What it takes to win – Two time Ironman World Champion Dan Stubleski
Dan Stubleski is a two time Ironman World Champion, having won his age group at Ironman Kona in both 2014 and 2015. This is Dan’s story.
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BRAD BROWN: Joining us on The Kona Edge, all the way from Michigan is Dan Stubleski. Dan, welcome, nice to touch base. It’s a bit of a snowy afternoon in Michigan, thanks for taking the time to join us today.
DAN STUBLESKI: No problem, great to talk to you.
BRAD BROWN: I was just saying, I’ve got massive respect for you, obviously you’ve achieved some great things and we’ll chat about that in a moment, but working and training through a Michigan winter, you deserve a medal just for that!
DAN STUBLESKI: Yeah, it is pretty tough. I’m always jealous of everybody else taking pictures, and the winter time here and they’re riding outdoors, pretty jealous of that.
BRAD BROWN: I’m sure. 2015 has been an incredible year for you, 2014 wasn’t half bad either. We are a few weeks post Ironman Kona 2015. You’re an Ironman World Champion, how’s the body holding up after that effort?
DAN STUBLESKI: A lot better than it was a couple of weeks ago. I’m starting to get back into things and get going again.
Where does an Ironman World Champion’s journey start?
BRAD BROWN: Dan, let’s take a step back and we’ll get to your performances and becoming an Ironman World Champion in Kona in a moment. Where did your journey into triathlon start, where did it all begin for you?
DAN STUBLESKI: 2011 in Maui, Hawaii, I did an Olympic distance, that was my first.
BRAD BROWN: What sort of background did you come from? Were you pretty active growing up?
DAN STUBLESKI: Yeah, I did the local sports, basketball, baseball and football in high school. Then in college, I went to Junior College, a community college, and I played basketball for 2 years there.
BRAD BROWN: The swim, bike and run, in the Olympic distance in Maui. Did you think, this looks like a pretty cool sport, maybe I should give it a bash.
DAN STUBLESKI: I started riding my bike and I was running a little bit here and there, but never got into triathlon. Then we were going to Hawaii in 2011 and I thought maybe I can find a bike race or something to do. I stumbled upon the triathlon and I’m like hey, I’ll give that a try, so that was my first one right there on vacation.
BRAD BROWN: I’m having a quiet laugh to myself because I’m doing the math in my head. That’s 4 years ago and if I had said to you in 2011 at that Olympic distance triathlon in Maui you’ve be an Ironman World Champion. That you would have achieved what you would have achieved now, 4 years later in the sport, what would you have told me?
Your first triathlon is always the hardest
DAN STUBLESKI: No way, because it was a 6 mile run for the Olympic distance and that was hard. It was a lot harder than a 26 mile run now. I think it is the equivalent to that 6 mile run at that time, it was super hard, I never thought I would be able to run that fast and that far.
BRAD BROWN: As far as the other sports that you played, baseball, basketball, were you any good at those?
DAN STUBLESKI: Yeah, I was pretty good. Basketball was my best sport. That’s where it took me the furthest. I always seemed to have the endurance, cause we’d always play pick-up games in the summer time.
Everybody wanted to quit and I still wasn’t tired and so I wanted to keep going longer and playing longer. Maybe that was my endurance, I could go a lot longer than everybody else.
BRAD BROWN: I love that. In 2015 and 2014 you became an Ironman World Champion. You were the fastest age grouper on the big island at the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. When did you realize that you were pretty good at this triathlon thing?
The first taste of becoming an Ironman World Champion
DAN STUBLESKI: In 2012 I went to Vegas for the Half Ironman World Championships. That was my first World Championships. So I Thought I can just get in top 20 in my age group. I had no expectations of doing good. After the race I found out that I was the first age grouper overall in Las Vegas.
I was like, “are you kidding me? That’s crazy!”. I never thought I’d be able to pull that off, so that’s where it kind of started, where I had something.
BRAD BROWN: Dan, I find that amazing, you’re the fastest age grouper at those 70.3 World Champs in Vegas. You became an Ironman World Champion and it wasn’t even something you were aiming for.
You’re just gifted with unbelievable talent and ability .Obviously you must have worked hard to get that, but was that ever a goal? You’re saying top 20, realistically, did you think you had a shot of not just winning your age group and becoming an Ironman World Champion, but being the first age grouper home?
DAN STUBLESKI: No, I didn’t think I’d be able to. I just wanted to go there and compete and have the best race possible. There were no expectations of being the first age grouper overall. I just hung in there and kept going. That’s my competitive drive I think. I’m really super competitive and I don’t like to lose, so I just keep pushing myself until I get to that finish line.
Where does an Ironman World Champion competitive spirit come from?
BRAD BROWN: Did you have siblings growing up, have you got brothers and sisters?
DAN STUBLESKI: Yeah, I have two older brothers and a younger sister. So I think that started when I was real early because my brothers are a little bit older than me, 3-4 years older. I’d always hang out with them and play basketball with them, I always played against older people and they were always better than me. So you know, I was striving to beat them all the time.
BRAD BROWN: Do you think that’s where the competitive spirit in you came from and the seed was planted early on?
DAN STUBLESKI: I think so, because they would always destroy me in basketball. When I was younger, I never beat them and then as I started to get older, then I would start to pass them, but yeah, I think that’s where it started.
BRAD BROWN: Are they pretty competitive? They look at what you achieved in Ironman, do you think, oh, he’s the little brother, I’m sure we could beat him?
DAN STUBLESKI: No, they think I’m crazy for doing the triathlons. I always say: I went for a 100 mile ride and they’re like, you’re crazy, I didn’t even drive 100 miles today!
Your first Ironman is always special
BRAD BROWN: Dan, tell me a little bit about the first time you thought of possibly entering a full distance Ironman. What did you know about the race, what had you heard about the race before entering? When was that seed planted and the thought process started about entering?
DAN STUBLESKI: It was early, Hawaii, the one in Kona, that was on TV and I was like, oh, I want to do that someday. But it never entered my mind how to do it or whatever.
Then after 2012, I think that’s when it really, I really wanted to do one. I really wanted to do it that year, but I didn’t qualify or whatever. Then it came into my mind, that was September, so then I started planning for Ironman Texas in 2013. That was my first.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me a bit about that race, Ironman Texas, the first one you’ve done. Everyone’s first Ironman is one they’ll never ever forget. The buildup to it, tell me about that race and your experience first time out.
DAN STUBLESKI: I was pretty nervous. The swim was kind of scary, but I knew I could just stay focused and keep swimming and I could do the distance. The bike ride after that was kind of like up in the air. I don’t think I ever rode 112miles. The most was 100 miles before my first. I knew I was pretty confident that I could do it but I just didn’t know how fast I was going to do it.
The run was pretty scary. I never ran a full marathon after all that, never ran a marathon to begin with, so that was kind of up in the air, had to just keep going.
Qualifying for Ironman Kona first time out
BRAD BROWN: From a results perspective, that first Ironman Texas, how did you go?
DAN STUBLESKI: I think I was first in my age group, I think I was 4th or 5th overall for age groupers.
BRAD BROWN: Going into Ironman Texas, obviously it’s difficult going into your first Ironman, you never really have any big expectations, but what were you hoping? Did you go in there, you know what, I just want to finish or were you secretly hoping to finish top five or top ten?
DAN STUBLESKI: Top four, I think we had four or five slots for Kona, that was my goal, to Kona qualify at that race. I knew I was kind gauging on my times to see, to qualify. I knew I had a certain amount of time to qualify and everything, just as long as I didn’t blow up on the run, I knew I could do it, that was the question.
BRAD BROWN: And the feeling when you realized you had qualified and you had a spot at the Ironman World Champs?
DAN STUBLESKI: That was amazing, but it really hurt, the run was brutal, that was the hardest run. During the run it was like, this is dumb, this hurts too much, between 13-18 miles. I wanted to quit, but I knew I couldn’t quit. I wasn’t going to quit, but it was so hard, it was brutal.
Getting over tough patches in an Ironman
BRAD BROWN: What’s the thought process? We all go through those in an Ironman where we go through this dark patch and it’s horrible and we want to quit, what do you tell yourself to get through those dark patches?
DAN STUBLESKI: Just to keep moving. I watched the Rocky movies and his trainer always says ‘No Pain- No Pain’ so I kind of keep that mantra in my head. Just kind of push it to the back and just keep shuffling forward, just keep moving.
BRAD BROWN: Which is your favourite Rocky movie?
DAN STUBLESKI: I think Rocky IV.
BRAD BROWN: I’ve got the whole series too. I’m a huge fan! Tell me about being on the big island. You had been to Hawaii before, obviously you’d done your first race in Maui, but what does it feel like to step off that plane, in Kona, knowing that you’re there to test yourself against the best in the world?
DAN STUBLESKI: Amazing! It’s beautiful weather, just the heat, the humidity and the smells. I love Hawaii.
BRAD BROWN: What does Kona smell like?
DAN STUBLESKI: Just the flowers and everything, I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, the aroma of some of the flowers is just amazing.
Arriving at the Ironman World Championships in Kona
BRAD BROWN: When you get off the plane and seeing all these athletes there, did you find it intimidating? They probably look at you and go gee, look at this racing snake, but do you feel the same way?
DAN STUBLESKI: Yeah, you kind of look at everybody and see how they’re fit or what they look like and this and that and what they’re doing or whatever. The first one was pretty –
BRAD BROWN: Intense, I’m sure. As far as that first Ironman Kona, it must be difficult not to get caught up in all the side shows. There’s so much going on ahead of the race itself and if you think of all the traditions; The underpants run and all that sort of stuff, is it difficult to stay focused on the race.
Did you go there for your first one want to experience everything. Did you say I’m going to take part and really just soak up what the island has to offer?
Taking it all in at the Ironman World Championships
DAN STUBLESKI: I did a lot. That year I didn’t do the underpants run the first year, I don’t think. I can’t remember. I took it all in, but I always did it, not using up a lot of energy. It was important to just stay relaxed. I tried to stay off my feet a lot. But I wanted to be in the environment, just to be a part of it.
I didn’t want to miss a lot because that just brings excitement to me. It gets me pumped up and ready to go. It doesn’t get me over excited or anything.
BRAD BROWN: As far as getting to the island ahead of the race, how much time do you like to spend in Kona before race day?
DAN STUBLESKI: We usually get there 10 days before, it’s like a Thursday afternoon we finally get into Kona.
Getting used to the conditions in Kona
BRAD BROWN: From an acclimatization point of view, you guys have brutal winters in Michigan, the conditions in Kona can be brutal, but to the other extreme. How do you cope with those huge changes in temperature and humidity?
DAN STUBLESKI: Our summers are pretty humid, so that helps. In July/August/September. It’s usually not getting too cold before Ironman Kona, but it’s starting to get dark. So I’m usually on the trainer getting my hours in. If it’s really cold out, I can always just turn the heat up and work with that.
BRAD BROWN: From a percentage of your training Dan, obviously in winter it’s different, but in summer, what sort of percentage would you say is done on a treadmill or running machine and an indoor trainer?
DAN STUBLESKI: Usually my workouts in the morning are indoors, just because it’s dark out, before work. Then I’ll go to work and then after work, in the summer time I’m always out riding or running. It’s usually about 50% I would say, in the summertime, winter time it’s always 100% because I don’t run outside at all.
BRAD BROWN: Do you find that doing the stuff indoors makes you mentally tougher?
Using indoor training to become an Ironman World Champion
DAN STUBLESKI: I think so, if you can ride the trainer and run on the treadmill for whatever your distance that you want to do, it’s a lot easier to do it outdoors because you can enjoy it more.
You can always say it’ll make you tougher and then it’s mental strength that will get you through the tough points in the race.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about work, what do you do for a living?
DAN STUBLESKI: Heating and cooling.
BRAD BROWN: Hours-wise? You’re full time?
DAN STUBLESKI: Yeah.
BRAD BROWN: You’ve got to put in a full day’s work?
DAN STUBLESKI: Yeah, full day’s work, 40 hours a week.
BRAD BROWN: How do you get the balance right? That’s one of the big things that I think age groupers struggle with is getting the balance between work and family life and training, how do you deal with it?
Balancing your Ironman training with work
DAN STUBLESKI: Usually I’m up in the morning before work. Everybody is still sleeping, so I can get some good, quality workout in then. Then usually in the evening, I keep steady. I don’t really spike that high with the hours and everything. It’s pretty steady.
BRAD BROWN: From a training perspective, how many hours would you say you put in a week, on average? Obviously you’d have big weeks in the buildup to Kona, in a big week, how many hours would you say you put in and then on average, what would you say you put in?
DAN STUBLESKI: I think the max was 28 hours roughly, I didn’t do too many of those weeks, but yeah, I think max peak was 28 and usually I’m about 22 hours-ish
BRAD BROWN: What do the guys you work with think about what you do?
DAN STUBLESKI: They think I’m crazy too, they would never do that! Some of them do like 5km and stuff like that, but not too often.
BRAD BROWN: You haven’t inspired any of them to take up and do an Ironman?
DAN STUBLESKI: No, no, they would never do that!
Finishing your first Ironman World Championships
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about that first race experience at the World Champs in Kona. What sort of goes through your mind when you’re heading towards the beach. When you’re getting in the water and it’s almost go time? Are you one of those guys that just gets so excited, are you nervous, are you scared?
What’s going through your head at that stage?
DAN STUBLESKI: The first Ironman Kona I was a little scared, I don’t get too pumped. I’m kind of like, I take the swim, I think too easy sometimes. It’s always scary when you first get in the water, it’s like you just want to go, but you still have another 25 minutes when you start getting into the water.
BRAD BROWN: As far as when race goes, as it gets closer and closer and the excitement is building, when that cannon goes, do you just calm down or is it a case of you’re excited to get going? How does it work for Dan Stubleski?
DAN STUBLESKI: Yeah, your heart rate spikes when you first take off and then you got to stay calm and relax and get your heart rate back down.
Strongest and weakest Ironman disciplines
BRAD BROWN: Dan, as far as the three disciplines, what would you say is your strongest and what’s the weakest?
DAN STUBLESKI: Definitely my bike is the strongest and the swim is always my weakest, seems like I’m getting worse every year!
BRAD BROWN: The Ironman swim. At the end of the day, you’re never going to win or lose an Ironman on it. But you need to be solid, is it a case of just technique or the more you’re in the sport the more you tend to spend less time training and focusing on that discipline?
DAN STUBLESKI: It seems like I was training the same amount in swimming. But it must be that my technique is not the best, I guess I would say. I never had a swim coach or anything, so I don’t know that. I don’t know if I’m just losing strength cause I’m biking and running so much, I don’t know, it’s hard to say.
Just missing the Ironman World Champion title
BRAD BROWN: That first Ironman Kona experience, when you’re coming towards the finish after that run. You mentioned that you really struggled at the back end of the run.
Coming towards the end and knowing it’s done and you can celebrate the achievement of being an Ironman World Champion.That must be an incredible feeling.
DAN STUBLESKI: That was the best feeling. It was amazing running down Alii Drive at the finish. It’s like, you want the race to come, then it comes, then it’s over and then you don’t want it to be over. That feeling is so amazing at the end. It’s like you’re floating on clouds, nothing hurts anymore. It’s amazing, beautiful and then you finish and it’s done. Then disappointment comes because it’s over.
BRAD BROWN: That first one, from a results point of view, how did you go in that first one?
DAN STUBLESKI: I finished second. The same guy passed me on the run. I think it was at about 23 miles, on the Queen K. I just missed being crowned Ironman World Champion.
The Ironman comeback
BRAD BROWN: Did that sort of light a fire underneath you, that you went, you know what, I’ve got to come back and win this thing? I must come back to become an Ironman World Champion?
DAN STUBLESKI: That helped, I’d never wanted anybody to pass me again that late. That was always in my mind that I was going to fight even more cause at that time I couldn’t.
Just cause I gave it my all, I had no response. I knew that I was never going to let anybody pass me again at the end. That would motivate me throughout the year.
BRAD BROWN: Because of your performances at the half Ironman World Champs and that Ironman World Championships at Kona, coming back again, people obviously knew who you were first time around, you’re a bit of an unknown entity, did that put more pressure on you 2nd time around?
The pressure that comes with being an Ironman World Champion
DAN STUBLESKI: Yes and no. I mean I don’t put pressure on myself, I just kind of forget about it. If you put pressure on yourself and then you can go over expectations. That will mess with your mind too. I kind of always put that in the back of my mind. I never really think about it, but I do have expectations.
BRAD BROWN: Your performance this year in 2015 was, the only word I can think of is ‘superb’. It was just phenomenal, tracking it online and watching it from here, would you say that’s been one of the best races of your life?
DAN STUBLESKI: No, I think 2014 was better. In 2015 I went into that race with an injured calf. I couldn’t run 10 days before the race, so I mean to finish that race was great, but I was kind of disappointed with the 3:10 run.
BRAD BROWN: I think to myself, 3:10, I’d be happy with that for my first half of the run.
DAN STUBLESKI: Right.
What is left to achieve?
BRAD BROWN: You’re just unbelievably talented Dan, you’ve got such skills it’s ridiculous. Now that you’re a multiple Ironman World Champion, what’s left for you to achieve?
DAN STUBLESKI: Just keep doing it consistently. I guess I could turn pro. But where I live, I’d have to travel a lot more. I love racing Ironman Kona so much that it’s hard to give up.
BRAD BROWN: I wanted to ask you about turning pro. There was an age grouper a good few years ago from South Africa, Kyle Buckingham, who was the first age grouper home. He became an Ironman World Champion and the following year he turned pro. Is it something that you think about and consider seriously?
DAN STUBLESKI: Yeah, I mean I did. I’m going to be 40 this year, so that hurts too. If I was 25 or in my 30’s, I would definitely turn pro. But since I’m so late in the game that’s against me too. My Ironman swim is not the best. I would be just like riding and running pretty much by myself, it would be like a training day almost.
BRAD BROWN: Do you regret not discovering the sport earlier in your life?
DAN STUBLESKI: Definitely, I wish I would have discovered this 10 years ago, that would have been awesome.
Racing international Ironman races
BRAD BROWN: As far as going back to Ironman Kona. There’s some incredible races around the world, not just in the Ironman family, but in the Challenge family too. I think of Challenge Roth as one of them. What else is on your radar outside of Ironman Kona? What would you like to achieve in the sport other than becoming an Ironman World Champion again?
DAN STUBLESKI: That would be awesome. I’ve always wanted to do one over in Europe, Challenge Roth or Ironman Frankfurt. But the price to get there and the travel and everything, it’s kind of a hamper.
BRAD BROWN: Dan, what advice would you give to someone who is on the, they push hard to qualify but they struggle to qualify, what advice would you give to someone? In your opinion, is it worth investing all that time and effort and money to try and get yourself better, to get yourself a slot at Kona?
DAN STUBLESKI: Yeah, I mean you’ll never forget your first Kona. I know a lot of people, it was their first, even I remember my first in Kona, it’s one of the amazing things. Just the consistency of keep running, I guess, to keep training or pushing yourself, you never know.
What inspires an Ironman World Champion?
BRAD BROWN: What inspires you to keep pushing yourself?
DAN STUBLESKI: I like the lifestyle, being healthy, getting fit and training every day. I don’t really have to do the races, I love training, just pushing myself every day, running. I never feel right if I skip a day in the morning, don’t run in the morning or nothing, I always feel sluggish or disappointed that I couldn’t do anything in the morning.
BRAD BROWN: I ask everyone this question that I chat to. If I say the word ‘Kona’, what do you think?
DAN STUBLESKI: Kona is amazing.
BRAD BROWN: One word, I love that. Dan, I want to wish you well. know you’re going into another rough winter and there’s going to be lots of time on the indoor trainer ahead of you over the next few months. But best of luck with that.
What’s the next race that you’re working towards and have earmarked?
DAN STUBLESKI: I think I’m going to do Ironman St. George in May, the half Ironman. Then just my usual races. I don’t really start until June cause that’s when it starts getting warm here.
BRAD BROWN: And Ironman Kona 2016, you’re pushing for that again?
DAN STUBLESKI: Yeah, that’s on my radar.
BRAD BROWN: Going for the win?
DAN STUBLESKI: We’ll try, we’ll see.
BRAD BROWN: I love it. Dan Stubleski, thank you so much, much appreciated, we look forward to catching up with you again here on The Kona Edge.
DAN STUBLESKI: All right, thanks.
Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).
Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.
He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.
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