Gordo Byrn is a husband, professional triathlete, coach, author, tri camp organizer, financial advisor and blogger. We were able to pin down this enigmatic New Zealand resident and he kindly shared a few of his thoughts with Slowtwitch.
Gordo: Thanks for inviting me to participate in the Slowtwitch Interviews. This feature is great and I have been enjoying your work.
ST: Thanks Gordo, we are glad that we have a chance to talk with you. The Epic Camp New Zealand is almost upon us. Can you tell us what the campers can expect there?
Gordo: Epic is always one of the highlights of my year. We do some crazy stuff. Over the last five years, nearly all my new adult friends have been made at training camps. Our goal with the camps is high volume training in the most beautiful venues in the world. We undertake huge miles, unreasonable challenges and take people far beyond their personal comfort zones. The Epic Newbies, blow past their largest single training week by Day Four of Epic.
After an athlete has coped with massive volume over a series of days, an Ironman becomes "merely" a single-day event. Emotionally, all of us have to deal with being emotionally destroyed at times. It is the best way that we know to prepare for the challenges of Ironman. There are physiological risks involved in this sort of training. It’s not far off what Peter did when he used to prepare for Hawaii (we eat a bit more).
The first week of the camp will see us complete a minimum of 21,000 meters of swimming, 1,000 kilometers of cycling and 70 kilometers of running. We will race once, or twice, a day and finish the camp with an "uphill" triathlon which ends at the summit of a Kiwi mountain.
The format has proven popular and we are seeing other groups pop-up offering similar products. You can find more details about the real thing at www.EpicCamp.com and listen in on IronmanTalk. Our next camp will be June 2008 in Italy. For 2009, I am lobbying Molina to have a camp that focuses on the classic French alpine climbs.
ST: Looking back at 2007 what was your season highlight and lowlight?
Gordo: Interestingly, they are the same thing -- the 25th Anniversary edition of Ironman Canada. The highlight was being given #1 in my favorite race in the world. I have never shared the full story of how I spent my 20s. Sitting at the pro meeting as the race favorite was a cosmic joke on the world.
Two days after the pro meeting, I had the lowest point of my year – resting on my hands and knees throwing up at the side of Skaha Lake. I had expected to be clicking 6-minute miles but the race was moving away from me. Monica, Scott Molina, Team Good Guys, Mark Allen, Brant Secunda, Lisa Lessing – many people went out of their way to give me another shot at winning in Canada. Instead of victory, I was given the opportunity to face my single greatest fear in racing – a complete public meltdown.
I don’t save much race paraphernalia but I did save my bib numbers and finishers medal from 2007, I'm glad that I finished.
ST: Can you tell our readers what a typical training week in mid season looks like for you?
Gordo: I’m pretty standard. Swim 18-22K, Bike 300-500K, Run 50-80K. Variation depends on terrain and the phase of my year – big weeks see me double those numbers and focus primarily on a single sport. Ironman is about training volume, digestion and pacing. Even if you are focusing on going very fast, you need a periods of sustained aerobic volume to prepare your body to "train like a champion".
People don't like to hear this message because most of us can't handle the necessary volume in our schedules, or our constitutions. I've smoked myself many times by overshooting my personal capacities – interestingly, I have had some great races when tired. I suspect that there is more going on than what we read in the physiology textbooks.
ST: After an Ironman race, what do you do for recovery and how close together would you race Iron distance events?
Gordo: Great question, this has been changing as I age. Up until recently, I was able to handle two Ironman races split six-months apart. Ironman New Zealand (early March) fit very well with Ironman Canada (late August). I had a lot of success at both races by using an 11-month training year that ended at IMC. New Zealand preparation would be mainly aerobic training and I would start some threshold/VO2 work in April. I have never needed much "hard" training in my program and it wasn't until I was trying to go <8:30 at Ironman Canada that I did a cycle of really tough stuff (under the guidance of uber-toughman Dave Scott).
Now that I am 39, my post-race recovery is taking longer. It is early January and I still haven’t done a "standard" week of training since August. Part of that is the mental letdown of my performance but another aspect is that I get tired.
As for recovery, I focus on maximizing my personal health – as opposed to race performance. At the elite level, there are times where these two goals can diverge. By health I mean the absolute best nutrition I can afford, very low processed diet, all real food, minimal refined sugar and refined starches. The comment about sugar in the Slowtwitch Tinley interview really hit home. I feel the adverse impact of sports nutrition products on my body and mood – I feel much healthier on a real-food diet.
For your readers, "real food" is food that comes without an ingredient list.
ST: Tell us about how you spend the off-season.
Gordo: I pack my off-season with non-triathlon activities. The three main areas that I focus on are writing, finance and consulting. I have a weekly letter that I self-publish through my blog (www.GordoWorld.com). In addition, Joe Friel and I re-wrote our book (Going Long) this past autumn. I received a summary this week that shows we are nearing 40,000 copies sold. I'd like to thank everyone that bought a copy.
Prior to triathlon, I spent the 90s working in Private Equity. These days, my work centers around strategic consulting as well as helping firms manage their capital structures. Working internationally, for a wide range of clients, I learn a little bit about a lot of different things. My job is structured so that I can maintain freedom of time and location. As well, I work with a limited number of clients on personal coaching – it is a mix of career advice, training tips and personal financial management.
ST: What are your plans in terms of racing for 2008?
Gordo: I can't face a commitment to racing excellence right now. My main goals for 2008 are to improve my listening skills; get fit enough to enjoy Epic Italy; and run the Grand Canyon. I'll make the call on another trip to Penticton in July – Ironman Canada is the only race that I care about. It is my Hawaii.
ST: Do you think your coaching philosophies have changed over the years?
Gordo: Really, really good question. When I started coaching, I only had one philosophy, one tool, for my clients. As a novice coach, I could only see one way. The Master Coaches that have mentored me are humble and open minded. I was lucky to benefit from their example.
With each passing year, I learn more techniques that I can use with my clients. I don’t have a single philosophy, per se. What I have learned is a range of approaches that can be used depending on the athlete's goals, experience and background. Under my guidance, my clients vary their approach across a multiple-year time horizon. We learn from each other and, when it works, we see dramatic progress in more than just their athletics.
Here's how it happened...
In October 1998, I signed up for Ironman Canada and started training for triathlon. In August 1999, I went 11-hours at Ironman Canada using an on-line coach. The on-line coach's program didn’t work for me and I discovered Joe's book, the Triathlete's Training Bible. Joe's philosophy of consistency, recovery and specificity worked like magic for me – in my second season I qualified for Kona (as an AGer) and finished second amateur at IM Canada (9:24, I think). After that, Joe gave me a start as an associate in his business, Ultrafit.
In 2000, I moved to New Zealand and a friend introduced me to Scott Molina. Scott took an interest in me. In my case, Molina was the difference between success and failure. He's a loyal guy and a good friend. In addition to Scott and Joe, I have been fortunate to study under John Hellemans, Dave Scott and Mark Allen. There have also been some amazing athletes that have been kind enough to train with me and share their experience – John Newsom, Chuckie V, Tim Luchinske, Eric Schwartz, Clas Bjorling, Jonas Colting, Bjorn Andersson and the girls of Team World 2004.
As for an over-riding philosophy, the number one thing to remember in endurance sport is Arthur Lydiard’s advice -- Speed is the result of stamina.
Bobby McGee taught me that coaches don’t need to be better athletes than everyone else. Rather, as coaches, we need to apply our approach to demonstrate that we can achieve excellence within ourselves. The ability to demonstrate excellence is far more important than winning races and qualifying for World Champs.
ST: How are things going for you in terms of sponsorship?
Gordo: My main sponsor remains the International Bank of Gordo. There is no way I could finance my lifestyle from triathlon. As I tell neo-pros, if you want to make a living as a world class athlete… then you’d better be world class. I’ve been fortunate to have some good results, but I’m not in the same league as guys like Cam Brown, Greg Bennett or Craig Alexander (true professionals that I admire and respect).
If I can then I'd like to give a shout to a few people that supported me when there was nothing in it for them: Vinu at FuelBelt; Graham and Paula at NA Sports; Tim Moxey and his team at Blue Seventy; Brad Kearns at BradVentures and, of course, Scott Molina. In addition to my long term sponsors, the good people at Planet-X and Coffees of Hawaii will be supporting my 2008 efforts.
ST: How many bikes might we find at your house if we came by and looked?
Gordo: I'll give you the global inventory, I am in Noosa right now so this is from memory… don't tell Chuckie!
In Boulder, VeloTron fit cycle hooked up to a Met Cart (we do VO2 & physiological testing for runners, cyclists and triathletes); Pinarello road bike; Reiker Frame with PowerCranks (out of action); two (soon to be six) Planet-X bikes; one cruiser; one Cervelo aluminium TT Bike (FWIW, I prefer their aluminium design over the carbon); and one Griffen (Monica’s).
I brought a Planet-X TT bike with me to Noosa and have a Colnago in Edinburgh, Scotland. Finally, I cracked two Trek TTT frames over the years. The first was bought on eBay via Roland Green. Trek wouldn't warranty that one so it is in a buddy's garage in Vancouver. I paid full retail for the second and Trek (God Bless Them) stood behind that frame. The Trek replacement went very fast in Kona this year (underneath my good friend Dennis Meeker).
ST: You are a very outspoken person, so you surely won't mind to tell us what your triathlon pet peeves are?
Gordo: The ST forum does an excellent job of documenting what distracts people in our sport. I try to focus on the positive and remind myself that good people can make poor decisions. Drugs, infidelity, abuse of trust – these exist in our society and, therefore, it is disappointing, rather than surprising, when they pop up in our sport.
ST: Can you share with us some of your food likes and dislikes?
Gordo: After an Ironman I enjoy the pizza – I finish early so get plenty of slices. The day after is normally ice cream day and two days after is nachos with the works.
Over the years, I have made the decision to greatly reduce a lot of other things that I used to think were treats (sugar, alcohol, bread, cold cereal). As I gained a better understanding of what these items were doing to me, the "fun" associated with them fizzled out. It is a paradox that some of the things that we most enjoy often hold us back.
ST: What about music? Anything you listen to more often?
Gordo: I bought the complete Led Zep for $100 on iTunes to prepare for Epic. I also like Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, Crystal Method, Stone Temple Pilots, P.O.D., 2Pac, AC-DC, Brand New Heavies, U2, Moby, Black Eyed Peas, The Verve, Underworld, Tricky, Propellerheads and Groove Armada. There are more, but those spring to mind so I probably listen to them the most. When I was younger, I listened to a lot of Old School.
ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Gordo: Athletically, if I can sustain the motivation then I would like to set a few AG records for my aging elite buddies to crack. Aside from Tom Evans, I doubt that anyone currently racing has a shot at Dave’s super-vet Kona performances. In terms of public service, I would like to have used the internet to help 250,000 people use athletics to positively change their lives. Triathlon is a vehicle that enabled me to change the course of my life. Continually sharing that message is fun for me.
In the business world, I will continue to use my skills to pair outstanding firms with investment capital. Monica and I will direct the profits from that work towards youth athletics and education.
ST: I there anything else we should know about you?
Gordo: At the age of 30, I was totally unaware of huge athletic gifts that were lying dormant. If I had listened to the people in my life (and some on my forum) then I never would have tested the waters as an elite athlete.
The decision to resign my private-equity partnership was a huge financial decision. When I consider what makes me happy, I see that time, not money, is my most precious commodity. I learned that lesson early in life, before spending years that will not be replaced. Daily, I remind myself that I will have to give up everything – my money, my friends, my health and, finally, my life.
Speaking from experience, you will rarely regret a defeat -- I suspect that I would have deeply regretted not trying.