I got it. Here it is folks, the interview w/ my coach John Hirsch, aka "Coach J", http://johnhirsch.org/. Dude is good folks, enjoy.
Rob: Coach J, thanks for taking on this interview. You're one interesting cat and the readers of my blog will get a kick out of learning more about you.
Rob: To start off, I know you're a pro triathlete, lawyer, coach, and former hard core rock singer. Are there some other kick-ass professions you've had?
Coach J: I have a Commercial Drivers License, so I can drive school buses. I am also good a minor-minor surgery, like splinter removal. I think I could make a nice living doing that but I think you need a degree or something. Oh, and I am an ok spoken word artist, but that doesn't pay the bills.
Rob: Dude I'm pumped you live in Harlem World. You ever bump into Rev Al? Me and Lisa went out there back in 2000 and there were these cats dressed in some biblical type stuff and preaching on one of the corners (I think it was 125th), are they still out there?
Coach J: To be fair I live on what should be 124ht, one block south of Harlem. It was Harlem then Columbia U and some real estate agents decided to rename these few blocks, so depending on when and who you ask it is or is not Harlem. I have worded with several reverends, mostly because they get involved when some one from their church gets arrested, but never meet Rev. Sharpton. I loved him in the debates when he ran for president. I think he said a lot of things that no one else said, mostly about the problems of the poor in this country, which I think both parties ignore. You got a party for the rich, and a party for the middle class, but no representation for the poor and working poor. Mr. Sharpton was great at pointing that out. Sadly, I think some of the message was lost on people who were to caught up on him and not what he was saying. Truth is truth, regardless of where it comes from.
Rob: Now what got you into triathlon? I think I remember from your blog that you were a collegiate soccer player, so I see where that competitive drive comes from. Did you do other competition sports coming up? Did your siblings compete too?
Coach J: I got into running and Mt bike racing too for x training for soccer and because I have always liked all kinds of sports. I also surfed and was very comfy in open water. I sucked at all those sports, but when you put them together it turns out I wasn't bad. There is a great local tri on Block Island where my folks live, and I think I took top 10 in my first race and loved it. Back then it was just adventures and challenges, mt bike racing, marathons, xterra, tris, whatever. I think I stuck with tri because I loved the training the most, and Ironman was the biggest of all adventures. My younger sister is a trip. We are super tight. She is the best athlete in the family. She was offered full rides to college and was all state in 4 sport. She is a GREAT personal trainer now and super fit. I want to get her into racing, well see, she got a nice road bike. Hopefully this year, if she does-- watch out.
Rob: What's a typical training week like for you? Could you answer this in a few ways; (1) When your training occurs during your lawyer work weeks, and (2) when you take some time off work and put in those epic blocks ala Strong Like Bull?, (3) recovery weeks.
Coach J: 1) When I am working it really depends on what time of the year it is, and what year it is. This winter was all about running, which was pretty easy to handle because it requires less time and less good weather. A typical weekday might be 2 hour run from 6-8. Breakfast/shower ride 35 minutes to work. Lunchtime: swim 1 hour. ride 30 minutes home. that's an easy 4 hour day to work in to my life. I even get time for TV.Weekends when I am working I tend to go long.Normally 6-7 hours on the bike with a transition run of 30-60 minutes each day.March will be different since I got my base work done and will be racing both running races and bikes a lot.When I am training full time it also depends on the time of year. Spain is bike heavy because its amazingly riding, and great weather which you can't get in the Northeast. A day in Spain goes like this, 8 am: run. 9 am: Mandy's super fab yoga and core class.10:30 ride 4-7 hours. 6 pm: swim (sometimes). That's how you hit 40 hours of training in a week. When I am gearing up for a race I ride less, run and swim more, and each day is different. There is a lot more hard and steady stuff so there is more recovery too. I got my training log posted on my site if peeps wanna see the details.Recovery weeks for me are near shutdowns. Right now I am doing my A.S.S. method. that's 16 days of training/5 recovery. Those 5 days are 1 day off, and 4 days of 60 min or less of training.
Rob: Okay I'm biased, but I think you've got this thing down for training and motivating athletes as a coach. Where did that capability come from? Is is something innate or is it something you had to develop?
Coach J: I think the training stuff comes from a lot of research and reading, and then trial and error. I give all my athletes unlimited access to me, and I want that from them. So each athlete I work with is a chance for me to learn and grow. firing off a plan to someone won't make you a better coach, it might put a dollar in your pocket, but that's it. Seeing how people respond, seeing what works and doesn't, that really key. Also I think I try to take into account the person, and their life. The plans are 100% custom, and a plan that doesn't fit the athlete's time isn't really useful.I use to think I was lacking in the motivation area as a coach. Its really hard to connect with people remotely, over email and the net. I try to overcome that with blogs, camps, and tons of emails, aim, and texts. I think my blog is honest and pretty particular, I think it screens people for me: if you read it and like it, you will work well with me. People get a chance to preview me before working with me and that's really good. So the athletes I work with and ones who are self selected to be good fits and be motivated by me as a coach. The other key thing is that I am in the dreams and goals business. When I started out, I did coaching for free. I still do it for cheap. I love it. I love seeing people set goals, ironmans, half ironmans, whatever, and work to get their. Its easy to be motivated for something so awesome as that. The athletes who I work with, don't need motivation, they have tons of it, I just remind them how amazing getting to that finish line will feel.I think some might be motivated by my blog a bit too. I share my training and racing online and they see that if you are willing to suffer you will go father and faster. Its a celebration of effort, and pain; for effort and pain's sake. I think their is a kind of madness to it, and you have to be kind of nuts to do what we do. Maybe people connect with that.The coolest thing is that now there is a CREW of peeps all pulling and motivating each other. I love that.They post on each others sites, email each other, many connected in Spain. Its great.
Rob: Back to the coaching thing, I imagine on one hand its gratifying to see your athletes have their dreams come true of finishing their first Ironman, also its gotta be really cool to coach experienced athlete to break-through performance. On the other hand I imagine there's some challenges out there for being a coach. What are some good and tough things about coaching?
Coach J: Being at a race with athletes is awesome. I was at Ironman LP and on course with a press pass with 6 athletes out there. I loved it. I got finish line passes and got to put a medal around a few of their necks. Hands down the super rewarding. Seeing you, Ken and Mandy take off monster chunks of time also really was great The hardest thing to do is to pull the plug on someone. To step in as the voice of reason and say, "you shouldn't do this." Lucky for me I haven't had to with an ironman, but I have had to with other races and you know the athlete wants to race, but they shouldn't. I hate giving good people bad news.Also, the tough thing about coaching, is that its all about the athlete. I am there 100% to support them, that's how the coach athlete relationship works in this sport (unlike team sports). As a pro, sometimes I want it to be all about me. Sometimes I want to focus on myself more. But my athletes need a coach in real time, so sometime when the black berry buzzes, I have to check myself and put them first.
Rob: Now about your racing. What Ironman have you got lined up for this season? How are you feeling about it at this point in the season?
Coach J: Its way to early, BUT I have had the best winter in a long time. First off my run focus was really good. Then I went to Spain and after 2, 10 day sessions of huge training I feel like I have never been so fit so early. Importantly for me I am thin. Weight and proper diet have been a problem for me. This off seasons I finally got a plan and started working with Jesse at http://www.qt2systems.com/ and he has changed my body and fueling. I am at last years race weight and BMI already and got tons of energy for my workouts. His changes in my diet have also increased my recovery. I think that's gonna really help me this year.That said its WAY to early know. I am doing the Kinetic Half. in VA on 4/19 then St. Croix in May. After that its a little break and some sprints, including the Ridgefield Tri and Lake Waramoug tri in CT, both are awesome races. Then Mountaineer Man in WVa and then RI 70.3 and finally Ironman Kentucky. I might change things and do IMLP but that I doubt it right now as i really wanna do all those halfs. Oh and I got to defend my title at the Block Island tri!
Rob: As a pro triathlete, what strategy do take to executing an Ironman race? Is it good hard as possible from the gun, or is it based on monitoring some external device like your HRM or powermeter?
Coach J: I don't race with a hrm because I think the numbers get less useful when racing. I don't use a power meter because i am too poor to have one. Iroman isn't one race really. Its several and my pacing differs along the way. The swim is all out for the first 10 minutes to try to make a good group. then its just getting to t1 using as little energy as possible to stay with the group you are in.I try to take the first 2 hours of the bike very easy. Like I am always going 2 levels below what I could do. By miles 80 this pays off and i start catching people. That's where the race begins if you ask me. the run is about pace for me. I know from my training what to shot for and my legs tell me if its gonna happen. I try to run even, which means the first half of the marathon is easy. Just ticking the miles away. If you are still moving steady for the last 10 miles you move up a lot. That said sometimes you just need to go for it, and take some risks and push. You never really know what will happen until you try.
Rob: Again on your racing. A big part of racing I imagine is mental. Do you use a mantra or something for keeping your energy levels up? What do you think about?
Coach J: I think about the race most of the time. Its a game in that sense. I get splits from Mandy and my dad and that helps me stay busy in my head. But its a long long long day so there is time to have your head go good or bad. To keep it good I think of how pretty the course is. How amazing even doing an ironman is. The go-to place for everyone is to imagine what it will be like to run down those last 100 yards and cross that finish line. How can you not keep going. Oh, and also double caffeine GUs help alot too! Often mental is physical ya know?A huge pick me up is to catch people. Its one of the rewards of proper pacing. Its so much easier emotionally to go from 20th to 15th then from 10th to 15th. When I am catching people on the run I say over and over "Let the bodies hit the floor." I got it from some alt rock song.Lastly I sing a lot on course; one is that it checks my breathing, which is great for judging effort, second is music really motivated me. I sing a lot of punk, hardcore, metal,hip hop, and chick rock.
Rob: J, I appreciate your time my brotha. Be strong this season and I hope you get a bunch of podiums. Peace.
Coach J: PEACE!