From Addiction to IRONMAN Champion

Colin Cook was the top age grouper at the recent IRONMAN Florida in a time of 8:53:01 and finally beat that sub-9 target, but it has not always been smooth sailing for this family man with 4 kids. He had a history with drugs and alcohol but said that his family and triathlon saved his life. He is however aware that triathlon is another form of addiction.

Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Colin.

Colin Cook: Thank you very much Herbert. It’s a real honor to be here.

ST: With IRONMAN Florida behind you, what is now on schedule for you for the next couple months?

Colin: I’ll be laying low on the training front through the holidays. My family makes a lot of sacrifices for me in order to do everything that I do so I’ll be enjoying some extra time with them while also putting a little extra time into my businesses.

ST: Was Florida a race you had targeted all along or had you wanted to race a different event but ended up in Florida because of all these COVID-19 related race cancellations?

Colin: I don’t think anyone will be surprised or not be able to relate when I say 2020 has been a strange year. I actually had no plans to do an IRONMAN in 2020. I planned to do 3-4 70.3 events and stay pretty local. However, when the COVID madness kicked in, the required travel for my day job stopped and I was able to be home more. As a result, I was able to train a bit more and do some really fun stuff that wasn’t even on my radar prior to COVID. I ran a couple virtual marathons in the first half of the year with some friends, rode the amazing 6 Gaps ride in Vermont with a great group of friends, and continued to mix it up this year. From there, the IRONMAN craving kicked in and I decided to sign up for Florida. I actually ended up being able to race in 2 other triathlons in New Hampshire this year - the Live Free And Tri Half and the Sunapee Triathlon, but I didn’t really fully commit to Florida until an email came out from IRONMAN confirming that they still intended to try to put on the race which was about 2 months out from the race.

ST: Did you fly or drive to Florida from New Hampshire?

Colin: A friend of mine and I flew to Atlanta and then drove down to Panama from there. We did end up having an unexpected challenge when both of us missed emails that our flight got moved from Wednesday to Thursday. We managed to change to an option that had a connecting flight and still get to Atlanta on Wednesday, but we spent an extra 5 hours traveling and it made for a late night.

ST: Wow, your flight was just moved to a day later?

Colin: Correct. In fairness to the airline, they sent us 3 or 4 notifications about changes to our flight, but the first few times it was to change the flight time by a few minutes so by the last email, we didn’t look very closely at it. I won’t make that mistake again.

ST: I hear you, but still. What did you do there until the race started with seemingly not many places to go?

Colin: Due to the delay in our travel to Atlanta, instead of getting about halfway to Panama City on Wednesday night, we ended up staying just outside of Atlanta and then making the 5 hour drive Thursday morning. By the time we got there we checked into our Air B&B and the race, Thursday was pretty much shot besides getting some dinner. However, I really didn’t notice any limitations when it came to things to do. On Friday, I was able to float, which I am a very big fan of. Unfortunately, the float studio in Panama City had recently closed so we had to make the 45-minute drive to Destin to get my float in. Besides eating and getting everything ready to go for the race, we were pretty much at our condo relaxing and doing a little work.

ST: I had to Google search floating, and maybe you can explain it to our readers. Because I thought about the folks in my swim lane who just lay on their backs and take up more than half the lane.

Colin: Yes, when I reference floating, it’s not the same as the floaters you see just floating in the lanes at your local pool. Floating or floatation therapy is when you float in a pod, room, or tank filled with about 10 inches of water with over 1000 pounds of Epsom salt in it. The water is extremely buoyant so it allows you to float effortlessly in it. The water is around 93.5 degrees (Fahrenheit) which is just below the body’s core temperature so it aids in putting your body in an extremely relaxed state. The Epsom salt is great for muscle recovery, but it allows your body and your mind to decompress. It can significantly help with reducing stress and put you in a deeper meditative state as well as many other benefits.

ST: Around the venue how well do you think was masking and social distancing handled?

Colin: The masking and social distancing was handled extremely well. IRONMAN clearly went above and beyond to ensure everyone was staying as safe as possible. They were thorough with the temperature checking and health checks anytime anyone entered the expo or transition area. They had everything marked and taped to ensure distancing, and there were signs and volunteers everywhere enforcing it. I was really impressed and felt very comfortable with everything.

ST: What about race morning, what was the adapted scenario like?

Colin: Besides getting your temperature checked, answering the health questions, and wearing a mask until seconds before hitting the water, it felt pretty close to a normal race morning. Mike Reilly was on the mic as usual, keeping everyone informed and getting us amped up for the race. I saw Chris Nikic a few times and it was really inspiring. I’m pretty social on and off the course so I chatted with a few of my neighbors in transition and there was a lot of appreciation and excitement in the air.

ST: Your EMJ team mate Steve Jackson won that event outright in 2018, but this time just like in 2019 quite a few pros were there. Did that have any impact on your strategy and goals?

Colin: Going into this race, I really only had one goal and that was to break 9 hours. While I knew Steve and some other terrific athletes would be out there, I really wasn’t concerned with what he or anyone else in the field were doing. I just wanted to race my race and hopefully go sub 9. While often times I am not a huge fan of time goals because of all the factors that play into it, it’s something I’ve been chasing for years and that was my focus. With that, I truly believe age groupers deliver their best results when they focus purely on themselves and their goals. When properly executed, most people end up with much better results and placement when they stay within themselves.

ST: How did the swim go for you?

Colin: I wasn’t thrilled with my swim. Like most people, I had some forced time off from swimming earlier in the year, and didn’t really get back to swimming 3 times a week regularly until around August. Nonetheless, my swim was feeling pretty solid heading into the race and when it was announced that it would be a wetsuit legal swim, I was happy and expected to swim right around an hour. However, the water was pretty choppy and there was a good amount of congestion on the second lap when trying to get through the people still on their first lap. I was definitely a bit disappointed to come out of the water and see almost 1:05 on my watch, but I didn’t sweat it much.

ST: Back in New Hampshire how much ocean swimming do you get to do, and how long of a season to swim outside do you have?

Colin: I live a little over an hour from the ocean so I actually don’t get much ocean swimming in. However, we have quite a few beautiful lakes in my neck of the woods so we have some great open water options. Our Spring and Fall seasons can bring such different conditions each year that our open water swim availability can really vary. On a good year, we’re hitting the open water in mid to late April and we’re able to continue swimming outside until late October.

ST: Talk about the bike segment.

Colin: I had never done this race and didn’t get to preride much of the course, but I knew it would be flat and fast. I had heard a lot about issues with drafting with it being such a flat course so I was curious to see if there were issues I saw with that. However, my focus was just sticking to my numbers. The course started off with mostly a headwind for the first 30-35 miles so my average speed was a bit lower than I was hoping for, but it seemed like everyone was doing a pretty good job of playing by the rules, which was nice to see. I was also impressed with the amount of officials I saw regulating the course. I did end up with a group in the early portion of the ride which was helpful for pacing, but after that first section, we ended up with a significant tailwind and the group dismantled. I caught glimpses of the pros at the out and back sections and it’s always fun to see who is leading the race. I did notice Steve 20+ minutes ahead of me each time as well and was in awe of how strong of a swimmer and rider he is. I did have some struggles staying comfortable in my aero position and ended up shifting around quite a bit trying to get comfortable. Other than that, it was a great ride and my fastest IM bike split to date. I was able to maintain a very steady power (Avg power 245, NP 249) throughout the ride and was really happy with my time coming off the bike because I knew it put me in a really good position to break 9.

ST: You mentioned being uncomfortable in the aero position. Was that due to lack of time on the triathlon bike leading up to the race or maybe a position that is too aggressive?

Colin: Yes, I believe this was primarily due to the lack of time on my triathlon bike. I was refit earlier this year and we actually made my position slightly less aggressive so I don’t think my fit was too far off, but given the issues I had, I will be reevaluating that soon and probably changing saddles.

ST: With the staggered start was it hard to figure out where you were overall in the scheme of things?

Colin: Yes, that is the real challenge I have with rolling starts. While there is no doubt it’s safer even prior to COVID-19 to use this format, I miss the days of knowing everyone started at the same time. However, I really had no idea what place I was in all the way to the finish line. I did get word I was in 5th for the amateur race heading out for the 2nd lap, but it was hard to know what lap people were on once I was out on the 2nd loop. When I passed Steve on the 2nd lap of the run, I figured I must have been towards the front, but it wasn’t until I crossed the line that it was confirmed that I was the first amateur.

ST: How good did you feel during the marathon?

Colin: My legs actually felt a touch wobbly coming off the bike and my back was a little tight so I was slightly concerned with how the run would go. However, my running was feeling very strong heading into the race, the conditions weren’t too warm, and with such a flat course, I was very confident heading out on the run. Knowing a sub 3:05 marathon would help me achieve my goal, I took it out a bit conservative. I am a very big fan of proper pacing at the start of the run and maintaining a slightly slower pace than what I plan to average for the marathon.

ST: That sub 3 certainly looked good and in the end you had just about 6 minutes on the next age grouper and 6:40 on your teammate Steve Jackson. Once you realized you had it, how much did you push at the end?

Colin: It was a bit surreal heading towards the finish line. Since I knew I had sub 9 pretty much in the bag, I decided not to push too much to the finish. I did my best to be very present and appreciate that my goal was coming to fruition. It would have been awesome to share the experience with some fans at the finish line, but it was still extremely gratifying heading down the chute and I soaked it all in.

ST: With the conservative start, how much did you negative split the second half?

Colin: I actually did not negative split the run. Knowing I was ahead of pace to finish under 9 hours, I did not get too aggressive on the 2nd half of the run and take any unnecessary risks. I have however negative split multiple Ironman runs.

ST: You apparently trained at home on Zwift to get ready for the race?

Colin: Yes, I am a big fan of Zwift and do train indoors regularly. I do the majority of my training in the early morning and only rode outside a handful of times during my prep. I lead group rides on there every Tuesday and Thursday morning with clients and members of my triathlon club. It’s such a great way to ride with others even if everyone is at different abilities and fitness levels. I also joined the Zwift league on one of the EMJ teams and that has been super fun.

ST: Do you run on Zwift too?

Colin: I consider myself still a newcomer to Zwift running. I picked up a Runn sensor last winter and have found it more accurate than some of the foot pods that are available. However, given how flat the Ironman Florida course is, I did do a couple of my long runs on the treadmill to replicate that. They went a lot better than I expected and I do see myself transitioning to doing more running on Zwift moving forward because it definitely helps to pass the time.

ST: With 4 kids you have a large family, so how do you juggle the training and when do you get it in?

Colin: Yes, I actually have a full time job as a Technical Account Manager for a cyber security company, my coaching business, and I also own a wellness center with cryotherapy, floating, light therapy, and other fun stuff, in addition to my 4 kids - my oldest will be 8 next month. So I can assure you I don’t have any trouble filling my day. However, my kids are a lot of fun and I love the challenge of managing how to fit everything in each day. Due to time limitations, my training volume is probably lower than a lot of the other guys I am competing with, but it works well for me. However, they key factors to pulling off this juggling act is having an amazing and supportive wife and planning. I always have a game plan for how I am going to attack the day. It doesn’t always go to plan and I am very accepting of when life happens, and I am going to miss a workout. My training logs have a lot more red and yellow in them than I’d like, but I am extremely fortunate to do things I love every day.

ST: What is your training setup like at home?

Colin: I have a 1200 square foot finished basement that is my office and pain cave. It’s equipped with a Wahoo Kickr with a Kickr e-flex for me, a Wahoo Snap for my son, a treadmill, elliptical for my wife, Infrared sauna, some weights, lots of recovery tools, and I did have a Vasa for years, but I just sold it.

ST: Well, what about swimming? Where do you do most of it?

Colin: Funny you should ask. I currently do most of my swimming in a 25-meter pool at Hampshire Hills athletic club that’s only about 10 minutes from my house and I take my family there regularly. But I purchased a used Endless Pool back in May that I am currently installing in my basement. It’s been one heck of a project, but I am hoping to have it done within the next few weeks - although I’ve been saying that for about 6-7 weeks now. I am really excited to have it and it will allow me to do essentially do all of my training at home, which is very convenient for me and most importantly, makes my wife happy.

ST: Any other interests?

Colin: I wish I had a more interesting response, but with my family, 3+ jobs, and my training, it really doesn’t leave much time for anything else, which I am more than ok with.

ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Colin: I have a history with drugs and alcohol and with the exception of meeting my wife and her helping me get my life back on track, triathlon has saved my life. While it sure was sweet to win the age group race in Florida, it does not surpass how thankful I am for all the amazing people and opportunity that triathlon has brought to me. I love training and the purpose it brings to my life. It has made me realize how critical our mindset is and how powerful a strong mindset can be. To me, the races are icing on the cake and my commitment to living a healthy lifestyle did not change because I had a few races canceled on me this year. I love this sport and will be forever thankful for all that is has done for me.

ST: Some people view triathlon as another kind of addiction.

Colin: I would have to agree with that statement, and I do consider triathlon to be another form of addiction for a lot of people. I do not consider myself to be an exception to that statement, but it’s a lot healthier option for myself and most people.

ST: Well, best of luck.

Colin: Thanks again for having me, Herbert. I really appreciate your time.