Sam Long is a 22-year old professional triathlete who resides in Boulder Colorado who races Ironman and 70.3 events, XTERRA races, trail running events, and whatever else sounds exciting and challenging. Long finished second at Ironman Louisville and has shown promise otherwise, but he just recently learned that his sponsorship rug might be pulled out from under him.He is still on the Timex team, but the team lost both their title sponsor Timex and the bike sponsor Trek, and now there is a lot of uncertainty for him and many of his team mates. About a week ago in Boulder I sat down with him to talk about a variety of topics.
Slowtwitch: Thank you very much for your time.
Sam Long: I am glad to be here.
ST: I heard you already had a good morning workout behind you.
Sam: Actually more of a disaster workout. I had my first and only bonk of the year and forgot what it was like, and so it was kind of a rough experience. I had to walk the final mile back to my car.
ST: Typically what does your week look like workout wise - this time of the year?
Sam: I just got started again after taking a month off, and right now the focus is on the swim, and so I am swimming 6 days a week. But before too long I will be doing 9-10 swims a week and not too much riding as that is my strength. So I am letting that go for a bit and work on my weaknesses. Running this week will be 40 miles and then I am building steadily on that. Also tons of strength training this time of year with about 5 strength sessions a week.
ST: You mentioned riding your bike less often. But what does that mean for you?
Sam: I guess that means I will not be out there riding 25 hours a week, like I do during the summer getting ready for an Ironman. So I will lose some fitness but I am ok with that.
ST: So how many hours now?
Sam: Oh, maybe 8 to 10.
ST: Back to swimming. Please describe one of the harder workouts you do in the pool.
Sam: So this time of the year the hardest swim workouts is kicking. I am just a bad kicker and I am really working on that technique. I am not kicking for propulsion, but so I can hold my body higher and make my stroke more fluid. Today the session was 800 kick straight through, and then we did something like six 200s swim on 2:40, and then another eight 50s kick on 1 minute fast. And that kick set was by far the hardest part of that swim.
ST: How much do usually kick in a swim set?
Sam: Well, this is all new for me. During the season I was maybe doing a 100 kick in a 5,000 meter set.
ST: How did that run go after that morning swim set?
Sam: Terrible. My glutes were super tight, because when you kick well you have to clench the butt, and it uses all the muscles in the back. Plus this was a 14.5 mile run and I had not run more than 10 miles in 6 weeks. So that is one reason the run was hard, but because of all the kicking I could not find my stride and after 14 miles I stopped and walked the final ½ mile to the car.
ST: How much do you ride on the trainer at home?
Sam: Not super much. During the summer I won’t get on it at all. But during the winter I will get on it when weather demands, and in Boulder that means during certain weeks it is every ride. But other weeks during the winter I am not on the trainer at all.
ST: What is that tipping point for you to decide when to ride on the trainer instead of outdoors?
Sam: That is a good question, and frankly that is more about my mental state of being and not so much about weather. I have gone out in snow, 30 degrees temps and massive winds, and I just hop on my mountain bike if that is what I am in the mood for. Other times it could be 40 degrees, sunny and mild wind and on that day maybe I just can’t deal with the cold and I hop on the trainer instead. But if it is 20 degrees and snowing that is probably the point when I say I have to be inside, otherwise I usually prefer outside.
ST: When I was in Boulder you were doing a Zwift session at Full Cycle together with Timex buddy Justin Metzler, and you said it was your first time on Zwift. How did it find you?
Sam: Zwift was a good experience. It’s fun. We had a few technical flaws, so my power didn’t translate to speed. Overall, I love to be outside so do not see myself getting into it—mostly because of the cost of a smart trainer.
ST: What kind of power meter do you use and what kind of average do you hold in a 70.3 race?
Sam: I am on a Stages dual sided meter. My last 70.3 was 330 NP at St. George. IM’s are right around ~300. I hope to be holding more around 350 this season.
ST: Looking back at the 2018 season, what would you say was the highlight?
Sam: The highlight of the year was definitely Louisville. That was a totally cool race and I led it from mile 40 on the bike to mile 20 on the run. That was a cool experience and my best result of the year. So I was very happy with that.
ST: When you were caught during the run did you fight back or were you content with second place?
Sam: I fought back as hard as I could. I was still running well at that point and averaging 6:40 per mile. But Chris Leiferman who won averaged a 6:30 pace. I ran with him about 800 meters and then I thought maybe he might bonk, so I stayed on the gas. But my best wasn’t enough. And no I was not really content with second place. Because after being in the lead that long I thought I could win it.
ST: Often when your goal is simply to grab a podium spot, second place does not seem too bad.
Sam: That has been my approach the rest of the year, but then I spent 2 weeks with Ben Hoffman in Tucson and he really got my mind dialed. He was like “Dude I am shocked you have not won an Ironman. Considering how much you train I think you are selling yourself short.” And after that I was like if Ben Hoffman believes I can win an Ironman, then so can I. It did not happen that day, but it was very close.
ST: You do need to believe in yourself. Because if you don’t think you can win, you will not.
ST: What is your connection to Ben Hoffman?
Sam: Ben and I are training buddies. I think we get along quite well and are both not shy about putting some major training in. I owe a lot to Ben. He has taught me loads about performing well. He invited me to his place mostly out of the blue.
ST: Which pros do you look up to and why?
Sam: I admire other pros in part for what have done in the sport but also in general for how fulfilling of a life they live. Most of the pros I have come to admire are people I have had some contact with. The Hoff is likely at the top of the list. Some others are Mel Hauschildt, Tyler Butterfield, Sebastian Kienle, and quite a few others!
ST: Let us talk about Team Timex. You are on the team, but there are some big changes coming.
Sam: That is true, but I am still on Team Timex until the end of the year.
ST: Suunto is the new sponsor of the team, but what does that mean for you in 2019?
Sam: I have been talking to them and have been excited about that partnership, especially since the new team is really going to align well with my values as an athlete with adventure racing and being very passionate. Because I race XTERRA races, Half Ironman events, bike races, trail running races and Ironman and all sorts of stuff and that is what this team is about. Granted, nothing has come to fruition yet, and if that does not come through I will only have one sponsor already lined up for next year. I could potentially pretty much get hosed over.
ST: But that would not stop you?
Sam: Absolutely not.
ST: I think you are only 22-years old.
Sam: Yes 22.
ST: And thus only at the beginning of your career.
Sam: True. It can be hard because that financial support is important. I am not concerned about making a million bucks next year, I am just trying to get enough for food etc, but even that may potentially not happen. But thankfully I have family who will help me out for another year.
ST: Talking about next year, what is your next target?
Sam: My next big target will be 70.3 St. George and leading into that I will be doing the Napa Marathon on March 3rd and then 70.3 Oceanside. But the real target is St. George.
ST: Good luck with that transition into 2019 and thanks for your time.
Sam: Thank you very much.
You can follow Sam Long's adventures on Instagram via @samgolong