Last week, I sat down for a chat with Brent McMahon – infamous Canadian, 9th place finisher at this year’s Ironman World Championship, and recent 2nd place finisher at Ironman Arizona. In this, the first instalment of ‘The Weekly Webstey’ – which will feature a weekly interview or commentary from yours truly – I learned some important lessons.
1. Do not conduct voice interviews for print publication.
2. See lesson #1.
With many #sworries to Brent for the delay in publication, and to the reader for the length of this already-heavily-trimmed article – please, enjoy.
Brent: Hey! I Figured I could keep texting you about beer, or just call.
Webstey: So how’s everything going?
Brent: Things are just starting to feel less sore, so …
Webstey: It’s only been what, three days? That’s not so bad.
Brent: It’s going in the right direction. So it was pretty rough for Monday, Tuesday but I can do a shallow squat now and not fall into the toilet anymore.
Webstey: Oh, wonderful. It’s a whole different kind of hurt, eh?
Brent: Yeah, you never get used to it.
Webstey: I can’t imagine. I’ve still never done anything longer than Olympic distance. I just remember seeing Johnny after he did a couple Ironmans, hobbling to Denny’s for pancakes at midnight.
Brent: That’s pretty much it! So you got your own column now? Your own little feature.
Webstey: Exactly. Starting with
Brent: Starting with me, wow! I feel lucky!
Webstey: Yeah, lucky you, eh?
Brent: Either that or everybody will hate your column and your writing and be like wow, you’re terrible and your content is useless and boring. And then you can just blame everything on me.
Brent: Hopefully, that’s not the case. Hopefully, it just flourishes from here and all sorts of amazing people and superstars, you know, wanna be interviewed by you and –
Webstey: I’m sure that’s exactly what will happen.
Brent: David Beckham will call you up after this I’m sure.
Webstey: He was my number two if you said no.
Brent: So next week! He’ll be on next week. How’s the family?
Webstey: Family’s great, man. Plus I’ve had the same job for about five years, which is good.
Brent: Okay, so that’s still going strong. Just until your column and your writing catches on.
Webstey: Exactly. I’m sure it’ll go viral and then I’ll just have no choice but to give the people what they want. And Carolyn’s doing well?
Brent: She’s good. She was down in Arizona which was nice. She was there cheering me on. And giving me splits and trying to make me smile.
Webstey: During an Ironman? That must be hard. If anyone can do it, it’s her. And do you still see Simon ever?
Brent: Every now and then we kind of bump into each other. He’s always in and out of town and I’m always in and out of town. So when we think about it, it’s like, “hey, what are you up to? I’m in Toronto”. “Hey, I’m home!
Brent, where are you? I’m like ah, I’m in Utah”. So usually, we get together during the winter at some point and grab a beer. So I’m sure that’ll come up but I’m in and out for the next little bit.
Webstey: Do you have a group that you train with there or is it mostly yourself? Or how does that work? I only found out a couple months ago that the training centre wasn’t even a thing anymore. I’m kind of out of touch.
Brent: I have a group I swim with. I swim with Ron Jax at Pacific Coast Swimming. Ron coached Richard Wineberger who won the bronze medal in the 10K Open Water. He’s been to multiple Olympics and he’s like, old school. I actually used to swim for his swim club when I was a kid when I lived here in Victoria previously. So it’s kinda funny that I’m back swimming with him again. But the only kind of group swimming I really do is with open water swimmers, and then I do pretty much all my own biking and running. I get together with some people for runs and stuff every now and then. This year, might do a little bit more of that because Jeff Symonds is in town now.
Webstey: Oh, right. That’d be a good guy to run with, I presume?
Brent: Yep. And the National Centre is starting up again. They have a new coach. It’s gonna start out being quite specific, ITU-stream and development athletes. And then it may expand at some point but I think initially, they’re gonna work within the Triathlon Canada network and then go from there. I’ve met and am actually going to have a meeting with the lead coach to talk about ideas.
Webstey: You would think they would want have you involved if possible.
Brent: And I’m actually still the athlete rep on the board of Triathlon Canada. So I’m still involved.
Webstey: Wow. Got a lot going on, man. Where do you find time to do all that exercise? Jeez.
Brent: Yeah, jeez!
Webstey: So most of your workouts are alone other than the odd bike or run with someone else, I guess, eh?
Brent: If there was a big group in town, or Lance was coaching a bunch of other athletes, then it’d probably be different. But I’m the only pro Lance is coaching right now.
Webstey: And I guess he’s probably involved a lot with the business end of Lifesport, eh?
Brent: Yeah, they’ve just sold the Triathlon series to Ironman, and they built a new Lifesport office building. Pro athletes take more time in camps and stuff like that.
Webstey: One is loads.
Brent: I’m pretty self-sufficient. So it’s a good partnership, because he can show up for a couple weeks here and there and that’s good and we’re both in the same town..
Webstey: Is it really 20 years you’ve been with Lance?
Brent: Yeah, it is. It’s kinda crazy.
Webstey: That’s gotta be some kind of record. It must be kind of nice in a lot of ways. Like putting on an old set of slippers.
Brent: I can’t really think of anybody whose where has worked with a coach for that long. It makes a lot of things easier, because we are typically on the same page and then we both work well together. Even if we’re not, we have good discussions on how we can meet in the middle.
Webstey: So it’s just like being married for 20 years – maybe a little less exciting but it works for everybody.
Webstey: Speaking of ideas that you and Lance both have – do you think you’ll ever get into coaching?
Brent: Everybody always asks me that. I’ve done a little bit and obviously when I was younger, we coached the kids triathlon club and stuff like that. I love that. That’s what I really loved doing – coaching a club atmosphere, being at workouts, helping people get motivated and helping them in the pool with a little technique. Hands on stuff.
Webstey: Oh, you like ‘Real Coaching’, like Joel’s new podcast! Actually being there coaching people.
Brent: You know, that’s what excites me is interacting with people. I did help a friend out with writing a program and getting him to work on some goals and towards some races and stuff. I didn’t mind it, but I think if I’m still training I’m not gonna be able to coach somebody. I put all my energy and all my time and all my focus into being motivated and working hard. I’m not a really good person at doing multiple things all at the same time. Carolyn will attest to that. When she’s yelling at me in the background trying to get my attention and I’m like, working out on my bike or something stupid.
Webstey: Well that’s why you’re not out there scratching it out for sixth place or whatever. Probably a pretty big factor in why you’ve been successful, that focus.
Brent: So yeah, I’ll probably coach at some level once I retire and I definitely see that being involved with a club or kids or something like that. But as far as being a full time programming coach? Probably not. But I’ll help friends out. The thing is, there’s people that love it, like Lance. He loves writing programs. He loves the challenge of it, changing the workouts around and trying to get the most out of a period of time. He also loves interacting one on one with people. But right now, he loves just kind of writing the programs and helping people meet their goals no matter where they are in the world. So everybody’s got their own kind of strengths I guess, and I’m really good at doing training – not so good at writing training.
Webstey: Fair enough. So what do you think – how long before you’re gonna win Kona? I was just listening to Joel’s interview with Frodeno’s coach. He said Frodeno came in and said hey, can you coach me? I wanna win Kona like whenever, in two years. And then that was the plan. So what do you think? When are you guys gonna win?
Brent: 323 days from now? … No, I wanna win it as soon as possible. I actually really did think I could win it this year.
Webstey: I don’t think anyone would have called you crazy about that this year.
Brent: I think I had the skill set this year to do that, and even getting off the bike I was like okay, I have a shot at this. I think it’s just a matter of ironing out some details. I think I don’t need to do anything more training-wise than what I was doing this year. You know what everybody says going into Kona – it’s about getting there healthy and strong. For me, this year, that was the challenge and next year, hopefully I’ll be healthy and strong when I hit the start line.
Webstey: And presumably, a tenth this year kind of sets you up nicely for picking and choosing whatever races you wanna do next year and not having to chase points or whatever.
Brent: Well, it was a ninth. But yeah.
Webstey: Oh, yeah! Jeez!
Brent: Come on, don’t rob me of a spot, man! Aren’t you supposed to be Canadian? You gotta help me out here! You can’t hold me back! I think if you make the top ten, you essentially have almost enough points to qualify for the next year. So you basically have to do another Ironman to validate your spot and get some more points.
Webstey: And it doesn’t hurt if you come second in the Ironman where you validate.
Brent: Exactly. So I’m validated, I’ve got enough points. So I’ve got the benefit of just having the flexibility to do whatever I want next year for racing and building and preparing for Kona.
Webstey: Cool. So I have a couple of questions here from Emily Cocks. She wanted to ask what your favourite places to ride and eat in Maui are?
Brent: Well, that’s an easy and a tough question because there’s lots of great places to eat and there’s some awesome rides. But I’d have to say the ride to Hana is super fun. It’s super windy, hilly, up and down, and there’s something like 200 180-degree turns that go in and out of all these little crevices. So that one on a road bike is so much fun to ride. You just get to rip through all these corners and the asphalt is amazing so you can just hammer all the corners and have a really good time. So that’s a really fun ride. And then my favourite workout, and the toughest one that we always do, is riding Haleakala from bottom to top as a time trial. I do it at least once a year. It’s kind of our test of fitness and our yearly assessment of whether we are getting stronger and faster. It’s just under three hours of constant power. A lot of the time, you’re riding through rain clouds and coming out the other side and it’s sunny and then back into the rain. You’re up at 10,000 feet and so it’s brutally tough but epically awesome. The combination of those. I love it.
Webstey: So are you still getting faster as you do more years of Ironman training?
Brent: I’m very consistent and over the last three to four years, I’ve taken time off of that ride. Or, I’m doing it in about the same time but more efficiently, at a lower heart rate. I always get super fit from doing it cuz it’s basically a three hour sub-threshold core workout.
Webstey: So it’s like a giant strengthfest.
Brent: Yeah. It’s a good one to do every year and we do that in February or March during our training camp. That’s followed by copious amounts of pizza at Flatbread Pizza in Paia.
Webstey: So, Arizona. So did you have a flat?
Brent: Yeah, I got a thorn in my front tire.
Webstey: How much time did it take to fix that?
Brent: My Garmin stopped, so I think it was right around four and a bit minutes. I could have maybe shaved ten to 30 seconds off but I was pretty happy with under five minutes.
Webstey: Four minutes is pretty freakin’ solid when you’re in the heat of the moment and your hands are shaky. So with three loops, were you dodging left and right on the second and third loops around age-groupers? It looks kind of insane from the photos.
Brent: Yeah, it’s a little hairy but it’s really not that bad. I think people make it out worse than it really is. I think if you give people enough notice, and you’re yelling “on your left, on your left”, then they figure it out. And Starykowicz probably has the worst of it, because he is the first pro to be hitting all of them. So when he comes around, they’re all like, what the heck? And they’re turning to their left and swerving to their left. So I imagine he’s dealing with just all sorts of mayhem. But then by the time the next 11 pros come through (I was around the 11th due to the flat), they had figured it out by then. I was telling somebody after the race – it is a little bit annoying, but it’s actually kind of cool because we get to really share the course with the amateurs. And we’re riding by each other and we’re going fast so it’s not like you’re struggling to pass age-groupers. There’s always room. You’re just going by.
Webstey: So you’re not gonna get … stiffed by any one on the way by.
Brent: They’re not hanging on your wheel or something like that. So it’s fun because they’re always excited to see you go by. And some of them are like holy crap! They’re moving fast! And so every now and then, you get these little boosts of energy because the age-groupers are appreciating what you’re doing. And on the third lap, it actually gets better because people are more and more kind of filed out.
Webstey: You must have been pretty pleased with second, especially after a 4-minute flat?
Brent: Yeah, I was super happy to just kind of pull it back together. I just decided to stay calm and change the flat and just get back into it. Initially, I started riding kind of hard and then I was like “no, I can’t over-ride. I’m not gonna be able to catch up. I just have to try and ride as best as I can and ride efficiently and really stay on nutrition so that I don’t have any more mishaps”. I rode really well the first part of the race until the flat, but I actually averaged 10 watts more on the two-thirds after. It caused me to focus and concentrate and just be smoother. I was able to make up a bunch of time and get back up to 6th from 11th, and they weren’t that far ahead at the end. I just focused on the idea of not getting thrown, and going back to my race.
Webstey: Just do the same race, but plus four minutes and whatever happens, happens.
Brent: Exactly. Once I got out on the run, I thought “I’m not gonna try and sprint and chase them down right away. I’m gonna do what I did last year and pace it out really well”. I actually lapped through the halfway point in almost exactly the same time as last year. I ran like a 1:20:30 last year and a 1:20 something this year. I was getting time back on the guys, and I knew most of it was gonna happen in the last 15k. Sure enough, going down the back stretch, that’s when TJ and Starykowicz and Jordan and those guys, they all started to come back quicker to me.
Webstey: So was Starky laying on the ground when you ran by him or did that happen later?
Brent: No, I did not see him pass out. But dude was like a walking zombie up there. Oh, he was a hurting unit – but good on him.
Webstey: Just go as hard as you can for as long as you can and fuck it, eh.
Brent: It’s ridiculous how fast he rode. And the first 30k of his run, he was just steady. Not looking pretty, not moving fast, but not going slow. And I was slowly just taking time back, and then he got into a very dark place. And apparently, a black place for a while where he passed out.
Webstey: It’s funny, you were mentioning holding back a bit on the run. And that’s one thing I always wonder about this, never having done any of this long stuff – it must be hard for a guy like you who was like a 30:something 10k runner, and probably could still come close to that, to start the run in sixth. You see all those guys up there and think I f****n’ know I could probably just catch them all in the first 10k. But then I would be just completely shot. It must be hard to be that patient.
Brent: That’s definitely been the learning curve of going to Ironman. Even 70.3, a lot of the time you have to go out hard and try and crack and break guys right away. And then set the pace.
Webstey: Well, if you’re running like a 1:12:00 or something, that’s not really taking the foot off the gas at all.
Brent: No. Whereas in Ironman, you’ll die on the back half if you over do it. You go from running 3:45 kms to like, five minute kms. So it’s definitely a balance between not rushing things, biut making sure you’re putting enough out. That’s really where your training comes in, and knowing exactly what you are capable of and then using it accordingly. So I know I can run a low 2:40:00 marathon. It’s just a matter of, is that a 2:40:00 today? Is it a 2:42:00? Or is it 2:46:00? The weather was a little bit colder, and I rode hard, so I knew I’d kinda be around a 2:45:00. And so I paced accordingly. The harder ride caught up the last three miles and so my finish this year wasn’t as strong as last year, and I gave up more time on the back end than I did last year. Last year, I was only two and a bit minutes slower on the second half whereas this year, I was four or five minutes slower on the back.
Webstey: You paced it well enough to lose two minutes on the back half as opposed to losing like, 15 minutes, which you could easily do if you went too crazy and got worried about where everyone was ahead of you.
Brent: Exactly. And I made it all up except for two and a half minutes by the end. So I was happy to just get back in the race and be legitimately having a shot at getting back at winning. At the end of the day, I went there to try and win that race, and it was nice to never be out of that. I always felt like I could still win the race.
Webstey: Well that was pretty impressive. Especially after ninth place, not tenth, in Kona.
Webstey: Well I guess I should probably let you get to your evening.
Brent: I’m just having a beer, so I’m not going anywhere fast.
Webstey: Tell Carolyn I said hello.
Brent: Webstey says hello!