In this article, we continue our series at looking at one individual athlete and his or her journey to qualifying for Kona. We recently covered two other athletes, Ray Picard and Rob Mohr, who have interesting stories about their Kona quests.
Walter and I met via email in the fall of 2014 through a mutual EC-coached athlete (who had also qualified for Hawai’i). I started to formally coach him following Austin 70.3 in October of 2014 and we set out to make a plan to qualify for the World Championship.
Walter lives in New York City and has a job that requires him to travel rather extensively, sometimes overseas and for long durations. He does have the flexibility to train a good amount, but it still requires working within the logistics of a big city.
Walter is in the M45-49 age group and most of his life has involved athletics. He was a rower in college and got into both running and cross country skiing in the years after college. He was introduced to cycling as a method for cross training for skiing and he found that his aerobic engine transferred nicely when pushing on the pedals.
Walter made the transition to triathlon in his 40s and had competed in all distances including Ironmans. While he had some success in these first few years, he was still a good 60-90 minutes off the qualification standard and was hoping to close down that gap.
Walter is one of the most unique athletes I have ever worked with. He is by all means a “big unit,” standing at 6’4” and approximately 190 lbs (a touch lower near season’s end), but he responds and bounces back from training unlike any other big unit I have worked with. Walter is a competitive person by nature and as such, he has a tendency to push sessions, sometimes when it is not really called for. When I see this happen with athletes, I often let things play out a bit until the athlete begins to fall short on future sessions and learns to hold back when it’s called for.
However, with Walter, he did not really fit the mold in that respect. He was able to handle challenging sessions placed fairly closely together and could almost always hit the targets I laid out. We would see a reasonable amount of fatigue from travel, but even then, he often bounced back after a good night’s sleep. He has an exceptional ability to recover and that is clear advantage to his competition.
One disadvantage, however, is having to do the majority of his training in New York City. Fortunately, Walter can handle the mental challenges of indoor cycling as he rides almost entirely indoors while in the city. His run training is a mix of indoors and outdoors in Central Park and his swims are typically done in 25-yard YMCA pool. The pool can sometimes get so crowded that his workouts become a bit compromised.
While in the city, his training volume typically sits at 15 hours per week or less. This can be extended in the summer months when he gets out of the city on the weekend and can ride outdoors for longer durations. I don’t typically assign trainer rides above 2.5 hours so the outdoor riding options add a few overall hours when it makes sense.
Additionally, just like Rob and Ray, Walter inserts training camps into his preparations. In 2015, Walter attended the EC Tucson and Boulder Camps (six days each) and also did his own high volume cycling block, of a similar duration, in Florida while visiting his parents. These blocks typically put him at about 25 hours in a week so they nearly double his standard training weeks.
One additional component to the overall training plan is having to work around his travel schedule. Walter can have periods of time on the road that make training rather difficult. As a general rule, I typically try to only schedule enough training to bridge the time spent away from home to the next training block. In other words, I do as little as I believe to be reasonable so that when he returns home he can get back into a good training routine. Therefore, we do not add fitness on the road and we do our best to avoid getting sick. Additionally, I back off hard training a day or two before trips and also allow for an easy day or two on the return.
Race Selection and Execution
This is probably the more complex part of the journey. Initially, we targeted Ironman Boulder as a potential Kona qualifying race. Through the swim and bike, the race progressed very well. Walter exited the bike top 10 in the overall AG race, but unfortunately the race ended in a DNF at the halfway point because of bad stomach problems. In analyzing the post-race data, I did not feel that he paced the bike outside of his fitness, but sometimes you can do everything right and things still do not work out.
Walter decided to race Ironman Wisconsin six weeks later, but less than a week after Boulder he had a major bike crash in Central Park. Even though he did not break anything, his hip swelled up to the point where training became very problematic. Initially we could do very little running and had to do all swimming with fins to take some of the pressure off his hip.
Walter decided he wanted to give Wisconsin a shot anyway, despite the setbacks he had been working through. Following a better-than-expected swim, he went out on the bike in good spirits only to find himself with a mechanical that caused him to have to wait on the side of the road for more than an hour (combined, not straight through). He eventually had to ride a compromised wheel forcing him to have to treat the bike very gingerly. However, not wanting another DNF, he managed to get back to T2 and set out to run a very respectable 3:42 marathon and ended the day on a high note.
Following this event, he expressed his desire to give one more IM a shot for the season. I was a bit hesitant about that idea; not so much because of the physical toll, but I felt like the last six weeks had been very challenging and was wondering if his mind would be willing to go through another build.
Eventually we decided on racing Cozumel in December. Between Wisconsin and Cozumel we had to work through a lot of travel, but the sessions Walter was completing were encouraging and we felt he had the opportunity to put together a successful race.
Race day played out as follows: The swim went well, finishing right around an hour. On the bike, Walter felt a bit flat and rode somewhere around 10-20 watts below what we had projected, but as he made his way onto the run, he found himself feeling pretty good. Cozumel is a rolling start so it can be difficult to know where you are in your age group on race day. As such, Walter found himself more focused on his own race execution and put together a 3:37 marathon on a hot and humid day. He did not realize it at the time, but this was good enough for 2nd in his age group and was less than 60 seconds from winning his age group outright.
In hindsight, I believe that the rolling start and slightly underperforming on the bike benefitted Walter in the long run. It allowed him to really focus on his own race and when that happened, he managed to put it altogether.
Sometimes it can be challenging to not be overly influenced by what happens around you on race day and this was a great example of how maximizing whatever the day brings you can result in success. I have often said that race day is not a magical day, it’s just a day. Making the most of those days is what makes an athlete successful.
Well done Walter. Thank you for all that you have taught me and for letting me be part of the process.