Improve or ignore swimming?

A few weeks back I went to a swim camp with my club SPIF Triathlon. It was really a great set up with two extremely knowledgeable swim coaches and a great program with lots of technic as well as some really hard sets. I really learned a lot!


”Who wants to be fast in the water?” 

Some triathletes think that I have a past as a swimmer – but any real swimmer would see in 5 seconds that I am just a triathlete trying to stay alive in the water.

My background is not in swimming it’s rather in skiing, skateboarding, martial arts, rock climbing and windsurfing. When I decided to start with triathlon at the age of 26 I joined a local swim group to learn to swim freestyle and was lucky to meet a coach that got me to learn the right technic first – even if I could only swim 25 meters at the time. To this day I never do a swim session without working on technic and I think the importance of always further developing and marinating technic is the main difference with biking and running. Sure, you need good technic in those sports too – but I think everyone knows what I mean and we have all seen people with a pretty dodgy running technic pull off a <35min 10k but I am sure that no-one has seen a swimmer with poor water position and bad efficiency do a <18min 1500m.  

My experience is that if you have a decent technic you can very easily do the 3,860m in 50-55min without to much effort. If you don’t have it – you can work your little heart out and finish the swim in >70min.

Swimming requires much more thinking and focus than running and biking and many triathletes I have seen who have a tendency to “just go hard” have real difficulties getting under an hour in the ironman distance swim. As a consequence they lose patience and start going around justifying that “the swim is so small part of the race and it would take so much time to get faster that I rather spend the time on bike and run training”. It’s easy to favor the sports that are more fun (the ones that you are better at).

Here are a few reasons I think it’s important to get the swimming right:

  1. If you are effective in the water you will not only gain 10-15 minutes – you will also get out of the water without to much fatigue.
  2. If you are fast in the swim you will get out with faster people and not having to pass so many as if you have a big difference in bike speed compared to your swimming – you will not have to do hundreds of intervals to follow the drafting regulations.
  3. You can practice and improve your oxygen uptake when you practice 3-5-7-9 breathing – something that you will have advantage of in all three sports. (can also be practiced running or biking but I find that using duct tape over your month is less practical than simply reducing your alternate breathing rhythm in the pool…) 
  4. It’s more fun to be decent at all the tree sports that comprice a triathlon than to really dread (suck at) one of them.

Some advice:

  1. Get a swim coach to work with you – there are many really good ones nowadays and just a few sessions can have big impact if you listen and continue with the drills to improve your technic.
  2. Join a club who has a swim coach and ask for advice on your technic – focus on one improvement at the time, get it right and move to next improvement.
  3. Add a few extra sessions of swimming per week as recovery training. Those sessions are purely pleasure and you should only work on drills and the other strokes than freestyle – to get more comfortable in the water. I find that swimming, as a recovery session, is much better than complete rest.
  4. Get working on your ankle flexibility – most of us who run and bike a lot have ankles that don’t extend much more than 90°…. Get them to 180° and you will reduce substantial amount of drag.

Good luck and swim smooth! 

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Motivation vs. Habit

Dave Scott posted an excellent qoute on facebook a few days ago;


I find that when you use your motivation as your main tool for training you might accomplish extraordinary single sessions that you are so proud of that you share them with everyone on every social media. 

But, there is a day after your great achievement as well and typically that day is not the day that you post your selfie all perky and smiley – it’s the day when you need the four double espresso to get out of bed and your eyes above your bags are so small that you can barley see them. Or perhaps it’s just like that for me – after missing a few sessions during the work week and trying to catch up during the weekend…. 

A better way is perhaps to develop a habit and even if we live in a world of constant change where it’s hard to set a program in stone – it’s the consistency (habit) that makes the difference.

What I have noticed with all the top athletes that I have met over the years is that they have a set program year in and year out – not that they are training at the same pace and intensity level (that is mellanmjölk – stay far away from that!) but that they have a weekly routine and volume that hardly changes.

Right now I am building up my routine (habit), which will be around 20hour per week, given my age I think it’s about as much as I will be able to handle. This time of the year it’s mainly base training (L2) and the purpose is to get very comfortable with this volume. Once this is completed I start changing the components and introduce more speed and intensity.

Hopefully I will not get injured again once I start adding the intensity and be able to race 2016 rather than just participate….

Happy holidays and watch out for those sneaky extra pounds that so easily appears during this time of the year – no, there is no need for built in insulation – there are warm cloths for that. This is a link to a inspirational video to develop your habit during the most difficult time of the training year. 

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Searching for Cow-Man

There is a man with the name Ken Shirk who calls himself Cow-Man.

Cow-Man is a legend to all of us who has been around the sport for a long time.

He is the complete opposite to people who really don’t like to train and only does one Ironman race to be able to say they did one. 

Cow-Man raced his first marathon in 1967 and then decided to become a mountainman. He moved to Lake Tahoe, lived in a cabin with a wood stove, chopped firewood and fished and ran. In 1976 he wanted to do something big for America’s bicentennial so he ran around Lake Tahoe 72miles (115km). To further celebrate he painted himself red white and blue, his friends gave him a pair of buffalo horns that he mounted on his helmet and then ran through the city only wearing the helmet and paint on his naked body.

In 1976 Cow-Man ran the Western States 100, becoming the second man to complete the challenging 160km course.  Cow-Man raced in the second Ironman race 1979 and every year following that until 2006. In all the races he would wear his helmet with the Bowie horns – even in the swim (as long as they allowed it which was probably only in 1979 – where he placed 7th overall with a time of 16hrs 41min)

Cow-Man in red Speedos and horns at the Ironman starting line 1979.

Some years he would qualify and race officially, some years he raced anyway – without a number. The locals would support him and give him water and food at the aid stations either way, as they loved him. The organizers (WTC) wanted to take him of the course and often did.

I met Cow-Man after the Ironman race in 1997 and we had a few drinks together. That year they took him of the course 200 meters before the finish line. They didn’t want to let him cross the finishline as he had not qualified and paid the entry fee.

Meeting Cow-Man is one of the coolest memories in my triathlon career. He is the most humble and down to earth guy that just loves training and racing and does it in his own way. 

When I asked for his business card, to be able to stay in contact, he took a card from the bar and wrote his address on the back of it. Cow-Man didn’t have business cards, e-mail or a phone.  

I have written to Cow-Man but I im not sure he is still alive and if he is, perhaps he’s not the kind of guy who stays in touch – much. I have also tried to find out about what happened to him from Fern Gavelek – a Hawaiian journalist who wrote an article about Cow-Man in 2012. She answered that she has not heard from him or about him since 2012.

Hopefully Cow-Man is still out there, running and racing in his own way and inspiring people to look for more than showing off a finisher t-shirt, inspiring people to be a little more relaxed and a little crazier.

I’m sure everyone understands what I am trying to say with this story. I don’t think that Ironman distance is or was every intended to stimulate consumption of expensive toys and make milions on Mdot logos. Neither do I think it was about results or achivments – it was intended for people to enjoy movement and as a test of your own limits together with likeminded people. It was for everyone, for fun and not for profit.

But things change, and I am not saying everything was better in the past – a lot of things are better now, back then we did’nt even race on closed roads…    

Still, with Ironman now becoming a ”folksport” it is important to remember that it takes years of training and racing before you can truly apprechiate life in the very differnet state that you are exposed to during Ironman racing and training.

Most people never get there as there are always reasons NOT to give it your all and much easier to change course, pick other ”bucket list” item, new achivements to chase rather than become the best you can be on Ironman distance.

I advice to stay with it longer – it’s worth it. 

And let me know if you seen Cow-Man recently!  

Note: Out of the 5,719 Swedes that have completed an Ironman distance race 60% have only done one – so far…. 

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The Perfect Bike Fit

I started to ride road bike more seriously in 1984 due to an overuse/running injury in a knee. The roads where less busy with cyclists back then. A lot has happened in +30 years. Not only material has improved but also the understanding to always strive for a perfect position and the components of it.

Positioning has always been a skill that the more serious bike shops have been able to provide and the result has often been like with surgeons – if they perform the operation frequently – they become really good at it.

About 15-20 years ago power meters started to be a useful tool for fitting and recently also HD cameras to calculate your frontal area exposure (for wind resistance). What I also noted has happened over the past ten years – when I recently got fitted on my AROGON 18 by the  team at Cykloteket – was much more dynamic approach where the fitter actually looks at the physical capabilities of the rider – flexibility, core strenght, imbalances, etc.

I have been fitted at least 10 times in my life before, by the traditional bike shop with a sharp eye, the bike shop with an adjustable bike and a sharp eye, by a mad professor in a dungeon under a university in Belgium…that was different…. , have also been fitted by one of the most famous bike fitter in the US during the 90ties on a Computrainer. (Who’s methods where so good that I stared to work with them and fitted over 100 people myself using a Computrainer as the main tool. 

So, when I went to get fitted at Cykloteket I felt I have seen everything and I was not expecting any surprises. Well, I was surprised. With his layed back approach and mellow attitude Jonte did a fantastic job and I could tell that this guy has both the skills of a frequent fitter as well as knowledge of all the latest technology.

 Jonte – getting ready to work his magic!

End result – 5cm increased drop from 9cm to 14cm (saddle to aero bars difference) compared to the last fit in 1998, largely due to the increase in how the ARGON 18 E-118 can be set up compared to the old bikes we used to ride. With that also comes decrease in frontal area, which in turn theoretically reduces the needed effort (watts) to move my body forward.

So is this whole aero thing the best thing since sliced bread? I am not sure, but theoretically yes. I know that I will use it to my advantage as much as I can, as I don’t draft – I need to do everything to minimize resistance against the wind. 

Here are some interesting facts that the guys at Cykloteket shared with me:

1. Something I think most of you know – wind resistance is exponential so the faster you go the more energy is spent fighting the wind.

 2. Going 40-41km/hr will require 120 watt more between riding in traditional cycling upper arm posture and aero position.

3. Riding at 40-41km/hr over the 180km Ironman distance in aero position will give you a 28min faster time than riding in a normal roadbike position. 

My own reflections and advice:

I see a lot of people out on the roads that are extremely low on their bikes – looks good but will they really be comfortable to ride like that for 180km and even more importantly – can they run after that?

It is really important to always question your position and fiddle around.

Don’t go with a position that does not feel good (after 3000-4000km) if you have to chose between a little more comfort over a little more aero – go with comfort as you will be able to produce more power as well as run better after the bike leg.

The aero position helps tremendously but remember that that guys like Jurgen Zack rode 4:27 in Hawaii, and I can tell you from riding with Jurgen, he was not very aero – but strong like a bull.

Jurgen – one of the first of the German Uberbikers in Kona

He hardly practiced on the aero bars before the race and used a road bike most of the training rides (something I personally think he paid a price for at some races with a troubled lower back – my view anyway – you have to practice in the possition that you race in 90% of your time on the bike).  

– Get fitted by someone that knows their stuff and that looks at more than your “knee to ball of the foot” angle.

 – Don’t sell your bike to fast! I don’t get it; I see so many bikes being put up for sale with only ridden for “1000km” – what is that, you don’t get to know a bike after 1000km? Go and get fitted instead and make sure that you are sitting right.

– Practice a lot of short intervals in aero position! When I came out of the water in Hawaii 1997 I was around place 250, after the bike I was 52nd – I had to pass 200 people within 30 seconds each over the 180km and those where not slow people. If you are racing clean you need to learn to pass fast again and again – even if your swimming is OK there are always people who are faster (or starting ahead of you). 


You might ask – how does it feel out on the roads, 5 cm deeper at the age of 49? 

Actually it feels quite ok. It took me 3000km to get used to the bike and now after another 2000km I am actually getting comfortable. Getting of the bike after 180km in aero position is never easy for anyone, at any age, so no big change there. So far I have only raced ”out of shape”, but I look forward to try this new position in 2016 when I have also got some serious miles in on the ARGON 18 monster. I am sure that I will be able to come down to 4:45-4:50 again with the advantage of a good fit and great bike. 

As Jurgen sais – ”Go hard or go home”!

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Top 10 advantages of being an older athlete.

I recently read that the average age of athletes participating in Ironman World Championships this year was 45 years. Don’t know how that happened but it seems there are many old bags like myself racing nowadays.

We all know what it was like being young and to recover fast as well as the disadvantages of getting older – but what about the positive things? What are the benefits of being a senior triathlete?

COW-MAN, The legend. Participating in every Ironman Hawaii between 1979 – 2006, officially or unofficially, the Cow-man was there. Even if the WTC tried to stop him – the locals loved him and supported his race. 

1.    Knowledge about your injuries.

I have a book written by two Swedish doctors that has been with me all over the world over the years, the book is about sports injuries. I have folded the corner of every page that describes an injury that I have had. So far I have folded about 50 pages and it’s great to go back to them when something starts hurting more than usual. This knowledge and experience is invaluable to have and impossible to gain without time (age).

 2.    Loss of muscle mass.

You will notice loss of muscle mass at around the age of 40. First at around 1% per year but accelerating as you get older. When you reach 70 the average (sedentary) person will have lost 26% of their muscle mass compared to when they were 25.  Great for us who used to be muscular – no need to carry all that extra weight around anymore – we become lean mean running machines!

 3.    You can afford a good physiotherapist.

If you have not “gone all out” and stayed in the wilderness during the years when you could build up some kind of economy – now you can afford to go to a good physiotherapist every week – you will need it…

4.    Knowing discomfort and ignoring it.

By +45 you have gotten used to experiencing aces, pains, shortness of breathe, tunnel vision – just part of your training. As my good friend Henrik Lundmark, an ultra distance mountain runner, rightfully calls it: “Sweat is just fat crying”.

5.    Decreased metabolism.

This is a bonus – you don’t have to eat as much as your metabolic rate is going down with age. Perfect on long rides/runs – no need to bring a back pocket buffet of bars, gels and other sticky crap that you see so many young guys carry.

6.    Increasing body fat.

As the body develops a slower metabolism with age it is likely that you will carry more fat, which is great fuel. Fat also help you to float better. Although, it can be a bit of a problem on the bike and run if you have too much of it….

7.    Dry and wrinkly skin.

Wrinkles are cool, they show that you have been around and make you look like an old saddlebag. You get them whether you like it or not. Or do a Berlusconi and spend you money on plastic surgery and hair implants.

8.    Absence of vanity.

At the age of +45 whom are you fooling? Even if you’re fit as a Greek god – you’re still old. Live with it. The girls will not be whistling after you – they rather run away from that “creepy fit grandpa”. Enjoy – you can shave your head and no one will care.

9.    Knowing that there are other things in life that matter more.

It’s easy to become completely absorbed by triathlon – I’ve been there and I’ve seen many people get obsessed as well. With age you gain some perspective and understand that it really doesn’t matter if you flunk a race or miss a training session as there are many more to come.

10. Reaping the benefit of 10,000 hours of training in each sport.

Several studies have shown that it takes 10,000hrs to become truly efficient in something. If your training volume is decent you can reach 10,000 hours in 10 years in one sport – but to reach this in all three sports will most likely take you well into your forties’.

So, to all you fellow senior citizens who bravely carry your tri-suite over your wrinkled and sun burnt skin – enjoy your vast experience and opportunity to become better with age, just as a bottle of really good wine!

Be proud that you are still shaking your junk and have not retired to the back porch with a blanket over your knees, eating peaches – even if all the young triathletes that you beat in races wish you had. 

Cheers, Salute, Prost!


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Stravaddiction – The highway to Mellanmjölk!

A friend of mine who is really passionate about our sport has now finally followed his call to become a full time coach. I think this is really good news for people who like to get coaching from someone that keeps updated on research (being a former researcher himself) works with tests, facts and analyses to create optimal individual programs.

During my first years of triathlon and as a new member of SPIF we once shared room on a training camp in Mallorca. Bernhard had one of the first heart rate monitors from Polar that you could export data from and being the scientist he is, he was going at that thing every night after training, exporting analyzing the data.  This was before most people had a laptop, Internet and way before people started making every workout public.

Then as now periodization and proper planning of your training of the year was important but in a way much easier than it is in today’s culture, where every session needs to be posted, every watt shared and every photogenic experience uploaded.

I picked up the logging concept from Bernhard’s professional approach and I have had great benefit of keeping track of my intensity levels in excel to later analyze performance and what worked best over the following years. Even if it was a tedious job – the training volume, intensity and frequency with following results are still valuable data for me to go back to and see what my body responded best on.

But now back to the point – Mellanmjölk.

When I got back into regular training, after many years of sporadic training, I first of all wanted to build a solid based of endurance and a foundation for intensity and speed work.  As I am interested in trying out new things I started to use Strava and quickly realize why my friends in Australia call each other “Stravaholics”. There is a daily race going on at Strava where you can become KOM on busy bike paths in the middle of the city (…) or compete with others on average speed, hours, elevation. You can even digitally dope your files, which tells you something about how important “on-line racing” is becoming for some individuals. 

For me Strava is ok as a logbook for high level overview – but I think it can be counterproductive to a well thought through training program – at least for those whom are too competitive to do a L1 recovery ride @25km/hr as this will ruin your Strava score.

I still update my Strava account with some of my training, but my main tool for analyzing my training and results is now polar flow. Here I can see time spent at different levels of intensity per week, month or year – something I used to have to do manually in the past. 

And this, my friend – brings me to the point of Mellanmjölk!

As my friend Bernhard is brilliant with interpretation of data and follows the latest research I asked him to take a look at my training overview on Polar Flow and being the brutally honest guy he is he said – “This looks like Mellanmjölk!”

Now for you whom have not yet Google translated Mellanmjölk I will explain what it is – it’s the milk that is between whole milk (>3-5% fat) and the non-fat milk (<0,2% fat).

In my “jolly happy to be back in motion” state of mind, my low intensity had started to creep up to L3 rather than L1-2 and my L4-5 session, even if they are limited during my base training, were getting to soft due to the large volume of L3 – The Mellanmjölk of training. 

If you are not aware of L1-5 and the importance of variation of training at different here is a link with a very simple explanation:

Everyone makes mistakes – the important thing is that you learn from them – even better is to learn from other peoples mistakes so you don’t have to do them yourself 😉

After so many years of training, coaching, racing – I did a rookie mistake! It proves that even the most experienced often needs a second opinion when it comes to themselves. 

Hope that this post makes you think about your periodization and intensity to get the most out of your training and racing.

Have fun and watch out for Mellanmjölk syndrome! 


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