We get to share another incredible story on this edition of The Kona Edge. Ryan Giuliano returned to the big island again in 2016 and had a pretty impressive day out. One half of an incredible Ironman couple, Ryan talks about his wife Jacqui‘s journey to the Ironman World Championships too and how Kona holds a special place in both their hearts.
BRAD BROWN: We head to Illinois now for, it almost feels like a returning guest, but it’s not a returning guest. I don’t want to say his better half either, his other half. His wife has been on the podcast before and it’s a great pleasure to welcome Ryan Giuliano onto The Kona Edge. Ryan welcome, thanks for joining us today.
RYAN GIULIANO: Definitely, thanks for having me.
BRAD BROWN: Ryan, we’re chatting a few weeks post Kona 2016 and it was a pretty good year. We’ll chat about the race in a moment but as it stands right now, how is the body feeling?
RYAN GIULIANO: Body is feeling pretty good, I was actually really surprised because going into Kona I was feeling really run down, pretty tired. I wasn’t really expecting too much from the race itself and then once I raced, pretty much the day after I felt pretty back to normal and I did a few easy training runs and training rides and I was like well, body actually feels almost better than it did before Kona. So I was pretty surprised with that.
BRAD BROWN: So much so that you signed up for another race before year end?
RYAN GIULIANO: Yes, a couple of days after Kona, Jaqui and I had talked about, it would be nice if we could just do one more and we were both feeling healthy, feeling pretty good, so we were like, all right, let’s see what’s left on the calendar and we signed up for Ironman Cozumel which is coming up here shortly. We did that one two years ago, so we have some experience on it, we know what to expect and it was really probably our favorite race that we’ve ever done, so we’re excited to go back.
BRAD BROWN: I was going to say, it’s a pretty nice place to go to as well. It’s a spectacular race but as far as race venues go, there aren’t too many better.
Ironman World Championships becomes an anniversary tradition
RYAN GIULIANO: Definitely, that’s one of the reasons why we love the sport so much. The places that we get to go to and Cozumel is an incredible place, it’s beautiful and warm, so we love it there.
BRAD BROWN: Ryan, you talk about the places you get to go and we’ll delve a bit into how it all started for you, but you’ve got a very special connection to the Big Island, to Kona and it’s not just because of triathlon?
RYAN GIULIANO: Yeah, Kona has that interesting twist to it for my wife Jaqui and I. This year was our fourth time going out there. We went four straight years in a row now and it started basically from when we got married. We were like, it was the same weekend as the Ironman World Championships and I remember the day before the wedding I was sitting on my phone tracking a few friends and I was like, wow, it would be really cool to be out there. And so I mentioned it to Jaqui and we’re like, well, let’s try and qualify, we can celebrate our one year anniversary out there and sure enough, we qualified the next year and it sort of turned into a tradition now, so we’d love to make it number 5 next year.
BRAD BROWN: I love that. It’s just such a cool story. Jaqui told me something similar and I think it’s absolutely fantastic. Let’s take a step back before we discuss this year’s race in particular, but where did your love for triathlon emanate from?
RYAN GIULIANO: It was pretty interesting, growing up I was always a runner. My elder brother and my dad, they were both runners and I sort of picked up on that. I just enjoyed going to races when I was little, so going to a local 5km, jumping in, and it continued through high school and then once I got into college I decided to run track and field for the school and my college roommate at the time, he did triathlon in his spare time in the summer, so he invited me to come out and go for a couple of swims with him and it was absolutely miserable because I have no swim background whatsoever. I remember jumping in the pool when I was in college and I couldn’t even make it across a 25m pool, so it was quite a shock to me. I think just being more of that driven type personality and really dedicated to something, I always want to succeed. So it drove me a little bit further and really I dove head first right into the sport and did everything I could to get better at it.
BRAD BROWN: Ryan, where do you think that drive and the will to succeed comes from within you?
Is the type A personality a disadvantage in Ironman?
RYAN GIULIANO: I think it’s just the competitive nature that I have, no matter what I’m doing, it can be who can be the best at making breakfast at the morning, as long as there’s a competition there, it’s just something that has always driven me. Whether it was in academics in school, I was always striving to do my best in school or in athletics, I think it’s just an innate part of me.
BRAD BROWN: Do you think that sometimes has its downfall, that being that competitive in all aspects of your life? I chuckle to myself with you saying that, even who is the best at making breakfast, I can imagine with two almost Type A personalities in the same household, you and Jaqui, it must get quite interesting at times.
RYAN GIULIANO: Definitely and it’s funny you talk about that, the competitive nature, even just between Jaqui and I sometimes is just crazy, but it does have some downsides. You have to control it once in a while because there are times when you’re trying to get better and you’re trying to do your best but there’s always that point where you can go overboard and that’s where a lot of injuries or burnout can happen. So you really need to pay attention to what you’re doing and making sure you’re not going over the top sometimes.
BRAD BROWN: So who makes the best breakfast between you and Jaqui?
RYAN GIULIANO: I definitely do!
BRAD BROWN: If I asked Jaqui that question, would we get the same answer?
RYAN GIULIANO: I actually think she would agree with me on that one!
BRAD BROWN: You’ve just signed up for breakfast for life Ryan. I hate to break the news to you, but Jaqui is getting breakfast in bed for the rest of her life, that’s fantastic. As far as other sports growing up, you mentioned growing up in a running family, did you partake in other sports as a kid?
RYAN GIULIANO: Yes, growing up I was big into baseball and I was also into wrestling for quite a while and I would say wrestling turned into my primary sport. When I was finishing up school I had to make the decision and I actually had a lot more offers for scholarships for wrestling going into college and running wasn’t really, I was good at it, but I wasn’t nearly as good as I was in wrestling. So I had to make the decision what I wanted to do once I went into college and I think I just was getting burnt out of the wrestling side of things, so cut that out and decided to stick with the running and see what would happen with it.
BRAD BROWN: As far as the dynamics go from a team sport, you mentioned baseball to something like wrestling. Although there is, with wrestling, a bit of a team element, although you’re on the mat by yourself, triathlon, again, particularly Ironman distance triathlon is a very lonely sport. Do you find yourself leaning towards those individual sports more than the team things?
Control your need to succeed and avoid burnout
RYAN GIULIANO: Yeah, I would say I definitely lean more towards the individual side and primarily just because I like to be in control of what my outcome is. I really like pushing myself and knowing that everything is on me and in order to be my best, it’s all going to come down to what I’m doing individually, so I’ve always liked that side of things.
BRAD BROWN: It’s funny you say that because I get that sense from a lot of triathletes that I speak to is that they love being in control. Kona 2016, something major happened in your race that was way out of your control. You ended up having a pretty serious bike mechanical with your crank, you ended up sorting it out on the way. But as an athlete and someone who has put in the hard yards to get to that point in a race, how do you deal with frustrations like that, where things don’t go according to the plan?
RYAN GIULIANO: That’s always a frustrating part of the sport because there are parts that aren’t in your control. And I think going into any race in general, just having that mindset that anything can happen at any point, especially things that aren’t in your control and just remembering that you really need to keep an even head. Because if your emotions start going up and down dramatically, that can put a lot of stress on your body and can really ruin your race. I think just before you go into any race, that anything can happen at any time and knowing that if you can deal with it the best that you can. That’s all you can do and then you’ll have the best race that you can get out of it, in general.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s touch on the stress that your body goes through. Cozumel coming up in just a short while, your 4th Ironman distance race for the calendar year essentially. How do you deal with the ups and downs and the stresses and the strains that your body does go through when you’re not just training hard for one of these races, I say one, this is four, and racing them hard as well?
Listen to your body and give a break when needed
RYAN GIULIANO: I think the biggest part is listening to your body. I’m around athletes all the time and especially as you mentioned, the Type A personalities. They always go, if it’s on the schedule, they’re going to do it and I think that’s one of the biggest changes that I actually made this year, was listening to my body a lot more. If I was feeling fatigued, even just mentally, if I was mentally strained or drained one day, or physically drained, I would really take a step back. Look at my training calendar and say: Well, this might not fit in today and I’ll just take the day off or I’ll alter the workout to make it a little bit easier and take that stress off myself and just try and relax, regroup and then go after the next day. I think that’s the biggest change because I like to go into most of my workouts feeling good and confident about them. Having that short break, if I need it, it made a big difference in a lot of my training sessions and just how I felt day to day.
BRAD BROWN: I find that very interesting Ryan because a decision like that is more of a mindset thing than a physical training thing where you’ve decided that you need to listen to your body. You’re not just going to go out there and do whatever it is on the schedule for that day, what brought that change on this year?
RYAN GIULIANO: I think the biggest part is just experience. Over the years I started to learn that the best way to get better for myself was to have consistent training year after year without major interruptions. There were times where I would just get so burnt out from training or stresses in my daily life from work or just anything that would come up. And I learnt that if I had a big, long stretch of training that didn’t go very well or I got injured or sick, it took me out for quite a while and then I had to rebuild and regroup around that. I started learning, well, if I just take a day off here or two days off here, I would get right back into my training schedule feeling good about it. And it’s actually worked out pretty well because I’ve had a really nice stretch of just training and racing without any major hiccups, and I think year after year that’s a big reason of the success that I had this past year is that I’ve had a few years now under my belt of good training and good racing.
BRAD BROWN: The more I do these podcasts the more I realise that yes, it is scientific in training and making sure you do the right things during training and fueling your body, but what you’ve just mentioned there, that is the secret to success for everyone. That if you can get those big blocks consistently over a long period of time, that’s where you’re going to see the biggest gains.
RYAN GIULIANO: Yeah, I don’t think there’s any secret or magic trick to any of this. Like I said, getting the consistent training in without those major interruptions of either sicknesses or injuries.
BRAD BROWN: I think a lot of people aren’t going to like hearing that Ryan because there’s many that are looking for the magic bullet or whatever it is to give them the edge but that unfortunately is what it is. It’s hard work pays off and over a long period of time you reap the rewards. Let’s talk about disappointments; what’s been your biggest disappointment in your triathlon career and what have you learnt from it?
RYAN GIULIANO: I would say probably the hardest part for me is more of the, I would say on the swim side of things. There’s oftentimes where I look at all the work that I’ve put in and it’s just like, it’s still lagging a little bit compared to where I would love it to be at and there’s many times where I’m just working so hard and putting so much time and effort into it and I think the frustration starts to set in once in a while where you don’t really see the gains that you want to see. And it’s been a really long process and I think at the beginning of my triathlon career I struggled with it the most because I was really a poor swimmer and didn’t know what I was doing out there. But I think the biggest disappointment would be trying to get back some of that time that I’ve been trying to strive for.
BRAD BROWN: On the flipside of that coin, what are you most proud of?
Teach your body to respond to Ironman distance
RYAN GIULIANO: I would say learning how to handle the distance, especially in Ironman racing. I started off as a short distance runner, so I liked the quarter mile, 400m, 800m and those are the types of events that I excelled in growing up and it was quite a big shock to me trying to transition over to the endurance side of the sport. And the first couple of Ironman’s I did was a real struggle, just trying to get through them. I think learning over time how to handle the distance and getting my body to respond properly to it has been the best part for me.
BRAD BROWN: I find that quite interesting not just from a racing perspective. 400m Compared to, and I say a marathon, but let’s talk about a marathon after all of that other rubbish, a long swim and a long bike, but a marathon on its own, those two events are radically different. From a training and physiological point of view, do you think you’ve changed or is it just a case of you’ve changed your approach to it and that’s what’s made you change?
RYAN GIULIANO: I think it’s a little bit of both. I would say that I’ve altered the training quite a bit, but I still like to get back to my roots. Even though I’m training a lot for the longer endurance events, I still incorporate quite a bit of fast, hard speed work in a lot of my workouts. If you asked me to go jump in and do a 5km straight up running race right now, I can run it pretty fast still because I still incorporate a lot of that speed and fast running in a lot of my training but I’ve built the endurance around it as well. I think it’s just been that progression over time of developing the endurance around my speed, they just seem to work well together.
BRAD BROWN: Looking back to when you started out, knowing what you know now, you speak about experience and 4th Ironman distance race this year, so you’ve done a good few of these things. You’ve been to Kona a few times as well, you’ve gained a lot of experience over the years. What would you go back and tell yourself if you could, starting out, knowing what you know now?
There’s no secret or magic trick to consistent training
RYAN GIULIANO: I would say the biggest thing, as I mentioned earlier, with listening to my body. There were so many times where I was looking for that secret or that magic trick where you could just put in good hard training and keep training hard and get the success. And a lot of times it just led to me having even worse performances because I was pushing myself almost too hard and too often. I would tell myself to relax a little bit and listen to my body a lot more and try and get that consistent training over time.
BRAD BROWN: That is just such great advice and it’s sticking with me because I read a blog post today of someone who raced in Kona in 2016 and I actually want to try and get her on the podcast. I’m not going to mention names, but she wrote a blog post straight after, I was following her journey in the buildup to it and she wrote a blog post straight afterwards, essentially saying: That’s it, I’m done, I’m done with the sport, I’m burnt out, I’ve had enough, I never want to do this again. That’s a real danger because it’s one thing training for a sprint triathlon or an Olympic distance, but a full Ironman distance triathlon is all-consuming, it really takes over your whole life and it’s difficult to get that balance right. What are some of the things that you do to maintain that balance and avoid that burnout now?
RYAN GIULIANO: I would say one of the biggest parts is incorporating a lot of different structure into the training. As I said, I still mix up a lot of my training, so I’ll do quite a bit of speed work as well, within the week and I try not to go too crazy on volume. Each person has to listen to their body individually because my body doesn’t respond to really high volumes. So fitness from doing short, fast, quick workouts and then maybe once or twice a week adding in the endurance around it. I’ve noticed that a lot of times I start to feel that burnout feeling and just getting tired and done with the sport when I start doing big miles and big training blocks and I have to just remind myself to go back to my roots. Work around it and then get my body to respond to what it works best with.
BRAD BROWN: As far as getting the work/life/family balance right within the sport, being married to somebody who is also, she doesn’t just partake, but she’s a very good athlete in her own right, how do you juggle that? First of all, what do you do for a living and does it allow a bit of flexibility or are you pretty rigid in what you have to do from a work perspective?
RYAN GIULIANO: Yes, I would say that’s one of the biggest things that has benefitted me is having a wife that is just as dedicated, actually I would probably say even more dedicated to the sport that I am. We do a lot of our training sessions together. So we have a dedicated workout room in our house, so we can do a lot of our bike workouts, we do most of them indoors and actually ride together quite often. Either when we’re both done working or squeeze it in in the mornings and on the weekends. And having Jaqui who runs almost as fast as I do, it’s nice to have someone that I can run with as well. We do quite a bit of our runs together as well. We squeeze it in when we can and also my job, I’m a coach right now, so I train a lot of endurance athletes, triathletes, runners, cyclists and also a junior league team in the area and that gives me quite a bit of flexibility as well. I don’t have to be in an office from 9:00 to 5:00 each day. I’m a lot more flexible and can run around quite a bit more and squeeze in my workouts when I need to.
BRAD BROWN: As far as having a spouse who is active or in the sport as well and very competitive, do you find you push each other in training? Or do you find that you race each other in training cause there’s a big difference between those two and the latter I don’t think is ideal.
RYAN GIULIANO: Yeah, I don’t think we’re too competitive when we’re training together because we both know our own boundaries and what we can handle and I think that’s the biggest thing as people are training together and it’s also one of the reasons why I actually like to do a lot of my training by myself. I find a lot of times when there’s people who are training together, either one person starts pushing too much and the other starts compromising to keep up and it can affect their training quite a bit as well. I think when we’re training together, it’s really nice cause when we’re riding the trainers, we ride at our own efforts and our own watts. And when we’re running, a lot of times, we’ll do similar workouts, but we stick to our own paces and if we’re far apart at the end, then we just meet up when we’re finished. But we both know that we’re both out there and doing it together.
BRAD BROWN: Ryan, what’s the biggest life lesson that Ironman has taught you?
Put the work in over time and the rewards will come
RYAN GIULIANO: I would say that if you put the work into it, you’re going to get the rewards. As I mentioned before, nothing really comes easy and if you can put that work in over time and just continue to build upon it, the rewards will come. But you just have to be patient and stick with your plan.
BRAD BROWN: We’ve spoken about experience and having experience, particularly over this length of a distance but I, often I chat to people on the podcast who have only been to Kona once, and they don’t have the depth of experience that perhaps someone like you does, who have raced there a few times. How do you approach Kona now? Is it a case of going there knowing what to expect? We know no two Kona races are the same, weather conditions and wind and that sort of thing. But do you go in there with a fixed plan and a fixed goal saying: This is what I’m going for this year come hell or high water?
RYAN GIULIANO: I actually take a little bit more of a laid back approach. So really the first year that I raced there, I went there just looking to have fun and enjoy the experience and the second year I went, I had specific time goals. I had specific goals that I wanted to hit within the race itself and then once those started to unravel on me, that second year, my race really fell apart and my second year is probably the worst year I had out there. The last year is when I took a little bit of a different approach and went out there trying to stick with more of a relaxed plan. So knowing that I wanted to stay within my limits, what I could control, what I could do and didn’t really set myself up for anything specific in terms of where I wanted to place or where I wanted to be. Rather I tried to take what I could control, specifically my nutrition and my watts and my run paces. I tried to stick with what I could control and not worry about anything else around me. And once I took that approach, the race seemed to go a lot better than trying to actually go out there and race.
BRAD BROWN: This year, if you look at your splits, they were pretty impressive. You talk about not being the best of swimmers and I’m always interested, for me a gauge of a pretty decent swimmer is to dip under an hour and you did that at Kona this year and what’s amazing, and it just shows you the depth of the field in a race like Kona, is you dip under an hour and you’re just in the top 100 in your age group. That’s phenomenal but it also sets you up that you’re still with the big pack, but with the way your race goes, you’re catching people for the rest of the day. It’s like you’re going forward as opposed to getting out first or second and then just having people catch you for the rest of the day.
RYAN GIULIANO: Yeah, it’s an interesting dynamic, I mean coming out, that mid pack, I actually would almost prefer it that way. I like to set my targets ahead of me and just almost get a better feeling when you’re doing the passing rather than being passed.
BRAD BROWN: Ryan, let’s talk about Kona this year. There was a lot of talk, there’s been photos that have been circling about the packs on the bike and drafting and whether it’s cheating or no. You come out the water where most of the age groupers are coming out, around about an hour. Tell us about the first 10-20-30 miles of the bike, what it’s like and how difficult it is to not get caught up in one of those groups.
RYAN GIULIANO: Yeah, it’s definitely an interesting dynamic, coming out with quite a few others around me. In general those first 10-15 miles are looping through town, so there’s not really much that you can do. There’s a bunch of turns, there’s the downhills and there’s no real space to actually get spread out. It’s sort of expected that there’s going to be quite a bit of close riding within those first 15 miles. But once you get out onto the Queen K highway is when you would expect it to open up quite a bit more. I would say it does get a little disappointing and frustrating out there.
This year I would say was probably the worst that I’ve seen as well, in terms of the groups of the riders that were around me and it does mess with the race quite a bit more. Because once you’re trying to ride away from a pack, you’re putting in quite big efforts and then if it’s a large enough string of riders, you’re going to have to push for quite a while, just to get to the front and get ahead of everybody. You’re almost burning your matches in a way, trying to get away from a bunch of other riders. I would say those first, probably maybe 35-40 miles of my race this year were affected by it quite a bit. I was putting in a lot bigger surges than I wanted to, to try and get away from some of the packs. Eventually it worked out.
I think once you get out to the run, close to that turnaround is when people start to really figure out where they belong and I didn’t really run into too many problems this year with any of the packs, so it was pretty good.
BRAD BROWN: Were you pretty disappointed with the way things turned out on the bike because of the mechanical? You got back just over 5 hours, if it wasn’t for that you would have dipped under 5, but you made up enough ground and if you look at your overall time as well, 9:03, without that mechanical you probably would have dipped under it.
Keep your head and manage your mechanicals on race day
RYAN GIULIANO: Yeah, the mechanical was a pretty frustrating one. It happened shortly after the turnaround in Hawi as I was coming back down, but my crank arm just came loose and I think just from the travel with the bike and the crank was taken off during travel, the bolt wasn’t tightened all the way and unfortunately it decided to come loose in the middle of the race. I was stuck, the crank arm fell off as I was pedaling down Hawi, so I had to get off the bike and had to start walking with my bike and waited for support to come and help me out. But I ended up looking through my files and it looks like I lost right around 9 minutes from my mechanical, so quite a bit of time.
BRAD BROWN: That definitely would have got you under 9 and that could have got you, I’m guessing, pretty close to winning your age group.
RYAN GIULIANO: Yeah, it would have been a close one, but you can’t really live in the ‘what if’ or ‘what could have’ or ‘what happened’ but I was more pleased with the way I responded because a lot of times in that type of situation a lot of people give up real quick. But it actually drove me to start pushing myself a little bit harder and seeing how many guys that I could catch that had already passed and just tried to play that game with myself of all right
BRAD BROWN: So much so you ran a 2:57 marathon, you must be pretty proud of that.
RYAN GIULIANO: Yes definitely, it was my fastest run that I’ve ever had in Kona, so I was really pleased with that. Especially that course, the heat and it’s not a flat course either, it’s a difficult one to run fast, so I was really happy. I guess I don’t pay too much attention to my run splits, as I’m running I do more so based on how I’m feeling and what’s comfortable and in control. I didn’t even know what my run split was until after I finished the race itself.
BRAD BROWN: How special was it being on the podium with Jaqui?
Celebrate your Kona race with a wooden bowl and a gallon ice-cream
RYAN GIULIANO: That was the best part! It was very nerve racking because after I finished I grabbed my phone and started tracking her to see where she was at and then waiting at the finish line because we’d made it a goal before the race, we were like, it would be really special if both of us could get on the podium and we knew we both had a shot, if things lined up and we both had a pretty good day out there. I remember just standing at the finish line and watching the first couple of girls from her age group come in and then the fourth one came in and I was like, oh my gosh and I checked the tracker and saw that she was in her last mile. Each girl that came across the finish line was like, oh no, please don’t be in her age group! There she came across and I was like, she did it, she got 5th and it was quite the feeling knowing that we both had done it. We were both really excited about it.
BRAD BROWN: When I spoke to Jaqui before we started recording, she mentioned to me that you could eat your bodyweight in ice cream, especially when it’s in a wooden bowl, is that true?
RYAN GIULIANO: We definitely, after the race we went and filled up both of our bowls from the awards, we filled it with a gallon of ice cream, both of us each and we went and sat on the beach and both ate ice cream out of our bowls as a celebration.
BRAD BROWN: I love that, absolutely love that. Ryan, looking at your performance this year, you’ve been a few times now, you’ve got the experience, what’s left to do on the Big Island for you? You talk about going back and how special it is because it’s part of your wedding anniversary celebrations. But from a personal, athletic ambition point of view, what do you still want to do on that island?
RYAN GIULIANO: I think the ultimate goal is to get on the top step of the podium, that’s been one of my, I had two goals that I set out for this year and going forward and that was to get on the top step at both 70.3 World Championships and at Ironman World Championships in Kona. I was able to get the one in 70.3 Worlds out in Australia, that was a really nice race out there, so I just have one more to go!
BRAD BROWN: It sounds awesome. Speaking of 70.3 World Champs, 2018, Port Elizabeth here in South Africa, are we going to see you and Jaqui?
RYAN GIULIANO: Sounds like an incredible trip. It’s always been on my list of places to go, so we’ll see. We still have to plan our next year, we don’t have any races planned out, we take it year to year.
BRAD BROWN: You’ve got a great excuse now, so we hope you can make it! Ryan, it’s been awesome catching up here on The Kona Edge, thank you so much for your time. I look forward to chatting in future episodes about the individual disciplines, but we’ll save that for next time if that’s good?
RYAN GIULIANO: All right, definitely, thanks Brad.
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