David McNamee had a good start in triathlon as he trained with the Brownlee brothers and scored a 2nd at the 2011 ITU Under 23 Worlds. But after the 2014 season, his last on the ITU Olympic distance circuit, David McNamee decided that at age 26 his future was in long course. “Something about the long suffering is much more appealing to me,” he told one interviewer. After a 2015 win at notoriously tough Ironman UK and 11th in his Kona debut with the day’s fastest run, he knew he was on target.
The last two years, Scotland’s finest young triathlete scored consecutive third place finishes at Kona, vaulting him to the verge of superstardom.
Slowtwitch: Why do you think you have not received as much attention as deserved by two straight podium finishes at Kona - twice under 8:10 and a PB of 8:01?
David McNamee: Now that’s a tough question to start with. What does back to back podiums deserve? For sure I don’t receive much attention in the UK for a mixture of reasons. The governing body is very much Olympic focused, in the last 4 years the only time I have any interaction whatsoever is when I need to renew my membership. I’m a relatively private person who enjoys keeping his head down, working hard and living his life. I find there’s a lot of people who talk a good game but fail to deliver.
ST: How much did losing your Cervélo support well into the 2018 season affect you?
David: It was disappointing and something I hope never to go through again. I appreciated that Cervélo were going through major restructuring and that I slipped through the gap. But it still hurt. Financially it was a blow especially having turned down offers after Kona 2017. By the time I learned I would not receive support for 2018 it was too late to work with a brand that had the same chance of winning Kona.
ST: How ironic did it feel to score the podium once again riding an unsupported Cervélo P5X?
David: I think it was just a little sad. It’s an incredible bike but racing World Champs with a bike covered with black tape wasn’t what I had envisioned. Thankfully next year I won’t have that problem.
ST: Who is your new bike sponsor?
David: Actually I am very happy to be back supported by Cervélo. After Kona they reached out to see if it was possible to discuss my future. My belief in their bikes is obvious and it’s great getting to know people within the company that share my passion. Plus I’m impressed with the new bikes.
ST: How did your 2018 early season go?
David: I went into Kona this year feeling I hadn’t race properly since May - I picked up a stomach infection before IM Austria and then I punctured early on in Vichy. Physically I was in a great place in Kona, but I really struggled mentally get myself in the game early on in the race.
ST: What was your strategy at Kona this year? How did the race match up to those plans?
David: Strategically I wanted to make sure I was at the front coming out the water, stay towards the front of the race for as much as possible on the bike and then see what I could still deliver on the run. That plan lasted 20 minutes. I saw the split happen in the swim, it wasn’t a lack of fitness that meant I was on the wrong side but a stupid racing error. I relied on others like Braden Currie to close the gap.
ST: What happened to you on the bike? 4:21:18 – 19th pro, 10:53 behind Cam Wurf, just over 4 minutes behind Aernouts, O’Donnell and Lange.
David: Just as I got on the Queen K, Patrick [Lange] came flying by and screamed at me it was time to go for it. I wish I could have. The first hour on the bike was pretty awful. I held better power between 2-3 hours (290) than I did in the first hour (276). Things came together on the way back from Hawi. It was a great moment riding with the guys like Sebi [Kienle] and Lionel [Sanders]. Hopefully we can repeat it next year but just at the front of the race. Was I nervous about the deficit? I would say [I was] pissed off more than anything.
ST: You had quite an array of stars ahead of you starting the run, including Aernouts, O’Donnell, Lange, and Gomez. Nervous? Best move?
David: I passed Tim Don in the transition tent, and, as he had just given me a pep talk that I was still in the race, I felt he was backing me. The others I chased after hard in the opening stages of the marathon. I knew if I got closer to the guys in front then, when the real test starts in the Energy Lab, I could really move up. Did I think I would be on the podium again at the start of the run? Well no, but that’s the beauty of Kona - anything can happen. My best move was when I was catching Braden [Currie] and Tim [O’Donnell] running up from the Energy Lab. We still had about 500 meters of uphill to go and I committed to making sure I could get past and open some space before we hit the road home.
ST: Why did you leave Olympic distance?
David: I got to the point where I never really saw the point of me doing it. I had lost my passion for something I loved and that is a sad situation. Ironman had always excited me and 4 years later my passion for this sport is greater than ever.
ST: When did you sign on with coach Joel Fillol?
David: I joined Joel in 2014 during my final ITU year and was also with the squad in 2015 after I switched. The squad was smaller in those days but filled with great athletes such as Mario Mola, Richard Murray and Sarah True. From Joel’s squad I learned. that being consistent and leaving your ego at home will take you a very long way. I will always remember being out cycling in Mallorca with Mario and discussing performance. He believed the most important thing was being in the right environment for yourself.
ST: What did you think of your first Ironman win at 2015 UK?
David: I thought I really need a holiday. Instead I took on Ironman UK. It’s one of the toughest courses on the circuit. A true honest test and to win it in front of my family was a great day. Plus I survived the Bolton nightlife afterwards and that’s an achievement in itself.
ST: When did you move to Girona, Spain and start to train with Jan Frodeno and Nick Kastelein?
David: I moved to Girona in October 2015 and started swimming with Jan when he came back from Oz in April 2016. Then when he returned again in April 2017 Jan invited me to start riding and running together. I never quit working with a coach (Alex Sans Vega), [and] in actual fact he encouraged me to work with Jan, and it was the right decision.
ST: How was the atmosphere training with Jan and Nick?
David: I look back at the summer of 2017 with lots of fond memories. We have different personalities but all three of us enjoy the hard work. I learned a lot during those months and it showed in Kona that year. My fondest memory is probably after we had finished our last long hard run 3 weeks before the race. Jan turned to me, shook my hand and said, “Look, the hard work’s done, it’s time to recover and see what happens.” It meant a lot.
ST: When did you leave Frodeno and why?
David: Things always change. In April 2018 when Jan got back to Girona it was different. I was now a contender for Kona and he was coming back fueled with the burning desire to dominate after a disappointing 2017. We needed different things from 12 months previously. What hasn’t changed is that we still want to see the other succeed.
ST: Your power meter went kaput before 2017 Kona and you rode by feel. What did that teach you?
David: Kona 2017 taught me that racing by feel and trusting your instincts is vital for success on the Big Island. In other Ironman races where the fields are smaller, power numbers are a lot more important. In 2017 after the Hawi turnaround, Patrick and I were alone and rode hard for the next 40k just to catch the 2nd group on the road. I was on the limit a lot during that stage but I trusted my instincts that this was what I needed to do. A power meter can’t tell you that.
ST: How did you know - you stated - that it would take a sub 8 hour time to be World Champion this year?
David: Even in the short time I have been in Ironman I can see that people’s approaches to Kona have become more professional. Also companies see the importance of investing in their athletes (aero testing/ suit improvements, etc). This will naturally lead to the bar being raised. Plus a lot of the guys on the podium the last 2 years are relatively young for the sport with time ahead to improve. I knew this year I would go faster, I truly believed sub 8 would be broken, and that if I wanted to be the World Champ I needed to deliver it.
ST: What is your relationship with your sponsor HUUB?
David: It’s the only contract I had agreed to before the cannon went off in Kona. We have great trust in one another and, except for the year I was with the BMC team, I have been with HUUB since 2013. They have invested a lot in me over the years, making me faster and providing the best possible swimwear and wetsuits. I’ve really enjoyed helping refine prototypes until we have the best.
ST: You seem to have had a good Kona nutrition/hydration in 2017. What have you done to perfect your race nutrition?
David: Well my Kona 2015 nutrition strategy was begging [Ironman CEO] Andrew Messick (I had no idea who he was and thought he was just a very helpful volunteer) to find whatever energy gels he could and squeeze them in a bottle. My energy bottle was safely back in my condo fridge. That plus a bag of Haribo at special needs got me through the day. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time during longer training sessions experimenting and refining my plan. I believe the number one mistake people make in Kona is not realizing how vital it is to keep your core temperature down, even if that means sacrificing some time making sure you take in sufficient fluids/ice.
ST: What industry help don’t you have, that you need? And this could be nutrition, bike fit, aerodynamics, wheel or tire selection, what have you.
David: I’m like the princess and the pea when it comes to saddles. I’m still trying to find the perfect model where I can get through 180k without feeling like I’ve been kicked in the nuts.
ST: Where do you think you’d be if you weren’t a triathlete? On the positive side, what did triathlon save you from? Alternatively, what is this life choice of yours keeping you from?
David: I would probably be in an office somewhere in a big city fitting some runs around daily life. I would say sport in general has offered me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and realize that following your passions is a lot more rewarding than focusing on making money. Growing up, money was tight at times but sport allowed me to travel and see the world. It gave me discipline, focus and the ability to think independently.
ST: How is your Scottish heritage reflected in your competitive nature?
David: I think Scottish people are generally hard working and humble. I would like to believe that is reflected in me. I really admire [Scotsman] Chris Hoy [Multiple Olympic and World Champion in track cycling], someone who always seemed so relaxed but able to truly empty himself when it mattered.