We bumped into a very excited and happy Carl Knutsson at the 2014 Datev Challenge Roth and he became our first random age grouper from that event.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Carl.
Carl Knutsson: Oh, you’re welcome. It was great to meet you.
ST: How has NYC been treating you?
Carl: Awesome as usual. I used to live in Manhattan. I love the city and all its energy.
ST: Did you go to there right after you came back from Challenge Roth?
Carl: In fact, I am staying in NJ. We are visiting with my dad and step mom who live here. We did go into the city to Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial Museum last Tuesday. Very moving! I’ve been to Ground Zero twice before, but this is the first time to the museum. Wow….I used to work across the street from the World Trade Center. I have been in those towers many times and have celebrated my birthday at Windows of the World on a couple occasions….sad…. I think they have done a superb job in remembering the fallen.
ST: Why did you move away from NYC?
Carl: This was back in '88 and I had ended a relationship. I was not happy with my job. My mother, God rest her soul, had moved to Sarasota, Florida. Long and funny story there, but anyway, she said that I would love the beaches, the bikinis and palm trees. I figured what the hell, if I don't like it there I can always move back. Well, I have been in Sarasota ever since. Fortunately, because my dad and step mom live in New Jersey I have the opportunity every year to go up and visit and still enjoy what New York City and New Jersey has to offer.
ST: We actually met accidentally in Roth and you became my first selected random age grouper because you were the first person in Roth to have a lengthy conversation with me with whom I had not previously talked. But I was likely not the first person in Roth you had a lengthy chat with.
Carl: Yes you were, besides my girlfriend. That’s because you spoke fluent English.
I speak fluent Swedish, but my German leaves a lot to be desired.
ST: How did you two then communicate while in Germany? Did most folks speak English with you?
Carl: Most folks understood what we were trying to communicate in English. They learn English in school, but sometimes some don't want you to know. On occasions we used sign language, finger pointing, expressions and whatever it took...lol. The people we met were fabulous and put as much effort into understanding us as we were in trying to communicate with them.
ST: I believe before you ventured to Roth you had participated in 8 Ironman events, including Kona. And that was your first Ironman.
Carl: Yup, I decided to do the Super Bowl first, before playing the regular season. It was never my intention…well, maybe it was since I did put in for the lottery.
ST: Where you surprised how quickly the lottery found you?
Carl: Funny thing is I was out running this tax day at noon and when I got home I checked my emails. I saw an email from Ironman and under the subject heading it said “Congratulations.” My heart beat so fast knowing this could only mean one thing. Opening up the email it said I was in. I ran into the kitchen and told my girlfriend. I said we are going to Kona! She started to cry and we decide to let our Sarasota Storm Tri Club know about this. Well, when I logged into our message board all I could see were congratulatory messages. Everyone knew before me.
ST: How big of a club is that?
Carl: We are now about 300 members and at the time we were probably around 200. Sarasota is a small community, but the triathletes in southwest Florida are full of passion for the sport. Hell, with all the opportunities we have, the great year around weather...the Gulf of Mexico, two outdoor Olympic swimming pools in Sarasota itself, all the running and biking you would ever want with beautiful scenery.....but no hills and mountains. That one you have to travel for. Heat we have, but not the climbing.
ST: Talk about that first Ironman Hawaii experience and when was that?
Carl: It was 2010 and it went very well. Of course, I was a rookie at the iron distance, so I was too naive to know what to expect. Sometimes not knowing the challenges ahead of time and being dumb enough to think you can do it is just the right stuff.
ST: I think you had already signed up for Arizona when you learned about the lottery win. And you did that one after you came back?
Carl: I had registered for IM AZ back in 2009 for 2010. I was training for that race. My first Ironman. I also had put in for the Kona lottery. When I found out I got into Kona, well, you just don’t say no to Kona, so I validated my slot at 70.3 Florida when it was at the Magic Kingdom and voila. People were happy for me, but said I was crazy. Well, 6 weeks later I did do IM AZ and validated everyone’s thoughts.
ST: What were the other Ironman races you did, and how did you decide on them.
Carl: I’ve done Kona, AZ twice, FL, TX, NYC, the one and done, and CDA twice. At CDA last year they pulled me off the course at 134 miles with 6.2 miles to go saying I would not make it to the finish by midnight. This year, just 5 weeks ago, I proved them wrong and did it.
ST: Which of these races gave you the best memories?
Carl: Wow, you sure make this difficult. Each race gave me the best memories collectively! Remember that for someone like me, a bigger and older guy, I have a lot of time to enjoy and suffer during the race. But seriously, each one left such great impressions and so many good memories it is impossible to single out any single race for any particular memory. It might sound corny, but after the fact, they all left best memories and that is why I still continue doing it. There is something wonderful about feeling alive and doing the seemingly impossible. For those that don't get it....sorry....try it sometime....
ST: Why Europe and why Challenge Roth?
Carl: I’ve done many triathlons here in the States since I started this crazy sport 6 years ago. I just felt it was time to spread my wings and do it elsewhere, too. I get tired of the same things over and over again. Why not do something different? That is a big reason why I fell in love with triathlon. I can’t just run every day, or swim every day, or bike everyday. It gets boring, swim one day, bike the next and then run some - now we are talking. Life is more than doing one thing. Right? Plus, I used to live in Europe for 10 years. Nice to come back and do what I love.
ST: When we met you seemed super excited about being there. Did the race meet your expectations?
Carl: Holy cow, did it? Hell, yeah, and more. What a marvelous experience they give you. The whole event was like a big county fair with all the trimmings. Another thing, usually, triathlon expos suck. I never could figure out that one out. Three sports? Marathon expos are great, and that is just running, why not triathlons? This place takes the cake, love it.
ST: What emotions were going through you when you came upon the Solarer Berg for the first time?
Carl: So this is what it feels like to be a rock star! So much fun….very, very cool.
ST: Was that the most spectators you had seen at any triathlon to date?
Carl: Oh yes. It was so much fun to ride the bike through the small towns and see everyone out drinking beer, singing, dancing, cheering and celebrating. Wow, so cool. Even the kids were running and shouting…..very special…..
ST: You ended up not finishing because the race has shorter time allowances and it was pretty hot. But you were very gracious. Is that just your nature?
Carl: Well, I see the sport as an evolution of oneself, a learning experience. I love challenges, no pun or endorsement intended, but to better oneself one has to push the envelope. Maybe I pushed mine a bit too far this time considering I had done IM Coeur d’Alene three weeks earlier. But if you don’t push yourself you will never know what you can do, right? The heat did not bother me since I am used to it living in Florida, but the bike climbs did me in. As you know Florida is rather flat. At mile 82 on the bike race officials pulled me over and said I was 15 minutes off the pace to finish the whole race under 15 hours. I could finish the bike, but no run. Oh well…a setback, but they are only temporary and makes the eventual finish that much sweeter.
ST: Did you like the finish line spectacle?
Carl: Yes, spectacular! A stadium to finish in with thousands of spectators, music, announcers, TV, lights, firework - simply awesome.
ST: I believe you stood in line the next morning to register for 2015. Is that unfinished business or did they hook you?
Carl: Both! I was #805 out of the one thousand they would register the following day before on-line registration the following week. I will finish what I started. It will be the Redemption at Roth. I have already booked my flights, hotel reservation and even my car rental. I already can’t wait for the wonderful triathlon week next year.
ST: What other impression did you collect in terms of culture, food and the people?
Carl: Above all I was impressed about how great drivers the Germans are. Also, what impressed me is how clean everything is and how there is no trash along the roadsides. Hell, the gas station toilets are cleaner than some restaurants I have been to here. The people were very courteous and they made us feel welcome. Another thing and something dear to me is how much drivers and pedestrians respect cyclists. Super! A number of lessons that we can learn here.
ST: I appreciate your positive thinking here, but sadly the North American car culture is simply not cycling or pedestrian friendly. I wish however that you could prove me wrong.
Carl: Cultural shifts take lifetimes. I was born here and proud of it, yet my European heritage tells me that we need some learning on this side of the pond. Here it is all about convenience, drive-thru everything and eat what is convenient. Sorry, buddy! Walking is weird in many parts of this country and cycling is stupid. For example to ride your bike to work in Sweden is a normal thing, yet here they would ask you how long your car is going to be in the shop if you showed up at work with your bike. The USA has become very lazy and as a society we need to incorporate in our children's learning experiences the importance of physical activity, nutrition and the knowledge of the arts, geography, history, music etc. while we are at it. Sadly it doesn't happen in most homes and we won't pay the taxes for all this learning at the schools either. Sorry, I can't prove you wrong. I love the cars in Germany and the way they are driven. Maybe one day here, but don't bank on it. Not when it is so difficult just to turn on a turn signal in Florida. I believe that to most people in Europe driving is considered an art form, something to enjoy and do well, while here it is just a way to get from point A to point B and the lack of courtesy towards cyclists and pedestrians stems from them being in the way of the driver getting from point A to point B fast. People here forget that driving is a privilege, not a right.
ST: So what is next?
Carl: Hood-to-Coast in two weeks. I have tried the lottery for three years to get in. Finally did. I have put together a great team. Then in November IM FL. In January I will be doing the Dopey at Disney world. The Ragnar relay Miami to Key West in February. St Anthony Triathlon in April. Ironman Texas in May and, yes Challenge Roth in July. Later I hope to get into IM Copenhagen at the end of August. This way my relatives in Sweden will be able to come down and see me race and see what I love to do.
Thanks Herbert. It was a pleasure to meet you and don’t be a stranger. All the best!