The fast and smart Sami Inkinen

Age grouper Sami Inkinen was the fastest age grouper at Ironman 70.3 Eagleman last weekend with a 4:05:55 and stamped his Kona ticket right there. But that is not a unique experience for this fast and smart athlete who grew up in Finland. Inkinen also co-founded Trulia with Pete Flint and is now on the board of directors of this leading real estate site.

Slowtwitch: Congrats on your nice Eagleman race.

Sami Inkinen: Thanks! It was a long trip for me, so I’m glad it worked out and the tropical storm Andrea passed over the day before the race. I already thought I traveled 11 hours for a cup of hot chocolate at the race hotel.

ST: Was it at least good hot chocolate?

Sami: I wouldn’t recommend a day of travel for that.

ST: You mentioned on your Facebook page that it was a close win, but in the end does that really matter?

Sami: Well, it does and doesn’t. Eagleman was my only chance to punch my Kona ticket, so winning was essential with or without a margin. But it’s much more fun to suffer and race, knowing others are about to step on your heels!

ST: It really wasn't that close. Almost 2 minutes is a decent advantage.

Sami: I went 4:05 something and the 25th age grouper was at 4:22. How often do you see an age group half Ironman like that? I wish we all had started in the same wave – then it would get even more interesting.

ST: In another year or so folks will surely remember that you were the champion, but not so much the margin, or how close the runner-up was.

Sami: Who remembers age group tri results a month later?

ST: Surely those 24 other guys who were that close. And don't you?

Sami: Ok, I’ll take that back – the more painful the loss, the more memorable lessons you take from it. Sometimes.

ST: You also must have been on the other side of that coin.

Sami: Speaking of painful losses, my only ITU Age Group Worlds experience is from Budapest where I was expecting a third loop on the run when someone sprinted past me, turned left and across the finish line. I lost the gold by a second or two. That wasn’t much fun. Now I know how to count and run at the same time.

ST: This result though is not really a surprise. You have been torturing other age group athletes and some Pros for a few years now. Is that a fair statement?

Sami: I let others judge my performance. But I should add that there is no margin for error at the top of most age groups these days and placing at the top is always a matter of getting every detail – including luck - right, before and during the race. Sometimes it works – like yesterday.

ST: Of all these top overall amateur titles to your name, does any of them mean more to you and if so why?

Sami: I spend very little time thinking about past in general, but I still remember how exciting it was to win my first Wildflower Long Course race. Wildflower was my very first triathlon to begin with and at that point winning the overall was a total moon shot.

ST: Does the course and typical temps kind of suit you anyway?

Sami: The hilly trail run is good for light mountain goats, so not really for me. The temps swing from super hot to cool between years, so my winning year must have been on the cooler side!

ST: But I think you have done well in hot conditions too.

Sami: We all get lucky sometimes. But there’s no way around the fact that the heavier you are, the bigger handicap you’re giving in hot conditions. Unfortunately cooling abilities don’t scale up with size, but heating up does! And there’s only so much ice you can stuff into your pants.

ST: I believe actually that 2007 was your first earnest year in triathlon.

Sami: Yes. I had just enough time, I was single and had savings because I shared a small house with three other friends, and that allowed me to buy a proper time trial bike and give it a serious try.

ST: When did you actually get started altogether and what was the inspiration?

Sami: I was at Stanford Business School in 2004 and a classmate of mine pressured to sign up for Wildflower long course that spring. That started an intense 4-month preparation and shopping. Ebay for my first road bike and the internet for swimming tips. The main reason I wanted to go back the next year was that I had a flat tire and didn’t know how to use the CO2 toolkit. I figured I could take almost 10mins off my 2005 time by just learning to fix a flat properly.

ST: How much time did you shave off the following year?

Sami: About 18 minutes. Doesn’t really sound too impressive, now that I think of it.

ST: But you had no flat tire?

Sami: I got the flat tire out of the system in my first race and didn’t have one in a race until this year.

ST: When did you move to the States from Finland?

Sami: August of 2003. So it’ll be ten years this August and my wife who is American still tells me I can’t speak English.

ST: How often do you go back?

Sami: Too infrequently.

ST: Talk about your day job.

Sami: I’ve been a software entrepreneur most of my professional career and don’t see that changing too much in the future either. Most recently I co-founded online real estate marketplace Trulia in 2005. Building the company from scratch to a publicly listed company with an amazing group of people has taken most of my wake up hours in the last 8 years.

ST: Word is that you are taking a bit of a break from day to day duties. Does that mean more training and races, or more time to relax?

Sami: I moved away from an operational role to the company board of directors when we went public last year. The somewhat unexpected outcome of all the new “free time” has been that my training has been less organized and thoughtful since then, and I’ve raced less than ever. I love triathlon and most aspects of it, but only in moderate doses at a time.

ST: The phrase "anything in moderation" applies also to things we are passionate about.

Sami: I think quite a few triathletes should read that comment aloud. Several times.

ST: What is next on your calendar?

Sami: Actually no races for now. I picked my Hawaii Ironman slot at Eagleman, so I’ll very likely be there. We have a family trip during the 70.3 Worlds so no Vegas for me.

ST: What will be the goal for Kona in addition to joining us for the slowtwitch gathering?

Sami: That sounds like an invitation and challenge in one. My goal is to both finish the race and still make it to your famous party on my own. There’s no point in setting goal time for Kona anyway.

ST: The slowtwitch gathering is actually a few days before the event on a Wednesday afternoon. So hopefully you will be able to make it there under your own power, and maybe your wife Meredith can join you.

Sami: Oh, then I should get to Kona early! My recent Hawaii protocol has been to fly in on Thursday.

ST: What are your thoughts on the 70.3 Worlds moving?

Sami: Selfishly thinking, any place that has cooler weather than Vegas is great for me. My Finnish genes and 180+ pounds won’t agree with 90F+ temps, unless it’s a sauna by a lake. And all other sports rotate championships venues too, so I can see the benefits and flexibility that WTC gets from that decision.

ST: So you think Mt. Tremblant would suit you better?

Sami: I don’t really stress about external factors, only things that I can influence myself. But if I had to build a perfect tri race venue for myself, it would have an ocean wetsuit swim and air temps in the low 70’s.

ST: What bike are you riding?

Sami: Cervelo P5. I’ve been riding Cervelo since I bought my first time trial bike in 2007.

ST: Electronic shifting or mechanical?

Sami: It was an easy choice - mechanical. I want to be able to pull out a screwdriver and fix my gears during a ride. As an engineer and software guy I can appreciate the simplicity of mechanical systems. I’ve seen enough bugs, so I don’t need one more in my rear derailleur.

ST: I somehow would have figured you to be into the high tech electronic shifting, but I can see your point.

Sami: I’ll get there eventually, by which time I’m hoping those systems are 50% cheaper and much more reliable. I’m usually a late adopter despite my geeky background.

ST: Do you race with a Powermeter?

Sami: Yes, PowerTap.

ST: What was your average Eagleman?

Sami: I’m an engineer so I have to say it depends on the averaging formula you use and whether zeros are eliminated. I did most of my pedaling at 310-330W range. I just uploaded my ride to Strava and weighted average power their formula reports is 301W.

ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Sami: I think any story about my tri results would be incomplete without the mention that I knew nothing about triathlon training in 2007, until I met Matt Dixon of Purplepatch Fitness. Although I self-coach a lot, Matt is the genius behind my training philosophy and big reason for the sometimes good results I’ve posted. Other than that, too many details already!