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When people think of the “hotbeds of triathlon,” they think Boulder, Tucson, or San Diego – in other words, warm locales with generally year-round training weather. For professional triathletes Jackie Arendt and Blake Becker, however, they’ve found ideal training in Madison – Wisconsin, that is. With Ironman Wisconsin taking place this weekend, Triathlete.com sat down with Arendt and Becker to talk Ironman Wisconsin race strategy, training through notoriously cold and snowy winters, and how to train like a “Sconnie.”
Jackie Arendt, 27
Hometown: DeForest, WI
Triathlete since: 2005
Notable finishes: First overall amateur at Ironman St. George, 2010; Multiple podium finishes as a professional in Ironman and Leadman events; Most recently placed second at Ironman Louisville 2012.
Blake Becker, 30
Hometown: Madison, WI
Triathlete since: 2001
Notable finishes: Fifth place, Ironman Wisconsin 2010; First place, Racine 70.3 2009.
Triathlete.com: How did you get started in triathlon?
Jackie: I grew up extremely active. I was on the swim team ages 7-22, ran with my mom growing up .and started with marathons while in college. Friends started with triathlons, and I joined in – and was hooked!
Blake: My dad talked me into doing a charity event up in LaCrosse, WI. It was a swim, bike and golf. Up until about 6 weeks before this time, I had never swam, biked or ran competitively or even for fun, really. I did this event and was terrible, but competitive and determined to prove I could.
Triathlete.com: Why Wisconsin?
Blake: It offers a variety of terrain that is ideal for triathlon. Wisconsin would be right up there with the other hotbeds if it weren’t for the winters. I am a Midwest boy, so being closer to family has always been important to me. That, in addition to the fact I had a pretty good following here in Madison racing and coaching, made the decision fairly easily.
Jackie: I grew up here, and moved back to Madison after college. Wisconsin is so beautiful in the spring/summer/fall and a great place to train. With the lakes, awesome riding, and tons of running trails, it’s really the perfect place to me. The winter makes for a nice change of pace and makes you really appreciate when you can get back outside!
Triathlete.com: Do you feel like an anomaly in a state known for beer, cheese, and cold winters, or have you found it easy to connect with other triathletes in the area?
Jackie: I feel that I fit in well, being from here and with the huge triathlon community we have here in Madison. I love me some beer, cheese and winter (most of the time) so I guess I’m on board with the Wisconsin norms.
Blake: On the professional male level, it is a bit isolating for sure. On the age group front, and in regards to coaching, this area is great, with a growing presence of triathlon teams, clubs and coaches.
Triathlete.com: What do you think people would be surprised to hear about living and training in Wisconsin?
Blake: It’s not actually that cold. Last winter was an anomaly for sure, but I rode outside, on my road bike, every week except for two. Some winters are a bit longer, but the training is still great March through October.
Jackie: The best thing, to me, is how quickly you can ride out of town and be on some amazing country roads. We have a great mix of hills and flats and very little traffic out of town.
Triathlete.com: Let’s talk more about training like a Wisconsinite. Does the focus of your training plan change with the seasons any more than, say, someone who can ride in Tucson in February?
Jackie: For sure. In the summer it’s a lot easier to get the long rides and runs in. In the winter you can do more strength work and concentrate on building a strong swim base.
Blake: Getting a good cross or mountain bike with studded tires can allow you to ride outside, even with snow on the ground. This is one of my favorite things to do and ways to train in Wisconsin. Another option that we have here is cross-country skiing. It’s great cross-training, works almost the same muscles as cycling, and is a fantastic strength and aerobic builder.
Triathlete.com: It seems like it’d be unsafe to ride your bike for or do a long run when cold temperatures and treacherous outdoor conditions are present. What is your cutoff point for training outdoors – a certain temperature, maybe, or the presence of ice?
Jackie: I enjoy winter running, but obviously if it’s super cold, icy, or unsafe, it’s an indoor training day.
Blake: I ran with a mask in negative sixteen-degree temperatures one time, but typically won’t run outside if it’s below zero. You can cause harm to your airways. If there is ice, I may head inside, but if it’s not that bad, I’ll put screws in my shoes or studded tires on the bike and head out. I haven’t, however, started cutting holes in the ice to swim…yet.
Triathlete.com: In the winter months, limited daylight hours can make it difficult for a triathlete to stay motivated to train. Do you ever find yourself wanting to take a “snow day” from training? How do you keep up your motivation in the winter months?
Blake: I think it’s important to have clear goals to help motivate you and keep you focused. Master’s swim groups or a coach/team can really help with keeping athletes accountable.
Jackie: I belong to a Computrainer studio in town that provides a fun, social environment and makes the trainer sessions much more enjoyable. Also, now that this is my job, just like any job, it’s what you do every day even if some days you don’t feel like it.
Triathlete.com: Ironman Wisconsin sells out quickly every year, and Rev3 just experienced great success in their first 70.3 race in Wisconsin Dells. What makes Wisconsin such a great race locale, in your opinion?
Blake: The people here are passionate and enthusiastic about sport and health. The crowd support at local races is the best I have experienced anywhere around the country.
Jackie: There are so many local people that do these races and I think it just gets more popular every year! The scenery, crowd and volunteer support, as well as great, challenging race courses make for a nice place to race.
Triathlete.com: For those racing Ironman Wisconsin for the first time, what advice, tips or insider information do you have regarding the course?
Blake: Be patient. I’ve raced every year Ironman Wisconsin has been held, and it’s easy for athletes to get overzealous because of the crowds. This bike course is tough, not just to ride, but to be able to run well off of. Stick to your plan and remember that this course is about the run, perhaps more than any other in North America.
Jackie: My advice would be to do your homework and know as much as you can about the course and race beforehand. This includes the actual routes, where aid stations are, and how the transition areas work. For Ironman Wisconsin in particular, pacing yourself on the first loop of the bike and run is the best advice I can give. The course in hilly and it’s easy to burn too many matches when you feel so good for the first 50 miles. Better to save it and finish the bike strong! Also, keep an eye on the weather and plan accordingly. This race has been 40’s and rainy or up to 95 degrees. Make sure that you adjust your outfit, nutrition, and race plan according to the conditions you will be dealing with.