Swede Pontus Lindberg has an 8:11 IRONMAN to his name but he is now all in with Swimrun and he and his partner George Bjälkemo currently have a tight grip on the Golden Bib. So far they have been unbeaten in the ÖtillÖ Swimrun World Series, with wins in Hvar (Croatia), Utö (Sweden) and Isles of Scilly (UK), but hanging on to that Golden Bib until the end of the 2018 season will be a difficult job. They will have to win 3 more to grab the €33,000 Golden Bib money. That by the way is available in each category for those teams that wins 6 races in a row.
But here now is my interview with the man with the Golden Bib and the golden smile.
Slowtwitch: Pontus I really appreciate your time.
Pontus Lindberg: I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
ST: Well, you seem to be unstoppable this year. You and your partner George Bjälkemo just captured another nice win at ÖtillÖ Isles of Scilly.
Pontus:Thanks. Yes, that was a really fun race.
ST: I believe this is the first year that you competed there.
Pontus: Yes, for the first time. It was a stunning course and really beautiful islands.
ST: Now that you are still in possession of the Golden Bib will that mean that you will do all the races in the series?
Pontus: I guess we will continue as long as we have the Golden Bib.
ST: You two also captured the ÖtillÖ Utö World Series race, a race you two also won last year. Does that race particular suit you?
Pontus: Well, I think maybe you could say that it suits us, since we really love that course. Apart from that I don’t think it suits us better than any of the other Ötillö World Series races.
I like it since it’s a fast paced course where something is always happening. It is also very similar to the original Ötillö course in the terrain.
I also grew up in Haninge county where Utö is located, so I was there on excursions in middle school but never realized the beauty of the island until I started doing Swimruns. Makes it extra fun to go there.
ST: What makes this specific race so fast?
Pontus: There are a lot of short swims and fast runs. Many transitions so you’ve got to have them dialed in.
ST: Tell us how the race unfolded.
Pontus: The field broke up quite fast and then we were three teams racing in the front. As former triathletes we are fast running on roads, which I think the other teams knew since they were trying to get away on the technical parts. The swims were too short to change anything, but Team Sailfish Bröderna Bäver were very fast in the transitions and got small gaps after some swims which they tried to exploit. Nothing we couldn’t handle though. When we got out on the roads we took a wrong turn and lost a couple of meters, which made team Envol increase speed trying to get away. They never got a real gap, but that’s were we lost team Sailfish. When we got side by side with them we picked up the pace pretty dramatically (3:30 / km). After the next aid station we got a gap and soon got reports that we gained a lot on every km. That meant that we could actually slow down to a more comfortable pace for the last 12 km of the race. Very good for the recovery, since there were just three weeks between Utö and Isles of Scilly.
ST: I think you and George are pretty balanced in terms of swimming and running, so what decides who is leading in the water?
Pontus: I’m a bit stronger swimmer, so I lead the swims.
ST: What is your fastest IRONMAN distance and Olympic distance swim time?
Pontus: I’ve done 48 minutes something during Ironman Mallorca. Had to pull out on the run because of a broken femoral neck on that race though, so I guess that was unnecessary fast. I actually don’t know my best Olympic swim time, that was a long time ago.
ST: Could you describe a tough swim workout that you do that is not swimrun specific?
Pontus: I always had a love hate relation with my triathlon coach’s (Jens Lünekilde, Denmark) favorite open water session. The main part was 3x10 min threshold. Awful when you were doing it, but really good for race day performance.
ST; What about a workout in the pool?
Pontus: This is a typical hard and short workout that we do in our training group, with interval times for a 50 m pool. If done in a 25 meter pool we subtract 5 seconds everywhere.
4x100 m easy
2x4x50 m drills
4x100 m z2 @1:35
5x100 m threshold @1:30, no rest before start of next set.
2x10x50 m MAX @1:00, extra 30 s rest between sets
150-100-50 m arm z2, 10 s rest
200 m easy
ST: Both you and George competed as professional triathletes. Is that capital now closed or are you still competing in some triathlons?
Pontus: I have completely stopped doing triathlons. I had quite an overdose of road cycling, so that is a decision I’m quite happy with. I really love that Swimrun is a team sport after all those years with solo sports.
George hasn’t made the final decision yet, but has at least no planned triathlons for this year.
ST: When you focused on triathlon, what results are you most fond of?
Pontus: Winning the Swedish championships long distance in Kalmar (2011), and my 4:15 bike split and 8:11 overall time on Ironman Florida (2013). Biking was always my weakest discipline so I was very happy at that time.
ST: Did you two meet during that time or did you know each other before?
Pontus: We got to know each other when we were on the Swedish national triathlon team. We actually joked about doing Swimrun events when we retired, so I convinced George to do ÖtillÖ 1000 lakes when I quit triathlon.
ST: That race was very cold and had a high dropout rate. Were you cold too?
Pontus: Extremely! I actually had signs of hypothermia although I didn’t understand that at the time. My kidneys stopped working - apparently they are the inner organs to go first since they are closest to the environment. My calves were hurting for three weeks after the race, after running with completely stiff muscles.
ST: With the race now about a month earlier, the temps likely should be a bit more inviting.
Pontus: Yes, the temps were perfect last year, when they moved the race to that time of the year.
ST: In general do you do better in colder or warmer temps?
Pontus: I think I suffer in both. However other teams seam to suffer more in cold, so I guess I prefer that.
ST: How much time do you and George spend together outside of racing?
Pontus: We train together four or five times a week and do fika afterwards. We also meet for planning our training, and sometimes just do social things with other friends.
We often get the idea that our tether length is wrong, so we have quite a few meet ups to readjust tether length also. Those tether meetings are quite annoying.
ST: When did you change the name of your team from “Team Terrible Tuesdays Triathlon” to Team Garmin?
Pontus: It was just the first race we did for the triathlon club TTT.
I have had a partnership with Garmin for 10 years as a triathlete and when we decided to start racing Swimrun events it coincided with them sponsoring Ötillö, so it was the perfect next level of the partnership.
ST: Many athletes from other sports and especially triathletes call Swimrun “a triathlon without a bike.” What would you say to folks who make such statements?
Pontus: I think they should try a Swimrun and see if maybe they change their view.
It’s a completely different thing if you as me, the biggest difference being the team part and the races being more dynamic due to the changes in terrain. It’s much more uncontrolled racing than in triathlon, where you can measure a lot and have control of your power zones etc.
ST: Doping is sadly a topic that is common in many sports. How much do you think is there in Swimrun?
Pontus: Since there is not much money in the sport I (maybe naively) believe that it is still a very small problem.
ST: What about other cheating?
Pontus: Early on I know there were problems with people cutting the course, believing it was more of an adventure race where you find your own way. The race directors are very clear that this isn’t allowed now, so I don’t think it’s a problem. A violation of that means disqualification and eternal shame since the Swimrun world is still small.
ST: Describe the gear you use in a race. And how much does it change from race to race? IE, were there changes from Hvar to Utö?
Pontus: I use a HEAD Aero wetsuit, with cut legs and arms. In Hvar and Scilly I used sleeves because of the long, relatively cold, swim. A Garmin Fenix 5 for pacing and analysis after the race, etc. I use a homemade pull buoy for lifting the legs during the swim, and keep it on the thigh when running. Then there are hand paddles and goggles from HEAD, and Salomon Amphib 2 shoes (a prototype which I’ve helped them with). And a homemade tether. With varying lengths.
ST: Some teams carry their buoy on their lower back, why do you opt to have yours on the leg?
Pontus: We are quite fast at moving the pull buoy when transitioning, it has become a reflex more or less. So if changing now it would probably take a while to become as fast again. I think having it on the back has some benefits, especially not having something around your leg which can restrict blood flow. It is a bit slower putting it on for the swims, but on the other hand you gain time when exiting the water, since you can start running directly and handle the pull buoy later on.
ST: So what is next for you (other than racing)?
Pontus: I’m soon starting my vacation. I’m really looking forward to it, since it has been a busy winter and spring.
ST: And what is your day job?
Pontus: I’m an engineer, working as project manager for capital investment projects in the pharmaceutical industry.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Pontus: I don’t think so.
Below is a video of Pontus and George during swim practice in full Swimrun gear, and you can follow Pontus Lindberg on Instagram via @tripontus