On this edition of The Kona Edge we briefly chat about what you’d like to get out of the Kona Edge Facebook group so please pop me a mail and let’s chat.
Today we head to a chilly Norway and meet Hans Christian Tungesvik who is a phenomenal athlete and Age Group World Champion. Is it because he has youth on his side? We chat to Hans Christian about the love affair he has with the triathlon scene. He shares his remarkable improvement of 1 hour, racing at Kona and how he plans to make more improvements on his performance.
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BRAD BROWN: Welcome back. I’m Brad Brown, this is The Kona Edge. Thank you so much for listening by the way, much, much appreciated. It’s great to have you on board.
The Kona Edge Facebook Group
Before we get into today’s podcast I’ve been throwing a couple of ideas around with regard to the direction we want to take with the podcast and I want to get some feedback from you, if that’s okay. We’ve got a Facebook page and we’ve got a Facebook group and if you know anything about Facebook and social media, Facebook in particular have really, I don’t want to say they’ve clamped down, but Facebook pages really aren’t getting the message out there as they used to. And if you have a Facebook page for your business or are involved in a business that has a Facebook page you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. They want you to pay to play, so to speak. Facebook groups on the other hand are getting a lot of engagement and we’ve got a small little Kona Edge Facebook group, but I’ve been thinking about possibly doing some stuff in that Facebook group and I’d love for you to get into the Facebook group. Come join me. I’m going to test a couple of things out and I’d love to know your thoughts.
One of the things is obviously Facebook live and I do lots of interviews with age groupers and I also do lots of interviews with pro-triathletes for my regular day job which is, if you don’t know, I’m a radio sports journo here in Cape Town, South Africa. So, I do lots of interviews with triathletes and I don’t mind doing more and I’m thinking of possibly streaming some of them into a live Facebook group, and if that’s something you would be interested in please pop me a mail, email@example.com. Also in the show notes to this episode I’m going to put the link to that Facebook group. If you wouldn’t mind, just head over if you’re not looking at the show notes. Go to thekonaedge.com/facebook. I’ll put a little redirect that’ll send you to that Facebook group. Get in there and let’s engage, let’s chat and find out what you would like to hear and what you would like to find out and what I can help you with cause that’s what ideally, I’d like to do, is grow this community by helping you and the only way I can figure out is if you tell me. Go check it out thekonaedge.com/facebook. Please go check it out and let’s get chatting.
Speaking of chatting, I am so chuffed to be able to welcome our next guest onto the podcast. He is an Ironman World Champion. He won his age group at Kona 2016. He is an absolute machine, his 2nd visit to Kona last year and a phenomenal improvement. So, we’re going to head to Norway right now to catch up with Hans Christian Tungesvik. Enjoy this, I love my chat with Hans Christian and I think you’re going to too.
BRAD BROWN: We head to Norway right now and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome our next guest onto The Kona Edge and it’s a fairly chilly Norway I might add as well, coming to you from a gorgeous Cape Town in South Africa. I have Hans Christian Tungesvik. Welcome onto The Kona Edge, thanks for joining us.
HANS CHRISTIAN: Thank you Brad. Thanks for having me, it’s really a pleasure.
BRAD BROWN: Hans Christian, Norway is not a, I mean in my mind, I wouldn’t think it’s a triathlon hotbed. Particularly because you guys have brutal winters but you seem to be producing great athletes up there. What are you guys doing?
Make Norseman a bucket list item
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, you’re right. We’re not maybe born here to do triathlon but the sport is growing here and we for sure have some great endurance athletes. Maybe more in the cross-country skiing area but yes, the sport is growing and we love the triathlon as well.
BRAD BROWN: Yes, I mean over the years, correct me if I’m wrong, but Norway’s probably been better known for cross-country skiing and more winter sort of sports, so triathlon wouldn’t in my mind be high up on the list. But like you say it is growing. What’s driving the growth of the sport in Norway do you think?
HANS CHRISTIAN: I think maybe the most important part is the guys between 30 and 50 who has, who wants something new in their life. They have been working for quite some years and want to challenge themselves. Of course, we have the quite well known extreme triathlon Norseman which is a really important motivator for the triathlon in Norway. So yes, we have some things to go for.
BRAD BROWN: Yes lets, before we get into your journey into the sport and Ironman and Kona, let’s talk about the Norseman. If people haven’t heard of it it’s definitely on my list, I want to do that thing. It looks crazy. It’s an incredible race. Tell us a little bit about it for someone who possibly hasn’t heard of the Norseman. I’ll put some links to you-tube videos, because if you watch those videos you’ll want to do this. I get gooseflesh just thinking about it. Tell us about the Norseman
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, it’s really one of the bucket list triathlons to do. It’s an Ironman distance, you start with a swim in one of the fjords in the western part of Norway. Usually about 12 to 14 Celsius, so it’s quite chilly. Then over the beautiful mountains of Norway, 4 or 5 really big climbs at total altitude of more than 3000m above sea level. So, yes, it’s really a tough one. And the marathon is first 25k flat and then 18k’s with a total of 1700m of altitude so, it’s quite tough.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about the first 25 flat. It’s the first 25 flat and the next just goes straight up. That’s pretty much the route profile. It’s incredible. I’ll put some links to videos. If you haven’t checked it out really, really do.
But let’s talk about you and how you got into the sport. Where did your journey into triathlon start Hans Christian?
Falling in love on the first encounter
HANS CHRISTIAN: Well, it started in 2013. I tried my first triathlon. Went to a local student sports club here in Trondheim where I’m a student. We swam in a lake at 140c. I was by far the worst swimmer. The only one without a wet suit so it was quite chilly but I got through it. A little bit better on the bike and the run. I finished and I had a really great time. I loved it and from that moment I was hooked.
BRAD BROWN: Growing up as a young child were you pretty sporty? I’m taking it you skied growing up but were you sporty? Did you partake in sort of organised sport as a child?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, like many other kids in Norway I did cross-country skiing. So, I was quite serious up until I was 19 years old when I had to stop because I had to go into the military. So, after that I wanted to try something new and then I tried triathlon and that was the thing for me.
BRAD BROWN: Did the bug bit straight away after that first one? Did you know this was it, this was what you were going to do?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, yes without a doubt. I had always dreamed of the Norseman some time before that but I hadn’t tried the triathlon myself so when I tried it I just felt that this was the thing to do. It was so cool.
BRAD BROWN: I find that interesting too. A lot of people will start out in the sport and think you know what, I’m going to do a sprint distance or I want to do an Olympic distance, but like you say you, before you even got into the sport, Norseman was sort of on your mind and it was something that you wanted to do. Have you always been attracted to the longer distance stuff? The endurance, not just in triathlon but with the cross-country skiing and that as well. Do you find you were better at the longer stuff?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, for sure. I really enjoyed the long competitions over a long period of time. As you said, by looking at the videos from that race it’s um, you really get the goosebumps and you want to try it. It’s just like the dream of finishing a race like that and also other long distance races that was the dream and when I tried that first sprint triathlon I was immediately thinking about the Ironman distance.
BRAD BROWN: How long did it take you to make the step up to an Ironman from that shorter one?
HANS CHRISTIAN It took about 2 years. So, the first year after I did the half Ironman then I tried the full distance.
BRAD BROWN: When did you realise you were pretty good at it?
Cracking a Kona slot in your 1st Ironman tells you something
HANS CHRISTIAN: It was actually in that first full distance. It was in Kalmar in Sweden, an Ironman event. A really nice race. I went there just to get the experience. To try the full distance for the first time and the plan was to come back one year later and really go for the Ironman Kona slot. But it went much better than I expected and I got the Kona slot on that first try so that was really, really cool. I knew that I had something going on in long distance triathlon.
BRAD BROWN: Did you know going into that first goal, were you aware of Kona? How much did you know about it? Was it, you were saying that you thought we going to do this and then next year we’ll come back, but were you well aware of what was at stake with Kona and what it meant in the sport?
HANS CHRISTIAN: I knew about it and of course I had checked the, I had the slot in the back of my mind but I thought it was impossible to do it the first time. So, I knew about it but I hadn’t really, the build-up for the big dream of Kona was not really there yet but I knew it and I knew I wanted to do it. So, it was really a big surprise when I got that slot.
BRAD BROWN: That first Ironman that you did in Kalmar, was it harder than you thought it was going to be, was it easier? Tell me about your first experience.
HANS CHRISTIAN: Well yes, of course I had some respect for the distance. I knew it was going to be hard and the result in itself was much better than I expected. So, in that way I can say it was easier but it was more or less like I expected. I knew it was going to be a long day, 9 or 10 hours but of course when I got the message from my support team that this might be going the way, it felt easier, but it was a great experience.
Triathlon is not a one man show
BRAD BROWN: Talk about the support team, and I mean for someone who’s done Ironman, it’s hard. It’s many hours on the road, on the bike, indoor trainers, in the pool. You need that support around you to get through it. Who’s in your corner? Who’s part of your support team?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Well, I have really a lot of support. My family, a couple of good friends that really support me along the way, so they mean a lot, they really mean everything so I can keep doing this. Both in daily training and also during the competitions. So, that support team is really, really important in long distance triathlon. So, it’s not a one man show.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about the growth of triathlon in Norway and that age bracket between 30 and 50. I think that’s very much a global thing. You’re still way off that, you’re still quite young. Is this going to be part of your life for pretty much as long as you can imagine? Or do you see yourself ticking off a couple of boxes and then going you know what, let’s move onto something else?
HANS CHRISTIAN: No, I think I’ve really fallen in love with the sport and I think I’m going to be doing it for almost the rest of my life. Maybe try some other things in between but I feel like it’s, now I am a triathlete. That’s going to be my main thing. Then maybe try some other things, mix it up a little bit during the years.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me a little bit about your training regime in Norway, particularly now, this time of the year. It’s not very conducive to be outside on a bike or running, you do have the cross-country skiing. But how do you keep yourself in tip top shape particularly when the weathers not good?
Indoor training delivers results in bad weather
HANS CHRISTIAN: Well, it’s easy to escape inside when the weather is how it is here right now. During the winter, it’s obviously a lot of swimming to improve that part and the bike quite a few hours on the trainer of course but I actually do quite a lot of cross country skiing during the winter so the bike goes away and the cross-country skiing is an alternative for that. The running is just, if you just get dressed properly it’s no problem running outside as well. And the tough sessions I do on the trainer of course as well.
BRAD BROWN: I know winters in Norway, there’s not much sunlight around either. It can get pretty dark. That’s not an issue for you?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, it is quite dark and at times it can be a little bit demoralising and hard to get up early in the morning and out late at night but we’re used to it. That’s how it is here and hasn’t been hard for as long as I’ve lived here so yes, it’s no problem.
BRAD BROWN: Do you think it’s a bit of an advantage? It makes you mentally tougher knowing you have to fight harder to get out of the bed in the morning? It’s not waking up and its blue skies and sunshine that you really have to work hard to get what you want?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, it’s really, that’s a good point actually because it’s not that easy to get out and get those good sessions in so maybe the guys up here from northern Norway are a little bit tougher mentally than the other guys. It’s actually shown quite a few times during the Norseman that really a lot of athletes that on paper are the strongest ones, they turn out to lose to the Norwegian guys who know the conditions and have been out a tough day before.
BRAD BROWN: I’m sure, I’m sure. Tell me a little bit about, sort of, the lessons that Ironman has taught you in your career. I mean you haven’t been around the sport that long but you must have had some times where things haven’t quite gone your way but what are some of the lessons you’ve learned from the sport?
Don’t give up – the trend will change
HANS CHRISTIAN: I think maybe the most important lesson is to never give up to things and when things go wrong and don’t go the way I want them to go, it’s just like keep up the work. The continuous, continuous work day in day out and the trend will change. It’s going to turn some time. So, even if it’s during competitions taking 1km after the other or in everyday life or during training it’s just like being patient. Doing and keeping up the good work and the results will come. That’s the most important thing I guess.
BRAD BROWN: What’s been your proudest achievement so far in the sport?
HANS CHRISTIAN: No doubt the victory in the age group in Kona 2016. That was beyond describable because I had never imagined that that was possible so it was the perfect day for me.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about that because you mentioned your first race in Sweden, in Kalmar going into that not expecting the chance to win a slot at Kona, and then going to Kona. Was it a case of you just wanted to go there and see how well you could do against the guys in your age group, or did you go in there going you know what, I want to be on the podium or I want to win the thing? How did you approach Kona in 2016?
Respect Kona and the conditions
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, so the Kalmar was in 2015 and then I got a slot to Kona 2015. So, I’d been to Kona the first time in 2015. It was just to enjoy the trip, enjoy the spectacular event and just be a part of it. I learned so much about the course, the climate, the crazy event that’s turning the whole Kona and the island upside down for that week so, that was more of a learning experience and it was so great to be there. So, then the race, I was happy with the result but I really wanted to do better so after that year I decided that I really wanted to go all in for the next year and I set myself what I thought was a quite tough goal with the top 5 in my age group.
BRAD BROWN: Looking at that first one, what went right, what went wrong? The lessons that you learnt out of that first one to come back and perform the way you did in 2016?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Well, the first, the biggest lesson was maybe to respect the conditions, and to try to use the conditions to your advantage if it’s possible. It’s something special in Kona and the wind and the heat and also to not get too eager during the course but to stay patient. Not attack too early but just find the rhythm, not go too hard. Those were the main things that I picked up from that first year and also of course just seeing the event and how big it is and how cool everything is when you’re there. It made me maybe not use that much energy as the next year.
BRAD BROWN: From a time perspective, what did your times look like difference wise between 2015and 2016? I know 2016 you did a 9:26:57 overall. From 2015 how did you improve? Tell us a little bit about the difference between the 2.
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, in total it was, I improved 1 hour in total, so it was quite a lot. The swim improved 10 minutes I think. And the bike was a little over 20 minutes, included I had one penalty the first year and the run was really strong this year. I improved with half an hour or so.
BRAD BROWN: That’s incredible. It’s one thing taking an hour off your Ironman time when you’re coming in between 13 and 14 hours, but when you’re doing sub-10’s, an hour is a huge, huge improvement.
Still room for improvement after a solid performance
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, I was crazy. Because the first year I was there I was actually quite happy with the results. It was a solid performance. Not top, top but I really had a goal of 9:45. I thought that was on a perfect day, that was what I could get out of it so yes, everything went straight. Perfectly after the plan and the plan was solid as well so it was really a great day.
BRAD BROWN: Yes, you couldn’t ask for better. How do you, now that you’ve had that perfect day, 9:26:57, how do you go back and improve that? Is it a case of there’s gains to be made still? You feel you can go faster?
HANS CHRISTIAN: I still feel I can go faster because I’m quite new to the sport and there’s still room for improvement on training loads and technique and on every single aspect of the sport I can still pick some seconds and minutes so it’s really not that difficult to find places to improve. That’s the beauty of the sport as well, there are so many aspects that can be better.
BRAD BROWN: It’s one of those things too, you talk about the perfect race. But let’s be honest there’s no such thing as a perfect Ironman race because it’s so long. There’s always something, like you say, there’s always something you feel you can do better.
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes of course.
BRAD BROWN: Unfortunately, I should say.
HANS CHRISTIAN: Unfortunately, yes. With that, in that shape that I was in that day, or in that period of time, I think it was the perfect race. Everything else was going according to plan but of course you can always improve your shape. You can get better but with those circumstances, it was a great thing.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about preparing for Kona, particularly coming from Norway because if I think Kona, I think hot, humid, windy. I think Norway, I think almost the complete opposite. I think cold, snow, it’s very, very different. How have you adapted to the change in climate and conditions?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, I was quite surprised myself, even the first time, that I handled the heat and the humidity relatively well. It wasn’t that big a problem. This year I arrived 9 days before the race so good time to adapt to the climate and also the 12-hour time zone change. To then get the feel of the heat and humidity and also I got some tough sessions in, in those conditions, that’s important I think. But it’s also possible to do some preparations at home. Stay in the sauna, do some trainer sessions with a lot of clothes on so you can always make it hot when it’s cold outside.
BRAD BROWN: I’m sure, I’m sure. Christian, let’s talk about advice you would give to someone who’s possibly thinking about getting into the sport and maybe have just got in the sport and maybe have done the odd sprint and want to go on and do a couple of long ones. What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out.
Go for the whole triathlon experience
HANS CHRISTIAN: Well I really, it’s just like you have to throw yourself out there and just try it. Start with an Olympic distance or a 70.3 and do the big events. The Ironman events, or the challenge or something like that because it’s in addition to the race you get an atmosphere and you get the whole package. The whole experience of triathlon. It’s not only about the race and the result but it’s all the people inside the sport. It’s all the people who are supporters and come watch. It’s the finishers, it’s the spectators, it’s everything. So, you really should go to one of those big events because that’s what gets you hooked.
BRAD BROWN: What do you think makes it so special? Just hearing you talk about the event and the experience of what it is, yes, it’s tough to do an Ironman, it’s a long day out for the athlete, but you rightly say there’s the atmosphere, the spectators and just the event itself. What do you think it is that makes an Ironman or a challenge event, particularly the Iron distance triathlon, special?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Well, it’s a tough question. I think they really do a lot of right things. They make you feel a part of something and it’s not about only yourself and your performance. First of all, you need to have some supporters. Someone behind you. It’s a team effort. And also when you’re out there competing with the other athletes you feel like you’re a part of something together as well. Everyone helps each other when someone has a problem or anything. It’s in addition to the competition aspect of it, it’s really a team effort. That’s what I like the most about it.
BRAD BROWN: You’re obviously goal driven. You almost go into every race, I get the feeling, with an outcome you would like to achieve. You’re an Ironman age group World Champion. What’s there still left to achieve in the sport, for you?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Well as I mentioned I always dreamed about the Norseman, I competed there this year as well, so for the upcoming season that’s the main goal. I want to be on top there some day. That’s one of my biggest dreams and I think if things go well it’s still possible to go pro so that’s going to be the next step if things go as I hope.
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you talk about going pro because that’s one thing with an Iron distance. It’s not like a, I think of a tennis or a football where in your teens you’re looking and those are the guys and girls who turn professional. In this sport you sort of get better with age. It’s like a good wine I think and there’s still lots of time for you to decide if that’s the way you going to go.
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, that’s right, that’s right. The best guys in the sport are maybe 35, around that. So, I still have 10 years to go until that so I have a lot of time to get on that level if I want to do that. So yes, that’s the good thing about starting early and it’s a sport you can enjoy for a lot of years. What’s the oldest age groups in Kona, 80 years or something? It’s incredible, It’s so cool.
BRAD BROWN: How inspiring is that? You talk about 35 and how tough it is there. I’m quite excited that I’ve just moved out of that 35 to 39 age group but the 40 to 45 is just as competitive and like you say, you look at the guys in their 60’s, 70’s and now 80’s doing Ironman, it’s crazy what the human body can do.
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, it’s really crazy as you say. It’s just you get better and better almost the older you get. I think with my time in Kona this year, I have to be like 50 or 55 to win the age group again. So, all those guys in between they are completely crazy. So, that’s also a really cool aspect of the sport.
BRAD BROWN: Yes, I’m getting worried because my strategy was to outlive everyone in my age group and I don’t know if I’m going to make it to 80, I’m afraid.
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, you still have some years to go then.
BRAD BROWN: It’s a long way to go. Let’s talk about the sort of gains and how you look at it scientifically. You obviously made big gains from 2015 Kona to 2016 Kona. How do you analyse where you can get improvement so that you decide you know what I’m going to spend time focussing on that?
HANS CHRISTIAN: It’s of course a lot about what of the disciplines I have done most of in recent years. Swimming I never did before I started 3 to 4 years ago, so I still have a lot of things to improve in the swim but that goes for the others as well because as we talked about you can always improve and just look at the best runners out there. They run ridiculously fast in relation to my speed. And also the bikers, so there’s always things you can improve. It’s the technique, it’s the endurance, it’s the strength, it’s everything. So, for this season I try to improve everything.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about the plans for this upcoming season. You obviously coming out of a long winter now. You mentioned the Norseman. What are the plans for other races? Are you hoping to get back to Kona in 2017?
What do you choose – a real job or turning pro?
HANS CHRISTIAN: I don’t think so. My main focus is the Norseman, then I’m doing a full distance in Venice in June and also the half distance Ironman event in Norway in Haugersen in July. So, those are for now the main events that I’m going to participate in and then we’ll see. I have a slot for Kona 2017 but the student economy doesn’t allow trips for Hawaii once in a while so we’ll see about that. Maybe someone knocks on my door with some money and then I’ll go.
BRAD BROWN: I love that. Let’s talk about what you do. You mentioned you’re a student and a lot of people think gee that’s amazing, you get to train all day; but you’ve obviously got a pretty busy studying schedule as well. What’s the plan career wise? I know you mentioned possibly turning pro but what’s the plan if that doesn’t happen?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Yes, I’m writing my master thesis right now on mechanical engineering so that’s what I do in addition to training these days. So, I’m finishing this summer according to plan so if I’m not going pro then I’ll start working in the industry, so we’ll see. Hopefully I get some good results before then and then I can make the right decision.
BRAD BROWN: I was going to say what’s going to be worse, getting a real job or turning pro?
HANS CHRISTIAN: Getting a real job.
BRAD BROWN: I love it. Hans Christian, thank you so much for joining us here on The Kona Edge today. Much appreciated. I look forward to getting you back on to talk a little bit about the individual disciplines and how you’ve improved those but yes, I loved sharing your story and thanks for joining us.
HANS CHRISTIAN: Thank you so much.