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If she can figure out the swim, the bubbly German can win the world title.
The fastest athlete on land at last year’s Ironman World Championship wasn’t Leanda Cave or Caroline Steffen or Mirinda Carfrae. It was German Sonja Tajsich, who submitted the third fastest ride on the day and the fastest run. But Tajsich’s swim submarined her chances for the podium. She steadily moved up through the pack and eventually caught Mary Beth Ellis just meters before the finish to earn fourth. She came out of the water 28th and was chasing all day. The German came out to Kona with her husband and daughter three weeks before the race—we sat down before she took off for her last interval workout leading up to the Hawaii Ironman
Triathlete.com: Did you come to Hawaii earlier because of the flooding in Boulder? (Tajsich spent the summer in Boulder, Colo., which flooded on Sept. 9.)
Tajsich: It was exactly the schedule we were planning before, coming out three weeks before the race. We were thinking about coming earlier when the flooding was bad, but we decided to just stick with the schedule we had before.
Triathlete.com: For some of the Americans who may not know you as well, what accomplishment as a professional athlete are you most proud of?
Tajsich: The fourth position last year here in Kona. I had a very bad swim start and was completely alone the whole swim. I messed it up. I came out of the water 28th position and I had to catch all the others and really cycle hard and run hard and it all went well. I was fighting, really fighting, the last meters and felt a little sorry that I overtook fourth position just a few meters before the finish and I was very proud being just one minute behind the podium.
Triathlete.com: How has your swim changed from last year to this one?
Tajsich: I think it’s much better. Of course I’m working hard on it as I knew that it could have been my title last year being the fastest on land, it’s just the swim that’s holding me back. I think I had about 15 minutes to the leading people out of the water (Tajsich lost 14:33 to the eventual champion Leanda Cave), so I was working very hard on that. Concerning the technique, I took some extra sessions with a very special swim coach, her name is Eney [Jones], and she’s doing these swim sessions with stones and muscles and like feeling the water and that’s what I don’t have so much. So I changed that and I had regular training in Boulder in the masters training group with Dave Scott, with Wolfgang Dietrich and all these really good teachers. That was big progress too.
Triathlete.com: Swimming at Flatirons Athletic Club in Boulder, were you training with some of the people you’ll be racing against this weekend?
Tajsich: I was swimming there when they also were swimming there, but they were swimming of course in another lane (laughs).
Triathlete.com: How do you imagine the race going differently if you’re able to come out of the water just five minutes down from the leaders?
Tajsich: First the inside motivation would be like ‘wow’ and I’d feel like I was flying over the course instead of having very heavy legs thinking, ‘oh no, another bad swim.’ The other thing is you have people to orientate from and I haven’t had that at all. I was at first completely alone, I didn’t see anybody. So you just cycle and think ‘where the heck are they?’ At the turn-around last year I was still like 22nd or something and I only started to catch them in the last 40K (of the ride). That could really change a bit and pushing me as well if I’m together with the good cyclists. I don’t know because I haven’t had that experience before.
Triathlete.com: You had a fantastic run last year, what is it about this run course that allows you to outdo most of the other top athletes?
Tajsich: I think I’m pretty good at the end of a marathon because my nutrition is good and I’m not so much running out of energy. And I can cope with the heat so well. I love hot weather and for me it’s just the best if it’s nice and warm and if all the others say, ‘it’s so hot’ I think that it’s just good. And that helps me a lot. And that I run a steady pace and that I’m not overrunning at the beginning and exploding at the end.
Triathlete.com: Is there anything in particular that you do to cope with the heat when you’re training or racing?
Tajsich: No, I think what helps me a lot is that I lived in Malaysia for a year, in 2005 and 2006. And there it’s really hot and very humid and at the beginning when I got there I had to adjust to the heat and it was very tough. I was sweating so much and losing so many minerals. I was learning that I lose so much and need the minerals and was having cramps all the time. I think my body learned to cope with the heat and use the minerals and get along with the [conditions] and I think it remembers now.