Ironman Wisconsin Champ!

Ironman Wisconsin Champ!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bretscher Multisport 2010 Athlete Success

When I first started this blog, I intended to make it mostly about the athletes I coach as opposed to my own racing. For no particular reason, that didn't happen. Now that the 2010 multisport season is finished for all of my athletes I will take this opportunity to highlight the accomplishments of my full time athletes from this past year. I had a big mixture of athletes in 2010, ranging in age from 27 to 53, and ability from training for first ever triathlon to some of the top age groupers in the country. Below they are listed in alphabetical order.

Coming off his 10:28 performance as a Bretscher Multisport athlete at Ironman Wisconsin in 2009, Andrew used 2010 as a transition year, between Ironmans, to work on his speed. He put in a quality, consistent year of training with some solid race results along the way. Next year Andrew will return to the Ironman focus as a Bretscher Multisport athlete for the third straight year. Look out for this guy in Coeur D'Alene where he’ll attempt to smash 10 hours.

Coming off a breakthrough 2009 as a Bretscher Multisport athlete, Dana returned in 2010 set on improving upon results such as a top-3 overall finish in an Ironman 70.3. Dana's early season highlight was a 3 minute olympic distance PR with a 2:00:08 finish in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin. He added a couple local wins along the way to his peak race, the Muskoka 70.3 in Canada. At Muskoka in September, Dana had likely the best race of his life. A year after being the third place overall age grouper, Dana took the overall age group title by a full 6 minutes over second place. His time nearly placed him top-10 amongst the professional field. I could point out that Mirinda Carefree still chicked him by 20 seconds but that would just be cruel! Dana finished off his season two weeks ago at the 70.3 World Championships. Coming off his best training block of the year and more fit than he was in Muskoka, Dana was having a great race with a 90 second swim PR, moving up well on the bike, when a flat tire ruined what would have been a major PR for the distance. Still, a great year overall.

Julie had a fantastic season in her second year as a Bretscher Multisport athlete. Her early season highlights included a 14 minute olympic distance PR of 2:27 which netted her an age group victory. Add to that a new 70.3 PR of 5:19 turned in at the Racine 70.3. In that race Julie averaged 20mph for the 56 mile bike, just three weeks after riding 20mph for the first time ever in a 40k. She finished off her season with one of her most fulfilling race finishes conquering one of the most difficult 70.3 course in the world at the Muskoka 70.3 in her backyard of Canada. Julie set PRs in every distance she raced in 2010.

I still remember getting the email this past spring which read something to the effect of “I’ve never done a triathlon of any distance and I just entered Ironman Louisville, can you help me?” I can’t say I know too many people who enter an Ironman before completing even a sprint triathlon but this was the case with Luke. Luke completed his first sprint triathlon in April of 2010 and then as a Bretscher Multisport athlete made a successful Half Iron debut in July. Six weeks later and just four months after finishing his first ever triathlon Luke was standing on the start line in Louisville for his first Ironman. Despite 90+ degree weather Luke made it to the finish line and is an official Ironman finisher.

Mike #1
This was Mike's first year as a Bretscher Multisport athlete and a big step in his road towards being as healthy as possible. Mike took up the sport of triathlon in 2007 after seeing the Ironman on TV. At the time he weighed in at 220 pounds and was wearing size 38, unhappy about the road he was headed down. He made a pact to himself to become life fit and finish an Ironman triathlon before the age of 40. 2010 would be his last year before 40. Mike started his season by running the Boston Marathon in 3:42, a 32 minute PR. In July he raced a half Ironman to a 33 minute PR of 5:03. That left only his full-Iron debut which he would attempt at Rev-3 Cedar Point. He didn't just attempt it, he went under his ultimate goal of 12 hours with a 11:43, finishing before the sunset. That race marked the end of his three year journey from size 38, 220#, barely able to complete a 1-hour sprint triathlon to size 30, 183# and an Ironman finisher (not to mention sub-12 hours) before the age of 40. In all Mike set PRs in every distance he raced in 2010. Mike will return as a Bretscher Multisport athlete in 2011 with Ironman #2 already on the calendar!

Mike #2
Mike began as a Bretscher Multisport athlete this past summer not with a goal so much of going a certain time or speed, but wanting motivation to become life fit, guidance on how to live a healthy lifestyle, train effectively, become involved in the multisport community, and just wanting to feel good in general. Going fast is just the icing on the cake. Mike completed his first ever sprint triathlon in June and capped off his tri season by making a successful olympic distance debut in September. In just three months Mike dropped his threshold run pace by a full minute per mile, increased his threshold bike power by over 30 watts, and saw similar results in the pool. This past month he ran a 30 minute PR with a 2:07 half marathon. Mike will return as a Bretscher Multisport athlete in 2011 and I don't see any way he doesn't continue improving.

Coming off a mediocre, uninspired year of training and racing in 2009, Ron became a Bretscher Multisport coached athlete in 2010 with the hope of breaking out of his rut and realizing his potential. Did he ever. Ron started the year by winning the 50-54 age group by 15 minutes at Memphis in May. He went out west for the Boise 70.3, won his age group by 30 minutes and was the 9th overall fastest age grouper on the day. As impressive as that performance was he outdid it in July at the Door County Half in Wisconsin. At the age of 53, Ron raced to a LIFETIME half iron PR of 4:30, won his age group by 20 minutes, and his time was bettered by just one person over the age of 40. Ron's focus for the second half of the season was Age Group Nationals, the most competitive age group race in the country. Ron impressed once again, finishing runner-up in the 50-54 age group with a 2:10, it was his only age group finish other than first of the entire year. Coming off the tri season in possibly the best shape of his life, Ron decided to "jump in" the Des Moines marathon just to see what he could do. Just three weeks after the end of the tri season, and with no real marathon specific training, Ron ran a negative split, 2:58 marathon, a lifetime PR and his first marathon in over 20 years! Ron will return as a Bretscher Multisport athlete in 2011 and has his sights set on bigger things including a possible world championship appearance!

Suzanne turned to Bretscher Multisport coaching in 2010 to help her with her preparations for her Ironman debut in Wisconsin. But first she would need to complete her first half iron. She did so successfully in June and then raced to a very impressive 5:27 finish at the Steelhead 70.3 in July. Add to that an olympic distance PR and Suzanne set PRs in every distance she raced in 2010. In September it was Ironman Wisconsin and likely the most gutsy performance I can think of all year. With a great race in the making, Suzanne had a bike accident in the final miles of the ride and severely bruised her ribs. Looking for treatment in T2 she was told she could not be wrapped or she would have to withdrawal. Undeterred Suzanne left T2 without any pain treatment and ran the entire marathon clutching her side. Not only did she finish, but she still managed to do so a few minutes under her ultimate goal time with a 13:24. Her post race email to me describing her race was one line "It was fun, I can't wait to do it again". Wish I could have had the same reaction after my first 140.6! Suzanne will be running the Austin marathon this February and utilizing Bretscher Multisport coaching to get her to the finish line!

Overall it was a very good year. From a coaching standpoint I was pretty satisfied, I didn't feel as though I "missed" with anyone. There were certainly some off races and struggles, but that happens to everyone, even in our very best years it's all apart of the process. I know it’s unrealistic to expect a 100% success rate, but I think these past two years have been as close to that as I could possibly hope for. Looking forward to working with a new crew of athletes and returnees with plenty more success in 2011!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Calling it a season-Thinking long term-The economics of making a living as a pro triathlete

I made the decision to call my 2010 triathlon campaign complete a few weeks ago and not go forth with Ironman Florida. Basically I was tired, more so mentally than physically, and just didn't feel that I was ready to put forth the dedication to properly prepare for another Ironman. I thought about just "faking" my way through it and going through the motions with my preparations but one of the things I learned from my first experience with the 140.6 distance is the importance of being completely and totally dedicated to the task at hand when training and racing that distance. So out of respect for the distance and my body I decided not to force myself to prepare when the signs were clearly there I wasn't into it. I think that less than two months of separation between Ironmans was asking a lot, especially for the first two. The first one took so much out of me mentally and I had not quite bounced back all the way when it came time to prepare for the second. Furthermore I hadn't quite recovered physically as well as I had initially thought. After the standard week of downtime following the race I felt quite sharp actually, managed good workouts and a very solid 1:53 olympic distance performance in Iowa. Then three weeks after Rev 3 was the Powerman Muncie long course duathlon. It was during and after that race where I learned that I had some very deep rooted soreness and fatigue still in the body. I had planned to start training for Florida the day after Powerman but instead I was so sore I couldn't walk normal for two days. And with that I called it a season.

My 2010 season was rather mixed; some highs and many lows. Pretty inconsistent. It was a step forward from the disaster that was 2009 but not up to the level that I was at in 2007-08. The one big positive that I take away from this year is the way I finished the season from August onward. I took a big risk with the training I did for Rev 3, wasn't sure if I was physically capable of completing it, but surprisingly, it wasn't even the hardest training block I had ever completed despite it being by far the most volume.

I think the biggest challenge for me still remains trying to figure out where exactly triathlon fits into my life. Is triathlon something that I really want to do as a profession and try to make into a career? Or would I be happier if I lived the life of a 'normal' working person, trained 15 hours a week to keep fit, and raced triathlon as an age grouper purely for the fun of it? This is something I've been trying to figure out for multiple years now and still don't have an answer for. It's funny because I remember racing as an age-grouper back in 2007 which was probably the most motivated I've ever been towards anything in my entire life. And my motivation that year was how badly I wanted to make it as a professional triathlete. So what has happened since then to make me question what was my strongest motivation ever? Well, I became a professional triathlete. And along with becoming a professional triathlete I have lived the lifestyle of a pro triathlete for three years now and I've learned that the lifestyle isn't quite as glamorous as I envisioned as a motivated age grouper back in 2007. Don't get me wrong, being a pro triathlete is great and I love the lifestyle, but it is also hard, very hard. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. And while there are some highs which we all strive for and envision in training, there are also many lows, probably more lows than highs, and some of those lows are rock bottom low. It's those lows that you never consider when you set goals or choose to chase the dream, but they are always there and apart of the whole process. Now age group racing certainly has it's lows too, but not nearly to the extent of professional racing. The moment you decide to have this sport as your profession and way of making a living you introduce a whole new pressure into the equation, the pressure that this is where your income has to come from, this is how you will make a living. How well you race is how well you get paid. For the majority of pro triathletes there's no such thing as a stable income like a 'normal' job or even other pro sports. In most pro sports the way you perform on any given day does not impact how you are paid, you are paid based on your entire body of work. This is not the case in triathlon, you are paid almost entirely off of what you do on the day. This pressure and uncertainty is no way to make a living and can sap a lot of the fun and purity out of the sport.

I would equate making a living as a pro triathlete to the 'average' person who works 5 days/40 hours per week like this. Imagine that starting next week your current job is going to have all its employees come in to work just one day per week with the opportunity to make two weeks worth of pay. Sounds great, right? But here's the catch. At the end of the work day all the employees are going to be measured for their productivity on that day. Those whose productivity is in the top 20% of everyone will be paid an entire two week's salary, everyone else, nothing. So what will happen under this scenario? Well, those who are consistently in the top-20% of productivity every week will likely be very happy, they are getting paid quite well for one day a week of work. A select few, who can be in the top 20% more than half the time, will even be making more than one year's salary in a year. However, the number of workers who fall into this category will be very small. The vast majority of employees will be lucky to place in the top 20% once per month, many will go into the work day knowing that they have practically no chance of getting paid. As a result it won't take long for people to quit this job for something more stable or find a second job to make ends meet. This is my best analogy for what it is like trying to make a living as a pro triathlete. And I forgot to mention, also add into the above scenario the variables that there will no longer be employee insurance or health benefits, no paid time off, no sick days, no paid vacations, no retirement package, no excuses. And to make it even more in line with pro triathlon, every week your job location changes to a different city in the US, sometimes even a different country. All employees are responsible for funding their travel to the job location. What do think the chances are of any given worker making a stable, long term living at this job?

I'm not trying to complain about making a living as a pro triathlete, too many pros already do that. I feel fortunate for my time as a pro and for the opportunity of being able to experience this lifestyle. The reason I didn't pursure a career upon graduating college was because I knew I would always look back and wonder what could have been with triathlon. Well, I've now gone down that road and I know what it is to make a living in this sport. All I'm trying to say is that having lived the lifestyle as a pro for three years now I'm not sure how much longer I can see myself going like this, unless things suddenly improve drastically. I, like all pros, would love to see much more money suddenly appear in the sport but I don't see things changing anytime soon. Reality is pro triathletes are not sought after the same way as the pros in other sports. Imagine if I were to show up at an average, hometown, local triathlon with three athletes who are at the top of their games in their respective sports. Peyton Manning, Lebron James, Chris McCormack. At this local triathlon I would estimate that close to 100% of all participants are going to immediately recognize Peyton and Lebron. Yet I would also predict somewhere in the neighborhood of 20% of all participants are going to recognize Chris McCormack. And this is a triathlon we're talking about, the very sport in which Macca has reached the pinnacle. Professionals just do not carry much weight in this sport right now, and until this changes you won't see more people making a living as pro triathletes. Chrissie Wellington might be the only pro triathlete to make it as a mainstream athlete, and even that is debateable. But I still don't see even Chrissie having more than a 50% recognition rate at a given hometown triathlon. The star pros in other sports transcend the sport. Star pro triathletes are barely recognizable in their own sport.

With age group racing it's all about fun, enjoyment of the sport, healthy competition, and the lifestyle first and foremost. The moment the lows outweigh the highs you're going to stop or take a break and find a new hobby. When you commit to race as a professional it's a little different; you have to stick to the plan through all the ups and downs, even when the lows outweigh the highs. Sometimes you have to race even when you don't really want to for the purpose of making money and supporting your sponsors. The travel can be fun, visiting new places for the purpose of racing, but the travel can also become monotonous, expensive, and be more draining than the racing. Racing because you 'need' to as a professional can sap a lot of the fun away compared to an age grouper who will only race because they 'want' to. And finally, professionals live with the realization that they are working twice as hard and getting paid a fraction of what they would make if they used that college degree to get a 'real' job. All of this for the purpose of "living the dream". But what happens when 'the dream' turns out to be not nearly as appealing as you once thought? Well now I'm just getting philosophical. All I'm trying to say is I'm still questioning where triathlon fits into my life and what I hope to take away from it. I'm far from saying I'm throwing in the towel on professional racing. The good news is I do feel rejuvenated and excited again by the challenge of Ironman racing and I'm excited to head into 2011 with an Ironman focus.

A lot has happened since the season ended. My roomate, Jun, landed a great job as head coach of the Frostburg State University Men's and Women's swimming and diving teams. He has moved out to Maryland for that position. He left his previous job as Assistant coach to the women's swim team at DePauw University. With it being mid-season and nobody available to fill his position the DPU head coach offered me Jun's old position and I accepted it, as a volunteer. So it's a very interesting experience as this is my first time coaching at the collegiate level as well as my first time coaching just a women's team. And to make things even more interesting the head coach is my mom. I figure the worst that can happen out of all of this is I learn a whole lot. And with my own personal questions about my future in triathlon I've started thinking more and more about heading back to grad school and won't rule out the possibility of pursuing a coaching career. I really think that 2011 is going to be a deciding year for me. If I can put together a stellar, consistent triathlon season and have fun while doing it then I'll stick with my current profession. If I see more inconsistency, lackluster performances, and don't enjoy myself more then I think it'll be time to reconfigure my priorities and place triathlon racing on the back burner for a while. It won't be a failure if that happens, success or failure to me is based upon figuring out exactly what I want to do with my life long term and then doing it to the best of my ability! Here's to figuring things out in 2011!

Thanks for reading,

Having just read through all I wrote I declare this my favorite blog post yet. It's funny what happens when you get going, when I sat down I planned a short update about ending my season. Oops, guess I had a lot to say I didn't know about.