Cam Dye is on the rise
Written by: Timothy Carlson
Date: Wed Jul 25 2012
Under the guidance of coach Neal Henderson at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, Dye has maintained his lead pack swim and developed a dominating, fearsome bike that routinely out splits non-drafting stars like Andy Potts, Matt Reed, Andrew Yoder, Greg Bennett and Filip Ospaly by a minute and a half to two and a half minutes.
The question remains: Can he cut two more minutes off his current 32:30 to 34 minute 10k run to become a contender in draft-legal ITU racing and make a run at the 2016 Olympics? With the big picture and a long career in mind, Dyeís coach has charted a patient run training development for the former swimmer that has kept Dye injury free.
Slowtwitch: You had an excellent season in 2011. But this year is better.
Cameron Dye: Last year was definitely a great year for me -- two big Toyota Cup wins starting with Nautica South Beach and finishing with the LA Triathlon. It was the first complete season Iíve had. But this year has definitely been better. I have four wins so far -- Rev3 Costa Rica, the Columbia and Philadelphia triathlons, and 5150 Boulder Peak.
ST: How did this year begin?
Cameron: Rev3 Costa Rica had a good field including Manny Huerta and Leonardo Chacon Ė who are both going to the Olympics Ė and Richie Cunningham, who is having an outstanding year. So to go down there and beat them was a perfect start to the season.
ST: Hilly bike courses played to your strength?
Cameron: Costa Rica was super hilly and so far that has been the theme of the year. The four races Iíve won have all had gigantic hills in them. Living in Boulder and being able to ride those hills year round is an advantage when you get on these hard courses.
Cameron: You need to choose a coach carefully and you have to believe that your coach will get you where you want to go. If you sit back and start questioning everything a coach says, you create a lot of problems. I trust Neal completely and Iíve improved every season Iíve been with him.
ST: What led you to Neal?
Cameron: Three years ago, a group of us here in Boulder were trying to put together a triathlon team. Grant Holicky, my swim coach at the time, had raced XTERRA professionally with Neal and suggested that we meet with him. I had worked with Grant since I was 15. He was my club coach at Rally Sport Aquatics and Iíve always trusted his opinion.
ST: Why did you go with Neal?
Cameron: He pitched us his philosophy of coaching, which is very scientific, very by the numbers and very technologically based. Rides are all about the watts and times and durations. Coming from a swimming background where youíre in a pool and everything is based on time and you have constant feedback Ė it was a very easy decision to go with Neal.
ST: You also have to have a personality synch?
Cameron: Absolutely. You have to get along with your coach. And your coach has to get along with you.
ST: What is Nealís personality?
Cameron: That's the best part about it. I trust him implicitly. Everything he tells me is based on science and experience. And he is very, very good at reading your body language, what youíre saying, what youíre doing and then looks at the numbers and decides whether or not you are going to hit your marks that day. He knows when to push and when to pull back, when you need rest and when he can hammer you a little more. Heís not an old school swim coach trying to break you. He sees every workout as a chance to improve Ė not as a chance to show how hard core he is. He is out there to make us better and I've improved exponentially in the three years Iíve been with him.
ST: Any contact with Olympian Taylor Phinney, another athlete Neal Henderson coaches?
Cameron: Yeah we see him at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. He rides with our group occasionally.
ST: You are a damn good cyclist. But not like Taylor!
Cameron: No. I canít swim with Ryan Lochte and I can't ride with Taylor Phinney and I canít run with Meb Keflezighi. But they can't do all three together like me. So we all have our own thing.
ST: Does Nealís competitive experience help?
Cameron: Neal has a background in competitive cycling and triathlon and heís still a state champ and is up there in nationals every year both on the track and on the road. He understands exactly what we are going through because he has done it himself.
Cameron: I went to the University of Iowa and came out with a degree in finance Ė and swimming. CHUCKLES.
ST: Your best performances?
Cameron: Senior year at Iowa I went 1:38.9 in the 200 yard freestyle. It sounds fast but in the Big 10, it was good for 18th or 19th place at conference. But when you are swimming against guys like three-time Olympic medalist Peter Venderkaay of the University of Michigan, you get a lot better.
ST: Did it discourage you to finish outside the top 10 in Big Ten swimming?
Cameron: I've always preferred to be a medium-sized fish in a huge pond. I was never a fan of being the big fish in a small pond. I wanted to go to a big school and swim against the best.
ST: Did it help you?
Cameron: Absolutely. I was a better swimmer every year I was there. When you train with the best every day and you are racing against Olympians, it helps your growth as an athlete and your competitive drive.
ST: What led you to triathlon?
Cameron: I was born and raised in Boulder and itís always been a triathlon Mecca. Tim DeBoom lived here and I watched him on TV winning the Ironman in 2001 and 2002, which was really inspiring. I did the Boulder Peak triathlon when I was 15 and won the 15-19 age group. I really liked it and basically decided one day I would make a go of professional triathlon. In the meantime I went to college to swim.
ST: So many triathletes come to Boulder but few are from here.
Cameron: As far as I know I am the only one who was born and raised here who has made a go of a professional triathlon career.
ST: Drew Scott is coming along.
Cameron: Yes. He heís made a very good start.
ST: How did you develop triathlon skills?
Cameron: I started at 8 and swam all the way through high school and college. And I ran cross country in high school for a few years.
ST: Your best time at cross country?
Cameron: In high school I ran the 5k right at 16 minutes. I'm not world class by any means, but I was pretty strong. But I didnít run cross country my senior year so I could focus on swimming.
ST: When pure swimmers start to run in triathlons, they are apt to get injured in their eagerness to use their great aerobic engine before their legs are ready.
Cameron: Growing up I played pickup basketball and racquetball and skied as a competitive outlet outside the pool. And running in high school helped prepare me for the transition from swimming.
ST: Did you spend all four years at Iowa swimming?
Cameron: I had to swim because there were no scholarships in triathlon. But as soon as swimming was over, I started running and training for triathlon. I swam with the college team until graduation and raced that summer as an amateur and got my pro card,
ST: Short amateur career?
Cameron: I won the overall amateur titles at Boulder Peak and Chicago that year. Ironically, at the time neither one of those counted toward the pro card. But they were definitely my best races as an amateur.
ST: In 2007-2008, Tim DeBoom started to work with you as a friend and mentor. You mentioned that he helped with your run technique?
Cameron: It was real simple. Turnover. Any time youíre running, get your watch, time it for a minute and count steps. Tim told me to increase my rate to 90 per minute and that was the magic number for me. When I kept my stride rate above 90 that naturally got rid of heel strike and helped establish a good forward lean.
Cameron: My first professional win was Memphis in May in 2009. But the big breakthrough came at St. Anthonyís in 2010. Itís a spring non-drafting classic -- I think of it as triathlon's Paris-Roubaix. I won it and shared the podium with Greg Bennett and Craig Alexander.
ST: With two legends on the podium Ė and you were on the top!
Cameron: Thatís what made it so cool. Not only winning a big race, it was beating the guys you see on all the magazine covers. I thought, ĎWow, I can actually do this. This is no longer a pipe dream. This is reality. You are winning professional triathlons!í It was a sign that my pro career was for real.
ST: How did that race develop?
Cameron: I followed Dustin McLarty out of the water, hit the bike hard and got away. I donít know if guys like Bennett and Alexander realized how far ahead I was or if they just let me ride away because they thought they could run me down. I think they miscalculated. By the time they realized what happened, I was halfway through the run and it was too late to catch me.
ST: Your ace is the swim, and you have a strong bike. But you had to have a good run to win there?
Cameron: I ran 33:34. Craig and Greg ran 31s [Bennett 31:46, Alexander 31:48] and I ended up beating Greg by 15-20 seconds and Crowie by another 5 or 10 seconds.
ST: What did Alexander say to you?
Cameron: I distinctly remember him coming up to me at the after party. He was super gracious and congratulatory. He told me to make sure I enjoyed it., because you only have that first big win once. It was fantastic because he is one of the best in the world and not only did I beat him in a race, he patted me on the back and told me I had great things in my future.
ST: Tell us about your sponsors.
Cameron: Blue Seventy signed me the second I turned pro and theyíve always offered great support. In 2010, I had some good results but Tim DeBoomís reference gave me a foot in the door with Pearl Izumi and theyíve been wonderful ever since. That year, Matt Reed put me in touch with the guys at Kestrel. The pitch was ĎHere is a guy who has a lot of potential.í Then I won my first race on their bike. My sponsors have been extremely supportive and allowed me to make a career out of this.
ST: You did well last year Ė but you had a few setbacks.
Cameron: Last year I was a little bit snakebit. At Austin [CapTex] all the pros but Andy Potts were misdirected in the swim by a man on a Jet Ski and I finished third. At Life Time Fitness in Minneapolis, an age grouper crashed into me as I was leading the pro bikes back into T2. I hit a curb and went down hard and stretched some cartilage and bruised my ribs. I finished 5th, but it cost me 3-4 weeks of hard training I needed for Hy-Vee. I came out of the water there in second or third and I was first on the bike for about 2 miles. Then Ben Collins made a move and most of the field went by me as well. The prize money was still good, but 20th wasnít what I wanted. I recovered and put together a really good race to win at LA and that got me second in the 2011 Toyota Challenge series.
ST: With your Olympic distance success, why did you decide to not to try for the 2012 Olympics?
Cameron: A year ago Neal and I decided I needed to be running around 31 minutes to have a chance in ITU racing and I just had not developed that yet. But I certainly haven't put that Olympic dream to bed for good. So 2016 is still a goal. Until then, I decided to do non-drafting stuff for a couple of years and capitalize on my strengths as a swimmer and biker while learning to run faster. In 2014 or 2015, if I feel I am in position, then Iíll have a go again. If you are going to race ITU, you have to really commit.
ST: Are you confident you will improve your run?
Cameron: If you look at my entire career, every year has gotten better. The increments were big at first and now they are getting smaller. But I still show a steady improvement every year. This year I had a great winter of training and I had an excellent training camp down in Tucson. That was a huge confidence booster to get through that big block of training and then go down to Costa Rica and win.
Cameron: Some triathletes get it and some donít. You canít do one and two hour rides all year long and expect to compete. You have to ride your bike [a lot] to become a better rider. In the winter, we do 4-5 hour super-slow rides once or twice a week to build a base. In March and April we do some hard rides and intervals to create the speed you need to win.
ST: As an advocate of high tech training, do you keep your SRM readouts secret?
Cameron: I have no problem letting people know what output I averaged for a race. That number alone wonít tell you anything.
ST: Your highest average watts at any race? Your lowest?
Cameron: I averaged 367 both at Philly (1st) and at Rev3 Knoxville (2nd). Boulder Peak was 344, but you have to factor in the altitude. Everybody else was putting out less.
ST: What happened to you at CapTex [4th place]?
Cameron: Cap Tex was my fourth race in five weeks. At St. Anthonyís I felt I had a good race and finished 5th. I was 2nd at Rev 3 Knoxville, I won Columbia, which has unrelenting hills and is as hard a bike course as they come. When I got to Cap Tex I just didnít have the pop on the bike I normally do and I didnít run very well. A few weeks later I got some rest and I won Philly.
ST: Where do you stand as a pro?
Cameron: I've gotten to the point where I feel I can toe the line with anybody. Once youíve won a couple races, it gives you the confidence you can hold off everyone who is coming for you. But I still have to improve my run.
ST: Have you reached the point where your legs are tougher and ready for the stress of world class run training?
Cameron: I can certainly handle more miles and more intensity than I could three years ago. If I go back to the ITU, itís hopefully going to be the second coming of Craig Walton. I will swim as fast as ever, then break off the front on the bike.
ST: Your race splits seem to back up that claim. In non-drafting Olympic distance racing this year, youíve proven you can swim first pack, ride 90 seconds to 3 minutes faster on the bike, and hold on with a 90 seconds slower run. But remember that Craig Walton also ran well enough to win several big draft-legal races.
Cameron: Waltonís last year of full time racing was my first year of really doing the Toyota Cup series. That year (2007) Greg Bennett won all the races Ė and he caught Craig in the last mile of almost every run. Greg set a course record in LA that year, and he caught Craig at the end of the run [by six seconds Ė while Dye finished 13th] Last year, I beat Gregís LA race record by eight seconds. I think Greg at his best would have had to push to catch me.
Cameron: I just turned 28. But the best years for short course pro triathletes have historically been between 28 and 34 -- or even older. Greg Bennett won Hy-Vee last year at 39 and Craig Alexander won Ironman Hawaii and the Ironman 70.3 World Championship at 38. So I donít think there is any limit on performing at any set age.
ST: Hy-Vee has the biggest purse in the sport, but Ironman Hawaii dominates the attention of the sponsors and general public. Do you feel non-drafting short course racing is under appreciated?
Cameron: Exactly. There are many first timers and many weekend warriors who do short course races. Many donít want to do an Ironman and they are never going to do an Ironman. I feel many sponsors just dismiss the shorter races because Kona is Ironman and that seems to be the only thing. I would argue that Hy-Vee is as competitive and certainly as important a race because Hy-Vee gets the best competitors from the short distance, the half Ironman and the Ironman distance specialists. You don't see short course guys doing the Ironman.
ST: They eventually do.
Cameron: But they are older and they have lost some speed. Andy Potts is the current exception. He can win at every distance on any given day.
ST: How did you meet your wife Natalie and how does it all work?
Cameron: Natalie and I went to Fairview High School here in Boulder. But I didnít know her back then. We met at a Christmas party in 2009. Right away I knew this was the woman I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I proposed to her at the Amica Sprint Triathlon outside Phoenix in November 2010 and Natalie and I got married early in 2011 at her parentsí house here in Boulder.
ST: How was the ceremony?
Cameron: It was small -- 50 or 60 people. It was my college buddies, her whole family and a lot of my family, several of our friends and some fellow triathletes such as Matt Reed and Kelly Reed, Tim DeBoom and Nicole DeBoom.
ST: You started a family soon thereafter?
Cameron: Our son Liam was born in September, the day after the LA Triathlon. I got home at 9 oíclock and at 11 we went to sleep. Natalie woke me up at 1 AM and we drove to Boulder Community Hospital Ė the same hospital, different branch, where I was born. Like me, Liam is Boulder born and bred.
ST: How has family changed your life?
Cameron: Itís been huge. That was actually a large part of my breakthrough last year. Having that support system around was fantastic. When you are young and youíre single, you go out a lot more and you sleep a lot less. I thrive in married life.
ST: Some new parents say they are sleepless and exhausted. How has it affected you?
Cameron: Itís incredible to have Natalie to come home to, to have undying support all the time. It makes training easier. It makes racing easier. It makes a bad day better. It makes a good day better. And Liam has just been an extension of that. Walking in and seeing his smiling face at the end of the day whether the training went good or bad. It's priceless.
Cameron Dye broke Greg Bennett's hegemony over this race by taking the Kaiser Permanente L.A. Tri in convincing style. Lisa Norden did not give up her stranglehold, three-peating in course record time. 9.25.11
Cameron Dye bested Andy Potts by 47 seconds and Sarah Haskins beat Sara McLarty by 6:06 to win the menís and womenís titles at the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon; several women pros DQíd for missing swim buoys. 6.24.12