How Alain Friedrich won the Swissman Xtreme Triathlon by 47 minutes.
Alain Friedrich is racing for Team Freespeed for a second season after he moved back to Switzerland last year. During his season away from the team Alain had stopped using Precision Hydration and unfortunately suffered from some nasty cramping issues at IM Cozumel 2016. He saw the correlation, got back in touch and started using PH 1500 again before he'd even rejoined Freespeed again this year.
Last September he finished Ironman Mallorca in a personal best of 8 hours 45 minutes, which made him first amateur and 8th overall. Then, a few weeks a go he destroyed the competition in the Xtreme Triathlon Series' notorious Swissman...
So, Alain, Xtreme Triathlon is known for being a tough series, but what exactly makes Swissman so tough? Is it the hardest race you've ever competed in?
Well, the toughest thing about Swissman is definitely the hilly bike and run courses. It constantly goes up and down and pacing us difficult, as is finding a rhythm. In addition, due to the demanding course, the race is substantially longer than an "ordinary" long course triathlon which – from a nutrition and hydration standpoint –requires some proper thought beforehand.
I cannot really say that it was the hardest race I've ever done (since all races are hard…), it’s definitely the most scenic and memorable race I have done so far.
Did you adapt your training in any way for the event?
No, not really. Of course, in the last few weeks before the race I tried to do some long hill climbs to adjust to the different saddle position while climbing and to get used to the change of rhythm.
The same goes for the run. I did several trail runs with more than 1500m of elevation. Besides that, my training (particularly my training hours) was the same as before any other long distance triathlon.
How are you getting on with your new Orca wetsuit?
It’s perfect! I really like the Orca Predator with the thin material around the shoulder. The suit fits well and is comfortable. There’s nothing more that I’d ask for in a wetsuit to be honest.
What were you riding at Swissman and can you talk us through your bike setup please?
I am quite comfortable on my TT-Bike (Cervelo P5), which was why I decided to use it during Swissman. There are not many flat sections during the race but with a TT-Bike you’re just faster and more aero. The set-up was exactly the same as in other (flatter) races.
Since I do most of my training on the TT-Bike, I did not have any issue riding with the P5. As always, I carried three water bottles (with Precision Hydration in them) and a small bottle with my calories from Clifbar Gels.
You won the race by a staggering 47 minutes, was there any particular part of the race that went well for you?
To be honest, the only time I felt great was during the swim. I had a good rhythm and managed to get out of the water first. On the bike, I was constantly afraid of getting caught but somehow managed to get to T2 with a 15 minute lead.
After that I knew that if I continued with my hydration and nutrition strategy, it would be difficult to catch me. But before passing km 38 on the run, I was constantly afraid of getting caught. The tracking did not always work perfectly and only after someone from the organising team told me that I have a lead of around 40 minutes did I start to relax. In the end, the lead was around 47 minutes.
Did you know how far ahead you were towards the end? What were you thinking at that point?
I only really knew my lead at the 38km-mark on the run. Beforehand, I still thought someone might catch me. Mentally, I just focused on my stride and tried to keep the average pace as high as possible.
How did you feel at the end, both physically and emotionally?
The feeling you get when you arrive at Kleine Scheidegg is difficult to describe. In my case, it was pure happiness that I could share this moment with my supporters and family. Even if you’re on your own on race day, the other 364 days of the year, it’s a team effort.
Without my friends and my wife, who supports me at every step and joins me on some of my rides, I would never have been able to stay at this level the past year. Having this in my mind, finishing at Kleine Scheidegg with some of the people that have supported me was one of the best things about Swissman.
We know how you stayed hydrated - if your hat was anything to go by ;-) - but how do you stay fuelled up?
Absolutely right. My hydration is and will always be Precision Hydration (more on Alain's hydration strategy here). The fuelling was done through gels and bars from Clifbar. Not only do I like the taste of their products, I also have no stomach issues whatsoever. In a long distance race, this and hydration is probably THE key to a good race.
You're a Start-Up Lawyer (good to know...) and Notary Public. How do you balance long days at work with triathlon training?
That’s a good question! The first advantage I have is that I’m currently my own boss and have my own law firm specialising in corporate and real estate law, with a particular focus on start-ups. So I can work quite independently, meaning that I can leave the office at a reasonable hour in the evening and get a session in.
But it also means that I’m in the office most weekends for a few hours, but that’s ok. Otherwise, most of my training is done early morning.
Most days, I get up at 5-5.15am, go for a swim, bike or run and then in to the office. Luckily, my commute is only 10 minutes which saves a huge amount of time.
Recovery is not always easy, it’s not necessarily all about the physical side, but also about your mental recovery. Getting through a hard interval session after an intense working day is not always easy, as I’m sure many of my fellow PH athletes can relate to!
You lived in London for a while but you're now back in your native Switzerland, presumably that's been beneficial for training?
Yes, my wife and I spent around a year and a half in London doing an MBA. Training in Switzerland is not necessarily better than in London in my opinion. The running and swimming groups in London are amazing and I got to know some awesome athletes and great friends.
The good thing about Switzerland is the riding though, it can be tough! I can get out of my door and in about 10-20 minutes I am in the mountains. In London, I had to spend the first hour or so to get out of the city. In this respect, Switzerland is definitely a dream for any cyclist or triathlete.
We can only imagine! What's up next for you then Alain?
After taking a week completely off after Swissman, I’m back in light training and I’m starting to build for the last highlight of the season: the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. Due to work, I will probably not do many races beforehand but I will just try to be as fit as possible in October. #fingerscrossed.