Interview with an Ironman Champ

What does it take to be an age-group winner at the Ironman World Championships? MarkAllenOnline Senior Coach Luis Vargas chats with Rick Simpson.

This past October 13th, MarkAllenOnline had the pleasure of guiding 28 athletes to the starting line of the Ironman World Championships. The top competitors in all age groups were in Kona ready to do their best. For many, just being able to compete was a dream come true, and others had the ultimate dream: winning some hardware. For many of my Ironman friends who have competed at Kona many times, hardware would be amazing. But what about winning at the age group level? For that, all the stars would have to align, right? Meet MarkAllenOnline athlete Rick Simpson, who won his age group (M60-64). I sat with him to learn a little more about this exceptional athlete.

Luis Vargas – Rick, congratulations on what, for most, is just a dream of standing in the top spot at the Hawaii Ironman. Did you do sports as a teenager in high school? Tell me about that and when you started competing.

Rick Simpson  I ran track in 7th & 8th grade, which meant just competing in a single meet each spring. No training. When I was in 8th grade, I placed 5th in the 100 yd. run. The summer I was 13, I joined the local AAU team and swam every day for one hour. In the fall, I continued on this team and trained for one hour, three days a week. In 10th grade, I swam on the high school team, and we got up to about 4000 yds in a two hour training session. We trained Mon.-Fri. I was a breaststroke and 200 IM specialist. In college swimming, I swam the breaststroke and IM events. As a senior, I swam the 100 yard breaststroke in 1:06.9.

LV  When was your first triathlon, and how did you do against the competition?

RS  My first triathlon was in 2005 in the M50-54. After competing in a citizen cycling series for a few years, a friend convinced me to try triathlon. It was the Lake Mills Sprint Triathlon in Wisconsin. This was a VERY small triathlon, and I won my 50-54 year old age group.

LV  What is your weakest sport, and what advice do you have to those that share the same sport weakness?

RS  I consider the run my weakest of the three triathlon sports. I like to follow Chi running principles. In every run training session I try to develop my technique using Chi principles.

LV  I know you have been with MarkAllenOnline since 2005, but you took a break from our guidance then came back a couple of years ago. Tell us about that.

RS  In 2005 I decided to do an Ironman event and signed up for the Wisconsin Ironman in Madison in 2006. I realized I knew nothing about training for an Ironman race and joined MarkAllenOnline. The training went well and I was in terrific condition, but the race was a disaster. People still talk about that day. It was in the 50's all day and rained all day. I crashed on the bike at about 30 miles. I knew I broke some ribs, so my goal became to finish, which I did in just under 15 hours. I had to walk the marathon as the up and down movement hurt too much. After the race, I went to the hospital and found I had six fractured ribs, a pneumothorax and a lacerated liver. I spent the night in the hospital.

I was happy with my training but made the mistake of thinking I could write my own training program. The next few years went well, and I was able to qualify for Kona several times. However, I had the nagging feeling I was not "sharp" at my key Ironman races. In 2010 at the Louisville Ironman I really felt flat...especially on the run. During the run I resolved that if I qualified for Kona I would call you and ask to join MarkAllenOnline for Kona guidance and a special six week plan. I qualified, called you and you helped me. I went eight minutes faster in Kona than Louisville, and Kona is a more difficult course! I had a heart-to-heart talk with myself and decided I was stupid to leave MarkAllenOnline. Since then, my results have been: in 2010 I was 11th at Kona in M55-59; in 2011 I was 5th in M60-64; and this year, as you know, I won the M60-64 with my best ever Kona time of 10:55, which is a new age group course record.

LV  After your 5th in Kona last year, what were your feelings coming into this year’s race? Did you think you could win?

RS - I did consider that if the times were the same I could contend for one of the top spots. However, in our sport I knew the times were likely to improve. I try not to think too much about place coming into my key race. Instead I try to get the most out of me given the day. I am fond of saying "You get the day God gives you." You have to be able to deal with whatever you get. As an athlete I believe the MarkAllenOnline program has me physically ready to go fast. It is my job to get the most out of me that I can. If I can get the most out of me, I need to be happy with whatever the place and time is.

LV  Did the race this year go according to plan? Did you have any difficulty?

RS  Every year Kona is a little different. In our Pre-Race talk, you gave a long talk about Pace and Perseverance. On the bike I kept remembering what you said. You said many pros do not "go" on the bike until mile 70. The implication was "neither should you". You also said, "You will want to give up maybe a 1000 times during the race. Remember, anything can happen in this race and those other athletes ahead are human too". I just followed directions.

On the run I began really overheating at about mile seven. I began walking to the aid stations and using a lot of ice and water to cool me and then running as fast as I could to the next aid station. I was able to miss, by a few minutes, the horizontal rain many experienced in Hawi. I also had a flat tire early in the week and decided to put two new tires on for the race, so I guess I was able to avoid some problems.

LV  You rode a Cervélo P4. How do you like it and will you be upgrading to a P5?

RS  I like my P4. On downhills I seem to regularly catch those in front of me especially when going fast enough to just glide. Coming down from Hawi this year, I even had the experience of gliding past competitors that were pedaling. Now that the season is over I will look into a P5.

LV  Did you know you had won when crossing the finish line? What was that feeling like?

RS  I did not know I had won until about an hour later. I knew I was 3rd at nine or ten miles, and I knew I had passed two of the athletes in my age group after that. However, other athletes had passed me, and I did not get their number, so I was unsure of what age group they were in. It turns out they were in younger age groups. At the finish I was totally depleted. I had run extremely hard the last 1.5 miles. I have been passed in the last mile before, and I did not want that to happen. After I finished, the catchers walked me around so I would not cramp up. They then turned me over to my wife and daughter. My wife and daughter began getting text messages from home telling them it looked like I won but they would check. Ironman results have been mistaken in the past and corrected later. Friends at home went back and checked on the top bike finishers and tracked them through the marathon. After they established all the contenders had finished, and their times were slower than mine, they then told me.

My feelings were beyond describable. Even now there is still a part of me that is trying to believe this has happened. Looking back, while many factors contributed to my success, the decision to get the most out of me that I could as well as closely listening to what you said about pace and persistence were the final factors that put me three minutes ahead at the end.

LV  You are now already qualified for next year’s Ironman World Championship. Will you come back to defend the title? How long do you plan to race Ironman races?

RS  I will be back. My wife Nancy says I will probably do these till I die. In over 32 years of marriage I have not found any reason to question her judgment.

LV  Anything else you want to mention to our readers that they may find interesting?

RS  Get a coach if you do not have one. The coaches at MarkAllenOnline have way more experience, both as athletes and through working with athletes, than any individual athlete could have, and they talk to each other. If you have a problem (injury, training issue etc.) they have either had the same problem themselves or they have had an athlete who they have helped solve the same problem. So, their knowledge base is very broad and they can help you get past whatever issue you have in the best way possible.

Comments (3)
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  • Jono

    Outstanding Rick....great inspiration. Come on down and give IMTX a go here in the Houston area.

    Report this comment.
  • Michael O.

    Always good to read of success and how it was achieved. Congratulations.

    Report this comment.
  • Toni

    Great Job!!! Congratulations for Ricky Simpson, Mark Allen and Luis Vargas!!! Best Regards, Toni.

    Report this comment.
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