Growing up in Denmark this professional triathlete started doing triathlon at the age of 15. Denmark has a large cycling community; you don't believe me? Just look at his 2008 Kona bike time. He is involved with researching and developing new products for the triathlon world. In Norse mythology his name means "Thor (The God of Thunder) Bear." It is my honor to bring to you: Torbjorn Sindballe
KK: Torbjorn Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself, where did you grow up and what was your sports background growing up?
TS: I grew up here in Denmark, with my mom, brother and sister. As a kid I did many different sports from badminton, swimming, basketball, soccer, Judo, etc.. At 12 I got more involved in swimming and joined a competitive team. Since this was quite late for a swimmer I quickly found myself among kids much younger than me, so at 15 I made the jump to triathlon after trying it in school. So unlike many other pro's I have actually been a triathlete mostly from the start. I got a few basics from swimming, but my development as an athlete has been in our sport.
TS: In the first 6-7 years I did not train that seriously and did not have the best of results as a junior. In 1998/99 things started to move and after my first serious year of training I jumped from being 3rd at the Danish champs to 2nd at ITU world long course.
KK: How as your academic background affected your career as an athlete?
TS: Quite a lot in different areas. I studied Ex. Phys for two years and general sociology in two years also. No degree yet, but we will see if I have time once my athletic career is over.
TS: The sports studies have given me an excellent platform to find and optimize every little detail of my setup and apply scientific methods in my preparation and performance. Most notably has been my process on how to overcome heat, where we have used measurements of blood markers and core temperature to optimize pacing strategy, fluid and electrolyte replacement etc. I also apply a scientific approach in my training methods, when working on product development with sponsors and so on.
TS: The sociology studies does not have the same direct appliance, but have helped me a lot in understanding myself, people around me, society in general and building the sponsor side of my business.
KK: Here at Finishline-Multisport.com, our goal is to help our sports keep growing. If you would, what are some tips that you would give to someone just starting off in triathlon?
TS: 1. Stay away from the mileage mania for as long as you can.
TS: 2.Use the first years to build your core-stability, flexibility and technique in all three disciplines to a high level before you take on harder, longer training. The gains you get from technical efficiency, in specially swimming and running, far exceeds what you can do with more training and also it is hard to improve technically if you are constantly fatigued.
TS: 3.Remember that the key to improvement and performance is consistency. So it is much better to keep your training load moderate and balance it well with work and family so you can do it over long time, rather than go into big peak loads which will only get you injured and at points might leave your personal life in ruins.
TS: 4. Balance, consistency and patience. Build technique, then general capacity, then specific capacity.
KK: Please tell our readers about you rookie experience in Kona?
TS: I had a very turbulent year in 2004 with a major injury in the winter and 9 weeks with no running. Then I had the most amazing build leading up to the ITU world long course champs, which I won for the first time in July. After a short break I did my first real ironman build up and trained my ass off, so I was both confident and fit when I hit Kona.
TS: I had a decent swim in the second pack and then followed the lead pack in the huge winds until we came down from Hawaii. I went to the front just to see what it was like and without even making a move I had a 2-300m gap. I continued my pace and got of the bike with 10 mins to Norman, who did the meanest bike ride I have ever seen anyone do, and 10 mins down to the pack. We then hit the run and I felt great the first hour. After that I hit the wall seriously at mile 10, melting down completely and had to run 16,2 miles on hurting, trashed legs. Some faster runners went by, but I dug really deep the last 6K to hold Cameron Widoff behind me for 6th place.
TS: I was pretty ecstatic with the result, but not very pleased with my run. Most pros either DNF or place way down in their rookie year, so 6th was really good and promising. My run kept teasing me however and it was not until 2007 I got it dialed in to do a good marathon.
KK: I watch the Kona coverage every year. The past couple of years, you are one of the fastest, if not the fastest on the bike. Do you feel the bike is your strongest event?
TS: For the past years biking has been my strongest event. I have had most consistency in training and also have the greatest genetic talent here. From the past I know I can run very strong of the bike when I have been training consistently over a year or two. But due to all my injuries this has not been the case in many years. My swimming has improved steadily over the past couple of seasons and actually 08 has been my strongest swim year ever. With my recent technical improvements and changed training approach I am sure the swimming trend will continue over the next years, my cycling will remain strong and my run will be consistent and build to a high level.
KK: Denmark is known for having a strong cycling community, what is the triathlon community like?
TS: The tri community in DK is very small. I think around 2000 registered athletes. There is Clubs based on passionate volunteers throughout the country, there is a decent calendar of exciting multisport races throughout the year, but currently no events with international format. The national team runs well and our elite development, results and media coverage is great compared to the size of the sport in Denmark.
TS: We have strong swimming, cycling and running communities and great infrastructure and facilities for year round training, but we have not been able to bring this strong foundation into a tri boom yet. It has to do with many factors from the Danish culture of having the highest female employment rate, putting a lot of coordination challenges on the families, to the organization of sports in Denmark where everybody is used to things being free or very low cost, which gives only small incentives to build bigger scale commercial races and events.
KK: Who or what inspires or motivates?
TS: Doing triathlon is a personal project for me. I am just so curious to see how fast I can go and feel extremely privileged to be able to do it as a living. I love every aspect of what I do, even though there might be hard times of doubt I know that they set me up for learning even more on my profession and myself later on. I love training, I love being in nature, there are so many great people I meet and there are so many great places and cultures I see. I love pushing hard and exploring my limits, I love perfecting every single aspect of what I do in the search for excellence and putting a full year of preparation on the line in one day with tremendous pressure to see if it all made sense.
Sorry if this sounds like poetry, but it just came out that way J
KK: I read on your website, www.sindballe.dk, that in 2000 you battled through some injures do to overtraining. How do you prevent this from happening again? How did you overcome the injuries? What was your rehab like?
TS: Within our sport and especially among pros there is sort of a mantra saying the one who trains the most the hardest wins. We have this tough guy mentally where there is tremendous status in being the guy doing the biggest or the hardest mileage no matter if it is not the best way to get results. I have lived this mantra for years with many chronic injuries and severe overtraining as a consequence. I have had great results too, but I believe I would have been so much better and consistent if I have had the guts to listen to my body and intuition rather than my self-doubt.
TS: The good news is that I have finally turned the page to a new chapter and taken a completely different approach to my training. First I have had a solid rest fro the first time in many years. Then I have had treatment combined with lots of strength and stretch work to regain optimal mobility and function. Now I am working in depth on my technique while I am slowly building a solid foundation to take on more general and specific preparation later on. It takes time and I am not yet fit, but I am sure this will pay of big time later this year and the years to come. You can read more in my blog on www.sindballe.dk
KK: As competitive as racing is, there are times when athletes are faced with uncontrollable obstacles. Getting a DNF or having to quit a hard thing to have to face, when is the right time to pull out off a race?
TS: It depends on a variety a of factors like the importance of the race, your objective and also the spirit of the sport. An age grouper who have entered an ironman maybe for the first time, with the main objective to finish the race has a completely different agenda than a pro racing to be the fastest and make money so he/she can pay the rent for the next couple of months. In each case where a DNF is considered it is a personal choice for that athlete based on the situation, than when we do.
TS: For some there seems to be a finish at all cost mantra for many which I think is a mistaken understanding of toughness or mental strength. The really powerful people are actually those who can make a sound judgment under extreme pressure - not the ones following a mantra blindly. For most people, including pros, entering an Ironman is a huge project requiring months of preparation and no one gives up easily in such a situation and when they do it is a decision that should be supported and respected. Often we learn far more from when we do not reach our goals.
KK: You are well known for using innovative cooling techniques in Kona, especially on the run. Which of these have you found most effective?
TS: Heat problems can come from a variety of causes that all interrelate. Some have a very high sweatrate, others are very sun sensitive and then the big guys who run relatively fast cannot get rid of the heat at the rate they produce it. No matter if it is dehydration or a rise in core temperature that is the primary problem, it all increases the rate at which carbs are burned so you will get depleted sooner and have a higher risk of heatstroke, severe dehydration etc.
TS: The best thing to do is to pace your race accordingly. In hot climate you must reduce the tempo and be very conservative, especially on the run. I have ridden hard on the bike because here I could maintain the temperature balance, but on the run I try to stick to even pacing because this is where the problems start. Second thing is to get adequate fluid and electrolytes. Cut down a bit on the energy intake during the race, so you can absorb more fluids.
TS: Third you can work on running economy, my trimming down and improve your technique, so you have less heat energy to get rid of. And then comes the cooling techniques. I use a white long sleeve shirt that I keep soaked, to protect from the suns radiation, which is a significant heating source, and in dry conditions it aids evaporation as well. Also I use a glove that gets filled with ice at each aid station. The hand works like the body's thermostat so cooling here is much more effective than any other place.
KK: Have there been any crazy ideas suggested for cooling? How do you know what works and what doesn't?
TS: We have tried out many things and also had ideas that are not yet a reality. A long sleeve shirt with fluid nitrogen in a mesh of small tubes or a propeller inside the helmet to name a few.
TS: Actually it is pretty hard to find something that fits the exact needs in a triathlon. It has to be ultra light, portable, the refill options are limited except when it comes to ice, cooling requires quite a lot of energy, etc. Also development takes time and money so there is a limit to everything. In the process so far we have measured both sweat rate and electrolyte loss in Hawaii like conditions to establish my needs. In regards to the cooling technique we quite simply measure core temperature at specific sessions to see if a given technique has effect. If it slows the rise in temperature, or better yet keeps my temperature stable at a given speed, then it works.
KK: Are you actively involved with any type of product development?
TS: Yah, I work closely with all my major sponsors to make me even faster ;-) ECCO is launching their new BIOM running shoes, which I have been intensely involved in for 4 years. It will bring a radical new shoe to the market based on a concept that is all natural logic. I am equally involved with Argon 18 and Craft to build their triathlon related products to the next level.
TS: I am often involved in both design, conceptualization, marketing, science and testing when we work with new projects, but it is all fitted into my schedule throughout the year so I have full time to train in the major build ups and then work more with the projects in the off season.
KK: If there were one thing you could change, to help the advancement or growth of the sport, what would it be? What could be done to make it better?
TS: It would be a great thing if the governing bodies could come together and unify their work to build the sport. There is so many different agendas out there and we could do so much more if everyone could come together with a unified purpose. This is not easy thought and it seems like ITU and WTC are the major players on each there niche of the sport.
TS: For years I have also advocated for a true world series combining IM, IM 70.3 and possibly some non-draft short course races. If we could build a series with a good flow through the season and Hawaii quality fields in every race, we would have a platform to take the sport a lot further and also branch more into health and kids sports. ITU is doing it with the Olympic races and I am sure it going to take off. It would be great to see a WTC with a vision to lift the sport up on the global scale where it belongs fro pros and age groupers alike.
KK: What is the best part of being a professional triathlete? What is the worst?
TS: The best is being able to live your dreams fully and having the freedom to take charge of your life.
TS: The worst is when injury strikes and a very big part of your life seems to be in ruins, emotionally and possibly also financially.
KK: What are some of your goals for the 2009 race season?
TS: I have gone through a major turnaround this winter after many years of too much training and several chronic injuries. So in the past months I have rested a lot, spent many hours in treatment and in the gym and am now ready to start training again. I feel really great about all the changes we have made and I will train much more balanced with higher technical quality and a more specific approach on how I build the season than before.
TS: I am going to race in wildflower, Roth and Kona + some smaller races in DK. I won't be super fit in Wildflower, but will be strong as bull and then in Roth and specially Kona I want to be full on, hopefully with a better run than ever.
KK: When people think of Torbjorn Sinballe, what do you want them to know most about you?
TS: Hopefully they will see me as a nice guy with a lot on his mind and heart