Nick Kastelein has emerged as triathlon’s next Aussie to watch, thanks to his recent second place at Barcelona 70.3, and a remarkably clever training schedule. Trizone caught up with Kastelein to talk about his amazing result, and to find out what he’s learned from training with world champion Jan Frodeno.
ITU just didn’t work for Kastelein
“I started short course triathlon and ITU when I was younger but it just never clicked, I probably never knew how to train hard enough,” Kastelein told Trizone. “I was trying to travel and race and chase ITU points. I’d be racing so hard for 200 Euro, thinking I had sponsors because I got free shoe.”
Lacking the love for ITU, Nick figured he’d get some motivation by joining a team. “I was lucky to join the VIS (Victorian Institute of Sport, Australia) for a bit, but I just hated it,” he said.
The new format was the opposite of what Nick had hoped. “I hated the training methods, the way they trained and coached. They drove me out of the state and out of short course. I’ve definitely come out the other side stronger, but it was an environment where I was trying to please everyone, and it was never enough.”
Nick felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he was working incredibly hard, and with little reward. “I was travelling around, racing continental cups everywhere, spending 1000 Euro and going nowhere,” he added. “The time and money other people had invested in me, and the pressure I’d put on myself was just massive. I didn’t mind roughing it because I saw it as an apprenticeship, and it’s something I think everyone should do.”
While Kastelein is modest in his recollection of this period in his career, it’s clear it was a tough grind, and the pressure he felt from family and friends to ‘make it’ was immense.
The turning point: To leave the sport or stay?
“There comes a point where you have to take a step back from your own body and look in and say ‘is this going somewhere? Am I being unrealistic?’ It’s about giving yourself a proper reality check,” said Kastelein.
This mindset and mentality was key for the Australian athlete, and he could have gone one of two ways. “I didn’t see myself moving forward in ITU,” Nick noted. “You see so many triathletes and they’re in the same position I was in, and constantly fighting for it. I had some product deals and I was grateful for any help I could get, but I was far from making it.”
With a decision to make between leaving triathlon or digging his heels in as hard as he could, Kastelein chose to work harder than he ever had before. “I gave myself two years in long course to make the transition, and I’d decided if I wasn’t getting the results, I’d change careers,” he recalled. “You have to commit 100% to the sport so I did and luckily, I didn’t have to make that choice.”
With a background in Exercise Science, Kastelein could have chosen to work in triathlon in a difference capacity, but he knew he could get more out of the sport as an athlete for years to come.
“I decided to jump ship and go to Gerona and I met Jan (Frodeno) out of pure coincidence,” said Kastelein. “I relocated and wanted to start new. Luckily, we got on really well. You have to get on with the person you spend so many hours with.”
Training with Jan Frodeno
The Aussie from Mudgee, a tiny country town in Australia, now trains daily with world champion Jan Frodeno, and he couldn’t be happier. “When we’re out training, I just see him as a mate; someone I’ve got to get the day done with. We’ve had some sh**ty times on rainy, cold mornings, but we just do it,” he said.
Jan’s personality perfectly complements Nick’s, and the training partnership works better than Nick could have hoped.
“He’s outspoken and confident and just took me under his wing. I was willing to learn, ask questions, and he’s taken on that role as a sort of mentor. I just show up everyday consistently without complaint, and I get the work done,” he said.
Like any good partnership, the duo give each other feedback after each session. “We say things like ‘how are you feeling? how did you find that session?’ We give each other constant feedback on every session everyday. We also don’t have negativity in our sessions, its just counter productive,” said Kastelein.
Aussie attitude motivates the pair
Nick’s Aussie ‘she’ll be right’ attitude is now a part of Jan’s vocabulary, thanks to an incident while in Noosa. “Were were riding in Noosa and I was right on his wheel when he crashed. Cars stopped to see if he was OK, and I was saying ‘yeah, yeah, he’s fine thanks.’ His seat was snapped off but he seemed pretty good, I just said ‘yeah, she’ll be right mate,’ and we headed off again. He rode 5kms out of the saddle back into town, but we found out later that day he’d fractured a vertebrae and two ribs at the time!”
After that day, when anything in their training goes awry; from the weather to an injury, they remember that bike ride in Noosa. “It’s one of the jokes now, so any little scratch we have, we both just say ‘no worries mate, she’ll be right,’” Nick said.
Runner up in Ironman 70.3 Barcelona
Kastelein made it to second place behind Frodeno at 70.3 Barcelona this year in May, but it wasn’t the win the pair cared about – it was Nick’s second place.
“Jan and I talk about different hypotheticals in training, like how great it would be to have a sprint finish between us in a race. Recently in Barcelona, it wasn’t a sprint finish, but I knew Jan had just finished and I was in second. To see Jan waiting for me at the finish line like that, and to have a celebration like that with your mate you’ve shared so many hours of training with is pretty cool,” said Kastelein.
The scene at the finish line in Barcelona is one of those moments that make you love this sport; to see the world champion waiting for Kastelein with open arms cheering him on, was heart warming. Then, to see the support they offer each other on Frodeno’s Instagram account just made the whole event even better.
“This will go down as one of my all time favourite pics of my career. We’ve been training together for a few years and it’s a beautiful thing to see it all come together for your mate and being there to share the moment!” Frodeno said on Instagram.
Kastelein was thrilled with the support from Frodeno. “He’d won the race, but all he was talking about was me,” he said. “That’s just him, he’s happier for me than about his own race. That’s pretty great…what more can you say?”
While the Aussie was thrilled to have his training partner waiting for him on the line, he pleaded with him not to hug him as he’d fractured his collarbone during the race. “The last 3kms are pretty tricky in Barcelona. I thought we could bring back the time the lead guy had, I just didn’t anticipate a corner properly, there was sand on the crossing and the bike went out from under me,” said Kastelein.
Tough as nails, the Aussie ran the entire half marathon with a separated collarbone, so severe it required surgery a few days later. “Yeah I have some rehab ahead of me. When Jan found out it was broken I think he was pretty impressed! He’s a tough guy!” said Nick.
It’s all about Kona for Kastelein
To say Kastelein has come a long way from three years ago when he nearly left triathlon is an understatement, he’s now well and truly one of the world’s top pros. “This is the first year I’m making a living from triathlon and that’s a big thing!” Nick added. “I’ve been married for two years to a wonderful English girl who always supports me, and now having a wage from the sport is just a big relief for both of us.”
While he trains incredibly hard, Kastelein draws his edge from something few athletes consider; the psychology of sport. “I used to rely heavily on training for performance and improvement, but I’m starting to learn it comes down to every aspect of your life; from nutrition to recovery, or pushing through the threshold and racing guys better than you,” he said. “Everything you do though, comes down to psychology.”
Having the world champ at his fingertips is handy too, as he sees that extra edge Frodeno can summon to win. “Jan always has an extra gear when it comes to racing and I believe it’s psychological. That’s what I want to get to,” said Kastelein.
With Ironman Austria on the horizon, Kastelein will soon be looking to Kona. “If we could repeat what happened at Barcelona in Hawaii, that would be great. I don’t know if it will happen, but is’ all about motivation,” he said.
With his collarbone well on the mend and his training schedule jam-packed as usual, Nick Kastelein is no longer one to watch; he’s made it, and he’s coming for you.