Magnus’s story on the toughest Ironman in the world – Kona

It is every endurance triathletes dream to compete in Kona.

After competing in his first Ironman World Championships in Kona earlier this month, we caught up with our ambassador Magnus Backstedt about the experience.

The former pro cyclist and 2004 Paris-Roubaix champion, started competing in endurance triathlons in 2013 and has since taken part in four Ironman competitions – Ironman Sweden 2013, Ironman Wales 2013 and Ironman Lanzarote 2014, in addition to the World Championships in Hawaii.

How had training gone in the lead up to the competition?

I felt really good all spring. After Ironman Lanzarote I had done shorter events and was on the podium at every race. But as I got closer to the main event things started to go wrong. Four weeks before the competition I picked up a throat infection. I was on antibiotics and not able to train which wasn’t ideal.

Then when I arrived in Hawaii two weeks before the competition, I picked up an injury on my first run on Hawaiin soil! It meant that while I was able to train on the bike and swim, I wasn’t able to run. I had acupuncture and physio to help my injury but I was by no means in peak condition.

I had planned to do slightly longer runs when I got to Hawaii but missed out on 60km of running. I think I managed 12k in total in Hawaii.

Did the conditions affect your preparation?

Obviously, I live and train in UK where it is much cooler, but I’m lucky that I can usually acclimatise quickly when competing abroad. I’ve raced in South Africa where the temperature was 47 degrees and while on the first day I suffered, by the second day I was fine.

My first bike ride in Hawaii made me realise how hot it was there, but the second day I went on a longer ride and got back and felt ok.

What was the set up like there?

Like all Ironman competitions, this one was no different, it was extremely professional and everything, like checking in bikes, operated like clockwork.

However, with this event, you could sense the enormity and prestigiousness of the occasion. The expo was much bigger, with all the main bike and equipment manufacturers in attendance, and the press were everywhere!

Let’s talk about the race day, how were you feeling?

I was full of anticipation, but obviously a little bit nervous about how my calf was going to hold up.

I was up just before 4am and struggled to get some porridge down me. It’s not the nicest thing to eat at 4am, but then again, nothing really is!

I knew that once I got my swim done, I’d be able to put in a blistering performance on my bike, to allow for the run, where I knew I wasn’t going to be able to perform at my best.

It is every endurance triathletes dream to compete in Kona and I was fortunate to get there in 18 months, so I was very excited.

So what happened during the race?

I thought I was swimming well, although I was not feeling great. It was relatively rough in the sea and people were all over the place.

A slow swim for me is not necessarily a bad thing, as I know I can put my energy into the bike and can claw back time.

But, when I got on the bike, straight away something didn’t feel right. I thought maybe I was feeling the aftermath of the rough swim so just cracked on. However, 50km into the ride, the bike still felt like it was dragging and I wasn’t able to maintain speed on the road.

I started adjusting my breaks in case the wheels were rubbing, something felt like it was holding on. At the turnaround a raging wind hit and the bike felt ok going down hill again, but it wasn’t long before I realised the bike was actually broken. The bike frame was cracked. I’m not sure if it happened overnight or in transition but it became a case of limping the bike into second transition, which I did manage to do, but I lost a lot of time.

Not getting to do the bike ride I knew my body was prepared for hit me hard mentally, but I tried to approach the run with a positive point of view, in that I must have conserved some energy.

I managed the first five miles running, but my calf injury meant that I had to walk the rest, which as an athlete was heartbreaking.

Basically, everything that could go wrong, went wrong!

I already wasn’t able to do bike ride I’d hoped for and then I was not able to run and had to walk. I learnt a lot about myself at this time. When I realised the bike was broken I thought about quitting, then when my calf gave in and I had to walk, that was nearly it for me.

But then I realised that so many people strive to get to Kona and I had managed it. I was still moving forward, though not at the pace I wanted to, but I decided to suck it up and at least finish the race.

Looking back I’m so happy I didn’t quit. Both of my daughters were there supporting me and it would have set the wrong example if I had.

How did it compare to the other Ironman competitions you’ve entered?

It was a magical place to be. Even when people were training up and down Queen’s Highway, you got a feeling that it is a special place. The sea life, for one, is beautiful. Sea turtles and dolphins are swimming around you – it is extraordinary! The heritage and history of Ironman lives on in Kona. Words can’t describe the feeling of competing there.

Despite the outcome, are you glad you did it?

Definitely! I’m very happy and proud to have been part of it. I’m planning to go back and do it again, it’s just a question of when, where, and how. And when I go back, I’m going to do a much better job.

Finally, what’s the best bit of advice you’d give other triathletes training for Ironman?

The one thing that keeps cropping up in conversations with Ironman athletes around the world is nutrition and getting the strategy right on race day. My advice would be to try and live in the moment with your nutrition strategy. Don’t live your race by your plan. In my experience, the best plan is not to have a plan and to instead react to the conditions on the day and what your body is telling you.

Thanks Magnus. You should be really proud of what you achieved at the Ironman World Champs, everyone at Pedalcover is, and we look forward to watching and supporting you in events to come.