Every race season has a rhythm to it. It begins with the winter months of base training where weeks begin to feel like months and time slows down. Then come the race preparations in early spring with training camps and the building of anticipation for races to come. When racing season gets underway in late spring, energy is sky high and every opportunity to push hard is greeted with arms wide open. After the first round of races ending in mid-summer, the battery is starting to run low even if motivation is high. For me it works best to embrace this natural low in my energy and take a step back from racing for a few weeks.
This year I took the mid-season low as an opportunity to spend some well deserved time with my family as this was a particularly special summer. On July 2nd, my wife and two daughters welcomed to our family our 3rd child, a boy. Of course I am a proud father but it has also been exceptionally rewarding to watch our girls (4 and 7 years old) being proud 'big sisters' and taking care of their new sibling. Watching our little guy getting kisses from our daughters gives a different kind of purpose and drive to life and despite some less than ideal nights of sleep, this has given me a new boost of energy.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
During this 5-week break from racing, I not only got a chance to be home more and spend time with my wife and kids, I also got an opportunity to focus on training instead of moving from one race to the next. During the thick of racing season when I race every 2-3 weeks, there is very little time for actual training, so trying to make improvements becomes difficult once my racing is underway. But now with a full five weeks without racing, I was able to get one solid block of training and make some improvements for the 2nd half of the season.
Two weeks after our son was born we made the annual journey to Joroinen for Finntriathlon, the national half distance championships. It is no secret that Finntriathlon Joroinen is a key highlight of every season for me. Partly because I have had success there but also because of the social aspects where I get to see and interact with virtually the whole triathlon community in Finland. A few years ago this was only a couple hundred and I am so pleased to have been part of the growth of triathlon in Finland to today where the race has over 1000 and many new events are starting across Finland. Not only is the social component of Joroinen something to look forward to every year, but also the history of the race is something I am exceptionally proud to be a part of. Now over 30 years old, the event has an impressive list of winners including many top Finnish names, many of which have top 10 finishes in Hawaii in addition to other top international results.
COMING OUT SWINGING
As winner of the race the past three years, I was of course excited to come out and add my name to the winner’s list again. I have trained well the past year and the improvements I have been seeing in training lately gave confirmation I am at a very strong level. My strategy was pretty simple for the race: show what I have been working on. In the swim, which has historically been my weakness, I kept a respectable gap to the top swimmer of 3 minutes. Then onto the bike I really wanted to show my improvements and went very hard from the beginning. By 35km I had caught and dropped everyone and started to build a comfortable lead. I continued on at a strong pace for the remainder of the race and ended the bike with about a 10-minute lead. My running has been steadily improving for a few years now and I wanted to test how I could run after pushing the bike hard. I was happy to see I could run comfortably despite the hard bike effort and managed to extend my lead by another few minutes. I pulled off a respectable 3:57 total time and successfully added my name to the winner’s list for the fourth year in a row.
BUILDING TOWARD THE TOP
Last year I built my season around the goal of doing a series of full-distance Ironman races and getting a feeling for what I am capable of at that distance. While I had some ambitions of qualifying for Hawaii last year, I knew that realistically I was mostly racing to gain experience at the full-distance international level. The year was a success with two 6th places and two 7th places at Ironman events from South Africa and Lanzarote to Switzerland and Cozumel, Mexico. It was quite clear what my international level was and I was pleased with that but I also aspire to more than 6th or 7th. I believe in my ability to win at this distance in international races but I knew I needed to make some changes to realize my full abilities. Working with my coach in the winter months, we decided on a racing program that focused on first building a large base of training before doing any racing. The first half of the season would be devoted to racing half distance events to improve my power on the bike and my speed and efficiency in the swim and run. Coming into the 2nd half of the season the focus would shift to using the higher fitness levels toward achieving a breakthrough in my full-distance results. Now with four half-ironman races under my belt this season, I am seeing and feeling the strategy working as intended as I build toward Ironman Chattanooga in September.
BATTLING WITH A LEGEND
As I continue to build toward my season goal of a top performance in Ironman Chattanooga, the next stepping-stone I have laid out will be the Turku Triathlon Weekend half-distance race. The event is one I am truly excited about as not only is it located in downtown Turku with a unique course, very near to my home, but non other than the legendary Timo Bracht will be coming to fight it out with myself for the win. Timo is one generation more experienced than myself and his career achievements include multiple European championships as well as many times top 10 in Hawaii. His top full-distance time rivals the pace I have achieved in half-distance! On August 16th, it will be my pleasure to try and top him at the half-distance race in Turku. While the final result is far from known ahead of time, I can tell you it will be close! I invite everyone to come watch the spectacle or participate yourself for a unique experience. See you all in Turku!