A year ago, Greg Bennett basically closed the door to a run at Kona in his 40th year and said he would devote himself to joining wife Laura on team USA at the London Olympics [if she qualifies at San Diego]. Funny how life twists and turns around the best laid plans.
Today he is prepared to hit the start line at the Asia-Pacific Championship Ironman at Melbourne Australia. And thanks to his decision not to pursue small qualifying races around the globe, he does not have enough points to make the start for the big ITU World Championship Series race in San Diego in May – the final US Men’s Olympic Triathlon qualifier.
Ironically, it was his impressive victory at the Olympic distance 5150 Championship race at Hy-Vee last September that gave him a unique opportunity at the three big World Triathlon Corporation championship events this year. Because he won the WTC 5150 World Championship, Bennett now can race the 5150, the Ironman 70.3 and the Ironman world championship events if he validates his entries by simply finishing WTC races at each of the distances this year.
Melbourne is his first stop on the validation trail. While he plans to stay in the hunt as long as possible at Melbourne, his Ironman eyes are completely and absolutely on the prize at Kona.
Slowtwitch: Last time we checked, it seemed as if Ironman was off your career bucket list. Or was that Kona only? What if anything changed?
Greg Bennett: Kona has always been something I've wanted to experience. It’s just been very difficult to fit it into a career path which is focused on short power racing. After winning the Ironman 5150 Championship [at Hy-Vee] in 2011, I was offered a start at each of the Ironman Championship events (5150, 70.3 and Ironman Kona), as long as I validate with a finish at each distance. September and October will be huge months and I'm very excited about taking on all three championships.
ST: I always thought you would be great at Ironman. What made Melbourne seem like a good idea?
Greg: Thanks for the confidence in me. I actually believe my true talent is true threshold power… hence I've stayed with the big money power racing. I don't come into this Ironman racing with tremendous confidence. I respect the distance and I'm in awe of the great athletes that race at this distance.
ST: When did you get the idea to resume your Ironman ambitions at age 40?
Greg: In mid January I was told about my Kona start and my need to validate this start with a finish at another Ironman. Melbourne was the obvious choice. The timing of Melbourne would be perfect as it was near the end of my conditioning phase of training. I also knew that Mirinda Carfrae, Belinda Granger, Luke McKenzie and Justin Granger would all be training for Melbourne here in Noosa and I liked the idea of a few training partners for my first.
ST: What special preparation did you do to ready yourself for the rigors of 112 miles on the bike and a marathon?
Greg: The swim and run have largely stayed the same as conditioning work in previous years. I added some more miles to the bike. The biggest focus has been the nutrition. I contacted an old friend and ex-sponsor Robert Kunz from 1st Endurance. Robert has been brilliant in helping me get through the training and prepare for race day.
ST: With a split focus between Olympic and Ironman distances, how do you focus?
Greg: My focus now has been to prepare enough to validate my start for Kona. I'm a long way from peak shape but I'm happy with where my conditioning is.
ST: Is Melbourne a personal quest to see how well you can do at really long course? Or is this a stone cold competitive effort against a great field? Or both?
Greg: Until I'm in the race I have no clue of where I will be. My focus is to try and position myself as long as possible in the race for the win -- that may be 100 meters into the swim or all the way to the finish. Beyond this, my goal is to finish with as little damage as possible and validate my start for Kona. My biggest concern is my natural competitiveness. I will have to manage this in the Ironman in order to not blow myself to pieces. My weakness going long is that I don't have an in built limiter… the body is not very good at giving me signs to slow down. I feel great and then Bam! I'm completely blown. I have to position myself in the race and then focus on myself – and this does not come naturally.
ST: How fit are you?
Greg: If peak shape is a 10/10 and fitness after 3 months off is a 1/10 I would put myself at about 6 or 7 tenths. Not enough to smash an Ironman but enough to get some feedback from the event and help prepare me for Kona in 7 months time.
ST: I know your dear wife Laura is incredibly supportive. But did she really think this was a good idea at first?
Greg: Laura has been more than supportive. She has actually done nearly all the training with me. She's had a solid condoning phase of training this year and now she's ready to start doing some threshold/speed work to get her ready for her trials in May. We both are big believers of experiencing as much as possible… ideally together. When this opportunity cam knocking she was 100% behind me. Laura has been great at keeping me grounded and looking at the big picture… it's about validation for the championship and no more. To say I'm a lucky man is a huge understatement.
ST: OK. What does this mean in terms of your previously stated goal to try for the 2012 Olympics? Does the fact that all three US men's slots are open for London encourage you in your quest? Given that you were a bit behind on points, does that mean that it's all or nothing at San Diego in May?
Greg: At this point, if no American men get a top 9 in San Diego Olympic Trials in May, then one position opens up for discretion. This would be my only chance of making the team. I have not done the small points races around the world to earn a start for San Diego. Obviously, I'd love to be on the team with Laura (still to qualify) to London and I have not shut the door to this opportunity but that will be entirely up to the USA selectors. In a dream world, I'd race London playing a domestic role and then go do the three Ironman Championships… that would be a brilliant 40th B'Day year!
ST: Can preparing for Ironman early in the year transfer to a higher state of fitness for ITU Olympic distance speed by May?
Greg: Most professional athletes are finishing up huge conditioning phases of training now as they lead into the year. The fact that I've added an Ironman at the end of my phase is simply icing on the cake. I think people would be surprised the mileage of short course ITU or non-drafting athletes in the conditioning phase -- not much different that the Ironman prep just a little more focused in different areas. Laying the ground work for a successful season is all about a solid base.
ST: Great field - best in the world until Kona. What does this mean for the sport in Australia?
Greg: We were so fortunate in the 90's to have the Triathlon Grand Prix series -- live TV, huge crowds, great professional fields and very intense racing with even better post-event parties. When Australia hit the ‘naughts, the Grand Prix ended and there has been a void ever since. The Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne has created a huge buzz down here in Australia. It’s fantastic to see the quality of field especially with Crowie and Rinny being the odds-on favorites for the men’s and woman's fields.
ST: Many thanks!