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Germany’s Nils Frommhold is back in Kona after a strong, sixth-place finish in his Ironman World Championship rookie in 2014. Last year in his Hawaii debut, he was 14th out of the water (51:14), sixth off the bike (4:34:11) and, after falling back to 11th in the first half of the run, rebounded during the second half of the marathon (2:52:45) to finish within 2 minutes of third place. Frommhold, 29, started out as a swimmer and began his triathlon career as an ITU competitor at age 19. He never made the German Olympic team, so he decided to move up to Ironman race about three and a half years ago. He planned to do one Ironman and quit the sport to pursue an economics degree at the University of Potsdam. But he put that off a bit after he won Ironman Arizona in 2012 in his debut race, although he’s continued to take classes in a remote-study program. Last year, he won his second Ironman title at the Ironman Africa Championships in South Africa, and this year he won his first 70.3 race in Poland and won the prestigious Roth Challenge in 7:51:28, the seventh-fastest time ever.
Triathlete.com: Did you change anything in your training from last year?
Frommhold: I did most of the same training and workouts as last year, but probably faster. For me, it’s not a problem to race in hot conditions, but racing in the high humidity is harder for me because I have a bigger body. So it’s very important for me to adapt for a longer period of time. Last year I was training in Clement, Florida, for my preparation as I was for the past three years. But I moved The Woodlands north of Houston for my final four weeks before coming to Kona. I searched for a place where the conditions and the humidity are similar to those here in Hawaii.
Triathlete.com: Is there one workout you’ve done that makes you feel especially ready for this year’s race?
Frommhold: My coach [Wolfram Bott] has a philosophy that to do proper speed training on the run, we always do them in brick sessions after bike sessions so we have tired legs. We always do hard sections on the bike followed by hard running sessions. We never do hard sessions on the bike or on the run alone. We always do brick sessions. We try to hold the pace as long as possible in training. For example, we might do three or four 30-minute hard sessions on the bike, then a 15-minute break followed by a hard 20K run at Ironman marathon pace of 2:50-2:55. When you can do that, you know you’re in good shape.
Triathlete.com: What did you know about racing in Kona before you raced here last year?
Frommhold: Because the field is so deep, it’s very important to have not just a monster bike, you need a good combination between the bike and the run. I think that’s one of my strengths. I’m not the fastest biker and I’m not the fastest runner, but my combination is good.
Triathlete.com: What did you learn about racing in Kona last year?
Frommhold: Ironman Kona is a different race because of the field. Everybody wants to be in the best shape of the year on that day. Last year, I was very surprised because of the movement at the beginning of the bike. Normally there is a lead group of about five or six and last year there was a group of 25 guys. And that makes it hard to hold the 12-meter spacing to avoid the penalty box and there is a lot of movement in the group. When you’re behind, it’s not about riding at a certain pace, it’s more about ups and downs as you’re reacting to others. It’s not a problem at the beginning, but it winds up costing a lot of energy. That becomes a big problem during the second half. So that’s why it’s very important to have a good position on the bike. It’s important to be among the top three to six on the bike so you can answer every single move.
Triathlete.com: How do you approach the run in an Ironman?
Frommhold: You have to look at the run in smaller steps. You have to think about the run in terms of the next kilometer, not the entire run. Or you can think of it from aid station to station, which are a mile apart. I try to feel how my body is moving and don’t think about running a certain pace. At the beginning, I search for a comfort-level pace where I feel good. It’s about having to run 5 seconds faster or slower, it’s about feeling good. That’s really important for the second half of the run. Every second you chased at the beginning, you have to account for in the second half.
Triathlete.com: What’s the best case scenario for you as you start the run this year?
Frommhold: I don’t want to be the guy in front, but I would like to be one of the first chasers. Last year, there were two Germans in front, but for me the best position would be to be running right after the front uber-bikers so I have the ability to chase them but I’m not on the front. I have some advantage to chase the faster runner and I have the possibility to catch them. I think that’s the best scenario for me. Last year, I was 2-3 minutes behind the first chaser in the second chasing pack.
Triathlete.com: Does last year’s experience and your strong result make your more confident or more nervous?
Frommhold: I’m nervous. That’s normal. It’s a race. I don’t want to just race my own race. I race for the best possible results. But I think after last year, I know what could happen and that makes it easier to handle it. Last year I was a rookie and I didn’t know anything. That can be good or it can be bad, but last year I saw how you can win the race. I’m not sure if I can do it at the moment, but I have tried to think about the scenario and how it would work. We will see what happens on Saturday.
Brian Metzler is the editor-in-chief of Competitor magazine. He has run more than 60,000 miles in his life, tested more than 1,200 pairs of running shoes, raced every distance from 50 yards to 100 miles and completed two Ironman triathlons.