He’s the quintessential journeyman, but if Swedish pro triathlete Jonas Colting can continue to collect podium finishes is happy to play that role. LAVA sat down with Colting to chat about his established career in triathlon, how he’s found his place in the sport, his new book, and the concept of minimalism and full-body workouts as a training tool.
You’ve been racing for quite some time, nearly a couple decades.
Yes. I started racing in 1991. I started getting interested by my friend, who was the Swedish champion at the time. I was just a teenage swimmer and he swam with our squad. He was eight or nine years older than I was and was a big idol of mine. I was very intrigued. I liked running, was never really talented but was always a big trainer. I enjoyed the idea of triathlon, the variety it seemed to provide. I bought a bike for 5000 kroner, which was about $800, did my first tri and won the junior division. That became my identity in those teen years. It was a lot of fun.
How was the tri culture growing up in Sweden?
Even though my town wasn’t a hotbed for triathlon, it was a natural progression over a few years. It was basically swim training the first two, three years, then did some running and cycling in the spring and summer.
You’ve done a few Ironman races, but do a lot of ITU Long-distance events, as well as quite a few ultra tri events. What helps you determine your race slate?
I choose races that I believe I can do well in. I always liked the ITU Worlds because it’s a revolving course, not set in the same place every year. You get to find courses that are suitable to your strengths. I also think the ITU treats their athletes really well, making fair races. Everyone understands the concept of a world championship or a European championship. For a country like Sweden, where triathlon isn’t a household sport, everyone still understands a world championship and European championship, so it’s important to Swedes for a Swede to do well, regardless what sport you’re in.
And the distances have always suited me. Ironman is fun to do, but it really beats you up. I’ve always been, for a long-course guy, reasonably speedy, so the ITU long-course distance of a 4k swim, 120k bike, 30k run is good. If you’re an IM guy, you’re not automatically going to do well at ITU long course, because you gotta have a lot of speed. And if you’re a short-course guy, you’re absolutely not going to do well because you don’t have the specific endurance. I think that ITU distance is the perfect mix between long, and being very intense. That’s suited me, and what I train for. And it’s not enough that it’s going to kill you and leave you beat up for the rest of the season.
Let’s look at your results at ITU Long-distance worlds: silver in 2004, bronze in 2001, fourth in 2005, fifth in 2008, sixth, a ninth , an 11th. And a runner-up finish at European championships in 2008. But no wins after all those tries. Unfinished business?
Yeah! I don’t have that first spot! It’s always been a dream of mine to win the ITU World Championship, and like I said, everyone back home understands the concept of a world champion. Sure enough Ironman has the biggest world championship, along with the Olympic Games, but in it’s context, the ITU triathlon world championships, is something I’d like to do, to
Next year, the United States will host long distance worlds on the Silverman course, late in the year, which will be nice. It will give me the opportunity to do a lot of training in the surroundings, which I like, like at Dan Empfield’s place in the San Gabriel Mountains, it’s the kind of training and course that will suit me really well.
Have you scouted the Silverman course already?
I was there in 2006 for the Silverman relay, but I’m not sure what kind of course they’ll be using. But I’m going there this year to scout it out.
You also won Ultraman, in 2004 and 2007. How does that event fit into your training?
That’s kind of an obscure race, and I’m going back this year. It’s also a self-proclaimed ultra-distance world championships. That’s just a race I enjoy doing. I enjoy being in Hawaii, and you can bring your family and people crewing for you. It’s more of a journey over three days than anything else. It’s low-key in terms of competition. It’s not a game-face kinda race, it’s more about camaraderie.
You’re pretty active in Sweden in terms of exposing the sport to the masses, as well, with talks and a book you’re writing and will be publish in Swedish.
The book is called Naked Health. It’s about the idea that with our modern society, training and normal life is skewed by commercials and myths, and marketing and misinformation. The title is about getting down through the layers. It’s going to be an interesting book. I put together thoughts I’ve had doing corporate speaking. It’s not groundbreaking, but an eye-opener.
And that consists of nutrition?
Food of course, but also training and running. I have a seminar in Sweden called The Naked Runner. It’s not a barefoot running talk, but there are a lot of elements to it in the talk. The modern running shoe, with the built up heel, is one of the worst invention ever. It cause more injuries than one without.
I talk about how the foot works, quick turnover, landing under the body. The naked runner is about that; stripping to the core, and simpler running is just a part of it. The word naked is a good thing,for the simplicity and core of things.
Regarding footwear, there is a lot of talk about not just barefoot running, but just minimalist running and getting runners to consider the way shoes were made before the 1970s.
Shoes are really important. I’d rather not have earn money from a shoe sponsor to wear what I need or want to. Running is the sport I train the most and excel in terms of triathlon. I have strong views on shoes, and tend to run in flat, neutral shoes, even in training. I do a bit of work with Vibram in Sweden, and that’s the closest thing I have to a shoe sponsor.
I do think every brand have good shoes and bad shoes. There are a lot of flats that I’ve enjoyed running in. I’ve had good luck in New Balance, and Saucony have had some great shoes. The big problem is the misconception about what makes a good shoe, and often people thing that reflects in the price. The overdesigned shoes are the ones that cost the most.
What of the training aspects you’ll discuss in the book?
A lot of it is about non-linear strengthening. I do a lot of primal walks or caveman walks, back home. I have the Vibram shoes on. It’s a great complimentary workout for triathletes. It’s good to get asymmetrical movements the forest provides. Triathlon is forward rotated, particularly the bike. I do run on the forest trails quite a bit. Getting there, doing asymmetrical movements like squats, lifting my feet over logs, bushwacking, moving in all directions, not just forward. It’s like a low-level aerobic walk.
Yes, that’s low-level. But you talk about “primal movements.” What would that consist of?
Primal movement during these walks would be like lifting logs, hitting a fallen tree stump with a sledgehammer, carry my brother on my back. It’s a lot of that is primal–actions our ancestors had to do to survive. Lifting, throwing, pushing, pulling. It’s pretty cool.
My first advice I can give anyone is to just walk…take a walk in the forest, get into the quiet, surrounded by trees, fresh air. That will get people a long way.
Any chance this book will be re-printed in English and distributed in North America or Europe?
If it were to be published in the U.S., it should target toward triathletes, people who do have some base knowledge. For some that are uninformed, the ideas may be too big of a leap. It’s hard to penetrate the mainstream ideas. For example, one thing in the U.S. that would be hard for Americans to process is when I write about walking in the forest. It’s easy to do here in Sweden, in the U.S. it’s hard to get out there. There are parks, but you can’t go around hitting things there with a sledgehammer. It’s far-fetched and maybe even scary for some Americans. But it does make a good point; look at how far we’ve removed ourselves from our environment.
And then there’s food.
Of course, naked food. There is the concept of food that is very strange. For athletes and triathletes that are healthy, one thing I think triathletes should be aware of is to eat real food. There’s a lot of shakes, bars, gels, processed foods, powders. As you add stress through the body with training, you need to eat with a better though of how your body is assimilating it. Not everything is about fueling. Eating for health is better in the long-term than eating for energy. People could do themselves a huge favor by reviewing their diet and pre-training diet. There is a time and place for bars and gels, but when in training, there is no need to load up on sugar all the time. Eat whole foods. One thing every athlete benefits from is good fat burning. Sugar in, sugar out. Burn more fat and be more fuel-efficient.
I trust this makes for an athlete who will better assimilate and receive the race-specific foods come race time?
Yes. And eating better helps with just avoiding getting sick. An athlete able to stay injury-free, not getting colds, will develop and do great races. There’s a big need to know that health and fitness need to develop at the same time.
For more on Colting (in Swedish), you can visit his website at www.colting.se