Mike Clinch

on . Posted in TCSD Conversation

I had the opportunity recently to talk triathlon with the TCSD's new Bike Coach, Mike Clinch.  Mike also happens to be a really fast multi-sport athlete.  Please join me as we get to know this great guy.


Craig: What was your sports background before triathlon?


Mike: Growing up in Lincoln, NE sports were just part of growing up. Everything from soccer, baseball, football, basketball, wrestling, swimming, and track. At Pius X High School I played freshman football, wrestled, ran track and cross country. Playing all these sports helped me to become a well rounded athlete but it wasn’t until my senior year in high school and into college that a true focus on running would show any kind of potential. At Nebraska Wesleyan University I ran at the NCAA Division III National Championships in Cross Country my senior year. Then, Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Championships running 1.51.33 for 800m earning All American.

Craig: What sequence of events led you to become a triathlete?

Mike: My first triathlon was in 1997 where I participated in the Nebraska Cornhusker State Games Triathlon at Branched Oak Lake. I was a recreational swimmer, a runner and enjoyed riding my mountain bike.  They had just announced that triathlon was going to be an Olympic sport in 2000. My brother Jer and a couple of my friends were going to do it. So why not? I even wore a speedo, borrowed a bike and changed into running shorts! At that point it was just for fun, and it was so much fun I have kept on doing at least one or two triathlons the past 13 years! It wasn’t until the last three years that I really started to focus on triathlon training. In 2008 I participated in the ITU Age Group World Championships in Vancouver. And last year I had some good performances, one being seventh at San Diego International Triathlon in the Elite Wave. I know I have lots of room for improvement too, so that helps to keep me going.
More than the results, I also have a great group of friends that I train with. It is such a great sport for that; you can really get to know a person well on a 2hr run, or a 6 hour bike ride - not so much churning out laps in the pool, though! Triathlon is a fine balance and a great challenge of making the right choices at the right times.

Craig: What is one of the dumbest mistakes you have made while training or in a race?  

Mike: In training, I once embarked on an epic bike ride with my great friend and roommate Nolan Hansen. We rode from our place in Point Loma to the top of Palomar Mountain, over to the coast in Solana Beach and then back home. 12 hours and 155 miles of riding was not a smart thing to say the least. We stopped at a Walgreens to buy a headlight which Nolan duct taped to his handle bars and I had a light taped to the rear of my bike. Road like this through Rancho Sante Fe in the dark. Again very dumb. I don’t recommend that for anyone. But we will be doing it again soon! Proper planning this time, though.

In a race, I once lost my cycling shoe coming out of T1 at the World Championships in Vancouver. I had them clipped in while running with the bike and one hit the ground and got knocked off. I won’t ever do that again, I thought. Not so. To my dismay it happened again as I hopped on my bike in the Desert International Triathlon a year later and I made my first pedal stroke. So now I thoroughly practice my transitions and have my pedal tension really high.

Craig: Of all the races you have done in your career, which performance are you the most proud of?

Mike: I can think of a few, but my first and only Half-Ironman distance triathlon in 2009 was at Wildflower where I had one of my worst and best performances ever. I had a lot of confidence leading into the race. Training had been going great and I was looking to race at my best. That confidence is rare leading into a race. The swim went well despite some cramping issues I was having in my legs. A bad sign for things to come, but a little strange. I went out strong on the bike, but something was causing horrible cramping in my legs. Maybe a lack of nutrition planning or poor pacing or maybe something else. Large muscle groups started to fire one after the other into very painful cramps a few miles into the bike. I fought through. Into the run - the same thing. I thought I could loosen up but only a mile into the 13.1 every muscle in my legs wanted to just seize. But I kept on going. I did not quit. Though I had so much reason to stop, I did not. I was most proud that I didn’t quit. I finished with tears in my eyes. I am going back to Wildflower this year for another go.

Craig: I know you are a Christian man of faith and a person who is close to your family and friends back in Nebraska.  How did your faith enable you to make the move to San Diego?

Mike: It was very hard to make the move to San Diego away from family and friends back in Nebraska. I am just trusting that this is God’s will for me to be here in San Diego doing what I am doing. I am very grateful to Him for so much and simply for the ability to swim, to bike and to run. I can only hope and continue to pray that I can use the gifts He gives me to the fullest and for His purpose, and the courage to do more or something else if He asks.  

Craig: How did you become the TCSD's Bike Coach?

Mike: I am not exactly sure how I was chosen, but I am pretty sure Thomas Johnson, John Hill and Jim Vance had a say in making that happen. I have been involved with the Tri Club for about 3 years now doing club races and events. It is a pretty amazing Club to be a part of so it is easy to want to give something back. I have worked for B&L Bike and Sport for about two years and have been the shop’s main employee ambassador for the Tri Club. B&L has been supporting TCSD from its beginning. My cycling knowledge has increased exponentially since my time with the Jelly Belly Pro Cycling Team as an assistant team mechanic for the Tour of California and Tour of Missouri back in 2008.

Craig: What can members expect from one of your bike workouts?

Mike: First and foremost, I would like a person coming to the workouts with an expectation that they will become a better cyclist. They can expect to learn race strategy, bike handling skills, and safety tips. Mainly they will be fun and challenging workouts based on sound training principles. We will be using Fiesta Island and Mt. Soledad. Come on out and join us! Beginner and experienced riders welcome!

Craig: What are some of the most common mistakes you see beginner triathletes doing on their bikes?

Mike: Some mistakes include mis-shifting, improper pacing, improper fit on the bike and a general lack of confidence descending down hills. All of which we will be working on at the Wednesday night bike workouts!

Craig: How did you meet Jim Vance and subsequently get involved with the Tri Juniors program?  

Mike: I first met Jim while riding my bike on one of the first rides I ever did out in San Diego. I was with my friend Nolan when we rode by this guy on a $7,000 Look tt bike. We figured he was definitely a pro triathlete based on his build and he was on his second bike. It was dirty and loud with the chain rubbing the front derailleur. Come to learn it was his race bike. He was just spinning and we cruised on past.   A few minutes later he came up to us and asked if we were from Nebraska. Nolan was wearing a Lincoln Bicycle Co. Jersey. Three triathlete Husker fans. Done. Jim has become a very good friend over the years. He started a program last year called TriJuniors. Its purpose is promoting and developing the sport of triathlon among teenagers, ages 13-19 within a team setting. I am now an Assistant Coach for TriJuniors along with Darcy Eaton. I am specifically developing training programs for the Youth Elite athlete boys along with helping lead practice two times a week, which will move to four times here soon. Right now we have about 12 athletes in the program.

Craig: What is your favorite benefit of your TCSD membership?

Mike: It has to be the high quality races it puts on: triathlons, duathlons and aquathlons alike. The speakers and not to mention the food!

Craig: You are one of the club's top athletes.  In fact, you won each of the TCSD's duathlons last winter.  What is so great about the club races?

Mike: They are free... and they are top notch quality races with some amazing volunteers and a very experienced race director in Brian Wrona. They bring out some of the fastest triathletes in the region for some great competition. The duathlons last year were at some very cool locations that you would ordinarily not see. The aquathlons are just simple and easy. There is really no excuse not to race those. And all those events are free!

Craig: If you could wave a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you like to change?

Mike: I would love to see the cost of racing go down. Also some spectator friendly races like the Super Sprint Triathlon Grand Prix in Oceanside this past fall. And then, to open this type of draft legal racing on the amateur level. The sport of triathlon is young as a whole and it will be interesting to see how it develops.

Craig: Who is your hero and why have you chosen them?

Mike: My Mom, Judy and Dad, Jerry are the two in my life to whom I look to for so much. They have been a living example of how it is to love, how to raise a family, and how to have faith in God.

Craig: What do you do for a living?  

Mike: I am currently full time at B&L Bike and Sport where I consider myself a multisport consultant, or better known as sales. I am also one of the main bike fitters at our shop where we do everything from a basic seat height adjustment to a 3D BG FIT. A system developed by Specialized to create a marriage between person and bike, we do a 20 step pre-fit assessment before we look at you from both the front and the side dynamically on the bike making cleat, saddle and bar adjustments. This is one of the most enjoyable things for me to do in a work day.
Coaching has become a bigger focus of mine. Along with TriJuniors I am also coaching individual triathletes.

Craig: What are your triathlon goals in 2011 and beyond?

Mike: I have some big goals for this year. At this point I am still planning out the season. I generally would like to get faster in the swim which means I have to swim more. If I can do that, I think I could do well and get closer to that next level. Breaking the 1 hour mark up Palomar is a fun goal of mine and maybe get closer to 32 minutes in the 10k. I want to tackle Wildflower again, SDIT, and of course repeat as the TCSD Duathlon World Champion as Thomas Johnson likes to say!

Coaching wise, I am looking to become affiliated with Training Bible Coaching and making that a big focus along with TriJuniors. Hopefully get to travel and help Jim put on some very cool triathlon camps like the one in Costa Rica coming up in February.

Craig: Thanks, Mike, for sharing your story. Good things happen to good people. Given your skill sets, I am 100% confident you will meet and exceed all of your goals – in your racing, coaching and everything else you set your mind to accomplish.


Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach and can be reached at 760-214-0055 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .