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Two Ironmans in eight days and a whirlwind tour of Europe. Champion triathlete and rower Jack Nunn went all in on travel and racing and came back a wordly—and tired—man. This is a peek into his triathlon trip of a lifetime. Take notes.
Jack Nunn is a man on a mission. The 2015 Olympic-distance Clydesdale national champ is chasing down a Legacy slot (see below) to Kona, and because he doesn’t want to wait a decade to feel the rush of racing down Ali’i Drive, he’s been packing his race calendar full of 140.6 events to get to that magic number 12. Last summer, Nunn knocked off Ironman numbers eight and nine in eight days as part of what can only be described as the most insane European racecation ever.
“This was the hardest athletic challenge I have ever done in my life,” says the Long Beach, Calif., resident and owner of local rowing club Roworx. “It pushed me to the edge of injury and I nearly broke, but in the end I survived and hope this journey inspires others to keep their fitness goals and dreams alive.”
The stats: Nunn, 37, and his girlfriend Nicole Martin traveled about 3,200 miles, visiting nine countries in just under a month. Nunn kicked off the trip with Ironman Kalmar in Sweden, then after traipsing through Denmark, Germany and Paris, he finished Ironman Vichy in France eight days later. He spent the rest of the trip recovering in a rented Volvo XC90 as he and Martin made the most of their plane tickets to Europe. Needless to say, Nunn now knows a bit about race travel—and an attitude of adventure that can turn logistical chaos into a dream vacation.
Below, Nunn shares in his own words what prompted the journey (his drive was deeper than a legacy slot)—and what we can all learn from his valiant racing and road-tripping efforts.
On becoming an Ironman
I guess you could say I was genetically destined to be an athlete. My father, John Nunn, is an Olympian who won the bronze medal in rowing in 1968 at the Mexico City Olympic Games. He was the U.S. Olympic men’s team rowing coach in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Both of my grandfathers played professional football, and my great-grandfather was a rower at Columbia University in the early 1900s.
I always wanted to make the Olympic team in rowing and to race the Ironman World Championship. I took a big step toward that first dream when I received a full scholarship to row at UC Berkeley, where I went on to win four Pac-10 championships and three IRA National Championships. I was a member of the U.S. Rowing National Team from 2001–2004, winning a silver medal in 2001 at the U23 World Championships men’s eight boat in Ottenshiem, Austria. But in all, I fell short of my goal of making the Olympic rowing team. I needed to fill that void with another challenge—something I could do on my own that was fun, inspiring and adventurous. I turned to Ironman, racing my first 140.6 at Ironman France in 2008. It changed my life. I’d never experienced so much in just a few weeks.
On planning this trip
When I was rowing for the national team, I got to travel all around the world to places like England, Italy, Germany, France and Austria. I felt teased in a sense because I never got to stay and travel around Europe for an extended period after the competitions were over. My father talks about his travels from when he was young and hitchhiked around Europe in the 1960s after a few rowing competitions. I also wanted that experience—minus the hitchhiking part.
I raced the Memorial Hermann Ironman in Houston [suburb The Woodlands] in 2013. That race broke me. I had food poisoning and DNF’ed. I don’t know what it was, but from that point on, I started doing all these races, like, “Nothing’s going to hold me down!” I’d always wanted to do Kona, but I didn’t want to change my body type [Nunn is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds]. After I’d done five or six Ironmans, I was like, “How many more do I have to do for a Legacy slot?” Then I started looking for races in Europe that were timed right. I didn’t want to be thinking about a race during most of the trip—or have to train. So I settled on Kalmar four days after arriving (and two weeks after doing Vineman 140.6 in California), and Vichy eight days after that.
IM Legacy Slots Explained
The Ironman Legacy program gives age-groupers who have completed 12 full-distance Ironman events but haven’t competed in Kona the chance to be selected for one of 100 slots per year to the Ironman World Championship.
- Aug. 15, 2016
Fly out direct on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) from LAX to Stockholm with my bike. Luggage prices depend on what type of ticket you have, but SAS has some of the best trans-Atlantic bike deals. Arrive the next day. Catch up with an old college rowing friend and spend two days sightseeing in Stockholm. Walk old town, visit the church of the Palace of Kings, City Hall and have a drink at the hotel’s Ice Bar.
Digs: Nordic C Hotel, Stockholm
- Aug. 17
Drive about 500 miles to Kalmar. Stay on Oland Island, 15 miles from town. It’s more affordable and nice to stay away from the craziness going on in and around the Ironman village. See the Kalmar Cathedral finished in 1703, the majestic Kalmar Castle, and a display of the famous Kronan Shipwreck of 1676.
Digs: Hotel Drei Jahreszeiten
- Aug. 20
Ironman Kalmar, Sweden: The race was fun, historical, flat, fast and beautiful. The people of Sweden are welcoming, and thousands of spectators gave an incredible positive energy. The swim had jellyfish, but they do not sting. The bike was flat and scenic, crossing the six-kilometer Oland Bridge that was once the longest in Europe. Previous competitors call the part of the run that winds through downtown the “forgotten 4 miles” because you hardly feel the pain at all during those three laps around Kalmar with all the fans cheering. I go hard and don’t get the kind of results I wanted. I didn’t have the energy I thought I would. Finish time: 11:51:53.
- Aug. 22
Drive to Copenhagen, Denmark. Bike around the city to the marina, Marble Castle, Little Mermaid statue and around the citadel. Eat Danish meatballs and look at the colorful seaside apartments in Nyhaven. My left knee swelled up after the race from running on uneven cobblestone roads. I’m now popping anti-inflammatories, icing, drinking Red Ace beet shots (a sponsor) and using NormaTec boots every day.
Digs: Absalon Hotel in downtown Copenhagen
- Aug. 23
Fly To Frankfurt, pick up the Volvo XC90 we’ll use for the rest of the trip, then drive to Koln, Germany. Hiked the stairs to the top of the Cologne cathedral dome and had German beer and bratwurst at nearby restaurant Fuhr.
Digs: The Hotel Mondial am Dom Cologne, across the street from the Koln Cathedral
- Aug. 24
Paris, France. Use the Paris Pass for two straight days of sightseeing.
Digs: The Hotel Catalogne Paris Gare Montaparnesse
- Aug. 26
Drive to the Palace of Versailles on the way out of Paris and explore the palace grounds, then drive on to Vichy. Aug. 27 was planning and packet pick-up/bike drop-off day for Ironman Vichy.
Digs: Hotel des Puys, Clermont-Ferrand
- Aug. 28
Ironman Vichy: The race offers a unique blend of history and beauty and a technical course. It had some sentimental value to me as my father rowed in the exact spot as the Ironman swim during the 1967 European rowing championships in the double sculls event. He’d been there twice and always said it was a beautiful place to visit as well as compete. He was right. I had to walk half of the run. I was in bad shape—exhausted, and I felt like I was going to throw up lugging my big frame around. It was survival mode the whole time. Finish time: 13:18:20.
- Aug. 29
Lyon. Visited the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière overlooking the city.
Digs: Hotel Le Royal Loyal MGallery Hotel
- Aug. 30
Digs: The Chopin Suite at the Grand Hotel Beauvau Marseille Vieux Port
- Aug. 31
Drive to Monte Carlo, Monaco, with a stop in Cannes for lunch and a walk around the city. Being an active tourist seems to help with the post-race soreness and the swelling in my knee.
Digs: Columbus Monte Carlo Hotel
- Sept. 1
Drive through Genoa, Italy, and visit three of the five small towns that make up Cinque Terre, an enchanting place where cars are banned that features dramatic coastal scenery.
Digs: La Casa di Venere
- Sept. 2
Drive through Pisa to see the leaning tower, then on to Rome for some whirlwind sightseeing.
Digs: Mecenate Palace
- Sept. 5
Florence, Italy. See the statue of David and climb to the top of the dome of the Florence Cathedral.
Digs: Hotel Palazzo Tolomei
- Sept. 6
Venice, Italy. Gondola ride through the canals, tour the glass-blowing island, Murano.
Digs: Hotel Al Sole
- Sept. 7
Bellagio, Italy. Drive around Lake Como, stop for drinks at Villa d’Este.
Digs: Hotel Excelsior Splendide
- Sept. 8
Switzerland. Stay in the center of the Zermatt ski resort. Take the gondola up the mountain to visit the Matterhorn up close.
Digs: Backstage Boutique Hotel
- Sept. 9
Drive to Frankfurt with a stop in Colmar, France, to witness and tour around a real-life fairytale town complete with cobblestone streets and colorful timbered buildings.
- Sept. 10
Fly back to Los Angeles on my 37th birthday.
Nunn expects to complete his 12th Ironman this year. Look for him at Ironman Coeur d’Alene, Florida and Arizona. He’ll also be tackling Norway’s Norseman Triathlon, dubbed “the hardest triathlon in the world.”
Jack’s Top 5 Travel Tips
Buy in advance.
We started saving money every month leading up to the trip and made sure we bought the Paris pass, statue of David and other museum passes ahead of time to avoid long lines.
Book everything through one provider.
It’s all in one place, it’s simple and convenient. Even if a hotel is slightly more expensive through that provider, they should have rewards points that’ll make everything even out in the end. We used Expedia.
Read up about European car rentals.
Certain providers require you to book with an American Express credit card to avoid costly insurance fees. If you’re driving through Italy, expect to pay extra because Italian drivers are crazy. There are speed cameras everywhere, except in Germany, so budget at least $100 for a ticket. Be aware that certain cities charge to drive into the city center. And just like in the U.S., you’ll get lower prices if you drop off and pick up at the same location. Renting a car is more costly than taking public transportation, but we considered the freedom and time savings worth it.
Remember your bike.
I had mine with me the entire trip. I’d back into parking spaces to deter break-ins, cover it up during the day and bring it into hotel rooms at night. It was a pain. You could also rent a bike to race, or ship yours home for a large fee.
Keep a trip journal.
Because you forget. We used a free website called Travefy that linked up with Expedia.