A sport as dynamic as triathlon demands a wardrobe to match. We headed to Malmö in Sweden to put the MR PORTER Sport range through its paces.
In Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, the midsummer sun shines for seventeen and a half hours a day, rising at 4.30am and setting at around 10pm. For the city’s 280,000 residents, who have just endured the long, dark nights of winter, this is a time of gifts – a time to be savoured. Not for Mr Simon “Ebbe” Hedman, though. He’s far too busy for that kind of thing.
“Conditions are ideal for me right now,” says the chipper 28-year-old triathlete, who is at the business end of preparations for a major upcoming event. “I have to fit my swimming training in before work, so I’ll try to be in the water before 6am.” Luckily for him, this doesn’t always mean having to brave the gelid, steel-grey waters of the Øresun: like most triathletes, he does the majority of his training in a pool. Pool or sea, though, it doesn’t stop that alarm clock from ringing at 5am.
Such are the trials and tribulations of the amateur triathlete. Managing a gruelling three-sport training regime while holding down a full-time job means learning to embrace the early starts. Mr Hedman, who works as an account manager for an online search agency, certainly doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. As he explains, it’s all part of the life he chose. “I don’t do this because it’s easy,” he says. “I do it because it isn’t. Triathlon is a way of challenging yourself. Of becoming better, faster and stronger.”
Aside from the challenge, though, what is it that draws countless men and women to this most punishing, time-consuming of sports? What is it that convinces them to live on the fringes of society, forgoing normal social lives to drag themselves out of bed when the rest of the world is still fast asleep? Most of us find it hard enough to hold down a job, a box set and a twice-weekly gym routine. What inspires these people to make their lives significantly more arduous than they need to be? To hear Mr Hedman explain it, it’s a form of redemption. “Everybody has a story,” he says. “When it comes to triathlon, everybody gets involved for a reason.”
Mr Hedman’s own story began after he stepped away from a musical career that saw him spend two years in LA, performing with his band at parties, weddings and gigs. When he returned to Malmö at the age of 22, it all started to catch up with him. He soon found himself struggling with a lack of direction. “I was getting trapped in an unhealthy lifestyle,” he says. “Too much drink. Too much bad food. My body just felt tired. So I just changed my diet, and started hitting the gym. And the effects of just those few tiny changes were amazing.”
In June 2012, when he was 25 years old, his mother handed him a flyer advertising a local triathlon. The race was barely a month away, in early August. “I had practically no time to prepare, but I still wanted to try it out. I did about four weeks of training, showed up to the race – and came 27th out of 150. It got me thinking: what could I achieve with a whole year of training, with the right diet and the right regime?”
What he achieved in only a short period of time was remarkable: qualification for the World Championships, and the chance to enter a race that’s due to take place this week, a few hours up country in the lakeside town of Motala. In order to qualify for the ITU World Championships, you need to achieve a time within 115 per cent of the winner of your age group. In other words, it means mixing it with some the best amateur athletes in the world.
The event is a long-distance triathlon – triple the length of the popular Olympic distance and approaching the length of the epic Ironman. This means a swim of four kilometres followed by a 120 kilometre bike ride and, finally, a 30 kilometre run. It’ll take somewhere in the region of six and a half hours, if he’s quick (his personal best is six hours and 43 minutes, over a slightly shortened course).
But let’s not linger for too long on early starts and six-hour-plus races, lest this hobby of his starts to sound like a form of self-enforced punitive labour. There is a certain masochism to any endurance sport, but in triathlon there is beauty, too, and the chance to engage with nature. Mr Hedman speaks of the countryside surrounding Malmö – a landscape that is in full bloom at the height of summer, the verges thick with rushes and wildflowers. It’s to here that he heads at the weekends for cycling training – and he usually takes a few friends.
“It helps that a lot of my friends are cyclists, runners or even triathletes,” says Mr Hedman, dashing popular notions of the loneliness of the long-distance runner. “We’ll go out on a Saturday morning for a long ride, six to 10 of us, and make a social occasion of it.” Like any sport, it has its social benefits – assuming, of course, that your friends share your passion.
For any non-triathlete, it’s tempting to assume that we couldn’t do what Mr Hedman does. That modern life is already enough of a juggling act. That there are only so many hours in the day. “It does take a certain type of personality,” he agrees. “You have to be very disciplined; you have make a few sacrifices. It helps that I don’t have a girlfriend, for instance. But triathlon is more than a sport – it’s a lifestyle. And when it comes down to it, the most important thing is to do what makes you happy. Besides,” he laughs, “if I want to meet a girl, I can always cut down on the training.”