17 July 2007

Clas "The Baron" Bjorling -- Part Two

My Triathlon Career, From The Beginning Until Now

So, the first article told you a little how I grew up and it ended when I during my military service, just had learned how to swim freestyle, and I had meet a running coach who had brought me out to some running races where I did pretty well. This happened 1998 when I was 20 years old.

So with this article I will finished up writing about my personal story so I in the next coming articles can write more about things that I have learned from the sport or special moments from the sport. Some topics I have thought of is to write a little more about Epic Camp, how to run a 2.42 marathon, Gordo Byrns and mine cost to cost ride and how to avoid overtraining and lessons I have learned from my experience. And then I will come up with some more along the way.

So, time to move back to March 1999.

Now I was done with my 15 month in the military and its was time to move back in civilian clothing again, but I was very grateful what the military had given me, I had grown up both mentally and physically and was ready to take on life whatever it now had to offer. I kept working with my running coach also outside the military and I kept working on my swimming and cycling even if I during the summer did mostly running races. I did some triathlon and duathlon races and I finished 2nd
at the Swedish national championship in duathlon which was big for me.

Later in the summer I got my biggest victory until then as a runner when I won the junior race in Sweden’s biggest cross country running race, called Lidingöloppet. It is a 15 K race with a lot of up and downs. I still remember how easy it felt and I got so surprised every time I looked back and someone had dropped off. The last 4-5 K it just me running along in the front together with a skinny, tall Estonian guy. Must have looked pretty funny with us running together, he skinny and tall, and I pretty short and muscular from all the weightlifting. This got to be my first experience how it feels when you are in the “flow” in a race where you are in great shape. You can just push harder and harder and your body just keeps smiling and continues to do the work without protests. But it wasn’t until I picked up the pace for real the last 200 m where I got a few meter gap that grow up to a second or so at the finish line.

Sometimes when you watch the great runners from Kenya and Ethiopia cross the finish line in the final at the big championships you can be amazed how they have been running world record pace for 5 or 10 K, and then when they cross the line and take a deep breath they just look like they have been out for Sunday walked. That is how I felt after I had crossed the line at this race, and this is how it is when you are in great shape. You can push your body so far beyond what you thought was possible and when you stop your body doesn’t feel tired at all. But, the thing I have learned is that it’s very hard to peak your performance so you get to experience this very often, because this is nothing you can force to happened, it not that easy.

Okay, enough about that, maybe I will come more into that topic when I write about my 2.42 IM marathon, back to the subject for this article.

The only thing I really remember from the year 2000 is that I set my personal best that stand still today over the ½ marathon distance. 1.07.15. They had built a bridge from Denmark to Sweden and to celebrate the opening they had a running race that started in Denmark, went over the bridge and ended in Sweden. It was a big race with 20 000 or so competitors. I never found the “flow” at this race but I was in good shape and was able to run a solid PB. Other then this race I’m sure I did a lot of running races and some triathlon and duathlon as well.

I Think it was this year where I got half time job as a sport teacher at the local school, I didn’t make any money from the sport yet so it was great to get this job so close so I could get some money but still have a lot of time to train and race.

2001 got to be the year when moved up to the longer triathlon distances. First in the spring I did my first ½ IM which went well, after a slow swim I moved up through the field during the bike and was able to run up to the front of the race in the end of the run to take a surprising victory. Because this race went so well I decide to try an even longer distance, the “Nice distance” which is 4 K swim, 120 K bike and 30 K run. The Swedish Championship over that distance was run that summer in the famous Swedish triathlon city Säter. All the big names in Ironman racing from the 80's and 90's like Scott Tinely, Scott Molina, Mark Allen and Dave Scott have raced in Säter, and Säter still today arrange long distance events some years like the ITU World’s and European Championships. Säter is just 45 K from where I live so if you ever go there to race so please let me know and we might be able to meet up for a chat.

Just as in the ½ IM, I moved up through the field during the bike after a slow swim. Think I came off the bike in 5th or 6th place. And now I got to experience for the first time how it is to run of the bike on very tired legs. I don’t remember having that much problem running of the bike at the ½ IM I did, but at this race it had been raining during the bike so the leg muscles was pretty cold which didn’t help. But the run course was a 3 laps out and back course so I got to see that even if I thought I was running well I still gained some time on the people in front of me.
To make a long story shorter I was able to pass a few people during the rest of the run to finish on the last podium spot. What I didn’t really know then was that I had just finished behind the other great long distance triathletes Björn Anderson and Jonas Colting and I was just about to start my international triathlon carrier. This was how I first got to meet Björn and Jonas, and since this day in Säter 6 years ago we all have spent a lot of time training and racing around the world.

I hadn’t more then just finished and cried out my happy tears when the head coach for the Swedish triathlon team Tomas Wiker walked up to me and asked if I wanted to be part of the Swedish team at the ITU long course championship that was run over the Ironman distance for the first (and probably the last) time in Denmark 5 weeks later. This came as a big surprise to me, should little Clas, the weightlifted, wood chopper, from the little town Mockfjärd join the other “real” triathletes in a World Champs. And not just that, I had also just by far just finished my longest triathlon race ever (and it wasn’t without pain) and now decide if I just 5 weeks later race wanted to race an Ironman. Phuuuu, I still remember that it was a lot of things moving around in my head when Tomas asked me about this so I told him that I needed to think about it for a few days so he would get back to me later.

When he a few days later called me I had forgotten a little about the pain from the long race and I was up for a new challenge. I also told him that I didn’t know anything how to train for a long race ( As far as I was concerned )so I got some last minute training tips from him and also from Colting who I by now had made a first contact with.

I remember being really nervous the last week leading up the Ironman distance race. It was so many things that were new but very excited at the same time. The elite race was on a Sunday, and the age grouper race was the day before, and I knew some people that raced the age grouper race so I went out on the run course to see cheer them on. I don’t know if this was good, it didn’t look pretty out there, it was late PM and people were out there shuffling, walking…… and it looked like it was painful to. I was up for a big the challenge the following day, I knew that.

It was 50 or so competitors in the elite field and I came out as one of the last one in 69 min, 20 min up to the leaders but I didn’t care too much about that, I just stayed focused on my race and to make it to the finish line. I took it out pretty easy I thought but was able to pass a few people. It was an out and back bike course so every now and then I got to meet the people in front of me and that gave me some new energy. We where 4 guys in the elite field and I was the last one of us up from the water but ½ way through the bike I moved up to be the 3rd Swede which felt great.

After a riding time of 4.57 it was time to get of the bike and start the marathon. It had been raining the last couple hours on the bike so I was pretty happy to get of the bike and start to run so I could get warm again. If I thought it had been hard to run off the bike in Säter but that was nothing compare to what I now experienced, I have some pictures that are taken on me from the first 500 m on the run and my face looks completely empty, you can just see that all my mental energy was just to handle the chock from the tired legs and to keep on moving. What I didn’t know then was that it was going to be better after 5-6 K of running when the legs get into the running rhythm.

I slowly warmed up and was able to start running pretty good and ½ way through the run I ran up to be the 2nd place Swede. It is the first 3 finishers from each country that take part in the team competition so one of my goals for the race other then to finish was to finish top 3 among the Swedes so with my 2nd place have way through the run I felt comfortable that I would hold that place to the finish so I just tried to hold on as best as I could and pass other competitors that was slowing down.

With a marathon time of 2.59 I was able to finish my first Ironman in a total time of 9.05. I finished 22nd overall and 2nd Swede. Jonas Colting had made a breakthrough in his racing and placed 3rd overall and if I don’t remember wrong we took 3rd place in the team competition which was good for the Swedish triathlon federation, so I had done my job.

Now I was really hooked to triathlon and specially the longer distances. If I could do these results with no experience about long distance training and racing with a swim time of 69 min, what should I be able to do if I put some real effort in to be the best I could. I was just 24 years old and hadn’t been training seriously for more then a few years. So when Colting later that year asked me if I wanted to come with him to train in New Zealand for 2.5 month and end the camp with Ironman there to try to qualify for Ironman Hawaii he didn’t need to wait long for my answer. So in the middle of January 2002 I was on a plane together with Colting flying towards the other side of the planet. The 3rd time I was flying and the first time outside Europe. Colting had arranged everything around the travelling. He had met someone named Scott Molina when he raced Ironman Brazil the year before and Molina had put Colting in touch with someone named Gordo and Gordo had just bought a house in Christchurch and had some rooms empty in the house that we could rent. I didn’t know who these people where, and I didn’t care either. I was just happy to know that I was going to spend 2.5 month training full time.

Martin Flinta who flew to NZ ahead of us to do some adventure racing joined us in ChCh and we ended up to be a good team training together. Gordo joined us on some sessions but my English back then was very bad so I wasn’t able to speak much to him, just said some phrases that we still laugh at today( so even if you have a hard time understanding things that I write today you can just imagine how it was for Gordo back then). I have never been very into learning different languishes when I was younger, we speak Swedish in Sweden and I had no plans when I was younger to travel anywhere. But on this trip I had Colting who loves to speak and take care of things so I was able to get be part of the group anyway.

One night after a month or so Gordo had Molina over for dinner with us. And I didn’t know who Molina was, what had this guys done that was so special so we had to put on jeans and a shirt?

So this was my first meeting with one of the legend in the sport of triathlon, Scott Molina who I later was going to spend a lot of time with on different Epic Camps around the world, base training in ChCh with for the next 4 years or be having a read bull and vodka with on same party after an IM. Make me laugh to think how life is; you never know what will happen to you the next minute or what people you met will bring you.

I will probably end up to write a lot about Gordo and who we ended up to spend more time together then what Gordo did with his first wife when I write about ours trip across the US 2004, so I leave him out for now, but I promise that it will be a great story, that is at least how the times have been when we have been together. I spent a whole NZ summer in the same bedroom as Gordo when he had made his bedroom to an altitude room(we did not share bed), or how about when we rode cross the states, for 10 weeks we slept in a trailer, and when we didn’t sleep we was running, riding or swimming together.

Anyway, now I lost track on the subject again, got a little bit too excited. I will cut the last part of this subject short, I can start to feel how you start to lose focus and just reading every second word to get this over with so you can go back and read Gordo forum, but not just yet, give me another 5 minutes of your time and you will get the full story.

The rest of my time in NZ went well, and the race in beautiful Taupo where Ironman NZ is located went well to. On a tougher course then in Denmark and after been running the entire marathon with cramps in my lower back I ended up to finish in a time of 9.05, win my age group, finish 12th overall and qualify for Ironman Hawaii.

Before Colting, Flinta and I flew to Hawaii 5 or 6 weeks before the race to train on the course and acclimatise I had raced duathlons Ironman Hawaii, The Powerman long distance duathlon race named in Switzerland, Zofingen( 10 K run, 150 K bike and 30 K run, and it’s all in the hills). I finished 7th overall there and had gotten my first price cheque. Maybe that will be another subject I will write about, Zofingen and other duathlon I have raced and how duathlons can be a perfect race if you feel like don’t putting on a wetsuit before a race starts. I just want to say that duathlon races are much harder then you think, specially the Zofingen race.

Back to Hawaii again, I was amazed when I got of the plane and got hit right in the face with a warm sticking air and I just started to sweat like a pig. This was to be a real challenge, how would I be able to race in something like this when I was freaking out just by standing still. But as the weeks went on I got more and more used to the humidity and didn’t seems to suffer as much.

After nearly a month and a half on the Island it was finally time for the race. The Mecca of Ironman racing, it was here where all the great Ironman stories came from, at least that was what people had told me. My English hadn’t improved much since the camp in NZ and when Colting and Flinta was freaking out one day at the local pool in Kona when they saw Dave Scott there swimming I just said, Scott who ???

The race in Hawaii went well, or at least I was able to win my age group even if I was suffering badly from the humidity during the ran. I had reached the highest goal as an amateur Ironman triathlete. To win your age group in Hawaii, specially the younger ones like the 18-24 that I won is a good sign that it’s time to move on and start to race in the elite/professional category.

So the following year, 2003, when I went back to ChCh to train for Ironman there I had made my move up to the professional category which was a good move, I finished 4th overall and got a nice price cheque. In this race I beat names Like Chris Lieto and Steve Larsen which I had heard were “fast” guys in triathlon. This was to be my only Ironman this year because the rest of the year I decided to focus 100 % to try to win Zofingen that was going to be in September.

I took 4 month off swimming and was training hard with Gordo in Boulder, Colorado, during the summer, probably to hard, because when the race came up I was very fit for the double run but had lost some power on the bike and was struggling on the 150 K bike leg but was able have a very strong 2nd ran and I finished 5th overall.

From 2002 to 2004 I also raced some duathlon races in Europe. Did some races in the Powerman serie and the ITU's World Champs where I finished 14th overall.

I have won the national championship in duathlon 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2006.

My real breakthrough in international racing came 2004 when I finished 2nd at IM NZ, just 5 min behind great athlete Cameron Brown, and 3rd at IM Brazil. I set a new run course record in both races; I ran a 2.42 marathon in NZ and a 2.44 in Brazil.

In IM NZ 2005 I had my first real setback in racing. I was in really good shape but I got my nutrition wrong and I ended up with really bad stomach cramps which forced me to walked the 2nd half of the marathon. To drop out has never been an option for me in triathlon, I have always raced from behind and that has given me the mentality to never drop out, anything can happen in the front of the race and as long as I can keep going I might catch people. Everyone is struggling in the end of an Ironman and it’s normally not until the last 10-15 K of the marathon where I run into the top 3 or top 5 in races. So if I should have dropped out as soon as I felt like I had no chance on a good overall position I wouldn’t have finished many races.

Of course I wasn't going to catch anyone this day in NZ, but if I had come this far I thought I might was well finish. It wasn't a pleasant experience but it forced me to learn more about my body and how important the right nutrition is during a long race as an Ironman. And as long as we learn something it wasn't a total failure.

Already the same year I got revenge from my bad finish in NZ when I finished the Ironman distance race in Roth, Germany Quelle Challenge in a Swedish record fast time of 8.21. The old record was 8.26, held by Jonas Colting and was from 2002.

I finished up my 2005 season with a solid 4th place finish in IM Wisconsin.

Coming into the 2006 season I was training harder then ever. This ended up in a broken down immune system and shingles during the spring so I had to cancel my plans to race IM Arizona in the beginning of April.

But the same thing happened now as it did the year before. I got a nice revenge when I once again had a good race in Roth, Germany; I broke my own Swedish record over the Ironman distance when I finished in a solid time of 8.15.

Before my race in Roth I also won my 4th gold at the Swedish national championship in duathlon. After my 3 straight win in the national championship in duathlon 2001-2003 I wasn't able to take part in the championship 2004-2005 because I raced some Ironman race, so it was a nice come back to get the gold 2006.

I was able to finish up 2006 with a 2nd place at Ironman UK in august before my body shut down and I had to change my racing plans and focus 100% on getting my health back.

So that was the story about that, ended up to be a little long but I cut it a little short towards the end at least.

Now I hope I will be able to write a similar report 10 year from now that include a lot of great racing stories from around the world that I have been part of, but I know that 2007 will be named the build up year that forced me to learn things about myself so I could reach my full potential in long distance racing.

Until next time, have a great summer.

Clas Björling
June 4: Th 2007