Friday, April 26, 2013

Ironman Champion Patrick Evoe

Ever since I first stumbled on his blog a few years ago, Patrick Evoe has been one of my favorite professional triathletes to follow. His story is inspiring, and his race reports provide great insight into the mind of a pro. A perennial top 10 finisher at Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races, over the past couple years Pat has stepped up to the podium multiple times, culminating with the win at Ironman Louisville last August. He was cool enough to take some time out of his busy schedule for this interview. Before getting to my questions, here’s a bit of his background (from his website and past quotes).

In 2000, I moved to Austin, Texas for a job at a semiconductor equipment manufacturer after graduating with an engineering degree from the University of Michigan. At that time, I was fifty pounds overweight and had no experience with any endurance sports or racing. I was tired of being embarrassed about my physical condition so I decided to start running. At the beginning, I couldn't run a mile without walking. I kept with it until I could jog 5k without stopping. Then in the Texas summer, I couldn't run in the heat, so I started going to my community pool and taught myself to swim laps. I couldn't swim 25 yards without stopping. That whole summer, I'd go to the pool every day after work and challenge myself to swim farther without a break than I had before. Long story short, I found a fun group of friends at work who ran and biked at lunch and after work, so I started tagging along. I bought a bike and they told me to go sign up for the 2002 Buffalo Springs Ironman 70.3. I did one sprint to make sure I could do the sport, but Lubbock was my first real go at it (finished 36th in age group in 5:19). I was hooked from there and registered for my first Ironman.

Following five years of work, I returned to school to earn a Masters Degree in International Studies. With the flexible student schedule, I decided that every moment I wasn't studying I would be training. I made studying my workout recovery. In 2005, I finished top-5 in my age group in Kona. After a year and a half of grad school, my racing was at a level where I knew I would be competitive in the professional field. I went to part-time studies and finished out my Masters and thesis over the next year and a half while I upped my racing. I finished grad school at the end of 2008. Since then it's been all-in for me.

Starting from not being able to run a mile or swim 25 meters without stopping, when did you feel you had what it took to become a professional triathlete? What was your first race as a pro, and how were those pre-race nerves?

Back in 2005, I left my corporate job to go back to graduate school full-time. I was set to go race Kona that October, so my plan was to race Kona, then focus on my school and a different future career. The idea of racing triathlon professionally was a dream, but I never thought it was possible. That Kona I finished top-5 in my age group. That got me thinking that I was closer than I thought. The next year I really wanted to focus on my studies, so I took a year off of full-Ironmans and raced only Ironman 70.3s to see if I could develop the speed to be competitive in the professional field. That year, I raced 5 half Ironmans as an age grouper. In all of them, I finished with times of 4:00-4:05. I won the USAT age group national championship for half Ironman, won the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Steelhead, was third age grouper overall in Clearwater at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, and won one other half Ironman distance race. At the end of that year (2006) I felt that I would be able to race in the professional field and be competitive. I think waiting that extra year for development was key. I see too many guys getting their professional licenses these days before they are ready. Some get their pro card just because they have a qualifying time. In my opinion, the USAT requirements for a professional license are too easy. Just because a guy can make the time doesn't mean he will be competitive against the professionals. I waited that extra year to develop and prove to myself that I had the skills to compete in the pro ranks. My first professional race was Ironman Arizona in April of 2007. Incidentally, I got an achilles injury about 5 weeks out from the race. I didn't run for 4 weeks, but decided to start the race totally under trained on the run just to get one pro race under my belt. I was really nervous before the race. As soon as I got off the bike, I knew that the aqua-jogging for the previous month was not going to be enough to get me through an Ironman run. About 3 miles in, I was walking, so I dropped out as soon as I came by transition. It was a tough way to start my career, but I learned right away, you have good and bad races and have to pick your battles.

You clearly had some incredible highs in 2012, led by your first Ironman victory at Louisville in August. How long did it take to fully sink in that you’re an Ironman Champion and how has that changed you?

Winning Ironman Louisville last year was a big high for me. It really took a long time for it to sink in, in fact, I sometimes wonder if it really did sink in. We spend so much time thinking about winning a big race, that when it actually happens, it feels surreal. I don't think Louisville changed me at all. I'm the same person I was before that finish line. I think the biggest change is that when you know you've done something once, no matter how hard, you know you can do it again. Last year I didn't finish off my season well with poor races at Austin 70.3 and Ironman Cozumel. Then I started this year off at Ironman 70.3 San Juan, went off course on the run, costing me a shot at a good placement. After those three races, I think I'm even more hungry to get the old me back in races. I've worked very hard this winter and I feel like I am in much better shape now than I was at this point last year. So, if I had so say how Louisville has changed me, I'd say it's made me hungrier now for that feeling again.

From your website I see an exciting schedule (tentative) for 2013:

Ironman 70.3 San Juan - San Juan, Puerto Rico, March 17
Ironman Australia - Port Macquarie, NSW, Australia - May 5
Ironman 70.3 Kansas - Lawrence, KS - June 9
Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant - Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada - June 23
Ironman 70.3 Muncie - Muncie, IN - July 13
Ironman Louisville - Louisville, KY - August 25
Ironman 70.3 Augusta - Augusta, GA - September 29
Ironman Florida - Panama City, Florida - November 2

What are your highest priority “A” races, and what are your goals for the year? What would constitute a successful season in your mind?

That is my planned season as of now, although I must say that it always changes. I've never once raced my schedule exactly as planned. My key races are the three Ironmans on the schedule, Ironmans Australia, Louisville, and Florida. I would like to defend my title at Louisville and am looking to make an impact and be on the podiums in the other two races. Developmentally, I want to run well off the bike again. In 2011, I ran well off the bike in every race. In 2012, I never felt like I ran to my potential. I've worked hard in my Ironman Australia build at my running. My other goal for the year is to execute my swim in races so that my swimming more closely reflects how well I swim in practices. If I swim like I do in training, I will be closer on the bike, won't have to dig as much on the bike, then will have more effort for the run. They're all related, so it really comes down to the basics of training and execution. Those are my focuses for the year. Yes, the Ironman 70.3 races are important, but I feel that we have to pick where we will be most effective, and I feel that the full-Ironman is where I can make a bigger impact.

From your race reports, you sound like a guy who leaves it all out on the course. After your Louisville win you commented on taking risks during the race: “Something inside me just said go. I started riding as hard as I possibly could. I kept telling myself ‘ride as if there’s no run.'”

On a scale from 1-10, how hard would you say you typically push (10 being time trial all-out for that single discipline) on the IM and 70.3 swim and bike? In other words, does a high placing pretty much require red-lining the whole thing or can you pick your spots?

The effort level on Ironman and 70.3 are totally different. In Ironman 70.3s, I feel like I am right on the limit pretty much for the entire race. If an olympic distance is all-out at an effort of 10, then I'd say in a 70.3 I'm at an 8-9 most of the time. In Ironmans, it all comes down to pacing. I see a higher dropout rate in full Ironmans now than ever before. I think guys are going all-out on the bike to try to stay in contact with groups, then only a couple guys have the potential to run well after efforts like those. I really think there are only a few guys in the world who can really "race" an Ironman, meaning base their efforts upon those around them rather than on their own abilities. For the rest of us, it's still the cliche of racing against ourselves. Unfortunately, many guys don't realize this and try to "race" rather than "pace". I myself have fallen victim to this at times, so I'm hoping I'm a little wiser this year and race against myself. So in an Ironman, I'd say on the swim I'm at about an 8 and on the bike closer to a 7 in terms of effort. Some guys are more concerned with showing a fast bike split than their overall placement. What's the point of a 4:20-something bike if you can't run under 3-hours off the bike?

Age groupers doing this primarily for fun get nervous before races – I can’t imagine what it would be like to race for a paycheck. How do you handle the pressure in the days and minutes before a race?

First, if I get nerves, I try to remind myself how many races I've done since I've started. I remind myself that it's only a race, it's no different than any one of the many I've done in the past. Yes, it's my job and with that comes some degree of pressure, but if I build up the race too much, I run the risk of being emotionally exhausted before the start. I allow myself to get nervous only one time before each race. Normally it’s a day or two before. I acknowledge the nerves, accept them, then tell myself that nothing will come of dwelling on them, only mentally exhausting myself. If you watch Kona each year, there are many athletes that perform nowhere near what they do in other races. I think this is partially due to the fact that everyone builds up the race so much that many get to the start line more emotionally and mentally tired than they realize.

It seems to me from afar that most of the pros get along extremely well and are very friendly with each other. Excluding Macca in his prime you don’t hear much trash talking, etc. Is that really the case or is the competition and rivalries really much more fierce below the surface?

For the male professionals, behind the scenes, I think it's more like a fraternity. It's an individual sport, but we all know that by training together, we can help elevate ourselves. We don't have a team like in cycling to train with, so we work together. Most of the guys I've been around are actually very humble. First of all, other than the top few in the sport, no one is getting wealthy in triathlon, so it's hard to get too arrogant when most amateurs are making more than the pros. Second, I'll use my basketball analogy. When Lebron James starts a game, the difference between a good and bad game is if he scores 15 points or 35 points. In Ironman, there is no guarantee that anyone will even finish the race, let alone win it. There are too many variables on any given day. I think that tends to keep the guys pretty grounded as individuals. I also feel like the guys are good at turning the competitive spirit on and off. Just like playing basketball with your friends in the driveway as a kid, before and after you were best friends, but when the game is on you would cut your best buddy off at the knees. Before and after the race, we're good friends. When the start gun goes, we compete hard because we want to win.

From your blog I know you’ve put in a lot of training over time with Richie Cunningham. In addition to Richie, what fellow pros do you most respect and why?

I respect all of my buddies and most of my competition. I know how hard it is to train day in and day out for this sport. The guys who are putting in the work and making it happen always deserve respect. I do not respect the guys who cheat. Drafting on the bike has really gotten worse in races over the last couple years. There are guys who sit in the groups and won't do any work. If the draft marshal isn't around, they're sitting 3 meters behind you. As soon as they hear the motor bike, they drift back to 10 meters. In the pro field we know who those guys are. I see them because coming out of the swim a little behind, I bike past them. They will be biking a much slower pace, but then they sprint to get on my wheel as I come past. I look at race results and I know who those guys are also because their bike splits from race to race are like hot or cold depending if they are biking alone or have a wheel to sit behind. Then there are the other cheaters, those who cut courses, get outside assistance, and of course drugs. It happens more in this sport than most age groupers realize. I have no respect for cheaters. I think they are weak, weak people.

You’ve got Ironman Australia quickly approaching (May 5th). What led you to choose this race for your schedule? Following your experience at San Juan 70.3 (a turn wasn’t clearly marked and Pat lost time running off course), is part of you still ticked and ready to wreak havoc down under?

This winter, my original plan was to race Panama 70.3 then Ironman Cabos, but I had a running injury in January that put my training behind if I wanted to be fit for those really early races. I changed my plan and was looking to race a half in March (San Juan 70.3), then have a training block, building into a May Ironman. Logic would say I should race Ironman Texas, because it's only a 3 hour drive from my home in Austin, but I needed something different. I raced Ironman Texas the last two years, neither of which I felt like I performed. Thinking about Ironman Texas, I just didn't get excited. For one thing, I wanted a break from really hot Ironmans. In the last 3 years, I've raced Texas twice, Louisville three times, and Cozumel three times; all hot races. I'm good in the heat, but I think the hot ones take more out of you than the others. I think we need to choose races that get us excited and inspired in training. I love traveling to new places so I was looking for a destination. So I looked at Brazil and Australia, from which I eventually chose Australia because I liked the timing for my year better being 3 weeks earlier. Being excited for a race has really helped me keep focus in training over the last couple months. I'm ready to go to Australia and see what I can do.

Among the following choices, how would you divvy up the credit (100%) for a race gone extremely well?  For these purposes let’s quantify that as being on the podium at an Ironman or 70.3.

Coaching: 10%
DNA/natural ability: 10%
Equipment: 2%
Luck/feeling great “on the day”: 10%
Mental toughness: 16%
Race strategy/tactics: 2%
Training: 50%

Besides a blistering swim/bike/run, you’re also known for your title sponsor, Little Caesar’s. Side note: I used to be strictly a Papa John’s guy, but I’ve got to admit that you can’t beat the value of a hot n ready Little Caesar’s pizza for 5 bucks! That is the "go to" meal when I'm alone with my kids for dinner. They’ve clearly been a great sponsor for you, but do you ever get tired of people yelling “pizza pizza” at you?

I never get tired of the "pizza pizza" cheers. The partnership between Little Caesars Pizza and myself has been wonderful and I love being associated with such a great company and brand. The fact that more people in the sport probably know me as the "Little Caesars guy" than know my name I think is a great testament to the brand recognition of the company and getting the message out there that pizza can be a part of a healthy lifestyle and training regime. Every professional triathlete I know enjoys a pizza for dinner. I'm excited to continue to work with Little Caesars to get this message out in the fitness community and in triathlon.

I'm grateful for all of my sponsors, and they each play a huge role in my success. TYR provides me with the best wetsuits and speedsuits in the sport. PowerBar's nutrition products have been a key part in my training and racing. RecoveryPump has been a critical aspect of my training and recovery and I truly believe the product has helped to take my training to the next level. Jack and Adam's Bicycles in Austin is always there to support me and my racing. Felt has put me on such an amazing bike, the 2012 Felt DA, and HED Cycling has provided me with the best wheels and aerobars on the market. Champion System has provided me with the race and training clothing that you see in my pictures. Brooks Airbrush Studio painted up my amazing aerohelmet this year. Advanced Rehabilitation in Austin helps to keep me healthy for training and racing, and Hill Country Running Company is a great help with my running equipment. SBR Sports Inc's products are also a great help for racing and training. Also I want to thank my family and friends for their unending support for me. Without these people and sponsors, I would not be able to pursue this dream.

Follow Pat as he heads to Australia this week and beyond! 


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1 comment:

  1. Little follow-up... In case you didn't hear, Pat was on the podium again at Ironman Australia, finishing 2nd overall!