Sanna and Lina El Kott Helander, Ultimate Direction ambassadors and twin sisters who stormed the 2018 Skyrunning World Series, have been notably absent from the podium in 2019. Were they detained for sneaking carrots across international borders again? (this is a great story…) or was it something more common to elite athletes? Sanna shares this update with us as she and Lina optimistically charge ahead… 

Every athlete’s fear is to get injured. We both have had to face it this year. Lina has struggled with a problematic knee for over 13 months; inflammations, wounds, different doctors doing wrong treatments, and two surgeries. What could go wrong went wrong and by not being able to do any kind of sport during some of the recovery time, depression comes like a stone to your face.

We thought in the beginning of the year that Lina would be healthy to race in April. That didn’t quite happen…

Sanna El Kott Helander

For myself, I had the worst start of the season possible.

Being one of the selected Swedish runners for the Trail Running World Championship I was at a training camp checking the course for the race some weeks before. While there I had a bad step and something happened in my foot. I had a lot of pain and could neither walk or run properly. It was supposed to be a training camp before my first race in the Skyrunning series but the camp instead made all my preparations during the winter and spring worthless.

The pain in the foot didn’t go away even though I did other training than running. On Skyrace Matheysins I decided only 5 minutes before the start that I would try the race, knowing I could only jog and that it would be painful. The foot luckily didn’t get worse, but it did not get any better either. The World Championships was also crap; I was lost in my mind and ran with an injury. It was painful and sad.

So after that I had to cancel the second race in the Skyrunning series. This meant my race plan for the season (to be in the top of the Skyrunning standings) had declined too. I had lost motivation and my self-confidence. Where would this lead?

But still, I didn’t feel I could complain when Lina was home and had done her two day surgery and was limping around on crutches. She hadn’t been away seeing beautiful mountain areas, meeting new people or laughing for the first time in ages. I tried to stay positive. And when I was home and we both were injured we went out together and enjoyed nature at a slow pace and cooked colorful vegan food (one of our other passions).

We found things we otherwise don’t have time to do and accepted the situation and waited for everything to be fine again.

What I’ve learned through the last couple of months is that we should not compare ourselves with others. We are all facing different obstacles and difficulties, no matter if one is more severe than the other. When I left Lina at home again in June – when she still wasn’t able to walk or train properly – it was very hard to see her that sad and me not enjoying being in the Alps. I couldn’t even talk with people about Lina, I just started crying.

My first run without any pain at all since my own injury in May was Marathon du Mont Blanc. I had been so afraid of running the weeks before, afraid that the pain would come back and force me to more rest and alternative training, but I I felt so free, light and happy to be able to run the race! My position was top-20 which for me isn’t really good but my goal that race was only to complete the whole race in a good mood without pain. And I did!

For our 25the birthday present we got a motorhome to share with our family. I drove down to the Alps with my dad. And when he travelled home, our mum came down. It was so nice not to be around airports and thinking where to sleep or cook. I followed Lina’s injury journey at home, we had contact every day. And on my adventures in the mountains my thoughts were all the same the same ”I will show Lina this” and ”next time, when Lina is here too, we will go there” etc.

I cried pretty much every day but I also smiled and was grateful that I could move freely. It was fun to be away, but I missed home so much too. Lina couldn’t believe me as she was fed up with everything. But once you are away you also enjoy being at home so much and understand how beautiful things close by are too.

I did three more races on my journey: one victory, one 6th place, and one 5th place. I had good feelings on all of them. But with a good field and my lack of proper running training I couldn’t be on the top all the time.

When I came home Lina had started biking! We went out on roller skis, biking and hiking together and Lina asked if we could go out again with the motor home on an adventure since she had been at home all summer watching me discovering the world. We drove to the north of Norway and had a great week. And Lina took her first running steps in months! It was like starting something new. Both of us cried with happiness and joy. We could see light in the future again!

Surrounded by mountains we lived the perfect life in our van. We packed our small Halo vests or brought the bigger Fastpacks and got out the whole days in new areas, either on our bikes or by foot. We made good, colorful vegan food and had photo shoots and sister moments.

My foot has some problems still and I have to be careful with it but it doesn’t hurt. Lina’s knee is covered in a big scar and she has a long time of rehab, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger for sure. And I can see that she is on fire inside.

And as I’m writing this on an airplane Lina ran a mountain race yesterday and won! I did my 5th Skyrunning race but had nothing in my legs to give and finished – somewhat ashamed – on 16th position. But at least I know I can run downhill and got the answer I can go uphill to as I killed my legs a bit more on a Vertical Kilometer race later that same day.

In a few days we are together heading down to Europe as El Kott “Twins” again…hopefully with a comeback!