The CELTMAN triathlon is one of the toughest triathlons in the world. This brutal and scenic course is set in Scotland. I had the privilege to ask 5 questions to this years winner Johan Hasselmark.
1.How did you experience the Celtman 2014 race?
The Celtman 2014 race was a great race and trip for me. I did the Celtman 2013 race without expectations and ended up in 2nd place (!). In 2013 I was talked into the race by some good friends (triathletes) who thought I had the skills to finish Celtman in a good way. As I had a fantastic experience from the Celtman 2013 race I decided early to come back and race to win. The best part with Celtman is the well-organized-and-still-laidback-and-friendly setup, the race course (scenic!) and the local hospitality. The Highlands of Scotland has it all, open sea, lochs, fells and mountains, whiskey, bagpipes (cool) and great sea food. I would probably live there if it wasn’t for the retarded coffee culture. It´s f*%/# impossible to get a good cup of coffee!
From the race in 2013 I had some good experiences to use and also parts to improve. As my athletic background is at Multisport and Adventure Races (multi day nonstop races in mixed teams of four), I don’t find the distance or working time for the Celtman as ‘worrying’. However, every race has it challenges no matter the distance or character. If it´s easy, you are going to slow!
From 2013 I knew I had to improve my swimming and also get more used to a good tempo-position on the bike. During the autumn and winter I was on a parental leave with my 1yo daughter and 3yo son. Believe me, going back to work is a relief! A great time, but not much room for longer training sessions. I didn’t get any swimming at all, except between Christmas and New Year. I had some good weekly night runs. My savior was my trainer loaded with some classic routes in the Alps. I based my bike training on shorter sessions on threshold or above (30-60min). The hard sessions on the bike did good and compared to previous winters I knew I was strong on the bike when spring came. Once the water got open in the lake nearby (and sort of warm), I was able to sneak in some morning swims.
As Celtman is supported and a co-runner is needed for the mountain section, I got Olof Häggström to join me. An experienced Triathlete, Ski alpinist and Fell runner. I knew he would assist me perfectly, keeping it together on the mountain and not slow me down on the downhill. Though Celtman is a solo race, the set up makes it a real team effort. It´s important to team up with a good supporter and co-runner!
The week before the race I had a good feeling. I knew I would lose about 15 min on the swim. I also knew from the year before I had about 20min ‘for free’ on the downhill run from Beinn Eighe. This year I was even stronger on my bike. Once again I choose to bring my Argon 18 Gallium Pro road bike with a tempo-clip on as I´m more used to a road bike. On a road bike I feel I can vary my position more and chose how to use my legs (important for the run!).
Once arriving to Edinburgh my bike was missing! KLM assured me my bike would arrive with the next flight, so we drove off to Torridon. On Friday before the race my bike was still missing (!). At that point me and Olof tried to get hold of any alternative bikes. We asked for help and I received a massive backup from locals, organisers and other racers. Even bike shops and distributors across the country got engaged. I was offered bikes for a total sum of €50.000!
On Friday after noon KLM assured me my bike was booked on a flight to arrive in Edinburgh at 17.00 and an express transport was arranged. ETA 23.00 in Shieldaigh. The start was 05.00 on Saturday morning. At 23.00 – no bike. Tried to sleep and at the same time figure out the best offered bike alternative for me (I didn’t sleep).
Just before 02.00 I heard a car on the street outside. It was a small transporter. My bike delivery! But the transporter passed the hotel. Damn! I had to get hold of it! I fumbled in the dark and couldn’t find the light switch. I heard the car slowly drive away along the street (The only street in Shieldaigh…). Considering the ‘UPS standard’ (passing the destination without delivery claiming no one was there) I just had to get hold of that car. As I couldn’t find my clothes in the darkness I ran out on the street bare foot and in briefs only. Running after the transporter, passing the bar beside the hotel (the only bar beside the only hotel in Shieldaigh), I prayed to miss any glass fragments…
Running through Shieldaigh barley naked, chasing my bike, I started to think about the reaction of the driver once I would catch up with the car. What to say?... Good evening sir…? Do you drive here at night often?... You don’t happen to transport my bike do you?...
Anyway, once the driver acknowledged the desperate nude skinny white boy running down the street he seemed to know he found the receiver of his rare goods. Bingo! I got my bike. Nothing could stop me now!
02.30 – Bike assembled. 03.00 – Bike hand in. 04.00 – Buss to start. 05.00 – Start! Cold…
My game plan was to swim easy and not waste more energy than absolutely needed. With a bad swimming technique it doesn’t matter if you give all you got. It won´t go faster… You will only get more tired. The race started for me on the bike. Plan A was to get a hold on the lead on the bike. If not, then B – take the lead on the run up to Beinn Eighe. If not, then C – take the lead on the downhill from the mountain. One thing I knew for sure, when reaching the last 8km on road I wanted a good and safe lead.
Coming out of the water I felt good. A smiling Olof helped me perfectly in the transition. I felt great bombing of on MY bike. About two hours into the bike leg I got contact with Olof in the support car. By then I had already passed about ten racers or more? Anyway, good news from Olof! I was in a good position, only 7min behind and gaining on leading Stuart Mcleod.
The first 2/3 on the bike leg is quite hilly and the benefits of a tempo bike isn’t obvious. At 2/3 of the 202km bike leg I was 1.30 min behind Stuart, but I still didn’t have visual contact. On the last 1/3 of the bike leg it is more of a tempo style course. At that point I knew (or wanted to believe) I stressed Stuart to go out of his comfort zone. I didn’t lead, but I felt I was dictating the race.
At the T2 transition, changing from bike to run, Stuart was 3-4min ahead of me. More than expected. I didn’t really make plan A, but I had a good feeling and good energy levels. I knew at the first flatter part of the run I couldn’t do much. Enjoying the scenic views of Coulin pass I really looked forward to the mountain run over Spidean Coire nan Clach and Ruadh-stac Mor. Are these names made up? Awesome names for an awesome run!
At T2A on the foot of the mountain I was aprox 7min behind, but still with a good visual contact with the leaders heading up the mountain. Now I had company by Olof who I think was even more eager than me. Short stop, gear check and then bömb-time!
Plan B – take the lead on the way up to the ridge. We went for it. However, I started to struggle and had to relax the phase. At the same time we could see a team leaving T2A behind us, 5-10min after. Until that point I never thought about anyone behind me. I was quite sure it was the Swiss guy Marc-Yvan (good background from ITU tri races). As Swiss means ‘f-king good mountain runner’ in Latin, right?, I wasn’t comfy with the situation.
Half way up to the first munro, Stuart was parked at the last steeper part of the ascend. I passed him, changed a few words (only good words… ;) and got the good boost I needed. Welcoming bagpipes at the first top and checkpoint at the start of the ridge made me feel even better! With the lead in my hands me and Olof charged the ridge.
At Ruadh-stac Mor and the second and last checkpoint on the ridge you turn back to get to the gully, taking you down from the mountain. It’s a great feature on the run as you meet fellow racers nearby you. The ‘Swiss guy’ was only aprox 5 min behind and looked strong. Damn. I struggled to get into the mental state of ‘win or hospital’. I needed to increase the lead on the descent before the last 8km on road leading to the finish. I didn’t want to battle any ITU monster on the flat road.
I think we had a good speed on the downhill. At one point I asked Olof if we had a good speed (I had no idea…). As he didn’t answer, I guess we had. Out on the road I tried to maintain the speed. With a good view behind us Olof stopped shortly and had a look back. No one in sight for at least 15min back.
Note: The ‘Swiss guy’ was actually Chriss Stirling who did a great race and ended up on 2nd place. A good fell runner who got into Triathlon 2-3 years ago and after Celtman he won Wassdale X!
2. Can you tell us more about your nutrition during the race?
Longer distances is all about energy and constantly fueling your machine with its needs. Lucky me, the only talent I have is I can eat whatever whenever ;) A full Scottish breakfast is a great prep for Celtman! On longer races I prefer more solid food like mayo sandwiches and peanut butter rolls. The food should be easy to carry, handle and eat. Off course gels, bars and sportsdrinks are a part of my race diet. I always try to get some energy in my mouth every 15 minutes.
I’m not a person who needs a lot of salts and minerals, but on longer distances I add salt and mineral blends (Like Hammer Endurolytes or Saltsticks) to the sport drink, water and food. The need of added salt/minerals is very personal. You need to try out your level. If you are a person who drink a lot during races, you probably also need to add more salts and minerals.
3. How does your training schedule look like?
I don’t do schedules. I stopped that many years ago when I went from a lot of training time to a limited training time (family, kids, job, life…). I found it frustrating to not be able to keep up the schedule I wanted, so I stopped the scheduling.
I stick to some basic key training sessions (2-3) per discipline. When a get some training time I just go for one of them. No need to plan, prep or think. They are all ready to just do. My average training time so far during this year has been about 7 hours per week. Some weeks more and really good, but some weeks disastrous bad. Before I was frustrated about it, but now I call it natural periodic training.
As I race against athletes doing 20-30h training weeks, I need to go 3-4 times better or harder. This means my basic key sessions are mostly high intensive and/or technique focused.
The difference between amateurs (left) and pros or elite amateurs (right) are not necessarily the training time, but the distribution of intensity in their training. Most amateurs do their sessions in a mid level intensity, while pros and elite amateurs diverse their intensities between low intensity and high/very high (threshold and above).
I have been into endurance sports for 25 years and have plenty of hours behind me. As I don’t have the 20-25h training weeks I simply cut out the low intensity part of the ‘standard training set up’. Off course I do some distance training, but never just long and slow. To make the training effect better of the distance training I keep it to three standard sessions.
Fatmax – With the purpose of forcing the body to save carbs and use more fat and ‘harden the fuck up’ I do longer sessions with a low carb intake the day before and no breakfast before I go out. I go hard until I run out of fuel. Then I just try to get myself home from there… (Be careful and safe on your way home. You will not be smart nor responsive)
Compromised distance – I usually don’t have several hours for distance training. Another way to get the effect is to do 10-15 min intervals on all-out/race speed, and low intensity 20-30min between. Do that for 3h and you don’t have to go for 6h.
Race simulation – Brick sessions on race speed and simulation. I try to get it as relevant as possible for the upcoming race.
4. What would be your advise to beginning triathletes?
Well… As I’m not a triathlete… I can only give general advices for endurance sports – Make sure you spend the time to get the techniques sort of right before you go out for hours with a wrong pattern of moves. Especially important when it comes to sports like swimming and kayaking, but also relevant for running and cycling. Good technique will save you a lot of energy and future injuries.
Make sure you know why you are doing it. Be honest to yourself and dig deep to find your answer to your why. Make sure you remember it, because when you are out on the race course where no one can hear you cry, you need your answers on why. Use your answers to battle the demons coming for you and want you to quit. They will come.
5. How does your race schedule look like? What is next and what are your goals for the coming years?
I just got involved in a new project set up by the Swedish Armed Forces to race the Adventure Racing World Series and the AR World Champs for the next two-three years. Hopefully the project will get me some more training. In November we will race the AR World Champs in Ecuador, so I guess I´m back in the dirt….
For next year I hope I will get some time in the schedule to race Swissman and Norseman. Races I’m really looking forward to!"
Thanks for answering my questions Johan and I wish you all the best with your future races!