Until recently Nick Kastelein was often referred to as the training partner of Jan Frodeno, but the Aussie recently won IRONMAN Switzerland and finished second at 70.3 Barcelona earlier this year. And although Kastelein is still very close to the tall and fast German Olympic and IRONMAN World Champion, he is now making his own name.
Slowtwitch: How are you Nick?
Nick Kastelein: One week after an Ironman? I am unbelievably sore but very, very happy.
ST: You grew up in Mudgee, Australia. What is there to know about Mudgee?
Nick: Mudgee is a great little town where I was born! Life is simpler in Mudgee… There are no traffic lights, no shopping malls or cinemas. Just country living - which is what I love about it!
ST: Are you mostly in Girona now?
Nick: Mudgee will always be considered “home” but i am trying my best to live in Girona all year round.
ST: Do you go back to Australia regularly?
Nick: I try to! It is hard to stay away from an Aussie flat white and banana bread.
ST: What do you say to Starbucks who claim to offer an “Aussie flat white?”
Nick: Thats a debate I'm not going to start.
ST: You are now an IRONMAN champion. Has it sunk in yet?
Nick: Nope! But if you say it enough times, I might start to believe you. (laughs)
ST: Whom did you first call?
Nick: My brother, Adam, back in Australia. We have raced together for many years and I knew he would have sat in front of the computer for all 8 hours 13 minutes of my race feeding stats to friends and family.
ST: Talk about your day at IRONMAN Switzerland. Did it simply fall into place?
Nick: You always have an idea of what your perfect day would look like before the race. Ironman Switzerland wasn’t my perfect race and I am fairly new to the Ironman game so I am happy to continue learning. I never anticipated that I would have such a gap on the bike, as it has been something that I have struggled to develop. If I had the opportunity, the plan was to never dig too deep mentally as the race is a lot closer to Kona than I would have preferred. Fortunately for me, I had some time to play with as I started the marathon so I could relax and race myself instead of the competition - which helps a lot!
ST: What went through your mind when you ran towards that finish arch in Zurich?
Nick: Our manager, Felix, was out on course and he made a point of telling me to enjoy the final moments. It is such an unbelievable feeling of emotions - made extra special, as it was my first professional victory! I wanted to make sure I appreciated the moment and showed the crowd how much it meant to me.
ST: Your parents were there?
Nick: My dad actually flew from Australia to be in Zurich with me. He has been there since day 1 and to have him there for my first victory is something you cannot put a price on. Although I do believe he gets more nervous before a race than anyone I have ever met before.
ST: So is that your race highlight?
Nick: Yeah it has to be. My dad and I have such a good relationship. He has been there with me for so many bad years so it was only right that he was there for my first win.
ST: Going into the race, what was the goal and strategy?
Nick: I believe triathlon, and sport in general, is simple to predict sometimes. You know the guys who will swim ride and run well. But I can only do what my body is capable of and for that reason I focused on my own feelings and performance.
My coach set me numbers for the bike and run and when I read them before the race, I thought to myself that if I can go close to what the numbers he has given me, it will be a great day. I hit my numbers but only for the first half of the bike and run before fading hard. To answer your question, I was just trying to do what my coach told me. Nothing more.
ST: Who is your coach and how long have you been with that coach?
Nick: Dan Lorang. He is a very smart and genuine guy and has shown a lot of patience with me. We have been together long enough that I owe my development and recent success largely to him.
ST: What did Ronnie Schildknecht say to you after the race?
Nick: Unfortunately I never saw Ronnie after the race. He is a legend in Switzerland and I would have loved to meet him! It was such a shame that we couldn't duke it out on the run but I hope he makes a full recovery.
ST: I think you had some collarbone issues earlier this year. What happened and is it all well now?
Nick: Well…. Due to bad bike handling skills, I crashed on the final corner of the bike at Barcelona 70.3 in May. The result was a broken collarbone that needed to be pinned and plated. This was by far my biggest test of my career, which required a lot of patience and reorganizing of my year. Recovery went well and my coach and I changed focus from Ironman Austria to Ironman Zurich. That gave me an extra 4 weeks to prepare… making it 10 weeks after the initial accident.
ST: You were second on that day behind World and Olympic Champion Jan Frodeno. Where does that result rank for you?
Nick: It was such a special day. We always talk about hypothetic race situations in training and to finish 1-2 in a local race was incredible. The result was great, but finishing behind someone who I consider a very good mate meant more to me than the actual result itself.
ST: I believe he waited for you at the finish and he appeared very happy for you. Were you surprised how much attention he gave you?
Nick: Not really. As everyone knows, Jan is a great athlete and even better person. Sometimes I think he is happier for my achievements than his own.
ST: How did that relationship with him get started and when was that?
Nick: We both moved to Girona roughly 3 years ago and met at the local pool by pure coincidence. I obviously knew who he was and didn’t pass on the opportunity when he invited me to swim with him. 3 years later and I'm still here!
ST: Do you guys match up well swimming?
Nick: When we first met and started swimming together, I could struggle through the easier sessions and “fake it” a little bit. Nowadays, we match up a lot better but he always seems to have that extra gear when the going gets tough.
ST: What about cycling and running?
Nick: This has taken a lot longer for me to develop and there are still some areas where I struggle. Generally we can do most sessions together - the difference being he still recovers a lot better than me. Must be all those miles in his old legs. (laughs)
ST: Have you had any disagreements with him or has it been smooth and easy?
Nick: Never! …Actually, that is a lie. We disagree daily about the starting times for the next days training. He is a morning person and I am an early riser, I am not! He generally wins that battle though. (laughs)
ST: So what is next for you, between now and Kona?
Nick: I would love to race again soon as I haven’t done a lot of it this year. It looks like it will be all training between now and Kona - which I don't mind either!
ST: How early will you arrive?
Nick: I’ve been lucky enough to travel with the champ champ for the past 2 years and learn from him. We will plan to arrive 2 weeks before race day and start the countdown.
ST: What do you think will be a realistic target for you there?
Nick: I know enough about Kona to know it is hard to predict. Regardless of the outcome, I will be making a mental note during the race of all the good, the bad and the things I can improve on.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Nick: I am just so thankful to everyone who put faith in me. I know IRONMAN Zurich isn’t a World Championship or even a Continental Championship but it s step in the right direction and I want to thank everyone who invested time and/or energy into me years ago.
All images © Oriol Batista