How Brad Snyder Grabbed Paralympic Gold
The first American man to win a Paralympic or Olympic medal in an individual event in triathlon shares the swim, bike, and run sets that got him prepped for Tokyo.
In the two weeks leading up to the Paralympic Games, blind triathlete Brad Snyder, 37, and his guide, Greg Billington, spent a block of time training in Kona, Hawaii, as part of a USA Triathlon camp. It was a much-needed chance to practice transitions, do brick workouts, and build the special bond and trust needed to compete side-by-side in the PTVI classification for athletes with a visual impairment. By the end of the camp, the pair felt confident—and ready—to tackle the technical Tokyo course.
“We certainly had a strong performance on our mind,” said Billington, 32, a 2016 triathlon Olympian who came out of retirement in February to serve as a guide. “And there were many moments leading up to Tokyo where we commented to each other that we were much more prepared than for any event prior.”
Still, a gold medal was never a given. After all, the pair had only been working together for a few months, and Snyder, a 5-time Paralympic gold medalist in swimming, just took up triathlon in 2018. And then there was the competition, namely Great Britain’s Dave Ellis, a three-time World Champion.
“We knew that to beat Ellis, we needed to have a really fast swim and bike and hope that we either go into the run with a big lead, or we end up in a guts race at the end,” Snyder said. “Thankfully, we ended up in the first situation.”
In fact, Snyder wound up snagging the gold medal in convincing fashion, finishing nearly one minute ahead of silver medalist Hector Catalá Laparra of Spain (after leading out of the swim, Ellis had a mechanical on the bike and did not finish the race). But despite his substantial lead on the run, neither Snyder nor Billington could breathe easy until they crossed the line.
“I was pretty uncertain that we’d win for most of the race,” Billington admitted. “It was so hot that there was the real possibility that Brad would cramp up or I’d get so delirious that I’d accidentally run him into a barrier. It wasn’t until he grabbed the tape that I relaxed and knew that we’d won.”
And Snyder, who said there’s still room for improvement in his performance, is just getting started.
“In triathlon there are so many skills, there is so much to learn. There is even stuff I screwed up today,” he said. “I didn’t get my shoes on all that fast in transition two, so there’s lots of room for improvement. That’s exciting to go into each race saying, there’s a little bit I can do better.”
Brad Snyder’s Go-To WorkoutsSection divider
Session 1: Get-Out Interval Swim
Total Distance: 2,500
Warm-up: 500 mix of swim, drills
4 x 200 with 20sec. rest as 50 sprint, 150 threshold
8 x 75 with 10sec. rest as 25 sprint, 50 easy
Cooldown: 600 swim easy
“This is a set that helped us prepare for the race,” Snyder said. “It’s 4x200m where you essentially sprint the first 50m, then transition to the threshold for the remaining 150m. You can do these at 10 seconds over your typical 100m pace, or just take 20 seconds rest after each. Follow that up with an 8 x 75m, as 25m sprint, 50m easy on 10 seconds rest.”
“The idea here was to work on our ‘get out’ speed. It gave us the speed to get out ahead of our wave, but then be able to fall back to threshold without feeling too gassed,” he said.Section divider
Session 2: Low-Cadence Power Pushers
Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Warm-up: 20min. easy
5 x 5min. low cadence, 2min. rest
20 x 30sec. sprint, 30sec. rest
Cooldown: 10min. easy
Because Snyder and Billington weren’t able to train together until weeks before Tokyo, they instead linked up for remote rides. Their tried-and-true routine? A 20-minute warmup, then 5 x 5-minutes low cadence, two minutes rest, then 20 x 30-second sprint, 30 seconds rest, then followed by one 5-minute sprint.
“The idea with this workout was to get some intensity on top of threshold work in anticipation of a slightly technical bike course where we would be aggressive with hopes of keeping a lead out of the water,” Snyder said.Section divider
Session 3: Goodie-Bag Brick Workout
Total Time: ~2 hours
Warm-up: 20min. run easy
(10min. race pace bike, T2
4min. run at 5K race pace, reset)
4-8 x 400m run at “cruise pace,” choice rest
Cooldown: 10min. bike easy
Snyder said this brick workout is “full of goodies” and allowed him and Billington to practice their transitions and ice handoffs (key for Tokyo’s heat and humidity).
“We did a 10-minute loop at race pace on the bike, then practiced T2, then ran a 4-minute loop,” Snyder explained. “The idea with this brick was to be aggressive with the bike to get good practice getting out of T2 and setting a good pace for the 5K. We rolled through that set five times, then did some cruise quarter-miles to practice running relaxed while tired.”