Jared Woodford is not your typical athlete with an Elite license. When he isn't racing or training, he is working full time as a commercial pilot. We talked to him about racing Pro, working full time and living his dream.
Slowtwitch: Can you give everyone your quick background?
Jared: Sure. I guess in triathlon I'd be categorized as a "swimmer." But I grew up playing soccer mostly (it happens when you have English parents) and always loving cycling (I can still remember watching Greg Lemond on ABC's Wide World of Sports.) I was never far from the water as a kid though, and have always been swimming during the summers with the local recreational team. When I got into high school I decided to follow swimming more seriously, had a couple of very influential coaches and then was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to swim in college. The summer after my swimming career was over I bought myself a bike and rode across the country. When I got back I entered my first triathlon, and I guess here we are!
ST: So you're a full time pilot for ExpressJet and you have a USAT elite license, how 'pro' would you say you are?
Jared: I always say that I'm just an age-grouper with a pro card, and that’s really the truth. I have the same daily struggle of balancing "real work" with triathlon that every age-grouper has. I have been fortunate to have some success and get to race in the first wave- but my lifestyle is far from that of a typical "pro".
ST: As an 'age-grouper' racing elite, what are some of the benefits you enjoy with that privilege?
Jared: Racing elite has kept me progressing within the sport. I got to the point in most age-group races where I was trying not to lose, rather than racing to win. I think looking behind you is a horrible way to approach things and I needed the change to keep being challenged. I know I can get more out of myself being in the middle of a pro field than in the front of an age-group race.
More candidly though, I have the opportunity to race amongst my sports heroes- and that's something that means a lot to me. I'm sure anyone who has ever picked up a baseball bat has thought about what it would be like to play in the Major Leagues. Pro Triathlon is my Majors. Every race I get to line up alongside the guys that I've looked up to since I entered the sport. All the guys on the front of the magazines are the guys I get to race with, and I don't take that for granted. To be where I am is an age-groupers dream, and one that I am very fortunate to be living.
ST: What's the plausibility of becoming a full time pro? Would you even want to?
Jared: Certainly it could be done, and it's something I have thought about- but when I am really honest with myself, I know that's not the best option for me. There are very few Maccas or Brownlees or Whitfields- and the truth is that I am not one of them, and no amount of training will put me on that list. And I don't think that's selling myself short, it's just being realistic. Sure it'd be fun to up and move to Boulder and be a "pro"- but becoming a pauper who trains all day isn't very responsible. And really what's the end game? I race around for a couple years and then what? I really admire and have a lot of respect for the guys that make that leap, but at the same time I also think that too many get their pro card and make life decisions before they have the athletic results to warrant those changes.
ST: Since there are many other things you have going on in your life besides sport, how do you judge if you're successful in triathlon?
Jared: That’s a good question, and one that I don't yet think I have the answer to. (But I'm working on.) I made the mistake in my swimming career of not appreciating the small successes along the way- I got too far-sighted and missed the journey. I'm trying to not make that mistake in triathlon. At the same time, being artificially content with mediocrity isn't going to keep me progressing, but if at the end I can maximize my potential within the parameters of my ability and commitments, then I'll consider my career a success.
ST: How do your balance your career with your triathlon ambitions?
Jared: It's is a case of time management and being flexible. My coach, Todd Wiley, is really good about giving me a lot of freedom in my weekly schedule. We have a coach/athlete relationship that I know is a lot different from most. I start the week with a list of workouts that need to be done, then I merge it with my airline's work schedule. I have to take when and where I'll be every day and then try to schedule the workout sessions appropriately around that. Meshing 15 workouts and 16 flights (4 days worth) a week can be a logistical nightmare- and some weeks it's more successful than others. There is a lot of trust on his part that I'll get it right.
ST: As a pilot do you have any inside tips for flying with one's bike?
Jared: It's funny you ask- because just this last trip to New Orleans I had to argue my way out of a $100 bike fee as an employee! I got the ticket for free, but they wanted to ding me with a bike fee (absurd). The ticket agents are pretty good about knowing what's a bike and what's not a bike- so I don't think lying about it is such a good idea. My best advice is to know the policies ahead of time- you might save $30 on Expedia on an airfare, but if that particular airline charges up to $200 more for the bike- then it's not such a good deal. Unfortunately, that's how the airlines are right now. There are a few glimmers of hope as Frontier has waved bike fees recently and Southwest is reasonable ($50)- but airlines that charge excessive amounts (like the $200 fee of one particular major) deserve not to be flown.
Fees aside, a few general pointers: Your bike (along with any other bag) will be handled multiple times by multiple people, and the easier your bike is to maneuver, the more gentle those people will be with it. If you load your box/bag with everything you brought for the race, they'll have no choice but to be rough with it. Also, allow more time at check-in if arriving with your bike is important to you. Once you check it, it will be screened, and that takes a lot longer on a bike than on any other bag. Lastly, make sure your name and contact information is both on the outside of your bag AND on the inside - bag tags fall off and airlines have warehouses full of lost items- telling the airline that yours is the "black one with wheels" won't help.
ST: And the million dollar question, are you making money or losing money as a professional?
Jared: Ha! The "million dollar" question? You mean the "$500 sometimes" question! Towards the end of last year I had triathlon just about paying for itself- but I'm sure if I totaled it all up and looked closely my bottom line it wouldn't be so positive. And neither would that of most of us pros.
ST: Let's talk racing, what are your goals in 2011?
Jared: Last year was rough for me. The transition to pro racing and training had me a little unsettled, and along with being transferred to Chicago with my work and a broken arm in June (the day before the Philly race), I was inconsistent at best. This year I have been much more settled and it has shown in my workouts, and most recently in New Orleans. If I can continue that consistency I think I'll have a really strong year.
ST: How do you and your coach decide which events to race?
Jared: We pick races based on when I'll be ready and where I can be competitive. For instance, when we looked at 2011, we knew I wouldn't be ready early in the year. I raced until November last year and then took my off-season seriously, so I needed a few solid months of training before I got back into racing. Also, living in Chicago during the winter isn't the most conducive to being prepped for the early races- so that had to be factored in. Then Todd wanted me to race on consecutive weekends, so there are a lot of races bunched together on my schedule. Because I usually have to come back for work between races, we also look at where I can travel quickly and easily.
ST: Do you have a set plan how to take nutrition during a race?
Jared: I need my race nutrition to simple and easy. At the Olympic distance my only real opportunity to fuel is that sub-hour window on the bike. And whatever I take in has to be quickly absorbed so that I can run at a high intensity afterwards. I've played around with the different customization options from Infinit Nutrition and now use the same personalized formula every race. I will take that bottle on the bike (it's just a little over 200 cal) and if it's really hot, then I'll take a second bottle filled with just water. For me, drinking every 5 minutes over a 40k will ensure I finish the Infinit at a steady rate and also breaks up the ride into manageable segments. A side benefit to the "one bottle" approach is that it makes my travel very easy. I put the two scoops of my Infinit formula in a bottle and toss it in my bike bag ready to be mixed with water on race day. As I said- simple and easy.
ST: Were you satisfied with your 8th place at the inaugural New Orleans 5150?
Jared: I was pleased with my result. As a first race of the year there are always a lot of unknowns, but I think I showed that I have done well through the winter. I also think that I have a lot of room for improvement this year as the weather is breaking here in the Midwest. Obviously as a swimmer, when the race turns to a duathlon it is less than ideal, but I wasn't the only swimmer at that race (including winner Ben Collins) and being upset about it doesn't make the extra run any easier.
ST: And how did Memphis in May go for you?
Jared: With the storms Memphis was a tough day for everyone, age-groupers and pros alike. Because of the TT format that Memphis uses I never was exactly sure where I was placed- but I knew my swim was off, I thought I rode well but then couldn't close on the run like last week. Once we all got out of the rain and they posted results I found all of that to be true, and that I finished 14th.
ST: What do you think of TT starts in tris?
Jared: They are certainly interesting for the athletes and they make you push yourself. That being said, I think they may be better suited for age-group racing. Looking at the Memphis pro results, there were some really small margins between a lot of the places, and had that played out in real time it would have been very exciting to watch. For pro racing to try and gain any legitimacy then we need to capitalize on every opportunity for the sport to be exciting and spectator friendly. Watching a bunch of guys & gals run around in the rain all with different start times isn't going to appeal to the general public. But it was fun!
ST: Generally, are you ok with the domestic racing scene?
Jared: I think the domestic scene, at least in terms of non-drafting events, is pretty good. With the new 5i50 series I think it will make the races more competitive, especially with a foreign influence. Since Hyvee has gone non-drafting the best athletes, who are mostly in ITU, have to find 5i50 races to qualify. They aren't going to let a million-dollar purse go away just because its non-drafting, so I think you'll see a lot more international guys here in the States as the 5i50 events are limited worldwide.
I do think it's really disappointing the lack of high level ITU events in the States or Canada. Not that I'd be racing in them, but as a fan of the sport - and for the sake of our own Elites - I'd love to see one here. USAT is making an effort with their Elite Development Series, but those are far from hosting a World Cup or WCS event. The WCS race in Washington DC in 2009 was amazing, and it's unfortunate that it was not continued.
ST: I know you're a big proponent of supporting your local bike store. What can cyclists gain by creating a two-way relationship with their LBS?
Jared: Having a history with a shop is invaluable. I've been going to, and subsequently riding for, Bike Authority in Cleveland, OH for years now. They know every bike I've been on, they've done all the builds and all of my fitting- they know what I like and what I dislike, and they can make suggestions or changes as needed. They know my equipment as well as I do, and that's important.
And of course somewhere along the line you're going to be in a bind and will need a place to turn. (It seems to happen to me a lot!) If the first time enter the LBS is the time you desperately need your bike fixed because you leave for a race tomorrow (done it) - you can't expect them to work miracles. As you said, it's a two-way relationship.
ST: Lastly, what tips do you have for all the people with full time jobs and loaded work out schedules?
Jared: I think it’s very important to have a plan. Plan each day within each week. I start with a blank piece of paper on Sunday night and draw 7 boxes (one for each day). Then I color in every part of each day I'm going to be at work. What's left are my opportunities to train- and I fill in the workouts accordingly. That being said, don't be afraid to change the plan. By the end of the week I'm usually on schedule v6.0.
Perhaps an even bigger help is to have staple workouts. Have certain workouts over the same course that you do all the time- whether it be the same 40mi bike ride, a 7 mile run etc. This makes them repeatable, requires less planning and easier to get out the door on a long day. You'll also get to know exactly how long it will take you to complete the workout (including getting everything ready and then put away) and that'll make scheduling a bit easier.
ST: I can't let you go without asking; how much time per week do you spend on Slowtwitch?
Jared: Haha- probably more than I'd like to admit. I lurk a lot more than I post. What else am I supposed to do when a flight is delayed?!? Actually though, ST has been a great tool. There is a lot of wonderful information on this site and on the forum - as long as you aren't missing workouts to read it! And keep it all in perspective. There's a place for the clincher vs tubular debate, and it's not before you've done the bike workouts - the tires won't ride themselves.