Thursday, March 6, 2014

Triple Threat Profile: Stewart Nixon - Colorado

From his blazing speed down to his self-proclaimed "old school" look, Colorado's Stewart Nixon makes his presence felt on race day. Stewart brings a wealth of triathlon knowledge and experience to our national team, and we are grateful to have him. Thanks for the time, Stewart!

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

I was always in some kind of sport growing up and where I lived until first grade (neighborhoods with sidewalks), we rode our bikes everywhere. Early on it was the typical team sports; football, basketball, soccer, baseball. My parents were great about exposing me to different stuff and letting me discover what I excelled at. They never pushed one sport or another on me. But as I got older I gravitated toward individual sports, mostly. Swimming and track became my staples and I say mostly because out of swimming I discovered water polo and that became my fall sport in high school. Riding bikes was still a mode of transportation but it was in middle school that I saw biking as more than that. That was also the first time I heard about le Tour and saw Julie Moss’ historic crawl to the finish on TV. So the seed was planted back in middle school. After my first year of college, although my swim season ended with a good taper, I was frustrated with how the season progressed. That was when I decided on my first triathlon, Bud Light USTS Chicago, the biggest of the series. I did a primer race about 2 months before in Findlay, OH, so that was really my first race. I ended up doing 4 races that season with my last race at a Coors Light Biathlon Series race. I was completely hooked, I loved it! I did one more season of NCAA swimming and track and then hung it up in favor of triathlons.

How would you sum up your 2013 season? What was the highlight and lowlight?

Racing wise, the highlight and lowlight was USAT Olympic Nationals in Milwaukee. My training was clicking along and everything felt great going into the race. I really felt like I was going to have a good day and everything was going well on race day, until the run. I hit the one mile mark and everything tightened up. It felt like every muscle was trying to spasm at once. I was pretty much reduced to a shuffle at that point. My time was a PR for the season, but not what I wanted it to be nor what I knew I was capable of. So in the end, a bit disappointing. But I’m going back this year, so I’ll get redemption. The real highlight of the year was the birth of my daughter. That was the most awesome event I have ever experienced!

In your opinion, what role does sheer experience play in being successful on race day?

You pretty much know what to expect and to take things in stride. You don’t sweat the little things and know what you need. Generally, you’re not running around at the last minute trying to find something. That’s not to say mistakes don’t happen, you just don’t freak out as much if it does. I remember a race a couple years ago. I forgot to pack my aerobar pads. I’m unpacking stuff at the hotel, getting ready for a light ride and I had a small moment of panic. I thought, "what am I going to do?" So I took a washcloth, cut it in half, folded it over and taped it to the armrest cups. Not the most comfortable but a far cry from not using anything. Transition is one place where many people freak out. They forget where they racked their bike, or something gets knocked out of place by another competitor and it just sends them into orbit and ruins the rest of their race. But you learn things as you go along. Rack your bike in the same spot (or close to it) at every race and find some landmark to help you locate that spot. You learn that less really is more, in terms of transition set up. And then those actions become automatic and you’re able to relax.

How would you rank the three disciplines from your personal strength to weakness?

Swim, bike, run. All of my years swimming has set me up to do well at just about any distance. And water polo gave me the ability to handle the contact that inevitably happens on the swim, especially the start and first turn. Biking is a close second. I love speed and being the one in control of that. I did the 400 and long jump in track, both speed events. I’ve learned to enjoy running long, but stacked up against the other two running is definitely in 3rd.

As someone with a strong coaching background, can you share a "Nixon Nugget" for getting faster in the water?

“Nixon Nugget”, I like that. Swimming is really a technical activity, when talking about what we do. There are so many things to work on, concentrate on, in order to be faster in the water. Triathletes from a swimming background certainly have it easier than adult onset swimmers; we’ve developed that “feel” for the water and intuitively know what to do. Definitely, a sound foundation in proper technique goes a long way to developing speed later. So having someone look at your stroke and help you develop proper place. technique, offer drills, etc. is the way to go. Even better is to get a video analysis, that way you can look at what you’re doing instead of just being told. After you develop technique, learn how to read a pace clock and do some intervals. And I don’t mean 2000 yard repeats. Do shorter stuff where you can really punch it hard. Joining a Masters program can be very beneficial in that regard.

In your application you wrote "I am a self-professed gear head, and have been my own bike mechanic for over 30 years.” Most triathletes (myself included) are pretty pathetic in this regard. How did you develop your skills? Also, what type of gear gets you most geeked out (in a good way :) ?

It started back in middle school when I really saw biking as more than transportation. Every time I had something out of whack with my bike, it was a week before I could get it back from the bike shop. I just thought that was ridiculous. So I just took apart what I could with regular tools and discovered what special tools I needed along the way. This was well before you could look up anything on the internet, so it was pretty much trial by fire and the library. I checked out whatever bike books they had and just poured over them. My tool collection grew as did my ability to successfully put things back together. I also worked in a couple of bike shops, so I picked up a few things there as well. Now, I do everything myself: tune ups, overhauls, complete installations, you name it. One of my favorite things to do is build wheels and I actually enjoy gluing my tubulars. But don’t bring me yours. I’ll show you how to do it, but my motto is “You ride ‘em, you glue ‘em!” I mostly get stoked over bike gear but other stuff gets my juices flowing. I’m a weight weenie, so I pay attention to the weights of things. Aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber figure prominently on my bikes. If there is a lighter option, I’m going to consider it and research it. I’m always reading product testing results and R&D data. I think I own every color option in Swedish goggles and I use track spikes for my track workouts.

What's your focus in terms of racing and/or goals for the 2014 season?

I’m going back to Nationals, so that will be a big focus again. I’m doing the Double this year, Olympic race on Saturday and the Sprint race on Sunday. I’m also trying a different approach to training, doing shorter, more intense and focused workouts but more often. I still have a long ride and run but I’ve scaled it back a bit in terms of time. I’ve also learned, with my sprinting background in swimming and track, that I’m just not cut out for IM stuff. I can definitely handle a half, but my specialty is Olympic distance. I just like to hammer it. I have 8 races on the calendar this year. Outside of Nationals, I’d like to podium in the rest in my AG.

Your daughter was born in the past year, correct? Has it been a smooth transition for you, similar to your T1 and T2 splits?

Have you been stalking my results? I’m not one to toot my own horn, but my transitions are among the fastest in my races. I’ve got it down to the bare minimum and I have 25 years of practice at them! After my daughter was born, I only needed one lesson on diaper changes from the hospital staff. I absolutely love fatherhood and I do as much as I can. Poopy diapers – check. Feedings – check. Ergobaby – check. My specialty is getting her to fall asleep. My wife calls me the Baby Whisperer. When it’s bed time, I hold her on my chest, give her some butt pats and within about 10 – 15 minutes, she’s out. And then she’s down for the night, so we’re pretty lucky in the sleep department. I’ve been able to rearrange my work schedule so that I’m home 2 days during the work week. She’s my training partner for my indoor rides those days. Being a swimmer, getting up early has been wired into my DNA so knocking off a training session before everyone is up is not a problem. And I’m able to use my lunch hour to get training in also. So the main thing on my schedule when I get home from work is being a parent. I’m definitely excited for when I can get her in the water and take her with me on my outside rides and runs.

Can you tell us a bit about your day job, and what hobbies do you have outside of work and triathlon?

Right now I work in HR. I’m in charge of employee safety and handle worker’s compensation. I have a degree in elementary education with a math/science specialization, so going back to that is always in the back of my mind. VWs are a big passion of mine. I’ve only owned VWs since 1990. I remember walking through the parking lot at school one day and seeing this cool looking car, a 1980 VW Scirocco, and thought “I’m going to get a car like that one day.” I’ve had a few Sciroccos over the years. I like tinkering with them. And I do all of my auto maintenance/modifications, even fabricating when necessary. My tool collection is pretty extensive. I’m not much of a mainstream sports fan. I’ll watch pretty much anything you would find on ESPN 8, The “Ocho”. But if the Red Wings, Lions or Tigers are on (we’re from the Detroit area originally), I’ll watch that.

You’re far from old, yet you referred to yourself in your application as “old school.” In what ways? Do you laugh at some of the “new school” products/mentalities, etc?

Ha! My bikes and race kit. I’m still running freewheels with 7 cogs! And how many Hotta’s (his bike) do you see at races? I’ve accumulated quite a bit of “bikes and stuff” over the years. To convert all of that to run 9, 10 or 11 cogs would definitely put me in the poor house! And I’m rocking Grip Shifts on my tri bikes. Personally, I don’t see the need for more than 7. Now if I were climbing L’Alpe-d’Huez every day, then I’d bite the bullet to have that range of gearing.

My race kit is generally what sets me apart from the pack. When I started racing, just about everyone was racing in Speedos. Triathlon specific clothing wasn’t really invented yet but was soon on the horizon. I remember when Insport came out with the Dave Scott line. I got a full kit just like what he wore in the 1987 Ironman. I also picked up a kit like he wore in the 1989 Ironman. I still have it today except I use it for training wear now. Back then, the premier race series was the Bud Light USTS. Many of the pros, and all of the volunteers, were given a visor that said Bud Light on the bill and had a surgical tubing head strap. I loved that visor but the only way you could get one was to be a pro or volunteer, you couldn’t buy them. I remember picking up my packet at USTS Norfolk and the packet pick up lady was wearing one. So I turned on my charm and eventually walked away with the visor. (I’m sure she relented to just get me to go away but I’d like to think it was my charm!) I still don a Speedo and wear that Bud Light visor for every race! 

Some of the new stuff I definitely laugh at. I also haven’t jumped on the power meter bandwagon. I like data and analyzing it but it’s mostly a money thing for something like that. I do use a heart rate monitor for my bike and run training, but I don’t even use it for racing anymore. And then there’s the perspective some people have. I remember reading about someone requesting advice about doing his planned long run. Seems his wife wanted to go out for dinner right at the time he was to do his run and he didn’t know what to do. Blow off my wife and do the run? Do the run earlier/later? Do it another day? How will that affect my overall training? My thought was “Buddy, happy wife = happy life. Go to dinner and rearrange the run.” For the vast majority of us, this sport is a hobby. Some people really lose sight of that.

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