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America’s next great Hawaii Ironman hopeful – in his rookie Kona season – gets advice from the last American to win (2001 & 2002).
TD: So, you’ve done your first ironman.
TO: Yeah, I did my very first one.
TD: How’d it go?
TO: I was pretty happy with it.
TD: I rode with you once this winter. You were still trying to figure out your schedule at that point.
TO: Yeah, we rode and I was getting some feedback from you about your long rides and how many you would do, and I started bumping up my bike volume. I was a little nervous. I didn’t know if I’d blow up on the bike. That was probably my number one concern.
TD: Yeah, I was interested to see how you’d do so I watched, and it seemed like you kind of keyed off Eneko [Llanos].
TO: That was my game plan. I knew he was the guy to beat.
TD: That definitely looked like a good game plan for the first time. On your bike, did you feel – I mean for me, looking at you going into Kona, that’s going to be your make or break point. You’ve got to be strong on the bike. Because your run is solid enough, but that’s kind of that testing ground on the bike, how strong you can be.
TD: I was surprised. I didn’t think I’d ride under 4:30. But it was fast – I mean it was a fast bike course. [Chris] Lieto rode a 4:15. I felt pretty good, and then the last 10 miles Luke Bell went, and that’s when I felt like it was a decision point. Unfortunately, Eneko went away with him. But I think overall it was a good decision, to focus on my nutrition.
TD: Did you get your nutrition?
TO: I didn’t get my special needs bag, so I kind of recalculated everything and just played it by ear.
TD: You have to go into it with about 50 plans, then see which one hits.
TO: I know there’s a lot of pressure with people going into Kona, but for me I felt almost like the first one was even maybe a little bit more, just because it was a complete unknown and it could have gone totally south.
TD: Yeah, and it’s so different from when I first started. I mean I did my first ironman as an age-grouper – my first three ironman’s as an age-grouper – and they were all in Kona, so I just kind of moved my way up through the ranks. Now it seems like it’s changed to the point where you’ve got these short course guys who move up to the half and then the full, more like running has become. There are a lot of different pressures I think on you guys, when you’re stepping up to that distance. So now you’ve had a good successful first race, let’s back it up. And again, going to Kona for you is different because you’ve been over there to watch it a couple times.
TO: Twice, yeah. I was in one of the cars for the men’s race so I got to see the bike unfold.
TD: That’s huge – it’s almost like you’ve done the race, getting to see it that close up. When I went through it I made six years of mistakes before I figured it out!
TO: What was the first year you did Kona as an age-grouper?
TO: ‘92 – so did you do three straight years as an age-grouper and then turn pro in ‘95?
TD: Yeah. And those years, you know it was very different than it is now. I raced as an age-grouper and I did it at the end of the year. It was just kind of a workout. I never trained for it; I just did it. And I didn’t do well, but I had fun. I knew that was where I wanted to go, and then the first year I trained for it in ‘95, my first pro year, that was where I really began to learn more. But I think doing it then as a pro was different. The point system now, in my eyes it changes everything. That’s what I was watching more than anything, is how you handle the points. And so far it’s been great. You talked about that a few weeks ago when you had a good race at Boulder Peak. But then what happened at Vineman – were you just flat?
TD: That’s where you’ve got to be careful. Hopefully you’ll learn from that. You’re one of the rare guys that I’m watching that has the right schedule. I mean guys are still racing, chasing points. But you know that you’re going, you’ve got your slot, you can focus on that.
TO: I’ve decided that I’m putting 70.3 World’s aside and not racing that this year.
TD: Thank god! I don’t think guys know how much that’s going to take out of them. Those temperatures and that race four weeks before Kona is going to kill them.
TO: Yeah, 100, 115 degrees. Also, the field at Vineman was an unbelievable field, and when I finished that race, I had had a bad run. I was flat. But I was 80 seconds off the previous course record and I was sixth.
TO: So I think I realized then that in Vegas, there are going to be a lot of guys throwing down.
That takes a lot out of you.
TD: I just think that if you want to do well in Kona, you’ve got to focus on Kona. That’s all there is to it. If you look at every past winner, they focused on Kona. You’re not getting somebody who’s coming in who’s like: I’ve raced a ton this year, and I’m just going to go into Kona and win it. [Luc] Van Lierde was the rarity where he raced building up to Kona. But I think to do well there, you have to focus solely on Kona.
TO: It’s going to be interesting. Take Andy Potts – he didn’t focus on it, and granted he was on the podium, he had two good races – top 10’s – but then last year he was 21st and he did put all his marbles in one basket.
TD: Yeah but what’s your goal – top 10, or winning it? I mean that’s the big difference; there’s a huge difference between a top 10 and winning. You can’t even pay for your trip unless you’re top three or four, seriously! And to have it have an impact. That was the thing for me; it was easy for me to just put everything aside. With my sponsors, I just had to sit down and talk with them and just say, “Look, if I win this race, or do well with a top three in Kona, it means everything.” Compared to a couple of 70.3 wins or placings elsewhere. Everybody forgets about everything except for Kona. It’s funny, I mean there are guys who are professional triathletes and they’re just racing for paychecks. For me it was always, I want a world title. I could care less about the money. And that was what I think made it easy for me, was setting that aside, and just wanting to be the best out there on that given day. I was still living paycheck to paycheck for a long time. You just forget about it. I would watch Pete Reid, and how he was just driven – driven to win, not just earn a living.
TO: What was your race schedule like when you were at the top of your game in Kona?
TD: I liked to do an early ironman. It was so different when I was winning, because the 70.3 series did not exist. There were a couple half ironman’s – there was Wildflower, there was St. Croix, but you know that was it. And they were not a series, so it wasn’t a complete breakdown of the body. I mean how many 70.3 guys are doing Kona at the end of the year? It’s shocking to me. I don’t think they realize how much it takes out of you. It’s exponential with how many you do. So I would do an early ironman and then recover for a month, month and a half, two months, and retrain and do short course stuff until I started my build for Kona. And that was it.
TO: So spring, or what?
TD: Yeah, New Zealand or Australia. Or when California was an ironman and it was in May. May would be the latest that I would do an ironman. That’s why I liked your choice of Texas. For me, I did the mid-summer one a couple times. I got second in Austria and then second in Kona, but I felt terrible in Kona. My training wasn’t good. Looking back it was a nutrition thing. I feel like I could have won that race but I missed a couple calories here and there. Leading up to it I wasn’t that confident, and I think it had a lot to do with doing a mid-summer ironman. And then the second year I won I didn’t do an ironman, I just raced some short stuff and some half’s and put everything into Kona. I knew what I needed to do for that and it worked out well.
TO: I know Crowie and Rinny, they like that strategy too, of not having to do an ironman.
TD: Yeah, but you know I think Crowie needs to do an ironman. I think that doing Coeur D’Alene is going to help him, maybe a little bit, as long as he doesn’t over race. I didn’t start racing well in Kona until I’d done another ironman, because you’re going to go to Kona and you’re going to make the same mistakes if you’re only doing one a year. And granted, Crowie’s had an unbelievable record where he got second, first, first. But for me it was a longer process, and once I jumped in and started doing an early season ironman I learned so much more. I think Kona’s changing a bit towards more of a European style of racing where it’s harder and faster bike – they’re taking it to the bike. And it’s not like I don’t think I rode hard when I won. I did. I mean I rode by myself the first year and the second year we had a pretty big pack of guys. But it’s become more of a race, more of a strategy, and I think the Europeans are coming and the Australians are coming and they’re upping the pace, so it’s very different. It’s more strategic. So I think racing maybe a European race or the race you did in Texas, I think was pretty good. You had Eneko there and you had Chris [Lieto] off the front, so it was very similar to what Kona could be like. I think it’s important to maybe race an ironman, but then you’ve got to recover and focus on some speed again. Because you’ve got natural speed, and you don’t want to lose it. You proved it by coming back and winning Boulder Peak handily and fast, so that natural speed is there. You’ve got guys who just grind themselves down year after year training for ironman, and you don’t want to do that.
TO: I was surprised at how long the recovery took after Texas.
TD: It’s a long time.
TO: Four weeks afterward I still felt pretty bad.
TD: For me I would always watch my heart rate – my morning heart rate. It would be two weeks and I’d still be 20 beats above normal. I mean your body continues to run and run and run. I always didn’t even want to think about upping my training again for a month. It was like recover for two weeks, then slowly start building, then maybe at four weeks I could feel normal again. But they’re not healthy!
TO: And they don’t get any easier, the more you do?
TD: No. No. And that’s where I’m at now – that’s why I chose not to do it anymore, because of chasing the points. I just thought that was reckless to the point of almost being dangerous to a career. I think we’re going to see careers dwindle, I mean completely dwindle. You’re seeing that this year already.
TO: I was just going to say – look at Terenzo, look at Michael Raelert.
TD: Look at how many guys are struggling through this. And I don’t care what they say – two ironman’s and three half ironman’s in a year, and then trying to do Kona? It’s just too much. That’s one thing I pride myself on – I’m 40 and I’m still racing professionally. And I think it’s because I didn’t over race. I may have over trained sometimes, but I didn’t over race. I think it’s the races that really get you. So what about leading into Kona – are you going to change things from what you did building up to Texas?
TO: Not much. I mean I feel pretty good about the way we prepped. I think for me it’s just getting the additional training blocks on top of what I’ve already done, and going off of that. I might try to do a lot more motor pacing.
TO: Yeah, I think it’s going to help me kind of get on top of my pedals and be able to stay up with that group of guys. Those European guys are riding faster and faster.
TD: Yeah, they’re definitely riding faster. I think you need to also get in those strength rides by yourself – those longer rides by yourself. The motor pacing, I think it’s a hard workout more than anything. I think you’ll get out there and realize at 80 miles that the strength is more important than any speed you could have. Being strong is more important than anything on that bike; otherwise you’ll get tired.
TO: You do most of your rides on your own, don’t you?
TD: I would never go with a group of guys. There were a couple times a couple years ago where I’d go out with Crowie and 10 guys would show up, and it just became a lollygagging kind of ride. If I trained with Peter [Reid] or with Tony [DeBoom], it was just us. We didn’t talk much, but it was nice to have company on a ride where you were 70 miles away from home and had to come 70 miles back – it kept you from turning around early. But I’m training for this Norseman now and I’ve done it all on my own. It just makes you strong. You have to get out the door and do it on your own. It can be daunting, but you tend to gain strength from that I think – being on your own. It’s a mental edge.
TO: I tend to do most of my training on my own too – my long rides and stuff.
TD: It’s hard to find somebody who’s doing your specific stuff.
TO: Yeah, and I don’t want to compromise what I’m supposed to do.
TD: Have you learned from – I mean obviously with Rinny winning last year and getting second the year before, I’m sure you’ve learned a ton from her.
TO: Yeah, just by observing, particularly after a race. The attention to detail. And I think nutrition-wise she’s seen a lot and gotten a lot from her support team. Nutrition was my biggest concern going into Ironman Texas, and I think it will be my biggest concern going into Kona with the heat.
TD: It’s very different. I eat completely different from a hot race to a cold race.
TO: How much of your nutrition plan in Kona was from years of experience in Kona?
TD: You know, I changed a lot over the years. Your body changes, so you kind of adapt. The years you think you have it dialed, then the next year it won’t work. My main focus was always to create a strong stomach, to be able to handle anything that’s out there. Because if something that you’ve trained with the whole training block doesn’t work, you’ve got to find something else. That’s what I tended to do. If I’m 70 miles from home on a training ride and I’ve got to eat a donut, that’s what I’m eating. If it sounds good and tastes good, that’s what I’m going to eat. More than likely if you can train your stomach to handle anything, that’s more important. The products out there now are pretty darn good. They work pretty well and I’m pretty dialed in with what I use, but sometimes something just goes awry and you need to be prepared.
TO: I read that Peter Reid would eat a big thing of nachos before a run. Would you do that kind of stuff?
TD: Oh yeah. I did when I was training for some of the longer stuff. I’d go out for my second run of the day, shove a huge peanut butter and jelly sandwich in on my way out the door, just to get used to having that much food in my stomach. If you can get through that then you pretty much know you can handle anything. I don’t think I’ve ever done an Ironman where I haven’t thrown up, or where I haven’t thought: Oh god, here comes a cramp. You just learn to deal with it in training. There are little tricks along the way that will help, but you’ve got to force yourself to do it in training.
TO: What’s the bike like coming back, the last 30 miles?
TD: It’s changed a lot. I mean every race is different– every time it’s different because of the conditions. I always pray for a howling wind and we just haven’t had one for 10 years, where it’s been screaming, knocking people off their bikes. You’ll most likely have a bigger group of guys until someone breaks away climbing to Havi. You’d think that things would ease up a bit on the descent, but that’s where everyone really pushes. And then that climb from Kawaihae, you get to the bottom of the descent and you’ve got a one mile climb to Kawaihae to get back on the Queen K, and that’s where it’s kind of make or break. That’s when you know you’re going to be hit or miss. And then from there, the last 30 miles in, a lot of times you have a little tail wind for awhile, which is deceiving. Because as soon as you hit Waikoloa it’s a headwind. That’s where you have to be strong – that’s where your strength will kick in. You don’t want to be feeling crappy on the climb to Havi. That’s too early to be pushing it too hard. You should be in control, and then if anything – everybody always says the race starts at 80 miles. And in the marathon, the race starts with 10 miles left or so. It’s always a game of patience. If you take things out too hard, you’re going to blow.
TO: It seems the guys run that first half marathon pretty quickly.
TD: It’s gotten a lot faster, but they’re still not running any faster overall. And it’s the same with the bike, because that little loop through town, its like a friggin’ crit. There are guys you’ll never see again until the end of the race, but they’re pushing the pace like it’s a crit. It’s so hard to let one of them go. Lieto’s really good at pacing himself through that part, and then going. And that’s one of those things; it’s hard to let anyone go, because you just don’t know. I think the men would have broken eight hours by now if we paced it better – if that first part was in control and we’d slowly build. You’re going to do your fastest if you slowly build both the bike and the run. I experienced it in ‘07 when I was fourth. Macca and Crowie took off on the run, and we were going 5:25’s down Ali’i. I was just like: This is stupid. I didn’t listen to myself and I was taken out of my game. I made up 10 minutes on Torbjorn in the first 10 miles, and then I couldn’t catch him. He was sitting in front of me, but I just didn’t pace it properly. I always preach to myself when I’m starting a run, even if I feel great: Hold back. Just hold back. Because it’s only going to affect you worse down the road.
TO: That was the one thing in Texas – I felt fine at the beginning of the run.
TD: You usually do. If you’re trained right, you should.
TO: My heart rate wasn’t up, I wasn’t breathing hard. But then all of a sudden, at 18, 19 miles, the brakes went on.
TD: When you start the run, hold yourself back. You’re still running fast enough, but there’s no reason to go out fast. And it’s exponential compared to a half ironman. A 6-minute pace should feel pretty easy to run, compared to what you’re used to, but that’s a 2:36 marathon. People don’t do that in Hawaii. So run 6:30’s. Pull back and then slowly build into it. I ran 2:43 there, and I started at a 7-minute pace. So to get out of transition and be running 5:25’s was just stupid. I still ran 2:48 that day, but what could I have run if I paced it better? I struggled so badly at the end. So those are the risks – letting someone go, thinking that they’ll come back.
TO: Does anybody negative split that race?
TD: In Kona? I don’t know – Rinny? Did Chrissie?
TO: I don’t know, I think Rinny was out in 1:20 maybe?
TD: It’s hard to negative split because the second half of the course is tougher, and you’re looking at the end of an eight-plus hour day, so it is hard, but you’re much better off even splitting it. Most people have massive positive splits there – they really blow it near the end.
TO: Tell me about the first time you raced professionally.
TD: It was very different for me. Looking at the American side of things, when I started racing professionally it was the Mark Allen era. He was going on his sixth win. So it wasn’t about: America needs a winner! Or anything like that. People were sick of America winning! I was kind of coming up. I was on stage on the podium in 10th and Mark was first in his last year. And then we started having this draught. You know we had Ken Glah and Cam Widoff and some other guys in there that people were thinking about, but that was when the Europeans really started coming. So my first year as a professional was just fun. To be out there in that group – I was riding with Mark, riding with Welchie [Greg Welch]. And it was one of those brutally windy years. [Thomas] Hellriegel was off the front and everyone was kind of scared to go. I was just following Mark and following the guys I thought I should be near. And then it was just run how I thought I could run. I happened to be fast enough to get into 10th. But it was so different of a pro debut for me as it will be for you – and as it would be for most anybody today. I mean for me, there were no eyes on me, yet it was a huge breakthrough to have a young American coming up. But again it was kind of dubious, because Hellriegel was my age and he was second, and Lothar Leder was in there – he had beaten me – so we had a few 24 year olds in there doing well.
TO: You were 24?
TD: Yeah I was 24. I learned a lot from that one and then I took some steps backward by training long and training too hard. And then I think there was a pretty big drought. But then when I got third, that’s when people started saying, “Oh, maybe Tim can win.” But it wasn’t that big patriotic thing for me. I just wanted to place as high as I could. I know a lot of people want to be top American. They’re like: I was 10th but I was top American. Well I was top American when I was 10th one time, and it sucked. I’d rather be third American and third place than top American in 10th place. I still feel that way.
TO: I wonder if that mindset is maybe part of the problem?
TD: Absolutely. I think guys are thinking: If I’m top American, that’s good enough. It’s enough to get sponsors. But I think why would you want that? Go race the top guys as much as you can and go for the win. And so the whole patriotic thing happened for me mostly because of 9/11.
TO: What was that like?
TD: It wasn’t great. It took the focus away, and I had been really focused. The year before I had been second, and all I thought about was Kona. And then 9/11 happened, and we didn’t know if the race was even going to happen. So you’re kind of taken out of your game and your focus. The patriotic side didn’t really come through until I was running down Ali’i in first. Then it really hit home. I think people think I was out there fighting for America the whole time, and I’d love to say I was, but I just wanted to win. But it felt really good to cross and grab the flag, and then to see Thomas Hellriegel cross carrying the American flag and the German flag, that’s when it really hit home and really changed everything. I was really proud to be out there like that. And I always was very patriotic – going to the Goodwill Games, the Pan-Am Games was always really important to me. Racing for America is super important. I mean I never understood how someone could change countries. If you did that from the U.S., you’d be called a traitor! You’d be disowned! I think the patriotic thing is a big deal, and so racing for America is important. I always had an American flag on me somewhere on my kit and was very proud of that. I think we need a win again. But I don’t think it should add pressure to what you’re doing – because your mindset is you want to win the race anyway, it doesn’t matter if you’re racing for the U.S. or what, you just want to win the race. I think that’s the way a lot of other countries are. I think if you win Frankfurt and you’re a German, its almost as big as if you win Hawaii. Those national races are really big. I know Hawaii’s a world championship, but it’s our race, so I think it’s important for an American to be up there. Do you feel that pressure to be the next American?
TO: Somewhat. But it’s my first go. So few guys have gone out and just crushed it at their first go. There are U.S. guys that are going to be racing that have all raced multiple times.
TD: You’ve got to look at your strengths compared to the other guys. I mean you’re the one who’s built more for that race, for Kona. Potts is a big dude. And he just hasn’t shown that he’s going to break through over there. He’s got to focus on the race, and he hasn’t done that. Maybe I’ll be wrong this year – and prove me wrong, go Andy! But I think you need to focus on that race to do well. And from what I know he’s going to be racing the week before basically and the week after, and to me that doesn’t show he’s focused on Kona.
TO: Yeah, Hy-Vee, Vegas, Dallas…
TD: And I know Chris [Lieto] – he focuses on that race, and I know he wants a good race there. But that run is his demon. I think there are some things he could change that he would actually perform better over there.
TO: So watching the points unfold, who do you think are the guys that are going to contend?
TD: Obviously Andreas. His performance in Roth was impressive, but he’s got to do another ironman. I just don’t understand that, why you would do two ironman’s in the three months before Kona. I don’t know, correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t know if anybody’s put in a performance like that at Roth and come back to win in Hawaii. There are only so many performances like that in you. I mean Chrissie has proven us all wrong, but also she’s a female. On the male side of things it’s very different – very different recovery system we have, more muscle mass. But obviously you have to look at Andreas; it will be interesting to see what he does next. And I’d be looking at Marino [Vanhoenacker]. He’s followed the same plan he did last year. He was very strong in Kona last year and he performed better at Austria this year, so he’s obviously on an upswing. So I would be looking at him. You can never discount Crowie. I think if he does Vegas it’s a mistake, and he’s had a lot of trouble this year – it’s been a struggle. I remember when I was going for my third title – I know what I did wrong, but there wasn’t much I could do to stop it. You put too much emphasis on it. You think: All I need is that third title. You put ultimatums on it and it’s just bad news. Crowie’s struggled a lot this year, so if he does Vegas it will be interesting. I think that could hurt him.
TO: I think there are a couple guys – like Rasmus [Henning], Eneko, Timo Bracht.
TD: Eneko and Timo, yeah. Rasmus, I don’t know. I’ve never been overly impressed with what he’s done. I don’t know if Kona is his race. He’s obviously super talented, a super great athlete, but Kona is just a different beast. I know he performs well in the heat but he hasn’t really – I mean he’s been fifth there. And he struggled this year with all those issues. That’s the stuff I look at more than anything. The amount of racing guys are doing, if they’re having problems. The years I won Kona, I had that first initial problem in the beginning of 2001 in Australia with the heat – I basically overheated in my wetsuit when we shouldn’t have been wearing wetsuits – but there were no health problems. Everything clicked – in both seasons everything clicked. I didn’t have any niggles, nothing. And that’s when you knew things were on track. I watch the other guys now and I’m watching their highs and lows. It’s been fun to watch, knowing that I’m not part of it, and seeing how this point system is kind of blowing things up a little bit. But it’s a pretty wide open race. I mean it really is. I’m glad that you got your points out of the way early. For you that should have just been: All right, I’m in, settle into this.
TO: I didn’t rush. I was going to race a couple weeks after Texas, but I put the kaibosh on that.
TD: Well look at Crowie. Two or three weeks after Coeur D’Alene he went to Racine.
TO: He ran a 1:31.
TD: I know he probably says he shut it down, but that wasn’t the plan. That shocked me. I’ve watched Julie, and she’s really sat. She’s recovering – but I think Coeur D’Alene took a lot out of her. I think Crowie did that race simply because he wanted to get his qualification for Vegas. But I think he should have just walked through Boulder 70.3 then. It’s a hometown race; he could have just done it as an easy workout. So there are a lot of mistakes out there. I think you’re the one guy who’s doing it right. Except Vineman, I would have questioned that. If I was you I would have been focused on Olympic stuff until you started your build. Those half’s, people just don’t realize how much they take out of you. They’re hard. That’s four hours of hard racing. A half marathon is nothing to sneeze at.
TO: It’s true. I’m at the point now where I took Vegas off the schedule. I still want to race once in that time zone, but now I’m wondering if I’ll do Muskoka 70.3 or maybe a 5150.
TD: I would do an Olympic distance race. What I always liked was to do an Olympic right at the beginning of my build, or maybe eight weeks out, and then I’d do running races. Like a 10k or a 5k, within the build just to get a little race energy. But the half? I mean I know guys do it and progress and do well. I know Crowie’s done it twice with doing Muskoka. But I know he’ll always be the first to tell you he was fitter at Muskoka than in Kona. And that’s where I think having faith in your training, and trusting yourself, and knowing: If I put in the training and I taper right, I’ll be fresh enough.
TO: So that eight weeks out, is that where your Kona block would start?
TD: For me that was what worked. I learned that from Pete and Mark Allen and Chuckie V, and from my own experience. I could focus on everything and be totally disciplined for eight weeks. Diet. Sleep. But I would go into that eight weeks pretty damn fit! I’d take a little break, do a little base building, do an Olympic distance race off of base – with your natural speed you can do that and still have a decent race – and then it was eight weeks. I had it down to every day, what I did. From race day back to eight weeks, every day was accounted for. For me that was very comforting – knowing if I put this work in, and I rest right, and everything goes right, I’m going to be on fire. I think there are a lot of guys that doubt themselves. They haven’t had success in Hawaii yet, so they start playing with everything instead of sticking to some plan. I know you have a coach who’s working with you on that as well, so you’ve got to have trust in that. But you know, I couldn’t do a half four weeks out and feel like I would recover properly. Because four weeks out, those are some key workouts you’re getting in before you start tapering.
TO: And you can come back in from an Olympic race and get back into your groove pretty quickly.
TD: Oh, I’d do an Olympic race on Sunday and the Tuesday after I was doing a seven-hour ride. With a half, you can’t run again until probably Thursday. I watch a lot of the guys now and how much they race, and how they try to keep their training up between the races. They’d be better off just racing, staying loose, racing, staying loose – they’d get fitter. And I think guys don’t rest enough for Kona. I think that will be an issue this year – guys will do a normal two week taper after racing huge amounts of races all year, and they’re not going to recover enough. You’re going to need three or four weeks of rest. I mean I started my taper four weeks out for Kona. So doing a half four weeks out, that wasn’t conducive to that. It’s a learning curve – everybody’s different – although Pete, Mark, me – we all did very similar type training to get to that point.
TO: Did you get a lot of guidance from guys like Mark or Dave?
TD: Mark was very helpful. He’s a hard guy to talk to – you would have to ask him all the questions. He’s not going to give anything away, but he would answer anything you asked. And Pete – I learned a ton. I trained with him the first year he won, and I did everything he did in training and probably a little more, which was the mistake, not resting enough. I knew, when I saw him win and I was 10th, I knew I had to up my game. It was more about the stuff I was doing outside of training than the training itself. And that’s where I think – when I was winning I think all the pros were pretty much training the same way. It came down to nutrition, resting and mental toughness on race day.
TO: What about all the other stuff Pete used to do, like that huge Kona training block?
Did you have a lot of help with that? Did Nicole help you out with that?
TD: No. I mean it was, that’s where – it’s hard for me to look back at that spot, because you have to be selfish. And I think that’s probably why I haven’t had a great race in Kona recently, because I balance my life properly, the way it should be! Because to win those big events you have to be selfish, to sometimes be a dick. Your time is your time. So Nicole knew during those eight weeks – and she was training for it too, the years that I won. She just wasn’t as focused.
TO: When did you get married?
TD: We got married in ‘96.
TO: That’s right, you said it wasn’t long after you met.
TD: Honestly, it was the best thing that ever happened for my career. It gave me stability. I wasn’t going around to races looking at girls. I stayed focused. And she was my biggest supporter, someone to share everything with. That was huge. Even in the years I was so focused on the race, I was helping her get her bike ready, and it was just this nice little thing I could do to take my focus off me for a little bit. It was a benefit to have someone else there, and someone who was also racing. I mean look at Pete and Lori – even though they didn’t make it – and you know and Mark and Julie [Moss] raced years together. I think it can be a benefit. With your and Rinny’s personalities, I think that can be a huge benefit. But I didn’t let people into my life during that time – during those eight weeks. I wouldn’t do extraneous stuff. Even with the sponsor stuff, I kind of set it up with my sponsors. I’d say, “During these eight weeks, I can’t do diddly for you. It’s my time. But it will pay off.” And I had faith in myself to say that to them, where I think a lot of guys don’t. Especially when you get to Kona. If they’re a good sponsor and you have a good relationship, they’ll understand, and that’s the way it should be. I mean I always did one or two signings for sponsors, but that was it. You have to be vigilant with your time and the amount of energy you’re giving out. I had an agent at the time that was one of my best friends and he was a bulldog. He’d say, “Nope, you’re not going there”. And he’d get me home. It was good. That helped, to have someone there. And I had another friend with me who was kind of the comic relief. He’d take the pressure off. They knew – I’d be sitting in the corner kind of quiet and going through stuff in my head, and they knew that was the time to leave me alone. And then there was a time to watch some movies and keep things light. I think it’s always a fine balance between that.
TO: In terms of the pressure, it’s kind of the flip side for me, going in with Rinny as the defending champ. I should maybe ask Nicole [DeBoom, Tim’s wife and former pro] this, but what’s that vibe like? It’s going to be a circus around her.
TD: It’s hard, the pressure’s hard. But most of it came from within me. Yeah, everybody’s looking at you, but the pressure I felt was coming from within me. The year I got third was the biggest one – coming in after that. I thought: What if that was a pure fluke? I talked to Lieto about that the year he got second. He was like: Maybe that’s the best I’ll do, maybe that was fluke. So for me to come back and get second and be pissed about it was probably wrong. I mean I crossed the line and I was like: Fuck. I was pissed I got second place. I mean I couldn’t be happy. I was really upset about it, because I knew I had given away a win that day. It was still an improvement, but it was hard to accept that. I think Nicole couldn’t quite understand why I was upset with second – but then the next year when I won, she understood what you need to do to motivate yourself for that. That’s the thing with Rinny this year. You’re going to be part of that circus. The best thing you can do is step aside and take care of yourself. As much as you’ll want to be there for her, you can do that back in your condo. On the outside, you need to take care of yourself. You’ve got to hold that energy of your own the whole time you’re in Kona. If you’re giving it out, if you’re walking around the expo shaking hands, all that stuff – you’re giving away energy. If you’re thinking about your competition too much, you’re giving away energy. You’ve got to just hold onto that for yourself. I got criticized once – it was race morning and somebody wanted to shake my hand. I was literally getting into the water, and he was like: Hey, good luck! I was literally getting into the water and I didn’t want to shake his hand. It was mostly because I didn’t want to get grease from his hands on my hands – I had scrubbed alcohol on my hands to get a feel for the water and not have grease on my hands. But all I heard was: You dick! So you just have to blank that stuff out and take care of yourself to have a good race over there. Maybe other guys will tell you completely differently, but for me that was what I needed to do. It wasn’t always the healthiest thing in the world as a person, but it got the job done. It’s taken me this long to look back and appreciate the effort that I put into that and be proud of it. Man, I committed to that! And I’ve done a little of that this year, getting ready for Norseman, more out of fear than any race goals. Nicole’s been like: Wow, you’ve put in some good focus time and it’s been cool to see again. That’s what you’ve got to think about going into this. Flip that switch going into this thing.
TO: Is it hard to keep flipping that on year after year?
TD: I think it’s going to be harder nowadays, because you have to race so much. I mean I could have not raced all year and gone to Kona. But now you have to race. After Kona I would take my break. I wouldn’t start training again until December. I’d take a month off and then I wouldn’t start focused training until January. Now guys are racing in November. Nowadays if it was me, I’d think about doing Kona and then racing Arizona or Western Australia – walk through it just to get my qualification. And then focus on the next year like you normally would. But it’s a tough call.
TO: I’ve been thinking about that same thing. But three ironmans in one year for a guy that’s never done an ironman?
TD: But hopefully you would never have to do that again. Hopefully you could walk through. But that’s where you really have to put your pride in check. I was really happy Rinny did New Zealand. Just go down there, get that out of the way. She didn’t train for it like she would have trained for a hard race.
TO: She almost missed the swim start!
TD: That’s the smartest way to do it – she was really smart. You could go have a great race in Kona, then just check mark an ironman out of the way. Then focus on doing some early season half’s, get all the points you need. Hopefully you’ll win Kona and then you won’t have to worry about that – all you’ll have to do is check the box, and then you can focus on next year. The guys who’ve won it the past five years have a huge advantage. All they’ve got to do is get an ironman done – it’s a huge advantage.
TO: Do you think they’ll reevaluate the points system?
TD: Who knows? I think it was a terrible system to being with, and I think a lot of pros voiced that, but they didn’t care. Like I said, I think the biggest impact – I mean I like the idea of getting the best athletes there, but I think you’re going to see a lot of careers cut short, a lot of athletes burning out. You’re not going to get the best athletes at Kona.
TO: Do you think the smaller field will change the dynamic at all?
TD: No. It’s just going to get the guys out of the girls’ field. You’ll get the same guys up front.
TO: Having only done one, what’s the biggest difference I need to look out for in Kona?
TD: The hype leading into it. Depending on when you get over there and everything that’s going on. Sticking to your game plan. Turn your Internet off once you get over there. Watch bad movies or bad TV. Turn your Internet off. Don’t read anything. Focus on yourself. It’s not as big a deal as you think. You can just totally avoid it and treat it like a great race. Your first time, that’s what you need to do. Who knows what the hype around you will really be over there, but with Rinny, you’re going to see what she’s going through, and you’ll be like: I’m going to stay at home and watch some TV! And don’t feel bad about it – because that’s the way you get it done. Also, I think what you’ll notice is it might be more – think of that word “strong”. Strong on the bike and the run, more than fast. For me it was always just strong. I’d go do Austria or Frankfurt, and that was fast. Fast man, we were flying! But Kona, you just have to be strong. Mentally strong and physically strong. Constantly shoveling food down your mouth. And don’t get too skinny. That’s the thing I’ve noticed the past few years – I get over there and I look like a teeny guy, compared to most of the guys. I mean look at Marino. Look at Macca. These are big dudes. I felt like I should put on weight. But it’s hard, the more you do, the more years you race it’s hard to put the weight on. But whatever you do, just be strong over there.
TO: I remember you said before Texas, “It’s your first one, just have fun.” I guess it’s the same with your first Kona.
TD: Well you only get one first one!
TO: Yeah, that’s the one you remember the most.
TD: Exactly. Have fun with it. Nicole taught me that. She’d say, “Just smile. If you’re feeling rough, smile.” It makes everything better. I mean I had a shitty race last year, but I smiled a lot more than I ever have over there. That’s what made it a worthwhile day. Every picture you see of Macca he’s out there smiling away, grinning ear to ear. So there’s got to be something to that. Just have fun with it. And it will change you. You’ll want to do it again. No matter whether you cross the finish line first or last, it’s such a great accomplishment. It feels good.
TO: Thanks Tim. I appreciate it, man.
TD: Thank you.