Friday, October 3, 2014

Triple Threat Profile: David Fernandez - Florida

I was talking with a teammate the other day, and somehow the name David Fernandez came up… we both concurred that he is “just a great dude.” Truer words have never been spoken. David is a native of Spain who represents Florida on our national team. Among other things, he talks about Miami, nutrition, T.I.T.S., getting “exposed” as a triathlete, and most importantly, this weekend’s Ironman Barcelona!

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

I was always a very (hyper) active kid and I played many sports while growing up in Spain: team or European handball, soccer, basketball, windsurfing, mountain biking, and judo, to name a few.

You may develop some running speed, but you won’t develop endurance with most of the sports that I played growing up. However, I excelled at a few of them and practiced some at a high level, especially team handball, which turned me into a very determined and competitive person and taught me the sacrifices, time, and effort one has to go through to be successful.

That drive to succeed and to challenge myself were the reasons why I got into triathlon. After moving to the US, I didn’t work out for a period of 3-4 years due to massive business traveling. One day, my company signed all employees up for a 5k with a 5 day notice and the trash talk at the office started to see who would be the fastest runner. I was out of the top ten, but that was all I needed… my inner competitive drive couldn’t stand not winning, not being able to compete.

I started working out again, I got into running (top 3 next year at the same 5k), I started mountain biking at local trials, and I went to see a friend do an Xterra triathlon. I thought it was awesome and signed up for a sprint tri right away. I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but I found that the sport of triathlon and everything that surrounds it is a great fit for me. On one hand, you are able to compete against yourself and become better and better the more you work and the more effort you put into it. It is very addictive!! On the other hand, the camaraderie that you experience at each race and in your community while training is unmatched with any other sport I’ve ever participated in.

Most of us only know the Will Smith version of Miami… you know, “bouncin in the club where the heat is on, all night on the beach til the break of dawn.” What’s it like to actually live and train there?

Well, that Miami exists. A couple of weekends ago I was going biking and parked at Tri-Beach (local beach where most of the local triathletes meet to go open water swimming, biking, or running). It was 5 am and there was a group of people still partying while a bunch of us were getting ready to go work out. The contrast was interesting, to say the least…

Will Smith was referring to South Beach. That is the part of Miami that everybody knows from the movies, TV shows, music videos, and vacations. It is a very touristic area that locals try to avoid. I spend most of my time inland: Brickell, Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove, Miami, Design District, etc. These areas offer a quieter environment, amazing food options with flavors from all over the world, and great training spots.

For me, the best thing about Miami is the weather; it is an eternal summer that sometimes rains A LOT. I love being outdoors and here I can swim, bike, and run outside all year long. Also, I think that this good weather promotes a healthier lifestyle. It is unbelievable the amount of people that work out here. On any given day you can find yourself running in Key Biscayne with 300-400 other people, go for a swim in the ocean and find that 60-70 people are there too, or bike to the famous “Robert’s is Here” meeting point that hundreds of cyclists use to refuel during their long bike rides. It is very easy to feel welcomed by the triathlon/running/cycling community here.

The biggest con of living here is that Spanish may be necessary to feel integrated. Obviously, that is not an issue for me, but you may feel left out if at the very least you don’t understand it. Well, that and driving... Your driving skills will be tested here!

What did you learn from Ironman Texas in May that will directly impact your strategy at Ironman Barcelona?

Be on time: As you know I started my swim late and that set me up for a rough swim. I was in awe with everything surrounding an IM race and I didn't pay much attention to detail.

Body and mind:
IMTX was my first IM, and I wasn’t sure about the physical and physiological demands that it would require to complete it. It is a long race and you need both your mind and body to be ready for it. I don't know how my body will feel on race day and how far I will be able to push it, but I know my mind is now stronger than before. I will try to pace myself as well as I can, especially on the bike and run, and to keep a positive mindset during the second half of the run.

Expect the unexpected: From a broken watch during the swim, to losing a bottle of sports drink during the bike, or being exposed to extreme weather. You must have an overall strategy, but you need to be flexible to adapt to the demands of the race. If something does not go as planned, be ready to find a way to overcome it!

You had a stellar debut Ironman time of 10:43 at Texas, which was 43rd in your AG. What time do you think it will take in M3034 to qualify for Kona at Barcelona, and what are your expectations for this race?

Not that I looked into it, but... There may be 5 KQ spots for my AG and last year the top 5 male 30-34 finished under 9h 30 min. However, last year the race was a Challenge event and had less than 900 participants. This year 2,400 people signed up. If it is anything like IMTX, KQ spots in my AG go to people that break 9 hours or finish in the low 9 hours. Totally out of reach for me, at least for now...

For this race, I don’t have any expectations other than to finish while enjoying racing at home for the first time. It will be very special, I will have my wife, family, and friends there cheering for me all day long and waiting for me to finish so we can go eat my favorite Spanish food to celebrate the accomplishment. I would love to PR, but I doubt it. I am not in top shape (summer vacation derailed my training plan a little bit...) and I think the course, at least the swim which is my biggest weakness, is more challenging in Barcelona than in Texas. I know one thing for sure; I will give everything I got.

Speaking of Kona, is that a big goal that motivates you for the future? What else motivates you as a triathlete?

One of my first bosses told me: “Your aspirations are your possibilities.” That sentence stuck with me and I truly believe that if you aspire to do/accomplish something, you will put in the work and effort to make it happen. You may or may not get it, but it becomes a possibility from the moment you think about it.

I would love to race Kona, but I know I am far from a qualifying time (I would need to drop ~90 min off my IM time) and right now I don’t have the time to train for it. I know one day I want to be there and when the time is right, I will work for it.

My main motivation right now is to become better in all 3 disciplines. Before running, I need to learn to walk. I never swam, ran, or biked competitively as a kid, so I have lots of room for improvement in all 3 sports. That motivates me to wake up early every morning and work at getting better; this work shows in the races that I’ve done. My results are getting better race after race. The feeling of wanting to know where my limit is, it is what motivates me the most. Also, I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I introduce new people to the sport.

What do you do for a living and what works best for you to balance training with work, family, etc?

I am the COO of a Real Estate Investment firm in Miami. I spend my days meeting with investors, financial companies, visiting current projects, making sure projects are profitable, managing employees, analyzing new business opportunities, etc. It takes a psychological toll as the stress level is pretty high sometimes; triathlon helps me to channel my work stress. I never workout with music or bring my phone, so I have plenty of time to think and meditate about work and life during those 15 mile long runs, 100 plus mile bike rides or long swims. Triathlon gives me the opportunity to be alone and connect with myself.

I usually wake up around 5 am every day and do my longest and/or hardest training sessions in the morning. I also train a few nights a week, but it is mostly recovery or shorter sessions. Saturday morning is my longest training block of the week. I also work out Sunday morning, but I'm done by 10 am to go have brunch with my wife. If you want to go long here in Miami, you must start early; otherwise the heat will destroy you.
My wife is an attorney, so she is pretty busy as well and also an early bird, so my training really doesn’t impact our lives much now that we don’t have kids.

Do you do strength/core training, and if so how often? Can you share a couple key things you do in those sessions?

Hold on, I thought triathlon was only about swimming, biking, and running, right?? You exposed me with this question. My main goal for next season is to introduce strength/core training to my training plan. I know the tremendous benefits it has, but I neglected it completely this year with the increase in volume of S/B/R to complete my first IM.

Some of the minor injuries I suffered this season as well as my race performances have been impacted due to the lack of strength training.

Your sister is a well-known nutrition expert in Spain. Are you pretty strict with your diet? Do you focus more on avoiding “bad” foods, or rather eating “good” foods?

I owe most of my success to her. She helped me to go from 20% body fat down to 7-8% and to lose 5-10 pounds while gaining muscle. As you can imagine, the benefits of these body changes translated immediately into dramatic gains in race performance.

The best part is that she didn't put me on a diet. Her approach to nutrition is teaching people to make decisions when buying food and helping them to understand that they can eat anything as long as they keep a balance. For example, I eat a huge burger every week, ice cream, chocolate and other treats, but that’s what they are, treats that I mix in with my weekly nutrition plan. In general I eat pretty healthy balancing carbs, veggies, and protein in every meal, plus fruit, nuts and dairy products as well.

In Spain, we don’t eat too much fast food or precooked meals… we cook every day. I do the same here in the US. I stay away from processed foods, I buy whole and nutrient rich foods and cook my lunch and dinner every day, which I am sure also helps me to eat healthier.

like the '92 "Dream Team," David is likely to dominate in Barcelona

What’s your current bike set up, and to what do you most attribute your bike prowess?

I ride a Cervelo P2 with FLO wheels (60/90 combo). A power meter is definitively next on my wish list, but I am still training and racing based on HR, cadence, and feel.

Maybe biking came more naturally to me than swimming and running due to my past in mountain biking, but definitively the biggest contribution to my bike prowess is T.I.T.S (time in the saddle). One can have the fastest bike or "buy speed" (aero helmet, aero bottles, race wheels, latex tubes, etc.) and that for sure helps, but if that person does not put enough time on the bike working on the engine, he/she will not maximize those gadgets.

What advice would you give to newcomers to the sport?

Enjoy the journey.

Triathlon will challenge you, it will motivate you, it will make you want to make healthier choices, it will bring back the kid inside you (all kids love swimming, biking, and running!), and it will connect you with amazing people. Enjoy the camaraderie of the people that do triathlons, enjoy and embrace your daily training, and enjoy every moment and every race you do. You will fall in love with the sport once you try it.

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