Allan Hovda Ain't Scared of Cold Water

When access to a pool is not available folks have to adapt, and that is what Allan Hovda recently had to do. But for Hovda adaption is a daily routine and challenge, balancing family, his job and his passion for triathlon.

Slowtwitch: It is good to hear from you Allan.

Allan Hovda: It's always a pleasure talking to you guys and with the COVID-19 stuff around I am not talking to a lot of people these days. That makes it extra enjoyable.

ST: I think you did some very cold swimming recently. Are you still shivering, or have you warmed up well since?

Allan: With the water being around 4-6 degrees C I actually stayed fairly warm. When I tried to swim at the outer edge of the swim facility, I met the ice-cold water from the river. That was cold!

ST: Word has it that you have had no access to a pool this winter because of COVID-19 restrictions. What exactly does that mean where you live?

Allan: The rules have varied from being completely closed, to being open for kids and some elite swimmers I think, but I have actually not been in a pool since March last year.

ST: As the local celebrity and Norseman champ wouldn’t you count as an elite swimmer?

Allan: Before the restrictions I was swimming with an elite squad in the same pool but in a different lane and could have started with them in the short periods they opened up. By then my wife started working again and I had to pick up my youngest son from nursery before I had pool time. With the possibilities to swim in the ocean about 30 meters from my apartment, makes it much easier and more time efficient.

ST: Where for example do Gustav Iden and Kristian Blummenfelt train?

Allan: They live on the west coast of Norway, which generally had less COVID-19 and more open pools, but they had periods without swimming possibilities as well. The last thing I heard from Kristian Blummenfelt is that he is in Rio Maior Sports Center in Portugal with the rest of the Norwegian squad and might not be back in Norway before the Tokyo Olympics. I do have a life outside triathlon and would put a huge strain on my wife and two kids if going abroad to train with the quarantine afterwards.

ST: I applaud that decision, but I think we both know that strain on a family has not stopped others from pursuing their passions.

Allan: I am absolutely deeply passionate about triathlon, but when we decided to become a family, I was clear that I am doing it with them. My oldest was just 2 months the first time he came along for Norseman. Maybe the age has made me softer, but I do really miss my kids after just a few days away. In addition, I do believe you can get most of the training effect and adaptation from home, and don’t need to go a lot to camps to get fit. The winter can be hard, but the turbo is really effective.

ST: Clearly in other regions folks can swim and train otherwise. Do you feel this is a big disadvantage for you as racing is coming back?

Allan: The verdict isn't out yet, but I have been doing drills with my Stretchcordz for 30 minutes five days each week the whole winter. I might be naïve, but I have faith that I will be back in swim shape fairly quick.

ST: Maybe this will be the year for a foreigner to take the Norseman title again.

Allan: Yes, if they handle the logistic issues of traveling and most likely having to have a quarantine.

ST: Talk about that recent swim.

Allan: I did want to start my open water swimming season earlier, but we had a long stable period of minus 10 – 15 degrees C air temperature. I just could not stand the thought of changing after the swim, so I postponed it. Then we suddenly got spring weather so I had to get to it before the snow melted, which would totally wreck the cool photos. It was close to 0 degrees air temperature and water temperature between 6 and 0 depending on if I hit the ice-cold water outlet from the river or not. Needless to say, but I pretty much stayed in the warm strip which is 170 meters one way. I did 1600 meters in 29 minutes and was happy with my start. Having a few layers underneath the wetsuit doesn’t do wonder for the speed.

ST: Please talk about your layering theory and what exactly you wore in that cold water?

Allan: My QuintanaRoo Hydrosix wetsuit is 5mm in the legs but only 1.5mm in the shoulders and part of the upper body. The process I have is to add insulation where I get cold, without restricting the shoulder movement too much. My complete list is:
• Neoprene balaclava (most impactful piece)
• Neoprene cap (pull it as close down to your eyes as possible)
• Neoprene vest
• Cycling arm wamers
• A light wool t-shirt
• Neoprene sock with thick wool sock underneath
• Neoprene gloves with thin wool gloves underneath (would have thicker if I had more room)
• Vaseline on my face, which was the only part not covered in fabric

ST: You seem to like wool.

Allan: One of the first thing I remember from my childhood is my mother complaining about other parents who put cotton on their kids as base layer when hiking in Norway. She was pretty clear on having wool underneath as being best. I also have a sponsorship with Ulvang, one of the biggest wool companies in Norway and we are a great match. I must admit that it’s not ideal for swimming compared to neoprene, but it can enable you to swim in cold water without buying more neoprene stuff.

ST: What else do you do instead of swimming to keep your swimming fitness up?

Allan: I mentioned StrechCordz, but have also gotten a love for the SkiErg Concept 2 skiing machine. Believe it or not, but I am actually not a keen XC-skier, so I have pretty much left the machine alone in the past. When I started using it however, I found it really motivating competing with myself getting those 500m splits down. The only downside is that the gyms in Oslo are closed as well so it's just in the gym at work on an oil rig where I have access to one.

ST: What about your running and cycling? How do you split it up in terms of outdoor and indoor training and what is the volume currently?

Allan: My current volume is between 15 – 20 hours weekly. All cycling is done on the turbo but outdoor on my terrace and all my running is done outdoor as the gyms are closed. I admit that running intervals on the road outside is much harder than on the treadmill as you have to be mentally much sharper to keep the pace.

ST: You mentioned the turbo twice now, so maybe it is time for you to tell us what type of trainer it is. And do you use any platform to connect to?

Allan: My turbo is a Tacx Neo and I only use the Tacx app for setting the resistance. I often use the time on the turbo for social media updates and administrative work. At high intensity work my mental capacity are too low so then I look at entertaining or educational content on YouTube or Netflix. We haven't owned a TV since 2008 and the rule is to only look at non-productive entertainment while on the turbo.

ST: What is the first big race on your calendar in 2021?

Allan: I have no clue. There might be a race in Norway late April, and there is at least on local 70.3 distance race before Norseman 7. August. Other than that, I will just keep my calendar open and do other challenges if racing doesn’t happen. I want to give the 24h road distance record a proper go and maybe riding the 2550km Norway from South to North as fast as possible. I also want to do a real Backyard Ultra as I tried a 12h limit version this fall. There are so many stupid endurance challenges out there to do and I want to try them all.

When mention stupid endurance challenges, I might add this one. My oil rig has concrete legs and one elevator that goes 118 height meters in one of those legs. On a nightshift in December I ran up and took the elevator down 75 times, making it 8850 height meters. I don’t know but are feel pretty sure I am the first to Everest an oil rig. It took 11 hours and 53 minutes and was one stupid endurance challenge I will not repeat.

ST: Explain your time on the oil rig. How long are you typically there and how much of that time is work and how much of it is break? After all I would suspect you can’t just go home when your shift ends.

Allan: I work as a process technician on an oil rig 250 km outside Bergen, which means a 1-hour helicopter flight to get there. Regular rotation in Norway is 2 weeks on and 4 weeks off. I have worked part time since 2016 and am 1 week on the rig and 5 weeks off. I am totally aware that it is among the best work conditions in the world. When I am on the rig I work from 6:30 AM to 7 PM when working dayshift and opposite when working nightshift. At least each other day I also work a couple of hours overtime for various reasons. I usually get in a 30-minute session during the lunch break and 1-3 hours after work. We have a good gym with strength equipment, treadmills and Tacx Neo trainers. One of my previous platform managers was into cycling so I got the budget to buy what I wanted.

ST: On that oil rig what do your coworkers think about your athletic adventures and are others using these stairs for exercise? Maybe not for 11 hours though.

Allan: My coworkers do think I am nuts but they are also a bit proud of me. None of them joined me in the staircase run, but some of them did try to give it a go afterwards and see how they compared to my times.

ST: To go back to your staircase challenge - how did you find the time?

Allan: Regarding the Everest Project I mainly did it during my work time. We were one person extra for work training purposes, so he got my spot that night.

ST: What would be the goal for that Norway crossing and how much support would it require?

Allan: The current record for teams was set last year with 4 days and 21 hours. I haven't gotten the accurate course profile yet but should be able beat it with 10 hours as I am far more aero. At least, that is easy to say when you have never done a multiple day event and never felt that kind of sleep deprivation. For support I am not sure, but I do have a father who doesn’t mind driving far with minimal sleep. If I can get a photographer too, I think that would be sufficient.

ST: You mentioned an interest in a Backyard Ultra. Being good with sleep deprivation is important there, and do you think you can be patient enough to go slow the first 24-30 hours?

Allan: I have a lot of experience with 24 – 30 hours sleep deprivation. 4 – 5 times each year I work nightshift and when I travel home then I get up at 5 PM on Tuesday and go to bed at 10 PM on Wednesday. It doesn’t feel awesome, but I manage fairly well compared to others. I actually won Norseman 2014 less than 3 days after coming home from night shift. Patience - now that’s much harder!

ST: Where will you be this coming October? It seems like all the races are now pushed into that month and early November.

Allan: Again, I have no clue. I would love to travel back to the US but will not do it if I have to quarantine going out and back. Also, I can see that IRONMAN Mallorca is 16. Oct and as we lived in Mallorca half a year in 2015/2016 and I really want to go back there as well. Otherwise, Norway is truly beautiful so it might be a good reason to explore more there.

ST: What place in Norway would you recommend to folks from other countries for that time when travel is somewhere back to normal?

Allan: Funny that you mention it, but I would recommend renting a camper van from my newly started camper van company or from someone else for that matter and driving from Oslo or Bergen all the way north to Lofoten. The sights along the way are priceless. I was triggered on the idea of a camper van after Patagonman when traveling in Torres del Payne and rented on after Lofoten Triathlon the year after. The best way to explore Norway for sure!

ST: Any final thoughts?

Allan: I know a lot of people are bummed about the COVID-19 restrictions and all the limitations. I would urge people to see possibilities withing the restraints. There are so many nice experiences out there even if Plan A or B is not happening.

The video from that cold swim

Image 1 and 3 © Nikita Solenov
Image 2 © Ola Morken