With a strong year behind me, I’m hoping for a great first year as a pro triathlete – Jesper Nybo Riis

Believe it or not, I didn’t have an overarching goal in my head for 2017. My physical development was the highest priority. On that basis, I chose to do lots of races in order to develop strength, stamina, and to learn racing.

In the end, my ‘A’ races for the year were the 70.3 Elsinore and Challenge Walchsee. Looking back, I did achieve good development over the year – especially in running and on the bike. I saw my levels increasing in both disciplines. Also, I became a much better racer – meaning I learnt a lot about the transitions, how to manage/dispose my energy/power and how to keep fighting until the end. Even if I found myself far behind the field or if I was suffering, I learned to just keep fighting.

During 2017, I ended up doing six half and one full Ironman events. My competitive season started with 70.3 Texas in April and finished with Challenge Madrid (full distance in September). Here is my complete race list:

70.3 Texas
70.3 Mallorca
70.3 Elsinore
Danish Nationals half distance
70.3 Gdynia
Challenge Walchsee
Challenge Madrid

When I crossed the finish line in 70.3 Elsinore in less than 4:20, it was certainly a high point for me because the overall time was better than expected. I had suffered from a tough spring, both in training and competitions. In short, I didn’t think things had gone as they should. But in Elsinore, I managed to break through and achieve a successful moment. To share this with my friends and family at the finish was a relief for me. It wasn’t the best result of my season, but it was certainly an important turnaround for me – physically and mentally.

There are two moments, when I think back, which make me particularly proud:

  1. Running 1:21 in the half marathon at Challenge Walchsee in horrible cold and rainy conditions. My legs were frozen after the bike ride and to put in such a run was a great feeling. I felt like a mean machine on that run.
  2. Completing Challenge Madrid. First of all, I didn’t plan my season around this event, but I took on the challenge anyhow just to try it out. The course was cruel and the day was incredibly long. It was 10 hours, battling with 3000 meters of climbing on the bike and 28 degrees on the run in Madrid. My brother cheered me all the way and even ran beside me the last two kilometres going uphill towards the finish line. I concluded with a 18th place, 3rd amateur overall and 1st in my age group. I was proud of my ability to fight all day long!

My favourite event over the last year was 70.3 Gdynia. It was a really well organised event, a great course and such a cool city. I had never been to Poland before, so the place, organisation, people and competition surprised me a lot. The biggest risk I took last year was when I did two half Ironman competitions in one week. I did 70.3 Elsinore and the week after the Danish Nationals on the half distance.

The people that inspired me the most last year were fellow athletes. There are three of them that come to mind. Firstly, Mike Aigroz – a former triathlete with great results, such as 6th in the World Championships in Kona, winner of IRONMAN competitions and a European championship title. He was still a good athlete when he walked away from the circuit in 2016 but in 2017 he chose to become a trail and outdoor athlete. He left all the hype behind and chose to get back into nature to explore new adventures. I think he shows how you can approach sport in a different and loose way and still perform at a very high level.

Kristian Høgenhaug also inspired me last year with his 4th place at Challenge Almere. He is a young Dane and a very complete athlete. He will go very far and is certainly destined to be one of the strongest on the bike in the long distance triathlon. He lives in Aarhus and trains at the same club as I do. He is a nice guy and we share a very cool training community in Aarhus, which is incredibly motivational.

Finally, Alberto Contador makes me strive to want to be a better athlete, especially when you consider the historical way he ended his career. I was moved close to tears when he crossed the line on Angliru. I’m obviously affected by knowing him personally and I’ve cheered for him over many years. Through him, I have seen what passion and dedication really is. That victory still moves me today.

Ultimately, what I take away from last year is the knowledge that I can be a really good triathlete if I work harder in the years to come. That is a learning I take a lot from in my preparations for the coming season. I very rarely regret things and act with the cards I have in my hand. If some things had changed, I might have missed important learnings. I tell myself to worry less and enjoy more.

Looking ahead

This year I’m proud to share with you the news that I am becoming a pro athlete. I should be competitive – especially on the bike and run. As for the swim, I will continue to work on my development, but I will still be behind the best half in the pro field. My goal is to be competitive in the pro field and ultimately my aim is to do a sub four-hour half Ironman. This means that I should be at least in the best ¾ of the pro’s. I must admit that I’m really excited to be setting out with the best in the world – and want to push myself to compete with them!

I know I have to try and stay upbeat – and to be successful I will have to avoid injury. I’m aiming to gradually develop into a better athlete. What this means in practical terms is getting my everyday life suited for Pro Triathlon with a good team around me and hopefully attract some good sponsors too. In any case, I hope that this time next year I will be in even better shape and competing for top 10 positions in the 70.3 races.

If I had to guess at the most important race of the year, I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly which one just yet. That race isn’t decided, but it will probably be a 70.3 race in August/September. This is where I should be at my peak performance.

Breaking that down, my personal goals for the year are as follows:

70.3 times:
Swim: below 30 min.
Bike: 2h10m
Run: below 1h20m

Having said that I expect my peak race to be around August/September time, I should say that I’m really looking forward to Challenge Herning. This is an event which will be on home soil with family and friends cheering me on. Crucially, it will also serve as a good benchmark to see where I am compared to the other Danish elite athletes.

When I’m planning ahead, I think it’s really important to be relaxed and have a good time. The days before takes some planning and require practical considerations, which I try to organise as smoothly as possible. This is also a time where I can enjoy some time on my own and let thoughts run. As race day approaches, I like to slowly tune myself into race mode and become a “mean machine”. I often write down a plan with things I have to do before the race. Then I write a plan for the race, which includes expected timings and intensities. I can’t always follow through with them, but writing things down gets my mind set and focused on the job.

When things get a bit tough, I try to remind myself that my strongest weapon is to just keep fighting. If I continue to fight, it will bring me success. My endurance and the will to fight is the key. I also think of my family and even though they aren’t there, I imagine that they are cheering for me. It might seem ridiculous but just imagining that they are present helps me to stay in the game.

In fact, when times are tough it is the most important time to trust that I’m better than all. Maybe I’m actually not, but I just need to trust in myself. I tell myself that if I’m not the best right now, I will be down the line. I do believe that simple mind manipulation can make anything possible.


Action shots courtesy of Maratomania.pl

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