Barrett Brandon is a professional triathlete traveling the world chasing ITU points to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. He is returning home from back-to-back top 10s in South America. This former collegiate national champion has raced in 25 different countries to date. Fortunately the globe trotting pro had time to talk with slowtwitch.
Slowtwitch: You spent much of 2010 trying to move up the ITU points list but were derailed by numerous random and unusual incidents. Now you're starting off 2011 with back-to-back top 10s and have jumped nearly 80 spots on the ITU points list. Must feel good.
Barrett: Yes! I had some unfortunate things happen last year. Some were in my control and some weren’t. Probably the hardest thing to deal with was getting sick (food poisoning) for the last two World Cups of the year and having to drop out of both.
Even these two races weren’t without incident as I was delayed 25hrs in Toronto before my race in Chile and crashed in La Paz, but you have to roll with what happens. Stressing out does nothing but make things worse! Consistency throughout the year is key, and it was a great way to start the season. I look forward to building on these races as the year progresses.
ST: Last year you raced abroad 10 times including 3 separate trips to Asia. All that travel must take its toll, how do you cope?
Barrett: Yes, it is true that I race overseas quite a bit. Last I counted I had raced in 25 different countries. In 2008, I lived and raced in France for 5 months on the Grand Prix Circuit and raced almost every weekend, usually to buy bread and cheese on the following Monday.
I have quite the reputation as a journeyman pro who travels to races, but almost all my traveling has been out of financial necessity. I love ITU racing, but it is not a lucrative way to be a professional in the sport. Up until last year, I received no funding and had to finance my own ITU racing schedule. If you know what you are doing, plan well, and can handle the travel, Asia pays quite well. Europe is the same way. Many race directors and local organizing committees are much more athlete-friendly than in the USA in terms of the support they provide. It is a hard way to race, but sometimes it is cheaper to go to Jinzhou, China than to New York City!
Travel does take its toll on your body. I have a set routine when I travel and I have figured out how to make my body adapt and adjust the quickest and best it can. Last year I traveled a lot, but I tried to space it out over the year. I started racing in February and finished in November, so there was a lot of time to fit in those races. I also planned several races with big travel back-to-back and then had large blocks of time between races to recover and rest.
ST: How do you deal with the boredom of travel?
Barrett: I read a lot of in-flight magazines, watch a lot of terrible movies, and spend way too much time playing mindless games on my iTouch. Mostly I try to get my work done before I leave so that travel is stress free and relaxing once the plane takes off. People watching is also another great way to kill time in an airport or a customs line!
ST: What type of athletic background do you come from?
Barrett: I come from an athletic family (My dad was a 4:09 miler in High School back in the 60’s), but like many ITU athletes I come from a predominately swim-orientated background. I started swimming competitively when I was 8, and swam all the way until College at the University of Nebraska. Now I train with my swimming club (FAST Swimming). I also ran track and cross-country in High School, but the focus was always on swimming. After 2 years of swimming at Nebraska, the men’s team was cut due to budget concerns and that was kind of the impetus for me to pursue triathlon.
ST: When did you know you had the potential to compete as a professional triathlete?
Barrett: When the Nebraska Men’s team was cut, I was pretty disillusioned with swimming and the whole situation put a big strain on my love for the sport. I still wanted to compete as an athlete, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to transfer to another school to swim. I bought a bike, signed up for the Buffalo Springs 70.3, and came within about 5 minutes of qualifying for Ironman Hawaii. I realized I had some talent and I really enjoyed triathlon. I raced a few more races as an age-grouper, was identified by the USAT recruitment program and started racing as an U23 my second season. The first race where I felt I had a future in the sport was when I won 2004 Collegiate Nationals. It was the first big race where I felt I could compete with other really good triathletes.
ST: What are you goals in 2011 and what would be a perfect season for you?
Barrett: I don’t know if you can have a perfect season…but if I was able to accumulate enough points this year to be eligible for the May 2012 WCS race, which will serve as the USA’s 2nd Olympic qualifier, that would come close. In 2011 I will do a mix of ITU races and the USAT new Elite Series and may also include some non non-drafting races as well. It is hard to set quantifiable goals as at this point I don’t even know exactly what races I am doing yet. A lot depends on which races I get into later in the year. This is the nature of ITU racing for the USA. Having said that, I would like to have several top 10’s at ITU World Cups, win another ITU Continental Cup, and finish on the podium at some of USAT Elite series races.
ST: You’re often in the front pack of the swim, but the trend in ITU has been large bike groups coming together for the 40k. That must be frustrating for a strong swimmer like you.
Barrett: It can be frustrating for me to come out of the water in front and then get caught by a massive pack behind, but that is the sport. One thing most people don’t understand is how fast the swim had gotten in ITU. It is incredible how well nearly everyone swims now. Time gaps out of the swim are getting smaller, and races (especially WCS) are more often coming together. I don’t think this is necessarily good or bad, but part of the evolution of our sport. The frustrating part is when you are in a small group that gets away in the swim and you commit to the break on the bike, only to get swallowed up by a huge pack of slow swimmers after flogging yourself for 30 kilometers.
ST: How hard is it to have a complete race? Better said, how difficult is to have ideal swim, bike and run legs in an ITU race.
Barrett: Very difficult. When looking back and assessing your race, it is rare you have what I would call a complete race. There are always places where you make mistakes, and areas in which you are weak or can improve on. One of the toughest things in ITU racing is translating your training fitness into race results. Race-day execution is very tough as things often don’t go the way you planned or predicted. I can only think to several times in my career where I felt I had a complete race. Those races ended up being big breakthrough races for me.
ST: What happened in La Paz?
Barrett: Oh La Paz. What a crazy race! La Paz has a rich history in triathlon. This year was the 27th year they have had the event. The race has this elusive feel to it as it is an 8hr bus ride from Buenos Aires. Normally, just getting there is an adventure. The whole town really supports the race, and it feels like you are in the Tour de France when you are racing.
Normally it is really hot. All week and even race day it was 100 degrees. When we started it was clear and sunny. I had a great swim, made the first pack of 10 athletes, and we were starting to put some serious time into the chase group. Then the storm hit.
In literally 5 minutes it went from sunny to black, hot to cold, and not windy to gale force winds. The wind was blowing so hard branches were falling off trees, cones were blowing all over the road, and at times there was so much dust you couldn’t see 5 feet in front of you. On one of the U-turns in the course, a giant cloud of dust hit our pack and I couldn’t see. I rode straight into the back wheel of Manny Huerta and crashed pretty hard. I bounced back up, but the front pack was gone. Then the rain came. It rained so hard that the streets flooded within a few minutes. The roads were like ice and people were crashing everywhere. It was like a giant slip and slide.
After a Brazilian fractured his elbow in a crash, the Referee decided to shorten the bike in the middle of race. You know things are bad when they are actually worried for your safety in South America! At some points during the last lap of the bike, we were riding through water up to our skewers. I could have swum down main street. When we arrived into T2 they had volunteers holding our transition baskets in place so they didn’t float into the river.
The flooding was so bad it was even difficult to run for the first few kilometers. Some parts felt like we were doing high-knee running drills. At times it was comical, and at times I was scared to death. I ended up 9th, but I will definitely remember La Paz 2011 for the rest of my life!
ST: What are your opinions on WTC’s new 5i50 series and the effect it will have for pros?
Barrett: On one hand, as a professional triathlete, I think anything that increases prize money and exposure for races is a good thing. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily agree with WTC’s aggressive acquisition of all competitors and what they have done in the sport. I don’t think it is good for triathlon for one company/brand/organization, driven only by the bottom line, to own every major race at every distance. I have to say that it is a great business model though!
I would like the WTC to look to marathon running as an example of how to run and promote their business. The New York Road Runners, for example, do a phenomenal job of using elite marathoners to promote their races and those elites to drive amateur interest in the sport. I think this model would work well for triathlon and would promote long-term growth in the sport and also provide financial viability for professional triathletes.
ST: Talking about Pro triathletes, how did that pic with Dirk Bockel come up?
Barrett: I went to Luxembourg to do a training camp with Dirk. He was doing a photo shoot and at the end we were screwing around. We are actually knee deep in lake water running out of the bushes. We thought it would be pretty funny.
ST: Who are your sponsors and how do they allow you to compete at such a high level?
Barrett: I have had some great support over the years. I have been with Powerbar and for the last 6 years and Profile-Design for the last 5 years and Kiwami has provided me with tri suits for the last 2 years. I have also had some generous support from individuals.
Without the help of these people I could not do what I do. Having great companies and people that support you is very important when you are racing and training all over the world.
ST: What’s your best advice to age groupers who want to lower their times?
Barrett: Be consistent. Consistency over time will trump any one super-session you do. Keep things simple, train hard, and be consistent with what you do.
Check out Barrett Brandon’s blog: barrettbrandon.blogspot.com