17 Aug 2024

Let’s Race… IRONMAN Kalmar  

It may be famous for its meatballs, IKEA and catchy pop songs, but Sweden’s natural beauty is the focus of this high summer full IRONMAN set in a charming seaside city.
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Vicki Grimshaw

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A firm favourite on the race circuit, IRONMAN Kalmar has been voted the most recommended IRONMAN race in the world and has a well deserved reputation for its unrivalled support from the locals.

There are few spots on the course where you won’t find a super-friendly Swede cheering you on in this beautiful, small city by the sea.

As you can expect from the IRONMAN brand, the race organisation is a reliable as a Volvo but the mind-blowingly beautiful setting is also what gets everyone’s vote.

Kalmar is jam-packed with beautiful, historical buildings and with the natural beauty of beaches and two UNESCO World Heritage Sites on its doorstep, it really is perfect place to race and holiday.

The sea swim gets off to a cracking start with a rousing chorus of the Swedish national anthem, then you get to drink in the incredible sea views as you bike across the 6km bridge on the bike, and enjoy the beach and architecture as you head towards that iconic red carpet finish line on the run.

The Party You Don't Want To Miss

Location - a city by the beach

IRONMAN Kalmar race organisers tell everyone they should “race with a smile” and there is plenty to smile about in this beautiful part of south east of Sweden.

Kalmar is a charming medieval seaside town packed beautiful architecture with cafes and restaurants along the main square and pedestrianised, cobbled streets.

This small city by the sea has easy access to nature with breath-taking beaches and islands making it a very special place to race.

Kalmar isn’t the simplest place to get to but it’s definitely worth the effort. The fastest and most popular way is via Copenhagen over the border in Denmark then it’s a direct  4 hour train journey into Kalmar Central Station. Otherwise you can fly to Kalmar via Stockholm and then it’s a quick taxi or bus into the centre.

Once there, everything is within walking distance from the expo to the start and finish and transition areas and when that iconic medal is round your neck, celebrate at Europe’s biggest IRONMAN finish line party.

The race itself feels like one big party with the locals packing their front gardens and lining the streets to cheer you on. There will be DJs, dancing, cooling hosepipes and the best hospitality on the planet.

There are plenty of family friendly B&Bs and budget hotels around the city –  Best Western Kalmarsund Hotell is just five minutes from the start as well as beachside campsites in both Kalmar and across the water on Ölund Island.

Course - fast & flat

The race is suitable for IRONMAN first-timers and the more experienced athletes looking for a PB. The swim can get a bit choppy, so the race may appeal more to confident sea swimmers with good sighting skills. And despite the bike being flat, it can get windy out on Öland Island making it harder work than expected. Strong bikers however could be looking at a fast sub 5 hour leg.

Swim - 3.8KM

The single loop swim takes place in the Kalmar Strait which is a part salt/part fresh water stretch of water between Kalmar and Öland Island. It's the Baltic Sea, so wetsuits are recommended. Practise diving into water with goggles as the race starts from the boardwalk – there's nothing worse than losing your lenses before you’ve even done a stroke! And with an out and back zig-zag course, decent sighting skills will stop you swimming off at a tangent. As the course loops back towards the city you’ll be swimming just metres away from thousands of spectators lining the harbourside and two bridges which should give you the boost you need to finish. Then it’s a very quick run up the ramp into T1 - probably the shortest you’ll ever do!

BIke - 180KM

The course is on closed roads and is pretty flat and fast. Leaving Kalmar you cross onto the Island of Öland via its famous 6km bridge – one of the longest in Europe – usually closed to bikes so a pretty unforgettable experience. But don’t get over excited and head out too hard – there’s still a second loop on the mainland ahead. There’s just 750m of climbing – the biggest hill is probably the bridge so a TT bike or a road bike with aerobars will be your friend on this course, especially if it's windy.

Run - 42.2KM

The three loop run course has gained quite a reputation as the whole city turns up to cheer you on. With a slightly undulating but mostly flat course, the traffic-less route takes you along the beach and round the city centre and through the historic city walls. Finally you hit the magic red carpet in the main square and finish in front of the cathedral to the deafening cheers of an enormous crowd.

Spectators - party atmosphere for all the family

The fact that so much of the race is based in the small but perfectly formed Kalmar is a dream for spectators who can see you on multiple occasions without setting foot out of the town.

All of the local residents put their heart and soul into supporting the IRONMAN race so your friends and family will get to party hard with all the friendly Swedes at the spectator hotspots or along the routes.

On the swim course, everyone lines up along the harbour front or stand on the bridges as you swim beneath them which is quite the sight.

The bike course isn’t the easiest to watch as most of the route is over on Öland Island so your supporters can either hang out at hotspots near T2 or spend time at the beach or the cafes and restaurants in the atmospheric main square where they’ll be well-placed to catch the run course.

Otherwise they can follow you on the IRONMAN Tracking app, or for a fee can sign up VIP access to all the best vantage points on the swim, bike and run including reserved seating at the grandstand finish.

Race-cation - cobbles & castles

The Swedes are famous for their love of nature so this outdoor paradise is the perfect place to unwind post-race.

The Kalmarsundsleden cycle trail stretches across some 200km of country roads and coastline and since Kalmar extends into the Baltic Sea across a number of islands and peninsula – beautiful Stensö is worth a visit – you’re never far from a beach for swimming , hiking or kayaking.

Having seen it from the saddle, Öland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is worth a proper visit and you might even spot a member of the Swedish royal family who have their summer home there.

History buffs will love the cobbled streets of Kalmar Old Town which are packed with well-preserved 18th and 19th century buildings especially its Renaissance-style Kalmar Castle a UNESCO World Heritage site with its ornate turrets and drawbridge and a stunning 17th cathedral both of which you can tour.

You will have worked up an appetite so luckily the area has a strong food heritage. You’ll find classic Swedish dishes such as pickled herring, meatballs, Kroppkakor – a whole new take on meat and potatoes – cinnamon rolls and cookies on the menu in the many outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants.

Head to a café in the historic Krusenstiernska gården or Larmtorget Square where you can also indulge in ‘fika’, the daily Swedish custom of taking time out for a drink, snack and a catch-up with friends.

Travelling with kids? Take a short drive out of Kalmar to the quirky A World of Dinosaurs, home to Europe’s biggest dinosaur exhibition housing some 200 dinosaur skeletons. Children’s author Astrid Lindgren World in Vimmerby is a fun theme park for fans of Pippy Longstocking or head to Glasriket to explore the world of handblown glass.

The Party You Don't Want To Miss

Come and celebrate your achievement at Europe’s biggest IRONMAN party in this Swedish country with seaside charm.

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