Decorated long-distance triathlete Sebastian Kienle gives an inside look at what it takes to be an Ironman. From preparation to race day, it’s a life spent enduring gruelling trials, but every small success makes the arduous journey worth it.
IRONMAN World Champion! The man in the focus right now!
SEBASTIAN: My name is Sebastian Kienle. I am the IRONMAN World Champion 2014. I want to have this title back!
NARRATOR: The Ironman World Championship Hawaii. It is the greatest endurance race on planet earth! A 2.4-mile swim in Kona harbour. The bike track, crossing the lava fields. It’s a 26-mile run. No man ever did it in less than eight hours.
SEBASTIAN: You seem to run against this wall of humidity and heat. It’s raining pretty much every day in Kona. Sometimes I guess the drops don’t even reach the ground. They just turn to steam before that. You have this idea of yourself running and kind of flying, you know, and there you are not flying. You’re not flying. In the race, you are sometimes crawling. You think you are super fit. You did all those crazy sessions before you go there and then you arrive there and your heart rate is, like, ten beats up at the same pace. Ten, 15 seconds slower per K.
The bike is definitely my strongest discipline and I just love the speed on the bike. It’s amazing how fast humans can go just by their own power. It just seems like the right amount of speed you need to cover a big distance, a big area, but it’s still slow enough to be able to look around and inhale the atmosphere of the place. I guess that’s why a lot of people ride their bikes, right? Even if they are not able to win IRONMAN Hawaii.
I’m a strong biker, I have definitely some talent with biking, but I take progress in biking for a given, you know. It gives you so much when you make this little progress. It’s just very rewarding when you have to work very hard for a very small progress and you finally make this progress.
Swimming is definitely not my strongest discipline and I have to invest a lot of time.
Kienle’s coach, Lubos
SEBASTIAN: Lubos is always with me the whole time. We spend pretty much six weeks there, prior to the race. It definitely takes a lot of trust in each other. Lubos is not only my coach, but he has to be the psychologist and friend and everything in one person.
SEBASTIAN: It’s a pretty intense time there. It has some really, really tough days where you doubt everything. Lubos is pretty good in shifting these roles as a friend and as a coach. He has no mercy when it comes to hard training sessions.
SEBASTIAN: He also knows me well enough to see when it’s too much and that’s very important because at a certain point you lose the feeling of how hard you have to go and how hard is too hard. So, you need somebody that is able to realize what the limit is and we are working at the limit there. I have 100% trust in him and that’s very important. In the early morning, before the race, we have our routines. My coach Lubos, Christine and me, we are a great small team. Of course, a lot of focus is always on the guy that wears the number one.
ANNOUNCER: Race day at the 2015 IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii! This is the dawn we’ve been waiting for.
SEBASTIAN: You work so long and so hard and now you have to show the world what you have got.
ANNOUNCER: The battle between reigning champ, Sebastian Kienle, and fellow countryman, Jan Frodeno!
SEBASTIAN: The iron war, that was what everybody was hoping for.
ANNOUNCER: And off they go!
SEBASTIAN: My swim was absolutely great, coming out just a little bit under two minutes behind the leaders. That was what we were dreaming of.
ANNOUNCER: Sebastian Kienle, on his bike now!
SEBASTIAN: I was so excited after this great swim. It just set this positive mindset at the beginning of the race, which is absolutely important. That could make or break your race! I was really aggressive at the start of the bike. I wanted to close the gap as fast as possible!
ANNOUNCER: Kienle is flying through the field!
SEBASTIAN: You could definitely break the other guys on the bike, dominate the race, dictate the others your race.
ANNOUNCER: Kienle passes Frodeno, he leads the field!
SEBASTIAN: If it’s hurting me, it’s killing them.
ANNOUNCER: Such an intense race!
Winning and losing on the bike
SEBASTIAN: Usually that’s the way it is on the bike! Not this time. I probably killed myself this time.
Yeah. And I was trying and I was attacking and I was prepared for the fight against him. The iron war. That’s what I was trying.
It was this small doubt at the end… especially at the end of the bike. It started to get bigger and bigger. There already I realised that I probably don’t have the day I need to beat a guy like Jan. When your body is weak, you can’t fight against these negative thoughts any more and then it’s game over. Every step is just pure pain and it’s so difficult not to quit. When you have the goal of winning the race and you start to realise that this is probably not going to happen, then it’s very difficult to find reasons why you should keep going. But yeah, I am absolutely happy that I finished the race because I know the relief only stays there for a couple of minutes and then it’s the worst thing in life for the next month.
ANNOUNCER: Kienle crosses the finish line, 8th place for the German. One hell of a day for last year’s champion!
SEBASTIAN: For me often it’s better to have this sensation of losing. It motivates me way more than the sensation of winning.
(SOUNDTRACK DROWNS THEM OUT)
So, I try to keep that as a positive thing from the race and that I was still able to finish the race. Even when I didn’t win a race, and I’m a professional, so I have to win races, I have the feeling of… I’ve done it, you know? I succeeded, I crossed the line, I finished the race. And that already gives you the sensation of a great achievement and that’s what separates this sport from a lot of other sports.
Fuerteventura, Las Playitas. This is probably my third home. I guess it’s definitely one of the best places for me for training. Where I put in all the base miles you need to get into race shape later in the year.
Even if triathlon might be a very self-centred sport and you have to race for yourself, training in a group is always way better. You have to use the sort of competition you have in a race, also push yourself in hard training sessions. I like to surround myself not only with good athletes but also good people, of course. It’s great to call most of them friends. Those are the guys that push me to the limit.
(DISTANT ROAR OF CROWD)
ANNOUNCER: The IRONMAN European Championships! The biggest race in Europe.
SEBASTIAN: The whole race was just a rush. Messed up the swim and came back on the bike. I wanted the victory so badly.
ANNOUNCER: Sebastian Kienle makes it! He wins the race! A true IRONMAN!
SEBASTIAN: The pain is over, there’s like an explosion in your head. It’s pretty emotional. (CHUCKLES) Yeah.
Lubos and I, we are on track. The goal is Ironman Hawaii. It’s this spark that starts the fire, you know, this positive thought that gets bigger and bigger and it’s getting better and better. You start to do things you are… you don’t think you are capable of. That’s where the greatness happens. I hope for greatness this year.
In 2016, Kienle came 2nd behind Jan Frodeno and in 2017, Kienle came 4th. Maybe 2018 will be his year again.
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