The Swedish master of Texas

Patrik Nilsson decided late to race IRONMAN Texas and he then stormed to a big win there. Initially he hunted for a Kona slot in South Africa, but as he said, simply did not have the legs that day and then looked for a different race. I chatted with the fast long haired Swede about this decision, racing in Texas and much more.

Slowtwitch: First of course thank you for your time.

Patrik Nilsson: Thank you for having me! Always fun to be a part of ST.

ST: It has been a week since your fine performance in Texas. What have you been up to?

Patrik: Thanks! I did the Wings for life world run in Stockholm and then flew to Mallorca to finish of the team training camp together with BMC - Vifit pro triathlon team powered by Uplace which has been on for the last one and a half weeks.

ST: Did Texas only get on your schedule after IRONMAN South Africa did not go as planned?

Patrik: Yes, I never planned to race Texas, but after the race in SA I tried to be flexible and see what options I had. I knew I was in good shape and just needed to get it out on a race. So while on the flights back to Lanzarote, I had a deep talk with Teresa and booked a new flight going from Frankfurt (one of the stops on the way) to Texas and flew straight there for the last preparations for the race.
I did know Texas was an option, but never planed to race it until after the race in SA.

ST: Talk about that South Africa day.

Patrik: South Africa was wonderful apart from the race itself. I loved the course and the race area, but had one of those days where the legs never woke up and the power wasn’t there. Honestly I might have been a bit tired from a big block of training on Sands beach on Lanzarote and just didn’t have enough of recovery before the race. I felt very well prepared, I knew I was in good shape and also felt good the days before the race. But on the bike I just missed the last percentage to be competitive.

ST: When you could not find your bike legs, what was going on in your head?

Patrik: The swim during the race was ok and I felt ok. Not too hard, but in the waves it was a bit rough. Out on the bike I lost my visor and a bike shoe, I lost some time and then tried to catch the front group with Ben, Nils, Maurice and more. That might have been a bit over my level when they also went hard trying to catch Josh and Tim. I tried to find my rhythm, but struggled to keep my power and find a good flow. If it was the rough roads, me trying to catch the front and then getting tired or me being a bit fatigued from the training camp, I don’t know. But I lost time, tried to keep positive, stay focused and keep trying to find my zone and flow. Around half way on the bike I realized it would be really hard if even possible to get a slot to Kona and decided to go to plan B and change the focus towards Texas.

It’s always a tough call to drop out and never a thing I enjoy doing, but with Kona as the main goal I had to see it in a bigger perspective and not only to finish the race as good as possible.

ST: What did you do after South Africa and when did you arrive in Texas?

Patrik: After the race I had a talk to my coach, Teresa, management for the team and some good friends in Texas for a possible homestay. The plan was to go back to Lanzarote, spend some time with Teresa and Mattteo, and then fly to Texas a week before the race. On the way back to Lanzarote we thought it might be easier to go straight from Frankfurt to Texas and while in Frankfurt I booked a direct flight to Texas and again called the homestay to make sure it would be possible to arrange. It was a big change to the original plan that was to race South Africa and then go back to Lanzarote for some vacation with the family. So even if that was a tough call to make, we thought the best would be to get out the best possible of the fitness we had built up. So I arrived in Texas straight after South Africa and spent two and a half week there before the race.

ST: Did your family travel with you?

Patrik: No, unfortunately they didn’t. Since the original plan was for me and Teresa to go straight from Lanzarote to SA and then back to Lanzarote, Matteo stayed on Lanzarote with my mother in law. Me and Teresa should then go back to Lanzarote for three weeks after SA, before going to Mallorca and the team camp which is on now. However the plan changed, Teresa flew from SA - Frankfurt - Lanzarote and I flew from SA - Frankfurt - Texas. So it’s been a strange and pretty unusual month for us, when we try to travel most of the time together.

ST: Was there much pressure on you in the Woodlands? Or do you feel pressure in general when you show up at a race?

Patrik: A year ago I did feel more pressure that probably took over hand in my head and think that’s something all professional athletes go through at some points in their career. However I’ve got a lot of good help with this and didn’t feel mush pressure in Texas, but instead tried to find other goals than being focused on just winning.

ST: What about the competitors? Do you check who is there?

Patrik: I always check who is on the start list of a race. A year ago to see who might be hard to beat and getting nervous, but in Texas more to try to understand how the race might unfold and how I can use this as weapon for the race.

ST: How did the swim in Texas go for you?

Patrik: The swim in Texas was very smooth. I guessed there would be a Swedish friend pushing the pace and just tried to keep him in sight before the start. I came away good in the start, got free weather and could from there navigate to feet trying to get an effortless swim in third place from start to finish.

ST: During the bike segment Starky took charge relatively early on. Did you try to stay with him or did you ride according to a specific planned wattage?

Patrik: Starky is one of the guys you know will push the pace on the bike. I think he passed me around 20km and I kept up with him for about another 15-20km. My plan was never to follow, but keep my own pace and not over do it. I know he is a better and stronger biker, so the only risk of following him would be to blow up and lay on the side of the road an hour later.

ST: Did you have any idea how far ahead he was during the bike segment?

Patrik: The bike course is pretty easy and gives you three opportunities to see what the race looks like and get a guess about the distances and times between the athletes. I kept my own pace during the whole bike, but of course you keep an eye on the watch each time you meet an athlete on the other side of the road to get a guess about the time difference up or down.

ST: In T2 you seemed to be calm and collected.

Patrik: In T2 I had an idea about the times both up and down to athletes. Starky was a bit less than 10 minutes in front of me, and David a bit less than 10 minutes behind me. So I tried to take it easy, relax and make sure I was ready for a run on my own. I didn’t think 10-20 seconds in T2 would make a big difference on me catching or not catching Starky and I didn’t think anyone from behind would catch me if I did a 2:40-2:45hr marathon. Those 20 seconds would just give me a chance to catch a breath and get more ready for the run...

ST: Talk about the bracelets.

Patrik: [laughs] I’ve got so many questions about them. But it’s still a prototype and made for cooling. I will continue to use and try them, to make sure they work as good as we hope. I’m very positive for now and look forward to the next opportunity to try them.

ST: How long do these bracelets cool as far as you can feel?

Patrik: I tried them a lot while on Lanzarote when I was there training on Sands Beach resort. I can feel it when I put them on and when I put water over them, but after a short while the forearms gets used to the cooling and I can’t feel it even if it is cooling. However, while trying them in training, I could easily feel with my fingers that they are cooling and are cold, even if I can’t feel it on my forearms... So I am convinced they do work and will for sure continue to try and evaluate them for further use in races.

ST: You ran very fast right away and pulled time back on Starky. Were you confident at that point?

Patrik: I know I should be able to do a sub 2:40 marathon if needed and that Starky could do a 2:50. So I was positive at the start and when the first splits started to come, my main focus was to keep a controlled pace and avoid any mistakes to go for the win.

ST: Your pass was very smooth and strong. Do you typically try to show some authority?

Patrik: No, not really. Most of the times there is a reason why you catch someone. You can always play some tactics, but if you pass someone at 21km who had a ten minute lead from the start, I think the safest would be to keep the pace you kept before and you know you can keep for the remaining 21km. I guess the situation would be difference if I passed him at 41km and would just need to break away as quick and dominate as possible.

ST: Was there any point feel where you felt in trouble?

Patrik: Yes a couple of few times in the run. It’s easy to get a bit stupid during a race when the energy gets low. So even at 35km, having a ten minutes lead and running at the highest pace in the field, I could easily make up an equation where I wouldn’t only get second but also out of the podium.

ST: You really let doubts creep in your head as late as 35km into the race?

Patrik: [laughs] Yes I do. Maybe doubt is a strong word, since I was convinced I should win. But I always wanted splits back and never dared to slow down below 4:00 pace since I was afraid someone would catch up.

ST: Once you crossed the line, what went through your head?

Patrik: It is just a big relief getting to the finish line. It is always tough towards the end and crossing the line is just a big emotional relief. You’re so tired, but at the same time happy. Most of the times I just need to lay down and take a deep breath. This time I also though of Teresa and Matteo that I left behind in Frankfurt and looked forward to see them again.

ST: How did you celebrate the win?

Patrik: The best reward is always to get home to the shower and bed. But we had one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had during the evening and then 3hr of Avengers at the cinema the day after. It couldn’t be better.

ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Patrik: I don’t think there is anything else you should now. I’m getting married at the end of October and Matteo just had his second birthday.

You can follow Patrik Nilsson on Twitter via @PatrikTriathlon and on Instagram via @PatrikTri

Images 1, 3 and 4 © James Mitchell
Image 2 © Greg Gibbons
Image 5 © Ginez Diaz