Case Study: Sub-9 Ironman on low-volume, high-quality training with Carl Brümmer | EP#145
Carl Brümmer is a 49-year old age-group triathlete from Sweden. On a training volume of 10 hours or less per week, he has managed several sub-9-hour Ironman results and has multiple Ironman age group victories to his name.
- Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments at the bottom of the shownotes. Join the discussion here!
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- Carl's approach to high-quality, low-volume training.
- His typical training week.
- How to stay fast as you approach 50 years of age.
- Carl's top tips for other age-group triathletes.
- Time management tips.
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About Carl Brümmer
- Carl has a number of sub-9 Ironman races to his name.
- He was first in his age group at Ironman Frankfurt in 2013.
- That year he was also fourth at Kona, making him the second fastest Swede at that time.
- Last year, on an average weekly training volume of ~8 hours a week (or less) he did his fastest ever Ironman time (8:52, Ironman Kalmar in Sweden).
- Carl turns 50 this year and has a new goal: the Podium Tour 2018, and has raised his training to 10-12 hours to achieve this.
- He wants to finish on the podium in: Ironman South Africa, 70.3 Ironman Elsinore, the ITU Long Distance World Championships and the 70.3 Ironman World Championship in South Africa and the full distance Ironman World Championship in Kona.
- So far he finished first in Ironman South Africa, first in Ironman 70.3 Elsinore, and second in the ITU Long Distance World Champs.
- I've got a wife and two daughters. We have been married for 25 years next year.
- I work as a consultant and have my own business. I work with people, team development and organisational culture to help individuals and teams to perform better.
- I'm 50 in a couple of weeks.
- I got into triathlon in the beginning of the 80's.
- I grew up in a little fishing village in Southern Sweden - it has a little harbour and 50 houses.
- One of the dads had heard of Ironman Hawaii, and he came up with the idea that we should make our own triathlon in the village - a micro Ironman.
- We got together and ran around the village, biked to the next village and back and then jumped in the harbour and swam around it.
- This was in about 1983.
- The swim was around 200m, the run was 3-4km and the bike was around 8km.
- I enjoyed it! We did it once every summer.
- In the late 80's, a couple of other guys came with fancy bikes, and when I beat them they asked if I wanted to join them as they were starting a triathlon club.
- I started more structured training then.
- My sports background is more boy scouts and wind surfing oriented before that.
- I stayed with shorter triathlon distances during the 90's. I raced the Olympic distance primarily.
- In 1997 we became parents, so my last race in part 1 of my triathlon career was August 1997.
- I did the Swedish championships at the Olympic distance and finished 6th in the elite category.
- The year before I was 6th in the Swedish Cup in the elite category.
- To be honest I don't know how much I was training at this time.
- We had pool sessions twice a week.
- We'd go for a longer bike ride at the weekends and maybe run twice a week.
- My Olympic distance time was about 2 hours.
- I then quit triathlon - I decided I couldn't handle being a parent, having a career and trying to develop myself as a triathlete.
- I got back into triathlon when I turned 40 in 2008.
- My wife gave me a slot for Ironman Kalmar because she knew I nurtured the dream of completing the Ironman distance.
- The slot was for 2009 so I got my bike out and started training again.
- When I put the bike on the trainer, I had become so stiff I couldn't reach the handlebars.
- I had to mount Cinelli pins on top of the ordinary handlebars to be able to hold onto something when I started riding again!
- After a couple of weeks I could reach the handlebars, and after about two months I could reach the aerobars.
- Then I got a slipped disc!
- I had retained a healthy lifestyle during my break, and my brother and I had done some trial runs together, but no structured training.
- We completed a famous cross country skiing race (Vasaloppet) as well.
- I didn't train for several months after quitting, but had stress from other sources such as work and fatherhood.
- Ironman Kalmar went well - I remember several times during the race I was asking myself 'why am I doing this, and how am I supposed to finish?'
- I had never done a marathon before, let alone after biking 180km as a warm up.
- Afterwards I understood it was a good finish time for a first timer - 9:38.
- After finishing, instead of asking myself 'how can I finish it', I started asking myself 'how fast can I finish this'.
- Then I started to raise my goals.
- In 2011 I set a goal that I wanted to finish sub-9 hours, and in the top-10 in Ironman Kalmar.
- I got very inspired by a guy the year before who was three years older than me.
- In 2010, he finished 2nd or 3rd in the Swedish championships.
- That was a mental breakthrough for me, seeing him enter the podium at that age.
- From then on I've understood the age shouldn't be a limiter.
- I managed to do sub-9 that year - 8:57.
- I went on to Frankfurt to do the European Championships in 2012 and came fourth, so I was able to qualify for Kona and raced there.
- In Frankfurt I saw the podium winners get a big Ironman 'M' trophy and said to myself I wanted one of these.
- Then at Kona I saw the top five got an umeke, and I decided I wanted to try and get one of those as well.
- In 2013, the year I was turning 45, I had a mantra that said 'fit for fight at 45'.
- I won my age group in Frankfurt, raced Kona and finished 4th.
- So I got my umeke and I was very happy with that.
- After that I didn't do an Ironman for a couple of years.
- I did Roth in 2016 and then went back to Kalmar in 2017.
- My best Ironman time was in August 2017 in Kalmar, 8:52.
- My first year in Kona I did 9:33:09, and then I set out to improve and the year after I did 9:13:09.
- This made me the second fastest Swedish athlete ever in Kona at the time.
2018 triathlon target
- Since I'm turning 50, I was looking for something inspiring to aim for.
- I came up with the 'Podium Tour' as I call it.
- I don't want to focus on one race because things can go wrong, so this year I came up with 5 championships I wanted to race:
- Ironman South Africa in April.
- The European Championships in Elsinore.
- ITU Long Distance World Championships.
- Ironman 70.3 Word Championships in South Africa
- Kona 2018.
- The results so far have been really good.
- I managed to win my age group in South Africa with a good margin, and broke the course record for my age group.
- I won my age group in Elsinore.
- At the ITU Long Distance Champs I had a bad day but a good performance - I was very happy and finished 2nd.
- I'm satisfied that I pushed through because I didn't feel strong that day.
Carl's training approach
- I've never been a big volume guy when it comes to training.
- I believe more in being consistent and having a clear purpose for every session.
- When I did Roth in 2016, I averaged between 6-8 hours a week of training and I did 9:16.
- Last year when I did a new PB in Kalmar, I trained between 8-10 hours a week.
- This year I've got a coach for the first time, to try and challenge my way of training and get some new inspiration.
- We have decided to raise the volume a little so now I average 10-12 hours usually.
Typical training week
- The baseline is if I could do each discipline 3 times a week, that's good.
- I need strength training 2-3 times a week.
- When life gets in the way, I have to adjust.
- I'm careful not to always select the same sessions to miss each week (e.g. if I miss a swim session one week I'll try and miss a different session the next week if needed).
- What we have added is long slow distance training.
- Zone 2 trail runs or bike rides.
- I have increased my swimming too.
- A long swim session for me up to November last year was 2.5-3km.
- I usually wanted to have one 4km swim before an Ironman to prove to myself I am capable of it.
- Now I have much longer sessions - this week I have 3 swim sessions that are longer than 3km.
- Since I'm not young, the biggest success factor has been adding strength training.
- I do basic squats, deadlifts, leg press and core.
- I do 4-6 reps and heavy weight.
- In the winter I could really see how my strength built up, which makes me a better runner and biker.
- For swimming I have a coach who has been an Olympic swimmer for Sweden and is a SwimSmooth coach.
- She helped me develop into a swimmer for triathlon, not just a swimmer.
- We do the Red Mist session, and she haunts us with our homework of doing the sessions on our own.
- This has built up my ability.
- I'm not getting faster but I can sustain the same speed.
- When I swam in South Africa in April I swam 54 or 55 minutes.
- I've done this before but the big difference was that I knew this was going to be fairly easy.
- I knew I would feel fresh when I got out of the water.
- My swim sessions are usually technique, drills and hard Red Mist endurance sessions.
- This is the key for me, and I think it translates for many age groupers.
- On the bike it's strength sessions during winter, and easy long sessions.
- I will never be a power biker, but to be able to sustain a solid effort during a race is my goal.
- The long, easy sessions would be 2-3 hours.
- As a race approaches, we add on race pace turbo sessions onto the long sessions.
- For example, 1-2 hours easy, then 4x20 minutes race pace.
- My weekend bike sessions would be better 2-4 hours.
- During the week it would be 20 minutes up to 90 minutes.
- For strength sessions on the bike I work with lower cadence.
- I could go down to 40-60 rpm on a steady effort, just to push and hold the power.
- It's specific strength training on the bike.
- Where I live I do it on the trainer because there are no sustained hills.
- It also helps me match the climate of a race.
- I also find it mentally good training.
- I get back to my podium tour mantra mentally when I'm on the trainer.
- I make sure I know why I'm doing the session in the long term.
- I also think about the why in the short term - the purpose of this particular training session.
- You can tolerate sitting indoors on the trainer for hours when you know the reason you're doing it.
- I want to race in South Africa and have a good performance so I better sit here.
- It sounds simple but it helps me a lot.
- For the run each week I have at least one longer session.
- I try as often as possible to do this on trails.
- I have achilles problems so doing trails helps me avoid this returning.
- My long run would be up to 2 hours.
- One session would be intervals, or shorter with a bit of speed.
- In winter I would do VO2max: e.g. 30 second intervals at 3:00-pace, or some at 2:50 pace.
- As the race season approaches the intensity would go down and the time would be prolonged - 3-5 minute intervals.
- These would be more threshold and sub-threshold - closer to race pace.
- One session is usually a brick session.
- I would do 20 minutes threshold biking, and then 10 minutes threshold running. I'd take a short break and do this 2-3 times.
- I would usually do this inside.
- I try to join my coach Oscar at his indoor bike session once a week because I do 90% of my training alone.
Why does low volume work for Carl?
- Partly I guess it's genetic.
- I'm amazed others can perform with very high training volumes.
- It's hard to fit in 10-12 hours of training, and also fit in more recovery than I used to.
- If I have a 10-12 hour training week I need my power naps almost daily.
- I need snacks between meals and an ordinary lunch takes longer because I have to eat more.
- Some athletes train almost as a pro but they're not able to recover as a pro or have a nutrition scheme as a pro and then the balance is lost.
- If the balance is lost, you won't perform.
- When I say let's increase my training volume I simultaneously tell myself I'll need to increase my recovery volume and my nutrition.
- Keeping track of that balance is crucial.
- I've seen quite a few athletes who copy the schemes for pro athletes but they're swimming in the morning at 5:30 am.
- Then when the pro athlete goes home to have breakfast and rest, they're going to work.
- They'll have the stress from the workload all over the day, and then go home and have a second session.
- I simply think, at least some bodies, just don't cope with that.
- We know that if I train more, I will have increased fitness but I don't know when I pass the optimal level.
- If I train 40 hours a week, I'd get injured.
- I'd rather be a couple of hours this side of that optimum, not a couple of hours over.
Adaptations for age
- The recovery time is so much longer.
- When I was in my 20's I could do a hard run or bike session, and do another great session the next day.
- Now I have to be more aware of how I can cope with sessions on my schedule.
- I frequently miss sessions when I can feel I won't be able to perform as the session is meant to be.
- I'd rather skip it and have a better session next time.
- With my schedule there are only a few hard workouts with easy sessions in between.
- As an athlete, I take the schedule from my coach and adapt it to my situation.
- I will adjust it if needed.
General tips for age groupers
- Keep it simple.
- My schedule now is more advanced but that's because I've asked Oscar to do it who is an educated coach.
- When I was self-coached I kept it very simple.
- E.g. 10x100m swim sessions starting at 1:30 or 1:40 was a great session. I'd do this 3 out of 4 sessions previously.
- As an athlete, the marginal gains you get from very in depth scientific knowledge is lost if you can't transfer it into your training.
- Consistency is key, and by keeping it simple it's easier to be consistent.
- Find the balance between training, recovery and nutrition.
- Ask yourself 'am I aware of the balance?'
- You need to increase or decrease all three parts.
Common mistakes age groupers make
- Making things too complex.
- There are some that think they have decided on their goal/objective, but they haven't made a true decision so they aren't prepared to make the choices that are needed to reach their goal.
- They may have very inspiring and ambitious plans but they haven't thought it through in terms of time or effort.
- Then they get disappointed and lag behind.
- It's better to have a plan over 8-10 hours a week and be able to pull it through, than to have 12-15 hours a week and always being behind.
- This creates a mental stress.
- I'd rather be on top or a little ahead of my training schedule.
- The amount of training is likely to be the same in both cases but the mental side will be very different.
- If you have too many sessions planned you can't always know which will be missed, and the key sessions may then get missed.
- If you have a slightly lower volume you can be sure you'll make the key training sessions.
- It would be great if I could inspire some of these athletes - I did 8:52 last year with a training volume of between 8-10 hours.
- It's anecdotal but it proves that it is possible.
- Look for your way of training, it doesn't always have to be 15 hour training weeks.
- I'm impressed because I don't know how people cope with this volume, at this age, with work and family on top.
- You will improve if you're consistent over a long time period.
Time management tips
- Get a good indoor trainer (Wahoo Kickr or something similar) because it makes it so easy to get in a good bike session.
- You can do a great session even in 20 minutes.
- Be very clear, 'am I actually prepared or willing to choose to train to the level I have set?'
- It means you have to choose not to do a lot of nice things (e.g. watch TV, spend more time with family).
- Managing time is about being aware of what you choose to do and be content with those choices.
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to triathlon?
- What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success?
- What is a productivity or time management tip you could give?
- Always have a swim, bike, run, weight lifting bag ready in your car.
- Make the training count and make the most out of your time.
- This is even more important with low volume training,
- With age group athletes, don't let it deter you if you don't have more than 8-10 hours to train.
- As this interview shows, it's possible to do very well if you use this time right.
- Consistency over many years can really count.
- If you take a month or two off every year you are less likely to have progression like Carl.
- If you start putting in 8 hour weeks now and continue doing so consistently, you can do well.
- Endurance sports is a game of patience and you can keep improving over a long time.
- Age is not a reason to slow down!
- Carl achieved a personal best at age 48.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Carl Brümmer
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I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.
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