King of Kona
For a start let’s just clarify that
A) Jan Frodeno is the Greatest Triathlete of All Time and
B) a Saffa. On point A, I didn't need to cast my deciding vote because if anyone disputes that after he won Olympic gold and multiple World Championships, plus broke world records, the legends of our sport, (Daniela, Mark, Dave, Paula, Alistair, Macca) simply cannot compare.
By Paul Ingpen
You said this third IRONMAN World Championship win was your “sweetest
one”. After spending time with you a year ago, just after Patrick Lange set the record
while you looked on from the stands, I’m pretty sure that statement stems from a measure of relief and satisfaction. Afer two frustrating years being injured, you were able to prove beyond reasonable doubt the King of Kona crown belongs to you. In the
modern era at least, with respect to Mark and Dave.
That statement had no anger, resentment or anything of the sort attached. Truth be told, 2018 was the year that showed me that the little pity party I threw myself every time I thought of how hard Kona is, was nothing compared with how much I hated being sidelined. No offense to Patrick, but he doesn’t really feature in my life planning;
he just happened to be the guy who won when I sat at Palani wondering what to do with my life… As always, nothing is so bad that there’s nothing good about it (or that you can’t make something good of it). This happened to show me that I’m not ready to trade Dad jokes before kindergarten on a daily basis just yet.
Apart from the critical timing of your near-perfect world-record result (notably in tougher conditions than Lange faced to go sub-eight hours last year), this was seemingly the IRONMAN distance swim, bike, run you’ve been working towards your
Ha ha, beers on me! Truth is, I don’t know how the conditions were last year and it doesn’t matter. A sure thing is that records will always be condition-dependent and hence they’re not what drives me so much. It was a virtual battle aer the one-on-one didn’t materialise but I’ll take one-on-one any day. This is why it’s so hard for people
to fathom how good Daniela is; she simply never has anyone to take her on and push her to the line. But to your question, it was such a special race for me because I seriously started doubting that a race based on anything other than survival exists on this island. It was a real question and that made it so very fulfilling.
When did you first hear that Patrick had quit after his incredible swim in the lead pack, and how did that make you feel after all the pre-race showdown hype?
I had very little idea, but Jimmy came by with some splits eventually and I saw Patrick had lost a lot of time. I wasn’t surprised as I was fairly confident he had overcooked the swim. Triathlon is to some degree always about balance. If you swim better, something
else usually suffers, unless these increments are minor. Making up two minutes isn’t that, so a combination of most likely working on his swim, having a dream day and possibly over-reaching meant there could be trouble for him down the line. I was disappointed for two seconds when I heard, but also realised there are some big hitters ready to come swinging.
Lange simply couldn’t stay with the charge you and Ali put in up Palani; then after chasing solo was passed by the charging Wurf-Kienle pack. Was that your bike strategy once you realised he’d made the lead swim pack?
As for the tactic, other than going a little overboard up Palani, it was simply to stick to my numbers and see what would happen. I knew that help to set the pace would be sparse, so “head down and go” was the only option, especially as Patrick’s helper, Andi, wasn’t there and he was left to fight for himself.
What did Ali say to you that caused you to ride away from him at 45km/h average from the airport home? Any messages to him post World Cup final?
He didn’t need to say anything and I’m not even sure what it was. I was frustrated as every single split we got was led by Cam Wurf. That meant that everyone else was getting to the marathon a lot fresher than me. In my mind, I needed to keep the pace high or up it again to not undo 163.8km of work we had done until then… No messages; all good here.
You appeared to be in your healthiest shape ever coming into Kona. Any specific physical or mental strategies you or your coach changed after the injuries of
The thing that took me quite a few years to learn was that my coach is right when it comes to training. That’s why he’s my coach. My thinking I need to do more or go harder simply got in the way. And that means I don’t miss sessions. Other than that, I was really lucky to find a strength coach that got through to me. Weight has always been a tough subject for me, and I always equated doing weights with gaining it.
For years I believed that at the pointy end low weight will make the difference. Turns out it does but, more times than not, in the wrong direction. Anyways, Jesus (not kidding, that’s his name!) managed to not only make me stronger than ever (low bar) but also the most injury-resistant I have ever been.
No doubt you felt hugely indebted to Emma and the kids for supporting you through a massive year. Tell us more about your holiday in Oz post Kona. Did you do any training at all, or has it been complete rest and time out with your family?
Indebted is the wrong word. We know without each other we wouldn’t be half as good. But holidays are a time to be normal minus the phones. Beach time, plenty of food, but both Emma and I need exercise to be half acceptable humans in society. We
normally just don’t exercise together so this was a nice time to get out.
Emma was a multiple ITU world champ at a similar time to you. Witnessing your success, does she sometimes wonder what could have been if she had continued with long distance as Daniela, Sarah and co have?
Emma has always been better at longer sessions and her career being cut short by a virus was a hard knock. Her plan was always to get to Kona and if you look at her non-drafting career, I speculate she would have done alright to put it mildly. The last years have, however, also shown us that life has a funny way of making us realise what we have or have had was and is pretty awesome. Not an easy journey to come to this conclusion, but if she would have had her career laid out in front of her as a 12-year-old aspiring swimmer, she would have signed on the dotted line.
How do you and Emma juggle your busy training and travelling schedules with small kids and a dog? Sometimes it must get a little crazy, or do you now have a relatively set annual schedule that you try to stick to?
We’re very happy to have found a home in Spain and do a lot less travelling now. Of course, family is always important and so we do make an effort to visit the grandparents, but the kids have known no different since day one and are quite happy to live in what many people would call total chaos. We’ve also surrounded ourselves with people who are happy to embrace the spontaneity and that’s what makes the dream work.
What do you like to do with the family in your down time – do you guys have any traditions or special places you like to visit?
Our family is very movement- and food-orientated. Most of our time is spent foraging for new flavours and burning calories in order to feel like consuming more of them.
You lived in South Africa as a youngster; what is your takeaway from your experience as a “former” Saffa?
Cape Town was my home for around 13 years. Between going to the German school, being involved in surf lifesaving and then moving into the broom room at Conrad Stoltz’s pad, it’s definitely a place that has shaped me and my view of the world. Saffas are mong the few people who see the glass as half full and are willing to go a long way to make it completely full. They don’t rely on others to do this for them and that’s something I want my kids to learn. However, deep down, I’m European and love the proximity and diversity of culture here. It’s great to be settled in Spain after living out the bag for 17 years, but coming back [to South Africa] as a visitor is something I look forward to every time.
If you had to pick a triathlon and an endurance sport GOAT, who would they be?
The whole GOAT discussion is a little hard for me to jump in on. I have a few athletes that I look up to (Federer, Kipchoge) but GOAT to me personally is a term created for Muhammad Ali!
You recently embarked on a bikepacking trip with Nick [Kastelein]. Something a little different for you. How was it?
Bike-packing is possibly the most fun thing I’ve done in a long while. There’s a certain beauty in discovering places through your own labour and seeing how little you actually need. It was the cheapest holiday ever but definitely one of the most memorable ones. Having the time to sit on the side of the road wherever we fancied, having two-hour lunch stops and strapping a baguette to my bike (“real food only” was one of the few rules we had) were eye-openers as I’m not usually one for stopping on
rides. I love my work but riding for the pure pleasure of it every now and then is
something I’d recommend to everyone who owns a bicycle.
Do you like to cook when you’re home?
I built a pizza oven in my garden and it’s currently getting plenty of use. Cooking with fire is one of my favourite challenges as it’s never the same.
We’ll see you back in SA soon for your work with Breitling supporting Qhubeka. Any other plans during your visit?
Qhubeka is the only charity we’ll visit this time. SA is always a trip down memory lane so I like to try and visit some friends while I’m there.
What’s next for the man who has literally achieved everything?
Seeing if it’s possible to do it better!