Last year while on our trip visiting my wife’s parents in Sweden we went to Öland and Kalmar to spend a few days. While driving over the Öland bridge from Kalmar I knew this was a place I aspired to ride my bike during an IRONMAN. The Öland bridge at one time was the longest bridge in Europe. If anything else biking over the 6Km Öland bridge would be one of the highlights of the IRONMAN Kalmar for me.
When we got back to New York and registration for Kalmar opened up I immediately registered. Knowing that accommodation around the transition area (where the race starts and bike is racked along with all needs including bike bag, run bag) for race start would be selling out quickly so we went ahead and browsed Airbnd for potential spots. Kalmar is a relatively small in comparison to urban settings so there are few hotels. We booked a small cottage in Kalmar about 12 mintues walking distance from transition.
At this point race registration and lodging was done. My last and only IRONMAN was 6 years ago in Lake Placid, NY so I would need to work on my base again for the 140.6 distance (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). It would be a 36 week training block. I started training for Kalmar last December. My peak week of training was 18 hours. I averaged approximately 10 -12 hours of training per week. During my training I completed two century rides. The first was to Montauk lighthouse – 127 miles and the second was to Orient State Beach park – 109 miles.
Race Day (August 19th, 2017)
The day I’ve been working towards for the past 9 months is here. Race start for Age Groupers was 7am. The swim was a rolling start (self seeded start) as opposed to the past being a mass start (where everybody started at the same time). This is called swim smart and was started a few years ago by IRONMAN to keep the swim safer. I got up at 3:30am to start prepping and have an early breakfast.
My family planned to meet me at the start at 7am but it was pouring outside when I got up. I told Anh if the rain continued I would rather them be dry and stay home then catch me on the bike when the rain cleared up. Summer is Sweden up to the point when we got there was said to be very wet as described by residents. Up to race day contrary to it being wet most days as they reported we had very favorable weather.
I prepared my bike nutrition the night before and refrigerated it. I switched my bike nutrition flavor a few weeks ago to lemon-lime since the race organizers were providing orange flavored electrolyte drinks throughout the bike and run.
Race evening we checked in our bike and run bags which is mandatory. I made sure to pack my Smith Podium TT aero helmet in its case as to protect it. I was okay with losing a few seconds in transition to protect my white stylist helmet :-). I did a simulation walkthrough the bike and run transitions to get familiar with bag positions and bike rack. Being at 6’3″ I always seem to have bike rack issues. The racks are always too short for proper racking. I was able to get a velcro strap from a race captain to secure if from falling.
Wind forecast called for 20-25mph gusts. It would be definitely be a windy bike.
It was pouring so much I decided to walk the 12 minute walk from our rented cottage to transition in my wetsuit. It was actually quite comfortable. I left my phone at the cottage and took Anh’s temporary Swedish phone number as I wasn’t taking any chances with all that rain and damaging my phone. We had purchased sim cards in Sweden as we wouldn’t opt for ATTs $10 US a day roaming charges. We went with local phone provider, Comviq which provides coverage throughout Europe at very reasonable prices. Anh’s family is in Malmö which is only a short hour train ride away from Copenhagen, Denmark, so we would be visiting there for sure and also needed phone / data coverage.
When I got to transition I pumped my tires to 120psi as I do in training. I made last bike checks, placed all my bike nutrition on the bike including 6 gels in the frame storage. The rain at that point had stopped.
It was now 6:30am. Age Groupers were all making their way to the start as transition was closing up. A triathlete supporter was kind enough to let me use her phone to call Anh and let them know the rain had stopped and they could make their way to the start.
We would miss each other but knowing they were close made the start that much more fun.
Right at the start of the swim I was having an enjoyable race day.
I may have seeded myself a bit optimistically but the water space was pretty wide to allow for easy swimming but still people were not too aware of their swim surroundings and zig zagging across each other. I got into a smooth rhythm as in my long training swims and just kept progressing and taking the experience of swimming in the Baltic sea all in. After all my last and only IRONMAN was 6 years ago.
The water temp in Kalmar was about 62F or 18C. I had a test swim 2 days earlier so I knew this temp wouldn’t be too bad especially with my wetsuit.
As we began to approach the swim finish we made our way through some tight spots where there were spectators on either side cheering us on. This was a definite highlight during the swim. The last half of the swim I was able to increase my swim tempo and really felt great. Despite finishing the swim in 1 hr 22 minutes (6 minutes slower than predicted) I had absolute fun and it was a great swim.
Finish time: 1:22:38
Transition 1 (T1)
Contrary to some North American IRONMANs there weren’t wetsuit strippers onsite here in Sweden, this was ok. I took my time running into T1 to be able to spot my family while stripping off the suit. I was super psyched when I was able to see them. I took time to make physical contact with them then continued on to my bike.
I made my way to my run bag and change tent. There I did put on my arm warmers, helmet, compression socks and chamois butter.
The 112 mile bike took us into Öland. There we would bike approximately 66 miles or so. It was surely a very windy day on Öland and Kalmar. Thank God for my windy bike training days back home. Also opting not to use disc wheels and just sticking with my 55mm HED wheels was the perfect setup. The plan for the bike was to stick in an FTP range of 200 – 225 watts while keeping track of my pFe (perceived exertion) in the case I can push a bit more or need to ease back. There were some occasions where the crosswinds were so severe I thought my 195 lbs body would be flown off the bike course.
During the race briefing the officials went over the rules of the bike which included the obvious non-drafting rules and blocking. The one warning I was issued on the bike which made me even more reserved during the duration of the bike was touching the dashed lines on the left. The official rode up to me on his motorbike and told be this is a warning to be careful in the future. But I swore I still thought I had gotten a penalty and even later stopped at the penalty tent to verify. However the officials at the tent don’t get real time information about offenders. They told me I’m okay as long as I wasn’t presented a card (yellow. blue, red). What happened was I was attempting a pass and due to the winds some riders weren’t hearing “on your left” calls from the back. This rider was also trying to make a pass so I was forced to ride 3 a breast to pass him.
The course couldn’t have been better supported. There was a bottle exchange / aid station about every 20 miles. My hydration bike setup was an aero bottle on the down tube, a between the aero bar bottle and behind the saddle bottle. So at every aid station I would either exchange the water bottle out back or the electrolyte out front. Along the aid stations was also banana and bars.
Despite the winds this bike course could be very fast making for a bike personal best.
My fuel strategy was to take in my race specific nutrition like salt tablets, gels at every hour. At other times I drank water or my concentration of accelerade / maltodextrin drink from my aero bottle.
Finish time: 5:41:46
Avg Speed: 19.9 mph
Avg Cadence: 81 rpm
Avg Power: 181 watts
Avg Heart Rate: 131 bpm
Transition 2 (T2)
Legs felt quite loose off the bike even with my last 10K TT effort to attempt breaking sub 5:40. I took off my aero helmet then carefully packed it back in the case, put my run shoes on, race belt and made my way out of T2.
My goal on the run was to keep a heart rate of 147 or below and let my body dictate the pacing. At mile 3 I had to intentionally slow down because pace was a minute faster than my intended race pace. The Kalmar run course is a 3.2 loop course of about 8 miles each. As expected the first loop was okay with no physical pain, effort or issues. Having done close to a dozen marathons I know the initial adrenaline and effortless running will fade during the latter part of the 26.2 miles, during lap 2 this was already becoming evident.
The previous IRONMAN I did in Lake Placid I made sure to walk all the aid stations while taking in nutrition, Kalmar would be no different.
At the aid stations it was open bar and buffet for all, there was red bull, coke, electrolyte, water, pickles, banana, gels, oranges. As with the bike essential nutrition I took in salt tabs every hour.
The last lap was where I would have to really get the shovel and dig deep to resist walking away from the scheduled aid station walks. The marathon wall was built at about mile 17-18 and I really had to chisel it out to make gains. Being experienced I continued to put one feet in front of the other to make forward progress.
Pickles became my food of choice during the latter part of lap 2 and the duration of lap 3. I chewed on them and spat out just to get the juice in. The walk / eat strategy at the aid stations would work because I began feeling better for the last 6k and was able to get the run pace closer to goal pace at that point.
Finish Time: 3:58:03
Avg Heart Rate: 139 bpm
Avg Run Cadence: 80 spm
Avg Pace: 9:02 minutes / mile
My feeling after this IRONMAN was one of pure exhilaration. I really felt I did the best my training had to offer on the day. I laid it all out on the course during each of the triathlon legs and left no space for what ifs?
Finish Video shot by my Sweetheart. I had to soak it all in. Who knows when I’ll toe the line again at an IRONMAN
- biking over the Öland bridge
- spectators cheering you on during tight portions of the swim
- the energy during the Kalmar City portion of the run
- the vastness of the Öland landscape
- extremely well supported
- did I mention the energy of the Kalmar community is enormours?
- lots of places to do pre race swimming on Kalmar and Öland
- lacking diversity
- can’t claim special needs bag after the race like in some United States IRONMAN races
- no wetsuit strippers – not a deal breaker by any means
- athletes dinner for family members is over priced, do the “mandatory” briefing, but you can surely skip the dinner and head to a Kalmar restaurant
- arrive early to the athletes dinner as being mandatory the tables all fill up and you’ll be left standing if late
- restaurants tend to close pretty early – sorry a bit spoilt from being a New Yorker (city that never sleeps)