Friday, August 4, 2017

Ironman Crusher: Interview with Brice Williams

Dr. Brice Williams is a 2x Kona qualifier who shredded IM Santa Rosa last week with a time of 9:21. Among other things, here he talks about deciding not to accept the Kona slot this year and shares some great advice for the tri community.

Thanks for the time, Brice!

What’s your athletic background and how did you get into triathlon?

I swam in high school, did a little track and wrestling. Even tried out for basketball (that didn't go well). I swam one year at BYU as a sprinter, but then went on my LDS mission, and came home fat and slow. I then went on to race motocross through the rest of college and half of medical school until I had my first little girl, and got hurt. The bike was sold and motocross was a thing of the past. My wife had done a few triathlons with her dad growing up. She and he were the ones that got me into them. I did my first race back here in Utah during my first year as a ophthalmology resident. After that I was hooked.

Last year you were the 2nd fastest Utahn at Kona in 10:16 (Sebe Ziesler 10:06)… how would you summarize your race & overall experience on the Big Island?

Race and experience were awesome! Looking forward to going back and performing to my potential. The first time racing there is always a learning experience. I had a couple bike flats and I under biked last time, which really set me up for a good run, but overall I left A LOT on the table. I took the family and that was great. We came out to Oahu for three or four days, then went to the big island a week before the race. We left Monday after the race. The only thing I may do different next time would be to go out by myself about a week before, get in all the training and recovery I need to, then the family joins me Friday before the race. Then we stay for another week or so after the race doing the tourist stuff. That way my energy isn't constantly divided between the race and the family. Plus, I get a week to eat like a Hawaiian.

Out of curiosity, roughly what would you say the all-in $$ cost of the Kona trip is? Do you get absolutely gauged on housing or is it reasonable?

Housing can be all over the place depending on what you do. I would say plan on 5-10 thousand dollars in expenses to go over there and stay for a week or two. Take your family and make a vacation out of it.

What other Ironmans have you done, and what are your thoughts on Santa Rosa in comparison?

Santa Rosa was my fourth Ironman race. I've done Maryland, Tahoe and Kona. I thought Santa Rosa was great in comparison, but each race was fun. Not too cold, not too hot. Now that it's in May it would be too cold for me. Tahoe was way too cold. Kona was just right (are you getting a feel for what a wuss I am when it comes to the cold?). Santa Rosa has a great bike route, lots of rolling hills in the beginning, then flat and fast at the end. It's not the best spectator course, the swim is hard to get to and the bike is spread out, run is a bit better, but not much to do around Santa Rosa for kids. Maryland was great and an easy course, and weather is usually nice, but sometimes they have trouble with the water being too rough. Again, not the best place for kids, but still fun overall. I really want to do Texas, but have been injured twice leading into that one and had to withdraw. If doing a Saturday race is a priority for you then I would recommend Santa Rosa, Texas, Maryland and Florida. Then of course Kona. It's nice to have a few races to choose from that take place on a Saturday.

Lake Tahoe: Brice, Luke Rothey, BJ Christenson & Marc Rosello

You finished in a blistering 9:21 (~54, 4:55, 3:23), good for 2nd in your AG and 10th overall… were you aware of your place throughout the day? Did you feel strong all the way through or have to mentally and physically really dig deep?

Thanks! I knew out of the swim and on the bike that I was close to the top 5 or so, spectators and announcers kept us a bit informed. On the run... on the first lap I stayed pretty much in the same position, 5-7 or so. After that you couldn't really tell who was on which lap so I lost track of my placement, plus with the rolling start you never really know. In reality it didn't really matter to me. I was racing my race and focused on the things I could control (heart rate, attitude, nutrition, etc). I did have to dig a bit deep on the run. I was still recovering from a tibial stress fracture and my longest run going into the race was the week before at 11 miles, on a treadmill with a bit of incline just to make the impact softer. So, you can imagine the run was going to be a bit of a mystery. I knew the first 13 miles would be fine, after that it was going to be pure mind over body and not quitting despite any pain. While it was not my fastest run ever, it wasn't too bad overall.

Why did you choose not to take the well-earned Kona slot this year? Had you already made that decision beforehand or did you arrive there afterwards? Also, did you go to the awards ceremony and give some lucky guy the news?

I had already decided that this was going to be my last full distance race for a couple years. I knew that might mean leaving behind a Kona slot, but that was OK. I feel like I can get back there anytime as long as I'm healthy and give it a good 4-6 mos of dedicated training. Why leave full distance races for a couple years? I had been going at this now for a couple years, and it comes with some significant sacrifice. The time, the constant fatigue (mental and physical), the diet, the recovery demands and overall discipline take its toll on the family/work/church/etc. It was time to let that go for a bit and focus on other things. In the end this is for fun, and one has to keep priorities straight. At Santa Rosa I stayed for the awards, but didn't stay for the Kona allocation, so not sure who got the slot, but I'm sure he's super excited.

From your perspective what’s the key to being able to run well off the bike at the Ironman distance?

Well, given that I didn't run much before Santa Rosa, my idea of this has changed a bit. If you have a strong running base, then you don't really have to run much to do a good marathon. Don't get me wrong, I did my fair share of water running and training on a zero runner, but my running volume was super wimpy compared to previous builds. So, take that for what it's worth. Otherwise I would say, bike within your abilities on race day, especially the first half of the bike. I race and train according to heart rate and power, both of which keep you in check. Highly recommend it. In training I rarely run without biking first. I would say, that for me, one key to running well off the bike is the way which my coach has me do my long ride/long run combo. It starts on Friday morning, biking long (anywhere from 4.5-6 hours), then immediately getting off and running 30-60 minutes (yes I go to work Friday afternoon, but I'm thrashed). The next morning (Saturday for me) I will get on the bike again for 1-1.5 hours. This is usually a recovery type ride with a short interval session, like tabatas or a 15 min above threshold effort, then I get off and do my long run (1.5-2 hours). If I'm to the point where I can and need to run over 2 hours in a single day, we will split the runs up into two sessions. For me, that would look like a run in the morning (1-1.5 hours), then in the afternoon doing the bike (1-1.5 hours) and the second run as a brick (1-1.5 hours).

All my runs, with the exception of one interval session a week, are all aerobic efforts based on heart rate, and, if I'm healthy, I'm usually running 40 miles/week. Those Saturday runs are usually not super fun, the legs are tired, and I'm tired. Thank goodness for caffeine, it gets me through those days. Going out on a second run Saturday afternoon, in the heat, after already running 15-20 miles in less than 24 hours and up to 150-170 miles on the bike is the closest way I have found to mimic the last half of a Ironman marathon (which is where the real Ironman race begins, the one in your head). Sunday is a recovery day in more ways than one. The other thing I'll mention that is key to having a strong second half of your Ironman marathon is to nail your nutrition on the bike and the first half of the run. If you mess up your nutrition during those parts of the race, it will manifest itself around mile 15-18 of the run.

What other general advice would you have for newer, less-experienced triathletes going long?

Take your time getting there. It's taken me two years of long distance competing to get to the point that I feel like I can "race" an Ironman. There is an important distinction between participating in a full distance Ironman and racing a full distance Ironman. Racing is a different ball game and takes time to figure it out. But it is what it's going to take to be competitive for a Kona slot on a consistent basis. Sure, you may get lucky and slide into a slot by the skin of your teeth, which is great, but to be consistent and confident in your ability to be competitive for a slot each time you "race", it will take years of specific and consistent training and racing. The other piece of counsel is to get a long distance specific coach. Two years ago I decided I wanted to go to Kona and I specifically went out and found a coach that specializes in getting people to Kona. His name is Doug MacLean and is part of the QT2 systems coaching service. Having him guide me through all this has made a world of difference. There are lots of triathlon coaches out there. Many of them are good, some are great. In general, just like in life, you get what you pay for. A long distance coach, that has a track record of getting people to Kona (if that's your goal), will be your biggest expense, but the best investment you can make.

You’ve pretty much reached the pinnacle of AG racing… what are your goals for the future? Will Kona and/or qualifying be an annual challenge and quest, or will you mix it up with shorter races (or time off, etc)?

My next two years will be focused on less training and shorter races here locally, maybe a couple half distance races each year. I've heard rumblings of a Utah state championship series in the works, and that sounds fun for next year. I would also like to help out a few friends reach their goals next year with a touch of coaching, something I haven't had time to do in the past. In my mind I'm thinking of doing Ironman Texas in 2019, and Kona later that year. I have a few goals in mind that I want to reach and that just may be my year to hit them.

What are your favorite local races and why?

Well, the Bountiful triathlon is one. I started that race about 10 years ago, then gave it to a friend, and she still organizes it every year. It's fun to show up and cheer people on or race it. It's a reverse order tri, which for a pool tri is my favorite format. I like Echo and Spudman, both have lots of good competition and the courses are great. Other than that I really haven't raced locally for a while. I'm looking forward to doing more local races in 2018.

Anything else you want to share?

Keep it fun! Sure, some days are not going to be fun, but overall you should enjoy the training. I've gotten caught up in the past in the whole "I have to qualify for Kona" thing, and that takes some of the fun out of the process. Lately I have tried to focus on enjoying the training process, enjoying being fit and most of all enjoying racing. Letting go of the outcome and focusing on "controllables" during a race has made racing more fun, and probably made me go faster. Letting go of outcomes has also made dealing with injuries easier as well.

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