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Ask Aaron: Pro Triathletes Answer Your Questions

The three pros shared some of their best tips for jumping from short-course to Ironman racing, nutrition tips and their favorite workouts.

Earlier this week, Dirk Bockel, Leanda Cave and Jesse Thomas all jumped on the Triathlete.com forums to answer your questions live. The three pros shared some of their best tips for jumping from short-course to Ironman racing, nutrition tips and their favorite workouts, so I’ll defer to them to handle the answering this week.

Leanda is an ITU Long Distance world champion and second-place finisher at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. She just won the Avia Wildflower Triathlon. Leandacave.com

Dirk raced in the Beijing Olympics, and is a two-time top-10 finisher in Kona. Liveandlettri.com

Jesse is a first-year pro who shocked the triathlon world by winning the Avia Wildflower Triathlon. He was an All-American steeplechaser in college and holds an MBA from the University of Oregon. Leapdaysports.com

Q: Dirk, for a young triathlete with aspirations to do long course, how necessary do you see Olympic distance racing?

Dirk: It’s key to gain your speed. The volume will come later through all the years. I personally think you should race OD [Olympic-distance] stuff first and then move up. … The older you get the more you will lose your speed, but make sure you gain it first! Everyone of us did it that way too.

Q: What is the biggest nutrition mistake that you see people making on an Ironman?

Dirk: See Dirk’s video response:

Q: Leanda, any tips for an age-grouper racing Escape from Alcatraz?

Leanda: First thing: Be prepared for any sort of weather. Take some stretch cords with you on the boat out to Alcatraz to warm up your shoulders before the start. You don’t get a warm-up swim because the race will begin the first time you touch the water. By the way, the water is really cold! Wear a wetsuit cap or two swim caps. Follow the people in front of you in the swim, as you probably won’t know where you are going (at least I never do!).

Have an old pair of shoes ready for the run from the swim exit to the bike transition. Have toe warmers on your bike shoes, as your feet will take forever to warm up. Use a road bike if you have one. Make sure all your gears work fine and have a 25 on your cassette. Pace yourself on the first part of the run; those hills are very deceiving, and I’m not just talking about the stair ladder. There are a lot of other stairs! See you at the finish line!!

Q: What do you think is the most neglected session for the everyday age-grouper? Do you guys use strength & conditioning?

Leanda: Use stretch cords to help swimming. It’s so easy, and you can take them anywhere. You can even supplement swimming with a swim bench and cords. Try the HALO trainer for example.

Q: What do you think is the most neglected session for the everyday age-grouper? Do you guys use strength & conditioning?

Dirk: Swim always with a pull buoy cause you float better. Ride hard because you only ride 2-3 times. Better to really keep a detailed plan and execute it as 100% as you can, no matter if Lance Armstrong passes you or if it starts to rain. … It’s brutal, I know, but that’s the ABC of scheduled and planed training.

Q: I have a history of not absorbing gels very well in 70.3s despite giving my body more than enough time to break it down. What do you recommend?

Leanda: I use Accel Gels and squeeze three or four of them into a gel flask, then I add a bit of water to thin them out. I’m not saying this will work for you, but it’s worth a try.

Q: Jesse, what do you eat on the bike with your gluten-free diet?

Jesse: I eat Picky Bars of course while I’m on the bike! They are a gluten- and dairy-free energy bar created for me by my wife, two-time USA 5k champ Lauren Fleshman. They are healthy, gluten and dairy-free, I seriously love them, and they don’t bother my stomach at all. Thank you so much for helping me get in that shameless plug!

Q: What do you think is the most neglected session for the everyday age-grouper? Do you guys use strength & conditioning?

Jesse: I’m willing to bet the most neglected session for age-groupers is the recovery session. It’s so simple to understand that you have to recover, but the fact is that most athletes simply don’t recover enough. Especially if they coach themselves, it’s hard to let yourself pull back when you’re beat. I train with age-groupers here in Eugene and I swear if I tried to stay with them every day I’d be CRUSHED. I avoid them on my easy days, because I take easy very seriously. In order to train hard, you have to train easy.

And some answers about their own racing careers and aspirations:

Q: Dirk, what would mean more to you: top three in 2012 Olympics or top three in Kona 2011? Will you alter your training program in 2012 to gear up for the Olympics?

Dirk: Hi buddy, well a medal at Olympics would be unbeatable for my personal career; I would definitely prefer that. Not too sure about Olympics 2012 yet. I would like to race, but I am not keen on racing two years my heart out to try to qualify for it. I will stay in shape for short distance and then see if I can make it with a few short attempts—but I will see for sure after Kona 2011.

Q: Do female contenders discuss throughout the year how to collectively beat Chrissie in Kona? Is she beatable in a head-to-head match-up?

Leanda: I would say yes and yes. Chrissie is gifted beyond the normal athlete. She is so fortunate to have found triathlon and discover her natural ability. There are not many athletes who train as hard as she does or who can physically tolerate the training that she does. When we discuss what it would take to beat Chrissie, it comes down to who can train as hard as she does and absorb it without breaking down. There are other female triathletes out there who can swim, bike or run faster, but none of us have put the whole package together … yet. Chrissie has raised the bar and it’s up to us to get up to her level.

Q: Jesse, do you think people will try to get away from you on the bike now that they know how fast of a runner you are? Strategy-wise, how do you think your racing will have to change? And what are you doing to become a faster swimmer and biker? If you could become a good enough swimmer, do you think you’d ever give the 2016 Olympics a go, given your run speed is on par with Gomez and Brownlee?

Jesse: I don’t expect guys are going to be thinking about me just because of one result, but that’s flattering, thanks! I think my strategy will remain pretty consistent, and that’s to just race within myself on my weaker legs, try to maintain contact so I’m within striking distance by the time the run starts. As far as ITU racing, I would LOVE to race ITU, but it’s a no-go with my swim. Those guys are absolutely amazing swimmers and I’m still a mid- to back-of-the-packer pro out of the water. I’m improving, so we’ll see what happens, but for now, I’ll stick to the long course and non-drafting stuff where I can be competitive.