On this edition of The Kona Edge we delve into the the world of Fran Vincent, health and physical education teacher with a coaching license. Having visited Kona twice and going for a third we chat about her achievements and goals. She shares the exciting news of doing Ironman Wisconsin with her daughter this year and the challenge of longer recoveries.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto this edition of The Kona Edge and we head to upstate New York and a great pleasure to welcome our guest onto the podcast today, Fran Vincent. Fran, welcome, nice to catch up. We’ve spoken on email a few times, but it’s nice to actually chat.
FRAN VINCENT: Yeah Brad, thank you so much for having me, this is fun.
BRAD BROWN: Fran, I’m so excited to chat to you because you’ve got a pretty cool story and you’ve also got something on the not too distant horizon that I wanted to touch on too. You’ve got a race coming up, Ironman Wisconsin that you’re going to be doing with your daughter, but we’ll chat a little bit about that later on.
Let’s go back a bit and find out where this crazy journey of yours started, not just to get into triathlon, but to eventually race at Kona. You’ve been twice, you’re chasing a third slot, but where did it all begin for you?
FRAN VINCENT: Oh my goodness, I’ve always been athletic, as a kid I was a swimmer, I played soccer, I was a diver and dabbled a little bit in synchronized swimming as well. In college I rode crew and I was just kind of looking for a different experience in my early to mid-20’s. I heard about this triathlon that was going on locally and I entered it and it was funny because there weren’t very many triathlons back in the mid-80’s. We swam, then we ran and then we biked, so it was kind of a little bit of a mixed up triathlon.
I think I did that twice, loved it, but then I started a family and 20 years later, I think it was about 20 years later I saw this post at our local Y for a tri club and yeah, I had been running throughout and keeping myself fairly fit. I’m a health and physical education teacher, so I believe in walking the walk and so I got involved in this club and two years later I was coaching 20 athletes and I was kind of the middle of the packer, but just really, really having fun and that’s kind of where it started. That’s kind of where I am now.
I got a little more serious with it when I had signed up to do an Ironman, I hired a coach and this coach took me from being kind of a middle of the packer to actually getting on the podium which was something that I had never done. As a kid, I was a good swimmer and a decent soccer player, but I kind of found my niche with triathlon, so that’s kind of my story.
BRAD BROWN: Fran, that’s what I find so neat about the sport of triathlon is it takes people who, I don’t want to say were average, but were okay in whatever their chosen sport was and it gives them an opportunity to be better than the rest and push themselves. And I know it turns a lot of people off about triathlon because it is that competitive in the age groups, but I love that about the sport, that you can go through your life and I don’t want to say average, but all of a sudden you get into an environment where you’re being celebrated and I think that’s what’s incredible about the sport.
FRAN VINCENT: I so agree with that. It’s such a neat sport. I haven’t met anybody in the sport who wasn’t a quality person, it’s certainly a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes a little bit obsessive, but definitely gets you off the couch and gets you eating better and doing so many things in a better way, so yeah, I agree, I just feel like I’ve found my home with triathlon.
BRAD BROWN: What you say about you’ve yet to meet a person who is not a nice person, I agree with you. I think there’s a level of commitment that if you are a dodgy character, you’re not going to get to doing an Ironman or competing competitively for Ironman.
Let’s talk about what you do for a living, you say you’re a physical education teacher, as we record this now, your summer break has just started, you must feel a bit like a professional athlete at the moment, you get to train and rest and do what most professionals do.
FRAN VINCENT: Yes I do. I’ll tell you, it’s a lot of fun. I like to pretend that I’m a professional, no, I’m not even close to that category. Yeah, so during the school year things get pretty busy for me. I teach health and education, I used to teach phys-ed, now I’m a health educator and there’s a lot early mornings, a lot of late nights. To the point where sometimes you’re just so tired you don’t even feel like eating dinner, you just want to plop yourself in bed so that you can get up early and do it all again. But yeah, now that summer is here, I just love my summers, I’m having a blast. And it’s nice to be able to not wake up at the crack of dawn, but to kind of schedule your day around the workouts instead of the other way around. Yeah, I’m very lucky, this is great.
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about the mental aspect of getting that juggle right, of working, of knowing that you’ve got a family, you’ve got kids, you’ve got those responsibilities. And often for women there’s a lot of guilt that goes along with it, that you’re taking time for yourself and you should be worrying about your family and what’s going on. Has that been a challenge for you to overcome?
FRAN VINCENT: Absolutely and it’s funny you should ask me that question. I’m not sure if I do have that all down. I’m constantly juggling, I feel like I’m oftentimes pulled in about five different directions. I have three kids and not only do I have a family and a full time job, but I’m also coaching six athletes of my own right now, which requires, I feel like I’m coaching my kids, I’m constantly thinking about them, I’m constantly worried about them and thinking about trying to be a little bit innovative with their workouts. And then there’s the whole wife thing and trying to be a good athlete for my own coach. I do try, but I’m not sure if I have that whole juggling thing down quite yet.
BRAD BROWN: Fran, I obviously get to chat to lots of age groupers, obviously some better than others, but one of the things that pops up all the time is time management and how to get that right. Are you pretty set on creating your week so that you know before you go into a week, this is exactly what I need to do at this time, are you very structured that way?
FRAN VINCENT: I am a very structured person. I think like most triathletes, I’m pretty Type A. I like to do a good job on everything. As far as structuring my week, I think usually I’ll get my workouts from my coach and I kind of work my week around that. Somehow you just make it work. I don’t know if I plan the entire week out as much as I do maybe one or two days at a time. Sure, I have those big things on the schedule that I’ll plan around, but I’m pretty meticulous, making sure that I get everything in that I need to do, as far as workout and family, but not as, I’m also a little bit flexible with my schedule as well.
I wouldn’t say that I do an entire week and then follow it. I am a good time manager for sure and I find that the more I have to do, the better I get at doing it all and managing it all.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about the decision to do your first Ironman, it’s a big decision for most people to make, the step up from a sprint to an Olympic is big and then Olympic to a half is even bigger. But that jump to a full distance Ironman triathlon is huge, tell me about your decision to go and do the Big One.
FRAN VINCENT: Well, you know, I wish that this was a real glamorous story. I was actually sitting in a bar with a bunch of friends –
BRAD BROWN: There’s always beer involved!
FRAN VINCENT: I’m not a big drinker, but I think I had had maybe two beers this night and we all started talking about Ironman. We had been doing half Irons and some other distances and someone mentioned doing an Ironman and just in a whim I said yeah, let’s do it, let’s just all commit to it and we did. We went up to Lake Placid, we volunteered, I think we did special needs bike and then I just remember standing in the line where the volunteers register for the following year and just wondering, because I was sober at that point, standing in line thinking, what the heck am I doing and I knew for sure that if I wanted to get myself to the starting line, that the biggest change I would have to make is just to hire a coach to get me there.
I can be plagued with injuries, just because sometimes I don’t really have an off-switch, that I’m a little bit of a super-achiever and so yeah, that’s kind of how it happened Brad. It was not my best moment, but the interesting thing is, I think there were six of us sitting around the table and we all committed to it, we all did it. We all took on different training plans and different journeys to get there, but every one of us crossed the finish line.
That was pretty cool and that’s really, although I was having a really fun time with triathlon in general, I think the whole Ironman lifestyle is just a different level, just a different ball of wax, it was a lot of fun.
BRAD BROWN: I like that, it’s so much easier doing it, even if you’re not necessarily training together, but it’s always easier doing it when you know you’re not alone, that there’s someone else that you can bounce ideas off of and we’ll chat about the coaching and looking for a coach and what you look for in a coach in a moment, but how important is it to have that support structure around you of other people who are on the same journey as you?
FRAN VINCENT: It’s super important and it was really interesting because we all took different journeys, some of us were using training plans, some of us were just kind of winging it, some were coached, using Endurance Nation or online training systems and it was just interesting to me, it’s nice to have that support.
But on another level you sort of have to keep your blinders on and not really compare yourself to what everyone else is doing, because that can be a little bit of a slippery slope, that can mess with your head a little bit. You know, it’s also nice to know that there’s someone else up at 4:30 in the morning, or 5:00 in the morning and there’s someone else that’s thinking about triathlon. I know that when I’m training for a triathlon or an Ironman, especially my first one, I’d say 80% of my waking moments were thinking, if I wasn’t training, I was thinking about training or thinking about what I was going to eat or how much sleep I was going to get. You just become so obsessed with the whole idea of it.
BRAD BROWN: It’s too true and then once you’ve done a few, you actually start worrying that you’re not thinking about it enough.
FRAN VINCENT: That’s true!
BRAD BROWN: Fran, talk to me about you deciding to get a coach. You mentioned that the six of you decided to do the journey differently, that some got coaches, some didn’t, why did you decide to go the coach route?
Your coach can get you to that Ironman start line
FRAN VINCENT: I just know with my personality, that I needed someone to be accountable to and someone to just kind of take me under their wing. I didn’t just want to do an Ironman. I wanted to do it correctly and I wanted to make sure that as I had said, that I could get myself to the start line. I knew that once I was at the start line I would get across the finish line. I’m typically a little bit hard on myself. I was plagued with injuries, some overuse injuries, just by going too hard and I knew that a coach would be there to kind of, you know, pull the reins on me when I really needed to recover and I think that was probably my biggest reason for getting a coach.
BRAD BROWN: What do you look for in a coach?
FRAN VINCENT: Oh my gosh, I really didn’t know what I was looking for. I just needed a warm body to tell me what to do and luckily I was in line, signing up for Ironman, talking to the people around me and one of the people that was standing next to me had mentioned someone that he had worked with, someone that he knew and honestly, I didn’t know any better.
So I just emailed this guy, Kevin Crossman and it’s interesting because now that I have my coaching license, I’m coaching with him, not being coached by him.
I’m using a different coach at this point, but he turned out to be really one of the best decisions I’ve made. Just really understood me, really individualized a plan for me and was just such a wonderful support as well.
BRAD BROWN: That first Ironman experience, your first one you never forget, it’s always incredible, did it go according to plan?
FRAN VINCENT: You know, it’s probably my best race to date, or one of my best. My only goal was to cross the finish line smiling and I wanted my face to hurt more than my legs. I wanted my face to hurt from smiling and I didn’t have any time goals, I just wanted to really enjoy the day and I think that’s kind of the beauty of the first one is that there’s no time that you’re chasing after and I really had no clue, no idea at all where I would kind of fit in with the ranks there.
There was no pressure and it was kind of funny because we got to the transition area and they’re announcing ‘No wetsuit’s and I knew that every one of my open water swims was done with a wetsuit and I’m a strong swimmer but I knew that I would not be taking that journey without my wetsuit. That kind of was a good thing because knowing that I had a wetsuit and it wasn’t wetsuit legal, it automatically removed me from any chance of going to Kona.
Take some time off to improve your Ironman performance
Not that that was even on my radar anyway, but it was just a fabulous day from start to finish. My nutrition was good, my face did hurt at the end of the day from smiling so much, I was just on a high from it and immediately signed up for the next one. Not the following year, I knew that I wanted to take a year off in between, just to get faster, but yeah, that was a great experience.
BRAD BROWN: When did Kona pop up on the radar?
FRAN VINCENT: Well, it kind of popped up as soon as I crossed the finish line on Ironman number one. I ended up that first year with a 5th place age group finish, which was absolutely shocking to me. I’d mentioned to you that I’m a kind of a middle of the packer previously and to find that wow, I was kind of towards the beginning of the pack there, because Ironman is such an interesting day, the gun or the cannon goes off and for some races there’s wave starts and you really have no idea where you are in comparison to other age groupers. You might see a couple of them on the course, but you really don’t know if you’re in first or last or middle of the pack.
To come in and to be kind of towards the front was a total shocker to me and I remember asking my coach, because I looked at the first place finisher, it was like 11 minutes faster than I was, and I asked him: Do you think I could take 11 minutes off my time. He said: 11 minutes, I think you could take 30 minutes off your time.
So, that was my goal for the next two years because I took a year off in between, not a year off, I worked my butt off to try to get that Kona slot, but yeah, that’s what my impetus was, it was just trying to really improve my nutrition and get faster in the bike portion especially and to just kind of figure out what I was doing out there. It’s a sport that there’s just so much involved in it.
BRAD BROWN: It’s also such a long period, there’s always something out there, especially when you sit down and think about a race after you’ve raced it, there’s always something that could, in your opinion, have gone better and I think that’s what makes it so interesting and that’s probably one of the things that keeps people coming back for more and more.
FRAN VINCENT: Yeah, I think so, I think that you learn something new every race and some races you learn more than one new thing.
BRAD BROWN: And sometimes you need to learn that thing over and over before you actually implement it, unfortunately.
FRAN VINCENT: Isn’t that true, you know, we’re so smart, but I tell you, you put a race number on us and something happens to the IQ.
BRAD BROWN: Exactly. Let’s talk about Kona, 2013, 2015, you got to race on the Big Island, how special is that?
The mystical and magic experience of Kona
FRAN VINCENT: Oh my gosh. The first time I went, I was like a deer in headlights, it was just the most special experience. There’s something very mystical and magical about Hawaii and about Kona in general and I just remember seeing all these beautiful bikes and beautiful bodies and I felt like everybody knew everybody and I felt a little bit like a fish out of water, like I had to keep pinching myself. I just was asking myself: What am I doing here, among all these beautiful and talented athletes. That was a real eye-opener for me.
BRAD BROWN: You’ve Top 10’d in both those Kona races, so you talk about what am I doing here, you’re obviously pretty good at what you do.
FRAN VINCENT: Well, yeah, I guess. I’m learning that, I don’t have the highest self-confidence, that’s something that I’m still working on and I have to tell you Brad, crossing the finish line at Kona in 2013 was so interesting because there’s this little board that tells you your place and to see that I had actually podiumed my very first time out there and that was a funny race because Kona is just, it’s so epic and it’s what we’re all after, we’re constantly chasing the dream and then you get out there and it is such a hard race man.
That is a tough day and 2013 was a difficult day for me. The swim was something like I had never experienced. I remember that cannon going off and 2013 was a mass start, it was all the age groupers, the professionals went first and then it was male/female together. The cannon went off and there was just white water everywhere. It was above me, it was below me and I’ve never panicked in the water before, but there was a split second where I thought, oh gosh, maybe I should just hang back and let all these fast people go first. I remember looking behind me and seeing this big wall of white water coming towards me and I’m like, no, that’s not gonna happen. I just put my head down and I kept swimming and I actually had a pretty decent swim.
The bike was long and windy and hot and by the time I got to the run I was fading pretty fast and I remember getting, I think I had about maybe 3 miles more to go and I just wanted to walk, I was just done with that whole day and all of a sudden I heard a spectator yelling for Fernanda Keller, who is a former professional, Brazilian, beautiful athlete, inside and out and I thought, oh my gosh, Fernanda Keller, I’m close to her? She was right in front of me and I thought, goodness, this hasn’t been my best moment, this hasn’t been my best day but if I can actually go home and say that I beat Fernanda Keller, then I’ll be okay with this whole experience. And so I don’t know, I turned on the back burners and ran past her with authority and I didn’t beat her by much, but that was the difference between a podium spot and not a podium spot. That was kinda of a funny moment for me.
BRAD BROWN: I like that, that’s brilliant. Fran, talk to me about what’s on the cards for you, you’re training as we speak now for Ironman Wisconsin 2016 and you’re getting to experience it with your daughter, she’s doing her first Ironman. You’re chasing a Kona spot, so it’s going to be difficult on the day, not that you’re going to be racing together, you will be on the same course, is it going to be strange having somebody that you know and that you’re that close to on the course with you at the same time, are you excited, how are you feeling about it?
Sharing that special Ironman experience with a loved one
FRAN VINCENT: I am out of my skin excited. Last year when she said she was interested in doing it, I just couldn’t believe it. It’s something that I’m so passionate about and she’s done a half and she’ll do a half in a couple of weeks with me in Muscle Man, so we have raced together, but there’s just something very special about doing an Ironman with someone that you’re that close to and we are good buds, I have been coaching her and she is rocking it out of the park, she’s doing beautifully. I think I’ll be worried about her throughout the day, I’ll be thinking about her a lot throughout the day, but ultimately I think this will be one of my life highlights, I hope it’s one of hers as well.
BRAD BROWN: Fran, as far as one of the things you said to me in an email exchange that we had, you said: As I get older, I feel like I’m training harder than ever, just to maintain my speed and that’s something that a lot of age groupers, particularly age groupers that are moving up in age groups as they get into the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond, they struggle with that. How do you cope with that feeling because it must be frustrating?
FRAN VINCENT: Yes, it is frustrating. I just find that I do have to work harder and then I get out there and my times are not what they used to be, especially on the run and I just need to stop comparing myself to what I was doing when I was 30 and 40 and compare myself to where I am today and kind of starting anew, if you will, every day.
I feel like the speed workouts are harder, the recovery is longer after a tough workout and even the strength training, like I’m doing more strength training now than ever and I know that it’s paying off, I know it’s a good thing to do, but I’m just not really seeing the gains from it, the rewards from it. It’s kind of a win when you can maintain and that’s so sad to me. I feel like with all the work that’s being done, there should be some improvement, but I don’t know, maybe I’ll still see it. I’m optimistic that I’ll continue to get faster, but no, I have not seen that recently in the last year or two.
BRAD BROWN: Isn’t that one of our biggest downfalls as triathletes though, that playing the comparison game and not just against ourselves, but comparing ourselves to others?
FRAN VINCENT: You know, it’s hard not to do that. Triathlon is an individual sport, but it’s still a race at the end of the day right and when you’re racing people in your age group and then you’re seeing their times might be a couple of seconds faster or a couple of minutes faster, we’re always kind of chasing that goal. I don’t like to take second place. I would almost rather be 10th than 2nd. I know that sounds crazy, but I really, not that you get a little bit of taste of victory and I really, I like to win.
BRAD BROWN: Were you this competitive growing up? I’ve asked this question to many age groupers and it’s one of the common threads, how competitive were you as a kid?
FRAN VINCENT: Gosh, that’s a good question. I think I was competitive in a lot of different ways, definitely competitive with family members. I have four siblings and certainly competitive with soccer and swimming as well. I think I’ve always been pretty competitive.
BRAD BROWN: I hear you talking about the four siblings, I’m exactly the same. I don’t care if I don’t beat anybody else, as long as I beat my brother, that’s all that matters!
FRAN VINCENT: That’s funny, but we all kind of did different things, but I think we all kind of, just sort of wanted to be the best and we were vying for attention from our parents. That’s one of the benefits of being from a large family I think.
BRAD BROWN: Fran, what’s still on your list of things to achieve in the sport?
Take your Ironman experience to number 10
FRAN VINCENT: You know, I just want to keep my body healthy, I want to keep loving the sport. I love being passionate and having something to focus on. I would love to be doing this, continue to be doing this in 20 or 30 years and also helping other people to do this and to be their best.
BRAD BROWN: How many more full Ironman’s do you think you’ve got in you?
FRAN VINCENT: I don’t know. This will be number six, Wisconsin will be number six and I think it would really be pretty cool to get to 10, but who knows, maybe I’ll get to ten and decide that 20 is a good number. I love the Ironman lifestyle; I’m in no hurry to give that up. Whether I’ll continue to be competitive in 5-10 years, I don’t know, but I don’t see myself stopping this any time soon.
BRAD BROWN: Who inspires you?
FRAN VINCENT: I’m inspired by so many people and so many things. I think my mom was probably my biggest inspiration, she just never let an opportunity get away from her. She died at what I would consider a young age, she was in her late 70’s and died of colon cancer and just wasn’t ready to go, but even that summer, before she passed away, she was still playing the saxophone and this Let’s Dance band, she just got involved in everything and I love that attitude about her, and I think that I’ve kind of inherited that part of her, that I just, I don’t like to see an opportunity to get by me. She was very inspirational, but I’m inspired by so many, like the Rene Kalmer and the Chrissie Wellington’s and you know, even those last age groupers that cross the finish line at any triathlon, I think I just have a terrific amount of respect for. To get over a finish line in 9+ hours and that’s not me, if I can go sub 11, I’m feeling good, but when you think about these athletes that are just barely making the cut-off at 17 hours, that to me is inspiring.
BRAD BROWN: For me Fran, when my brother did his first Ironman, he said something to me which stuck with me all the time and it was a year in South Africa where one of our South African athletes had won, a guy by the name of Raynard Tissink who finished in the Top 5 in Kona a couple of years ago, but he said to me: Did you see the medal that Raynard got and I said: No and he said: It’s exactly the same medal that I got and for me that sums up everything about Ironman. The guy who comes in there just before the final gun, gets exactly the same medal as the person who wins it and it’s just incredible. I think that’s one of the things that I love about the sport is anyone can do it and if you set your mind to it and you do the work, you can achieve it.
FRAN VINCENT: I absolutely agree that there’s people out there of all shapes and sizes and as I’m running, I like to think about each person who has their own story, their own journey for getting there and I just think that’s so interesting and such a cool aspect of the sport as well.
BRAD BROWN: Talking about challenges that the sport faces, obviously there’s lots going on in the world today, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing triathlon right now?
FRAN VINCENT: We’re hearing a lot about age group athletes using performance enhancing drugs and I think that that’s a challenge that we’re going to see more of. Also some of the new technical aspects on the bike, it’s interesting to me, bikes get lighter and lighter and the technology is improving with Power meters, electronic shifting, that I just, I wonder how far that can go and how technical it will go. It seems to me the more you have on your bike, the more that can go wrong out there.
BRAD BROWN: Too true! Fran, it’s been great catching up, thank you so much for your time here on The Kona Edge today, I’ve loved sharing your story. Best of luck for Wisconsin, to you and your daughter, we’ll be tracking you guys and let’s hope you can make it number three for Kona 2016, that would be incredible, best of luck.
FRAN VINCENT: Thank you so much Brad, it’s been great talking to you.