For the past couple of months most of the interviews in my ongoing “Ten Questions With…” series have been with professional triathletes. There’s certainly something about connecting with an athlete that does this sport for a living that’s pretty compelling to me. It’s not every day that you get to have an inside look at the top athletes in our sport. The interviews have been fun, and I think we’ve met some pretty cool folks together over the past six months or so.
That said, when you think about our sport, in a lot of ways it’s not the professionals that define the sport…it’s the age groupers. Folks like you and me. That’s one reason triathlon related blogs are popular. We like to learn about each other. What makes us tick. What makes (or breaks) our races. Who we are.
With that in mind, I’m going to shift gears a little and focus today’s interview on an age-group athlete.
Allow me to introduce Jeff Irvin.
You may already know him. Many of you follow his blog (http://www.danglethecarrot.blogspot.com/) – it’s very popular. In fact…that’s how I got to know Jeff. He’s typical of many age groupers…he got his start in triathlon not terribly long ago, but has been totally bitten by the tri bug. He juggles long work hours with training. He has a family. He has friends. Sound familiar? It should. He’s just like you.
Jeff started his journey towards triathlon as an overweight, pizza eating, beer guzzling guy. P90X was his path to redemption. He lost 50 pounds in the span of about half a year. He took to triathlon and running, and has never looked back. He’s competed in just about every race distance you can think of – most recently completing his first full-distance triathlon at Ironman Texas.
Enough of me leading up to his interview…let’s get it on. This week’s “Ten Questions With…” interview is with age-group triathlete Jeff Irvin.
TM: Let’s start off with the vital statistics. You’re Jeff, you live in Houston, you’re married to Annie. What else is there about you that defines “you”?
JI: Joel, first it is an honor to be part of your Ten Questions series. All of the interviews have been entertaining and interesting and I can pretty much guarantee after this one publishes that the series will be in serious decline. My interview is going to be like when Rebecca replaced Diane in Cheers – your ratings just went down the crapper (-:
So what defines “me”? If you read my blog or follow on Twitter (@jeffirvin) you probably picked up on the vibe that I love being a Texan. However, I have only been in Texas for a little over 6 years. I am originally from the Pittsburgh area and I still have a strong Western PA accent. I am a huge Steelers, Pirates, and Pens fan and still follow them religiously. Every year around this time my heart breaks when I come to the conclusion that the Pirates, are indeed, still awful. Fingers crossed this will change in 2011 (been saying this for 18 years now)!
Aside from my propensity to wear Lycra in public I am a pretty normal guy: Live in the suburbs, happily married for 10 years, have run with the bulls in Pamplona, have two old pugs who are spoiled rotten, prefer to communicate through sarcasm, hate cooking, experience random moments of road rage, and enjoy telling children to get off my lawn.
TM: You started your blog back in 2008 when you started P90X. What motivated you to start P90X, and how did your blog help you?
JI: This is pretty simple Joel. I was fat. One day I was sitting with a beer and pizza and I flicked over to the P90X Infomercial that we all have seen a gazillion times. For some reason on this day I told myself I was done being fat and out-of-shape and ordered the videos. I called up my buddy Mike in Maryland and convinced him to order P90X and we did the first 90 days together.
I started “Dangle the Carrot” on that same night and began blogging about my experience. I sent out the link to my family and friends thinking that if they were reading it then it would keep me accountable. Not many of them read it (except my Dad) but a whole bunch of strangers did! These strangers were all on similar journeys to achieve weight loss and fitness and fast became friends.
The blog was a big reason I lost over 50lbs and am certain I would not be where I am today without it. I have met other bloggers over the years who are some of my best friends today and these people continuously inspire me to be better.
TM: Exercise, in general, seems to agree with you. In the first 180 days of P90X, it seemed like you only missed a handful of workouts. How did you keep yourself motivated?
JI: P90X is a great system for losing weight and achieving overall fitness. I believed in the program and believed that the people who wrote it were smarter then me so why deviate from the plan? I chugged the Tony Horton Kool aid.
I used to receive emails from other people who were not getting the results I did from P90X and they always started like this, “I am 6 weeks into P90X and I haven’t lost any weight? I haven’t really been following the nutrition plan because but I’ve been doing most of the workouts. Why is this not working for me?”
My reply would usually tell them to quite being a pansy and follow the nutrition plan. Some would thank me, some would call me an asshole – it was about a 50/50 split! I am not a big fan of excuses and am that way in my professional life as well. When I have a task set before me I will do it and do it right.
TM: In 2009, you made your initial foray into triathlon, with a sprint tri. What kind of experience was that first race?
JI: It was the Jack’s Generic Sprint Triathlon in New Braunfels, TX. I had just finished up two rounds of P90X and a round of P90X Plus and thought I was in great shape -ha! I could barely swim and the 500m almost killed me. It took me over 15mins to complete and I could barely walk to transition. The bike was 13mi and I think I averaged about 15mph on my $100 Walmart Beach Cruiser. Then I did the 3mi run and damn near collapsed at the end of the race. The experience was beyond awesome!
TM: Did the triathlon bug really bite you after that first race, or was it some other event that really “hooked” you?
JI: I walked (staggered) away from that day with a new respect for what fitness really meant. I saw guys out there flying around that course and thought to myself, “Why can’t I do that?” That was it, I was all in.
TM: You’ve competed in a plethora of events…triathlons of all distances, running races ranging from 5k to 50k, the 100 push-up challenge. Looking back over the past couple of years, which event(s) have you enjoyed the most – and why?
JI: The 50K trail run was the hardest event by far. Not because of the distance but because I got hurt with 10mi to still go and I sucked it up and finished. It was the most amount of pain I have ever experienced in a race. The smart thing would have been to stop but I found something in myself that day that made me keep moving forward and I am proud of that. Even though it took me two months to get back to normal!
That being said, last weeks Ironman Texas finish was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Just the perfect day. Here is the link to my Race Report for the “Why”.
TM: Like most age-group triathletes, you work full time. How do you balance your career, your training, and spending time with Annie?
JI: It is not easy Joel. I am an Outside Territory Manager for a dental company which requires a lot of travel and significant time in surgical procedures. The way that works for me is to get up extremely early – usually 4am. If I can get my big workout(s) in before most people have their first cup of coffee than I am ahead of the game. Then I get my second workout in after work but the key is to get home and go. If I sit down then it is hard to get out the door.
The weekends used to be pretty easy since my wife worked in Retail. She was always at the store on Saturday and Sunday so I could just go out and swim/bike/run until my hearts content! About two months ago she changed jobs to a Monday-Friday gig and my workout schedules have not always jived with her usually packed social agenda. We will have to figure out a way for all to be happy when the next big training plan starts.
But the key is to communicate with your spouse and set expectations in the beginning. This goes a long way.
TM: What is the hardest thing about being an endurance athlete for you?
JI: The mental fatigue that comes with 20hr + training weeks. The last few weeks leading up to IMTX I was at times a blithering idiot. I had the attention span of a puppy and cognitive abilities of Charlie Sheen. I was a mess. Recovery weeks are not only good for the body but also the mind!
TM: You just finished your first full distance triathlon at Ironman Texas. So what’s next?
JI: First I will be racing the Rev3 70.3 at Cedar Point in September. I am really looking forward to this because I’ve heard such great things about Rev3 races. Also because a bunch of my Trakkers Teammates will be there and a huge group of fellow endurance bloggers. If you are looking for your next race and want to hang out with some extremely fun people then jump on the Rev3 train to Cedar Point because it is going to be EPIC!
After that it is the Rev3 Olympic in Anderson South Carolina at the beginning of October which looks like it is just a fabulous location for a race.
Then the winter will be spent doing 60-70 mpw running as I am going to attempt to BQ in an early March Marathon in the Woodlands, TX.
After that another Ironman is in my future!
TM: What goes through your mind when you are really suffering in a race? How do you deal with the pain?
JI: This may sound simplistic but when I am in pain I try to smile. For some reason it always pulls me out of the dark places. I actually think SMILE, while at the same time calling myself a random four letter word. That usually makes me laugh and if I am laughing then it doesn’t seem to hurt as bad.
So as you see I deal with the pain by fooling myself into thinking I am happy which in turn makes me laugh and when I laugh the pain goes away. Wow, I just re-read that sentence and realized I have yet to move on from the blithering idiot stage of the last few weeks.
And when all that doesn’t work I pretend I am Daulton (Patrick Swazye) from the epic 80’s flick Roadhouse and I just repeat, “Pain Don’t Hurt…Pain Don’t Hurt…”
TM: There are some seriously funny lines sprinkled throughout your blog – one of my favorites is “I’ve got the lower body of the Hulk, the upper body of David Spade.” Now that’s quite the visual. Could you describe what led up to that comment?
JI: Wow, I do not even remember writing that but I do remember saying it one day. A little background…I am a pretty crummy writer. I use too many adjectives and rely on the comma as an easy way out of poorly constructed sentences. However, I can spin a pretty good yarn (which is why I am in sales) so this means I write exactly what I think and say. This means I carry a lot of my daily interactions over to the blog which usually is a combination of sarcasm and pop-culture!
In regards to the Spade comment I am pretty sure at one point I uttered the above line to one of my friends at Masters swim class one day. We were in the locker room after the workout and he was calling me a skinny, wimpy triathlete for some reason or another and I reminded him about how I dropped his butt 3mi in to the previous weekends ride. I think I said to him, “I may have the upper body of David Spade, but the lower body of the Hulk – as you found out 10 minutes into the ride last week buttercup!”
I may or may not of had longish, metro-sexual looking hair (think Tom Brady) at the time which may or may not have resulted in David Spade being tossed into the conversation!