Canadian Jeff Symonds won the Ironman Asia Pacific Championships in Melbourne, Australia with a very tough and somewhat ugly run, and has thus collected a golden Kona ticket, a nice pay check and legions of new rabid fans. Symonds is no stranger to the top of the podium and that includes 2 wins at Challenge Penticton, but Ironman branded titles had escaped him. That now is changed, and while he was still on cloud 9 we had a few words with him.
Slowtwitch: Well Jeff that was quite a show you put on in Melbourne.
Jeff Symonds: Thanks! It is definitely going down as one of the top moments of my career so far! Pretty exciting just to get my first ever Ironman branded (including Ironman 70.3) win!
ST: Those last few miles you appeared to run delirious, but once across the line you sounded very clear. What do you remember about those final few miles?
I think the same thing that everyone thinks in the last 4k of an Ironman, "just get to the finish line". I don't think anybody feels good at that point in the race so even though I was hearing that the gap was continuing to open, it still felt like some could catch up. Asics Australia did a promotion where they gave a free pair of shoes to the age grouper who ran the fastest km split from 40-41 km and I wanted to run a really good time there. I had planned on picking it up there, but I was already full on when I hit that point. It was crazy watching the video of me coming down the finish line because I remember running perfectly straight! It was kind of like that scene from the Wolf of Wall Street where he crashes his Ferrari.
ST: As you prepared in Canada for this race, how had you imagined how this race might go?
Jeff: I actually spent the two months leading up to the race in Australia. I got to Australia at the end of January and raced Challenge Melbourne and Geelong 70.3 the next weekend. I then went up to Bendigo to train with Leon Griffin (fellow Argon-18 teammate) and the incredible Triathlon community up there. The hospitality and training up there was wicked. I met a bunch of great guys and now have a new Australian home! Before that I was back in Penticton for the month of December and January but that was really just recovering from Bahrain and the 2014 season and getting back into the swing of things. I was coaching spinning in Penticton so that helped with the riding. The running was another story – we had a record snowfall and then a massive melt and freeze so the ice was pretty treacherous. Needless to say I was happy to get to Australia to do the Ironman prep!
ST: Word has it that you hate running on the treadmill. So I guess that meant many cold runs.
Jeff: I hate the treadmill! It is a torture tool. I usually end up injured when running on the treadmill too. So I try to avoid it at all costs. So yes, the month of January had some very cold, very slippery runs. I managed to give myself a pretty good bruise slipping on some ice during a transition run. First thought that went through my mind as I was going down wasn't am I okay?, it was I wish I was in Australia! Maybe a curse word or two as well.
ST: Who is coaching you right now and what words of advice were you given as you headed to the airport to fly to Australia?
Jeff: Kevin Cutjar is still my coach. We’ve been together since day one and things have been progressing at a nice, steady pace each year so we are happy where we are at. Kevin has a lot of experience at both the Ironman and Ultraman distance so he’s got a good grasp on patience and mental toughness so most of our talks are around that. He's an Australian who came over here to race Ironman Canada and never left. He told me to enjoy the experience and take in the culture. I think his exact words were - watch Australian TV because their commercial and news programs that would never be shown Canada. Racing wise he reminded me that I had a great build into Challenge Bahrain and despite taking an end of season break, the fitness was still there. He was right!
ST: When you got there did all go well, including all bags arrived?
Jeff: Everything went super smooth. My bags were seriously heavy and I thought I could save some room and just buy Powerbar Perform when I got arrived. As it turns out you can't by Perform in Australia so my girlfriend had to Air Freight me some for race day with a really nice note that said - This cost me $84 so you better @#()*#$_ win Ironman Melbourne! - Sophia.
ST: Have you or will you buy her something special?
Jeff: Well, I got her a Burqa after Bahrain so it really can’t get any better then that. There’s been a lot of talk from her about a ring, so I think she wants a new cell phone or something. Can’t quite figure it out.
ST: I am sure you will figure it out. But rumor has it she will get you a doll?
Jeff: My girlfriend said she's going to get me a personalized bobble head now after all the comments on it! She is pretty creative when it comes to gifts. She’s gotten me personalized bike stickers in the past, things engraved etc, and for Christmas this year she got a huge steel race medal holder personally made for me that says GET UGLY across the top with cut outs of a guy swimming, biking, and running. My 30th birthday is the weekend before Kona so it really wouldn’t surprise me if she did something like that!
ST: On race morning as you headed towards the water, what went through your mind?
Jeff: Get out quick! I had an awful start at Geelong70.3 and I figured if I could improve on that nailed the run out and Dolphin dives I could swim could get in a good pack and set myself up for a great day. Everything was just focused on the process and what I needed to do with a few start line dance moves thrown in to keep things fun!
ST: Talk about the swim.
Jeff: I ended up having the start I wanted but ultimately was a bit disappointed with my swim. I had been crushing it in the pool and reservoir up in Bendigo so I had some high hopes. When I heard I was four minutes back out of the water, for about a second I felt a bit worried but quickly discarded my wetsuit and those thoughts in transition and focused back in on the process. I just followed Taylor Swift's advice and shook it off.
ST: Do you often heed Taylor Swift’s advice?
Jeff: More often then I’d like to admit. But seriously, anyone who is able to remain still when that song comes on is depriving themselves of a great dance party. Most of the time my life advice comes from some sort of country song though. I fly home on Wednesday so I might take some advice from Dierks Bentley!
ST: Is that bike course hard enough for you?
Jeff: I love a good hilly bike course. This wasn’t as hilly or hard of a course like Whistler or Challenge Penticton but it had a good mixture of ups and downs to keep things interesting.
ST: When Frommhold took off, was there a moment when you started to worry?
Jeff: No. My goal and mindset was to get to the finish line as fast as possible. I was confident in my training and that I was ready to put down a really fast time at what I feel is my best distance. I wanted to make sure I was recovering from the big watts I had to put down to catch the big group and ensure that I could have a good run. I knew that if I had a good run, I would be very tough to beat.
ST: After the race you said that you do not run with a watch, but you ride with power?
Jeff: Yes. I use a Pioneer power meter. I don't have the ability to judge my perceived effort as accurately on the bike.
ST: I think you were about 12 minutes down as you started the run. How good did your legs feel?
Jeff: They felt a pretty good. And by pretty good, I mean pretty good for swimming 3.8k and riding 180k. I aim to even split on the run so if I’m not moving as quickly in the first few km’s on the run, I don’t get too worried. I remember leaving T2 and having guys blow past me and I just thought to myself “Ok. How did 2:40 feel? It did not feel this fast.” So I just settled in, let my legs adjust, and started gaining and picking up speed. But I would be lying if I said that having about 6 guys pull away from me in the first 3k's of run didn't cast a bit of doubt.
ST: Van Berkel looked very smooth and strong. Did you notice or were you just focused on your own perceived effort?
Jeff: I just focused on how I was doing but I knew he was running well. I took confidence in my pacing and the fact that I had reeled him in. That guy is tough. I enjoyed the company though. It was great to have an ally to catch Nils. It made me think of the history of this race and how Cam Brown and Craig Alexander went stride for stride in 2012.
ST: After you two caught and passed Frommhold you pulled away from Berkel, but not intentionally apparently.
Jeff: I like to control my efforts on the climbs and push the pace on downhills - much like riding with power on the bike. I stopped hearing foot steps behind me and when I turned around and saw a gap I just turned back around, thought this is happening! I put my head down, and kept rolling. I also thought of the quote “If you’ve got a chance at victory, you make damn sure you take that chance!” At the point I didn't intentionally pick the pace up, but looking back now with the excitement of the moment, how could I not have?
ST: Everyone really liked your gritty and somewhat ugly run. But it is all about getting it done and not what it looks like.
Jeff: Whatever it takes to get there man! I have always run like that and people often comment on it and can usually pick me out from a pretty far distance in races because of it. I have also had a ton of people give me advice on how to fix it. Contrary to most people who try to look fresh when competitors are close, I let it all hang out. I want them to see just how ugly I am willing to get!
ST: Talk about the celebration after.
Jeff: When Bryan Rhodes stayed with me and my family at Ironman Canada 2008 he told me that he always brings a New Zealand flag just in case of victory. So my parents made sure to bring a Canadian flag for this race just in case. So when I saw them with it I knew I needed to grab it and bring it with me. When I grabbed that flag, looked back and didn't see Tim, for the first time it felt real and the adrenaline kicked in big time! I am super passionate guy and I think it comes out at the finish line. It generally involves a lot of fist pumping, yelling, and head bobbing (of course).
ST: So what is next?
Jeff: Well I really wasn’t expecting the Golden Ticket to Kona so I had planned my season around a good result in Melbourne and a few other races to get the points to qualify in the first round. Now that I’ve got the qualification, I have the rare and amazing opportunity to focus on Kona and figure out what are the best races to get me ready for that! So as for what’s next, I honestly have no clue! Just get back to Canada I guess…although I don’t want to leave!
Jeff: Absolutely!! Gotta check this race out – heard it’s a pretty big deal. I’ve never been to the race (to watch or compete) so I’m really looking forward to just having fun for my first go at it and seeing what it’s all about!
ST: Well, we wish you all the best.
Jeff: Thanks! It’s been a total blast down here! I know it’s cliché but I really wouldn’t be where I am without all of the support from my sponsors, family and friends.