We accompany Åsa Lundström during the days leading up to her third participation in one of the most demanding competitions in the world: the Hawaii Ironman. She is the star of #Fight, the second part of our #RideFightWin trilogy.
Åsa Lundström, born 32 years ago in Sweden, is an Orbea triathlete who first hopped on a bike in this sport seven years ago, shortly after starting medical school. However, once she discovered her passion for the triathlon, her progress has been extraordinary: she won her first Ironman in Sweden in 2012 and repeated her victory in the Lake Tahoe Ironman in 2013. What's more, over the last two years, she has competed in the Ironman World Championship, with excellent results: 17th place in 2014 and the 11th position in 2015.
Athletes like Åsa who have reached elite standing, or those who are trying to get there, learn to conjugate the verb fight in all circumstances, no matter the day of the week, the weather or your mood: you go out and train.
“If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you.” That's Åsa's motto that she came up with for herself, and which has accompanied her throughout her career. The word fight – both mentally and physically, as Åsa stresses – has been absolutely key to her performance and in her successes along the way as a professional triathlete.
“Competition is never easy,” confirms the Orbea triathlete, remembering one of the most difficult and gratifying moments of her six years as a triathlete, the 2015 Brazil Ironman. “I was in the lead from the start. Near the finish, I got cramps, I couldn't stop vomiting and I had diarrhea, but it was clear to me that I wanted to reach the finish line. And I did. I finished ninth. I collapsed after crossing the finish line, but I did it.” Åsa refers to this Ironman as one of the turning points in her sports career.
The concept of fighting in some ways takes us back to our roots; this has also been the experience of our triathlete. “My mother brought my sister and me up while she was studying. All by herself. We never had too much money and she didn't have a lot of time, but she was a real fighter. She never gave up, and she's done well in life.” That's why she is the first person that comes to mind when we talk about “fighting”.
Thinking about all those who support her also helps when she is fighting and suffering in races as tough as the one in Kona: “I try to dedicate a kilometer to each of them. Mind control is the most important thing when you start to get tired,” the two-time Ironman champion reveals. “I have my mantras and I try to focus on different details of my technique to forget about the pain.”
Fighting with the best at the Ironman World Championship
More than 90,000 triathletes from around the world have competed in an Ironman over the last year, with the dream of being in Kona: only 2,300 have made it, 713 of whom are women. And only 43 of them have a spot in the Elite category. This shows just how hard a Championship is, in which the one thing that is not missing is the opportunity for athletes to demonstrate their capacity to suffer and to fight.
“After finishing the descent from Hawi, you legs get stiff from not pedaling and you have the wind in your face for the last 60 kilometers in a critical situation,” reminisces Åsa. “And the heat and the humidity throughout the race are a constant challenge.” The fight is there from the very beginning of the Ironman, with all the participants fighting shoulder to shoulder in the waters of Kailua Bay to leave in a good position for the transition to the cycling sector.
The goal: to be in the top 10.
2016 will be Åsa Lundström's third time at the Ironman World Championship. This year, her goal is to be in the Top 10, and to do so, she has made several changes in the way she prepares: her team has expanded to include a sports psychologist, a chiropractor and a nutritionist to perfect her diet, both while training and during the competition.
She also has the new Ordu, with which the Orbea triathlete is very enthused. “It's faster than any other bicycle that I've tried, and at the same time, it is as comfortable as a road bike. It is sturdy and works well against the wind, which is essential for Kona.” Åsa assures us that she feels “confident” on her new triathlon bicycle. “Knowing that I have a fantastic bike with great aerodynamics mentally stimulates me.” To these aerodynamics, Åsa will also add her position on the bike.
Keeping up your energy when you're about to faint.
With this inspiration, on Saturday, October 8, the triathlete will take on one of the world's most demanding competitions, and one that she knows well. “I've experienced two critical moments in Kona. The first was during my first year. After pedaling for 120 kilometers on my bike, I found myself riding face first into an incredible wind that was supposedly going to blow in my favor. I had been going wheel to wheel with a cyclist who was pedaling at a pace that was too intense for me. My energy dropped and I was about to break down.”
“The second,” Åsa continues, “happened to me two years later; in the final part of the race you're on the verge of total exhaustion, but it is precisely there, in the final kilometers, when things happen that can really change the classification. There you have to give it your all and fight for every last meter. It seems like you're about to faint, but somehow you keep on fighting to the finish line,” she remarks.
What keeps you in the fight?
In these final days before the race, training consists of brief sessions with few recovery periods and less speed work, to keep up the sensations and to be mentally prepared for more on the day of the race. Behind all this is an entire year of fighting to be on the starting line of Kailua Bay, and the last 4 weeks or so have been filled with a lot of training and speed.
The maximum training load is concentrated three weeks before the race, when a special stage is completed in which the toughness of the sessions require maximum concentration. Later, the volume of the training sessions gradually relaxes, to pay attention to the sensations and the body's rhythm of recovery, since it has to be ready for maximum performance at 6:30 am on October 8, five minutes after the elite male triathletes have left the starting line.
Are all these sacrifices worth it? Why not go back to medical school, finish your doctorate and live a more comfortable life?: “Because this is the life I've chosen. I'm very lucky to have a job like this. I like this lifestyle and I enjoy what I do every day. Remembering this makes it easier when I'm tired and I have to go out and train again. This is what keeps me in the fight.
The #RideFightWin trilogy ends in November with #Win, where we will take a look at one of the teams with the longest history and the most victories in all of women's MTB: the Luna Pro Team.
Did you miss the first chapter? See it here! #Ride: the first turns of the pedal: passion is born in a few, but very significant moments.