The Grass is Greener in Florida

By David Demres | March 27, 2013, 12 a.m. (ET)

davidMy first two triathlons of 2013 — the Clermont and Sarasota Elite Development Races in Florida — were two of the most fun I’ve ever raced. I took seventh and ninth – both solid races for my first draft-legal efforts and training in the Connecticut winter. More importantly, I had the opportunity to travel with some fantastic coaches and other collegiate recruits, and to learn from them over the course of the 10 day trip. Watching Kyla Chapman take the win in the Clermont EDR and Katie Hursey taking seventh in both of her first two pro races, working together with John O’Neill on the bike during both races, and living with some talented USAT recruits, I learned constantly from these up-and-coming and soon-to-be pros. Here are a few of the takeaways:

More than anything, I learned that the pros take good care of their bodies. We did not have a single break without someone foam rolling, icing or massaging out sore muscles, and not a single afternoon without naps. My roommate Sam even got Siri to find and book him a massage therapist in Sarasota while en route to a pre-race swim. (I think this was the first thing I’ve ever seen Siri do successfully.) It was a solid departure from my normal routine of going all-out in a workout then immediately showering and speed walking to my office.

This extends to nutrition, too: rarely have I seen such borderline-OCD nutrition-label-reading, comparing the grams of protein in two basically identical sports bars. Nor have I seen so many orders of the “20 Minutes to Fitness Salad” at the Lucky Pelican, our restaurant of choice in Sarasota. (Well, actually that was my order. Both times. I was the only one willing to say the name out loud.) For the most part, every one of the athletes I travelled with makes a conscious effort to know what they put in their body and how it makes them feel. Their years of experimentation makes pre-race meals a no-brainer; they know when and what to eat to perform their best.

davidStill, the pros don’t stress out over every calorie. We had our nights making chocolate chip cookie dough pancakes and eating Costco-sized boxes of Goldfish. One of the recruits, Alex Russeau, even has a strict “I eat ice cream every night” policy. It may be the best thing I’ve ever heard. “You have to have something to train for,” he told me. The man is a saint. Nutrition is a holistic science, and although you must check all the right boxes, it’s also important to enjoy eating once and a while, too.

The pros are a committed bunch. The sport self-selects for athletes not afraid of long-term commitment, and not just in sports – comically, nearly every single person in our group is in a serious relationship (if not with a person, at the very least with their bike and lycra suits). This is why I tell my friends never to go to a triathlon looking for a date. But in all seriousness, these are some of the most genuinely committed people I know!

Triathlon may be an individual, self-focused sport, but top triathletes seem to also self-select as athletes who support the people they care about, and know how to inspire others to support them – whether with sponsorship or in a bike pack. This sport is tough to do alone, so every shared tip about social media, or bike mounts, or eating ice cream every night, goes a long way.

The pros think out the details and know how to do their own thing on race day. They have a specific warm-up and know what they need to do to get ready for the race, and they don’t get distracted by everything going on around them.

davidMost of all, the pros know how to create feedback loops. They talk over races with competitors and teammates, talk with the coach, jot down notes and record race reports; then they even blog about what they’ve learned on trips and solicit comments on it.

Those 10 days in Florida were part of the best (and most exhausting) vacation I could have asked for. It was living the dream along with people who had similar dreams and peeking into the life of a full-time pro. Most of us don’t have the time or resources to do these things all the time, but some of these habits I learned could be adopted with just a little extra attention. Now, until I make it to that next level, back to the daily grind!

What habits have you found separate the top triathletes from the rest?