After a few top five finishes at major triathlons, Timothy O'Donnell finally ascended to the very top of the podium with his win at Ironman 70.3 St. Croix. Slowtwitch had a few words with the Boulder, CO resident.
Slowtwitch: Timothy or Tim?
Timothy: Tim is good with me; unless you are around my parents…then you should use Timothy. Come to think of it, they will probably read this article, so maybe we should stick with Timothy!
ST: Well Timothy, congrats on winning St. Croix. Is it fair to say that this is your first big win?
Timothy: This is no doubt my biggest win; in fact this is my first win at a big professional race. I have won the Armed Forces National Championships for the past six years, which has been an unbelievable honor. But since I was in the World Class Athlete Program and able to train fulltime I had an unfair advantage!
ST: You really seemed to have set the perfect pace and closed it out with a fantastic run. Was this about “all things falling in place?”
Tim: Everything definitely fell into place, but it was planned that way. After coming up short several times last year, I knew I needed to improve my run, which I really worked on this winter. I also knew that with a strong run I wouldn’t have to race off the front for 70.3 miles in order to win. Based on this I created my race plan to be in striking distance coming off the bike. I had the same plan in New Orleans but my cycling legs just weren’t there and I lost way too much time on the bike. Even with the fastest run on the day I couldn’t win. In St Croix I was able to execute the plan and it worked!
ST: Igor Amorelli was quite the surprise to us. Did you know much about him?
Timothy: Igor was definitely the X-factor this weekend in St Croix. He was always charging hard on the front and when he broke away with Rhodesy at the end of the bike I did get a little nervous. I just didn't know that much about him. I give him so much credit for going for the win on the run as well. On the first lap no one could bridge the gap to him and he went for it. But I know all too well what it is like to be in the front of the race just trying to hold it together. When I saw him start to look back I knew I would be able to challenge him for the win. Igor has a great future ahead of him and I am sure like I did after my 70.3s last year, he will quickly learn what he needs to do hold on that extra bit!"
ST: Last year you got caught a couple times with the finish line pretty much in sight. Was it more fun to be in the role of the hunter?
Timothy: I love being the hunter! I have always been the guy who swims and rides like a mad man and then just can’t seal the deal on the run. There is nothing worse in a race then knowing you are getting run down. When I was running in New Orleans I felt completely out of place. I came off the bike around 11th and ran up to third. When I was passing guys I started to get really excited and thought to myself, “Wow it is so much better being on this side of the coin.”
ST: Do you think your nickname moving forward will be “the pirate of St. Croix?”
Timothy: Ohhh boy, I am not going to live this down any time soon! I have so many people asking about the pirate look, it was not planned! So for the record I really didn’t know I only had one lens in my frames. In fact I thought I knocked it out when I crossed the line. I was searching all around the finish area for a good 15 minutes trying to find the other lens. Then I saw that picture of me coming out of T2 with one lens…so I ran 13 miles and never realized I was short a lens. It blows my mind that it never dawned on me…I guess I was really focused!
If the “pirate” doesn’t stick I have a lot of people calling me Popeye too…that works well with my navy background!
ST: Would you now say that the longer races suit you better?
Timothy: There is no doubt that I have had much more success in the longer distances, but I am not giving up on my 10km run speed just yet. I think I can compete with the best in Olympic distance races, even drafting races. I just have to remain patient and stick to my training plan. You will see me looking for Kona in the future, just not yet…I still have unfinished business!
ST: What is next for you?
Timothy: I am heading to OKC for the Pan American Championships next week. Then I have a BIG June planned, the Rev3 Half followed by the Kansas 70.3 the following weekend and I wrap up the month with the Hy-Vee World Cup. I am really looking forward to the Kansas 70.3, they are hosting an “Armed Forces Challenge” and I can’t wait to see all our service members in action…Go Navy!
ST: When did you start working with Cliff English?
Timothy: I started working with Cliff at the end of 2005 when Cliff came to help with the Resident Team at the Olympic Training Center. We clicked right away and I was pumped to have him come on board as the National Team coach. Not only is Cliff great at developing training plans he is really able to connect with his athletes. The coach/athlete relationship is the key to successful racing; no matter how good a coach’s workouts maybe, if there isn’t a strong bond then it won’t be truly effective. I am lucky to have Cliff who can do all of the above. Plus Cliff and I are both wine lovers, so it is east to forget about triathlon every once and a while and just enjoy good vino!
ST: Tell us about your military background.
Timothy: I may have had the most unique military career ever! I graduated with distinction from the Naval Academy in 2003 and was commissioned as an Ensign. I had earned a spot in the Immediate Graduate Education program while in school so I headed to the University of California at Berkeley for a Masters in Ocean Engineering. I finished my masters in 2005 and headed down to my command in San Diego, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group One. I was very lucky to go to a command that supported my quest for the 2008 Olympics. After completing the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Diver program at the beginning of 2006 they sent me to the Olympic Training Center under the military’s World Class Athlete Program. While training and representing the Navy in international competitions including the World Military Games I also had the chance to help out with recruiting and public relations for the Navy. After missing the Olympic Team in 2008 I knew I needed another shot so when my commitment ended last December I decided to move on from the service and follow the Olympic dream. I am very proud to have been a part of our Armed Forces and I still draw great strength from knowing I have the support of our service members on my quest for London.
ST: Who or what inspired you to race triathlons?
Timothy: My older brother Thomas gets all the credit for bringing me into the sport. Thomas was a senior at the Academy when I was a freshman and he was also the Captain of the Triathlon club. At the time I was a member of the swim team and had no desire to do triathlons. The tri team held tryouts and Thomas forced me to go…there was nothing I could do since he was a senior and I was a lowly freshman aka “plebe”. After a pretty hairy tryout and almost destroying my brother’s beautiful Kestrel KM 40 I ended up making the team. While I kept swimming through the end of my sophomore year I did Wildflower that spring. At the time it was still the official “Collegiate Champs” and with little training I ended up 13th, the fastest finisher on our team. That is when I saw my potential in the sport; I stopped swimming and focused on triathlon.
I don’t know how, but my brother saw something in me. The rest of our family thought it was pretty hilarious when I started doing triathlons. As a kid I had a very bad track record on the bike. In fact I ran into the garage, a parked car and TWO brick mailboxes growing up. Luckily my handling skills are a bit better these days!!
ST: Please describe a typical hard training week for us.
Timothy: I think the hardest weeks I have had were this winter when I was focusing on my running. I was running 8 times a week, with two days of double runs and a long run day of a bit over two hours. On top of the run volume I was doing some good base quality work with a day of 1-2KM repeats, a tempo run, even my long runs had some quality. Then of course I was still riding 12 hours/week with a few 3+ hr computrainer rides! I cut back on my swimming to 4 sessions a week in order to squeeze in more running.
The hard part wasn’t a single particular week of training; it was the cumulative effect that develops from so many tough weeks. About a week and a half before the New Orleans 70.3 race I came very close to imploding! I was doing some repeats with Matty on the trails and it all hit me at once. Luckily I pulled the plug just in time to be ok for New Orleans. Training is a delicate art, you really have to learn how far you can push it, once you push too far it is REALLY hard to dig yourself out of that hole.
ST: When did you get set up on the new Fuji D6 and who positioned you on it?
Timothy: I had my D-6 built up only a few days before St Anthony’s, I was like a kid on Christmas morning when I finally got it built! The bike rides so well, it is really light for a TT bike yet the stiffest TT bike I have ridden. You add that to the cool tricks they have done with the brakes and cable routing to make it really aerodynamic and you have a speed machine.
I had it fit by the guys at Pro Peloton here in Boulder. Chris did a great job in getting me in not only an efficient but also a comfortable position. In my opinion sometimes the benefits of being super aero are lost if you are not comfortable. You can’t forget that there is a run you need to do too.
ST: Do you feel perfectly dialed already?
Timothy: My position changed quite a bit from my last bike so I am still getting used to it. It was a change I had to make since I wasn’t happy with my pedal stroke while on my other bike. I felt pretty good in St Croix, but I did a three our ride last Thursday and it was really starting to feel good.
ST: Other than Fuji, how are things going for you in terms of sponsorship?
Timothy: Since I had been racing in the Navy I was not really able to secure significant sponsorship contracts due to conflict of interests. When I transitioned from the Navy at the end of the year I was left in a position with little sponsor support and few relationships in the industry. Luckily some great brands took a chance with me and brought me on board for 2009. I have really enjoyed working not only with Fuji but Profile Design, Mavic, Rudy Project, Cytosport and Selle Italia. With all of that support, slow bike splits can only be blamed on me!
Right now I am building strong relationships with these great companies and I know their support for me will only grow. I just hope that after running around St Croix with one lens in my glasses Rudy Project will still keep me onboard next year! I guess if all else fails I can call up Captain Morgan’s…they might want to sponsor the “pirate”!
ST: Do you have an off-season, and if so, how do you spend it?
Timothy: There isn’t much of an off-season these days, I usually stop racing mid-November and then take off through the New Year. I use that time to go home and see my family on the East Coast. We are really close and I don’t get to see them much so it is great to play with my nieces and nephews and drink a few good bottles of wine with my dad and brothers!
ST: Do you follow any other sports?
Timothy: My time at the Olympic Training Center really got me into other sports, Sportscenter is on the TVs there 24/7! I always look forward to the football season, NFL and college. My family is from Boston so I make sure to follow the Red Sox religiously. Of all the sports, I really love basketball and the NBA. Of course I am a Celts fan but the Nuggets have found a soft spot in my heart too. I would love to see them face off in the Finals this year!
ST: Can you share with us some of your food likes and dislikes?
Timothy: To be honest I have a HUGE sweet tooth. I LOVE donuts, especially from Dunkin’s. I could eat my weight in ice cream and cake too! I do my best to keep it in moderation and for the most part I do a good job. I actually had a HUGE brownie the night before the race, the other athletes looked at me like I was crazy but I guess it works! My favorite meal is peanut butter, honey and bananas on a toasted bagel…very addicting. My homestay was in awe when I ate three of them one day! There isn’t much I don’t like, I just can’t eat anything that is remotely spicy…I start sweating like crazy!
ST: What music do you like?
Timothy: My music selection is all over the place; I like everything but death metal. My staples are Ben Harper, Dave Matthews, Foo Fighters, Grateful Dead and Counting Crows. I am also a huge John Denver fan (I actually saw him live several times!) and before races I am usually listening to rap music, 50 cent was on my ipod before St Croix.
ST: What was the last book you read?
Timothy: I actually spend most of my reading time on the Economist and Wine Spectator magazine. I love wine and I am even becoming a bit of a wine geek. Right now I am just expanding my wine knowledge, now I need to win some more races so I can expand my wine collection too!
ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Timothy: In five years I still plan on being in triathlon and probably still in Boulder. Hopefully I will have been a part of the 2012 Olympic Team and focusing on Kona!
ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?
Timothy: That’s about it; I just want to say thanks to everyone at slowtwitch and your loyal readers for your interest in my story.
Wait, one more thing…I am single, and free this weekend. So all of the twenty-something year old ladies reading this right now feel free to give me a call!
Timothy O'Donnell's website is timothyodonnell.com