Big Estonian Ain-Alar Juhanson is known as a fast and powerful cyclist, but he has shown at Ironman Lanzarote and the shortened Ironman New Zealand that he can run too. He is also a bright person and has a great personality. We recently had a chance to find out more about him.
ST: How long have you been doing triathlon, and what inspired you to get involved in the sport?
Ain: Well, it has been a while. First time I heard about triathlon was 1986 when local people organized the first Paide triathlon and my older brother Indrek won it and became somewhat of a celebrity. I started out 1991 with the national youth champs, which I won! I got an invitation to the national team straight after that. So with the short period of time I transformed from good cross country skier to triathlete. It just seemed to have more fun with it and I really like cycling as my father was cyclist.
ST: When in Estonia, is there anyone you train with on a regular basis?
Ain: Look, we are a very small nation with only 1.5 million residents, but we have had almost a decade of top-level Ironman performers like Margus Tamm, Kirill Litovchenko and after me there is very promising young star on the horizon called Raimo Raudsepp. So when I am at home I have always somebody to train with, the only thing is I can afford this luxury only 4 months a year. Usually when I am in a training camp somewhere I try to meet up with locals to make it more fun.
ST: Do you consider yourself disciplined in terms of training and nutrition?
Ain: The short answer could be: not really! It depends actually on what it is. I am always late everywhere except race mornings. My nutrition is okay before the races but it has a lot of baked goods and other treats in the off-season. As I am an educated chef, I really enjoy good food, so its hard to eat carrots all the time. In terms of training I'm not stressing too much if my running loop comes out few minutes shorter or longer.
ST: How do you typically spend the off-season?
Ain: My off-season is usually 4-6 weeks. It depends how soon I will get a real appetite for hard work again. You have to be hungry for that to go further later on the season. Usually I do all the different sports I can. This year I am doing 3 times a week badminton, which hopefully helps me move faster later on. Some swim sessions and basketball. The rule is to cycle and run as little as possible.
ST: Do you have any idols in the sport of triathlon?
Ain: One of them is Thomas Hellriegel. It was at the 2003 Ironman Lanzarote awards and Thomas had just finished his winner speech and I was really happy about my 5th place finish. Thomas started to give autographs and guess who was first in line? ☺
ST: What is your favorite race and why?
Ain: My favorite race is the Paide Triathlon (www.paidetriatlon.ee). It is a half Ironman distance race in my birth town Paide which turns into a triathlon mecca for every first weekend of August. It’s not a race with a lot of participants but it’s for sure the race with best feeling I ever experienced.
ST: Do you follow any other sports?
Ain: Mostly the sports where our countrymen and women are doing well in the world. We are a small nation and we are really proud about them. Sports like cross country skiing and track and field are popular here.
ST: As a fairly tall person riding the Scott Plasma with the integrated seat mast, how do you travel with it? What kind of bike case do you use?
Ain: Well Scott made things very simple for us Plasma owners. They simply created a special soft bike bag for integrated seat post bikes. I was a bit worried first to travel with a soft bike bag but now I have been around the world few times with it and I never had any problems with my bike.
ST: You recently switched aero bars from Vision to Oval, was there a specific reason behind the switch?
Ain: Yes I had some very good experiences with Vision in the past, but when carbon came into integrated aero bars I had to make sure that it will be stiff enough for a 220-pound athlete. I also wanted to get an aero bar with my own measurements. So Oval Concepts was an obvious choice with the A911 JetStream. Now I have been riding with Oval one and a half years and I am very satisfied with it.
ST: How many bikes do you have in your garage and/or around the house?
Ain: Right now there is a Scott Plasma, a Scott CR1, a Scott Speedster, a Scott Scale 10 and a Scott Scale 60, so totally 5.
ST: What kind of car do you drive?
Ain: I just switched from Volvo XC70 to an Audi A6 3.0 TD Quattro. It’s more economical and its more fun to drive. It’s actually a safety issue to have a 4 wheel drive car in Estonian winter.
ST: What sports did you take part in when you were younger?
Ain: I have been doing almost everything, I was just one very active kid then. I started out with cross country skiing when I was 5 and after that there was soccer, volleyball, tennis, basketball, equestrian and orienteering. The main thing was always skiing and running.
ST: Tell us a bit about your family.
Ain: I'm coming from quite a big family, at least in Estonian standards. I have one sister and two brothers and I am the youngest one. As I told you before, my parents and family have been very sport loving. My Father is 79 years old and this summer he decided to go and watch a triathlon event 100km away from home. So by the end of the day he did 200km with his road bike, alone! My sister Piret studied with me in special sports school for XC skiing, now she owns a gymnastic club in Paide, our home town. My older brother Indrek finished IM Lanzarote in 2006 and his goal is to qualify for Kona some day. My middle brother Andres has been into XC skiing when he was younger. When my mother was alive she liked cycling and XC skiing. Unfortunately she passed away in 1995.
ST: What is your favorite food?
AAJ: Chocolate! Well that’s not real food! I do like the Estonian kitchen but it’s not too healthy. Maybe it's because I can get it only at home and I'm not very often at home.
ST: Can you tell us about what you might have in your fridge?
Ain: Right now there is milk, some eggs, butter, good Estonian cheese, ham, some veggies, mineral water, apple juice, really nothing special. There is no food which will make you champion! I’m just trying to eat as natural as possible.
ST: What is the last movie you saw?
Ain: Last one was American Gangster, which was good considering that it was inspired by true story.
ST: What about music, anything that you play the most on your i-pod?
Ain: I listen to a lot of Estonian music, maybe because I am away so much. Internationally one of my favorites is Pink Floyd “The Wall”. I also have some newer stuff like Alex Loyd, Pink etc.
ST: Where do you think you’ll be in 5 years?
Ain: Dreaming? Sitting on the bench by the lake of my country house. Playing with my kids and enjoying life as it is. Maybe organizing major triathlon event in Estonia and coaching some crazy kid who likes to dream big.