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In preparation for the Ironman


When I started this documentary (to follow Marcus Hultgren towards Kalmar Triathlon 2009) it was May, but his preparation didn’t start there, obviously. If you are really into ”when, where, how” it all started when he first tried triathlon a few years ago, but we shall not take it that far back. The season of 2009 is now and to reach his high set goal Marcus not only needs to train a lot (swimming, cycling, running) but also compete in a few triathlon events.

Every single triathlete out there knows that it’s not just about swimming real fast, riding the bike like the wind and running faster than the rest, but also to transition. The transition between each and every ”leg” is what a triathlete usually call ”the fourth leg”. And to be amongst the best you really get the transition going. Just imagine yourself coming up from the water, all the blood rushes down from your head to your lower body when you stand up and you get dizzy, but you still have to keep up the pace and try to run straight to the transition area to find your bike. And as if that wasn’t enough, you also have to get that wetsuit off and the best practice is to do this while running. Yeah I told you, it sure isn’t easy and it needs lots and lots of training.

Training the transitions (between swim/bicycle and bicycle/run) can be done by yourself, of course, and also together with your triathlon club. Stockholm City Triathlon (Marcus’ mother club) organizes shorter triathlon events (super sprint distance) every now and then so all the members can get the feeling of doing a transition before a real competition. But to be honest, it’s like with all sports you practice, doing it for real is always best. It is during a real race, with a heavily beating heart pumping adrenalin through your veins, that you understand the complexity of doing a proper transition.

Marcus has competed in quite a few triathlon events so his experience is huge. This does not however means that he wont learn anything new. Before attending the Ironman distance event ”Järnmannen” in Kalmar, Marcus will have competed in 6 different events.

  • » Borås Triathlon (Olympic) *
  • » Göteborg (Hindås) Triathlon (Olympic) *
  • » Säter Triathlon (Olympic) *
  • » Örserum Triathlon (Olympic) *
  • » Sövde (Half Ironman) –
  • » Hallstahammar (Sprint) –

Scroll down this page to see a number of selected photos from some of the events above.

Competition: Borås Triathlon, June 6th
All photos are also available on Flickr, click here.

Competition: Göteborg Triathlon, June 7th
All photos are also available on Flickr, click here.

Competition: Säter Triathlon, June 28th
All photos are also available on Flickr, click here.

Competition: Örserum Triathlon, July 4th
All photos are also available on Flickr, click here.

Interval running

Interval running

Every runner does it and it’s a must to keep those legs and the lung capacity in good shape. It’s quite easy: you run fast and then rest, repeat. I’m talking about intervals.

Marcus has a few good running spots not long from home. One is a 2,5 km gravel course with a few hills. The ups and downs makes a perfect challenge to keep the pace and build up a lot of lactic in the muscles. What you want to do is of course to learn those legs to get rid of all that lactic as fast as possible. If you get a hang of it you have a huge advantage during a race when can keep on pushing up a hill even though it might hurt, since you know it will go away immediately when you’re at the top.

Running on a course with a few ups and downs is one alternative, but there are quite a few more. Doing intervals on racing tracks (elipse formed ones used on arenas) is great too, since you usually know the exact distance. You should always listen to your body and take it from there, but running the exakt same track and distance is good to track your progress.

One other muscle builder is hill running. It is exactly what it sounds like: you run up a hill and back down again. This might be very tough, especially for your calfs and you should only start doing it when you’ve been running for a while, to avoid any unwanted injuries. The result you get of running in hills is so good that every runner should do it every now and then.

To be able to handle the lactic is of course not only the only goal and advantage when training intervals. You also get a bigger and stronger heart that can pump around more blood per beat. This means that you get a lower resting pulse that results in a body that can be pushed a bit harder when needed.

I followed Marcus during three different interval sets: gravel course, racing track and hill running. The photo shoot from the cycle intervals might have been sweatier, but this was not easier by any means. And I guess you will agree when you have a look at the photos.

Interval training – gravel
All photos are also available on Flickr, click here.

Interval training – race track
All photos are also available on Flickr, click here.

Interval training – hill
All photos are also available on Flickr, click here.

Marcus – the main character

Marcus Hultgren

You might have asked yourself who the main character of this documentary is. I guess you know his name by now, but the rest? I asked myself the same question a while ago and decided to sit down with him, without a camera in front of my face, to try to get inside the person I’m building all this around. This is what I found out…

Even though the view of 29 year-old Marcus Hultgren seems to be all about sports and triathlon, it hasn’t always been like that. Born and raised on Södermalm in Stockholm, Marcus still lives in the very same area with his girlfriend Linda. As a true ”söderkis” he has never even thought of living somewhere else, except for maybe in a warmer country. His father lives just a few blocks away from where he and Linda have their two roomer and that apartment is also where was raised. At his spare time (yes he has some) he enjoys hanging out at the marina where his boat has its’ home. Being raised on the water from age six, Marcus loves the bare thought of knowing that a boat can take him out in archipelago. And yes of course, the marina is also on Södermalm.

As a youth Marcus tried almost every sport (from soccer to martial arts) and if you would check old member lists at Stockholm clubs you would find his name everywhere, even at bowling clubs. But nothing really kept him hooked, except for taekwondo that he trained for several years. Like almost every youngster getting closer to the adult world he got other interests where sports didn’t fit in. Marcus refers to his years between 18 and 25 as the ”black period”, but it wasn’t of course as dark and horrible as it may sound. He did his military duty up in the northern part of Sweden and decided to extend his time within the army by joining the Swedish UN forces in former Yugoslavia. About a year later Marcus returned home, but not for very long. He started to work during the summer and saved enough money to be able to travel during the colder period, mainly to Asia. During the last two trips east he had company with his girlfriend Linda. Marcus never told me this, but since his ”black period” ends right here it can only be thanks to Linda. So Linda, thank you.

But lets get back to the sports and triathlon. What about the first triathlon event? Marcus gladly shares this story with me:

It was a triathlon event in Ågesta (sprint distance). I was such a newbie knowing nothing that I had to call the event supervisor to check how to complete a triathlon. I brought my mountain bike and put in place as everyone else did. The swimming was done with a lovely combination of head above water and breast strokes. But when I finally got up of the water to do the first transition I got a huge shock – I had locked my bike! I ran to Linda that stood at ”bike out” and emptied the bag inside out. Finally I found the key and ran back to my bike and got away. Maybe my longest T1 ever…

Marcus and Linda

This did not however scare Marcus and during the last visit to Asia in 2005 both he and Linda decided to take aim at triathlon. Marcus even bought a bike over there (to bring home) so he could start training as soon as they got back. And the rest is as obvious as you could imagine yourself: Marcus put 120 % focus into the sport that has kept him going ever since.

I can’t help but wonder how Marcus’ social life must have suffered when he started with triathlon. Even though he has his girlfriend Linda on the same train, what about friends?

My friends gave some hard nudges at first and of course it was a big difference for both them and me. You know how it is at that age; your main social life is with friends 24/7 so when I had made up my mind I had to work hard on keeping a good balance between keeping friends but still focus on training. I have 2-3 friends that have been close to me ever since I was two years old and you don’t want to loose them just because you get a hang-up on triathlon. It was really, really tough, I have to admit that but the response nowadays is almost the opposite; they know how much I love this. When I show up they enjoy it even more and if I leave after two beers no one gives me the evil eye.

What exactly is it that you love about this sport, compared to everything else that you have tried?

I’ve always had a hard time with group sports, that’s why I didn’t have a longer career with soccer. If you are not the ”weakest link”, someone else is, and it’s so easy to blame this faulty third leg. If someone wants to go out drinking three days in a row before a game he/she ruins the entire team, but this doesn’t apply for triathlon, taekwondo or any other sport where you’re on your own. Drinking and sports is of course not a combination I’m in favor of, but you get the point.

Marcus is very much involved in his mother club – Stockholm City Triathlon (SCT). He organizes the club’s participation in various triathlon events and also welcomes new members.

I like being a part of an organization like SCT, especially the work I get to do with all newcomers. Even though I’m experienced and know what to do I get inspired by their interest for triathlon and I get to share my knowledge and insights at the same time. And to sum it up I usually tell them that no one never thanks them for getting to training when sick, which is quite common when training as a team. And this is again the biggest difference with triathlon that I love so much – you train together as the best team in the world but when it’s time to compete we all stand as pure individuals.

And I can only agree to what Marcus just said. The biggest advantage with triathlon is that all people can participate in both training and competitions, regardless of their level. This is the biggest difference between a team and individual sport.

Marcus running

Marcus keeps on coming back to one point all the time when we talk: harmony. If you’re not happy on one level it’s hard or impossible to enjoy the other. This can be applied on everything you do and when you think of it it’s quite obvious. If your social life gets a thorn because of total focus on training you will some day come to a point where you get depressed. Since you are training so much you might think it’s because you’re not good enough, but instead of finding problems there you should take a step back and look at your whole life. Perhaps hanging out with your friends every now and then is enough to get you up on a level where life feels better, making training a lot easier too. It’s all these small thing that makes it, Marcus keeps on saying.

Just take this last year I had. Instead of giving it all during winter, like I did the season before that, I have tried another approach. I have in fact trained less if you count the actual hours but my focus has been so much better that I have gained a lot on all levels – both physically and mentally. Of course I ask myself if it was a good decision. Did I train too little? Could I’ve done something better? But when I step back and look at myself I can both see and feel that I’ve done the right choice. This is my year.

When Marcus worked full-time he still trained a lot. And with ”a lot” we talk about 20 hours a week. Is that really human?

Marcus and Christoffer

Instead of following your written plan you should listen to your body. Why force yourself to sleep at 10 pm to be able to get up for that really early swim training at 6 am if your body is not with you? Maybe that training didn’t do you any good anyway, and following your body’s will to sleep your normal time and get 8 hours of sleep could have been better in the long run. Don’t get me wrong though – of course you should train and have routines, otherwise you don’t reach your goals, but sometimes you just have to listen to your inner voice. Harmony, did I tell you about that?

Nowadays Marcus study full-time and of course it takes a lot of time and energy, but compared to working he has a better chance of planning and he doesn’t feel as stressed as when working. The lack of stress in life is mostly a positive reaction of his open will to listen to his body and mind. If you would calculate his training time you would get an average of 15 hours per week. This of course goes up and down depending on the training plan, so a harder a week would be around 20 hours and the rest period lands on not more than 10.

And then we have this hilarious ”boost week” but that’s of course something…special.

Getting this far is however nothing Marcus has managed to do himself. His girlfriend Linda is an active triathlete herself and without her understanding and encouragement I doubt that he would have gone this far. Just imagine yourself living with someone that puts all his time and energy into one specific hobby – you need to be a part of it to both enjoy and love. There’s also one more person that has big place in Marcus’ heart.

Without my buddy and club mate Christoffer Wikman I would have never ever been able to gone this far. He is not only a good friend but also the one I discuss my training with, all the time. He is in fact the one that have set my schedule for last months in preparation ”Järnmannen” in Kalmar and every time I get worried about training too much or little I give him a call. He’s the one that I will give all kudos to when I run through the finish line in Kalmar.

The triathlon event ”Järnmannen” in Kalmar (Ironman distance) is Marcus’ big goal this year. His mission is to be among the top 10 Swedish male triathletes when the day is over. To reach this he believes a time around 9 hours or less is a must. He has completed 2 Ironman distances so far – both in Kalmar. First one in 2007 ended on 10:30 hours and last year he managed to cut that with one hour, even though he had bad luck with a puncture. The difference this year however, compared to his two last races, is that the goal is so much higher.

Both 2007 and 2008 I managed to crush my initial goals. This year I aim for something that I know is very, very tough, but it triggers me to show both myself and everyone else that I can do it.

I ask Marcus about his best triathlon memory. Surely there must be a handful that he has in mind.

Pulse clock

Except for the one in Ågesta, which must classify as the ”funniest” one ever, I have to put Örserum 2007 as the one with best feeling. SCT had the club championship there and I managed to win. The last lap during running was really overwhelming when I realized that this was my day. But other than that I have to say that I really love the feeling after running over the finish line and being able to stand beside the course to cheer on all the ones I know – that feeling is unbeatable. That is also why I love to travel around Sweden with the whole club. Of course I love to get a good finish time myself but to share the joy when others run the last lap in Kalmar is bigger, much bigger.

But August 1st, when you stand there in Kalmar 5 minutes before the start with all the other athletes, wont that be a huge moment?

Yes, no doubt. That will be the moment I have been dreaming of for the last six months. It will be nervous but nothing compared to the joy when I finally get enter the water and go for my goal. And the last lap at running, yes I’m really looking forward to that.

Me too Marcus, me too.