Pro Interview: Thor Bendix Madsen

Thor Bendix Madsen is Danish professional triathlete who took his first win as a pro at last year’s Garmin Challenge Herning. Here he talks about coming back from serious injury not once, but twice, and the lessons adversity has taught him. 

First, can you explain to us, who is Thor Bendix Madsen?
Of course, I am 22 years old, born, raised and live in Copenhagen. Right now, I can call triathlon my job. However, working as a personal trainer and swimming coach as well. I train in KTK86 under Jens Petersen-Bach. Here we have a good setup with good training facilities and a good team! I really enjoy coming to training every day and seeing my friends – without them, I would not have been in the sport and could not train so many hours a week. A good training community is really the key to many things in this sport.

How did you start triathlon and had you been active before triathlon?
I always been active with a lot of energy. That’s why sports have always been a big part of my everyday life, and something that I have found fun. Until I was 13, I played football, at a very high level. I took the training very seriously at the time. However, I did not grow at the same time as my peers, and I was thrown out by the first team. I lost the desire to play football and started running in an athletics club called Sparta in Copenhagen. Here I really found something that I think was cooler then playing football. I won some medals for various Danish youth championships from 3000m track races, to cross races to 10k road races. However, I was inspired by my little sister Sif Bendix Madsen to start triathlon back in 2015. She had joined the youth national team and did well! I signed up for the local triathlon club and started training with them. At first, I was the slowest to swim, but I worked hard at it every day. So, in 2016 I won both the Danish junior championship, joined the youth national team, and participated in the European Championships – and I think 2016 was the year it really took off. However, I trained without structure, so one day at swim training Jens Petersen-Bach grabbed me and asked if I would be his first athlete. We have been working together ever since.

Despite that your triathlon journey is just about to start properly, then you’ve already been through quite a lot. For instance, last year you had several cases, which made you doubt whether triathlon was worth all the hard work. Can you give us an insight into your thoughts on this?
I think you must take it back a few years first. Back in 2017, I broke my collarbone for the first time, and was out for a good while. However, I never lost the motivation to train. On the contrary, it only got bigger. I really broke through in 2020 by running some good races, and then winning a strong DM half ironman at only 20 years old. This made me believe and hope the 2021 season could be the one where I broke through internationally as well. Therefore, I started pushing it maybe just a bit too much in training over the winter. Which resulted in a fatigue fracture down around the lower back. I got retrained back and started to be able to train at full blast at the beginning of the summer. But just as I was coming back, I crashed on my bike, breaking my collarbone, shoulder blade and some ribs. A proper job, which really hurt both body and soul. I lost motivation completely along with my always good mood (if I have to say so myself). I started isolating and withdrawing. Felt in a way that the whole world was rubbish and that I might have to look other ways than triathlon. When it dawned on me that life can also offer other things than triathlon. I was really starting to consider whether I should start growing up in a gym, going to all the good parties and starting my dream studio at CBS. You could say that the “regular” youth life began to draw in me. After many years where triathlon had been my priority in all life aspects. Something that I wish to this day that I might have done differently when I went to high school, etc. However, I was helped back on track by my friends from triathlon. But I still think to this day I was very close to finishing triathlon that summer. But it made me realise I wanted to try something new. Get back to triathlon but in a different way. Some will also think better. I started to enjoy other things in life than just triathlon, and in many ways started living a “normal life” next to triathlon. However, I was and still am very serious about my training. I just started to be able to separate the two things when I had to do it.

In many ways Garmin Challenge Herning became your turnaround point of 2021. Can you give us some insights on the race and how you prepared?
I had just come from another win at the Danish championship over the half distance two weeks prior. So, I showed I was starting to get back to my old level. I was ready and excited to put my neck on the line with winning my first professional international race. I had a good lead-in to the race. I have found that I perform best if I can clear my mind from the triathlon days up to race. So, on the way to Herning, I visited a girl I had started to like. I spent the day with her before moving on to Herning. The day before was spent on the usual things, but unlike many other times, I was not nervous at all. I was just looking forward to running a big race in Denmark.On race morning I warmed up well with some good music. I always do. It brings me into the zone, and I can visualise the race. It started to rain a lot, but I did not really think about it. It is the same for everyone. I was called up as one of the first professional men, the two commentators know me well. So, some funny things were said. The start gun went off and I got a perfect start. I am one of the leaders around the first bend, and therefore avoid the fight. I get out of the water right after the front ones, but with a good distance down to the main group. I am very surprised by my swimming as I have hardly swum all summer due to my bike crash. I quickly rode to the front and took the lead, following the plan I had agreed with my coach before. I came into T2 with 1.5-2min lead. However, I’m afraid chasers pick me off all the way, as I certainly did not think I had done well in the race. Eventually, though, I can see that they’re having a hard time getting it. I run across the finish line in first place. Something I have always dreamed of. I immediately start thinking back to two months before where everything was bad. I am moved by the situation. Especially when I see my father. My family has always been there for me, and I could not imagine that I would have come this far in the sport without them. I really enjoyed the rest of the day. Especially the car trip from Herning back to Copenhagen. Nothing special happened, but I sat for the first time with a feeling in my body that everything was going my way right now, and I was proud of myself.

This spring should have contained quite a few races, but unfortunately you had a terrible crash in your first race this season. How are you feeling and what will you do move forward?
Unfortunately, I had a very unfortunate episode with a motorcycle for this year’s first competition. Which caused me to lose consciousness for a very long time, got a concussion, and my face does not quite look like itself anymore. I had otherwise had a good winter training, where I had been south most of the time. The shape was good. Almost too good to be true. I therefore had really high expectations for the start of 2022. However, they were quickly ruined by a very unfortunate crash. First of all, I’m just happy to be sitting here today. I could have been paralysed or in the worst case, I could have died. However, I therefore see the crash as if I was “lucky”. I have had a week without any training, huge headaches, and generally a great discomfort in the body. I must honestly admit that I have been very sad. Many of the same thoughts as last summer have popped up and I feel incompetent and indifferent. There is not far from feeling like a rock star to a person who is most definitely not a rock star. I use a lot of the knowledge and experience from last summer and talk to some people who I know can help me get back on track again. It will probably take some time to get back to training and get the spirit back. However, I am 100% sure that it will probably come! I have a race to defend this summer in Herning!

With only a few months left to this year’s edition of Garmin Challenge Herning, which tips and tricks would you highlight for our readers and athletes racing this summer?
First and foremost, it’s about getting trained continuously. You do not have to do hero workouts every day. It is more important that you can train every week leading up to the race than getting injured. In addition, I would recommend watching what the professionals are doing on their bike. You do not have to buy expensive equipment. If you can sit right, then you can pick up a lot of time! Otherwise, it’s just a matter of enjoying the process, both the good and the bad days. From what I have learned, you learn an incredible amount from the bad days. I have a saying that goes, “Believe in the highs. Accept the lows”. What is meant by this is that one must dream big about the good things, but one must also be good at accepting the bad days, to achieve the good things in life.