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  • IRONMAN Sebastian Kienle and a champion’s recipe for success.
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    IRONMAN Sebastian Kienle and a champion’s recipe for success.

    How do you find the motivation for such a high performance level? Sebastian Kienle, triathlon World Champion 2014, reveals his formula for success.

    Text: Marcel Schlegel | Photos: Tobias Kuberski

Kienle uses his V-Class as a training vehicle.

It’s raining outside this Saturday morning. In Mühlacker, a quiet South German town close to Pforzheim, the roads are empty. Sebastian takes the steps up to his family home where he has an apartment at a pace. The sliding door of the V-Class is open, sports bag thrown elegantly onto the seat; Kienle wheels his racing bike out of the garage and lifts it deftly into the boot of the van, securing it with a few practiced moves.

Kienle picks up colleagues in the van.

He hasn’t changed into his training kit yet. “I’ll do that in a bit, in the car.” Kienle is running late. He was due to meet a triathlon colleague for training at 9 AM. But he isn't really looking forward to it “in this weather” he says, and grins.

But that’s your lot as a professional athlete. “I don’t always get up in the morning and shout for joy at the thought of training! But you just have to stick with it. You learn how,” explains Kienle, who was the first triathlete in 2014 to be European and World Champion in long distance in the same year.

You get to be a two-time world champion from routine.

That’s why Sebastian Kienle has been training regularly with colleagues again for quite some time. “Routine is important. When you arrange to meet someone, you can’t come with excuses,” says the 33-year-old. He usually picks up his training partners. “We all fit easily into the V-Class.” He parks it now on a forest trail, in the middle of the vineyards that surround Mühlacker. Kienle laughs as he puts on his running shoes in the boot of the van. He’s looking forward to training now, he admits. Where does this motivation come from so suddenly? How does the IRONMAN 2014 World Champion manage to face a tough training unit on a rainy day like this?

1. Set long-term goals.

“The most important rule for long-term success: formulate your goals in the long-term and reach them by achieving short-term stages. If you take many small steps, the long-term goals – which before seemed utopian – are suddenly very manageable,” says Kienle, who has won the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship twice already. But there won’t be any IRONMAN victories before having battled a lot of smaller races in the meantime – that’s what Kienle means with short-term challenges. “This way, your progress is visible and keeps you motivated.”

2. Trust your own experience and stay hungry.

The former world champion takes assurance from his preparation on the one hand, and from his previous experience on the other. He has often stood at the start and felt sluggish and weak. What do you do then? “I think of all the races where I felt similarly bad before but that went well,” replies Sebastian Kienle. “You gather experience from your successes. Experience creates a sense of assurance and a feeling of strength.”

The tricky balancing act here: success shouldn’t lead to self-satisfaction, warns Kienle. “After a win you get careless, and maybe don’t work so hard anymore,” he says. There is nothing more dangerous as achieving a clear win in a competition. “You have to stay hungry and must not let a win dazzle you,” says the professional triathlete. “Remember: the others are chipping away at your throne!”

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3. Analyze yourself and learn from your mistakes.

Nevertheless, Sebastian Kienle learns the most from failures. It’s then he analyses himself: “Which tactical mistakes did I make? How was I feeling and how did I deal with my feelings?” Wrong decisions are written down just as his self-doubt is and then examined.

“Writing it down helps me sort my thoughts. It prepares you for difficult situations.” Sometimes the analysis shows that nothing more was possible. “That’s why I can sometimes be proud of a second place,” he explains.

4. Look for solutions and develop automatisms.

Sometimes fate gets in the way – for example when a tire punctures in a race. What do you do when you have got a puncture, or when your goggles slide off your face? Kienle asks himself these questions before a competition – and works out solutions. The 33-year-old compares this preparation with that of a pilot. “When the plane’s engine fails, the pilot goes through an automatism that he has practiced millions of times in the simulator,” he says. “That’s not the moment when the pilot opens the manual for the first time. He knows what to do.” And the triathlete writes his solutions down on paper and memorizes them. “When quick decisions are called for in a contest, I won’t be caught unawares.”

5. Enjoy the journey.

Sebastian Kienle is convinced that success functions according to the old Confucian saying that joy lies within the journey, not the destination. “People doing triathlons just to win won’t last long,” says the IRONMAN from South Germany. “You have to enjoy the journey,” says Kienle and means the many training units, all the kilometres before the finish and the feeling in the evening of being completely exhausted and just falling into bed. It also means seeing small steps of progress as success, not being too hard on yourself, taking time out and even blotting out the thought of that victory. “The steps along the way are just as important.”

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6. No one says it’s going to be easy.

“You always want the race to be over quickly,” says Sebastian Kienle and laughs. Before the success come the sweat, the hard work and the will to take that extra step. “No- one says it’s easy. Victories have to hurt,” says the Hawaii winner of 2014.

If the calf muscles are burning and your head wants you to give up, Kienle remembers that it is these moments that decide whether you'll win or lose. More than that: 'These situations define who we are in life,' he believes. 'I look forward to them.'

The battle against yourself.

Why? The feeling of having battled with self-doubt and ultimately mastered borderline situations is what motivates Kienle the most. “The fight against yourself is often much harder than the battle you have with your opponent,” he says. The body is capable of much more than you think – as long as your head thinks so too. “If your attitude is right you can compensate a lot. But if your head doesn’t get around this fact, it won’t work.”