Canadian pro Nathan Killam is not just a one trick pony, he is thinking and racing outside the box and we had a chat with this man who also fights fires.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Nathan.
Nathan Killam: Thank you so much for having me! I’ve always enjoyed reading the Slowtwitch interviews, and it’s an honor to be featured in one.
ST: As we speak, what are you getting ready for?
Nathan: Since Wildflower was cancelled this year I’ve been working towards a late start to the season at 70.3 Victoria, not far from home.
ST: Your last race as Super League Singapore. How did that race find you?
Nathan: Hot! [laughs] But seriously, it was crazy hot out when we raced. I’ve been working hard on my swim all winter to try and be as ready as I could, knowing that day two was the enduro. The enduro is 3 times through swim/bike/run without stopping, and the bottom 2 athletes after every single discipline are eliminated. In Jersey I was eliminated on day two after the first (300m) swim, just barely on the back but still not fast enough. I fared reasonably well on day one, making up some positions on the bike and run for 18th in the first race. Only the top 15 moved on to the second round of the day, but I was quite pleased to make it past a few athletes after a tough swim. On day two I was last out of the water, which had me eliminated with another athlete after only the 300m swim. It’s challenging to race against the best short course athletes on the planet having no swim background at all, but I gave it my best effort. Overall, considering my background and lifestyle, I was really happy to have a good day one, and I couldn’t have swam any faster on day two, so was really proud of my effort, and to be able to dive in with the best in the world. These guys really are the best and they are some of the nicest people I’ve met!
ST: How many of those have you done?
Nathan: Technically, about three and a half. I went to the Penticton qualifier, where we only did the 15km bike TT and the rest of the race was cancelled, so the Super League directors decided to bring us to race in Jersey, UK, for the first of the Championship series, and use that as our qualifier. I didn’t qualify in Jersey, but I earned a wildcard for the rest of the series. I chose to skip the Malta event, as sadly a coworker passed away and I stayed home to attend his funeral. But I made it to the Mallorca and Singapore events, which were absolutely incredible. I’d have to say, Singapore was my favorite bike and run course, as it had some fun technical corners, and the heat was a fun challenge.
ST: Where do you see the Super League series in a couple of years?
Nathan: I think Super League will be a hugely successful series within a few years, attracting major sponsorship and spectatorship, not to mention there will be a lot of participation in the AG and Pro races. Having only ever been a long course athlete since the start of my triathlon career, I found it to be intensely exciting to race in and even more so watching the racing from the sidelines. I got to know the other athletes and seriously enjoyed watching them race. I can see Super League is trying to create an emotional connection between the fans and the athletes, creating some extra drama to go along with the very tight and action-packed racing, where people will have their favorites and it will bring more viewership. I think it’s brilliant, if you haven’t watched it you really should. The races are about 18 minutes for a round and they have an absolutely exceptional announcer that keeps the excitement high, you can find them on youtube.
ST: Looking back to the last couple seasons, which races would you point out as a highlight and why?
Nathan: I’d have to say my favorite event on the calendar has been the legendary Wildflower Triathlon. I’ve been to every edition since 2014, slowly improving my finish, until last year I had a really solid day and finished in 3rd, behind Jesse Thomas and Rudy Von Berg. That was a serious highlight of my career so far. I’d have to point to 70.3 Victoria only a month later as well, where I finished 3rd behind fellow Canadians Cody Beals and Brent McMahon. Those two finishes have been highlights of my racing career so far.
ST: Are there events on your bucket list that you want to do before old age and moving around on a golf cart gets to you?
Nathan: Heck yes! Challenge Roth is definitely on the list. It’s been a legendary race on my list since I first started triathlon, and I’ve always wanted to go race. The IM World Championships in Kona is on my list as well, something I will continue to work towards.
ST: As a Canadian I think you spend quite a bit of training indoors. Is that a fair statement?
Nathan: [laughs] I’d say that’s a bit beyond a fair statement! I’ve more or less given up riding in the rain when it’s cold out, unless it’s a cyclocross race, so I’ve been spending a lot of the late fall, winter and early spring on the trainer and treadmill.
ST: I also have seen you race well on Zwift. How often do you do that?
Nathan: Ah yes, the Zwift racing!! I usually do a fair bit of that through the winter, I had a good stint this year between October and February, where I was riding really well. I was probably racing 1-2 times a week on average, every so often I’d do 3 a week and even 2 in a day on a few occasions. I loved the racing, it is always a sufferfest.
ST: How much do you think those cycling efforts and outputs on Zwift correlate to what you do on the road?
Nathan: As far as long course triathlon racing goes, the Zwift racing isn’t really as comparable as the power spikes are immense; the variability index of the riding is far higher than what we would (or, ‘should’ anyways) do in 70.3 or longer racing. But it was perfect to get ready for Super League, and I did use a major surge last year in a few races to get away on the bike, which I’m very certain resulted in a better finish overall including a win and a new bike course record. I do think the power and fitness gains through Zwift racing is real, and at that time of year is a great way to stay motivated and build strength for the season ahead.
ST: What is your Zwift setup like?
Nathan: It is really not revolutionary or state of the art. My coach has a more sophisticated setup than I do, as do so many other Zwifters! I ride a STAC Halcyon smart trainer, with an adjustable medical table in front of me for my phone, iPad, and extra nutrition and sensors. I have a North Pole Cable that converts my heart rate strap Ant+ signal into a BLE signal that my iPad can read, but my STAC and Rotor INpower power meter send out BLE signals, so they connect right to the ipad. I use a lightning to HDMI cable to get the iPad visual up on a TV on a table a bit further away, and I use Jaybird wireless headphones to pump music - I always ride with music on Zwift. I also have a big box fan connected to a smart-home plug that I can turn on verbally if I need it. Sounds like a lot of things but it is fairly basic compared to most setups. It’s a cheap way to Zwift smart!
ST: Talk about swimming. Something I believe you call your weakness, and weak clearly being a relative term.
Nathan: Swimming! [laughs] Yes, definitely not my forte having never swam as a kid. I didn’t learn how to swim lengths until I was 21 years old! Compared to the level of swimming talent in the pro field and don’t even get me started on the ITU kids’ speed! I would say my swim is fairly average, and on a great day I’ll be able to swim in the main ‘front’ pack where the fast swimmers will be strung out far ahead, which has really been an improvement over the past few years. Given my busy lifestyle of working full time, fatherhood, coaching and training, I’ve never been able to put in the massive amount of time needed to really amp my swim up to the next level.
ST: Currently how much do you swim and who is assigning your workouts?
Nathan: Since late fall we’ve increased my swimming volume to at least 4 swims a week, sometimes 5 or 6 where schedule permits. I’ve also taken to always doing the swim first thing in the morning, which has made a difference with more energy for swimming. Most of my swim workouts come from my long-time coach Björn Ossenbrink, but I try to get in a swim or two a week with my good friend Rachel McBride, in which we do the Tower 26 swim workouts - that is the program she is on. My swim workouts range from shorter (3800m) up to fairly long sessions (5000-6000m), and usually take in the range of 75 to 105 minutes. Getting workouts in with Rachel has really helped me push when I’m lacking motivation and just plain tired. We’ve had some epic sets in the past few months, every so often we have other fast swimmers that swim in our time slot to jump in with us. Once we had about 4 other people in our lane jump in on a big set, which was pretty awesome and motivating!
ST: Can you describe one of your harder sets?
Nathan: My coach Björn can hit me with some pretty gnarly sets, but I’d say the hardest set that I do on about once a month or every other month, is with McBride and called The Mambo, and Tower 26’ers will know what I’m talking about. It has very little warm up, and the main set is huge. It’s basically a repeating main set of 100’s, done at varying intensities (including two easier 100’s, a tempo 100, and an all out 100), where the ‘tempo’ 100 increases by 100m every time through the set, and we’ve done up to 7 times through (so just the last time through the set is 1000m, with a 700m done at about 70.3 race tempo). Absolutely bagged after that one! Apparently we’re going to be doing 8 times through at some point, which is going to be an arm-buster.
ST: Do you swim with toys?
Nathan: Yes sir I do. I’m a big fan of using the pull buoy, band, paddles and snorkel combo for longer pull sets after an intense set - I use the Ameo Powerbreather snorkel with only one snorkel tube open. I also use Aquasphere fins for kick sets, when I’m with McBride we always have a big kick set using fins in the warm up.
ST: What about a watch?
Nathan: Nah. I’m definitely a data junkie but when it comes to swimming, I have always just used the clock for everything. I know there’s some useful information to be gleaned from using a swim-appropriate watch in the pool, but I can’t be bothered. For the swim I’ve always been fairly basic with electronics. If there’s no pool clock when I’m traveling somewhere, then I’ll either set my phone up on the pool deck with a pool-clock timer app I have, or I’ll just strap my basic Timex work watch to a water bottle so I can see the time when I come in between intervals. I don’t even think I’ve ever raced a triathlon with a watch for the swim, I only use the watch for the run.
ST: What about your weekly running effort?
Nathan: I had a bit of an ITB Syndrome scare again in late December, so I was off running for about 3-4 weeks with a slow build back into it. But by February I was running fairly well and my fitness came back quickly. We do a lot of interval work on the run, most workouts lasting 60-90mins with a good chunk of speed mixed in. As I work a rotating shift schedule, I train more on an 8 day week, but in reality my schedule can get hectic and all over the map, so there is no routine or consistency of repeating timings apart from the daily daycare drop-offs and pickups! But according to TP, over the past few months, I’ve run anywhere from 25km to 85km a week, with an average probably being around 50-60km. There is a fair amount of interval and speed work mixed in there, so there is a lot of solid work being done.
ST: Pretty much everyone has some kind of vice. Which one is yours, or are you not easily bothered?
Nathan: Oh man. People who change lanes or turn without using their turn signals! It’s pretty common where I live and for some strange reason it drives me nuts.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Nathan: Well, most people probably don’t know I work full time as a fire fighter - for over 9 years now. I’ve been a bagpiper for almost 20 years, I’m a dad, a triathlon coach, and I love a really good glass of Scotch. I’m also pretty good at fixing stuff. Otherwise, super average.
Image 2 of Super League by Darren Wheeler @thatcameraguy
Follow Nathan Killam on Instagram via @nathankillam