Monday, September 29, 2014

America's Finest: Interview with Andy Potts

Andy Potts was an All-American swimmer at the University of Michigan who barely missed the 1996 Olympic team in the 400 IM. He also was no slouch on land, joining the track team his senior year as a Wolverine. After a few years of deciding what he wanted to do post graduation, Andy got into triathlon in 2003... one year later he made his Olympic dream a reality in Athens, only in a completely new sport!

Since then Andy has continued to be one of the best and most versatile triathletes in the world, with countless victories from short-course racing to Ironman, including the 2007 Ironman 70.3 World Championships.

Some highlights this year alone have been wins at Ironman Coeur d'Alene, New Orleans 70.3, Calgary 70.3 and a 6th career Escape From Alcatraz title, in addition to 2nd at California 70.3 and the US 70.3 Championship (1st American) at St. George.

Since first racing at the Ironman World Championships in 2008, Andy has three Top 10 finishes to his name. In addition, outside of stellar performances by Chris Lieto in 2009-10, Andy has been the top American every time he's raced.

Thanks for the time, Andy, and best of luck as you head back to the Big Island this year!

You’ve been the top American triathlete of the last decade, and continue to represent the red, white and blue with honor! As a whole though, why do you think the US has struggled compared to other countries at the Olympic and IM level?

I appreciate your kind words regarding my career; I think there are a lot of committed and dedicated American triathletes who are representing our country very well. It has been an honor to represent the US as an Olympian and Ironman around the world for the past decade. While the US has not produced an Ironman World Champion recently or had Olympic success, I think the aperture for scrutiny should be opened slightly.

For example, there have only been 12 Olympic medalists (men) from 7 countries earned in triathlon, ever. The six Gold Medalists (men’s & women’s) have come from six different nations. So, while a few gold medals in the US’s trophy case would be amazing, I do not believe that the American system or athletes are struggling. I also believe that there are a bunch of medals in our future with the new crop of young athletes coming up.

How did you respond to getting robbed (in our opinion) of a 2008 Olympic spot after making the team in 2004? Did it bum you out for a long time or were you able to use it as fuel going forward? (If I remember correctly didn’t you go on an epic tear of wins after that?)

What do they say, "when one door closes, go through the window”? That is exactly what I did in 2008- I used the opportunity to race in my first Ironman World Championship and start a new chapter in my racing career. Everything in life is about perspective and how we react to what is presented to us. Instead of dwelling on the setback, I was back training the next day, with a new goal, fresh outlook and completely focused on the new challenge and path that was in front of me. As an athlete and a parent, I talk a lot about ’teachable moments’. When a setback occurs, this is a great ’teachable moment’ and it’s important to learn from your experience, improve and continue to move forward.

At the St. George 70.3 pro panel this year it seemed like the pros were all very friendly with each other (for example I noticed you were chatting for a long time with Jan Frodeno). Is it really that friendly across the board or just with a select few? Just like at any level, are there certain guys you get more fired up to race than others?

The Triathlon community is a great community and I really enjoy getting to interact with my fellow competitors, age groupers and fans. There are some athletes that I get along with better than others but everyone is typically fairly friendly. In terms of racing- I love to race and I love to race anyone that is going to give their all on the race course. I know that when I line up, I am going to give all of myself and I get really pumped up to race anyone who I know is going to give that same level of respect to the competition.

Most sports tend to progress with time… for example, NFL players a few decades ago made salaries in the thousands, now in the millions. However in triathlon, Rev3 has cut pro prize purses and Ironman is re-allocating prize money so that races you’ve won in the past such as Ironman Lake Placid no longer pay out. As triathlon grows, do you see it being harder or easier to make a living in the sport?

I have been very fortunate in in my career to have great, long lasting sponsor partners. I take the responsibility of being a professional athlete and ambassador for brands very seriously and am always trying to better understand how to drive value for them. While the landscape for professional triathletes has changed over the years, I still find that it is on an upwards trend and there are opportunities to make a living and do what I love.

the Wing57 looks cool & intimidating on just about anyone
Speaking of sponsors, quick question as I'm in the market myself... do you race in Rudy Project's new Wing57 or stick with the Wingspan?

I am currently racing in the Wing57. I love the way the Wing57 feels and the integration of the visor (plus, I can choose which visor based off of the conditions). I feel like a fighter pilot when I wear it! Rudy Project has been a partner of mine since I started in the sport. It is important for me to support and continue to work with the brands that have been with me throughout my triathlon career. Being able to be with a brand like Rudy for so long is a testament to Rudy’s ability to constantly innovate and create great products as well as their commitment to the sport. 

With your swimming background and as a naturally bigger athlete, do you focus much on strength training in both the off-season and in season or is the focus more on going the other direction and getting leaner?

I get questions regarding strength training almost every day. I will also post some of my strength training sessions & tips on my Facebook page if anyone wants to follow. I do strength training 2-3 times per week and core 2-3 times per week as well. The goal is always to get stronger and more durable, not bigger. In addition to strength training, I have a 30 minute stretching routine that I do everyday. I find that the stretching has really helped my ability to bounce back from tough sessions and my mechanics in each sport.

Andy missed Kona last year due to a stress fracture... wishing him the best of luck this year!

We’re required to ask you at least one swim question: how would you recommend a triathlete allocates time in the pool between shorter, faster intervals and longer sets (eg. 400’s, 500’s, etc). Also, what’s the best drill in your opinion for the average age grouper?

I love swim questions, bring them on! In general, all training, whether swim, bike, run or otherwise is based on the premise of introducing different stimuli to elicit a response, adaptation and improvement. For swimming, a combination of shorter intervals, longer sets, drill work and even stroke work is important. Swimming different strokes helps create balance and feel for the water that most triathletes miss because they come to swimming later in life. With that, the most important elements of any training program are purpose, consistency and repeatability. To improve at swimming, you need to swim. As a general rule for individuals who are not brand new to swimming, I believe that swimming 3x per week is great for maintenance and small gains while 4-6 times per week will yield improvements. Oh, and my favorite drill is one arm freestyle (with the opposite arm at your side).

no matter the distance, this sea monster is always first out of the water

Follow Andy as he continues his quest of world triathlon domination!

Twitter:  @Andy_Potts
Instagram:  andy_potts
Main Site:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Increasing my VO2 Max?

You're most likely familiar with the term "VO2 max," but just in case, here's a quick summary thanks to our friends at Wikipedia:

VO2 max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption as measured during incremental exercise, most typically on a motorized treadmill. VO2 max reflects the aerobic physical fitness of the individual, and is widely accepted as the single best measure of cardiovascular fitness and maximal aerobic power.

Scores can improve with training and decrease with age, though the degree of trainability also varies widely: conditioning may double VO2 max in some individuals, and will never improve it in others.

high on a cocktail of oxygen & life

In other words, having a high VO2 max is part genetics and part training, depending on the individual.

Here are some sample values for comparison:

  • The average untrained healthy female 27–31
  • The average untrained healthy male 35–40
  • Elite female runners: 77
  • Elite male runners: 85
  • Miguel Indurain (5x Tour de France winner): 88
  • Bjørn Dæhlie (Norwegian xc skiing legend): 96
  • Thoroughbred horses: 180
  • Iditarod sled dogs: 240

I have no clue what my VO2 max is, but my ability to breathe through my nose will hopefully be significantly better starting in a week or so. I underwent a surgery on Monday to correct a severely deviated septum. My face looks like a cross between a raccoon, the late Ultimate Warrior and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. My daughter is terrified of me, and my son affectionately refers to me as the "Monster of the Murk." 

I timed the operation with my offseason, since I usually take a few weeks to chill this time of year anyway. It's funny... countless people have said something like "will being able to breathe better help with your triathlons?"

I'm not sure it will help, but it can't hurt!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Triple Threat Profile: Joleen White - Alaska

Triathlon in Alaska?? You better believe it. Joleen White of Anchorage is the newest member of our national team, and a fantastic addition at that. "Mainlanders" in her AG be warned: she's physically tough, mentally ripped, highly motivated, and just may be traveling to a race near you!

What's your background and how did you get into triathlon?

I joined the swim team at age 6. I was terrified at swim lessons but just wanted to swim with my brother on the team. Swimming was my primary sport, but my mom had me in everything: gymnastics, dance, xc running, soccer, etc.

My swim coach pointed out my ability at age 10 when invited to represent Alaska at zones, and suggested maybe I stop hurting myself in gymnastics and focus on swimming. Since my goal was to be the first in my family to graduate from college, I chose to put swimming aside after high school. I have a Bachelors in Physical Education and a Masters in Education Counseling. 

My co-worker kept telling me I should join this local women's tri club, so finally in 2006 I decided what the heck. The coach helped me find my love for swimming again, and I stayed on with them for three years. Since then I'm coachless, but swim with the local masters team and run with a local group as well.

For those of us ignorant mainlanders, educate us on some of the basics about Alaska. How cold does it really get, how long/short are the days in terms of sunlight, what are the summers like, etc?

The hardest part of living here to me are the extremes. You will go days without seeing the sun. You leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark... it will be a beautiful sunshine day and you walk outside to -20 degrees - then run right back in! But the most beautiful part of living here is when minutes of sunshine turn into hours and the next thing you know the sun won't go down! Amazingly all that snow goes away and it's time to get outside and play!!

For you stats people I tried to break it down:

Our annual average high (total year) is 44 °F, with a low of 30 °F. Anchorage usually has seven months of wintery weather followed by five months of mild temperatures and long days. We get some "warm" days, ~85 days a year of 60 °F maximum or above, but ~188 days at 32 °F minimum or below.

The hottest day of the last 12 months was July 4 (78°F). The coldest day was December 17, (-9°F).

The shortest days of the year in mid December have 5 hours and 27 minutes of daylight. The year's longest days in mid June last 19:22 from sunrise to sunset.

In your application you wrote "it is very challenging to spend most of your training indoors, however it does not take away my love for the challenge." Is winter training for you 100% indoors or can you bundle up and run outside?

I don't mind biking in my little pain igloo - Netflix is a godsend! But I have not yet really embraced the treadmill. Running in general is a love hate relationship, but I have come to realize that that needs to change. When the snow flies you can find me out on the beautifully groomed xc ski trails. I absolutely love classic and skate skiing. Xc skiing is a sport that I did as a kid with my grandpa and uncles for fun, and through coaching I've found a new love for it. I can see how skiing helps me stay strong, but my lack of running in the winter is starting to show. I have made a pact with myself to get my running mileage up and keep it there all winter... this means my treadmill and I need to learn to love each other!

Running outside is definitely possible in the winter. I put drywall screws in my trail shoes, wear many layers, and hand warmers are definitely my friend! Also, I cannot run without a buff around my neck - typically I pull it over my mouth to keep the air temp I'm breathing in warm. One thing you don’t want to do is wear mascara, as your eyelashes tend to freeze and when they melt you will be a mess!

I have always swam indoors so getting the chance to swim in an outdoor pool is just heaven to me! Wetsuits are a must in June when we all go to Little Campbell Lake to swim - some crazies tough it out but not me! I wear 2 caps and ear plugs to lessen the numbness. My first non-wetsuit legal race was Ironman 70.3 Kansas, and although I am a swimmer, I was terrified! I had never swam that far in open water without a wetsuit.

On that note, what's your indoor training situation like in Anchorage and the White household "pain igloo?"

As I mentioned, my treadmill and I are working on our relationship. Anchorage has the largest indoor track in North America, called The Dome. Typically I go there once a week with my running group from November to May. I tried a long run there and thought I would die of boredom after 8 miles. This year some people ran for 100+ miles at The Dome - wowza! There is not enough money in the world to get me to do that!

My current set up is put together nicely with a music stand which I use for my iPad to watch anything on Netflix that can distract me from the pain! I loved House of Cards, 24, and Breaking Bad, and just started The Killing... kinda hooked. A few Triple Threat teammates have shared some tricks of the trade to riding indoors, and I'm super excited to set some clear training goals this winter.

Joleen's helmet post crash
How would you sum up your 2014 season, and what was the highlight/lowlight?

My season was supposed to begin with a friendly time trial in May, but while warming up I had a freak accident and flew over my handlebars. I wound up in the hospital with a concussion, stitches, and road rash. This was tough for me as it was my first bike wreck; a very humbling start. Training slowed for a couple of weeks and I missed out on some of my favorite races. Thankfully I was able to come back and bike my first century in honor of a family friend, and our team raised over $90,000!

At the end of May I was able to put everything together and race in the annual Women’s Gold Nugget Triathlon sprint. There were no PR’s for me that day, but I would say my time was where it should have been considering where I was only a few weeks before.

In June I traveled with a group of students to Costa Rica so my training was not ideal, but I loved trying to run in the heat and humidity with the sounds of the jungle! When I got back, I had a couple of weeks to get things in gear before my husband and I went on a month long road trip to LA, Oregon, Montana, and Canada, where I competed in Ironman 70.3 Calgary
. I was worried my swimming would suffer, as it was difficult to find places to train while on the road. I managed to get a few swims in which was great. The biking was amazing; I rode in California near the beach, got lost in Oregon and saw the most amazing fields, and rode in Montana near the most beautiful streams. I was able to run almost everyday, but it was too little too late for me. I had planned on doing Lake Stevens 70.3 in Washington in August, but honestly I had had enough of rental cars, hotels, and packing my bike, so I stayed in Alaska.

Overall, I'm very happy with Calgary 70.3. I PR’d my swim by 2 min and my bike by 9 min. I do believe the course was short one mile but 9 min is a lot. I suffered on the run, but surprisingly didn’t beat myself up because I knew I didn’t do the work... Calgary definitely helped me realize my potential and has helped me dream big for the future.

I think it's very cool that you plan a summer trip each year around a big race. What has been your favorite race/venue?

It has been a lot of fun, and I've met some amazing people! Considering the weather and elevation here in Alaska, I would have to say my favorite out of state race is the Lake Stevens 70.3. I definitely suffer in the heat so I have had more luck racing in the state of Washington. I do realize it can get hot there from time to time, but I have been lucky so far. I do have to say that I have never met a nicer crew then I did this year at Calgary
70.3. The volunteers there MADE the race - I have never had such kind people approach me and wish me luck, or help me with questions, etc. Hands down the best!

Your job as a teacher and coach sounds very cool, can you share some details? Are most local kids pretty active in the great outdoors?

I started coaching high school swimming when I began teaching, and my kids were the best. But I have to admit, standing on the deck killed me. I had to do something else. I started coaching cross country running about ten years ago and am still loving it. The previous high school that I taught/coached at had 120+ athletes on average! I began coaching cross country skiing three years ago. The season goes from November to March, and it is exhausting. We go from hoping we get snow soon to hoping the weather is not -10 degrees Fahrenheit or we will have to stay inside. I've also coached other sports such as track and volleyball.

The kids here are very active. We have school sports as well as local club teams ranging from swimming, hockey, volleyball, baseball, wrestling, xc skiing, biathlon, etc. Most teams travel out of state for larger competitions. Even one of our local football teams travels out of state each year to play other schools.

In your team profile you mention the goal of qualifying for 70.3 Worlds. Will that be a big focus in 2015? What other goals are on your radar for the next few years?

I'm very disappointed that I didn’t spend more time running this past year. I was on track for a PR at Calgary, and qualifying for 70.3 Worlds was within reach. This has lit a fire in me with regards to my goals and attitude towards training. My focus in 2015 is to get my running dialed in, meaning both mileage and racing. I'd like to get my 70.3 time down to the 5:10 - 5:15 range, after my swim/bike in Calgary I think I can do it... so long as I stay on track with running.

I'm planning on adding more 5k’s to build speed for my “A” races at Boise 70.3 (June) and Lake Stevens (Aug). I also plan to be more consistent with biking on the trainer, in addition to more local time trial races at the beginning of the season. Because I transferred to middle school this year I'm able to stay for my entire swim practice, something I have never been able to do. I'm averaging about 4,000 more yards per week and am consistently hitting sub 1:10/100yd in my sprint sets.

One day I would love to be dedicated enough to do a full Ironman - I hate saying “I only did half of an Ironman”.... This means I need to make friends with marathon training, haha! Who knows, maybe one day I will get the chance to race in Kona!

As a rock star swimmer, if you had to give two pieces of advice/tips, what would they be?

Haha! Well, first I will say don’t put swimming on the back burner, even if it is your strength. Getting on the bike relaxed is a benefit from swimming, so swim! Second, swim mechanics will help you save energy. Get a coach or an instructor and work on the basics. Swimming slow is fine - getting it right before you add speed will make it more enjoyable and make you faster. Oh, and don’t forget to relax; the harder you try to swim the slower you will go!

What are the most popular sports and professional teams in Alaska? You've mentioned some local sprints... has the triathlon community been growing in Anchorage?

Hockey of course! I met my husband in college, and he played hockey for the University of Alaska, Anchorage. We moved to Bakersfield for 1 year when he played semi-pro. Everyone I know plays hockey, and yes I even gave it a shot for a year. The best part for me was the beer! In addition to the UAA college team, we're proud of our minor league champion Alaska Aces

The triathlon community has definitely been growing, but most people seem to race out of state. Unfortunately there were a couple races cancelled this year due to permit issues. I don’t believe the city of Anchorage has embraced the triathlon community, nor the biking community for that matter. Since we have so much snow throughout the year, biking is not as popular a method of commuting as in other states. Fat tire bikes are a big hit here though, so more and more people are biking throughout the year no matter what the weather. Unfortunately cyclists on the road are not well liked... I have had some unpleasant encounters myself. The cycling community is working hard to include bike to work days through the summer, and trying to get bike friendly lanes built on some of our roads. It is a work in progress, but I believe we will get there.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Top 10 Signs of a Triathlete Parent

My two kids know a lot about triathlon, although they’re still learning some of the subtleties of the sport. For example, at my race this past weekend, as the men’s 65-69 age group winner was claiming his prize, my 6-year old yelled out in disbelief and disgust “Ahhhhh! HEEEE won?!?” He’s also at the age in which girls are gross, and was similarly appalled when a woman stood atop the podium. We have some work to do.

Anyways, it’s been a while since I’ve done a Top 10 list, so I thought it was time.

Top 10 Signs of a Triathlete Parent

10) Pull buoy riddled with teeth marks

9) Aero helmet been worn more times as “jousting knight” costume than actual races

8) Can count on one hand # of workouts over past few years between hours of 6-8pm

7) IronKids t-shirts heavily featured in wardrobe rotation

6) Routinely find toys hidden in pockets of bike jersey

these bad boys give me the energy I need to skateboard home from school

5) Generally accepted that mom will eventually return after she emerges from water only to suddenly leave us in the lurch

4) A 90-min bike ride takes exactly 90 min… not a minute wasted

3) Mutual respect in that mom and dad have “swimming lessons” (masters) on various mornings just like they do

2) Clif "Z Bars” (marketed to kids) routinely appear in workplace lunch – hey, they taste great, what can I say?

1) Daughter has mastered flying dismount off pink Barbie bike

Top 10 List Archives:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Utah State Triathlon Championships - Race Report

Saturday was far from perfect.

For starters, driving through darkness on my way to Pineview Reservoir, I glanced in my rearview mirror and noticed my bike was being given the business by the early morning wind. Not being 100% confident in my bike rack, I pulled over to make sure everything was ok. It was, but I was now distracted and missed my next turn. $@&! Long story short, the next exit was a ways up the road, and I arrived at the race scene later than I hoped.

I hustled through the pre-race stuff at check in and T2, then biked the ~2 mi to T1. I thought I was prepared in long-sleeved clothes, but it was still frigid. My teeth were chattering and I once again pondered why I do the things I do. As I had been telling myself, arriving a little later proved to be no big deal after all, as I had ample time to get ready. That doesn’t mean there weren’t curveballs thrown… no toilet paper in ANY of the port-a-potties?? That’s a cruel prank on race morning!! Let’s just say I was luckily prepared thanks to seasonal allergies, but I have no clue what everyone else did... it’s possible that a white knight in shining armor (or perhaps the Charmin bear?), arrived while I was warming up in the water, but this was never confirmed nor denied.

to the rescue!!!!!!!
Anyways, although cold, the race venue was absolutely gorgeous… awesome mountain views with a splattering of fall colors, a soft sandy beach, and a light fog over the calm waters. I warmed up with many others in the water before hearing a voice on the mic announcing a last minute change to both the swim and the bike course. Uhhh, ok. The swim change wasn’t a big deal. We could see the buoys and it was pretty straight-forward. But the bike change? What was originally two loops was now a modified three, but not all loops were the same. Hmmm. I asked a guy near me in the water, “so is the new course shorter or longer?” He assumed it would be the same (56 mi), but I was skeptical.

There was no time to get an answer, as a minute later we were off. I felt very comfortable in the water and my shoulder caused me less trouble than prior races. I was able to find some feet to draft on for a decent portion, which I’m always happy about. At the very end of the swim my right calf cramped up on me, which was surprising because I use a “2-beat” kick and generally save my legs for the bike and run. Might have been simply due to being so cold pre race.

Swim: 32:12 min 21% (vs. the field)

Onto the bike, it was uncomfortably cold, but not terrible. I lost feeling in my extremities, but knew it would eventually approach 80 degrees for the day. Several miles into the course we approached an old monastery. According to all the pre-race communication we had to ride up to the actual building, where there would also be an aid station at the turnaround. The guy in front of me turned right (the monastery was down the road to the left) then shortly after looked back and yelled “did we miss the turn?” Since there were no turn arrows, markings, etc, I originally followed him to the right, thinking he knew something I didn’t. Now knowing that he didn’t, I yelled something like “yeah, I think we did.” I’ve never cut a course and didn’t want to start now. As we rode up, it was completely barren… no aid station, no nothing. We’d been duped! We turned around, and signaled to riders who had followed us to just turn around as well.

It only tacked on 1+ miles but I was now riding angry, which in hindsight was detrimental. I was frustrated with the last-minute course change, poor communication and lack of on course markings. It was hard to just focus on riding when I legitimately didn’t know where I was supposed to go. To be fair, this change could have been mentioned while many of us were warming up, but I sure didn’t hear anything and there was no arrow, or volunteer, to point the way.

With two loops down and one to go, it was clear that the course would be long. I’ll admit, I was not a happy camper, and my attitude was bad. I felt great through ~45 miles, then started to fade a bit. Through 56 miles I was around 2:42, a split I would’ve felt good about. I took another wrong turn in the last few miles (once again no marking) and had to double back. All told it was an extra 6 mi, and although not the end of the world, it took its toll on my legs.

Bike ~3:00   14%    20.5 mph

Almost immediately on the run, I had a strong desire to walk. Never a good sign! I fought through that, and vowed that I would have a good attitude (unlike the bike) no matter what. I had to dig into my mental bag of tricks early and often to get me through. By mile 3 I thought of the old Chevelle song “send the pain below” as a theme song of sorts, an attitude of acknowledging that I was hurting but that I could overcome it.

Through miles 4-7 I had a little mantra in my head, and I also tried to break the course down into smaller pieces… perhaps the oldest mental trick in the book. Unlike most races, I also welcomed a guy catching me, and we chatted a bit as we ran side by side from miles ~8-10. That was helpful, thank you Ethan. In the last couple miles I counted every other step to 20, over and over again. Salt in the wound was that the run course was a little long as well, pushing 14 mi according to my Garmin. Brutal. 

I got a little exposed in this race, as my longest runs post-injury were an 8 miler and a 10 miler.

Run 2:05   24%  ~9 min pace

Overall 5:40

I had some struggles, but was fortunate to finish 10th overall and win my age group. A nice surprise after a far from perfect race.