From The Archives: Inside Triathlon’s Profile Of Simon Whitfield

  • By Courtney Baird
  • Published Oct 23, 2013
Photo: John Segesta


On intensity in training

Whitfield: I’m training very differently this year than I ever have trained. … It’s less intensity and more general mileage. I always used to train at an incredibly high level of intensity with not a lot of volume. It was intensity, intensity, intensity. Every single day. Except for Mondays, basically. I didn’t do a lot of long rides. I didn’t do a lot of long runs. It was just intensity, intensity, intensity. Last year I was doing, at one point, five hard runs a week. Some of them were just 10 minutes off the bike, and others were, you know, 6 x 1 mile, or 7 x 1 mile, whatever it was. But I’m not doing that anymore. We’re just doing long—we’re doing a lot of like zone 3, zone 2 training. We’ll see. It’s working so far.

On Whitfield’s distrust of exercise physiologists

Whitfield: It seems to me they’re so trapped in the acquisition of grants, and there’s so much more to it. If you had the sole attention of an exercise physiologist who worked with the coaches closely, who built a trusting relationship with them and used practical application of whatever tools they had, that would be one thing. But that’s not the way it is. The exercise physiologists always have the fancy equipment and they always have great ideas—theoretical ideas—and they’re always telling the coaches how it is. They’re educating them and yet they get to a race and they’re saying, “Oh, I didn’t realize that happened. Oh, I didn’t know you had to do that. Oh, I didn’t realize that this happened.” And so it’s a huge learning process for them. But I can’t afford for the exercise physiologist to be guinea pigging me. I can’t be his experiment, you know, where he finds out, “Oh, those first five things I tried with you are wrong. Sorry about those three years.” I don’t have three years anymore.

On altitude training

Whitfield: I’ve done altitude before. We did it before Beijing, but we did it in the winter. And we didn’t know what we were doing. And we didn’t even pretend we knew what we were doing. So we just went to altitude and just trained hard. Because we were like, well, we don’t know what we’re doing but altitude is the hardest stimulus, so we’ll just use the hardest stimulus. But we’re not going to pretend we know what we’re doing. … Now we have access to a very, very smart and very, very accomplished altitude protocol. And a consultant. And so that’s our weapon. That’s the card we’re going to play, and we’ll see how it goes. We are absolutely either going to hit a home run or go down swinging.

On tapering

Whitfield: You can’t just simply lie on your back. You have to keep some intensity, but you have to figure out what that balance is. … So, for tapering, keep some intensity and stick to your routine—there’s some simple tricks. I mean, like I see guys over-hydrate, which is always funny. Like you get to the race and they’ve got the 2L water bottle with them and they just flush everything out of their system.

Whitfield: One of the best things Joel ever did was he taught us not to search for confidence before races. Joel had great advice before the races. You did all this training and then six weeks out you weren’t allowed to do things that were searching for confidence. We did quite a few workouts where we didn’t know how fast we climbed that climb or how fast we did that rep. We weren’t allowed to wear watches on certain reps because we weren’t going to search for confidence. We were just going to run.

On nutrition

Whitfield: I subsist on a ton of quality bacon and quality fats. You wouldn’t believe how much omega oil fish oil and Udo’s flax oil and NutraSea omega oil—you wouldn’t believe how much coconut oil—we use at home and how much bacon I eat. You wouldn’t believe how much avocado my kids eat and I eat. So it’s a high-fat, high-protein, limited carbohydrate diet—a quality carbohydrate diet.

On his favorite workouts

Whitfield: My favorite swim workout is open water. I think we get the most out of that. On Thetis Lake in Victoria, there’s the big island loop—it’s 1,400 meters. We used to think it was 1,500 until we measured it properly. I like hard open-water sets with a group, properly, with a group. Not alone. Quality swimming. I believe in just quality swimming. None of this floating around—slow precise strokes that are actually really bad strokes ’cause you’re doing them slowly. … With cycling I like anything competitive, like group rides, and attacks and big, long, hard climbs—just rides with the boys. That’s what I like. I hate going out for easy spins. I don’t enjoy it. I don’t really like long, easy rides, but I do them because I have to. My swim-bike theory would be summarized as “go hard often.”

On the most useful gadgets

Whitfield: The most useful is the power meter. I have a LeMond Revolution Trainer at home. It’s so consistent. It’s like riding on the road. I bought it because it’s just the best trainer. I use the Quarq Power Meter. … There’s too much intensity involved in our training to be just out riding, so using the power meter to know I’m doing this in the right zone as prescribed for me—that’s quite useful.

On the most useless piece of equipment

Whitfield: The heart rate monitor would have to be up there. It’s not to say it’s not useful, but it sure can be deceptive if you’re not using it in the right context. … Your heart rate is going to change as you’re dehydrated, as you’re tapered, as the day prescribes, as the amount of coffee you had. This is the stuff I hate. I hate measurement data mining—measurement for the sake of measurement.

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