Swim 2.4 miles. Bike 112 miles. Run 26.2 miles. That’s your standard Ironman triathlon. The king of all Ironman triathlons is The Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. This year on October 10th, more than 2,000 athletes will attempt to be crowned the ultimate Ironman. One of those competitors is LifeProof Athlete Andy Potts. We chatted with him about his #1 eating rule, what he can't start a race without, and "cupcake season."
You didn’t start training for triathlon until after college—and it only took you 18-months to get good enough to make the 2004 Olympics team. How were you able to get so good later in life—in such a short period of time?
AP: Success in most things boils down to ability and effort. It’s very rare that ability can trump effort at the highest level of sports as things are usually pretty close and so I have always put a lot of stock in my effort and approach.
With that said, I am extremely fortunate to have great genes (thanks, Mom & Dad) and also a lifetime of great coaching, direction and athletic experience. My years of swimming, and then track, gave me an athletic base to work from despite the fact that I was really out of shape when I started in the sport. Since I got into the sport, I have been like a sponge, finding the best coaches and mentors, which really accelerated my learning curve. In the end, if I am honest with myself, my success has been driven by my attitude and the sweat equity I put into my training.
Do you have any advice for men who want to start a new fitness pursuit or sport post-college?
AP: The first thing is listening to your heart. Find something that you enjoy and will challenge you no matter how far you take it; triathlon, cycling, running, obstacle racing, CrossFit, tennis, etc. all fit the bill. The next step is to make a commitment to yourself by eating right, gaining strength, and learning about your new pursuit. The last step would be to reach out to trusted people to find out how you can get more engaged and dive in.
How does getting older impact your performance and how you train? What are the benefits that come with age?
AP: We are all getting older every day; I look at it as I am just getting wiser. Those who continue to improve are the ones who are able to diagnose their deficiencies and seek to eliminate their weaknesses. I don't recover as quickly as I used to but I'm much stronger physically than ever before. I help recovery by spending more time stretching, getting massage, and I use my Compex Muscle Stimulator daily. I've attacked the weight room the last couple of years to make sure that I'm gaining strength. I use lifting as a way to supplement my swimming, biking, and running.
Equally important, as I get older, I have a greater perspective and more to ‘fight for.’ When I go out to race, I am not just racing for myself - I race for my family, my children, my corporate partners and my fans. When I am training, it takes time away from my family time, so I make it count. Sometimes I still end up doing double duty - last week, I was on the bike trainer, sweating buckets as I was testing my son for his spelling exam.
You’ve won many championships, but never the Ironman World Championships. What do you think it’s going to take to win this year in Kona?
AP: Winning Kona takes a special day by any athlete. There are so many factors that go into a race like Kona, I can only focus on the things that I can control such as being fully prepared come race day (physically and mentally) and performing to the best of my ability on race day. For me, it’s all about attitude and effort. If I can get those things right, I give myself the best chance to be in a position to win the race.
A full Ironman can take almost half of an entire day to complete. How do you push past the mental struggle of simply having to push your body for such a long period of time?
It’s pretty funny - if you were to ask many Ironman racers and their families, the day is longer for the spectators than the racers. That said, in a race this long it’s inevitable that you are going to have a few ‘low’ moments and the goal is to minimize those lows by staying focused. Focus has a lot to do with your physical preparation but it also has a lot to do with your nutrition. If you can stay in the moment over the course of an all day endurance event then that tells me that you are on top of your nutrition and hydration. By staying in the moment and focusing on the task at hand you actually make the event less daunting. I try to break it down into manageable parts so I don't get overwhelmed on race day.
I stay in the moment by constantly going through a mental ‘checklist’ in my head, focusing on technique, pace, hydration, position, etc.
Equally important, there are a few key things that I do prior to an event that which prepare me for race day. Specifically for Kona, I made a playlist that I play for all of my really tough workouts. As I am going through these workouts, I am envisioning the race, so when it comes to race day, I will have these training sessions and the musical cues to come back to.
How much do you eat during your training for a full Ironman—how is it different from your normal diet or when training for a half? What do you eat during the race itself—anything unusual or surprising?
AP: My diet has been refined throughout the years. I used to eat a bag of pretzels and pizza pie after a big training session. Now, I try to eat as clean as possible. During the winter, we have what is called ‘cupcake season’ in my house where my wife brings home cupcakes from her cupcakery every day. Besides that, my diet does not vary much. My cardinal rule for eating is to taper your eating throughout the day- Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch and a pauper for dinner.
During the race - I eat and drink when I am hungry or thirsty. I know that sounds like a crazy idea but I have been doing this long enough that I have a really strong understanding of what my body is telling me. I can’t start a race without a muffin or two!
What are you most looking forward to in the Kona race? What challenges are you most concerned about?
AP: I just cannot wait to race! One of the exciting things about what I do is that I get an opportunity to celebrate my hard work on a big stage like the Ironman World Championships. I have no idea how it will play out but I am super curious to find out. One of the things I'm looking forward to the most is the chance to hug my family after I race. That, and eat some Ben and Jerry's ice cream!
Can you offer some advice to our readers who may not compete in a full Ironman but who are interested in getting in to the sport of triathlon?
AP: I think the triathlon community is very welcoming of new athletes. I would recommend that they reach out to a local tri club to start learning the ins and outs of the sport. There is a lot of gear and three separate sports that you need to prepare for, so having someone to lean on is a big relief. Physically, the biggest step is to do back-to-back activities to get your body used to changing sports and using different muscles (swim then bike, bike then run, run then swim, etc.).
Triathlon is such a gear-heavy sport! If you were only allowed three things outside of a tri suit, bike, helmet, and running shoes to compete in an Ironman, which three would you choose?
AP: Like most triathletes, I love the gear and wish I could have more. My three go-to items are definitely my LifeProof cases, ISM Saddle & my Polar Heart Rate Monitor as I use them all daily in training and life.
The LifeProof cases save my iPhone and iPad when traveling (which I do a lot), from my kids (who are always dropping their devices) and in training. I use my LifeProof in the pool to monitor my swim stroke and on the bike/run for everything from reading books to monitoring my key workout stats as my phone is connected to my Polar v800 watch.
Before I found ISM Saddles, I had a hard time walking after long workouts and constantly struggled with numbness. Being able to ride for 2-4 hours everyday and not have any pain, discomfort or numbness has changed my life.
And lastly, my polar v800 is something I would not know how to live without. My workout data automatically uploads so that my coach can monitor my training without having to wait for me to get him the information. It also has some great features where my wife can find me if she is ever looking for me when I am out training, which gives us both peace of mind.