grew up with. However, I easily feel at home in places. I’m not rootless, but instead have the feeling of home in several different places. To me, home is the people and the memories you create – that’s what makes a place something to call home. Sometimes I can feel so intensely at home in places I’ve only been for a short period of time, but where big and evolving things happened. For example up in the Kebnekaise massif. I only worked there for a short season but I discovered a whole new part of myself there, so that place will always feel a little bit like home.

But if you ask me what my home is as in, well, my base, then the answer is in Duved outside of Åre.

So you were born in Östersund and went to school in Umeå. How would you describe your life growing up?

I’m more thinking that I’m still growing up. That I’m still growing. That it’s not a part of the past. So the question could really go “how has your life been so far?” and my answer would be: it’s been wonderful. It’s been a rollercoaster but I’m so pleased with what everything so far has lead to. I’m happy with what the setbacks have provided me with and I’m proud of the successes I’ve had. During my 29 years of growing up, I’ve gotten to feel safe, loved and appreciated, and I’m very curious what I’ll turn into when I finally grow up for real!

It makes me so happy, hearing you express yourself that way. That you can see the positives coming out of setbacks and disappointments. That insight has helped me make peace with my own past for sure. In life as a whole, what choices and decisions do you feel like have been the most defining for you?

I think that one of the choices that has had the greatest impact on my life this far is me moving to Duved. Everything that has happened since then has in one way or another been a result of that move. I think the decision to go live close to and with nature has provided me with the most significant personal development. I’m so in love with it. Nature, that is. Within yoga – which is another big thing in my life – you talk about feeling unconditional love and how important yet difficult it is to do that. To feel unconditional love means to – no matter what – feel trust, faith and respect. To feel that whatever happens, you’ll be loyal towards this person or this thing. To see their flaws as strengths and no matter what, stand by their side. That’s how I feel towards nature. That nature can never do anything I won’t be able to see the purpose of. Nature never does anything with bad intentions. Nature just is. And if I go even further and get really hippy-dippy – nature is everything, at the end of the day. Us humans came up with the word nature because we think we’ve created something else, beyond that. But that’s not true. Everything is the same. But to get to go back to where we came from and be close to that – in the mountains, in the water, in the woods. That’s when I feel that unconditional love, and having found that feeling is probably what has affected my life the most, because I’ll never be able to go back to a life without it.

Call it pregnancy hormones or whatever you want, but I’m tearing up now. Both Mike and I can relate to that unconditional love for nature as well, and for us, it started to surface as we decided to move to a house in the middle of the woods. A dream come true for us for sure. What dreams do you carry? And do you live in the moment or do you plan for the future – or both?

I carry a dream of becoming the best at living in the moment. Because really, there’s no such thing as the past or the future. None of those exist. The only thing I know and can do something about is where I am right now. I’ve been on my way to places my whole life. Even if I’ve been in the most beautiful place in the world, I’ve disappeared into my thoughts and thought “it’s probably even prettier somewhere else” or that “next time, I’m going to…”. And so, those magical moments have passed without me being truly present. So now I’m practicing not floating off. Being where I am. Because at the end of the day, those moments are the ones that eventually get woven together into your life. And if I manage to see the beauty in every single little piece of the puzzle, the whole will inevitably be beautiful as well. To chase for happiness in the future will never work. At the end of the day, happiness isn’t about the outer factors but instead your ability to feel it inside of you. And if you practice feeling happy and content in the small moments, the big events in your life will become overwhelmingly fantastic, but if you don’t, I don’t think those times of “guaranteed happiness” and joy will actually feel truly satisfying.

So I have dreams. Many! But right now I dream of being content exactly where I am. Only then do I think all my dreams will come true eventually. I’m convinced they will!

“if you practice feeling happy and content in the small moments, the big events in your life will become overwhelmingly fantastic”

To be present in the moment is probably one the hardest things to do for the modern man. It’s so far removed from the way we live today. The ability to not rush ahead is a great asset though – especially if a situation is particularly difficult and your thoughts go “how much worse will it get” and “what if” and all of that. Sports inevitably comes to mind, here, and maybe the longer types of events in particular. If it hurts already after 30k, what will it be like after 40 and 50? It can be hard to keep your head in check in those moments. You’ve competed at the very top level in both trail running and ski mountaineering. It seems like the past few years have been about other things that racing though. What has made you leave the start and finish lines alone for a bit? And do you feel done, when it comes to racing?

To be able to answer this question, I have to go back to 2014 when Fanny ran 21 km – that was the length of the course then – during the Fjällmaraton week in Åre. She had never run that far before and still managed to come in second place. After that, Salomon Sweden was wondering if she’d like to become one of their athletes and thereby participate in the coming trail tour-concept the following summer. “Sure”, she answered. “But I want my sister to be a part of it too”. Salomon agreed and all of a sudden, Fanny and I become sponsored athletes. She had run one single race and I really had no experience whatsoever. The following summer we planned for two ultras and a couple of half marathons that were part of the tour that then existed in Sweden. We thought this shouldn’t be a problem. And it really wasn’t. But my whole point with this anecdote is to describe how I never had the chance to find myself in my running before I became a sponsored athlete. I never got to toe a starting line without any expectations. So from the very beginning and my very first race, I’ve always felt that I haven’t been as good as I should’ve been. Mostly because I didn’t have a training background. Or experience. And I’m not really a natural talent either. In other words, the past few years, I’ve felt like I want to find what running is to me. What my relationship to running is, and what I want it for. I want to run freely again. Without comparisons and pressure to perform. I want to explore what happens with my body. I want to find my own running.

But no, I’m definitely not done racing. I think it’s amazing participating in trail races and I’m again discovering how many beautiful and wonderfully organized trail races there are in Sweden. The Fjällmaraton week in Åre has a special place in my heart and I’d lie if I didn’t say I’m intrigued by the 100k distance this year…

Oh, same here! But I’ll have to contain myself, as I’m going to give birth first. With everything that you’ve done so far, what’s been the toughest physical challenge you’ve made your way through? And if you were to compare military service with training/racing in a sports context, what would you say has been the hardest?

That’s so funny you ask, because just last week we talked about the first time Fanny and I participated in Keb-classic. Keb-classic is one of Sweden’s best ski mountaineering races where you compete in teams of two or three and make your way around the mountains of Kebnekaise. This was in the spring of 2016 and I laugh my pants off when I think about how naive we were. I don’t think either one of us had done that many sessions over three hours before. We had never used an ice axe or glacier ropes, and we were definitely not comfortable skiing downhill on those skinny, flimsy skis that you use in ski mountaineering. Oh my, we worked hard. I think each day meant about five to six hours out there, and all we brought for energy was one row of milk chocolate. We split that one somewhere between the North and South peaks of the highest mountain in Sweden, before we were about to throw ourselves downhill on the backside, where the snow was crusty and the steepness worse than the double diamonds of the Åre alpine ski system. 

After the first day, I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to go through with the second. I was completely drained and didn’t understand how on earth I’d be able to continue the race. But we worked hard and made it to the finish line and in hindsight, given the experience we had at that point, it was quite the accomplishment.

The answer to the second question is that it feels like two different lives. When I’m in my military uniform, it feels so foreign to think I’d be standing at a starting line and vice versa. But I think that I’ve benefited a lot from the situations where I’ve had to push myself beyond my limits in both contexts. One thing has made me develop in the other, and the other way around. But physically, I’ve pushed myself more in sports, definitely. But maybe my military career has challenged my mental game more.

“I’ve benefited a lot from the situations where I’ve had to push myself beyond my limits”

I’m so curious about your military background. Most recently, we could all follow you as you participated in a UN mission in Mali. What made you apply for a posting abroad? And in what ways have your months in Mali affected you?

What made me apply is really what makes me make all my decisions in my life. My curiosity. And my desire to fill my life with things that are unique and maybe a little unusual. That was the case with Mali too. I never thought I’d get selected either. They received so many applications and I didn’t really have too much experience. So when I finally was accepted, it was a given that I should go through with it and go. The months I spent in Mali were so different in so many ways. Especially when it comes to how you live. You stay in a tiny space with lots of people, and your everyday life is controlled by all but yourself. Someone else decides when you’re going to sleep, eat and where you can move your body around. You’re surrounded by others all the time and you can’t ever get a moment just to yourself. In many ways, those are all things I typically don’t like at all, and still, you make it work. I even enjoyed it, to be honest.

Then of course it has affected me seeing how a conflict hits the civilian population and how lucky we are here in Sweden, living such safe lives. It probably sounds like a cliche, but it did bring me new perspectives for sure and made me appreciate what we have at home.

I couldn’t agree with you more. After my years in the US – which obviously is another modern country – I feel such immense gratitude towards the infinite social security system that we have here, and I’ve really understood what a privilege it is to get to call this country our home. I can get extremely frustrated when I hear people complain about getting their summer vacation weeks 26-30 instead of 28-32, for example. If we switch focus areas a little bit here though – what would those around you say are your strengths and weaknesses? And do you agree?

I’m thinking those really go hand in hand, the strengths and the weaknesses. Your strongest set of characteristics often pull in opposite directions, in a way. You know, they’re good in certain contexts but not as good in others. I think my strongest trait it my… hm, what to call it… drive and curiosity, I guess. It’s an excellent trait because it takes me places and brings me into situations that maybe aren’t too common. That means I often get to experience a lot of fun things and that there’s never a sense of a standstill in my life. On the other hand, it can also make me come across as rootless and – my least favorite word – restless. Sometimes I think people around me think I have these massive demands when it comes to making exciting and fun things happen all the time. That I’m not satisfied otherwise. Then it becomes a negative, as they might feel they’re not enough. It’s a constant balance. To find your own edge and know that you can’t be perfect. Make yourself aware of your own personality and realize your weaknesses can also be your strengths. Then I think it’s easier to be understanding towards yourself.

Wise and insightful, as per usual. I find myself thinking in a similar way, and often use the expression “it’s both a blessing and a curse”. To be sensitive and an empath, for example. That’s one of the finest qualities one could have, I think, but it can also be incredibly challenging and tiring to feel for and invest yourself in others easily. And to not be able to protect yourself from others’ energies.

We have already been allowed to borrow you for a good while, but before we let you go, we have two recurring questions left, which we’ll ask everyone. The first one goes: what’s your favorite ice cream flavor? Mike and I are big time ice cream connoisseurs and find this information highly interesting.

Haha. Oh no, I’m going to sound so boring and pretentious now, but I’m really no big fan of sweets! I wish I could sound all laidback and tell you guys I down a pint every Sunday, but the truth is that I don’t. However, I did gift Fanny one of those mega strong blenders for her birthday – how smart of me, right, since we live together – and it creates the most magical consistency of whatever you put in. So my favorite there is actually blending frozen banana, cocoa powder, a protein powder that we use and a little bit of oat milk. Then I top with cocoa nibs and maybe I also stir in some peanut butter and then I sprinkle whatever berries are on hand. 

If I were to buy ice cream though, my absolute favorite is a vegan one from the brand “LILY OCH HANNA”. Their strawberry ice cream is to die for.

Man, this is where we part ways, huh. We thought we were likeminded in every single way! Just kidding – and here’s the last one: what’s the question you’d like to get asked and what would your answer be?

Oh, I’ll go ahead and say What’s the meaning of life?

That’s a question I think people, generally, are too scared to ask. As if it’s a difficult, intimidating thing. I mean, as there’s no right or wrong answer, you decide yourself! But to never think about or reflect upon the fact that we indeed have this ONE life and that we should fill that with one – or many – meanings I think is strange. I would answer that the meaning of my life is to live in a way where – the day I hopefully have children of my own – I can give that new life as strong of a set of genes as possible. And for that to be possible, I need to take care of my body. Eat well, move around, not stress, breathe and live as well as I can. Another meaning is that the day I die and return to the earth, I want to have left as small a footprint as possible behind and I don’t want my body to hold toxins. I don’t want my existence to have been a burden on this planet. These two general thoughts on the meanings of my life make it easier to live, I think. To make decisions based on them. We’re such insignificantly small parts in this gigantic, big thing. But I can do what I can to make humanity move in the direction that I want. And that’s by applying it to myself.

Thank you so much, dear Erika, for giving us some of your precious time. We really appreciate it, and we’re so happy we got to scratch your surface a little bit. If our impression beforehand was that you had one or two words of wisdom up your sleeve, well, that’s definitely been cemented now. We wish you and everyone who has read this interview a wonderful spring, despite the situation in the world, and would like to say “talk soon” to all of you. Take care!

For more of Erika, her adventures and endless inspiration to get outside, go follow her on Instagram @erikaborgstrm.

This interview was originally conducted in Swedish.

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More posts in our interview series:

The Sunday Interview: Runner, Farmer and Mother Emelie Forsberg

On Gardening, Self-Sufficiency and Life Balance with Karoline Jönsson

On Parenthood, Countryside Dreams and Life as a Freelancer with Emma Sundh

On Running, Life and the Love for Nature with Erika Borgström

On Detours and Finding Your Way Home: An Interview with Live Slow Run Far’s Sophia

A Transplanted New Yorker in Sweden: An Interview with Live Slow Run Far’s Michael

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– Sophia & Michael

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