Lars Wichert is on the Cam Wurf plan for triathlon dominance – Triathlete

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Three-time world rowing champion Lars Wichert took a less traveled path to becoming a triathlete, but his impressive athletic resume gives him hope that his second career in sport can be as successful as his first. The 36-year-old German specialized in four- and eight-man rowing, winning two world titles in 2010 and a trip to the 2016 Olympics, where his boat finished ninth.

Like Australian Cameron Wurf, Wichert is moving to Ironman at the end of his sporting career and, like Wurf, he seems to be making a quick transition. He did his very first triathlon last year at Ironman Hamburg, where he finished best amateur in 8:12:46, and he was recently announced as a member of the Zwift Academy Tri Team for 2022, which has developed athletes accomplished in the past as now pro (and fifth place in the Ironman World Championship) Ruth Astle. Wichert’s goals are certainly just as grand.

We caught up with Wichert to find out more about his triathlon aspirations and how his rowing background can play a role in his multisport fitness.

Lars Wichert in action at the 2019 World Coastal Rowing Championships. (Photo: Yu Chun Christopher Wong/Getty Images)

A Q+A with rowing champion and triathlete Lars Wichert

Triathlete: The first and most obvious question is where did the passion for triathlon come from after all these years of rowing?

Wicker: For me, it was clear that after my rowing career, I would continue to play sports. I am a very active person and I also like competition. For example, I did a 100km cross-country race with only a few practice miles on cross-country skis, simply because I like to do things that take a lot of time. During my rowing career, a good friend did some long distance tris, and I thought: OK, once I’m done rowing, then I do triathlon.

The passion for triathlon comes from my good fundamental understanding of endurance training and also having already had two good disciplines with cycling and running. I like to go long and feel the interaction with nature. For me, it’s like a moment to get out of your normal day and feel the air, the wind and be happy. I do it because I like to move.

Triathlete: Hamburg last year was your first triathlon, but how long have you been swimming, biking and running so far? Did you practice all three sports in your youth?

Wicker: I played handball until I was 12 and started rowing when I was 10. After a while, my parents told me that I had to switch to rowing because of the collisions. In my free time I played a lot of [soccer] and I cycled. For Ironman Hamburg, I took part in a study by a triathlon trainer, which looked at whether training was more effective for weekend warriors or those who do it throughout the week. He saw my stats and offered to give me a structured schedule for Ironman Hamburg. At that point, I decided I wanted it to be like rowing: a structured plan with someone to coach me and make me feel responsible.

From April to Hamburg (in September) I did an average of 11 or 12 hours of training per week. In total, I did 119 hours of cycling, 60 hours of running and only 18 hours of swimming. I was really surprised that I managed to hit the one hour mark for the 3.8km swim. My goal was to do it in less than 1h10.

Triathlete: Rowers were the first endurance athletes to train indoors, and the erg is an important part of that training. How do you think those years of indoor training helped your transition to triathlon?

Wicker: As a rower, I learned to ride the erg like clockwork. There are no distractions: just drive, listen to music and see the numbers you produce. Zwift does not exist. It is pure passion and the knowledge that it makes you stronger and brings you closer to your goals. Maybe that’s what makes me train on the smart trainer – you just train with numbers. But the most important thing, no matter how you train, is to think positively while you do it. Enjoy it and let go of negative thoughts. If this constraint prevails, you must reconsider your training.

RELATED: Keep positive self-talk in your mental toolbox during training and races

Triathlete: What is one thing that elite rowers do really well and elite triathletes do poorly?

Wicker: One thing I think rowers do really well is high anaerobic boost, if you compare it to a long distance triathlete. We have a maximum of lactate around 17-22 mmol/l. An Ironman athlete doesn’t need this, but it does mean rowers can dig really deep at the end of a race. Otherwise, I don’t think rowers and triathletes are that different. They train a lot, especially when nobody sees them, and they only have a few races a year to show something.

Triathlete: Have you followed Cam Wurf’s transition from cycling to triathlon? Obviously he was a better pro cyclist than a rower, but do you see any similarities in the way you attack Ironman?

Wicker: I have been following Wurf as he has been a hot topic in triathlon due to his recent performances. I think what I bring to sport, like him, is a lightness that you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously. He shows his strengths and tries to work on his weaknesses.

Athletes who leave other sports often bring with them something that is hard to describe. It might be something like pressure because you’ve done it before in another sport, but it’s different. I just wish I was as good a professional triathlete as Cam, that would be nice.

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Triathlete: Many people think rowing is great cross-training for swimming, but it will help cycling much more, especially for triathletes who have never done an ergometer. What advice would you give to amateur triathletes who want to try rowing to supplement their training?

Wicker: First, learn the technique. It may take a while, but if you have the right technique, it’s so much easier to relax on the erg and not get injured. Next, I think it’s always important to be clear about your goal: is it just basic endurance work, or do I want to do intense intervals? Very often, beginners have too high a stroke rate, and the heart rate is too low. If so, increase the power [resistance] and see if you can maintain the same rate.

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Triathlete: Are you still rowing?

Wicker: Sometimes I will row a little, but only when the weather is nice and the water is calm. I also run from time to time, but I’ve switched to coastal rowing in recent years and I’m a two-time runner-up in the world. I am a bit of a sports pioneer in Germany. The boats are wider and the water is rougher. It’s a “Le Mans” start without everyone in their own lane, and rather a course around the buoy where each boat finds its way, like sailing. It’s great fun, especially if you can ride the waves.

RELATED: Row your way to triathlon fitness

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