by Nick Mathers, EC Team Member
This month, we're talking with Endurance Corner team member Bob Albright, D.O., from Rochester, Minn. As one of the new regular writers on Endurance Corner, Bob will be drawing on his experience as a physician and triathlete. Bob took some time to fill us in on his background and approach to training for his fifth trip to Ironman Wisconsin.
Endurance Corner: Let's start with a little about your medical background.
Bob Albright: I went to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and I now work at the Mayo Clinic, primarily in nephrology -- kidney disease, including transplant, dialysis, all that good stuff. In addition to nephrology, I also trained in critical care. My passion is working in the intensive care unit with folks who have had sudden kidney failure associated with pretty serious illnesses. I came to Mayo Clinic in '91 to train and I figured I'd only be here for a few years, but I kinda stuck. It's a great place to work.
EC: Is this what you wanted to do when you went to med school?
BA: Well, it's one of those things were I went to med school because everyone seemed to think I should. I had played football in school and I figured I'd be a sports med guy. But once I started med school it quickly became obvious -- at least to me -- that the most caring, compassionate folks were the internal medicine docs. And I kind of felt that I fit in best with them. Then I got indoctrinated into the idea of becoming a kidney specialist, which is weird because you don't think about that when you're a kid. But for me, the nephrologists epitomized what it meant to be a doctor.
EC: You're also a family man, right?
BA: Yep, I have a wife and two boys: Brady, 13, and Cal, 11, named after Brady Anderson and Cal Ripken of course.
EC: I assume you're an Orioles fans then?
BA: Well, it's a shameful thing to admit, but yes.
EC: Switching to a sport more relevant to our readers, what got you into triathlon?
BA: Similar to a lot of those who came to the sport a little later in life, I dedicated probably an imbalanced amount of time to medicine and becoming as good a physician as I could be. To do so meant losing a big part of my life, having played sports as a youth and into college. When I played football I was around 240-250 pounds and that was well-distributed. But then it came back not so well-distributed. In 2000 I went to the American Society of Nephrology's national meeting and through some fluke, I ended up upgraded to this suite. The bathroom had these 360-degree mirrors and when I saw myself from those angles it was just a shock.
The brutal math of how to lose weight is calories coming in versus calories expended. It quickly became apparent that the best way to manage that was through running. I built up to most days a week and then followed that traditional path: working up to half marathons and then marathons. Then there was the stereotypical, "Oh jeez, now I'm hurt." So I started working in some swimming and biking for balance. I realized it was pretty fun doing all three sports and I transitioned to triathlon. The sport just seemed genuinely positive too, as opposed to what I perceived at running races where everyone was so keyed-up.
My first event was an olympic distance tri in 2004 and my first ironman was Wisconsin in 2006. I had watched the 2005 race and got so psyched watching everyone finish. I knew I needed to experience it. Ironman Wisconsin has become my race; I've done it every year since then. I have this training partner too and we always finish within a few minutes of each other, so it's a great reason to keep going back.
EC: Can you tell me a little bit more about how you train with a partner? Ironman training is typically solo for most people.
BA: Well, I use the term "training partner" loosely. We do some of our big rides together and talk about what we're up to, but he's a much better runner than me, so we rarely run together and I'm a stronger swimmer than him, so he avoids meeting me at the pool.
What I struggle with is reading those stories about how you need to train with people stronger than you and sort of get beaten down a little to come back faster. The challenge there is can you hold everything together or are you going to break down? And I learned the hard way that I don't hold up, especially if I'm running a lot.
I feel I only have so many good runs in me and with a late season peak for me in Madison I don't want to "spend" those runs early.
EC: Knowing yourself and knowing you may get injured, do you avoid racing earlier in the year or do you still put a few low priority races out there to avoid boredom?
BA: Well, what I tend to do is set up the season with two peaks: a smaller one in the end of June and the big one in September. I'll put some downtime after the June race to regroup, which is also nice for the family. And then I'll ramp it up for mid-September.
The June race is a smaller half that I almost always go to. And even though it's small, it's still a fast field. The competition is pretty tough. For example, to get on the podium in the 40-44 age group, you need to be way under five hours. So you don't go to the race expecting to do well without having put in the work. And around here, that means you start up in January riding the trainer in the basement. And that's a double-edged sword, because you don't want to wait until it warms up in mid-April to get out for your first rides, but getting yourself fit on the trainer takes a lot of mental energy. And Gordo's point on this has been, "Don't bother wasting your mojo so early." Spend your time being focused, but don't get too fit too soon.
EC: Okay, but if your concern is getting too fit too early in the season and then breaking down, why have two peaks at all? Why not just have one build into Wisconsin?
BA: The main reason is to keep me motivated. If I didn't have that earlier race, I know I wouldn't put the time in during the winter, and then I'd be behind.
EC: How long have you been doing the dual peak?
BA: I started this in 2005 with two halves, and then kept it rolling with one half and Wisconsin.
EC: Based on your experience, do you have any advice for someone interested in doing two peaks in a year?
BA: The biggest thing is to give yourself permission to get "unfit" after that first race. By that I mean give yourself a couple weeks of only doing some low-effort activity, nothing too hard, and recognize that when you really start up again, you'll be back to base work, and not the peak training you were doing before. That can be challenging, especially if the weather is really nice and all your buddies are out riding and running.
EC: Have you ever peaked too early in a year?
BA: Absolutely. And the times I blew myself up, it was hard to come back from. I can honestly say that I've never felt terrific going into my September race. That's probably because I haven't followed my own advice as well I could have.
EC: So what are you going to do differently this year?
BA: This year I'm forcing myself to pace everything out by attending the Endurance Corner Boulder Camp in June, the week after my half. I want a good showing at the camp, so I'm not going to cash everything in at that race. I also chose to spend a lot of my winter time in the pool, which lets me get a decent amount of volume without having to hammer away on a bike in the basement.
EC: When did you join up with Endurance Corner?
BA: I officially joined about a year ago, but I've been following Gordo since I stumbled on his original forum and read his book, which just hit all the right synapses. I found it so refreshing that a guy that was like a Mickey Mantle of triathlon was so willing to put himself out there. It's not just about the triathlon for a lot of us. I think many of us are treating parts of our lives with the sport. And I think Gordo does too. So there's that connection. There's this style of life that allows you to channel the parts of yourself that aren't going as well and turn them to positives.
I followed along and a couple times toyed with the idea of personal coaching, but I couldn't make the costs work. But then when I saw his new coaching model offered at a very reasonable price, I jumped all over it.
EC: What's been your impression of the EC team?
BA: An interesting phenomenon is that a lot of us have these incredible backgrounds that were initially hard to learn about, but once you start poking around, you realize how deep the experience is across many different areas -- and I'm just talking about the team members, not even the coaches. So I think Gordo and Endurance Corner are starting to publicly tap that knowledge base on the site, which should make for great knowledge sharing.