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BRAD BROWN: We head to Denmark now and catch up with our next guest and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome him onto the podcast. Last week we had our first Italian on the show, this week we’ve got our first Dane and we head to Denmark now, Kristian Hindkjaer.
Welcome onto the podcast Kristian. Thanks for joining us.
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Thank you very much.
BRAD BROWN: Kristian, I know there’s a couple of big races, but how big is triathlon in Denmark? Is it fairly big, is it growing?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: I think it has been growing for a couple of years and maybe still is. It’s very big and when you see around the world Denmark is very good and it’s well represented. Also, it is well represented in Kona as the biggest country citizens. We’re not really many people in Denmark but we are really well represented around the world.
BRAD BROWN: That’s interesting. There’s a pretty decent Ironman race as well in Copenhagen. I believe it’s a stunning race.
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Yes, Copenhagen is known for being one of the fastest Ironman races in the world. It’s also inside the city walls of Copenhagen so it’s a really exciting race.
BRAD BROWN: And it’s a beautiful city as well. I think anybody who wants to do a race in Europe that should definitely be high up on the list of ones that you want to do.
Kristian as far as your athletic background goes; you have only been around the sport for about 3 or 4 years now. What athletic background have you got? Have you always been sporty growing up?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Not exactly. When I was little I was playing a lot of computer and skating around on my skateboard but not really an athletic background. Triathlon was the first real training that I did.
From playing heavy metal to Ironman training
BRAD BROWN: You say you’re on computers but I know you’ve also got a bit of a musical background as well. Tell us a little bit about that.
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: For a couple of years I played base in a death metal band here in Denmark so that was a lot of fun and I still enjoy a lot of that music when I train. It’s really good for energy and hard intervals.
BRAD BROWN: It’s funny, I come from, not a musical background, but I come from a DJ background and I used to do a lot of gigs and that sort of thing as well. Those 2 worlds are so far apart; the gigs if you’re in a band or a DJ, to triathlon. It’s almost on 2 different planets.
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Yes, the one place you drink as many beers as you can and the other place you run as many k’s as you can.
BRAD BROWN: They’re definitely not two that go hand in hand. But where did the interest in triathlon come from? How did you get introduced to the sport, where did it start?
Studying Sports Science opens doors into triathlon
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: In 2013 I started studying Sports Science here in Holm and I was lucky that swimming was one of the subjects that was taught. Every person who studies Sports Science has to go through some kind of swimming program.
I was already just running and cycling a little bit and then some good friends of mine from our studies introduced me to triathlon. I got really excited about that. In 2014 I think it was, I did my first half Ironman, and it was very nice.
BRAD BROWN: What was it that attracted you to triathlon? You mention that you had run a little bit but nothing serious, you had cycled a little bit but again nothing serious. What really attracted you to the sport of triathlon?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: I think it is as many hours that you put in, it gives back to you. So if you’re training a lot you are going to get good results. If you are 20 plus years, if you start in a sport you are pretty much a beginner. But in triathlon you can put a lot of hours in and you will become pretty decent at it. I think the less technical parts than we would see in something like football or tennis. I think it’s really good that if you put a lot of hours into it, you become pretty decent.
BRAD BROWN: Did you take it seriously from the start? You talk about that first Ironman, did you sort of do it just for fun? Or did you say “I want to be good at this from the beginning”?
Having fun because you’re in a good space
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: I was in a really good training environment so I was just having a lot of fun with it. When I did my first half I did it in something like 4 hours 37 minutes. And I thought that was pretty good for just a beginner.
In 2015 I signed up for my first Ironman, actually in Copenhagen, and did a lot of training with a good friend who is also my training partner now. If you train 15 or 20 hours a week things become a little bit more serious, but still just to have fun.
BRAD BROWN: How important has it been to have a training partner? Often I hear from people all around the world and they’re trying to train particularly for an Ironman, on their own. But having someone to train with and keep you motivated, it can make a big difference.
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Yes, I think that’s the thing that has made me as good as I am now and I think it has been the most important thing that pushed me to Kona. It’s really important and when it’s hard you have somebody just in front of you or just behind you that keeps pushing and you have to go on.
BRAD BROWN: As far as the build up to that first Ironman in Copenhagen, you talk about being in a good training environment, did you get help? Did you get a coach? You obviously had your training partner. What sort of help did you get along the way?
Passing up a Kona slot to gain more Ironman experience
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Actually the first couple of years I didn’t have a coach. I was more or less self-coached and I was a really good help for myself because I was studying Sports Science, which I still am. I knew a few things about good training and also I had my training partner who was in good form. He had a coach so I could just take a few tips from there. But as I said until 2016 it was mostly to have fun.
BRAD BROWN: Can you remember when you decided you wanted to take this thing seriously? That first Ironman, Copenhagen, results wise how did you go? Was it there that you decided you wanted to get good at this?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Yes, I was actually in the youngest age group, 18-24 and when we got off the bike in Copenhagen my training partner was something like 12 minutes ahead of me but I was number 2 off the bike in our age group.
Unfortunately he had to take a DNF and I took the first place and won my age group in Copenhagen in my first Ironman. That was quite a surprise. I got a Kona slot and at first said I didn’t want to take it but thought I might get a chance another year. I was still just a beginner and I don’t think it’s nice to go to Hawaii just as a beginner.
BRAD BROWN: So did you pass that first slot up and didn’t take it?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: No I didn’t take it.
BRAD BROWN: That’s a big decision to make. Nothing is certain, ever. And you’re never guaranteed of anything. Particularly when it comes to Kona slots. Was it a difficult decision to make?
Letting go of that Kona slot when it’s in your hands
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Yes, a little bit. As I said I was still just a beginner and I thought that if I was ever going to Kona, I would try to do well. Kona and Copenhagen is really close. It’s in late August so it’s pretty close to Kona and I thought I was just really tired and I would go for Kona another time. But it was kind of hard just having it between your hands and letting it go.
BRAD BROWN: Everyone remembers their first Ironman. Your first one, it obviously was a memorable one with winning your age group, but that finish in your first Ironman is very special.
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Yes indeed and Copenhagen is just fantastic. The audience is so big. It’s loud, it’s big and you can’t imagine how it is until you’ve tried it.
BRAD BROWN: And time wise, do you remember your splits and times in that first one?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: I think my swim was 1 hour and 30 seconds, something like that. Cycling was 4:42 I think, so a decent bike split and my running was 3 hours and 27 minutes.
BRAD BROWN: Your overall finish time?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: I think it was 9:13.
BRAD BROWN: Wow, that’s incredible for an Ironman debut, that’s phenomenal. And even like you say, Copenhagen is fast but still a 9:13 is nothing to scoff at. Was it after that race that you decided you want to get a Kona slot but you want to come back and do it the way you want to do it? What was the process after that first Ironman?
Get serious about Ironman training
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: When I talked with my training partner afterwards, in 2015 he was in Copenhagen where he had a DNF, he was going for a Kona slot which I actually got and did not take. So he asked me if I wanted to try because 2016 he would be in the 25-29 age group and I would be in the 18-24 age group. So we would be in different age groups the year after. And he asked me if I wanted to go to Frankfurt, the European Championships the year after.
We decided that was the place to do it and we would both go for Kona slots at the European Championships the year after, in 2016. So that was when we decided to do something serious about it.
BRAD BROWN: From a training perspective did you change much compared to that first Ironman? What are some of the things you changed? Knowing what you knew after finishing your first Ironman, you could go back and see what worked and what didn’t work. What were some of the changes that you made?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: From 2015 to 2016 I did a lot more training. A lot more focus training. I got a coach and just a lot more hours of training and attention to detail also.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me about that attention to detail. Explain that a bit more.
Attention to detail will boost your Ironman performance
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: I think that studying Sports Science is really helping me here. Something like fluid loss, sweat rate, energy intake and so on. If you just calculate all those things I think you’re off to a good Ironman because Ironman is a long day. Everything has to go your way to make it a good one. If you take all the things that you can actually control and have the attention to detail in those places, I think that you can really do well.
BRAD BROWN: You obviously experiment on a lot of things on yourself. You talk about the sweat rate and fluid loss. In training, do you test things all the time to get it better or have you figured out what works for you and you’re sticking to that?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: When it comes to sweat rate and fluid loss it was very much up to Hawaii last year. Me and my training partner, we did something like 4 to 5 hours on the turbo trainer with closed doors, and very hot. Then we would weigh in just before and after and calculate the sweat rate. The workouts were done at Ironman intensity.
BRAD BROWN: Do you think that’s been helpful to you? Would you suggest that everyone figures out what that is and try and get that dialled in?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: I wouldn’t recommend everybody to go 4 to 5 hours on a turbo trainer. But I think it’s a good idea that everyone races in hot environments, just to figure out if you are a light sweater or a heavy sweater.
Simulate heat conditions on a turbo trainer
It’s really a matter of finishing the race. If you are a heavy sweater I think you’re really going to mess yourself up on the bike already. There’s a big individual difference in sweat loss, so I can really recommend that.
BRAD BROWN: The European Championships and that race trying to qualify for Kona, did that go according to plan? Obviously you had set goals. Tell me a little bit about that race and how it went.
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Frankfurt being a really tough field in all the age groups, most of the participants going there are going to see if they achieve a good result in the European Championships. It’s really hard and there are about 2 spots in my age group so the plan was actually to finish in the top 2 or of course winning. But that’s not easy in the European Championships.
Based on earlier years, I figured out that I have to go under 9 hours which unfortunately didn’t work out for me. I went just over 9 hours on a course being just a little tougher and a little longer than Copenhagen the year before. I was not completely satisfied but I would like to go under 9 hours there.
BRAD BROWN: That’s an incredible goal. Then as far as Kona itself, Denmark conditions wise is very different to racing on the big island. You mention spending 4 to 5 hours on indoor trainers, closed doors, in the heat.
Were there other things you did to get yourself ready for those conditions? It’s one thing training for the distance but the conditions are vastly different to what you are used to all the time.
Preparing your body for Kona
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Yes. I think we did a lot of turbo trainer sessions leading up to Hawaii. My training partner also qualified at the European Championships. We had our last training going on up to Hawaii Ironman. We were very lucky that the Danish summer was very hot at the time that we were training.
Our running we could kind of simulate being hot conditions but a lot of turbo trainer sessions and sometimes swimming in wet suits. But you can only do so much when you are in Denmark. I think that going to Hawaii, minimum 10 days before was really crucial for us to get our bodies right before the race.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me a little bit about that moment when you step off the plane. Everyone talks about the way the heat hits you when you arrive in Kona. Was that surprising to you?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Yes, it was. We arrived late in the evening but it was still very hot and humid. It was kind of surprising but I think we knew what we were going to face. It was alright but it was really hot, nothing like Denmark.
BRAD BROWN: I’m sure. And then the experience of Kona itself is pretty special. If I say the word Kona what do you think of?
Kona – One week party for triathletes
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: It’s just a one week long party for triathletes. It’s so cool I think everyone interested in triathlon has to go to Kona someday. It’s just fantastic to see all the other people really fit and ready to go. It’s just amazing.
Also being a fan of the sport, looking at all the pros training around you when you go to the Kona Aquatic Centre. Jan Frodeno and Mirinda Carfrae; Jason Thomas and guys like that who is training in the lane beside you, that’s just amazing.
BRAD BROWN: Kristian, as far as the race itself goes; you had a pretty decent day out.
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Yes, I guess you can say that. The swim was not too much trouble. I swam something like 58 minutes, or just under an hour. There are a lot of guys swimming under an hour so there were a lot of guys in T1 when I came out.
It was really hectic so when I got on the bike I had to go to the red zone for a while to get rid of some of the other guys. There was a bit of drafting. You know when about 600 people come out of T1 at the same time you can’t really avoid that.
Stay with your plan and podium at Kona
So coming to the Queen K, I was trying to put the hammer down and get rid of some of those guys and find my own pace. Coming back from Hawi at the turning point, I was nearly starting to distance some of the others and I actually was number 1 in my age group when I came off the bike. But there are a couple of strong guys coming in behind me.
So, on the run I just decided to stick to my plan. I’m a bit of a slow, heavy runner. That’s not my strongest discipline. So sticking to my own plan and surviving till after the Energy Lab, the very hot Energy Lab was just crucial for me. I decided to really stick to my plan until I was done in the Energy Lab. With 10km’s to go I could just go from there.
BRAD BROWN: Finishing your first Ironman is pretty special but finishing Kona, that must be something else and we talk about your results. A podium, you must be pretty chuffed with that?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: I’m really happy with the results. I knew going to Kona wouldn’t be easy to be among the top participants but that was also part of the whole plan. So to qualify at the European Championships I knew that I would kind of be in the mix. But I didn’t even hope to come in the top 5 so when I was off the bike as the first guy in my age group, I was really satisfied. I got to the finish line as 2nd place in my age group and that was really just amazing.
The race after Ironman to get to McDonalds
BRAD BROWN: What do you do to unwind after a race like Kona, or another Ironman? Are you one to really let loose?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: In terms of parties or something like that?
BRAD BROWN: Yes, I’ve heard dancing is the best way to ease stiff legs after an Ironman.
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Actually me and my family, and my training partner with his family, we were all together. I think we won the race as being the fastest participants getting to McDonalds afterwards. Getting some real nasty food and relaxing.
We were actually planning a party in the evening but we were just dead tired and our family and friends were also dead tired. The days after were really good and really cosy. But the evening after Ironman we were just too tired to do anything.
BRAD BROWN: I’m sure. Kristian, looking at that 2nd place result, does that make you even hungrier to want to go back and win your age group?
Racing in the profield at Kona
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Yes. This year I thought that if I had to somehow find the next level for me I have to try and go a little faster on the run. I have to try and race more and if you’ve raced the full Ironman distance, it’s just a lot of long and slow training and a little less speed work.
Actually this year it’s just about half distance races. Yesterday I raced in the National Championship of the half distance in the lead of the profield. It was a really good experience for me. I think also comparing myself to the leader of the profield is really motivating for me right now. I don’t know if I will return to Kona right now or in the next couple of years. But definitely I want to go back to Kona someday.
BRAD BROWN: Do you want to go back as an age grouper or would you like to turn pro? I chat to a lot of age groupers, particularly in your age group, that 18-24 who perform well. I just look at the list of athletes that we’ve spoken to over the years and many of them have turned pro. Is that something that you would possibly like to do?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Yes of course I’m dreaming about going pro but I’m also realistic about it. I think if I turn pro, or when I turn pro one day, I think that I will be maybe not a top 10 contender in most pro races.
The key to get to Kona
So there’s a lot of work to do but it’s very motivating to race in a pro field and it’s also one of the things that can push me a little further. I think I will try to go pro if it makes sense but no matter what, I will stay in the sport because it’s an amazing sport.
BRAD BROWN: Kristian, then looking at qualifying for Kona. I get emails from athletes from all over the world that are, I don’t want to say they are marginal qualifiers but they do struggle. They’ve been racing for years and they’re desperate to get to Kona. What is the secret? What is the key to getting to Kona? Give us some advice.
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: That’s a tough question. I think you have to choose your qualifying race that suits you very well. And also I think that you have to work with your strategy and energy and fluid and all that. Everything just has to work if you’re going to qualify.
It’s very difficult to qualify if you have a bad day or if you can’t control something like energy and fluid.
Choose your qualifier based on your strength
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you say choose your races because you mentioned the 2 races where you essentially qualified, at Copenhagen and European Championships in Frankfurt, and they’re 2 very different races. What would you say, do you like the fast and flat or do you prefer the slightly harder ones?
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Being a stronger biker, I think for me it would be very good to choose a race where the bike leg is pretty tough and maybe a bit technical. Then I’ll maybe have a bit of an advantage on the strong runners. If you compare the strong runners on the bike then they are not that strong on the run.
A strong biker will always run decently afterwards and not lose too much on the run. I think the strong runners are less strong bikers. I think that they will suffer a lot on a hard bike course and then maybe lose more time than people like me could do.
BRAD BROWN: Well Kristian that was awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your journey with us here on The Kona Edge today. Much appreciated. I look forward to talking a little bit about your individual disciplines. The swim, bike, run and nutrition but we’ll save that for another day. Thanks for your time today.
KRISTIAN HINDKJAER: Thank you.