On this edition of The Kona Edge we meet up with former springboard diver and gymnast turned triathlete, Tripp Hipple. The Denver native shares some of the triathlon lessons he has learnt racing as an age grouper and he lets us in on the decision to turn pro. This podcast is for anyone who has ever considered turning pro.
BRAD BROWN: Well, we head to Denver in Colorado now and we’re joined by Tripp Hipple. Tripp, welcome. Thanks for joining us on The Kona Edge today.
TRIPP HIPPLE: Thank you for having me, it’s great to be here.
BRAD BROWN: Tripp, you’re literally almost on exactly the opposite end of the world to where I’m sitting right now, Denver, Colorado, it’s a great place to train. I know Boulder, which is in the greater scheme of things, it’s not just around the corner, but Colorado has got some great training, a lot of endurance athletes base themselves there, it’s a great place to be.
TRIPP HIPPLE: It is a great place to be and I was just looking at the time difference, 9:00 in the evening where you are, I still have quite a bit of the day to get out and do some more training here, but yeah, this is a great place, like you said. I live in Denver and I’m about 40 minutes from Boulder, if traffic is good.
Denver itself, there aren’t a lot of endurance athletes around. Typically there’s more runners and swimmers that live here in Denver rather than triathletes. Most of the triathletes, especially the top folks, definitely choose Boulder to live and train. It’s great to be nearby though.
BRAD BROWN: I’m sure. Tripp, where did your journey into triathlon start?
Are extreme sports in your blood?
TRIPP HIPPLE: Well, I originally was a springboard diver and a gymnast growing up and I did that all the way through high school and when I went to university I had the opportunity to dive potentially on a scholarship in New York and I turned that down because I didn’t really like diving that much.
I enjoyed the competition and learning how to do the dives, but it just came to the point where I think I had my fill. And mentally it’s a very challenging sport, to deal with the new challenges that come along. All that to say, I got to university and I’ve always been into sport.
Skateboarding and snowboarding were other sports that I loved and I still love those sports. So extreme sports I think were in my blood to begin with.
Got to university and realised I got out of shape and missed sports and I began running. My mother was a runner, just recreationally, she did it for fun and I saw that and I didn’t really know about running. It’s such a vast sport and there’s so many different avenues that you can take. But I think endurance-wise I found that going out just even three mile runs or 5km or 10km runs seemed to make me feel really good. And I loved the adventure that I kind of would go through on every different run that I would partake in.
I did that through college and then once I got out of college I had a friend that was a triathlon coach and he himself was in the Olympic distance part of the sport and he started coaching me. And that’s pretty much where it started and that was about 4-5 years ago.
BRAD BROWN: And as they say in the classics: The rest is all history. You’re sucked in hook, line and sinker.
Addiction of this sort is a good thing
TRIPP HIPPLE: Yes, like so many people, it’s addictive and it’s just the people that are within the sport and the feeling that you get of accomplishment. All of that wrapped up into one makes it such an incredible thing to be a part of and it’s a great journey to be on.
BRAD BROWN: Do you think that’s what makes it addictive? Is it those things or is it something else for you that keeps you coming back for more? What is it? I’m addicted, I don’t think I could put my finger on what it is.
TRIPP HIPPLE: That’s a tricky term. I think used in the right context, ‘addiction’ is a good thing. Which I think for 99% of us that are doing anything that we love, especially a hobby, there’s some reward that we get out of it. Whether it’s pushing ourselves and then you see the outcome of that in a race or you’re tired and you push through that spot, that low patch and you feel great.
Yeah, I think the addicting part is what you get out of it and sometimes it’s hard to see that when you’re training and you’re tired or you don’t necessarily feel like doing a specific session. But then once you’re done and you realise, oh, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I think that’s the beautiful side of it that we are all able to take part in.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about being a diver and that sort of thing, that sport takes a ton of discipline. Do you think having that discipline growing up has helped in your triathlon endeavors?
Discipline works well and leads to consistency in Ironman training
TRIPP HIPPLE: Yes, I do believe so. I am disciplined. I train a lot on my own and I guess it’s funny you ask, I haven’t really thought about how it corresponds. But diving, all the sports I’ve done, gymnastics, diving, skateboarding, snowboarding, they’re all individual. So I’ve always done an individual sport and I think now obviously I’m older, I’m an adult, I’m 29 years old and I’ve learnt what my routines are and my habits. And I’ve learnt how to hone those skills and it takes a long time to do that, to be disciplined.
I enjoy that, I think that’s another part of it that I like. I go to bed early, I wake up early, I eat well, I train well, listen to my coach, all of that comes into play and discipline is a huge part. I think as a diver I didn’t think about all those other little parts, the nutrition and all the training. But I think mentally that’s ingrained in the brain from a young age and many of us keep that going through our adult years.
BRAD BROWN: Tripp, as far as doing the longer stuff, the Ironman distance triathlon, you mentioned the mate of yours who helped get you into the sport was doing Olympic distance races. Where did the love for the long stuff come from?
TRIPP HIPPLE: That’s a great question. I think when I began running and I read books, The Lore of Running.
Inspiration through books to improve your Ironman run
BRAD BROWN: Prof Tim Noakes, yes.
TRIPP HIPPLE: Dr Tim Noakes, that was one of the first books on running I ever had and I read through it and the part where he describes different athletes and their different distances. He talks about Mark Allen in depth, but he also talks about Bruce Fordyce and these other folks that were incredible endurance athletes. So to me the challenge seemed like a fun thing to pursue and it’s something I’m still learning every day as I train. Especially longer workouts. But I went straight in, pretty much, to long distance and I think with me, I realistically knew, since I didn’t grow up doing the shorter distance work. Swimming obviously was not a strong suit for me. Running, which you need to have some fast leg speed if you’re going to do the Olympic distance, I didn’t have that to start out with. And the longer stuff, you can kind of get away with just grinding it out and going a little bit slower, but you can still have a great race.
Yeah, I think there’s a lot to that. I think the distance itself, especially the Ironman distance. When you think about the day, 8,9,10 hours of exercise versus two hours or so for the Olympic, why not just spend 8-10 hours exercising if you can and get a lot more satisfaction out of that.
BRAD BROWN: It’s so funny you mention The Lore of Running, I’ll just tell you a quick aside. I grew up in a house and obviously you’ve read the book so you know about the little ultra marathon we have here in South Africa called the Comrades Marathon, and I grew up in a household with my dad who used to run Comrades every year and one of the first sporting books I remember reading as a kid, I must have been 8 or 9 years old, was The Lore of Running. It was almost as tall as I am that book is so big, but fascinating read, that’s a total aside.
Let’s talk about the attraction to Ironman that keeps you coming back? Let’s be honest, as much as the first one is really enjoyable, they hurt, they take a lot out of you. What keeps you coming back? What’s so special about Ironman?
Racing as a professional Ironman is hard work
TRIPP HIPPLE: I’ve done I think three or four full distance Ironman. So this year I’m racing professionally for the first time and the first Ironman I did was Texas a few years ago. And there’s something about just ending, getting done with the thing that you, like I said, you realise you’ve been on the move for 8 or 10 hours or so and you could still, at least for me, I could still keep going if I wanted to. And that to me is incredible, just what the human body is created to do, if you put it to the test.
I think that’s, in large, a big part of it, but now racing in my first year as a professional, I’m going to do my first full distance Ironman, which is Arizona, which is at the end of November and I want to see how fast I can go on the training that I’ve put in over this past year. I’m really excited, nervous, kind of anxious about all that, just to see how it unfolds but that distance to me is just more suitable.
I like the half Ironman distance too, but I’m built and more muscular, a little bit more compact, I’m not very tall, so running and biking that distance to me, it’s a great hit. I think that’s why I want to give it good track and see how we go.
BRAD BROWN: Tripp, before we get onto your Kona experience, I want to touch on you deciding to turn pro. Obviously you raced in Kona last year, you got a top ten in your age group, you finished 7th, you’ve decided to turn professional. I know a lot of age groupers toy with that, where they think, you know what, I’m pretty good at this, I wonder if I could make it and you’ve obviously taken that step. Tell me about the decision to make the decision to go pro, it can’t be an easy one.
Kona is a hard race to deal with
TRIPP HIPPLE: So yes, it was easy but hard all at the same time. I worked with Jesse Kropelnicki who is with QT2 Systems and I had been with his coaching company before and I was not working with him the last two years. As an amateur I got really disciplined, as we’d mentioned and I wanted to see kind of what I was made of and how far I could go within the ranks and certain Ironman’s I did a lot better.
Kona is a hard race to deal with because of the heat and all of the hoopla that goes on leading into the race. But I think I knew that I probably was going to reach the ceiling of my abilities if I stayed within the amateur ranks, and I talked it over with my coach and we figured yes, this would be a good idea to pursue the professional license and so what we did, I did have a full time job at the time. I work part time now, it’s a family company, so my father is my boss, which is a huge blessing really!
BRAD BROWN: It must come with its own set of challenges too though?
TRIPP HIPPLE: It does, I’m responsible to him and to the company to do my part and I take pride in that, so yeah, going part time, it’s been tough financially. I have to be very frugal and that’s taken discipline as well, a lot of discipline that goes into it.
Honestly, it’s been a huge reward just seeing the ins and outs of how pro’s race and lining up to just amazing people. Some of the races I have not done too well so far, racing professionally, especially the half Ironman’s, cause I’m learning, each race is a learning experience and that’s how I look at it. I don’t put pressure on myself to perform a certain way. I look at it as, okay this year, first professional year, it’s about learning the ins and outs of how to race these people that have been doing this for X amount of years and that to me, looking down the road, will pay off in the next 2-3 years. I think the easy part is it just makes sense. Like I said, 29, not married, I have some room, don’t have a lot of commitments or responsibility outside of work and sport, so that made it easy. It’s been a good choice, it’s real now. I’m racing the best in the world.
BRAD BROWN: What’s been the biggest surprise to you from the step up, the level of performance from a top age grouper, that sort of group to that professional rank? Has that gap been bigger than you thought it was? What surprised you about it?
Learning from the best Ironman professionals
TRIPP HIPPLE: There’s a lot to it. I think each discipline, the swim, the bike and the run all hold their own gaps. And it’s just incredible now because I’m competing against guys and girls (if they’re fast enough) that have been doing the sport for a lot longer than I have and they come, typically, from a background, either from swimming, running or cycling, which I don’t. It does not give me an excuse, but it just has made me figure out that I need to work harder and really devote time to specific techniques and nutrition and all of that.
I think what I’ve observed is how much these other people put on the line when they’re racing. It’s incredible to see. Let’s say Lionel Sanders ride by at a certain pace or wattage on the bike and it’s just like I’m standing still. It’s amazing, it’s like a work of art flying down the road. Anyway, it’s motivating, honestly, it’s just motivating. It makes me work harder and it makes me focus more in my own training, but also with my coach, we can talk about those things and set realistic goals for these next few years.
I don’t have intentions of winning major races right now, that’s not my intention. I’m just here to learn, but to push myself at the same time and learn from the best. It’s a great time to be in the sport because of how the competition is changing.
BRAD BROWN: You talk of learning from the best, who do you look up to? Who do you really admire in the sport?
TRIPP HIPPLE: Definitely Lionel Sanders has been a good example to me. We’re about the same age and obviously his story and his background is inspiring, but his work ethic to me makes more sense because I have a similar work ethic and I think mentally I understand kind of how he works. Also obviously Sebastian Kienle and Jan Frodeno are the top guys. But even females, women that I know, Angela Naeth has been very influential in my development, I suppose you can call it, with being a professional and how to go about learning the ropes and all of that.
There’s a lot of people that are in the sport, even Kyle Buckingham. I know he’s South African, but even him coming up through the ranks and he’s just won an Ironman a few weeks ago, I think it was his second win but just for me, it cements the fact that I can do that too. There’s nothing holding me back from being able to win an Ironman or go to Hawaii as a professional at some point.
It’s about the process in Ironman
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you mention Kyle, I actually know Kyle from back here which is quite an interesting turn. You look at the way he’s come up and I mean he had a fantastic performance at Kona as an age grouper, his last year as an age grouper. Then he turned pro and he struggled a bit, but he’s really starting to make real good strides and it’s like you say, you almost need to learn the ropes. For some it does happen overnight, but for most who turn pro, it doesn’t. It’s a process.
TRIPP HIPPLE: Oh yeah, it’s a process and I think if I were honest and if many others were completely honest, that’s why we do it, because of the process. You put in the work, I think Ben Hoffman said it once on a different podcast, it’s a linear relationship. You put in the work, you’re going to see the results, which I 100% agree with because I see it every week in my own training and I know people go through the same experiences. It is about the process and I think also not getting too wrapped up in results or comparing ourselves versus other people, it just doesn’t work out that way. Everyone is so different and their stories and their backgrounds are so different that we’re each so unique in how we pursue it and how our bodies work, that it makes it very individualistic.
BRAD BROWN: And we’re also at different points on that timeline. Someone might look like they’re far ahead, and we also progress along that timeline at different speeds. Like you say, it’s so difficult to compare yourself.
Let’s go back and talk about Kona and where the decision first came and the seed was planted to try and qualify for the big dance. Where did that all start?
TRIPP HIPPLE: I didn’t know too much about Kona before I went there for the first time. I’ve been there twice, 2014 and 2015. I did my first Ironman which is Ironman Texas in 2013 and I qualified that year and I didn’t take the spot because I didn’t have, I think it’s cause I didn’t have the money to pay it upfront, but I didn’t want to go, it didn’t seem appealing to me at the time. I turned the spot down and just kept doing the sport. It was more for fun, it wasn’t as serious as I obviously take it now, but I just kept grinding away and went back to Texas the next two years and then
, the seed got planted. I think the first year that I really
was 2013 when Luke McKenzie got second place. I remember seeing him in the amazing green outfit, Queen K running. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever, cause he looked so cool in his hat and his glasses. So I think that
that I want to go there, this place is cool, these people are cool and they’re kind of having some fun out there. That’s when it took place, I’d say 2013.
BRAD BROWN: Tripp if I could ask you to move around, we’re losing signal on the call. 2013, then obviously you went and raced it twice, was it everything you expected it to be? There’s this mythical feeling about the Big Island, once you’re there and you’ve qualified, does it really consume you and get in your blood that you keep wanting to go back?
Kona – a hot and beautiful place
TRIPP HIPPLE: Yes and no. For me personally, the mythical side of it, I don’t really see it that way. It’s just an island, it’s hot and it’s beautiful in Kona. But once you’re out on that highway, it’s not the place that you really want to be exercising because of how hot and it’s barren, it’s pretty ugly out on the highway. But the lure of being in that town and seeing all of the fittest people in the world in one place is pretty incredible in itself. I think the yes part about it is it’s an amazing place to experience a race.
It’s difficult, it’s hard, it’s brutal, but it’s very rewarding if you do well. The scary part now is qualifying as a professional, that’s a whole different ballgame. I look at it differently now. I think now it’s more of, it is almost more mythical I guess, to get there professionally because of how difficult that actually is. It’s changed over the last few years and how I look at it.
BRAD BROWN: As far as what you’re struggling with now as an athlete, what’s your biggest frustration at the moment? What are you working on to try and get better at?
TRIPP HIPPLE: Everything of course. It’s definitely swimming is the main key and like I said, I grew up diving, so I was around the pool, I was a swimmer for a while growing up too, I just didn’t like swimming cause it hurt, it hurt to sprint.
It’s just putting in the time, the yardage, the meters, it’s going to take a few years to get up to the front pack level in a lot of these races. But we’re also, my coach and I, Jesse, are working on my run, it’s been another limiting factor. I’m not as durable as I will be in the years to come, so we’re putting in, carefully putting in miles and doing a lot of tempo runs and long runs to get the legs in the right place.
I think frustration-wise, it’s how do I compete with these people that have been doing this for this amount of years and how can I best prepare myself for these races without getting injured or sick or what-not.
Having a coach is of utmost value in your Ironman training
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned your coach. Coaching has been obviously part of your life for a long time, even from the diving and gymnastics part of your sporting career. Did you get a coach straight up when you started triathlon or did you try and find your way first on your own and then transition across?
TRIPP HIPPLE: As I’d mentioned I had a friend. I have an older sister and she and I went to high school with my friend named Ryan and he was into triathlon and he started coaching just to make some money on the side. And ironically my sister told me, she’d contact him about triathlon and that’s when I didn’t know what triathlon was at that point.
I contacted him and we got to talking, it sounded like fun, so yes to answer your question quickly, basically I have been coached the whole time through which for me is of utmost value. I don’t know how, personally I cannot do this alone without that supervision or guidance. There’s too much at risk or too much to think about that I want my coach to tell me what to do and I’ll do it in the proper amounts and duration and intensity. So I leave it to the coach to tell me what to do.
BRAD BROWN: What’s important for you to look for in a coach? You’re looking for a coach, what are the characteristics, what do you think is important in a coach?
TRIPP HIPPLE: First and foremost trust is the key piece to a coach and I mean I trust my coach 100%. Jesse has been around the sport for a long time, has coached multiple Ironman champions and Kona qualifiers, but personally on the same level, I trust him as a person, he trusts me and I trust the plan that he puts in front of me.
I think secondly you have to look at, are the workouts realistic. Does it fit, is the coach telling me, is it going to fit my schedule and my lifestyle, especially as an amateur because amateurs are way busier than a pro typically. Amateurs work a lot more, they have a lot more stresses in life that have to be attended to, which I know firsthand because that’s how I was in the amateur field, working more and trying to fit in the training.
A coach needs to be there, providing you workouts and providing support. But also they need to be there to be a sounding board as far as the athletes concerns and questions. There’s a lot to that, but I think trust and the coach knowing what they’re doing is first and foremost.
Be secure in who you are as a person in your Kona race
BRAD BROWN: Tripp as far as somebody starting out in the sport, we’ve got a lot of people who listen to this podcast who have done a few Ironman’s or who have qualified or who are trying to qualify for Kona. But we’ve also got a big group of people who are just getting started in the sport. If you could go back and talk to yourself as you were getting started, knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself?
TRIPP HIPPLE: I love this question! This is a good one! I think if I could go back and tell myself, I think first and foremost it would be to not take it too seriously and to continue having fun and enjoying that process that we talked about.
I think triathlon is funny because the bike, the glitz and the glamour, there’s a lot of money that people have that go into the sport and buy the best gear and what-not and try to look a certain way. I think a lot of that is very superficial and it’s about the individual. So being secure in who you are as a person is monumental because you’re not that person or this person, you are who you are and you have to deal with what you’ve been given.
I think going back, it’s about trying not to push it too hard too soon, especially Ironman racing. If you’re not fit, it takes a lot out of you, even if you are fit but it’s different, there’s a lot of fatigue there. So you have to be conscientious of recovery and going easy on easy days and going hard on the hard days. But recovery is another piece of the pie that needs to be well taken care of.
You get out what you put in to your Ironman training
BRAD BROWN: What’s the biggest lesson Ironman has taught you?
TRIPP HIPPLE: The biggest lesson… I would say you do get out of it what you put in, that it’s a very honest endeavor and the outcome, whether it’s a bad race or a good race, there’s always things that you can do better or cannot do better.
There’s so many different aspects of racing, even a short distance triathlon, they’re all so different, but you get out of it what you put in. So if you are going to pursue, especially the Ironman distance, just be realistic and I think for me that’s been the biggest piece I’ve learnt about it. That it’s a tough distance and it takes a lot out of the body, especially the training going into it, but it’s so worth it.
It’s inspiring to people around you as well. People look at that as a huge accomplishment and it is. Yeah, it’s worth all the investment.
BRAD BROWN: What do you still want to achieve in the sport?
TRIPP HIPPLE: I’d love to win an Ironman one of these years and I just want to continue seeing what I am made of. Pushing different buttons in my own training. Like I said, my coach and I have a specific plan of how to go about doing that and I completely trust that it’s going to happen. That I will be able to achieve winning certain races and I think also, I want to be able to race those top competitors because to me that’s inspiring.
I just don’t see much value of staying at the bottom of the ranks for too long, so I’m working on expediting that process as fast as I can, in a smart way. I definitely want to start winning or being on the podium on certain races.
BRAD BROWN: It’s an interesting question, how many Ironman’s do you think you’ve got in you, physically, in a year?
TRIPP HIPPLE: That’s a good question, probably three. Three seems like the right amount. Two to me is ideal, if it’s possible, say I’m qualifying for Hawaii, if you do an Ironman like Texas at the start of the year and then maybe a July, early August Ironman, it’s probably ideal. It’s just the marathon takes so much out of the body. I don’t know, three is probably the max, four is definitely pushing it, for health.
BRAD BROWN: Well Tripp, best of luck, we’re going to be following your progress closely. Can’t wait to see how you do go in Arizona, best of luck for that and we look forward to hearing how you progress and hopefully seeing you on a podium and a top step of a podium very soon.
TRIPP HIPPLE: Yes, thank you so much. This has been a great honour, I appreciate it.