Gustav has quickly made a name for himself on the international triathlon scene and in 2019 became the youngest Ironman 70.3 World Champion ever at just 23 years of age. The young Norwegian is now focused on the upcoming Olympic Games, and balancing the performance demands of Ironman, as well as Olympic training.
CROSSING THE FINISH LINE WITH A GUITAR IN HAND
When we were younger, my brother and I actually auditioned for Eurovision Junior, but we didn’t make it to the TV version. We had this crazy dream about winning a big stage at the Tour de France, and our parents would be there and as we rode the final meters they’d hand us our guitars. As we crossed the finish line, my brother and I would be playing this song we’d written. That was my crazy life goal as a 10-year-old.
At age 13 or 14, the dream got a little bolder and I wanted to become Tour de France champion, but as I began to progress I realized that cycling was going to be too boring for me. I needed something else. Triathlon wasn’t a big sport in Norway back then, but the Federation had a vision to grow the sport. They had an open gathering of young athletes who had the potential to be triathletes. I was lucky enough to be invited, and that’s how I was quite randomly exposed to triathlon.
Ever since then, I’ve spent my time trying to learn how to swim -- it really is the devil! I think I ruined my younger years trying to swim hard, rather than training to be a technical swimmer. It felt like no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t get any faster. But even though my swim isn’t my strongest leg, I wouldn’t want to swap it around. On one hand, you want a good start, but I feel like it’s best to build into your better stages, rather than coming out of the water knowing you’ve got to hold on in the run. I’d rather come out of the water after a bad swim and still know I can make a race of it.
I’M A REALIST
I’ve set myself some extremely difficult goals with the Olympic Games and also Kona in the same year, but I wouldn’t say it out loud if I didn’t believe it could be done. It would be unheard of, but I really believe that it’s possible.
I feel like I’ve always had a lot of pressure on me, but that’s mostly coming from me. I’ve always had really high expectations of myself. The day before the World Championships in Nice, I announced that I was going to be the winner. I feel like that says a lot about me because I really felt like it was my race, my course, my distance. I put that pressure on myself, but I’m here to win. I’m very realistic about it, though. At my last race in Yokohama, I didn’t go in thinking I was going to win because I wasn’t feeling that well. Now that some more people are watching me, they might have had high expectations of me for that race, but I knew that I wouldn’t win.
When you are realistic in races, you accept where you are and what’s possible. It’s not my style to know that I can’t make the top 20, but still be trying to convince myself that I can win. Maybe I should change and be more of a dreamer in races, but being as realistic as I am, it’s not easy to convince myself otherwise during a race. I really know for myself what’s possible and what’s not possible in a race, and I’m comfortable with that.
...AND THEN THE CAGE SNAPPED OFF
Part of being a realist is taking away all the uncertain elements. Everyone uses heart rate data, power data, so that provides certainty, but what about nutrition? In the longer distances of our sport, it’s the fourth discipline. It’s such a fascinating performance element that can now become a numbers game. For someone like myself, having that certainty and not having to do any guesswork is something that I love.
For Nice, I had this extremely well-thought-out plan with my nutritionist. We knew I was going to push a certain amount of watts up the hill, so I needed a certain amount of energy. As I got to the start line, I reached into my back pocket and realized I’d forgotten to put my gels in my jersey. It was a moment of panic, but I knew I had quite a bit of energy in my bottles, so I could survive until about half way, but then the nutrition would stop.
Then, about 1km into the ride, I lost one of my bottles because the cage snapped off my bike. I calculated that I had about one quarter of the energy we’d planned. I had the perfect plan, I knew exactly how much nutrition I needed, but it just wasn’t going my way. At the first nutrition stop, I didn’t care about speed, I had to prioritize energy. I almost came to a complete stop to make sure I replenished my bottles and gels, because I knew how important those carbohydrates were. I’d love to see my glucose chart if I’d kept going with one quarter the energy, versus me taking those four seconds to stop and get my fueling back on track.
GETTING BACK TO HAVING FUN
When COVID-19 first hit, I was really stressed because it threw everything up in the air. I thought the Olympics were still going to happen, but the pools in Norway were closed, the running tracks were closed, so I didn’t know how I was going to get the training load in. It made me anxious thinking about failing at the Olympics because I couldn’t train properly.
But once the Games were officially canceled, I was able to relax. During March and April we had some really nice weather in Norway, and it was like being a hobby triathlete again. I was just out there cycling and running in the mountains. It was the first time in ten years where I was able to train without worrying about performance. I knew that the time for progression would come, but for a month or so I was able to train aimlessly. It was refreshing.