American mile record holder Alan Webb has found triathlon as his new love and passion and now has spent about a year in the sport. His time of 3:46.91 for the mile still is the American standard but his heart was no longer in it and thus at the end of 2013 he decided it was time to move on. He walked away from the track and field world after the 2014 Millrose Games in February and we talked to him about his experiences so far.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Alan.
Alan Webb: Thank you for having me.
ST: Have you already relocated to Arizona?
Alan: We have and I have been training with the group here for the last couple weeks.
ST: This however will be temporary only I believe. Prepping for the 2014 season.
Alan: Yes, we plan on returning to Oregon in April. Then, I will be in and out of various racing locations.
ST: How tough is this moving adventure for your family?
Alan: I will admit it has been a bit hectic and I am grateful that my family is supportive. Julia and I recognized the value in being in a full time triathlon environment and now that we are more settled - it is great.
ST: You have spent a season in triathlon now, and slowly bringing up the mileage. How has it been going?
Alan: It has been tough. I have a lot to work on so the challenge has been laid out. This challenge is what brought me to triathlon.
ST: Prior to the announcement that you might be competing in triathlon, word had it that you might move to the marathon running distance. What happened there?
Alan: I had lost a step or two at the shorter distances and wanted to become a more endurance athlete but I believe my talents are better suited to triathlon versus the marathon. This was my own way of moving up in distance but allowed me to pursue this passion that I have had since my teenage swimming days.
ST: What were some of your PR times as a swimmer?
Alan: (SCY) 1:00.70 - 100 breast
2:12.09 - 200 breast
2:00.1 - 200 IM
4:11.99 - 400 IM
4:47.00 - 500 free
16:44.4 - 1650 free
all in 3 days with prelims (except 1650)
ST: I think the Millrose Games this year were your last big running event. Would you describe your emotions as you ran there?
Alan: It was definitely an emotionally day. Having my family and being able to compete along side my friends and peers who I have grown to greatly respect was special.
ST: Was it announced prior or did just your closest friends know of your plans to shift to a different athletic career?
Alan: It was pretty well known ahead of time. My long time agent Ray Flynn helped set it up, as he is the meet director for Millrose and USATF. TV did a piece about it as well. I had been struggling for years as a runner and needed something fresh and triathlon is that for me.
ST: How well did you know the players in the field of triathlon, and more importantly those you will have to compete with for those Summer Olympics slots in Rio?
Alan: I would say I was semi-informed when it came to Americans. I learned a lot of the names in the year leading up to this first season. I did not know exactly where each person fell and then where I would be in the bunch.
ST: I saw you in action during the Super Sprint Tri GP in Las Vegas, but you already
had a few other events under your belt by then. How were those first few events,
and what were your expectations?
Alan: For the most part they went well. I competed about where I expected to be. I won a couple smaller development events but also did well in the Mixed Relay at the Hamburg WTS and was very happy with my first continental cup and world races. I was runner up in Magog CC and top ten in Tongyeong WC.
ST: What was the most surprising thing for you as you raced triathlons the first times?
Alan: The physicality of the swim, the skills needed for the bike and how much different you feel running off of the bike.
ST: What of it is the hardest for you and why?
Alan: It is tough to say which is the hardest but if I had to choose I would say the bike since I am newest to this part. That being said I enjoying seeing myself improve in this regard. It is rewarding.
ST: How did you like that Super Sprint Tri format?
Alan: I liked the format. It is spectator friendly.
ST: But there were sadly no spectators at the one in Vegas.
Alan: I was surprised since it could be a great spectator event.
ST: Is that in general a big difference of triathlon and running? Spectator crowds.
Alan: I have run in front of some big crowds and some small ones. Sometimes it is hard to explain why some events have a draw and some do not. The races that include age grouper and elites seem to have the best attendance as the age group racers bring the crowd and the elites keep them there.
ST: What about expectations from the spectators?
Alan: They want to see the best athletes compete and who will win on the day. They expect your best and I expect the same from myself.
ST: Do you think your own expectations are possibly more realistic?
Alan: I would say they are more realistic because goals are only attainable if you believe they are and you have to buy into that in order to succeed.
ST: Had you stopped believing in yourself as a runner?
Alan: Yes, I did. It was when I had lost the belief that I could accomplish my goals that I knew that it was time to step away. It was not an easy thing for me and took years of struggling to get to that point.
ST: What motivates or drives you?
Alan: Two things. One. Competing at the highest level and winning. It is this that separates my athletic endeavors from just a hobby to a lifestyle and profession. Two. Seeing the improvement in myself. It is gratifying to see yourself start at one point and finish ahead of where you started.
ST: Was the Hamburg race the one with the best crowd in triathlon you encountered so far?
Alan: Yes, Hamburg had the best crowd I have seen so far as a triathlete. The race is right in the middle of the city and everyone comes out to watch. It was pretty intense racing in Germany against the German Team down the stretch.
ST: You were a Nike athlete until the end of 2013. What running shoes do you run in now?
Alan: I still run the Zoom elite and Pegasus but since I am no longer under contract with Nike I have tried training in the Saucony Guide and a pair of Hokas. I am also got a pair of Brooks Revenna that I am going to try.
ST: Were you at all surprised by some of the running shoes you noticed in triathlon, and that you had not previously seen in your running life?
Alan: I knew triathletes gravitated towards some of the niche brands so I wasn't too surprised. When comes down to it, running is running, so everyone has to find what works for them.
ST: But do you think the mainstream shoe brands may simply have little interest in triathlon?
Alan: I they have interest in triathlon but they are still watching triathlon grow as a relatively younger sport compared to running only. As triathlon grows so will the interest from mainstream run brands. Every triathlete needs shoes so the market is there. I hope I can be someone to help mesh running and triathlon fans as both sports compliment each other.
ST: How good have you gotten to get the shoes on fast?
Alan: You can always be faster but my transitions are pretty good and I can get those shoes on pretty quick now. It is funny for me to think back to how carefully I would tie my shoes before races in running only.
ST: What about bike gear and swim gear?
Alan: I have a Cervelo S2 (Betty) that I bought when I got injured in the winter of 2013. My buddy Mike Orton at blueseventy got my hooked on their swim gear. Thanks Mikey!
ST: Has Mike Orton also helped you become an efficient wetsuit peeler?
Alan: Ha yes, he has been very helpful.
ST: By now have you learned traveling with all this gear? It surely must have been easier to travel as a runner.
Alan: Yes. I thought I was packing too heavy as a runner but was in for a rude awakening when I started this adventure. Triathlon is a good sport to force one to be organized.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Alan: Watch the ITU races this summer as it is going to exciting to watch all the Olympic qualifying.