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.
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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.
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.
- Try to keep it simple and remind yourself what the purpose for each session is.
- The three legged stool on which you base your training: scientific knowledge, coach's experience, athlete's experience.
- 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?
- Fad Free Management by Richard Hamermesh.
- This has taught me a lot in terms of leading myself and others.
- What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success?
- Power naps and protein!
- 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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Hi! I'm your host Mikael,
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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