Trust your strengths and race smarter – The Lars Petter Stormo Ironman Story
He’s a full-time Engineer. He works, just like you and I for a living, but he is a monster when it comes to triathlon. Plus he’s got a pretty cool Ironman story to share.
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This is The Kona Edge, I’m Brad Brown and what a pleasure to introduce our next guest to you. You may recall a few weeks ago, here on The Kona Edge we caught up with Hans Christian Tungesvik. Hans Christian was the first Norwegian that we had spoken to here on the podcast. He mentioned a race in Norway called The Norseman.
The Norseman is an iconic race in Scandinavia and it is fast becoming iconic on the global triathlon scene. It is brutal. It is magnificently beautiful. Just stunning. If you haven’t seen the videos for that yet do yourself a favour and go check them out.
We have got the defending Norseman champion on today’s podcast. He’s a full-time Engineer. He works like you and I for a living, but he is a monster when it comes to triathlon. On top of that he’s got a pretty cool Ironman story to share as well. So, that’s who we’ve got on the podcast today.
But don’t forget as well if you are enjoying the podcast we’d love it if you left us a review or a rating on iTunes.
I know I keep asking and many of you have left reviews and ratings, but what it does is it just helps us get in front of more triathletes around the globe just like you. If you’ve got any value out of these podcasts it’s just something that you can do that will help us immensely and all you have to do is just leave a review or rating.
It doesn’t take that long, just a couple of minutes and it helps us out like you have no idea. And also, we sweeten the pot a bit, if you’d like to win yourself an entry into an Ironman, we’re giving away another one this year. All you have to do is head over to thekonaedge.com/win all the instructions are there. It does include leaving us a review on iTunes but you can enter that contest there right now. That’s thekonaedge.com/win. Let’s get straight into today’s interview.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto this edition of The Kona Edge and we head to Norway once again, and I hate to say it but it’s a chilly Norway. A gorgeous Cape Town in South Africa where I am and it’s a great pleasure to welcome onto the podcast today Lars Petter Stormo. Lars Petter welcome, thanks for joining us today.
LARS PETTER: Thank you so much. Thank you. I envy your weather down there.
Cross training is great Ironman training
BRAD BROWN: I’m sure, but you did say to me before we started recording that you haven’t had much snow which is terrible. Obviously, you’ve grown up like that and the way you like the winters, I’m taking it’s been a, how do I say, a mild one cause it’s cold anyway, but lots of snow means you get to go out and do lots of cross-country skiing, correct.
LARS PETTER: Yea, that’s what we normally do. This winter’s been just a few centimetres on and off, and nothing’s fun. No cross-country skiing, no running outside, poor biking, but we’re getting there.
BRAD BROWN: One of those things. Lars Petto tell me a little bit about you. As a person growing up were you pretty sporty? What’s your sporting pedigree background, where do you come from?
LARS PETTER: I started, as a kid, I did everything. But then when I was 13 I started mountain biking and that was what I did. I was on the national team for mountain biking for Norway, from 1996 to 2002 and competed a lot in Europe and US. Got pretty good results but it’s not easy living like a mountain biker so after a couple of years just mountain biking, I started to study and then I took 5 years to get my master’s degree in Construction Engineering and after that I was just working 100% and did a lot of other things. I still did a lot of mountain biking but it was more cross-country skiing, running, and then started doing triathlon then, and some in 2007.
BRAD BROWN: As far as the mountain biking goes, was it cross country, what was your main discipline? What were you good at?
Mountain biking is a hard living
LARS PETTER: Yea it was cross country. The Olympic discipline. That was before it became Olympic. I was pretty good, I was number 6 in Europe. It was good but it’s hard living like a mountain biker.
BRAD BROWN: Hard living in what way? Tell me a little bit about what made it tough?
LARS PETTER: It’s the financial part I had kind parents that supported me but you don’t earn a lot of money even if you are among the best mountain bikers in Norway, you don’t earn a lot of money. So, I figured out after a couple of years that I had to start my studies.
BRAD BROWN: Mountain biking is an interesting thing. The sports grown a lot, it’s going through a massive growth spree at the moment. Do you almost feel you were 10 or 15 years too soon when it came, if you were born 10 or 15 years later you might have had it slightly differently?
LARS PETTER: Yea probably. But then again, I’ll have missed out on the triathlon wave that’s going on now and taking part in that. But it was fun while it lasted and I got some good results and I’m happy with it.
BRAD BROWN: Do you find now with the triathlon that you can almost, if you had any unfinished business with the mountain biking, you can almost do that in triathlon now that it gives you the opportunity to compete at a high level even though it’s a different sport?
LARS PETTER: Yea, I always liked competing. I didn’t quit mountain biking because I was tired of the sport or I was tired of competing, I didn’t see any future in mountain biking so now, I love competing and that’s what the age group competing in triathlon is all about and then you can compete at more or less the same level. So, I think it’s very much fun.
BRAD BROWN: Mountain biking, is it still part of your training regime now? Do you still ride much?
LARS PETTER: Yea, especially now when we have bad winters. It’s a lot of riding mountain biking with studded tyres on the ice, so I do still train some mountain biking, but not competing that much. Probably 2 or 3 races a year.
BRAD BROWN: Did you take a bit of a break, from the competitive stuff? You mentioned that you decided from a financial point of view, mountain biking there’s no future there, you went and studied. Were you still training and competing as a student or did you take a bit of a break and then come back?
LARS PETTER: No, I actually still competed. It didn’t bother me that I stepped down a little, I was still competing some, but then it was more competitions in running and cross-country skiing. And my level in biking has just gone down since 2002 so in all the sports I’m still progressing and that’s more fun, so then I competed more in other sports.
BRAD BROWN: Have you always been competitive? Did you have brothers and sisters growing up? Where did this competitive spirit in you come from?
LARS PETTER: Yea, my big brother was the one who started mountain biking, so then I had to join as well. So, we have always competed and I just love the aspect of competitions. I love the tactical parts. Where to attack and when to stay calm, that kind of stuff. I love it.
BRAD BROWN: Between yourself and your brother, who’s the better mountain biker?
LARS PETTER: Now or then?
BRAD BROWN: It’s supposed to be you all the time, Lars Petter.
LARS PETTER: I caught him. He was 3 years older so it took some years but then we were pretty much on the same level on the national team together. But then after he stopped the mountain biking he hasn’t been that active as I have, so now I guess I’m a bit better.
BRAD BROWN: Awesome. Tell me about how the triathlon bug came about and how you discovered that. Talk to me about how that came and got onto your radar.
Winning your first triathlon is a mental state of mind
LARS PETTER: It was actually my best friend, who in 2006 he competed in the Norseman Extreme Triathlon. It was really small back then and I hadn’t heard of it before.
So, then he competed and he came 2nd and I thought maybe I should try the Norseman. I did it in 2007 and I won it. So, that was a cool start. And I did one other triathlon that year as well, that was the National Championships in the long-distance triathlon and I came 2nd in Norway Championships in Norway then.
So, it was a good start. But then there was, the Norseman is really hard especially mentally, so after 1 year I needed to go back to mountain biking and it took 5 years before I again did a triathlon, that was in 2012 and then again it was Norseman. So, that has been my main entrance to the competition because that’s so big in Norway.
BRAD BROWN: We funnily enough, we spoke about the Norseman here on The Kona Edge. We had one of your countrymen on and he was talking about it. It’s a phenomenal race and as you say it’s big in Norway. It’s starting to gain international fame. More and more internationals are trying to get entries. It’s just an incredible, incredible race, isn’t it?
LARS PETTER: Yea, it’s awesome. The last couple of years it’s been more foreign applicants to get a slot than Norwegians so it’s crazy how big it has become and of course for Norwegians, that’s a big thing. If you’re doing triathlon, everyone asks have you done the Norseman.
BRAD BROWN: You’re not a real triathlete unless you’ve done the Norseman.
LARS PETTER: Pretty much so in Norway. You know it’s like Blummenfeldt who’s doing amazing in the Olympic distance. Still a lot of the older people, they’re just doing it for fun, they look at Norseman as the big deal.
BRAD BROWN: You mention how tough it is mentally. It’s physically tough, there’s no two ways about it either. Physically it’s probably one of the hardest around just because of how it finishes. The run starts, the first half is flat and then you just go straight up. Mentally, how do you prepare for something that hard?
LARS PETTER: You have to prepare yourself really well because you know you are going to be in a lot of pain for a really long period of time. And it’s going to get freezing cold because you get all kinds of weather and you will get cold and you will be in a lot of pain.
I know physically the run part is hard but I personally would think that I feel a flat Ironman marathon is harder on the legs. The last climb on Norseman is really a mental part. The guy who’s the strongest mentally and who has done the nutrition part good, he will do well on the last climb. So, it’s more of a mental part the last 2 or 3 hours than in a normal Ironman.
BRAD BROWN: As much as the conditions on race day are very different between the Norseman and Kona, do you think the mental preparation of having performed well at Norseman, prepared you for what was to come in Kona?
LARS PETTER: Yea, kind of. But then again, I messed it up a little bit in Kona so I wasn’t that well prepared. But the hard weather conditions, of course that’s something you have to be mentally prepared for. Also, the hard course because the Kona course is also much harder than I had thought it would be.
Train in hotter climates to be comfortable in Kona
BRAD BROWN: And the weather on the big island, was that something that really troubled you? You come from Norway, where it does get brutally cold. The heat and humidity at Ironman Kona is almost the total opposite of what you’re used to.
LARS PETTER: Yea it is, but then again, I spend a lot of time on Mallorca island training. In the summer, it can get 35 to 40 degrees Celsius there. I like training in the heat so that’s not a big issue. I can handle the different kind of weather pretty good. That was kind of okay at Ironman Kona as well. I didn’t feel that it was that hot. I’d have to be there a couple of weeks to get used to it. The first week it felt very hot.
BRAD BROWN: Which one’s harder, Norseman or Kona?
LARS PETTER: Kona. I would think. Because I’ve done the Norseman so many times now and I know that race and know how to prepare so for me it’s not that hard anymore. But again, for a guy that’s coming from a warm climate, Norseman is extremely hot.
BRAD BROWN: Lars Petto, looking at Norseman and the iconic status that it has in Norway, when did Kona become something that you decided you wanted to chase? Was it early on in your triathlon career?
LARS PETTER: No because at the start of my career it was just small races in Norway and the Norseman. So, it was first in 2015 I did my first Ironman and I did a couple of 70.3 and also I won my age group there so that was a lot of fun and then I qualified for the World Championship in [inaudible], and then last year, in 2016 was the first time I did my full distance Ironman, or my full distance fat Ironman at all, in Nice. So, it was my first year last year, that I thought Kona could be a cool thing to do.
BRAD BROWN: You mention Nice, that is one of THE toughest Ironmans to do, particularly the bike. It’s very, very hard. And coming from a mountain bike background you’ve obviously got to play to your strengths and you’re used to hard bike courses and suffering. Is that the way you choose races? You go, let’s look at the calendar and look what’s got the hardest bike, let’s go do that one?
Use your bike handling skills to gain the advantage
LARS PETTER: A little of both, because both me and my wife wanted to qualify for Kona and that’s why we picked Nice. Both because it’s a hard bike course and also because it’s a beautiful course. It’s a really nice place to compete. It was a bit of both but the good background from biking helped me both in the climbs and mainly in the descents. Because my mountain bike background makes me a good bike handler and some, or most, triathletes aren’t, so I can gain a lot of time in the downhills.
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you say that because that course in Nice, particularly I think it’s the last 30 k’s, is quite a technical descent back into transition. You must have been able to make up a lot of time there.
LARS PETTER: Yea, more time there than in the uphill’s, it doesn’t cost me any strength so I’m gaining time without using any energy on it. It suits me well.
BRAD BROWN: You want to try and find a mountain bike course that’s 180 k’s of that descent.
LARS PETTER: Yea, that would be nice, good fun.
BRAD BROWN: I’ll put money on you to win it. You’ll definitely win it. There’s no two ways about it. Lars, let’s talk about the preparation for Kona as opposed to something like Nice or Norseman, as an example. Nice, obviously the time of the year it can get quite warm as well, but did you do anything different in the build up to Kona than you would normally?
Rewriting your Ironman story for Kona
LARS PETTER: I tuned in to my gear quite a lot. I normally use a black suit in the racing for my bike suit, and I had changed that for a white one that had more aerodynamic materials and also was good in the heat. And I also tuned in my bike a little bit because the setup was for Norseman and Norseman has a lot of climbing.
I lowered my handlebars a bit and I used some time to get into the new position because I knew in Kona it’s all about aerodynamics, a little bit different from Norseman. So, I used some time for that. And also, the nutrition part I had to work on because in Norseman we have support that can give us nutrition all the time. But in Kona you are more self-sufficient. That was also something I had to prepare for.
BRAD BROWN: You said you didn’t have the best of Kona experiences and the race didn’t quite go according to plan. Tell me a little bit about your race, what happened?
Being too eager on the bike can blow your run
LARS PETTER: It was actually a really good day for me. The swim was very good. I was on 58 minutes and that was good for me.
Then on the Ironman Kona bike I felt super strong. Maybe a little bit too strong. I felt to avoid drafting I had to go really hard the first hour to get past the big groups. I didn’t want to get stuck behind and risk getting a penalty.
The first hour on the bike was too hard even if it felt pretty easy. Looking at my splits, I was about a minute faster than Frodeno for the first 50kms. I guess that was a little bit too fast but it felt good. All the bike felt pretty good actually. The last 20 k’s was hard because we got a head wind.
My plan was to take it easy the last 20 km’s but that’s hard when I got that head wind. After the bike I hoped to get under 9 hours. In the end when I was finished with the bike I was well ahead of my plan.
But then I guess I was too eager. It went so well that I was too eager to get the top age group overall and I started the first 10 k’s on Alii Drive too fast. Ran too fast and I hit the wall when I got to Queen K and then it was all over for the first time.
Then I took some time and drank a lot of coke and gathered myself again. So, then I had a really hard time back on Queen K, so I blew up on the run.
Mental aspects in your Ironman Story
BRAD BROWN: Onto the mental side of things. You mentioned the mental side of the Norseman, did that come into play on race day? Do you think that helped you having that background?
LARS PETTER: Yea, I think so. I’m usually pretty good just sticking to my own plan. Just doing what intensity I’m going to ride on and the intensity I’m going to run on. But then again at Ironman Kona I was, after a good result at Ironman Nice, I knew I could win my age group. If I had a good day and I got focused on that when I went out on the run.
So, I should have just kept to my plan and run the pace I was supposed to run. Instead of chasing the first position. So I guess that was my biggest mistake that I forgot to focus just on myself. I focused on the result.
BRAD BROWN: Looking back at it now, what would you have done differently? Now that you’ve analysed the race, how would you have changed it on race day?
Hold back and be patient when writing your Ironman story
LARS PETTER: I would have been more patient. Especially a little bit more patient on the bike. Particularly the first 100km. Then again, it’s hard when you get the big groups and you have to get past them. Just passing one big group can take 10 minutes. That’s something you have to take during the competition, how you will pace yourself during the bike.
Then especially the first 10 to 15k on the run I should have been much more patient. Probably should have run a 4:20 per kilometre instead of below 4 minutes per kilometre as I did.
BRAD BROWN: The big groups at Ironman Kona 2016. That was one of the talking points that came out of the race. There were lots of photos doing the rounds of big groups. Unfortunately it is something that the organisers need to deal with. Is it possible to fix it, as a race organiser what do you do?
LARS PETTER: Brad actually I think that corner had the big drafting issues. The big issue is that the level is so high that the groups get really big. On Queen K you have these reflectors on the side of the road. The distance between those reflectors are the drafting distance. It’s very easy to keep your distance. I felt like the groups also were good at keeping distance.
Personally I didn’t think it was a big drafting issue. Of course, there are always some that draft but that was the big issue. When everyone is keeping the correct distance, there is no way you can get into a group. If you are passing, you have to pass the whole group. That was the hardest part. When there are 50 guys in one line and there’s no room to get in. You have to pass the whole group and that costs a lot of energy.
If you can’t win fair there’s no point racing
BRAD BROWN: Yea it is a tough one. One of the other things that’s popping up in the sport is doping. I know it’s plagued cycling for a long, long time is the doping issue. Lars Petter, what’s your take on doping? Look at people who draft, you’re always going to get it. That’s the sad thing. It’s the same with doping. It’s something that the sport just can’t have. What’s your thought when it comes to doping and cheating in the sport?
LARS PETTER: Cheating is always a hopeless thing. I’ve never understood it cause if you can’t win fair ,there’s no point in racing at all. It’s the same in drafting, you see the guys that try to use every possibility to get something for free. That’s wrong. Of course, you can have an accident and get too close and get a penalty. That’s part of the game. But if you do it on purpose I think it’s a no-go and the same with doping. I don’t understand, especially the age group guys who do it, that’s just silly.
BRAD BROWN: Do you think they need to test more in the age groupers? Is it something that they’re not testing enough?
LARS PETTER: I don’t know how much they are testing. At Ironman Kona I was tested and a couple of other age groupers too. That was good that they are there. It adds to my Ironman story. They were picking up random tests when we are registering. Of course if it’s becoming more of a problem. They have to test much more.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned the race didn’t go quite according to plan. You are very competitive, I’m guessing you feel there’s unfinished business on the big island?
LARS PETTER: Yip. I’m trying to get back there this year. I’m loving it. I learned a lot so I hope I can race much smarter if I get back there this year.
BRAD BROWN: From a preparation perspective, do you feel you did everything you could. Was it was just down to execution on race day?
LARS PETTER: Yea, I was very well prepared. I felt I did everything as planned and everything worked out as I had hoped. It was just my head that screwed up the whole thing. I have to be much smarter.
BRAD BROWN: How frustrating is it that it was a race like Ironman Kona and particularly an Ironman. You don’t get lots of opportunities to race big races like that. In order to fix that problem, you’ve got to wait. You can’t go back a week later and try it again.
LARS PETTER: But Kona last year was a bit of a bonus for me. My main goal last year was to win the Norseman. Which I did. I was happy with the season. Ironman went well and I was hoping for a good result at Ionman Kona. I’m happy that my preparation’s all good and I’m in good shape. If I get back there I know much more now. I’m much smarter. So you just learn from everything and that’s just part of the game. It all adds to your Ironman story.
BRAD BROWN: If you could go back and start your Ironman career over, what would you tell yourself? What would you do differently? Is there anything you’d do differently?
Focus on your plan not your result
LARS PETTER: I would start to swim when I was a kid. That’s the hardest part of coming from a different background. Starting to swim from scratch takes a lot of time. I guess just to start swimming early is the main thing. I have lost out by doing something else for so many years.
BRAD BROWN: So as a parent, if you want your kids to become really good triathletes, get them swimming. They have got to get them in the water before they can walk.
LARS PETTER: Yes. If you learn to swim correctly when you’re a kid you gain from that your whole life. You can learn to run and bike, but the swimming takes time. It is best to learn to swim when you’re young.
BRAD BROWN: There’s lots of new triathletes that listen to The Kona Edge. They’re thinking of doing their first Ironman or are training to do their first Ironman. You are very experienced. You’ve done multiple Ironman distance races. What advice would you give to someone who is starting to write their Ironman story?
Stick to your plan and race smart
LARS PETTER: Train smart and don’t listen to everyone. Just pick out some advice and go for that. Learn to know yourself and your strengths and your weaknesses and just trust yourself. Make a plan for each race and just stick to the plan. Be the star of your own Ironman story.
You can’t do anything about the competitors, you have to just trust yourself. Especially when it comes to the nutrition and the intensity on the bike and the run. You have to have a plan and stick to the plan.
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting that first point that you made about finding someone who can help you. I think finding help is very important. Finding one person that you can buy in to their philosophy. Make that one person part of your Ironman story.
In the day and age we live in, with the internet, there’s just so much information out there. A lot of people make that mistake. They pick and choose pieces. They take something here that they like, something there that they like and that doesn’t necessarily work. You’ve got to sell out to one person and give it a bash that way.
LARS PETTER: Yip. I think the one’s especially using the internet forums. There are a lot of good ideas but you have to be realistic. You can’t try everything at once. One year you can try one thing. If you don’t feel that it works for you, tweak it a bit but don’t try it all. Give one program a shot before you put everything else in it.
BRAD BROWN: I like to think of it as a buffet. When you eat at a buffet there’s lots of different things. You don’t put everything on your plate, you take what you like and try that. So, I think that’s some great advice. You also mentioned that your wife is a fairly competitive triathlete. What’s it like living with another Type-A personality who also races hard?
Write your own Ironman story by racing with your spouse
LARS PETTER: I think I couldn’t have done what I do if my wife didn’t do the same thing. We have the same interests and we do the same races. I think we do 80 or 90% of our training together. That’s a good thing. It wouldn’t have worked because that’s what we do in our spare time. We train or compete. That is just part of our Ironman story.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me a little bit about her and her exploits. In order to train with you she must be pretty good too.
LARS PETTER: Yea, she’s pretty good. She was 7th in the Norseman Extreme Triathlon last year. She also finished 4th in Ironman Nice. So, she’s very good and she’s hoping to do Ironman Kona as well.
For women it’s so hard to get the slots because there are so few slots in their categories. It is a bit sad because there are very good women out there. They deserve to get more slots to Ironman Kona. They have to pick their races more carefully than the guys do. Sometimes we have a lot of slots but they have only 2 or 3.
BRAD BROWN: Who are some of the athletes that you look up to and aspire to be like? Who’s Ironman stroy really inspires you?
LARS PETTER: I haven’t been in the circuit that long so I don’t know that many. It’s really inspiring to look at Kienle, who’s a great biker and puts his heart on the line every time. Of course Frodeno and Daniela Ryf. They are true champions. Actually, the thing that Daniela Ryf does is amazing. She’s so strong and it’s hard to believe the times that she puts in. Her Ironman story is fantastic.
BRAD BROWN: Yes, she’s a machine, there’s no two ways about it, absolutely. What’s next on the cards for Lars Petto Stormo.
LARS PETTER: Now we’re going to Ironman South Africa. We’re hoping to secure an Ironman Kona slot there. After that we’re doing the Ironman 70.3 Mallorca. We do that almost every year because it’s a great venue and a great race. Then it is off to Ironman Austria in Klagenfurt. That’s a fast course so I hope to set a good time there.
All that is followed again by the Norseman in August. If all goes according to plan, hopefully Ironman Kona in Hawaii in October. So, it’s a long season and a lot of long distance races.
BRAD BROWN: Yes, it’s interesting. You talk about a long season and lots of races. How many do you think you can physically do and be your best at? It’s easy to go and race lots but you want to be at a certain level. What do you think is the right number for you?
Long seasons with lots of racing make for a great Ironman story
LARS PETTER: I think I can do 3 maybe 4 big races and do well in all of them. This year, Ironman Austria and Norseman are a bit tight. I’m hoping to do well in Austria at the start of July. One month later I have the Norseman. I hope to cruise on the shape that I get from Austria into Norseman. Those 2 are a bit too close together that I can’t peak in both of them.
BRAD BROWN: Obviously a very busy travel schedule as well. Tell me what you do for a living and how you fund this triathlon addiction of yours. Where does the money come from to write this Ironman story?
LARS PETTER: I work full time as a construction engineer so all our vacations goes to these races. If we go to Hawaii we have to take some holiday free without pay. We don’t have that much vacation but it’s so much fun. We get so many experiences from the racing abroad.
It’s just something that we love to do. Of course we have sponsors in all the sports in Norway that support us. That help a lot as well.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely. Well Lars Petter thank you so much for sharing your Ironman story on The Kona Edge today. Looking forward to getting you back to talk about your Ironman swim. bike run and your nutrition. Thanks for your time.
LARS PETTER: Yea, perfect, thank you.
Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).
Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.
He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.
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