The annual Ultraman event held on Hawaii's Big Island takes triathlon back to its' roots, pitting the athletes against distance, terrain, heat, wind and currents. While the number of participants is not as large as the Hawaii Ironman, the quality of the challenge is above and beyond anything that the island throws out during the better known single day of competition in October. During the three days of racing, the athletes circumnavigate the Big Island, providing a grand tour of the most spectacular features that athletes usually do not witness during the Ironman. Over 6.2 miles of swimming, 260 miles of biking and 52.4 miles of running, not only do the athletes take in the QueenK highway made famous by the Ironwars of Dave Scott and Mark Allen, but they become one with the volcanoes, meander through the rain forests, take in spectacular views of the coast and finally, run from Hawi to Kona.
This year's winner Jonas Colting, tells the readers, what it was like, how he prepared and shares some of the thoughts that went through his head. Devashish Paul, a masters athlete from Ottawa Canada, and frequent contributor to Slowtwitch.com, intercepted Jonas somewhere between Kona and a short vacation in Maui.
DP: Jonas, Ultraman takes us back to the grassroots of the sport...just a handful of competitors, your own support team, racing for the glory with no prize money covering a distance over which you do not know how your body will react. Is this why you have done it twice? The first time you had no clue what you were getting into. This time you did...was it harder knowing what you were about to face?
Jonas: I was severely traumatized the first time I did the race. I remember being out on the run with Björn Andersson, my pro triathlete friend who was crew and not only did I vow to never ever do this race again; I'm pretty sure I was quitting triathlon all together and actually couldn’t care less if I ever ran another step as long as I got to finish that damn run! Nonetheless, it was a great experience and I guess the race kind of grew on me during the years that followed and when my Swedish friend Kari Martens, wanted me to coach him for the race, I got to thinking that hey, maybe this race was kind of fun after all! So I knew exactly what to expect and it was just as hard the second time around.
DP: That statement about quitting triathlon is funny. I think every middle of the pack age grouper on the planet has quit Ironman many times somewhere around mile 20 in their race and the finish line. Then the magic of the finish line happens and a night of sleep and they are signing up the next day for the following year. It is certainly easy to see why one would "retire" while shuffling down the QueenK for 52.4 miles! Speaking of 52.4 miles, you had a solid 42.2K at the Almere triathlon!
Jonas: I had great running form all summer. When I got second at ITU European LD Champs which was on the new distances 3-80-20, I had the best run split in the field and went a 1.06.47 for that 20k. And I kept running fast all summer. So when I raced in Almere I was pretty certain I would actually go sub 8:15. Unfortunately I got a flat about 30k from T2 and lost some time; once out on the run I went around the first 15k in 53 minutes like a madman and just killed myself and ended up running 2:51 and finishing in 8:24.
DP: You would not be the first athlete that lost time on the bike from a mechanical and bolted out of T2 like a Kenyan in the Rotterdam Marathon! How did you leverage the Almere success and the fitness you had in the lead up to you fall? What was your longest run to tackle the Sunday run from Hawi to Kona?
Jonas: So with Almere in mind I wanted to keep running fast as I was planning to do IM Florida first and than Ultraman. But as soon as I got back into training I had a lingering knee issue that held me back for a few weeks and lost some distance training, and soon it was October, so I went in to a mix of a rather low-volume program, (for me), with some really hard stuff every few days. All in all I had maybe three or four 2+ hour runs leading into Ultraman but a bunch of hard cross country running from 60 to 90 minutes as well as some great speed work , more so for IM Florida than for Ultraman.
DP: It is amazing how many fast triathletes come from countries like Sweden, Denmark and Canada where you can barely bike for 5 months a year. Tell the readers about your athletic background. What sports did you do as a kid? Were you born with XC skis on your feet like most Swedish kids?
Jonas: I came from a pure swimming background. No team sports and no soccer which is what most other Swedish kids do. And no skiing or skating whatsoever! I hardly know to this day how to skate! I'm from the southwestern part of Sweden and although we get snow in the winters we also have long periods of slush and rain so I preferred staying in the pool.
DP: Ok now we get it. You were a distance swimmer as a kid. Lots of pro triathletes seem to come from a swimming background…Dave Scott and Mark Allen where a few…lots of hours looking at that black line developing a huge aerobic engine! Tell us more.
Jonas: I started swimming when I was 10 and by the time I was 13 or 14 I was training every day, sometime twice per day for 4-6000 meters. Early on I found out that I was best at longer distances and I remember doing sets on swim camp in 1987 that were 100 x 100 LCM on a 1:30 send off averaging 1:15. I pretty soon went around 17 minutes for the 1500 free and was among the best in my age in Sweden.
DP: So when did you make the switch to triathlon? What was your first race?
Jonas: I was slightly discouraged by my lack of talent to reach the pinnacle of swimming and got intrigued with triathlons. We had the best Swedish triathlete of the time, Pasi Salonen (who crewed with me this year at Ultraman), swimming with our squad and I got inspired by him to give it a try. I had ran a half marathon in 1:33 on virtually no run training so I figured that I had at least something to show for after all these years of training. So I bought a used bike and did my first Olympic distance in 1991 and went 2:11 and won the junior division.
DP: Let's flip things back to Ultraman for a second. What does your typical training week for Ironman or middle distance triathlon look like? Apparently you did Ultraman off your regular training plan...nothing different? I think there are many readers intrigued by Ultraman that would like to know how you pulled it off!
Jonas: In general I like to train in blocks of three days of distance, followed by a day of recovery which is than followed by one or two days of intervals and race-pace. A day of rest and repeat the cycle. But I'm a big intuitive trainer; I don’t follow a plan to a tee if I wake up and don’t feel like it.
The distance days are ideally set up this day when I´m at home in Borås Sweden and I say ideally because I rarely have what I call a typical week; day one is a swim of 4 k followed by a 5 hour ride. Sometimes I make it a "mini-IM" and follow up with a run to make it +7 hours. Second day is a long swim of +6k, followed by a run of 2:15 to 2:30 and than another run at night to make it + 3 hours.
Third day is a long bike day, just ride as long as possible! Usually I'm satisfied if I can get 7 hours and I want to run 15 minutes after this.
For the hard days, day one starts with run intervals of 4x3k on a 3:15/k pace. A swim follows with about 3000 meters of hard short intervals, normally in LCM and with a wetsuit to be race specific. If the sun isn't out because then I want the sun tanning! At night there is a hard team-TT with the semi-pro cyclists in my town.
Day two of tempo is usually a hard track workout, either running 14x400 meters on 69' on a 2 minute start, or running a ladder of 2x1000, 2x800, 2x600, 2x400 and 2x200. The swim is similar to the first day as is the bike.
DP: Wow, that sure sounds like a tough week. By the way, you mentioned 69 second 400's, when Gebrselassie broke the marathon world record in Berlin and ran 2:04:26, he ran 105.5 400's in a row at 70 second pace…regardless, your training does look solid for a long course guy. It seems you really focus on some solid intensity and it shows in your middle distance results as well as Almere. Do you keep the pace going all winter? It must be hard in Sweden in the cold, rain, and lack of sunlight?
Jonas: In the winter I train less than most everyone else at my level and I focus on strength, agility, postural therapy, some winter sports if there´s snow and trying to maintain a decent run program with almost daily runs.
DP: When was your first Ironman and did you get the Ultraman bug training with Molina and Gordo Byrne, both of whom have won this event.
Jonas: I did my first Ironman in 1994; the Swedish IM-distance race in Kalmar. I went 9:55 but it was the year I had done my military service and it was a lost year with illness and came into the race under trained and overweight.
DP: Hah…overweight….were you at 5% body fat instead of 4%...OK sorry, back to the discussion at hand!
Jonas: Ultraman I had heard of very early as I was an avid reader of Triathlete Magazine and I quickly found two races I really wanted to do; Ultraman and Survival of the Shawangunks. Of course, reading Molina's account of him winning this race in its early years only helped to fuel the desire to race it!
Stay tuned for part 2.