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The former Olympian brings 25 years of triathlon experience to this weekend’s 70.3 North American Championships.
Brent McMahon is a rare specimen in triathlon. In a sport largely populated by athletes who discovered their talent later than life, McMahon is a born-and-raised triathlete. Since childhood, the Canadian has been a multisport ace, and his head start offers certain advantages: two Olympic games, several course records, and a slew of victories across the ITU, Ironman and XTERRA circuits.
With 25 years under his belt (and 20 years with the same coach, Lance Watson), it’d be understandable if McMahon felt a bit stale. Yet the reality is the opposite: every year, he simply gets better. In the days leading up to the 70.3 North American Pro Championships in St. George, McMahon chats about his storied history, race strategy and how he keeps things fresh year after year.
Triathlete.com: It’s an Olympic year—and you have two Games to your credit. What is it like for you to watch the lead-up to Rio as someone who has been through it before? Do you miss it at all?
Brent McMahon: It has actually been really great watching the lead up to Rio as I am still involved as a member of the Board of Triathlon Canada as the Athlete Rep. So I am getting a different view of things but I can still feel all the emotions the athletes are going through in these final months of qualifying. I still miss the intensity of racing in the ITU format but I am enjoying what I am doing so much now that it’s easy to keep looking forward.
Triathlete.com: How does your foundation as an Olympic athlete contribute to your success in long-course triathlon?
BM: My background as an Olympic athlete has given me many tools needed for high performance sport. Things like being able to focus when there are many distractions and the ability to bounce back from adversity and skills I constantly require day in and day out.
Triathlete.com: You’re known for dipping your toes into the XTERRA pool as well. How does this type of racing benefit you as an athlete?
BM: Taking the opportunity to race the XTERRA series allowed me to take some other passions such as mountain biking and trail running from my youth and put the into professional racing. It gave me a little break from the intensity of ITU racing and now it gives me a break from the TT bike and the benefit of some anaerobic power work.
Triathlete.com: You’ve been with the same coach, Lance Watson, for more than 20 years. What is it about your relationship with Lance that works so well?
BM: The key behind our 20-plus year relationship is that we have always been capable of working on it. We have continued to evolve and be willing to be open to the others ideas. We challenge each other and try to be constructive in building our relationship. If something isn’t working, we look at why and figure out how to change it so that it does. It may take some time but likely quicker than learning to train with a new coach and a new type of program. But both sides have to be willing to work at it.
Triathlete.com: You’ve also been racing more than 25 years. What’s the secret to avoiding burnout in this sport?
BM: I think the key for me staying excited about racing has been taking opportunities like racing the XTERRA circuit for a couple years and different distances. This has kept me learning and setting new goals to achieve. It has provided small breaks in a long history of consecutive years of training.
I also take really good time off. I completely stop training and spend time with family and friends. I almost dedicate myself to this time just as I would to training for a big event. It gets all my focus and a complete shutdown from what I’ve been doing for 25 years.
Triathlete.com: And now you’re at St. George for the 70.3 North American Pro Championships. You won this race in 2013, but have taken second place the past two years. What would it mean for you to take the top podium spot again?
BM: I have come back here to St. George every year with the goal of winning and the preparation to do so. I love this race and it would be so awesome to put all the pieces together just right again to get that top spot. It is always satisfying to conquer something that you have had multiple tries at. I’ve got the confidence of doing it once to help me along now.
Triathlete.com: At this event last year, you said “In a race like this, you have to go out hard to make a statement.” Why and how does that strategy lend itself so well to this particular race?
BM: This is an exceptionally tough course and you can’t be scared by it. So I think if you can go and attack a course like this and race it from the front, you show your competition you’re not afraid of it, and you show yourself you’re ready for it.