Ellen Hart grew up with seven brothers and sisters in New Mexico playing basketball and pioneering all kinds of sports in her schools. In this podcast she mentions how the newly enacted Title IX afforded many opportunities for her in school, but in the end, her favorite thing to do was simply head out the front door on a run. And ran she did, all the way to an American record at one point, to two Olympic trials and across the finish line in first place at the Bolder Boulder when she was just 23.
She turned to triathlons over a decade ago and has competed and won world championships in all distances many many times. She says Kona 2017 is where she probably learned the biggest lessons of her career when things didn’t go as expected.
She talks about many triumphs and many stumbles throughout her career and life in general. We talked about her well documented eating disorder and what catalyst finally happened to get her through that. She shared the experience of making a Hollywood movie about her life while she was married to the Secretary of Transportation and former mayor of Denver. We talked about her future and how she is using her law degree to help others and her platform as an athlete to make difference. The lessons her parents taught her come to light and she talks about being a mom, an athlete, an advocate, and a messenger for so many things.
I find myself amazed when I think how much she has accomplished in sports and life, but I am equally amazed at how much of a life she has lived and more impressed than anything at her humbleness and genuine kindness. Along with it all, comes a pressure to be the be a good role model and accept that through her running and triathlon endeavors she can and does make a difference.
We are so lucky to have her in our Colorado triathlon community!
Boulder Colorado resident and graduate of the University of Colorado, Flora Duffy achieves unique double-double. In a near perfectly executed race, in a cold and wet Rotterdam with difficult conditions on the bike, Flora dominated the race to claim her 2nd consecutive International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championship title.
Duffy won Saturdays World Triathlon Series and Championship race to end a perfect 5200-point Championship Series, and the Grand Final.
Duffy said of her win: “I am pretty reluctant to ever say you can have a perfect race, but I would say today went just how I wanted it to. I had a great swim and set myself up perfectly for the bike. I tried to play it safe on the bike because there is so much on the line and then on the run I felt pretty strong, so I wanted to go for it. Yeah, it was a great day. I just try to make it a swim, bike and run. Not a swim, get through the bike and then onto the run. So maybe it is forcing everyone to be really good at all three, but that is how I want to race a triathlon, I just love to race.”
Sending out a massive thank you to my family – especially Jane, Abby & Renee for the support as I traveled to yet another race…but this time with a focus on trying to get the best out of myself on the course at the 2017 ITU Aquabike world championships in Penticton, Canada.
Last year when the ITU announced the inclusion of Aquabike (basically triathlon without the run – just swim 🏊🏼 & bike 🚴🏻) at this year’s long distance & multisport world champs in Canada I knew I had to go for it.
Way back in 1998 I had placed 2nd in my age-group at the XTERRA World Champs in Maui, and I always wanted another chance at an age-group world title. (Yeah, I’m nuts.)
To qualify for the race this year, we had to qualify in November of 2016 at the USA Triathlon Aquabike national champs at the MiamiMan race in Florida. I had kept in touch with a former roommate from my graduate school days coaching the CU Triathlon Club team at CU-Boulder who is now Dr. Timothy James in Portland, OR – and convinced him to join me & try to qualify.
Even though I was pretty shot from an exhausting 2015-2016 Olympic cycle getting athletes ready to compete in Rio, and then hitting the presentation circuit last fall to share some of the work we with coaches at USA Cycling & USA Triathlon coaching clinics, as well as to business folks sharing our development & use of technology from IBM to help our Team USA women’s team pursuit squad earn Silver in Rio I found just enough fitness to quality for Penticton, as did Tim. I was 4th in my age-group there…good enough, but I knew I could do better.
I was very clear about my goal of shooting for the top step of the podium today until Thursday night…when I noticed the name Stephen Sheldrake of New Zealand on the start list. Steven was also an elite triathlete back when I raced as an elite…and he was clearly faster back then. (Like 24 minutes faster than me at a 2002 draft legal ITU race we both did in St. Kitts)
I checked out his results on the ITU website & noticed that he won this year’s world masters triathlon champs in the 40-44 age group as well as winning the Aquathlon (swim + run) world champs here in Penticton on Friday…so Stephen was definitely going to be fast.
Today’s swim was 3K long…and the few swims that I was able to get in “with” the APEX Coaching crew (okay, definitely hanging on for dear life at the back) had prepared me reasonably well. Unfortunately, I didn’t put together my best work in the water and exited in 9th or 10th place in the age group…about 8 minutes behind the leader (Stephen, of course).
I got on the bike and started out hitting my power & speed goals without straining, so I knew things were going well. The long distance triathlon athletes were also on the same course and had started before us, so there was plenty of passing to be done.
About 40km into the 120km bike a tall guy from Canada who was in my age-group went by me. I tried to keep him in sight, but he rolled away through one of the busier parts of the course…and I never saw him again. Dang.
I was pretty sure that there were still other guys in my age-group ahead so I just kept the pressure on the pedals & held a good pace averaging 40 km/hr (24.8 miles/hour for non SI folks).
On the second hilly lap of the bike course I was able to keep basically the same effort while lots of athletes who had been in front of me started to fade. I got stung by a bee on my left inner thigh…and once a very long time ago on a bike ride I got stung by something and had a full emergency room required anaphylactic reaction…so I started getting a little concerned.
Fortunately after a couple of minutes nothing bad happened, so I resumed the flogging full bore. I was absolutely smashing myself in the final 10km hoping that I might see the tall Canadian or Stephen in the distance – as I wasn’t going down without a fight.
By this point my stomach wasn’t super interested in the intensity of effort that I was putting out after nearly 4 hours of racing and there was a bit of a GI rebellion going on. Sorry to anyone that I passed on those final few miles as I was definitely losing some weight along the side of the course.
As I finally approached the finish line, I knew that at least Stephen & the Canadian (McNaughton was his last name…I kept repeating in my mind some stupid car commercial that I’ve heard too many times – “Big Mike Naughton is Ford…” because it rhymed with McNaughton…and my racing brain gets pretty stupid – http://www.mikenaughtonford.com) would have finished ahead of me. I was just hoping that somehow I had finished on the podium.
As I got to the transition there were two bikes on the rack…indicating that maybe I was 3rd. I waited for Tim to finish in the transition area and then we pitted ourselves off in an unofficial and completely stupid & pointless final 50 Meter sprint together down the ITU blue carpet finish line (our official time for the Aquabike was taken just before we entered transition so when we actually crossed the finish line was irrelevant). I’m probably going to be most sore from that tomorrow. And Tuesday. And maybe Wednesday, too.
And 4th is NOT the worst place…as I’ve learned as a coach of many athletes who have finished 4th at major events (like the Olympics), but 4th is one of the most difficult positions to finish.
So, I was a little bummed…but I had given everything I had in me and was okay with 4th. Then, as I looked a little closer I noticed that I was actually 4th overall…and 3rd in the 40-44 age group, so I was psyched again. And as much as I would have loved to be a couple spots higher on the podium, I’m happy with what I did and might even be content. For now.
Which for those who know who ridiculously competitive I am, is definitely saying something. So thanks again to my more than patient wife for letting me indulge my silly competitive obsessions and as well thank you to all the coaches and athletes at APEX Coaching who inspire me and keep me in my place…at least most of the time. I think.
Thanks to everyone at USA Triathlon for keeping things smooth and organized both in the lead up and to everything here in Penticton.
And, much more importantly a HUGE congratulations a couple of phenomenal APEX Coaching athletes: new father Joe Gambles who took a stellar 3rd place in the men’s elite ITU Long Distance Triathlon here today and to Ellen Hart who won her 3rd world title in the women’s 55-59 age group in the Long Distance Triathlon to go with her two Duathlon ( standard and draft-legal) world titles & her silver medal in the Aquathlon earlier this week here in Penticton.
Episode 1 of The Sufferfest podcast Everybody Hurts. Neal and beg for mercy.
We sit down with Neal Henderson, founder of APEX Coaching, elite coach to stars like Evelyn Stevens, Taylor Phinney and Rohan Dennis; and evil genius behind many of The Sufferfest workouts, including Blender, The Omnium, and ISLAGIATT.
What’s the most Neal has ever suffered? Listen and find out.
You may know these guys. Maybe from their days as XTERRA pros in the early 2000’s. Or their current roles as high-end coaches to world-class athletes like Cam Dye, Christine Jennings, Flora Duffy, and Taylor Phinney. Or maybe you just enjoy their snarky feed on twitter (@apexcoaching). Today they are in the news not for their professional aspirations, but a little bit of friendly rivalry that has brought them to XTERRA World Championships in Maui, where they will both be competing as amateurs on Sunday (in addition to coaching Flora Duffy and Kyle Leto).
Grant Holicky is a former professional triathlete, Director of Aquatics at Rallysport Health and Fitness, head coach of Rallysport Aquatics (RACE) in Boulder, and a coach with Apex Coaching. (You can usually spot him by the throngs of teenage swimmers tagging behind him, devoted to his “keep-things-positive” coaching style. He is also married to the venerable Breeze Brown, the nutritionist and founder of Breeze Bars. )
Neal Henderson is a long-time endurance coach, former professional triathlete, award-winning cycling coach, sport scientist and founder of Apex Coaching. (You can usually spot him by the throngs of hopeful athletes tagging behind him, asking questions about his Olympic coaching, eager to improve, threshold questions in hand.)
What Grant and Neal have most in common are their duals on the racecourse, and their grounded friendship.
Grant elaborates: “When Neal and I raced professionally we had some epic battles for 15th place . . . We were always close. Neal always had the upper hand but it was always close. There are multiple stories of us duking it out in the last 1k of the run. We’ve been good friends ever since.”
So how is it, after so many years out of the pro circuit, the two find themselves facing each other again? “I joined Apex coaching in 2011, so now we are professionally intertwined,” Grant explains. “We both turned 40 a month apart this year, and we’d been talking about XTERRA all year. But I have to put it on Neal – he made a decision in July that he was going. So I had to go. It was one of those friendship things where he said ‘you’ve got to go.'”
Neal jokes about how little training the two have done, saying “You know the quote in the Rocky movie when the guy is asked about his prediction for the fight, and he responds, ‘Pain!’? Ya, I predict pain. It’s going to hurt out there, but I’m looking forward to having a good time with it. When I did XTERRA in Beaver Creek I forgot to practice swimming, and I hadn’t run for four weeks – I learned that I was in over my head. But now, for this, well . . . I swam several times in the last week.”
Grant interjects: “Neal does refer to himself as ‘Mr. October’ – he’s ALWAYS ready for this race and he’s always dominant – gleaming, in fact. Or maybe that’s just his head.”
Neal continues, “I figure out what doesn’t work with myself – I’m the ultimate experiment – I go out and do stupid things, and then I don’t repeat those things with the folks I coach.”
They both agree the world of XTERRA has changed over the last decade. “Around 2000, 2001, that was the golden era of XTERRA,” Grant notes. “The prize money was high, and back then Kona and Maui were on back to back weekends so the ‘double’ drew a lot of racers. It was a spectacle.” (The “Double” award is given to the pro and amateur man and woman with the fastest combined 2013 XTERRA World Championship and Ironman Hawaii Championship time.)
He continues, “The national series was 8-10 races, and inevitably there would be two in a region. A lot of us struggling pros would travel by car. Now, there are more races with less prize money spread around. I think as the prize money drops a little, the interest drops a little bit. What was so much more dramatic ten years ago was the prize money in the national series – a pro could have a successful year in prize money alone and make $100k – so you saw a lot of people dabbling in both road and off road.”
“The series had fewer events and so had relatively higher prize money per event,” Neal adds. “Now the actual prize purse is comparatively lower – you have to do so many more races, and the cost of traveling to all of those races has made it difficult for the pros to do the global series.”
“Also, the guys winning XTERRA are so damn good – these days you’ve got to be a specialist in it – you don’t see a lot of guys from road coming over,” Grant says.
Those that do tend to suffer, Neal points out. “Lance Armstrong did the XTERRA championships and got his butt kicked. It just shows you can be a hyper fit individual with capacity to go fast, but there’s an element that is clearly different than what road triathlon demands.”
But the lack of pro prize money and the arduous demands of the sport do not seem to deter those who are passionate about it. “Off-road triathlon requires getting out of your comfort zone, going up steep climbs, steep descents, no rhythm – you are all over the place. For a lot of us that’s one of the attractions,” Neal says. “I did traditional Ironman and found that the XTERRA really suited my psychology and skill set because it was so variable. I don’t have to be fastest, but I need to be strong. It has very different requirements.”
Grant adds, “What I notice is a different mindset, a little more of the cyclocross scene. It’s more laid back, there are more smiles and more support among athletes, along with less competitiveness. I don’t know if it’s because with XTERRA something’s going to go wrong – something always doesn’t go according to plan – but you’re all in it together. There’s a different type of psychology. When Neal and I were racing together professionally, we were always trying to beat each other’s brains out, but we were the best of friends. To me that’s just a different personality. It really suits some people and is a real draw. I’d say it’s competitive with a huge amount of support.”
That friendly aspect, and the atmosphere of camaraderie, is causing the amateur ranks to grow. In Colorado, there are now several XTERRA events throughout the season put on by Without Limits, including a new race for 2014 in Aspen. Grant notes, “The sport does have a growing amateur following. One thing they’ve done really well is created more regional races. Now there are 5-6 in Colorado alone. Lance (Panigutti) of Without Limits held 3-4 events this year that all sold out, so numbers are there. You have to limit the number of participants because in off-road it’s not as easy to police the course.”
As for Sunday? Neal & Grant are downplaying their individual preparedness, but admit they have each been “secretly” training. Grant reveals, “I will occasionally ask Neal for an opinion, for road racing and cross racing. When we were talking the other day Neal looked at me with a gleam in his eye, and admitted, ‘I wrote a Training Peaks plan for myself.’ And I had to admit, I did too. But, I haven’t been a great athlete to my own coaching. The main goal for us is that we race to be fit, to have fun, and to get out there and challenge ourselves. It’s not a whole lot different than the hard time we give each other before a race or a hard workout.”
Neal adds, “I’m looking forward to passing along to my athletes what I experience on my own. It makes it easier on our athletes when we’ve walked in their shoes. We understand what they’re going through, and we have that perspective. We understand the inside of the race.”
Neal also ranks the fun factor at the top of his race goals: “I’m going to show up and go as hard as I can go. I’ve been putting fun first in everything I do. There’s not a lot of pressure.”
Still, they can’t help but rib each other about finishes. “I think I’m going to be good on the bike – we’ll have to wait and see on the swim and the run,” Neal says.
Grant jumps in, “I think all the pressure is on Neal – If I go out there and beat him, it’s all on him. I have nothing to lose.”
“Wait a minute – there is a 10min offset for each child that you already have,” Neal chides (he has two children). “I just want to make sure we’re clear – the children thing brings a whole new level that Grant hasn’t had to manage in his life.”
Grant is quick to clarify, “What Neal doesn’t know is he’s got two kids and I’ve got 35 teenagers!”
For complete information visit the XTERRA World Championship website. Live updates will be provided throughout the day (the race begins at 9am Hawaii time, 1pm MST). You may also follow the race on twitter: #XTERRAMaui