Belgian age grouper Sam Gyde has been racing Ironman events since 2007 and went sub-9 for the first time in Florida in 2010. In Kona this year he won his age group in 8:50:09 but surprisingly that might not be the greatest memory from this trip. Slowtwitch had a few words with this fast firefighter from Belgium.
Slowtwitch: Are you back in Belgium already?
Sam: No, I'll stay in Hawaii 10 days after the race to relax a bit and do some trekking on Kauai island. The Napali coast trail seems to be a 'must-see-at-least-once-in-your-life.' I love being in nature.
ST: You had a great race in Kona, going 8:50:09 and winning the M35-39 age group. You must be very pleased.
Sam: I truly am. I dreamed about being on the age group podium but being age group champion really is beyond expectations! I can tell you, this is a real motivation booster!
ST: When did you realize that the title would be yours?
Sam: When I was in the drug testing room with all the pros. I knew I was pretty much in front but really had no idea that I really won my AG. That's the great thing about being invited for drug testing: you know you did well.
ST: So you did not realize during the race that you might be winning your age group?
Sam: When going up at energy lab I started realizing that I hadn't crossed too many age groupers so I new I was pretty much in front. Some people alongside the course told me there were only a few in front of me but I heard different numbers form several people so I just finished my own race and hoped for the best.
ST: Was this the first time you were drug tested?
Sam: Yes. I was pretty happy about this because I think it is very important for the image of the sport that testing is done on all levels. They should do much more testing and also at qualifying races. The same goes for drafting violations. They can't be strict enough. It is an individual sport and lots of athletes tend to forget this during the bike part.
ST: What is more satisfying to you, running sub 3 hours or going sub 9?
Sam: Last year's goal was going sub-9 in Florida. This year's goal was running sub-3 in Lanzarote. Running sub-3 and finishing sub-9 in Kona really is the icing on the cake! I'd love to be able to swim under 1h though. But to answer your question: going sub-9 is not that difficult because there are a lot of fast courses out there. Running sub-3 however is more difficult so I guess I get more satisfaction from the fast running.
ST: Two years ago you raced Kona for the first time and you skipped the event in 2010, was the experience much different this time and I don't just mean the result.
Sam: I was a bit afraid that I would miss that 'first time' feeling but I was wrong. I knew what to expect and could plan and anticipate much better. It is such a great spot to meet people that all share a common interest and are passionate about. And everybody is so nice and open and excited. Such an atmosphere simply doesn't exist in Europe. I really had the time of my life. The fact that I had a great roommate in Carlo Pullens (5th M35-39) and we could team up with Laura Reardon definitely added to this feeling as
well. Laura also ended up on the podium (W35-39) which by the way is super because it was only her second Ironman. It was funny to go to Lava Java the day after the awards to eat an oatmeal cookie out of our wooden bowls.
ST: Did you get much love at home in Belgium when you returned from Kona in 2009?
Sam: Triathlon is really a non-event in Belgium. Only some pros get attention. But I really don't care. I love the sport because it enables me to visit beautiful places, meet great people, stay fit and healthy and have lots of fun! If there is some attention, I enjoy it as well of course. ;-)
ST: Do you think it was better now that you were well up there with the Pros?
Sam: I don't think that makes much of a difference. The press only commented about the very disappointing results of the Belgian pros and pro athletes finishing behind me still get more attention. Belgian press tends to be negative anyhow so I am getting used to it. Maybe it is time to relocate.
ST: Do you have to be a soccer player or a cyclist to get real attention in Belgium?
Sam: Of course. Playing soccer in a local division is much more rewarding than being a world class triathlete. And playing pool or darts also might get you more media exposure (just kidding). It is not only triatletes though who don't get the attention. There are many athlete in various non-medalized sports that have great results and train very hard without getting any attention.
ST: What has happened since 2009 that you improve that much? Going 40 minutes faster is not that impressive when the previous race was in the 13-hour range, but going from 9:29 to 8:50 is quite another story.
Sam: Well, I changed my coach in April of 2009 and that really made a huge difference. We started with a long term plan and this seems to work out pretty well. The focus was merely on the run because I already was a solid cyclist. What really gave me a boost this year is the use of powercranks. Since January I am doing all my bike training with powercranks and that made me a lot stronger in the run and I also gained some watts extra power on the bike. I love to train hard so there is a lot of quality in my training. All my training is visible publicly via Trainingpeaks and Twitter so anybody can check what I am doing and watch my workout files. Other factors that make up for the big improvement: this years weather conditions were perfect in Kona and getting together with Laura here made me so happy and relaxed that also the mental picture was optimal.
ST: But you do all this with a full time job as a firefighter and rumor has it that you have another gig on top of that.
Sam: Yes, this is really hard. At the fire department I am responsible for a team consisting of about 110 professional firefighters and this creates quite a workload. I am also responsible for dispatching, communication and ICT related issues. To earn some extra money to pay for my sport I also work as an independent SAP technical consultant. Triathlon is expensive...
ST: How do you juggle all that?
Sam: Sometimes I really don't know. I often find myself running or cycling during the night. It is a challenge to get work and sports fit together. There are weeks where I only sleep 4-5 hours a night. That's the tough life of an age grouper I guess. Maybe that is the reason I am performing so consistent: I really have to work hard to be able to do my training camps, races and get my gear and as a consequence I am very eager to have a good return on investment in terms of results.
ST: You skipped Kona in 2010 because you were too busy with work, is that an adequate description?
Sam: Not really. I wanted to wait another year because one year didn't seem long enough to improve as much as I wanted. I did Ironman Canada instead which is a great race in an amazing setting and qualified for Kona later that year in Florida.
ST: What is your favorite race venue?
Sam: Kona beats everything because of the vibes out there. But it is a pretty easy course. I haven't done all races in the world (plan for the future) but so far course wise I really liked IM Canada and the bike portion at IM Lanzarote.
ST: Do you have sponsors, or are you your own sponsor?
Sam: I am my own sponsor unfortunately. It is quite impossible to find support in Belgium for this sport. I got my Blue bike at half price this season but that's about it.
I get trisuits from Endurance Junkie and Kiwami which both have great products.
ST: Would you mind sharing with us which foods you like?
Sam: Well, the weeks preceding the Kona race we had pan-seared Ahi-tuna almost everyday. It is such a treat! I am addicted to fish, vegetables and fruits and I like to cook. Dark chocolate is also in the top-ranking of my most liked foods. I rarely eat meat.
ST: Anything else we should know about you?
Sam: By being at work and sporting all the time I guess I am a pretty boring guy. Just kidding, I like to see things positively and I am always chasing my dreams. It is very important to be happy and to seize every day!
You can find out more about Sam on samgyde.com