I had the chance recently to have an Ironman conversation with Brad Buchanan. For 2002 Brad was the winner of the Triathlon Club of San Diego Ironman of the Year Award. Brad finished 3 Ironman races during 2002 (Australia: 10:56; Vineman: 10:45; Florida: 10:17). Here are some parts of that conversation:
CZ: How did you get started in triathlon?
BB: I had been riding the stationary bike and running on the treadmill at the gym to lose some post-college weight when I went to Tampa to watch my dad race St. Anthony's. A couple of days before the race we swam the race course, which sparked my interest in swimming and made me realize I was now doing all three sports. I was consciously not racing though as I moved to outdoor riding and running and more formal swimming. I didn't want to get caught up in the sport that seemed to consume my dad. That all changed when I went to my first race on a whim, a sprint in Truckee near Lake Tahoe. I drove up the night before the race to meet two friends who were doing the race and proceeded to drive from campsite to hotel one after the other looking for them. I never found them and ended up sleeping in the back of my truck with my dog next to me and my legs under my mountain bike. It turned out I was sleeping outside their hotel and I remember waking up to: "That's not Brad's truck, is it?!" I made it to the start line - it took me longer to put my wetsuit on and take it off than it took to do the swim! And I knew I had found my sport immediately. Since then it's been a steady progression through the distances until I felt I could handle an Ironman and here I am.
CZ: What prompted you to do 3 Ironman races in 1 year?
BB: Looking back, I wasn't really considering the impact the training and racing would have on me. The first year I did that, I don't think I knew what I was doing. I remember thinking it would be a good progression of races to help me develop at the distance. California was going to be a learning experience, Vineman was going to teach me more, and I would peak for Florida. I ended up with an IT-band problem before California, probably from too much run mileage and not enough stretching and didn't run the two months before California. I continued not running until 5 weeks before Vineman when I attempted to log some long miles in time to prepare for the race. Great idea. Luckily, all settled down after Vineman and I realized the virtues of training smarter in time to put in some more balanced training before Florida. It's always nice to end the season on the right note. I repeated the race plan - Australia, Vineman, Florida the next year with far better results. I now look at 6 Ironmans so close together as an asinine crash course in how Ironman racing affects your body and how important it is to have an intelligent training plan.
CZ: So you have done 6 Ironman races. Which was your favorite?
BB: California will always be special because it was my first. I train on parts of the course pretty often and I can still remember my thoughts during the race. Of course Australia was a pretty spectacular place to race. I'd have to say my first Florida is my favorite though, because it's the first race my dad saw me do and I was able to chat with him four times on the run. My run was holding together pretty well; so he kept getting more excited each time I ran by.
CZ: You showed some good improvement with your times in each of those 2002 Ironmans. How did your body handle all the mileage?
BB: My body handled it better than the previous year, but I was still learning where the line between enough and too much was. I went into Australia's training with some leftover fatigue from the previous year. I could tell I was tired and not 100% into the work I needed to do. I had enough fitness by race day, but following the race I really stopped formal training for much longer than ever. It was the break I needed. About 7 weeks out from Vineman I started back at it, and went into Vineman with no time goal. After Vineman I started gearing up for Florida pretty hard and went into the race with my best fitness, but also with a lot of mental fatigue. I had learned some of the things besides running/riding/swimming that I need to do to stay healthy - sleep, eat, stretch, recovery, better periodization; so my body held together pretty well. There were the normal Achilles/knee/hamstring things, but those could be managed with smarter training. Of course now I'm realizing that last year's wear and tear is really starting to show up this year.
CZ: How will your training change in 2003 to manage injuries?
BB: I'm actually listening to my body this year and I can't get away with some of the excessive training I did previously and be able to survive. This is the first time I actually HAVE to train smart or my body starts to fail. I am sure it's due to how I trained and raced the last few years. Previously I knew what was right, but could get away with over training when push came to shove. This year I can't, because I'm having some back problems. This is the same thing that has sidelined my dad; so I don't want to take the early warning signs lightly. I usually have a training plan with different goals in each phase, but this year I actually etched some things in stone. Recovery workouts and recovery blocks happen on a schedule and I will not let myself train through them. I've also had to be better about excluding intense training efforts while logging base mileage. Not to mention my rebuilding of base mileage is dictated by what my back can handle rather than what mileage I want to be at by certain dates. In some ways it's frustrating, but I know in the long run it's a more sustainable approach. I'll be interested to see what happens in this year's races given a different set of training rules.
CZ: So you are entered in Coeur d'Alene, what do you think about doing an inaugural Ironman?
BB: It's an interesting question given last year had the extremes of Utah and Wisconsin. I feel more confident about Coeur d'Alene, because the site has hosted Nationals so many times. I don't really think about the possible negatives of an inaugural race. If something does go wrong, I'll do what I can to make the best of it. All my races come down to managing whatever seems to happen out on the course anyway.
CZ: What other races are on your calendar for 2003 and why do you want to do them?
BB: The only other race on my calendar this year is Wisconsin. And I'll only do it if following Coeur d'Alene my body tells me it's ok. People loved Wisconsin last year. It sounds like a great event to do. I'm trying to get out of my pattern of an April/May IM with a last IM in November. That's a long time to train and hold it all together. My races this year start later in the year and end earlier. I expect to be fat and slow by Thanksgiving for once.
CZ: You have shown great improvement with your racing. Is qualifying for Hawaii a goal of yours?
BB: Qualifying for Hawaii is definitely a goal of mine. I am getting faster, but I am not fast enough to qualify yet. It's more of a possibility as I learn how to prepare myself to actually race the distance. I'd love to be able to race with my dad in Kona.
CZ: You've mentioned your dad a few times. What role has he, or his racing, played in your development as a triathlete? (For club members, Brad's dad Bruce has raced in Kona 15 times with 12 podium finishes, 7 age group wins, and a PR of 9:52. This past year he set the 60-64 age group record. He's also won Nationals 7 times and has won various Competitor, Inside Triathlon, and USAT awards.)
BB: People usually think my dad's success would put pressure on me. Not at all. It's like having a best friend and coach in the sport who happens to be your dad. He's always been there with training plans or advice when I ask. I think it must be neat for him too. How often does your son develop an interest in something you are very interested in too? More than anything, he shows me what is possible if I work at it. I love sharing the sport with him.
CZ: The Tri Club has over 30 people doing the Coeur d'Alene race. What would be your advice for those 1st time Ironman competitors?
BB: It's a long day and a lot of thoughts and feelings cross your mind. If you are in a bad spot, just roll with it until it passes. Several times a race I think it might not be my day to finish, but in time some other thought comes along. Other than that it seems like a long list of clichés, but they really are true. It's better to go into a race a little under trained than a little over trained. If you are having trouble fitting in all your workouts, try not to miss the long days. Work on your race day nutrition on your long training days and then eat/drink those things during the race. Don't change important things the week of the race; go with what got you there. Don't focus too much on your bike split, because you still have a marathon to finish. Your whole day - pace, nutrition should be setting you up for the second half of the run.
CZ: What would be your advice to a person taking on their 1st triathlon?
BB: Just enjoy it. It's such a unique event. Take the first step and then figure out where you want to go next.
CZ: Thanks for all your thoughts, Brad. Good luck in Idaho and Wisconsin this year. I know racing in Kona is just around the corner for you!