Adam Zucco is no stranger to the sport of triathlon. In fact he is no stranger to the Ironman World Championships in Kona. On this episode of The Kona Edge Adam shares his amazing Ironman story and what it takes to qualify for the world champs not once but nine times.

Transcription:

BRAD BROWN:  Well, we head to Chicago, Illinois now and we’re joined by someone who is no stranger to the triathlon scene, Adam Zucco, welcome onto The Kona Edge, thanks for joining us today.

ADAM ZUCCO:  Thanks Brad, I’m honored that you asked me to be on, so anything I can do to help, for sure.

BRAD BROWN:  Adam, you’re no stranger to triathlon, it’s been part of your life for a long, long time.

It’s in your blood and in your bones

ADAM ZUCCO:  Yeah, my dad got me involved way back in, gosh, almost before I was in high school, so it’s definitely been part of my life for a long time, definitely part of my lifestyle.

I love it, love the sport, everything about it, for sure.

BRAD BROWN:  Can you imagine your life without it?

ADAM ZUCCO:  I can’t and I see my dad, he’s kind of one of my biggest idols, he says he’s a completer, not a computer right now, but I just want to be his age and still continuously doing things he’s doing as well, so I just think it’s a great lifestyle.

BRAD BROWN:  I love that, I want to ask about your dad. Is he still competing? You say he’s a completer, how old is he and what is he still doing?

ADAM ZUCCO:  He was born in 1950, so I always have to say that and then do the math, I guess that would make him 66 this year and he’s done probably 17 Ironman’s, he’s definitely a middle to the back of the packer now, but he was pretty lucky to do Kona with me one year on the Legacy Program which he thought was pretty awesome.

That was neat that he and I got to go do that, but he did have to get some reconstructive knee stuff going on this year, so he’s fighting his way back in, he’s supposed to do 70.3 Boulder this year with my sisters and he’s just a salty earth type guy. When we have people who are interested in getting in the sport or a bit intimidated about aspects of it, one of the things he loves to do is just take people out and literally show them how to shift their bike or ride hills or how to kind of mentally think about completing the triathlon, because it can be mentally overwhelming at first.

He’s very good at breaking things down into manageable pieces and there’s honestly times I’ve been out on the Queen K and have had to think back to some of the advice that he’s given me, which is crazy, but sometimes you just have to go back to the basics and it’s definitely pulled me through some rough times.

BRAD BROWN:  That’s so cool Adam and the reason I ask that is because I get quite excited when I hear stories like that. My dad, funnily enough, he did his first Ironman at 67, last year –

ADAM ZUCCO:  Oh wow, that’s awesome.

Making it an Ironman family affair

BRAD BROWN:  My brother and I have been doing it and he’s been coming down to watch us do Ironman South Africa for the last three or four years and he decided, he got a bee in his bonnet and he wanted to do it. I love hearing stories like that, it’s so cool. It’s cool that it’s a bit of a family affair for your guys as well. You talk about your sisters as well, everyone is into the sport.

Beat the scrum at your Ironman Kona swim - Valuable tips from Adam Zucco

ADAM ZUCCO:  It definitely is and my sisters are definitely, ah, recreational at best, but they’re into so many other things and it’s cool that they’re involved and they like to throw my name around, although it doesn’t get them much, but they were bringing up the back of the pack once at Eagleman, they were literally the last two people on the course and they were told they were going to get a penalty for drafting and blocking because they were riding next to each other and they were like, don’t you know who my brother is, it’s like that’s probably not going to get you anything there! So after they were out of the penalty tent, they continued on.

BRAD BROWN:  That’s brilliant. Adam, let’s talk about your journey into the sport and you were exposed to it at a fairly young age. When did you realise you were actually pretty good at this?

ADAM ZUCCO:  Man, I don’t know if I have realised that yet. Seriously, I grew up playing the traditional sports here in the States, the baseball, football, occasional swim team.

I went a military school, so our practice as 30-40 minutes at best on the day, so nowadays competitive high school sports can almost be a profession in themselves. I definitely didn’t grow up with that level of intensity, but I just loved being out on the field of battle right, competing with friends or if it was a competition I was in and I loved to try to figure out ways to be competitive with my friends and kind of, my dad, who I still idolize, when I was growing up, he always did endurance sports, so he would drag me around for an occasional 10km. That type of thing and I kind of really got away from it actually after high school, like I said, I’d been in military school, very strict discipline. And when I went off to college I think I put on like 50-60 pounds.

I got up to about 240 pounds and I can remember being in college kind of laying on my bed and I could feel the weight of my face going to the mattress and I was like no, I’ve put myself into a bad spot here.

So that’s it, I’m going to join the Marines. I decided to go join the Marines with my friends and I had aspirations of getting into law enforcement or whatever, so I thought this will be good. It’ll be good on the resume, get me in shape and kind of get my life back together and to join you had to do a mile and three pull ups and I couldn’t do either of those.

I was like man, this is really not good. So I had to go train to run the mile and a half and then eventually got in and then right before I left for boot camp they told me that if I had wanted to go with my friends, I was going to have to be at my height weight standard and I was about 38 pounds over that. I had two weeks to drop 38 pounds, which I did and told myself there’s no ways I’m ever doing that again and then that was in 1993. So from that point I decided to take triathlon more seriously and as a way to stay fit, so when I came back out of the Marines, I was in the Reserves. So I didn’t have to be there for several years, but when I came back out, I started training with my buddies and talking about context that everyone can understand. I did, I think, one of my first Olympic distance races in just under 3 hours and then quickly got into that 2:45 range for that and then, you know, I was always getting dropped on runs, always getting dropped on bikes.

I could remember vividly trying to get to the point I could do an Olympic distance swim without having to breast stroke. It wasn’t a question of skill, I just simply didn’t have the endurance or fitness and so I loved that, that I had to go through that because I feel like now as I come into contact with people, I can relate to so many different things.

And there are so many people out there that are better than me and a lot of it has come with race selection and all that other stuff. But I’ve been at that end of the spectrum and I think a couple of years ago, and kind of wonky WTC rankings, I was ranked first in the world for 70.3 for my age division and so I’ve kind of covered all scopes of it. I could talk about any aspect you want me to talk about, for sure, but there’s definitely tons of different ways I could go with that.

9 x Ironman qualifier to Kona - Adam Zucco's Ironman Story

One of the things I’ll tell, your listeners are probably out trying to achieve whatever their next goal is and I’ve just had a talk with one of my athletes this morning who was getting discouraged because he’s trying to qualify for Hawaii, as a lot of people I work with do. And the big thing I keep telling them is, you can’t look at the totality of the situation, it kind of goes back to what my dad was talking about.

What are the things you could be doing right now, what’s the next low hanging fruit you could go get right now? For me, when I was trying to keep up with my friends, that was overwhelming. I was so behind them that I would just try to figure out ways I could make it to the next corner or not get dropped in that street another time. Or what are the things I could do in transition to kind of clean up my transition just a little bit. Eventually that got me to where I was all of a sudden kind of racing with them and then competitive with them.

BRAD BROWN:  Adam, you mentioned starting out with an Olympic distance. When did the penny drop that you wanted to do the longer stuff, the 79.3’s, the halves and then eventually going on and doing a full Ironman distance triathlon?

ADAM ZUCCO:  Yeah, that’s actually a great question because that’s another thing I talk to my athletes about right now.

Back in ’94 and ’95, even through 2000, I think in 2000 they had Lake Placid. I had Ironman Florida and Canada and those were the three Ironman’s you could get into. Before that, I remember qualifying for Hawaii at Olympic distance races and none of those were out. They were doing all these long course races, so kind of by the nature of the sport growing up, at the same time I did it, I guess, we were forced to kind of go do these short distance races prior to the longer ones.

I can remember, I’m trying to do the math in my head, ’98 or ’97, we heard about this Ironman that you could go do up in Montreal. I think it was called the Esprit Ironman or something like that and I mailed in my cheque, with a copy of my driver’s license and got accepted into this thing and I had no business even registering for this. Thank God one of my college roommates talked me out of going but it was something crazy like a 60 lap bike course and a 30 lap run course or something like that and we swam in this pool, but there was just no long distance racing going on.

Nowadays, it’s challenging. I think because people jump right into Ironman and they jump right into that 70.3 and it’s kind of unfortunate because sometimes people say, oh, you’re not really, they don’t feel validated as a triathlete until they’ve kind of checked that distance off and I can understand that approach. But sometimes I really try to slow my athletes down and be like, listen, let’s accomplish the other distances first and kind of work your way up healthily. I really like the half Ironman distance myself, all of it put together, I really think it provides the best mix of endurance, strength, speed, skill.

It’s long enough that you’re going to race a lot better if you get your nutrition right, but you’re not out there for an extra 7 hours if you don’t. You can do several of them each year. But yeah, I did my first Ironman in 1999 with Ironman Florida and I had a mechanical and that was able to finish and I had some plantar fasciitis going on in my foot. And ironically the night before the race I was just standing in the shower washing my head and then all of a sudden my foot hurt me so bad I was like, I had to sit down in the shower. It made no sense, but welcome to Ironman, that should have given me the first indication what that was going to be like. And I started doing the bike ride that I had trained for and my family came and was watching me and about five miles into the bike ride my handle bars literally snapped in half. Right to the left of my steer tier, it’s like gee, I have all these extra tubes, I have all this nutrition, I don’t have extra bars, what am I going to do with this?

I ended up thinking, thank goodness I had literally a mechanic stand I think underneath my saddle, you know. So, I ended up loosening up the clamp and then putting the crack into where, I guess the stem bolts onto the cross tube and was able to ride with my bars pretty off centered for the rest of the ride and finish. From that point forward I was always like, I’m going to try to do this again, try to do better and see what I can accomplish.

BRAD BROWN:  The bug obviously bit. Your first thought of Kona, when did you start thinking you wanted to go race at the World Champs in Kona?

ADAM ZUCCO:  Yeah, honestly, I got to the point, I started to see a fair amount of success in the Olympic distance. So, like I said, I started out going around three hours and then I quickly got into that 2:40, 2:30 range. I’d hired a bunch of, back in the day, some coaches and all that other stuff and I can remember getting into that 2:10 range, 2:15 and then training really hard and getting slower and my dad, who was obviously the most supportive person in my life for this was just kind of patting me on the shoulder going, this might just be all you have you know.

Coming from someone who couldn’t run a mile and a half to now, you know, 2:15 is pretty good. I can remember being at a pro check-in at one of the expo’s and talking to this pro who was helping and we asked, how had racing gone the weekend before. And he said he had a bad race and we said, wow, did you go like 2:20 and he was like no, no, not that bad! That was something I was aspiring to, you know, it was like, at 2:15 I was kind of like, anyway, classic long answer, I finally got into that 1:54, 1:55 range, so I found some success in the sprint distance.

I’d stepped right up to the Olympic distance, I mean the half Ironman race, but not too many of those. I kind of got right into the Ironman and like I said, I had that trouble initially and then the next race I had done, I had terrible GI trouble. I threw up so much in most of my Ironman races that I swear I was looking for gum that I swallowed when I was a kid on the side of the road!

It was crazy and it used to be so frustrating to me that I couldn’t do what I was doing in training and so just like when my dad was telling me, maybe 2:15 and 2:10 is your capping point. I had a lot of people start telling me, you’re just not an Ironman athlete, right, like you’re meant for short course, you’re built for short course, that’s your thing, what are you doing. They’d use Mike Pegg as an example or whatever and just say, but I knew in my heart that there were more stones to un-turn.

I hadn’t done everything yet, there was something there that I knew in my every fiber of my being that there was legitimately, I know there were steps to go take, right and I knew that having that attitude and backing myself had gotten me into that elite range for the Olympic distance races as an age grouper. So I knew there was something I had to figure out.

In 2003 I had a friend who sponsored Hawaii and he actually gave me an entry into the race and I really felt that I didn’t belong there. I got to do the race that year, but at that point I had done maybe 8/9 races and I think I had DNF’d half of those Ironman races. The best I had done to that point was just under 12 hours I believe or just under 11 hours. I mean okay, but not anywhere where I was ranked from my Olympic or even half stuff and so I just feel like, for this race, I’m just going to watch the show and not become part of the show.

The burning desire to obtain that trophy

I’m just going to hang back and stay, no matter what, I said if I have to ask myself am I going too fast I’m going to slow down. That’s the answer all day long, I think I rode 5:45, which I got off my bike twice, I stretched my feet, I went to the bathroom, I just really tried to pedal my bike easy. And at that point we really didn’t have great online coverage, so I was just looking forward to seeing the pros and seeing the race and I was like nah, I want to finish this race no matter what.

The other cool thing was in 2003, I think that was their 25th anniversary so at the pre-race banquet I actually, they were actually giving away Ironman trophies, like the initial ones. I was like, no matter what, I’m getting to the finish line, I want one of those trophies.

I just made it a point to myself to just kind of go there and relax and I said I’m going to try to negative split the run and so I said I have to go as slow as I can for the first part of this run, if I have any change of negative splitting, especially if you know the Hawaii course. I did, I ran like 4 hours.

I negative split by one minute or something crazy like that, and I went 10:50 something. So I had actually PR’d by an hour by going really easy all day and that was really an eye opening experience for me and I think that I was fortunate to be given that chance. Had I qualified straight away for Hawaii and gotten there, I think that I would have put myself under the same pressure and potentially would have had a bad day there.

Then, just like all my other Ironman races, what was becoming so hard for me was I knew that I had to relax to have a good race but I couldn’t relax until I had a good race. It was kind of like the chicken or the egg thing and so I would get into these races with all this anxiety to perform and then because I had all this anxiety, my stomach would get upset or whatever and then I’d not perform and then therefore it would just snowball. That actually helped really break that pattern for me.

Now, I’ve been fortunate enough, I’ve had some rough Hawaii’s, but not for any other reason than just being injured. Since then I’ve been back there eight times, I’ve raced Hawaii nine times.

BRAD BROWN:  That’s incredible, we chat to a lot of athletes here that have been one, maybe two, maybe three times, but I think you’re probably the person we’ve spoken to who has been the most. Is there such a thing as a perfect performance in Kona and it probably applies to any Ironman distance race, because it’s so long, there’s lots of things that can go wrong. Have you had the perfect race in Kona?

ADAM ZUCCO:  You know what, I have to say I have and I’ve been chasing that ever since. Again, there can be so much background to this, but we’ll fast forward and maybe come back to it, maybe that’ll work well, but I had tried. I had hired Dave Scott, Joe Friel, Wes Hobson, Chris McCormack, currently really good friends with Kroey.

I mean I’ve always sought out people to try to just gather the best information and then come up with my best plan. There was no stone that I would leave unturned and then finally I was just like, going into 2010, I had been there. 2008, 2009, I was around 10:07, 10:04, no matter what Ironman I did, Florida or whatever, I was always 10:02, 10:07.

It just always worked out that I would kind of fall apart a little bit on the run and I would run almost 4 hours and bike in that 5 to 5:15 range and I would always be in that 10’ish area. I was lucky enough to qualify at half Ironman’s for the first few years that I started going there. There was that caveat and so when I got to Hawaii, flying over in 2010, what I had done was I had read a book by Bobby McGee and he had talked about coming up with targets and arrows and all this other stuff. It’s called ‘Magical Running’, I’d really recommend that chapter to anybody and I talk to my athletes about that now. And if you look at my blog in 2010, way back, I was flying over to Hawaii and I was already happy with my race, before the race had even started, which was a paradox of change in how I thought about things.

What I realised from reading that book and kind of what I’d come up with that summer was like, you know what I need to do is, instead of worrying about the race, I need to think about what is the kind of athlete. If I was going to create an avatar, what would that avatar look like and what could that avatar do in order to go perform well at Hawaii.

For me, I had to look at where was I short on that list. I had trouble in the heat, my weight was never bad at that point. I got up to 240 and then I would be hanging out in the 160’s, 165, 166, so I thought I’m not a fat individual, but in terms of performance and especially at that level, I’m carrying a little extra weight. My nutrition wasn’t extremely dialed in, I needed to maybe work on my hills, I needed to work on my pacing.

I came up with this whole list for myself. I checked off everything on that list that summer and I could confidently say, about a month out, yes, I’ve done it.

If I’ve forgotten something off my list or if I needed to add something or whatever, I can always come back and add that But I’ve done everything I’ve asked myself to do and now at this point it’s just kind of up to whatever happens that day, right? I got to that race already feeling like I’ve done everything I needed to do. I had lost 10 pounds, I was 155, everything, for a guy who was always overweight, I was just perfect.

Realising you’re racing against the best

So I got onto the swim, I came up with this bike plan which I kind of, I still use to this day and I have my athletes use  it. And I feel like it’s extremely successful, but I came up with a kind of unorthodox way to think about how to attack that course, which kind of shortens the course in some regards with how you displace your effort.

At that point, I’d never been higher than, I don’t know, 100 or so in my age group, at 10 hours, it’s crazy, you’re going to be pretty far back and so halfway through the bike I was executing my plan. I was trusting in it, which was really hard. At the top of Hawi I had some people that I knew who were normally in that 9:00 to 9:15 range and who I had a lot of respect for, and I found myself around those people.

Then, when you flip it at Hawi and you’re coming back down, somebody yelled to us, ‘hey, you guys are number 25th and 27th in the world in this race right now.’ For amateurs, and I was like, oh shit, I’d never been better than 100th in my age group there and now I’m riding with these guys.

It was really cool, I thought and I was like, not as cool as being in the top 25, so I’m going to go catch two people and say I was in the top 25. I got these two people and I was like, oh, this is cool, not as cool as being in the top 20 and I did that to myself all the way until I think I was like 7th and then finally I had to say, whoa, stop, this isn’t what you came here to do. You came here to race your day and so I can honestly say, when you get to the end of the Queen K and it’s past the airport, you have a right-hand turn that takes you down like a Sports Authority and a Target and all that stuff. I felt like I could have gone and done the course again.

9 x Ironman qualifier to Kona - Adam Zucco's Ironman Story

I really felt like I had paced so well at that point, I was excited to go run and so my first run I was running very quick. Faster than 10km pace and I had to tell myself, relax, relax, relax and I went through mile ten when you have to go up Pualani/ And I saw my family there and I was yelling, I can’t believe this, I feel awesome, I still feel great and I got up mile fifteen and I actually started to cry a little bit. I was just like wow, I’m having that day that everyone dreams of, I can’t believe it.

I knew that within ten miles left I was going to actually be able to finish it, I was hoping, you know, and so you’ve run down into the Energy Lab and then you’re coming back up, that mile and a half, two mile thing and that’s the only place I stopped for a second and I’m like, okay, this is a long hill, I’m going to stop and I’m going to walk. I’m going to walk for a minute, I told myself and I walked for about 30 seconds and I’m like dude, what’s wrong with you? Nothing hurts, obviously disproportionate to expectations, right, you’re not cramping, you’re not sick, you’re tired. But you’re supposed to be tired, you’re doing Ironman, you’re 20 miles into this Ironman race in Hawaii. Get your ass moving and stop feeling sorry for yourself and run.

I actually got back down to my 7:20 or 7:30 and finished with a 3:15 or 3:16 marathon and went 9:16. And to this day, I can remember Mike Riley announcing that I had just gone an hour faster than the year I had gone before. But I was thinking to myself, wow, I just had that day and that’s awesome but it sucks because I’m going to have to have that day again to be able to beat it, and so I’ve been kind of chasing that day ever since.

Since then, I think I ended up, which is crazy, this just tells you the level of competition in Hawaii. I was 9:16 and 8th in my age group. I think I was 38th amateur overall. It’s crazy. It’s crazy how fast people are racing there and I’ve since gone back and thought, I’m going to try to podium in the age group and all the other stuff. And I think I’ve been off the bike as high as 2nd or 3rd overall, but it just kind of gets you back into that racing, other people’s races stuff. Sorry, I told you I’m a rambler.

BRAD BROWN:  That’s all good, my strategy is to outlive everyone in my age group!

ADAM ZUCCO:  I love that. I’m telling you what, I’m friends with a couple of guys here that are in their 70’s and this one guy, he’s 70, he went like 12:20. At 70 years old, if you figured it out proportionately, he would have won the race overall.

BRAD BROWN:  That’s not making me feel better Adam! Let me ask you this question, you obviously love Kona. From Chicago it’s not as much of a trek as from Europe perhaps, but you obviously love Kona and it’s got a special place in your heart. If I say the word ‘Kona’, what do you think?

It’s a long lonely road out there

ADAM ZUCCO:  Queen K, for sure.

BRAD BROWN:  Why?

ADAM ZUCCO:  I’ve been alone, let me see, I’ve been there 9 times, I’ve been on that Queen K at least 40 hours of my life, and it’s lonely. People are always like, oh, you went to Hawaii and you’re so lucky and you’re like, it’s not a pretty place. It’s like being on the surface of the moon by yourself with no shade and you know the ocean is there, but it’s far enough away that it’s pretty non-descript. And then you have the volcano off to your right, but again, that’s so far away it’s pretty non-descript. And it literally looks like all the asphalt roads in the world that are not being used anymore. Just kind of got dumped onto this one section and there’s a smooth path kind of cut through it and  yeah, that’s what I think about straight away.

And the very first thing I would think about when I would qualify for Kona was, oh shit, I have to do that swim again. It’s the most aggressive swim.

I’ve been first out of the water at Ironman Florida and stuff before, so I consider myself an okay swimmer, but it’s a fist fight in Kona for the first 500-800m. Because everybody is good and everybody is thinking they’re going to win the race. And it’s just, that would give me anxiety, but I even have tricks now to deal with that.

Advice to first time qualifiers

BRAD BROWN:  For someone who is listening to this, who has never qualified or perhaps they’ve qualified now and they’re going for the first time. What advice would you give them about Kona?

ADAM ZUCCO:  The biggest thing I would say, starting with the person who has never qualified is, I would strongly encourage you to go back to that list idea that I had, And just kind of come up with your perfect person that in your mind you think has to be in order to qualify for Hawaii and then have a real, honest self-evaluation. Then ask some people who love you enough to be honest, that aren’t going to feel like they’re teasing you or whatever and just be like, this is where I think you need to improve.

Then when you start to put some, you can put some numbers and metrics to it. Like we know that a couple of years ago the lead age groupers were riding at about 4 watts per kilo on the course. So you can kind of figure that out and then you can mathematically start to figure out what your FTP needs to be and all that other stuff. But I would say first thing you have to do is kind of come up with that list and then hold yourself accountable to that.

Then, if you’re going for the first time, first congratulations, that is amazing and then I would tell you, go check out down town where the expo is and all that other stuff, but then kind of get out of there a little bit. There’s definitely places to hang out there that you’re not amongst it so much. You don’t catch the people who are doing really well down there very much because it does drain your energy a lot.

It’s very hot, you walk around a lot, it’s not easy to park and I would, like I said, I would make sure you go there with the intentions of watching the carnival, not becoming part of it. And realise that, I would say that 70% of people blow up, so if you get caught up in all the rigmarole and everybody trying to do really well, you have to have integrity with your plan and what you did that got you there. Stick to that.

A coach also needs a coach

BRAD BROWN:  Adam, you also mention and I find this quite intriguing, you mentioned that you’re obviously friends with some really good triathletes and you pick their brain and you coach as well. How important is it, seeking help on your journey to qualify for a race like Kona?

ADAM ZUCCO:  I think it’s critical and I can tell you that the best athletes in the world are very confident. But they also have humility to kind of ask and seek advice and I mean, I was riding once with Kroey when he was in the middle of winning his stuff and we had some mutual friends. And we were driving and I found myself in a conversation with him kind of asking me like, how would you run the last 10km, how would you train for that part of it? I’m not saying he was taking my advice, but he was willing to at least listen and whether or not he took it, I can’t tell you, I didn’t ask, you know. But he was willing to always be open-minded and I think that that’s huge as a person.

I know that even as a coach, I have an athlete who is maybe going to go to the Olympics, I use every resource around to try to bring that to that athlete and give that to that person. I would never want to win at my own stuff, my own performance to my own knowledge. And I would never ask an athlete of mine to be limited to my scope of practice either.

The power of networking

Surround yourself with a huge network and being confident, but humble enough to listen and hear things I think is good.

BRAD BROWN:  As far as finding a coach, what advice would you give to someone? What should someone look for in a coach?

ADAM ZUCCO:  I think how well you click is really, how well you guys get together as a personality. I think is one of the most important things. I find that the best coaches that I’ve had in the past are ones that make me feel good about myself, make me feel like I could go out there and accomplish things. I think that’s critical.

Assuming that they know what they’re doing, that becomes hard to find because now everyone seems like a coach, so I would check for experience. I think a lot of coaches try to brag on their own accolades, but more importantly, like what are their athletes doing. I have a really good friend that I’m lucky enough to be a coach with, his name is Scott Iac. But he also lives five miles or so from me and we train together and collectively, I’ve been to Hawaii probably 20 times. But we also have, I think we counted it up once, we sent like 30 people to Hawaii that have never been.

What type of athlete are you?

That gives me more excitement now to go and watch those people and those athletes be really excited. So there’s definitely some really, really great coaches out there that can do that. But I would look and see what type of athlete you are, I would say.

You know, Joe Friel taught me once that there’s pretty much three types of athlete personalities out there. You have accountants and accountants collect a ton of information. They have absolutely no idea why they’re collecting it, but they collect every bit of data that they can, right?

Then you have technicians and they only make decisions based on data. So they collect it and then they make it.

And then you have artists and the artists couldn’t tell you why they’re doing things. They just kind of go out and perform their craft.

I find that it’s best to figure out a coach that can address all those aspects of you because you’re going to need them all on race day. And if you gravitate towards people, if you’re very technically minded and you gravitate towards technical type coaching, that’s okay. But you need those skills. What if your Garmin doesn’t turn on that morning?

Ironically, in 2010 when I had my best race, my Garmin got turned on in my transition bag, so it was almost dead before I started the race and it was cool. With what I’d done in training, I knew exactly what to do and thank goodness it lasted the whole race. But I didn’t have to panic about that, which would have wasted energy.

BRAD BROWN:  Out of those three, what type of athlete are you?

ADAM ZUCCO:  I would say more, if you’re making me pick one, I would say probably more technical. I definitely enjoy the data, but I race artistically I would say.

I was with, hopefully they wouldn’t think it was a bad thing, so I’ll just say, I was with a very well-known Ironman performing triathlete that was telling me once, just use the force out there. Go out there and use the force, we’re all kind of racing. And I’m like yeah, that’s okay until things are going bad, then you have no information to make changes from. So I definitely think you need to blend it.

BRAD BROWN:  Adam, as far as looking at the athletes you’re helping as well, my best mate, a coach and a pretty successful coach here in South Africa, and one thing that drives him absolutely nuts is athletes who don’t trust their coaches. I don’t use that term lightly, it’s a case of, you tell the athlete, you should be doing this session and then the athlete is second guessing about why they’re doing it and then they don’t really do it as well as they should do it. Does that drive you bonkers as a coach as well?

Learn to trust your coach

ADAM ZUCCO:  Yeah, it totally does and it sounds like I’d get along with your friend a lot. Even at the end of the day, I consider myself a successful coach, but at the same time, I still use a coach myself most of the time. Because you need someone to hold you accountable and at the end of the day, I might have a disagreement of how I would want to take on training, but at the end of the day, you have to agree on a plan that you know you both are going to follow. Because it’s just like, I tell my athletes, we don’t know what to change if we don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

It becomes pretty easy actually, when you start to have to make things different and tweak, when you know everybody is playing from the same sheet of music.

It becomes really hard when people are off doing their own things or not logging in. I’m sure that’s another one he loves, where you’re getting no feedback whatsoever from the athlete and they want to know why aren’t things changing.

BRAD BROWN:  Adam, then finally, for you as an athlete, what’s still left to achieve in the sport of triathlon, for you?

ADAM ZUCCO:  Yeah, that’s actually interesting. I’ve gone under Achilles surgery this year, I’m actually looking at my foot, it’s coming out of the boot hopefully next week. And then I have to go in and get the other one done next week.

This year I’m most likely out for the year. I don’t know if I’ll go any faster. I’ve been there 9 times, part of me would like to go as 10, that would be cool to say you’ve gone to Hawaii 10 times. But I feel like, with where I’ve come from and what I’ve done, I feel very good about things.

I like being a fit person, just to show my daughter, I try not to influence her, you know. She makes her own decisions, but I just try to lead a healthy lifestyle in front of her. I have my wife who has never been to Hawaii, we just got married last year, she’s very excited to try to get to Hawaii.

She did her 2nd Ironman, Ironman Arizona a couple of years ago and she missed it by 30 seconds, I felt so bad for her. I love watching my athletes doing really well and I’m going back and forth with my head every day right now with this rehab.

Embrace your first Kona experience

I’m 40 years old, I’ve been doing this probably 20 years, I’ve been there 10 times, what else do I want to do? If I wanted to go do anything else, I would probably want to try to get a podium at Hawaii. I think that, I just know how hard that is, so that would be something that would be pretty neat. But I can tell you, for those of you who are listening to the show, if I can kind of hijack your show for one second, and are doing their first Ironman and I would almost throw Hawaii into this, you never get a chance to do it for the first time ever again.

BRAD BROWN:  I couldn’t agree more.

ADAM ZUCCO:  I try to tell my athletes, do not rob yourself of that experience, because if you have a good day, if you have a bad day, whatever, it’ll be gone forever. And so I would trade all the things that I’ve done for being able to go back into this and just be wide-eyed and excited about the whole prospect of it again. And I don’t know if you have kids, but I have an awesome daughter, but you find yourself, when you have kids, oh, I can’t wait until they can hold their own bottle so I don’t have to hold this bottle anymore. I can’t wait until I don’t have to worry about blocking the stairs. I can’t wait until they can just tell me what’s wrong. And you end up wishing their lives away and so, before you know it, they’re in high school or whatever.

If you’re on this pursuit, it’s awesome, but enjoy where you’re at and be wanting to move forward. But also appreciate and don’t stop looking around and seeing what you already have done.

I find that a lot of athletes only look at the things that they’re not doing and they haven’t really looked back and thought, man, I’ve really accomplished a lot too.

BRAD BROWN:  I think that’s some great advice. I think that’s a perfect place to leave it on this one.

I look forward to getting you back on where we can chat a little bit about the individual disciplines and some of the gains that you’ve made over your career and some of the things your athletes are doing. But we’ll save that for another time. Thanks for your time on The Kona Edge today.

ADAM ZUCCO:  No worries, any time my friend.

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