Jan Frodeno talks coronavirus, lockdown training and the future

Fresh from completing an Ironman at his home in aid of Spanish health care systems and Laureus Sport for Good, 2019 Kona world champ Jan Frodeno talks about the unique challenge, coping with lockdown and how he sees the future of tri

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How did the idea for the ‘home Ironman’ come about?

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I think it was the day before the shut-down, and my best friend was still here with me, and I said, ‘We should do an indoor Ironman’. We realised everybody was going to be confined in the future and we wanted to be the first to do it. We developed the idea further and it took me a week to decide why I wanted to do it, as I didn’t want to do just a crazy challenge at home, I wanted to find a motive behind it.

I could see all my sporting peers beside me were getting quite depressed as it was becoming more and more obvious that the season this year isn’t going to happen, or in a very limited way. The first idea was to get people moving, get people involved and spread some positive messages during this time, and then we thought ‘can we do more?’

It’s quite unsatisfying to be a professional athlete at this time. I don’t possess a skill that is useful to society, let’s be very honest, in this hard time. I’m not a doctor, or a nurse, or specialist who can help on the front line, so the idea was to get a voice and to be able to help those in the front line.

What was the support like?

The support was absolutely incredible. No one wants to see one man sweating for nine hours, with a close-up camera, and burning calories on Easter Saturday so we thought let’s make the broadcast more interesting and be true to the Laureus motto ‘sport unites people’. We got athletes and legends of sport involved from all over the world, and it was really humbling to see the support of guys calling in and helping me pass the time.

In hindsight it was the easiest Ironman I’ve ever done because the time just passed, and it was cool to have a chat with these guys and see what they were up to during these crazy times.

What was the toughest bit?

The swim! When you’re swimming outside you have certain landmarks that let you know where you are in the race. I didn’t wear a watch during the swim and there was no way of me knowing how far it was.  I was sitting there in the fog, with no idea of the time, getting colder and colder. For the first time ever the swim was the mentally toughest as you’re looking at one spot for almost one hour.

How was the money raised?

20-25% was made up of these prizes people could buy, and the rest was made up of donations. We were so surprised at how it went so I’m speaking to the director of the local hospital in Girona to find out what’s needed and try to make life a little bit easier.

How are you finding training at home?

The trouble is not knowing what’s coming – that’s the trouble facing anyone in any job – as we don’t have a clear, defined goal. Triathlon is very goal-driven, very much intensity-driven and, therefore, this is the biggest challenge that I’m finding.

Here in Spain we are confined 100% to indoors so you really miss running in the mountains or through the fields. I’m a professional athlete and I have to make do with what I have, it’s my job. The tricky part is getting up every morning at 6am, when you’re like ‘Come on man, it’s going to be a while before I have to be in some real good shape’.

Has your training load changed?

Overall the load is definitely decreased. I normally hover at 32-33 hours of training a week or even a little more, plus physio, but these days I’d be lucky to get in 25 hours. I’ve decided with my coach that the important thing is to make sure we ‘keep the engine open; we keep the engine able to grow’. We’re really trying to set meaningful goals. Trying to achieve some personal bests in shorter segment, like an hour time trial or a 5km run.

We’ve decided to pretend until August that it’s pre-season. We will work on a particular specific bike block and do a test before each block, same thing for running, and re-evaluate the situation in a few months.

We’re just focussing on building and preparing the body to keep it in the best possible shape without taxing it too much. A normal season when you’re pushing the limits is quite taxing to the body. You really don’t want to be running your immune system at 100% risk all the time.

How are you coping mentally with it all?

The lockdown has now gone on for four weeks in Spain and, if you’re not going to the shop, you’re not allowed out. It’s the thing of not being able to do the things that you’d would normally do to relax. If this was the off-season I would be going for an easy jog in the morning and then to a coffee house to relax and afterwards I’d go play soccer with my kids, but I can’t take my kids to the playground either.

It’s definitely a tough time for everyone. It’s not always easy: you ride the waves and ups and downs for sure.

But, as last weekend showed, we have a voice as professional athletes and our voice is to provide encouragement and not complain about our own situation. They’re first world problems and everybody is in the same boat at the moment.

Have your thoughts turned to Kona? Do you think there’s any chance the 2020 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii will take place?

It’s really hard to see it going ahead with travel restrictions internationally. I can see, maybe, some smaller races or challenges happening on an intercontinental basis, say a European event.

I struggle to see that in September thousands of athletes would be allowed to fly to Kona, Hawaii, with quarantine laws. In New Zealand they’re discussing a 12-month period of mandatory self-confinement for two weeks, and if you think the 70.3 World Championships are in November and you have professional athletes travelling there and then staying in a hotel for two weeks – you might as well go home.

It’s a tricky phase and I can obviously only hope, but my remedy is not to think about it. I’m trying to set some short-term goals, and to really keep a level so if a race is announced in two months I can get myself ready. But I don’t want to get my hopes up and be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.

Will Ali Brownlee be back at Kona?

He’s a young guy and he’s got plenty of time. He has this one chance to still go to the Olympics, and he has another transitional phase ahead of him for another year. His approach really surprised me, he was very smart at how he built his training and structured it. It’s that kind of experience he had in Hawaii that will leave someone like him hungry, and someone like him angry, and anger is one of the motivations that gets Alistair fired up and into his very best shape.

He’s someone who can control his anger and ultimately as an athlete that’s what you want to do. It’s such a powerful emotion and if you can master it and control it; it’s endless fuel to the fire. We have always been fiercely competitive and always wanted that top spot, which funnily enough not everyone wants. A lot of people say that they do, but not everyone lives for that top spot.

We have always wanted that top spot. We have always had this really tense relationship between us as we always wanted the same thing at the same time and that naturally is going to cause friction. I don’t think he needs much advice from me, he just needs time.

How do you think Covid-19 will impact the future of triathlon?

I think the situation will impact life in general. The whole industry is disrupted and it’s a very tough time for businesses in and around the sport, but in terms of people getting back together and the general spirit that’s shared in triathlon, I think it’ll stay the same.

We have an amazing camaraderie that’s very unusual in sport and I think that’s what’ll get us all through when it’s about social distance and keeping space. At the same time, it’s important to give a smile. I think that this spirit is very much shared in the community and hopefully will stay the same.

Jan Frodeno is a Laureus Ambassador and has raised €220,000 and counting for healthcare institutions in and around Girona and Laureus Sport for Good. The link to donate is viprize.org/frodeno.

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Over the past 20 years, Laureus Sport for Good has seen millions of young people come through its programmes and currently supports more than 200 community programmes in over 40 countries that use the power of sport to transform lives.