Looking for a strong IRONMAN Italy finish – Jesper Riis

Season so far
The period after my season opener in Marbella in April has been a bit turbulent, to say the least. I began having problems with my left leg and back during my rides. I felt a heavy numbness in my left leg which occurs from a pinched nerve in the back. This problem challenged me in my training and especially when I raced. As a result I haven’t been able to race properly at all in May-June. On top of that I was suffering mentally due to the problems and a too hectic everyday life. I worked with physiotherapists to resolve the back problems and just before 70.3 Jönköping, I happy to report that ahead of IRONMAN Italy I started to feel better.
Jesper gives it his all in training

However, I just wasn’t mentally ready to return back into competition. As a result, I’ve worked very closely with my coach to get back on track throughout July and August. We’ve concentrated on getting back to a training rhythm that builds both strength and confidence. What has worked especially well is a five week block with +20 hours of training per week. This has really helped me build a level that I can be satisfied with. I have gained a lot of confidence mentally through the completion of these tough training sessions.

Building up his running endurance with coach Christian

Over the hot summer I’ve also been working on acclimatising to the heat – specifically with the purpose of preparing myself for Ironman Italy. The hydration plan for this is crucial and I’ve been experimenting with various strategies to find an optimal solution for the race scenario. Even though I always had the 70.3 Zell am See in the pipeline, I have trained more towards the Ironman by ensuring good endurance and a high “bottom level”. Understanding the intensities I can work with over the long distance is key. I’ve built up my running distance per week to around 70-80km. I also factor in a couple of slow 8-10km runs during a week. One session I really like is a run with a few km’s warm up followed by 3* (1,2km pace 4:05 + 1,2km pace 3:55 + 1,2km 3:45 + 1km 5:00). I have managed this usually once a week. Finally, I’ve done a long run of around 26-32km. This kind of training has built a really good level on the run, which I expect to be my strong part at the Ironman Italy. My goal is to run around 2:55 on the marathon. And perhaps faster if I have a really good day.

IM 70.3 Zell am See
Looking back at my race at Zell am See, it now all feels a bit strange. I was mentally prepared, even though I had a busy time leading up to the competition. I looked forward to the possibility of racing in rainy weather. This could even have worked to my advantage on a particularly technical bike course. However, the weather was so bad that the Ironman organisation had to cancel the bike leg and change the race into a Swim-Run competition. That was really a shame for the race and for me personally  – and in regards to my strength/conditioning development it wasn’t the best outcome.
At IM70.3 Zell am See Jesper emerges from his swim

I didn’t have a good swim on the day. I lost the guys I was following and I didn’t have the necessary power in the arms to continue at a good pace. Even though my level in swimming has increased significantly in training, I have had difficulty performing at that level in race conditions. In T1 I felt some cramps and the beginning of the run was horrible. Thinking about it, I might have misjudged my hydration strategy. I managed to find a rhythm on the run and fought with everything I had to complete it as fast as possible and to catch up on my competitors. On most of the run I was accompanying Austria’s Markus Leukermoser. I wasn’t able to keep up with him on the shorter climbs as I had very heavy legs, but on the flatter parts I caught him and was able to control the pace. With 5km to go, we ran downhill and I pushed hard with a 3:30 pace for a few kilometers. As a result, I was able to put some distance between us. But with 1km to go he closed the gap. At this point I just closed my eyes and ran with everything I had on the final stretch uphill towards the finish line. I made it and ended up with a satisfying 20th placement. These are some of the smaller fights which makes racing both fun and terrible at the same time.

After crossing the line, Jesper collapses from exhaustion in a satisfying 20th place
Swiss Training Camp ahead of IRONMAN Italy
Currently I’m on one last hard training block before Ironman Italy. I’m actually in Lenzerheide, Switzerland with my coach and training buddy Christian Jersild. We stay at my dad’s apartment in 1500 m.o.a. What this means is that we do feel the thinner air in our training sessions. Working in this air should give us a form boost – together with the intensified training we are doing. Tuesday was an intense day with a 3.5km swim with 20*50m and some 100m at IM pace afterwards. Later a 2.5h bike ride with 10*6 min. at threshold power and 3min recovery in between. This really pumped the legs before a 1.5h run at 6*7 min IM pace and three min easy pace in between.
Even after tough rides, Jesper maintains a strong run pace

I have worked hard at my lower intensities in my general training, so working on the threshold does put pressure on the body. The positive thing for me currently is that I can run fast, with relative ease – even after very demanding bike rides. This is something I have to keep in mind when things get tough at the race in Italy. I really hope for a successful race. The quest is to have a day where I feel good and in control. I think I can make a top 15 with a total time around 8:40. I have to accept that the season until now hasn’t been a success when analysing the results. But I do need to remember that I have increased my training load dramatically to become competitive in the Pro field. And this just takes time. I can see my level is increasing and one day it will show in the races as well. As I said, my aim is for a top 15 placement in IM Italy and will attempt to follow that up with a top 10 at Challenge Paguera-Mallorca.


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