The Normannator gets a fit, checks out Boulder
Written by: Timothy Carlson
Date: Wed Dec 17 2008
A lesser man with normal insecurities might be feeling the heat. After all, Stadler signed on for fewer races, misfired for his German sponsors at Frankfurt, and is now 0-for2 at Kona. But a man of Stadlerís singular talents maintains his champion's confidence, sure that with a few centimeters adjustment to his bike fit and a couple of sessions in the lab to determine his sweat rate and mineral composition he was just a few ticks away from another dominating, even-year triumph.
But more than a little re-tailoring for his bike fit, Stadler was also scouting out Boulder for a new venue for his crucial pre-Kona preparation. After 10 years doing the hard yards in San Diego, Stadler is considering adopting the Obama motto: Change is good. A little discouraged by minus-seven Fahrenheit snowstorm upon arrival, he still toughed out a dawn run with Retul sales executive Lars Finanger and envisioned a much pleasanter stay in late summer, joining rivals Craig Alexander and Tim DeBoom on Boulderís mountain trails and roads.
What Stadler proved this year with taking the lead at Mile 5 of the run and holding it through Mile 13 was that despite an off day, he is still one of the few straws that stir the drink on the Queen K and Alii Drive. Knowing what went wrong and taking steps to correct the flaws, he is left with an unquenchable optimism that getting older means wiser and better on the quest for a third Kona triumph.
Stadler answered a few questions during his session at Retul technology in Boulder, trying to regain and improve upon the bike fit he had in 2006 that led his record 4:18 split Ė and the win.
Normann Stadler: Yes. Usually I can push hard from the beginning and this day I could not. I was riding fast but I was not comfortable. We go all the same speed in the beginning. Then I go 2-3km faster to catch the leaders. Usually I catch them by the airport or nearby. This time I catch them at Waikoloa or Kawaihae. And I was really really tired catching them. And then I felt my legs.
ST: All your training with same bike, same bike setup?
Normann: Yeah. But I never go that hard. Even if you try, you don't go that fast after a 3-4 kilometer swim. When I caught the group I had no power to go. Then my legs came back past the turnaround. Then I try to go and it worked. But it was still not like 2006 when I was smiling to John Duke on the course and waving and saying hello. So, no. I was fighting it.
ST: You looked crowded on the saddle. Were your knees bumping into your elbows?
Normann: Not that I know. But I said I am very compact and had some problems cramping in the butt. And my legs were tired.
ST: Perhaps that aggravated any salt problems you might have had?
Normann: You know already on the bike you will suffer on the run. Because your legs are already tired. Thatís not usual, nor normal for me at Kona.
Normann: You mean room time wise or different position?
ST: Between your knees and elbows.
Normann: But you know I change the bike in mid season and you need some tests but we have no time for tests. I still rode 4:29:56 ( third behind Ain Alar Juhanson and Torbjorn Sindballe). I was still fast with the wind and everything. I think it didnít make a difference on speed, but it did affect how I ran. I don't think I can go much faster on the bike with a different position. But the run was bad.
ST: Crowie is not a pure biker. Look at him in that picture, he is sitting almost straight up. But he says he got more power and had more energy left for the run in that position (fit by Retul).
Normann: He is waiting. He knows he can run 2:40-something. He is not a biker.
ST: When you are not cramped you have your best race. Somewhere between Crowieís upright position what you did last year is the golden mean?
Normann: Yes. So what we do now. Hopefully it works. I think it will work. So we are close to my position from 2006.
ST: What led you to Retul?
Normann: Franko contacted me last year and we are talking about Retul. Then you know pro teams show up here. Every second counts in the Tour de France time trials or a Pro Tour time trial. So they know what to do and itís worth trying. Iím getting older and have a few years left and every second I can save itís important. But mostly I like Franko Vatterot (CEO of Retul). He ran the Tri Dubai team and we had good relations. That's more important than anything else. To have a good feelingÖ
Normann: They are the leader right now in bike fitting and I am sure I will improve my total time. My feeling. I donít know if I improve my bike time.
ST: Perhaps a combination of 4:21 bike and 2:50 run?
Normann: No 4:30 bike and 2:50 run is also good depending on conditions. I am not a bad runner. My background is running and I never proved it. Thatís my problem. Maybe sometimes I go too hard on the bike to take the lead. But now in the end who cares. It's winning this race.
ST: You always set up your own bike?
Normann: Triathlete are different to cyclists. They change the saddle the day before the race.
The aerobar or whatever. The pedals I change the day before the race in 2002. My totally new pedals because my sponsors said you have to ride the new ones. Hah. (Stadler ended up walking at the Energy Lab) There is still big, big room to be more professional in bike fitting. So triathletes can ride. We are strong. But what we do in technical matters itís like amateur sport. It's crazy.
ST: What other tests have you done on bike fit?
Normann: I did some tests with SRM, with Uli Schoberer or, the owner of SRM, based in Colorado. I went there. We did some tests on an indoor track. But itís different fitting for a pro cyclist. They go only one hour. They donít have to run. But I have to run after so the fitting is a little bit different. Aero -- but comfortable. Not too low. But you know I think my bike fit was OK how I did it. But now every second itís important and to get a good combination of effort and wattage is important.
Normann: I had no salt.
ST: Is that something you normally build into your fluid and nutrition intake? Or did that problem arise for the first time on the day?
Normann: Normally the sodium in the Gatorade and the power gels are enough for me. But on the way out to the turnaround in Hawi, I saw my shoulder was covered in white. It was salt. This had never happened to me before. Then I started cramping.
ST: Why did it go like that?
Normann: I donít know. I think as you get older, maybe your body changes. When I go home, I will do some tests with my minerals and what I need at high exercise levels. How much I sweat, whatís in the sweat.
ST: You havenít done that before?
ST: Last year when had gastrointestinal problems, that was sad. But this year, it seems as if you were truly ready. Was it more heartbreaking?
Normann: Last year (stomach problems) happened to many (Germans including Faris Al-Sultan, Jan Raphael, and Thomas Hellriegel). Something was wrong with food or water or whatever. But this year I think it was just my problem. In prior years, I took no salt. Only the sodium in the gels or in the drink.
Normann: No. Usually it is enough what is in the Gatorade or in the gels. This year it was hot, hot hot conditions.
ST: Youíve had hotter, windier and more humid conditions from year to year in Kona. But not all at once?
Normann: I don't know. It was tough conditions.
ST: You seemed to bike harder after the turnaround. Did your legs feel better?
Normann: Yes. But not like I am used to.
ST: When you started to run, it seemed to go well for at least a little bit. You passed Torbjorn at the turnaround and took the lead.
Normann: Yeah. But the first time it started cramping was coming back on Alii Drive at Lava Java, after a little downhill (about 7 miles into the run). So I started cramping and I go ĎOK, maybe I run through it.í It worked up Palani Drive, but on the Queen K it got worse.
ST: So you were in the lead from the turnaround until when?
Normann: Half marathon.
ST: Was Eneko Llanos running with you that whole time?
Normann: He was close behind me from the start of the run. I controlled my pace and then he passed me when I got problems. At first I tried to go with him and it worked. But then, the cramps hit again.
ST: How much did those compression socks help?
Normann: They work. At home on the long runs, in training, I used the socks.
ST: How do they make you feel?
Normann: With compression, you don't get tired so fast. I think the most important thing is here. ( POINTS TO HIS HEAD ) For it to work, you have to believe in it. And now I do. Last year I said I will never ever use those socks because they look PAUSE stupid. I like to look good. But you know they work and I used them.
ST: You make them look cool.
Normann: I dunno about that. But yah, they are working for me.
Normann: Because my bike wasn't that good this year and I know that Crowie is not far behind, I have to go fast.
ST: You have an all or nothing mentality?
Normann: I know I can run close to 2:50 something. 2:51 or 2:52. So if I have a normal bike, they have to run 2:41-2:42. Something like that.
ST: Is it more disappointing to finish 6th or give it your all and fall to 12th? Is it your aim always to contend for the win?
Normann: To finish 4th is much better than 12th. But sure. The same as this year or last year, I go out to win. But you also take what you can get.
ST: Things looked so painful. Any temptation not to finish?
Normann: No no. I finished 12th and I walked minimum half an hour. So I did that.
ST: This leave you with optimism for next year?
Normann: Sure. And my main competitors know how the race could go without my cramps so I am still a factor and I know I am still in the lead with all those other guys.
ST: People who know the sport have no doubts about you. But how do people from Dresdner-Kleinwort look at you with two disappointing finishes at Kona?
Normann: You know Iím the captain of a team and thatís why I finished. You know my young guy (Mathias Hecht) passed me and finished 8th. Maybe another captain would stop racing and drop out of it, thinking ĎMy young guy passed me and itís a shame.í But I am very proud I can finish 12th. No big deal. That is what the sponsor likes to see. That I fight for 12th place and not quit.
Normann: That is not true this year. I did a training camp with Haile Gebrselassie a few years ago. But this year in San Diego we did more volume, more kilometers, and more longer runs.
ST: Greg Bennett told us he had Mattias Hecht do a 50 kilometer run as part of his training before the race.
NS: One morning we did a 44km run Ė and in the afternoon we did run training for one hour. Speed work, legwork. All in all we did big big volume and had no problems, no injuries. So at the end of that training marathon, I was running under 4 minutes per kilometer. Maybe 3:45 pace. So with all the volume in biking and swimming it was good. I think I will continue to need more mileage running.
ST: Was it faster than race pace?
Normann: Faster than race pace, yes.
ST: Is it always your mentality to go to the front?
Normann: I canít usually sit in the pack. I canít. It's so stressful to sit in the pack. Because all the rules and the 10 meters and you think ĎOh is it 10 meters or is it 7í? You look at the race marshals and they look at you. So I go. Sometimes it is working. Sometimes it's not.
Normann: He knows what happened to him in the race. He tells the brake cable snapped. So, more than that, I have no idea what he did and the reason he quit. But I knew that Crowie would be in front. I know that Llanos would be in front after Frankfurt. Rutger Beke was good. Marino had a bad day. I donít know why? Maybe he did some training at altitude.
ST: Mathias Hecht trained with you? It turns out that was excellent preparation for you and your younger Dresdner Kleinwort teammates.
Normann: The three of us - Mattias, me, and Maik Twelsiek. He is young, first time at Hawaii and he finished 13th. Yeah.
ST: Did you consider Andy Potts a threat?
Normann: I had no idea what Andy Potts was doing. I never saw him. When I passed him I had no idea who he is.
ST: As it turned out he said he never ran more than 14 miles. He had never ridden more than 70 miles.
Normann: This is what he told you.
ST: Will a guy like Andreas Raelert be strong next year?
Normann: No. You know he ran 4:37 something at Arizona. It was fast course and it was a good day. So, Arizona and Hawaii are totally different. If the wind is like last year again this year, itís so different from any other race. You canít take the time from Arizona and compare. He is a good swimmer and great runner but after the bike at Kona you have to run 2:40-something to win.
ST: He has to run what he ran at Arizona -- after a good bike?
Normann: Yeah. In Hawaii. But is Andy Potts staying long now or he is going to the Olympics again?
ST: He is still planning on returning to the Olympics. And he will only do one Ironman this year. So he will do the short course races like Life Time Fitness and build up for Ironman at the end of the season. Do you sense a changing of the guard at Kona?
Normann: Kona is always the same. Tim (DeBoom) is coming back. Maybe Peter (Reid) is coming back. They both know how to win and they try to go with me or some cyclists and it will be a different race. But Andy Potts wasn't a factor for me. Not in my head. All the factors I had in my head were not that many. Crowie, Marino, Rutger maybe. Macca. Faris.
ST: Why would Timo Bracht be so flaky as to not stop at the penalty tent when asked by the marshals?
Normann: Because you then lose the group and you have to ride by yourself. I saw it. He had the yellow card. I was right behind him. And he was arguing with the race marshals. Then I saw him on Alii Drive and I thought. ĎHe must have run so fast to catch the group again.í But he didnít stop. So, then you canít argue afterwards and say, ĎOh I didnít know.í
Normann: And then I will race (Quelle Challenge) Roth. That will be my first time there with good preparation. I did it years ago right after I turned to Ironman. But it didnít work.
ST: Why now?
Normann: I had no contract for next year with Frankfurt. I like something new. I don't have to qualify for Hawaii so I donít need to do an Ironman. And I think it is better to race Macca and all those guys only once a year. You donít need to race them twice. Less pressure. And I do my best races with less pressure.
ST: Except for Hawaii.
Normann: It will be just me and the Roth course. Not to fight with Macca. Itís the place where Thomas (Hellriegel) did the 4:14. So Iíd like to see where I stand. The course is interesting and matches my strengths. It is a very fast bike course and a dead flat run course on good trails surfaces. The swim is up and down in the canal. Not technical. Yeah, I canít wait to do Roth.
ST: Will it feel better to do one big race and some more small races before Kona?
Normann: I did the German national half. I won. I did a few run races - 10ks and half marathons. My 10k best was 30:59 long time ago but not this year. Last year at Nationals half marathon I did a 1:09. It was in March and little bit warmer than this, but still cold.
ST: Donít you get nervous doing so few races for the season and leaving it all up to Kona?
Normann: You need some races but you donít need three Ironmans. Itís better that I do my training, my volume, and I donít have to travel around the world to survive. So I focus on Roth and try to win Roth. Torbjorn Sindballe and Kieran Doe and a few other good guys will be there.
ST: Have you been in vicinity of Torbjorn on the bike?
Normann: In 2006 I was in the lead all day and finished first. In 2005, I had mechanical problems and was out when he set the record. At Kona, he is strong but he is a big guy. And so I think in Kona he wonít go much faster with his run than he is now. He canít handle the heat in Kona.
ST: He looks like a professor chasing butterflies with his long socks and Foreign legion hat and white gear.
Normann: Yeah. If it is working for him, itís good. He is a nice guy. And he is racing. He is not sitting there, waiting. If he has a good day, he goes. That is what I like.
Normann: Many. In Germany now, we donít have many good professional sports besides Formula One. So, with all the problems in cycling, triathlon is very high.
ST: Thanks a lot to Jan Frodeno winning Olympic gold.
Normann: Thanks to Jan Frodeno. Now, itís getting better and better. Now we have seven hour live coverage at Ironman Frankfurt. Also Roth is live on TV. And Iím not famous but people know me and know my face. So it is important to be in non-sport magazines. You know? There they know your face. In sport magazines you are always hidden behind your helmet, your glasses. People don't know you. You have to go to fashion magazines and menís Health and GST. I was in all of those.
ST: Also your striking good looks mark you as a good model.
Normann: I am already engaged. Her name is Sonja Schuster. She is a professional model. She is more in magazines than me. See. ( SHOWS BEAUTIFUL PICTURE on HIS CELL PHONE CAMERA. ) She is better looking than me! LAUGHS.
ST: Hopefully the kids look like the mom.
Normann: Fuck you! LAUGHS.
ST: Will you move somewhere outside Germany, perhaps to Boulder?
Normann: I donít know. I like it here but if we have kids, they have to like it too.
ST: Why Boulder now?
Normann: For the last 10 years I train in San Diego just before Kona. San Diego is getting so crowded and so much traffic and so many stop signs and lights. Iím a team leader now and I think itís a good place for training here.
ST: As long as you go down the right time before the race?
Normann: Yes. Enough people they can help us and I think it is different training at high altitude than sea level. Crowie lives here and all the other big names. So I think it is not bad to make some changes. Changes for good.
I like it. You know right now itís too cold for me. I donít like it like that. But summertime it is great. It sounds funny, but compared to Germany, prices for houses are cheap here. And I think if I am only here for one two three years, itís worth it. Maybe itís the last three years of my career I do a change and come here maybe.
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