We get to share another incredible Ironman Kona journey on this edition of The Kona Edge. We head to Michigan to catch up with Michael Girard and find out what drove him to triathlon and where the seed was planted to race at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.
BRAD BROWN: As we record this, it’s a pretty, I don’t want to say ‘icy’ because it’s an uncharacteristically warm winter for you in Michigan at the moment, it’s a steamy Cape Town, but it’s good to have you on, welcome.
MICHAEL GIRARD: Great to be here, thanks Brad.
BRAD BROWN: Michael, let’s take a step back and talk about how you got into the sport of triathlon. Were you always pretty active growing up? Were you pretty sporty as a kid?
MICHAEL GIRARD: As a kid I was out there, outdoors, climbing trees, running around the yard, doing those sort of things, always had some sort of an off road bicycle of some kind, riding on trails and riding to my friends’ houses a couple of miles away and yeah, absolutely, always running quite a bit. I really never got in to compete until high school.
BRAD BROWN: You came from a bit of a swimming and cross country background, biking was obviously part of your life, but more for fun. Were you fairly competitive as a swimmer, as a runner, as a teenager?
MICHAEL GIRARD: Yeah, I did pretty well. I like to say I was never quite a true fish, I didn’t do the club swimming, but I started swimming, I’d say I would have been 14/15, started swimming competitively and did pretty well. I’m one of the faster relays most of the time and never qualified for states, but I grew up in Michigan, so truthfully, it’s one of the swimming states, California, Texas, Florida, so very competitive here, a large high school. I did well and in a small area it would have been more impressive, but it gave me a really solid background and really did cross country and track and field and it was much the same. I was well above average, never the best, but it gave me a real solid foundation.
BRAD BROWN: Coming from a multisport background, swimming and running, obviously the natural progression was triathlon, but it didn’t happen straight away for you, it was a bit later on in life. When did you first discover the sport of triathlon?
MICHAEL GIRARD: Actually, I’ll say my first multisport event, I did a Splash and Dash, as it was, it was a really short, very hard race. It was a half mile run and then a quarter mile swim, another half mile run and no time for transition, so it was all barefoot, it was really the best way to do it. This was natural, I said, I’m a good runner, I’m a good swimmer, this is great, so me and a buddy did it. He was a good runner too and it was me and him racing for the win, I think, we were both 15/16 years old and it was really good fun.
BRAD BROWN: Then, when you finished high school, you went to college, did you stay active? Has sport always been part of your life or did it go to the wayside a bit in your 20’s and maybe later on?
MICHAEL GIRARD: Well, it kind of went on and off. First in college, I think it slipped a little bit, but I got back into some masters or kind of a club swimming team and then I introduced him to bicycle racing and really enjoyed that. I stuck with that, mainly just bicycle racing only, mountain bike, off-road, doing Krits and road races as well and it was great because you learn bike handling skills really fast and that really became my strength, descending and cornering. I think the only Krit I ever won was, it was actually snowing. It was like 35 degrees, that’s like 3-4 Celsius and it’s snowing and we’re going to get on our bicycles and do a road race and I won the race because there’s a hairpin corner and I came out of the hairpin and sprinted and I had no exit speed, I took the wind, so it was just really good fun and you learnt how to suffer, you learnt how to pace, you learnt how to ride real hard and you developed that skill. From there, I kind of went on and off. I had some motorcycles for a while, went out to some race tracks and rode those real fast, so you know, going at 200km an hour is always good fun and learning how to really push your limits on two wheels a little bit again. I put on some weight and I think eventually I got back in shape and it was probably about 5 years ago that I got real serious, finally got a true triathlon bike, have a speed concept 7 series which is now five years old and it’s totally obsolete, but I manage to get some pretty good speed out of it!
Is competitiveness a prerequisite to qualifying for Ironman Kona?
BRAD BROWN: Have you always been pretty competitive Michael?
MICHAEL GIRARD: Yeah, I think it’s just natural, I enjoy winning, not to get into too much personal background stuff, but as a kid I was kind of picked on. You look at successful people and sometimes, not to say bullying is a bad thing, but some of the most successful people are possibly successful because they had a little bit of that chip on their shoulder, so they wanted to kind of prove themselves a little bit. I think it’s always fuelled me a little, trying to always want to prove myself, challenge myself, show that I can be successful, I can be better than the person that got picked on in school and such.
BRAD BROWN: Do you think that triathlon has given you an outlet for that? It’s one of the sports, there are lots of sports that have fairly competitive age group sections, but triathlon, I think more than any is very competitive when it comes to age groupers. Do you think it’s given you a bit of an outlet to express yourself and to show people that you can do this?
MICHAEL GIRARD: Yeah, absolutely. I was a solid runner, a good swimmer, but after you get to college and if you’re not a professional, it’s great to be able to put all three sports together. I did well in each of the three sports, so when you put those together and you go from being well above average to being kind of near the front of the pack in terms of triathletes, so yeah, it’s just been a great opportunity to leverage that ability.
BRAD BROWN: When did you realize that you had some ability in the triathlon sphere, that you could possibly be challenging for podiums in your age group?
MICHAEL GIRARD: It’s a constant progression. I’d like to say there was a sudden breakthrough, but if I go back and look at my results, it was just slowly but surely, doing Olympic and our first one, I did real well, I think it was like a 2 hours and 30 minutes and then the next year to 2:20 and then it’s 2:15, then 2:10, then 2:05 and we started just chipping away and you’re putting a little more time, you adjust your training, you put a little more structure in your training. The biggest breakthrough is I finally decided I was ready, I had done my 2nd half Ironman and I decided that I was ready to race a full. I think a lot of age groupers kind of jump into, the challenge is the distance and that’s perfectly fine, it’s great, it’s definitely a challenge for the distance, but I’m racing, so my thought is, I’m not going to do it until I’m ready to commit to the training time to be competitive. So, I finally decided I was going to, my wife gave me permission for a year to give this a shot and I put a structured plan together. I actually read the Triathletes Training Bible on a tip from another coach and put together my training plan. Used training peaks, put together the weekly schedules, the periodization and just went about putting together steady consistent training and you know, you put a time goal out there and you always have that in your mind as a goal, but as you go along, you start seeing, okay, I think I can go faster than that, I think I can go a little faster. Pretty quickly the bar starts dropping and pretty soon you’re thinking, okay, it’s not going to be about breaking 10 hours and the race I did was Ironman Wisconsin for my first Ironman, then pretty soon it’s not about breaking 9:45, now you’re thinking, okay, this actually might, looking at previous times, I think I can place, I think I can place probably in the top three and that’s a realistic goal.
So, I guess kind of going the Ironman Wisconsin story, earlier that season I did Kansas, it was actually my third 70.3 and that was probably my breakthrough race in that I went into that race realizing I had pretty good speed, I had done a half marathon, shattered my PR, I think I went like a 1:17 or 1:16 or something, I think my previous best was 1:21, so shattered my PR, didn’t even really taper for it, just out the blue I’m like wow, I’m running really well. So, three weeks later I have Kansas 70.3 and I show up and I ride my pace, ride my numbers and I come off the bike and I think I was 2nd or 3rd in the age group, and I’m like wow, this is crazy. Here’s guys that have been top of the age group in the country for years and years and here I am, just five minutes behind this one guy and ahead of this other guy and another guy in front of me was Adam Zucco, the guy behind me is Scott Iott who have been in the top of their age group for years and years and it was crazy and kind of a neat story. Then I suddenly realized that right behind me is actually Rachel Joyce, cause I ended up between the first and second female pros and we’re clocking the exact same pace and I’m just staying ahead of Scott where I’m matching him pace for pace and Kansas, I’m going to miss that course cause I had, I think, 8 or 10 opportunities where you double back on the course and you could see your competitor and you could literally take splits and you knew exactly if you were gaining or losing time. It was a real exciting race and I just dug in and put together a great result, shattered my PR and realized, wow, if I can run that pace, then going into Wisconsin, I should have a good shot at placing top there and even qualifying for Kona. I got the agreement from my wife that I could train for a second year if I qualified and had to race in Hawaii.
BRAD BROWN: Why Ironman Michael? There’s obviously lots of distances, that distance, for a lot of people, it’s difficult to wrap your head around, but for you, why was the Ironman distance the distance you chose?
MICHAEL GIRARD: Well, you know, it’s just that new challenge. I will say, I think 70.3 is a more fun race and it can be equally challenging to go fast because it’s definitely dramatically faster. You know, Ironman’s a mixed bag. The challenge there is probably to be able to put in the amount of train volume and staying healthy and then having a smart and well executed the race. The challenge isn’t the speed, it’s really a pretty slow race. You’re spending almost the entire race slowing yourself down and telling yourself ‘don’t go too fast’ until you get so much past the halfway point in the run and then you have to start digging in, but it’s really a pretty slow race because you put in so much volume that going at that speed, that long isn’t hard. It’s a different challenge and maybe it’s just the competitiveness. Ultimately, all the best athletes are doing Ironman, that’s what they’re gunning for, that’s what their focus is, so if you want to race the best, then you’ve got to show up and do well at the regional Ironman and then qualify for Kona, cause that’s really where the top of the competition is, especially with all the expansion Ironman’s added the races, the regional races really are not as competitive as they were, I think, 4-5 years ago. The top one or two, still incredibly fast, but it gets a lot thinner beyond that point. So, you really have to show up to Kona each year if you want to reach the absolute best.
BRAD BROWN: As far as the buildup to that first season where you did your first Ironman and then the second season into Kona, were you self-coached or did you seek help?
MICHAEL GIRARD: I was actually self-coached. It really surprised a lot of people, even with using the, there’s a virtual coach on Training Peaks, so here I am, you know, I’m just using the virtual coach and just kind of, you know, read through the book, kind of understanding the physiology of how I need to build fitness and what some strategies are, but bottom line is, you just put in the consistent work, you put in the volume, you pay attention, getting enough recovery so you can put in the quality and just, I think if you have some natural athleticism, you’ve learnt over time, you’ve learnt pacing, you’ve learnt how to listen to your body and know, can I do more, do I need to back off, if you’re kind of hammering through training a little bit like a robot and saying, boy, I’m just destroyed today, but I’m going to push on anyhow, the truth is, you push yourself over the edge and the next day you’re totally destroyed and you just start digging yourself a hole.
It’s really that balance of knowing what you need and how hard you can push yourself. On the other hand, you’re only accountable to yourself and ultimately every athlete is, but having that coach telling you that this is what you should do today and you’re kept accountable, you kind of don’t want to let your coach down cause she knows, okay, to reach your goals, you need to be doing these workouts and so that’s a secondary motivator. It presents the challenge of having to motivate yourself, but on the other hand, you have the flexibility of doing exactly what you need.
Is having an Ironman coach essential?
BRAD BROWN: If you had to go back, would you do it exactly the same way or would you get a coach?
MICHAEL GIRARD: No, I think I would do it exactly the same way. For me, at the time, with the budget I was allowed by the spouse, it’s another challenge on top of the training, is how can I coach myself and ultimately I ended up becoming a coach through my successes as well. I taught myself a lot about coaching. I’ll say if money was no object, I think I still would have benefitted from a coach and there’s more I could have gained and maybe more I could have learned, but on the other hand, there’s a sense of self-pride that I was able to accomplish what I did, just relying on myself.
BRAD BROWN: Michael, you mentioned three things in that, just talking about coaching yourself and I’m going to say the three things and I want you to tell me what they mean to you. The first one was consistency and you mentioned the consistency of training. The second one was quality and the third one was recovery. How important are those three aspects in training for an Ironman?
MICHAEL GIRARD: I mean like I say, you probably pointed out, that’s really a triangle of everything. If you’re not consistent, you can’t progressively build that fitness. It’s amazing what a couple of days off, or if you pick up a running injury, I often say, it’s like a 3:1 rule, a minimum, if you lose a week of training, if you’re off for a week running, you threw away three weeks of training and you set yourself back almost a month. Even a very minor injury, you can throw away a whole month of training. So you get a major injury, you can toss your entire season. Any gains you would have found are thrown away, so it really dictates, especially running, which is so easy to get injured, it really dictates paying attention to that quality, but keeping consistency, always being maybe on the top of that triangle and then recovery, they really do all feed on each other, almost like that recycling symbol, in a sense, if you recover well, you can put in the quality and if you pay attention to doing the right amount of quality, not too much, then you can put in the consistency.
I think the mistake people make, especially running, I think triathlon tends to be very run focused in the end because running is so sensitive, you can’t just jump into running 50 miles a week. You can jump right into swimming 20 000 – 30 000 yards a week, you’ll be really tired, but you’re probably not going to get injured. You can jump into cycling 300-400 miles in a week, it sounds crazy, but there’s amateurs doing it. If you stop running and stop swimming and just bike, you can do it. You’ll be totally spent and you’ll have to ride most of that very easy, but you’re not going to get injured. The challenge with running is that as you get fatigued, your mechanics change and when your mechanics change, that’s when you get injured. I’d even propose that you talk to elite runners and such and you ask them, hey, when you got that hamstring injury or that calf injury or whatever injury you had, I bet you were highly fatigued and you were in the middle of a faster interval workout or something and almost all of them will say yeah, actually I was.
You’ve really got to be careful, just that one extra set of tempo running or V02 intervals or whatever on the track, is that really going to make you faster or is the risk of getting injured going to put you behind and within that pyramid or triangle, are you rested enough to even do that workout. Did you just do a hard cycling workout the day before or that morning, are your legs too blitzed to put in that kind of quality. So, it’s always bouncing those three of recovery and the quality and putting in the consistency.
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you talk about the quality, one thing I’ve picked up chatting to a lot of the age groupers that I chat to is that very few of them, if any of them, go out and do a session just for the sake of doing a session, there’s always an outcome. If a session is a recovery session, that’s the outcome, but they don’t just go do a session for the sake of doing the session, are you exactly the same?
MICHAEL GIRARD: Yeah, I’ll say so. I will say, biking in particular though, once I get out there and say my goal was to ride, sometimes I’m just going to put in a 90 minute tempo ride, it’s not very complicated, it’s not a bunch of intervals, it’s really quite simple, ride moderately hard for 90 minutes, but it puts in solid training volume without a lot of fatigue, but if I get out there and pretty quickly 80-85% is hard, then I know that that workout is done, there is no way I’m going to complete that workout, my legs aren’t there. I’m better off converting that into more just an easier workout and then rearrange my schedule and try that workout again. You have to have some flexibility as well, but absolutely, everything has to still have a purpose for sure. It’s putting your weekly plan together and see how those pieces fit together and the best amateurs know when they can do hard workouts, the days they’re going to have to have recovery and how they’re going to feel. You can’t just throw the building blocks together, you’ve got to put some logical sense together with it.
What makes Ironman Kona special?
BRAD BROWN: I asked you a while ago ‘why Ironman’ and I’m going to ask you the same question about Kona, why Kona?
MICHAEL GIRARD: You know, I guess it should be obvious, but like I said, it’s where the best athletes are, it’s a great destination race. There’s probably some places I’d probably rather, I’d say weather-wise, especially the last few years, I think Oahu or somewhere else may have been a better climate. It was pretty uncomfortably hot and humid. It’s one thing to be in the lower 80’s and be humid, but it was pushing 90 every day there and the sun was screaming all afternoon and it was quite the, I guess if nothing else, it’s epic. There’s little else you can say. No matter what happens, that race is going to be epic. The combination of the course, the weather and the fact that all the best in the world are there, so you go out there and have, obviously everyone is pushing themselves, so if you can execute a good race, that by itself, with everyone trying to push themselves just a little harder, you can have a great day, even if maybe by your own standards it was only an average race. A lot of people are pushing themselves over the edge there, that’s for sure, and it’s really an amazing atmosphere, just all the energy and everyone is there for one purpose and they all worked hard to get there.
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about that feeling, the first time you arrive on that big island to race in Kona, stepping off the airplane, what does that feel like?
MICHAEL GIRARD: Well, it’s hot and humid, coming from Michigan, you try to acclimate, but you realize how warm it’s going to be. The airport is outdoors, so right off the bat, it’s welcome to Kona, it’s 90 and humid right now, but it’s funny, you’re getting your luggage and you realize at that point, pretty much everyone there is for the race. So funny story, I’m there getting luggage and chatted with a guy and not thinking much of it, I’m like, ‘what’s your name’, ‘Tyler’, okay, then I’m thinking, okay, so how’d you qualify. He said, ‘well, there’s a points system’, I’m like oh, I’m such an idiot, he’s a pro, so it was Tyler Butterfield who ended up, I believe finishing 4th or 5th, had a great race there, so it’s kind of funny, there you are, you’re waiting for your bicycle to come off the plane, just like everyone else and you’re all in the same boat. You all worked hard to get there and you’re all there kind of for the same purpose, to have a great race.
BRAD BROWN: How intimidating is that?
MICHAEL GIRARD: You know, in some ways it is, some ways it isn’t, maybe because I qualified my first Ironman, for me, it’s such a privilege. I didn’t have to put in the years and years of trying again and again to qualify. I hadn’t been doing this for a decade, so you know, my expectations are a bit lower. I was going to go in there and put the best race I could, but I don’t know, I’ve never been overly star-struck. I get excited, but on the other hand I realize they’re normal people and I’m in awe of what they can do but I kind of, it’s a bit surreal in the end. I’m out for, I think for my first swim, out and off the pier and low and behold, I’m in the shower of all things, you’re rinsing off afterwards and oh hey, there’s Rachel Joyce again. So I took a moment to say hi cause I actually had sent her my race bib after Kansas and she was kind enough to autograph it, so I wished her good luck at Kona and it’s just kind of funny, they’re normal people. Obviously they have different things they’re doing that week and they may even be a bit more focused, for sure, than I would be, but you know, it’s really cool. You earned the right to be there, as much as they did and everyone is just so excited to race and soaking in the atmosphere.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me about your pre-race, do you have any rituals, are there certain things you do in the days leading up, the day before, what do you do before an Ironman, particularly before Kona?
MICHAEL GIRARD: It’s a pretty progressive taper. One of the things I do in taper is actually my intensity increases a bit, but the duration drops substantially. I’m doing some harder intervals and such. Kona was a little different, you only get one opportunity, a few opportunities to be there, so I probably rode my bike a lot more than I probably normally would. I took the opportunity, went out there and rode and got a feel for what kind of speed I’m seeing in my race kit and what the weather feels like. There, because of the climate being so different for me, it was a chance to see, what does it feel like. I see people running in the morning and I’m like, why are you running in the morning, get your butt out there in the middle afternoon, the heat of the afternoon and see what that’s like and you get out there and it’s like wow! It’s just amazing, it’s 90 some degrees, it’s humid and the sun is streaming on you and you’re out there running and it’s like wow, this is hot! That’s your pre-race, is just trying to get a feel for it, spending time outdoors, drinking lots of water, but getting a feel for what the weather is going to be like and I do a lot of mental preparation, just trying to visualize having a good race. I think you always have to stay positive. You’re going to have down times, but visualizing being fast and riding strong at those critical moments and getting off the bike and having good legs and running well. You visualize yourself running down that finish knowing you maybe had a PR, had a great race and finished well. If you stay positive, it’s amazing, you can make a difficult day a true accomplishment if you just stay positive and race within what your body gives you that day.
BRAD BROWN: It’s very much a mental thing and fighting demons within you on race day. Yes, you’re racing against the best in the world, what are some of the strategies you employ, like you say, we all go through bad patches and dark times, how do you dig yourself out of one of those during a race, when you’re really struggling?
Getting out of an Ironman black hole
MICHAEL GIRARD: It’s really important, in training as well as in racing, to stay engaged. I’m a big proponent of, I never have an iPod, occasionally I’ll listen to a podcast on a trainer, but it’s just an easy spin. I don’t know if I’ll ever own [Oahu Kicker?] for example, one of those, cause it dictates the pace for you somewhat. With a conventional trainer, you have to be engaged, you have to make yourself ride at the pace that you need to, so when you get out there on race day, you kind of evaluate, okay, how do my legs feel, what are they going to give me today. I have a target for Power, obviously use Power meter like most, but in the end, you kind of have to evaluate how you feel and when it makes sense to go and when it makes sense to conserve a little bit. It’s just a matter that staying engaged and staying involved with what you have to do to accomplish your goals and not being overly focused, but not saying, I’m going to ride 250 watts no matter what cause I think anybody that says that is probably going to set themselves up for failure.
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about your first race in Kona and the experience of the race itself. How did the race go, tell me a bit about it?
MICHAEL GIRARD: It’s a little mixed. You know what happens, I never quite got down to the race weight that I wanted, maybe everyone says that, but I was probably a few pounds heavier than I was at Wisconsin. On the plus side, maybe you’re a little strong, you can manage your energy levels better, carrying a little extra weight, but I knew that compared to my competition, in particular on the bike, my strengths, I’ve really [bowed?] in my aerodynamics, so I knew I’m probably more aerodynamic than most of the guys in the field and I’m a little heavier, my power to weight ratio is [worse?]. Right off the bat I knew I couldn’t hang with them up the hills, but I knew I could pass them on the down hills. It actually worked really great because it’s a very rolling course, extremely rolling course. Every time I came to a hill, in order to stay legal, I let them pass me. So I let people go by me on the hill, I just stuck to whatever wattage, maximum wattage I thought was reasonable and it allowed me to stay legal, then on the down hills I could pass them without having to put any effort in, conversely, otherwise you’re going to get bunched up and you’re having to burn all these matches trying to keep at a legal draft distance.
Ultimately everyone is fast, there’s a lot of riders on the road, a lot of people are coming out of the water right at that one hour mark, so if you have a good strategy and really it worked perfectly. It’s so rolling in the early part of the course, I was able to ride almost a steady wattage the whole first 20-30 miles and really rarely ever had to put in effort to burn any matches. So, really, it was exciting, and again, I really liked hanging out some corners, so there’s some really technical turns early on, just coming out of town and I think, I looked back at some of those segments, there’s a lot of bike splits there and I think I was among, not that you can search all the amateurs, but I think I was looking at my speed and I know [Kienle?] was a little faster on the downhill and Dan Stubleski, one of the fastest amateur cyclists, he was just, I think a tenth faster than me, but I think I clocked still at about 40 miles an hour on one of the early segments and most people are like 32/35, they’re laying on the brakes for that turn and I’m just hanging it out. What do you have to lose, I’m still riding within myself, use up the whole road and it’s free speed. If you have good aero and you have good bike handling skills, there’s a lot of free speed to be had on any course and I took that opportunity and just rode steady.
It’s really about the bike on that course. The runs going to be hard, but you get to the climb, heading up to [Huvvie?] and the wind picks it, it was actually good news for me. The wind picked up, because I knew I wasn’t going to climb with these guys, but we had a solid head wind, so it kind of neutralized the climbers and I’m looking down, I’m staying within my wattage and low and behold, I’m still gaining ground and making up places. I was worried I was going to lose a lot of time there, but I ended up making up some time and then we turned around to the tail wind, the descent and as usual, the wind shifts right at that point and you don’t get a tail wind, you get a cross tail wind and then pretty soon it’s a cross wind, then pretty soon it’s a head wind again. As things usually are, you know, I didn’t get the big speed I was hoping on some of those descents. I don’t know if I hardly ever spun out, to be honest, you just didn’t have the big speeds I was expecting on those descents, but just stuck to my wattage, kept sticking in nutrition and late in the bike it got real hard, it got real high. I think I looked at my bike computer and I think it was 103 off the pavement, so I don’t know what that is in Celsius, I don’t know, it’s crazy high!
Conditions in Kona are trying
It’s humid and they took away the last water station at the airport this year – go figure – and I’m getting towards town, I’m like man, I’m out of water, this is not how I want to start the run. It worked out okay, but I ended up soft pedaling probably the last couple of miles through town, just took it easy, realized there’s no more places to gain. About 30 miles out I’m kind of realizing there’s not many people around, so I’m like hey, I’ve pretty much ridden myself up towards the front of the race, which is really cool and I hit transition, [nail?] my flying dismount and low and behold, I’m riding the shoot right behind, of all people, Adam Zucco, I’ll mention again, who is one of the fellow coaches, actually the head coach and so pretty much that was mission accomplished. He’s a faster swimmer, so I was like, you know, my goal was to ride up to Adam and I accomplished that and put on the running shoes and all I can say is, it was hot! You’re in transition and it’s unbelievable how hot you felt and you got out on the run and immediately you had to readjust your expectations.
You knew that whatever pace you thought you could run, even in the heat, you had to knock it down because you knew there was no way you were going to sustain that in that type of condition. It’s tough because I’d ridden myself up to, I think 7th in my age group and probably about top 30 or so of the amateurs and it’s tough because then you realize, I’m going to get blown away on the run, that’s the reality. I’m not a sub 9 guy on a challenging course, so it was a bit of a dose of reality as guys were just running past me. I had a joke with them because like, I’m watching these guys pass me and they’re running like 6-30 pace and like there is no way in hell these guys are running sub 3 in this heat and no one did. No amateurs ran, I don’t think any amateur ran a sub 3 and these guys are flying past me and I’m like, yeah, see you guys later! They slowed down, I never caught them again, unfortunately, most of them, but there was some carnage out there for sure!
BRAD BROWN: Were you satisfied with your race? If you had to go back, would you do anything different, the way you approached the race itself in Kona?
MICHAEL GIRARD: You know, I thought about that a lot. I didn’t have the run I wanted. I think in the end I did the best I could that day. If anything else, I would have liked to have gone back there maybe 4/5 pounds lighter, closer to my weight the previous year and I think that might have made enough of a difference, I could have gone out there and run more steady. I ended up walking through all the aid stations rather than maybe slowing down to a jog, although Frodeno walked all the aid stations too, so apparently that’s a good strategy, so I didn’t feel so bad. When I passed him in the opposite direction, he was hitting the last aid station, just about to make his turn back into town and I was like, I told another guy next to me, ‘hey, he’s walking too, so I guess it’s okay for us to walk the aid stations as well!’
I don’t think really because in the end I could say, well, you know, I wanted to bike a little faster, but given the conditions, it was a solid bike split, so if I had ridden harder, I might have grenaded my legs for the run and ended up going even slower. I’d say overall I really executed about the best race I could. If I was to change anything I think I would have lined up further upfront on the swim. Listening to others, it turns out a lot of more average swimmers push themselves to the front, which I thought was crap, really, that’s BS, if you’re a 1:05, 1:10 swimmer, you don’t have any business on the front two rows and they kind of squished the field down a little bit, early on. No one knows why, but they narrowed the start line and it was kind of mayhem right at the start. You’re treading water with about, I don’t know, two feet of space. You’re treading water like you’re this little midget, you’re hands are about one inch away from your body, that’s all the room you have and it was kind of a bummer.
Really, ultimately, you got out there and what happened is this field [had to invert?] itself, there were so many slower swimmers up front. Don’t get me wrong, these guys finished near the front, but they were fast runners, slower swimmers, but there was a lot of 1:10, 1:05 swimmers right up front and they had a nice, easy swim. The rest of us had to figure out how to get around them, so you got out there pretty quickly, there’s nowhere to go right, there’s nowhere to go left, you know you can go faster than the guy in front of you, but there’s no way around them, but then you also realize you’d like to slow down but you can’t because if you slow down at all, you’ll get run over. Pretty much the pace got dictated really early and it was past the halfway point before it freed up enough that I could actually swim my own pace. I guess I’d have liked to have swum a little better is the only thing I could probably change, but it could have been a lot worse.
One guy who I actually finished out of the water with right next to and I think three or four of the last half races and when I did Ironman Wisconsin, he swam like a 1:08 or 1:10, he really had a very slow swim for what he’s capable of. A lot of people just had some awful swims there. There was a pretty tough current coming back and I think if you weren’t in a pack when that current hit you, you were really going to struggle coming back in, for sure.
BRAD BROWN: When are you going back Michael?
Getting the Ironman balance right
MICHAEL GIRARD: I don’t know. I think I told my wife, it’s definitely a few years off doing Ironman. I’m dropping the training down quite a bit, so I’m just going to do 70.3 for a while. The World’s for 70.3 is coming back to the States, so I think I’ve passed each of the last 4 times I’ve done 70.3, so I think I’ll finally maybe take a slot and maybe give that race a try, just fight the draft packs. All I hear about Worlds is how incredibly congested it is, so I don’t know if I’m looking forward to that, but you know, it will be a good challenge and it will be a fun race. I think that’s my focus for a couple of years and I know it’ll be a while. Ironman, it’s going to be tough because by the time I get back to it in a few years, reality is I’m probably not going to be as fast as I was, so it’s a matter of changing your expectations for the age group you’re in, I guess. It’ll be more age group racing than probably overall racing, but it’ll still be fun. It’ll be exciting to see some of the fast guys that continue to move their way through the age groups. I think you’ll still see some of the 45+ age groups being impressively fast in the coming years, so we’ll see.
BRAD BROWN: You’ve mentioned your wife a couple of times, how do you get that balance right between training, family and work?
MICHAEL GIRARD: I probably don’t! I’m still married, so the good news is I’m doing it well enough, but it’s hard. I think I definitely push the envelope there. It’s really a big time suck, for sure. The best thing I try to do is I get a little less sleep, I’m very strategic with the sleep, so I cut myself short during the week, which you’ve got to be careful. It can be counterproductive. I’m not quite ready to take the leap of faith thinking that if [I get 8?] hours sleep every night, that chopping 5/6 hours of training a week is going to offset that, I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s somewhere in between the two, but you get up early, you get in a couple of hour workout in the morning and maybe I go for a run at work during lunch and then a couple of days a week I’ll get a workout in the evening. I try to keep my evenings pretty well free and you just kind of get real strategic about when you squeeze workouts in. At some point you cut back on the long rides, you say, okay, if I just get away with a long ride once a month that’s good enough. One of the things I do with running is I run at a much higher frequency and that eliminates the need for an extremely long run. That kind of shifts that time commitment out a little bit. I don’t have a three hour run ever. In fact in training, I think once I’ve run over 2.5 hours, maybe twice. I don’t do any extreme long runs and it’s squeezing in workouts where you can in the end. If you only have 45 minutes and your legs feel pretty fresh then you hop on the trainer and hammer out some hard intervals for 45 minutes.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant. Michael, thank you so much for your time. I’m going to get you back on to chat a little bit about swimming, cycling and running and a bit about nutrition another time. I want to thank you for your time today to tell us a little bit about your story and your journey to Kona, much appreciated.