Ten Questions With…Professional Triathlete Richie Cunningham

When folks hear the name Richie Cunningham, lots of non-triathletes immediately think of the fictional character from the 1970’s TV series “Happy Days”.  Richie, the triathlete, is a professional triathlete who originally hails from Australia.  He’s a prolific racer, and this season ranks among his best seasons in the past several years.  Just this year, Richie logged back-to-back victories at Rev3 Quassy and Rev3 Portland.  He’s also notched a bunch of podium spots…he’s been on the podium in five of eight races so far in 2012.

More than just a stellar athlete, Richie is a great ambassador for triathlon in general and Rev3 specifically.  He’s well on his way towards winning the 2012 Rev3 series and the ultimate prize of $25,000.  Plus he raises chickens. 

So kick back, grab your favorite hydration beverage and meet Richie.  He’s the focus of this week’s “Ten Questions With….”


Credit: Revolution 3

TriMadness:  For purposes of background, you grew up in Australia, spent 10 years in Germany, and now live in the US.  Tell us about the part of your career in Germany – what kind of racing were you doing, how did you like living in Europe, and what ultimately compelled you to move to the US?

Richie Cunningham:  I was mostly doing Olympic distance ITU racing while I lived in Germany. The training in Germany was really good. I lived right across the street from the pool, had miles of trails to run in and good riding.  I moved to the US because it was were the future of racing was. I moved up to 70.3 and it seemed like a good time. I also started dating my now wife, who was living in Boston at the time, so that sped up the move.

TM:  You race quite a bit…over the past several years you have averaged 14-17 races, and you seem to race anything from Olympic distance to half-iron distance.  It seems that the half-iron distance is your favorite distance though.  What about that distance “clicks” for you?

RC:  I think it’s just where my talent lies. I enjoy the training for it the most too.

TM:  You’ve raced quite a few (12) Rev3 races over the past three years, and have a really solid track record at their races (25% on the podium, with two victories).  The fields at Rev3 races are generally loaded.  Is there something about these races that brings out the best in you?

RC:  Rev3 races are usually on challenging, hilly courses and that suits me well. I also just really enjoy the Rev3 race experience. They really take good care of the pros and pick nice courses.

TM:  You just won the Rev3 race in Portland in a relatively close contest.  Walk us through your strategy on the run when you realized that Jesse Thomas was gaining ground on you.

RC:  My run strategy actually started at the end of the bike. I saw that Jesse was too close to me and I really didn’t want to start the run with him so I hammered the last 10k of the bike to add a bit more lead. In the last few miles I saw that he was close, so I put in a hard mile hoping that would be enough to keep him from catching me. Then I just tried to maintain my pace until the end. It was a tough race.

TM:  Looks like you have a pretty commanding lead in the Rev3 Championship Series.  Are you a lock for the $25,000 prize at the end of the year?

RC:  It’s hard to do all the math to figure it. I am hoping that I can have solid races in the rest of the series and hold the lead, but Jesse and Victor could still take it from me.

Credit: Revolution 3

TM:  You’ve been pretty vocal about the whole Lance Armstrong/USADA thing.  Do you think that USADA’s current testing process is optimal?  What changes would you make?

RC:  No, I think everyone should be on the blood passport system and blood should be stored for testing any time in the future.

TM:  What is the testing process like?  How frequently are you tested – every race, randomly, monthly?

RC:  I’m tested about 2-3 times a year – usually just urine.  I’m tested occasionally at races – usually when I am on the podium. I am also in the USADA testing pool, so they can come find me any time for a blood/urine test.

TM:  Do you think that triathlon in general is a “clean” sport?  Is there ever any talk amongst the pros that “so and so” must be juicing because of his/her performance, improvement, etc?

RC:  Yes, in general I think it’s a relatively clean sport. It’s still a young sport, so I think that helps. As pros, we do like to bitch about who we think might be doping. Hopefully we’re wrong.

TM:  OK…on to easier an easier topic.  I read recently that you and your wife raise chickens.  Tell us about them.

RC:  We got chickens last December. We have 6 of them (all girls) and named them after our friends – Joe, Pat, Alan (my brother), Terra, Chris, and Edwina.  Joe is the noisy but friendly one. I though that fit Joe Gambles well. Pat (Evoe) is an easy going, nice chicken. Alan is the fat one, so I had to name her after my brother. Terra takes care of the eggs, so we named her after Terra Castro, Chris has the tightest feathers – Chris Legh likes to wear tight shirts… and Edwina is named after our friend Mary Edwina Miller. She got to pick her chicken.

TM: How often do people confuse you with the Richie Cunningham from the “Happy Days” TV show?

RC:  I used to get jokes all the time, but now the show is getting older and a lot more people have never seen Happy Days.

Check out Richie’s website here.  You can also follow him on Twitter.



Ten Questions With….Professional Triathlete Sara McLarty

If you weren’t around this blog in 2010 and 2011, I ran a really popular series that I affectionately called “Ten Questions With…”  This interview series included interviews with some of the top professional triathletes, a bunch of age groupers, and some industry folks (see here for the full list).  I totally enjoyed doing the interviews, and got to interact with some of the coolest folks around.

Well….I’ve decided to bring the series back.

And to kick off the series with a bang, I reached out to professional triathlete Sara McLarty.  Sara lives and trains in Clermont, FL – home to the National Training Center and one of the more popular independent iron-distance races in the Southeast.  She grew up swimming, and was an All-American at the University of Florida (go Gators!).

I could go on and on…..but why don’t we just get to the actual interview?  So here we go…..Ten Questions with Professional Triathlete Sara McLarty:


Professional Triathlete Sara McLarty

TriMadness:  So congratulations on a solid race at St. Anthony’s last weekend.  You had an amazing swim and came out of the water in 19:10.  How did you feel about your race, in general?

Sara McLarty:  Thanks, but it was a terrible result for me and I’m not happy at all. However, I am going up to Knoxville this weekend for the rev3 race and hoping for a better race!

TM:  Like so many professional triathletes, you have a massive swimming background.  Is your typical race strategy to go out and try to bury folks on the swim?

SM:  Yes, now that I am competing mainly in non-drafting races, the goal is to go our hard in the swim to capitalize on my strength. Previously, in draft-legal races (Olympic style) it was futile to swim off the front so I would work together with other strong swimmers to build a lead on the bike. 

TM:  You were an all-American swimmer at the University of Florida and swam in the 2004 Olympic trials.  How would you compare & contrast the swim trials in ’04 with the process that USAT is using to build out the 2012 tri team?

SM:  Swimming is a much older sport and as a result, the Olympic trials process has been perfected. It is also a very controlled environment (pool, lane lines, etc) while triathlons vary from one race to another with many other elements (crashes, flat tires, hills, etc). I dont think any country has their triathlon Olympic trials completely perfected…and the USA is a perfect example of that!

TM:  You grew up in DeLand, FL, not terribly far from Daytona Beach and the Atlantic Ocean.  Were you a beach bum as a kid?

SM:  To be honest,  no. I was not a beach bum because I’d already spend 10-15 hours in the pool during the week and had no desire to be anywhere near water when I wasn’t training. However, on the rare occasion that we had swim practice at the beach, I was thrilled!

TM:  Seems like even from a young age, you were competing in something.  Swimming.  Cross Country.  Track.  Triathlon.  Moreover, all of this was a family affair.  Your brother is a heck of an athlete in his own right, your mother swims, your father cycled.  Was there ever an element of competing against each other growing up?

SM:  Absolutely! I remember the race that I first beat my mom, and I remember the race that Dustin beat me for the first time! But it made for a great training environment because we did everything together.

TM:  I read that your family is a group of daredevils, so to speak.  Your father was a pilot for skydivers, and was a skydiver himself.  Did you get any of those daredevil genes?

SM:  I like to call it the ‘adventure bug’ and yes, I have it! I compete in adventure races in the off season, I’ve been hang gliding, zip lining, hot air balloon, running through alligator infested swamps, swimming with dolphins, etc. My goal is to try everything, especially when I travel for competitions, I try to find something cool in the area to experience.

TM:  Today, you still live in Florida, and work at the National Training Center in Clermont.  Tell us about what it’s like working there.

SM:  I did my first triathlon when I was 7 in Clermont. Almost 20 years later, I moved back to town and bought a house! Small world. It’s a great training location (in the winter…it gets a bit rough in the summer) and more and ore pro triathletes are moving to the area…so it’s easy to find training partners! Working at the NTC has been a great experience, I’m coaching the masters swimming team 3 mornings a week, and working one-on-one with people to improve their swim technique and efficiency.

TM:  A big part of your life is spent on coaching others to become a better swimmer.  If you were to give one swim tip to triathletes, what would it be?

SM:  Relax and stop over thinking. That is the main difference between and adult trying to learn how to see and a child. The child will just get in the water and listen to their body to find the simplest and easiest way to move thought the water. An adult will try to take all the info they have read, heard, seen, and been told…and try to THINK their way through the water. It doesnt work!

TM:  What’s more important in a swim – gliding & balance or a strong pull?

SM:  Nothing is ‘more important’ than another thing in swimming. The important part is doing it all in a relaxed and efficient way.

TM:  What is your biggest hobby outside of swimming, biking and running?

SM:  Currently, playing board games with my training partners and friends! It’s a great way to stay competitive but laugh and have fun the whole time!

Check out Sara’s website!  Or follow her on Twitter!

Ten Questions With…Professional Triathlete Kelly Williamson

When you look at the landscape of professional triathlon this season, there are a handful of athletes that have had spectacular years.  One athlete, in particular, who has performed exceedingly well is Austin resident Kelly Williamson.  She started off the season with a bang, bagging victories at Rev3 Costa Rica and IM 70.3 Puerto Rico.  Kelly’s season has continued to be strong, with a series of top five finishes, including three second place finishes (IMTX, Muncie 70.3, and Boulder 70.3) and a victory at Buffalo Springs 70.3.

Recently, TriMadness and Kelly sat down and discussed her season, her upcoming race in Kona, and her love of high quality craft beer.

This week’s installment of “Ten Questions With…” is with professional triathlete Kelly Williamson.

credit: LouisBPhotography.com

TM:  Congrats on a stellar season so far this year!  Six races with top two finishes is quite an accomplishment.  What are you most proud of so far?

KW:  Thank you! With regards to this season, probably the 2nd at Ironman Texas. While I knew I was capable of that performance, I would say that it came earlier in my ‘Ironman Career’ than I expected. I am also pretty proud to have put up the consistency I have thus far; given all the things that can happen in a race, that in and of itself is something to be proud of.

TM:  You had a huge race in the Woodlands at IMTX, with a 29 minute PR (9:07 overall).  How satisfying was that race knowing that was only your third Ironman? 

KW:  It was incredibly satisfying! In both my first two Ironmans, I played it fairly conservatively but I felt pretty rough on both of the runs. It was nice to run to my capabilities in Texas. I felt fine immediately post-race then the few hours later, it got very ugly…and I had to go to medical at 7:00 at night and spent almost 2 hours there. That told me I had definitely left it all on the course. The few days after the race, I felt almost like I had to pinch myself to realize I had actually gone a 9:07 on a legit, honest course.  

TM:  You had the fastest marathon split that day at 3:04.  How much faster do you think you can go?  Sub 3 hours?

KW:  I definitely think I can run sub-3! I was pleased with the 3:04, but I wasn’t surprised, given my run training. But it was nice to see a huge drop from my 3:11 in Kona. It showed me that I am on the right track, but I am definitely not content with that time… I know that I need to put up a slightly stronger bike and run under 3 hrs to be a factor, every time I toe the line, at this distance.

credit: LouisBPhotography.com

TM:  How is your focused Kona training going, and what have you done differently from last year?

KW:  The focused Kona training is actually almost coming to an end! I would say I started it back in early July; so the question is appropriate and given that a lot of it is behind me, I can tell you what I have done differently. I’ll first say not too much because when something is working, I see no point in changing too much. That said, now that I have another year of Ironman training under my belt, I know I can push my volumes & paces just a touch more. So, this past few months, I have upped my volume in all three disciplines (just incrementally) and I have also tried to increase my paces running and power efforts on the bike just  a bit more. I am overall a very low volume athlete, but I have looked at last seasons training and tried to bump things up just a bit from then.

TM:  Hot weather seems to agree with you (as evidenced by your wins in Costa Rica, San Juan and Buffalo Springs, plus your 2nd place at IMTX).  Did you alter your training to help you get ready for Kona, or just continue to train in Texas? 

KW:  My husband Derick and I just got back from about 6 weeks out in Salida, Colorado. We did this last season as well; we have had one of the hottest summers on record in Austin, and to do all of the Ironman training here is do-able but it is so taxing physically on the body. So, the time in CO is nice because the temps are cooler, we are at 7,000 ft, and the riding is unbelievable. I had Poncha Pass right out my door (a 7 mile climb to 9,000 ft) and Cottonwood Pass was about 30 miles away (an almost 20 mile climb up to 12,000 ft). It is nice for a change of scenery, change of environment, and our dog Amico (Autralian Cattle Dog) is MUCH happier out there; every day ends with a leg soak and a play with the dog in the Arkansas River! But, it is good to be back in Austin for a few weeks to adapt once again to the heat.

TM:  You were a high school and college swimmer.  Seems like there’s a pretty high correlation in pro triathlon between prior swim experience and success.  Why do you think that is?

KW:  That’s a good question. I know when I finished with collegiate swimming, I was just not ready to be ‘done’ being an athlete; I still loved to swim and loved to compete. I had always enjoyed running; and a running injury lead to me jumping on a spin bike; which led to getting a road bike. I think that swimmers learn very well how to suffer, and we also learn how to deal well with boredom; monotonous, repetitive activity (read: following a black line back and forth for hours on end). Swimmers have huge aerobic engines, so they naturally are talented athletes, but they get into triathlon and realize that either the bike or the run usually does not come easily; for me, it was the running. I think you often see good backstrokers and breaststrokers are strong cyclists due to their leg strength. In any case, I think the change of pace and the new challenge is inviting; and we also can handle the first leg of a triathlon without any problem, something that many struggle with. The draw for me also was that it was an open, variable environment; swimming is so controlled. I loved how there were unpredictable, variable elements to deal with in this sport vs. in swimming.

credit: Randy Sadler

TM:  Racing is hard, especially when you’re trying to gut out the last few miles on a run.  How do you handle those times when you’re really suffering?

KW:  As messed up as it sounds, those are the times I really thrive on. The physical part is just training; it is keeping healthy, challenging yourself, and doing the work. The mental part is to me what makes a good athlete a truly great athlete. It comes down to who can suffer the most, who can play their cards right… and it is those most challenging, lowest moments when we really find out what we are made of. That’s the good stuff right there. What gets me through those times? My head.. I think things like “This is nothing compared to all the hours you have spent training.” or “One mile at a time.” or “Race for those who can’t.” Not to sound cliche, those mantras can do wonders. They can also keep your head occupied and detract from you feeling sorry for yourself. I know that no matter how badly it hurts, I have chosen this path, and I am damn lucky to be out there doing it. I cannot stand whiners or excuse-makers, so I just make the best of the situation; and the pain will end, eventually!

TM:  What do you enjoy most about your job of being a professional triathlete?

KW:  It’s crazy, but I love that I feel like I am still doing what I was doing 15 years ago and that is ‘being an athlete’. I have never had a typical desk job, and I would be OK if I never did. I truly love being active…there are very few times I have ever had to really drag myself out the door to do a workout. It hasn’t been easy and success has far from come overnight for me, but to know that I get to wake up each day and challenge myself and my body in various ways is so exciting. I love finding new ‘limits’ to my body each day. And a cool part about being a professional and seeing more success is, I feel like I have been able to inspire a few others along the way. I think that my journey is a bit different in that it’s been a long one! I got my pro card in 2002. I have had many ups and downs, but I have stuck with it and I am so glad that I have.

TM:  What do you like to do when you’re not training or racing?  Do you have any hobbies?

KW:  I coach a handful of athletes, so that keeps me occupied outside of training. I also love to write, and take any chance I can do to article contributions, personal blogging, etc. I help out at a mens homeless shelter in downtown Austin when I can find the time; moreso in the winter months and much less during race season, unfortunately. I really try to keep a good ‘life balance’ going… once I finish a workout, I say ‘that was good’ or ‘eh not so good’, but I try to move on and focus on the next thing happening; whether that is another session later in the day or if I am done, I enjoy putting my feet up and not thinking about triathlon; reading a book or catching up with friends. I love to ski (snow..downhill…) but there’s not too much of that happening in Texas.

TM:  I read an interview you gave to Herb Krabel at Slowtwitch back in 2010 that you would love to have a microbrewery as one of your sponsors.  Any luck with that yet?

KW:  No luck yet!! We live about 1/2 mile away from 512 Brewing so that would be a lovely sponsor. I am a big fan of Stone Brewing, and lately Oskar Blues…Mama’s Little Yella Pils… Really any micro-brew… ‘good beer’ as I call it. If any makers of ‘good beer’ out there are looking to plaster their logo on a professional triathlete, I am more than willing to step up to the plate and help them out. I literally end most days with a good beer while I make dinner. Signifies the ‘end of day’ to me, time to relax and enjoy the evening. And, from what I have read hops have an anti-inflammatory effect; so I feel it benefits my training, too. 🙂

Ten Questions With…Age Group Triathlete Chris Madden

The recent focus of our ongoing “Ten Questions With…” series has been on age-group triathetes – the bread and butter of our sport.  99.9% of the folks that do triathlon are age-groupers.  Everyday folks like you and me.  They have jobs, families, other committments.

Chris Madden is an age-grouper from Florida.  He’s only been involved in triathlon for a handful of years, but has realized some real success already.  He is a smoking fast runner, but claims the bike as his specialty.  His virgin attempt at Ironman netted a super fast sub-eleven hour result.

 And so, hold on for this week’s version of Ten Questions With…Age Group Triathlete Chris Madden….


Age Group Triathlete Chris Madden exiting the water

TM:  What is your “sports background”?  Did you play any sports as a kid?

CM:  Believe it or not and contrary to most people that enter the sport of Triathlon I have no sports background at all.  Prior to picking up running 4 years ago the last time I ran one mile was in a 6th grade physical education fitness test.  That mile felt like the longest 10 minutes of my early life.  Team sports never attracted me as a kid and my primary focus was partying with friends through my high school years.  In my early 20’s I enjoyed lifting weights, but spending hour after hour in the same gym everyday got old really quick. 

TM:  Aside from your short stint in weight lifting, what prompted you to leave your sedentary life behind and take up endurance sports?

CM:  I would have to say it all began as part of recovery from motorcycle accident my wife and I were involved in June 2005.  We were struck by a car making a left turn resulting in injuries that required both us having titanium plates and screws inserted to put our bodies back together.   After a year of surgeries on my ankle, leg and shoulder followed by another year of physical therapy I began taking nightly walks.  Those walks soon turned into jogging from light pole to light pole then on to one and two miles runs.  Once I worked my way up to 3 miles I signed up for my first 5k road race and finished in 21 min and 16 seconds.  People kept telling me that was a pretty decent time.  I had no idea at the time what was decent.  From then on I was bitten.  I began to train harder and longer and within a year I completed my first marathon. I’m constantly trying to find that first timers endorphin rush and find great pleasure in tackling the next big obstacle and distance.  Endurance sports are highly therapeutic.  It is sad to see so many MD’s push pills for stress/anxiety related ailments.  A little sweat can cure most anything. 

TM:  When did you pick up triathlon, and what was your motivation to do so?

CM:  I picked up triathlon in mid 2008.  My only real motivation at that point was to offset running with other ways to stay active.  A friend told me about a local sprint race and the rest is history.  I have a very addictive personality and anyone close to the sport will tell you that Triathlon is addictive.  I remember how nervous I was doing my first sprint.   I still get butterflies in my stomach before each race today, but I love hearing the gun go off,  because from that point on there is no turning back.  All you can do is channel all that nervous energy into giving it your all.

TM:  You’ve raced each of the race distances, with some pretty impressive PR’s.  (1:05 sprint, 2:28 Oly, 5:08 70.3, and 10:47 IM).  What is your favorite race distance and why?

CM:  I’m leaning more towards 70.3 and Ironman distances.  While Sprints and Olympics and are quick and leave ample time for post race celebrations (drinking beer and indulging at Five Guys), the longer distances force you to pace yourself and slow down.  By doing so you take  more of the event in, enjoying it and have a chance to reflect on the all the reasons you love to compete. 

TM:  Swim.  Bike.  Or Run.  If you had a free day, which would you pick first? 

CM:  Bike, it’s my strongest discipline.  If I were willing to give as much on the run and swim as I do on the bike I’d be a much more rounded athlete. 

TM:  What are you most proud of thus far in your triathlon career?

CM:  I would probably have to say completing my first Ironman distance race.  I mean it is the ultimate distance in the sport.  Completing the event under my goal time and with my family by my side for support and encouragement makes it by far my proudest moment.  

TM:  What does an average training week look like for you ?

CM:  It all depends on the next distance race I’m training for.   Sometimes I follow a strict plan and sometimes I just try to stay active.  I have found that adhering to a strict step-cycle/periodization plan can reap big performance gains.  However, at the same time I think over analyzing and over thinking your plan can interfere with your passion for the sport.  Bottom line, you do it because you like/love it.   I am not nor will I ever be a pro so I try not to take it too seriously and just have fun with it.  That said, I usually include one “off day” a week.  The rest of the week includes 1 to 2 workouts a day.  Speed and specificity on weekdays and long/endurance workouts on the weekends.  During my Ironman training I was at it 16-20 hours week during peak weeks.  As far as food goes, I don’t deprive myself of much, but in general, I try to make healthy choices.  

TM:  Have you made any big “rookie” mistakes or had any big embarrassing moments in this sport?  

CM:  Well a couple…    On one cold 28 degree morning (that is cold for us Floridians) I was up early and off to my masters swim practice at 5:30 AM.  I get to practice at the recreation center which consists of a heated outdoor pool and like the other swimmers I’m frantically undressing, ready to plunge into the 82 degree water.  As I begin to pull down my sweats I realize something is drastically wrong.  On occasion I forget my goggles sometimes my towel, but on this morning the cold rush on my you know what clued me into the fact that I forgot a much more critical piece of gear.  You guessed it, my suit.  Luckily no one else saw my idiotic mistake and I slipped out of practice unnoticed.  I only did that once.  Another notable moment, I was competing in the 2010 USAT Age Group National Championship, as I was running out of T2 trying to adjust my garmin watch I wasn’t paying attention and shouldered some poor woman so hard I knocked her down.  I felt like such a tool because I didn’t even stop.  I looked for her, with no luck, after the race to apologize.  

TM:  Do you have a “bucket list” of dream races or race locations that you’d like to cross off?  If so, what/where would those be?

CM:  Well of course to race Kona World Championships one day – Probably have to be by lotto.  Ironman St Croix 70.3.  Alcatraz.  Maybe something in Africa or South America.   

TM:  What does the rest of this season look like for you?

CM:  I have been taking it pretty easy so far this year.  Mostly Sprints and Olympic distance races.  The rest of the season holds two more local races.  Another Olympic and my first non-WTC sanctioned 70.3, The Atlantic Coast Triathlon.  I’m looking forward to cooler weather and training for this winters marathons. 

Ten Questions With…Robert Kunz from First Endurance

Nutrition products.  We all use them, but how much do we really know about them?  How well do we understand what we’re putting into our bodies?  Should I take 3 gels, 2 sports drinks and a bar?  Just water? 

Important questions given the myriad of sports nutrition products available on the market.

Recently, Tri Madness sat down with Robert Kunz, VP of Science and Technology for First Endurance, to ask some of these questions, and more.

This week’s version of “Ten Questions With…” is all about nutrition…

TM: What originally compelled you to become involved in the sports nutrition industry? What’s your background?

RK: I’ve been an athlete since I was six years old. Through high school and college I swam competitively and always loved both the camaraderie of teams and the competition. Competing in sports was my way of life and I did not know any different. It was not until I graduated from University of Delaware and entered the ‘real world’ which included a suit and tie, 8-5 job in downtown Baltimore that I realized that something was not quite right. 15 months later, I walked out of my job and made a clear path towards that career in sports even though I did not yet know what exactly that would be. I pursued my Masters degree in Exercise Physiology/Sports Nutrition from Old Dominion University while working as an assistant coach for the swim team. It was during Graduate School that I competed in my first Ironman and realized I wanted to make a living in sports. Following Graduate School I opted for a quick vacation in Salt Lake City and fell in love with the outdoor recreation that was available at my finger tips. I was fortunate enough to land a position at Weider Nutrition formulating body-building supplements. My passion for sports nutrition showed and I was quickly promoted to director of formulations. It was here, while at Weider Nutrition that I realized there was a gap in the industry. I competed locally in bike races and triathlons and was constantly hounded by friends and competitors for the body-building supplements made by Weider. I found it odd that these athletes were willing to pay more for body-building supplements than simply buy the endurance supplements on the shelves. It was the technology and advancements in nutrients that Weider was building into their products that was the attraction and those advancements were simply not available in endurance supplements. So, born was First Endurance with innovative nutrient technologies that were more advanced than other products.

TM: The number of electrolyte drinks, gels, recovery aids, nutrition bars on the market can be overwhelming for many athletes. What should the average athlete know in order to effectively sort through the chaff to find the best product for them?

RK: Of greatest importance is to simplify the plan and not get too complex. Its water, electrolytes and carbohydrates that are necessary. All other nutrients are NOT necessary but may or may-not offer an additional benefit. IF the products you try have these three components in them, and you like them, and they work for you, then there is no need to go further. Use these products in your training and don’t make changes on race day. Let your fitness get you to the finish and allow you to accomplish your goals.

TM: First Endurance markets a broad suite of tools – from MultiV (a multivitamin) to EFS drink, Liquid Shot, and Bar, Optygen HP, Pre-Race and Ultragen. To what extent are the products optimized to be used in conjunction with each other?

RK: This is a great question and a key benefit to First Endurance that many don’t realize. Each of the products can work on their own, but truly we developed a system that has numerous synergies built in. The goal was to build a complete and comprehensive system that was simple and easy to use and that delivered EVERYTHING an athlete needs to train and race. We encourage those athletes who demand a high level of training and are seeking that elusive goal to use the entire system of products as directed.

Example of Synergy: Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that is required at high levels for those athletes who train very hard and are exposed to a lot of oxidative stress. For vitamin C to be effective (because its water soluble) its best to ingest throughout the day. The more you train the more you need. Athletes who train say, 15-20 hours a week should consider upwards of 1.5 to 2.0 grams per day to keep the immune system healthy.

MultiV has 400mg, Ultragen 400mg and EFS 120mg.

So on a light training day or OFF day, you consume your MultiV and get 400mg. On a heavy training day you may have six servings of EFS, one serving of Ultragen and your MultiV which would deliver 1,520mg of vitamin c. This is an appropriate dose for a heavy training day. A dose that will reduce upper respiratory infections due to the heavy stress of training. This is just one of the synergies built into the First Endurance products.

TM: Most electrolyte beverages provide carbohydrates and some amount of electrolytes (usually sodium) – but the type and amount of those carbs and electrolytes can vary greatly. EFS drink provides a higher concentration of electrolytes than most products on the market. How do these higher levels of Magnesium, Potassium & Calcium benefit athletes?

RK: The issue with nutrient research is that many companies rely on a single study or a single concept to sell their product where in reality its best to look at ALL the research and then postulate what it all means and how best to formulate a product. The majority of the research certainly focuses on sodium, but this is not all-inclusive. There is plenty of evidence clearly identifying the importance of using all five electrolytes. Basic human physiology clearly shows that for a cell to breathe (meaning for a cell to let nutrients in AND out) it requires a balance of all five electrolytes as some are negative ions and others are positive. Its with imbalance in electrolytes that muscular contractions, cellular breathing and inefficiencies happen. So, in reading ALL of the research on electrolytes we have come to a clear conclusion that A) athletes need more electrolytes than what most products provide and B) a balance of all five electrolytes is key. Magnesium and Calcium especially play a critical role in signal conduction and muscular contraction. Throw these off balance by consuming too much sodium or by not replacing what is lost and your muscles tell you about it.

TM: EFS Liquid Shot is far more palatable than most of the gels on the market because it’s a liquid and not a sticky, thick “glop”. Was the concept of Liquid Shot as a liquid intended to offset the texture & consistency of products on the market, or does the fact that it’s a liquid allow for faster absorption of nutrients (or both)?

RK: All First Endurance products and EVERY ingredients that goes into the First Endurance products goes through a rigorous and complete literature evaluation. We review all the research on each nutrient before it goes in to assure there is no issues for endurance athletes. Gels become gels by adding thickeners usually found as cellulose, xanthan or arabic gums. Some products may not even list these claiming they or processing aids (this is legal per the FDA regulations). Its obvious when a gel has thickening agents simply because its thick. We researched these thickening agents and found quite a bit of evidence showing they slow down gastric emptying, meaning, they get stuck in the gut. This is the last thing you want from your energy food.
First and foremost we left it out because of the research. Secondly because having a more viscous product worked better. We took it a step further and offered out EFS liquid shot in a re-usable container that also had the flexibility to make the product even more viscous. If you want a full-on liquid simply fill the Flask up to 200 or 300 calories and top it off with more water.

TM: EFS Drink and Liquid Shot utilize Branch Chain Amino Acids and glutamine to provide protein. Why not just use Whey protein?

RK: Protein is a much larger molecule and much harder to absorb. Free form amino acids offer all the same benefit yet they are small molecules and they get absorbed much easier and much faster.

A key concept of fueling is that your goal is to spare (hold on to) your stored glycogen. If you consume anything that is slow to absorb (fiber, gelling agents, proteins, fats) then your body must use your stored glycogen while it waits for that slow nutrient to be absorbed. Your ‘while exercising’ fuel should be exclusively made up of ingredients that are FAST absorbing so they can go right to the working muscle and fuel that muscle. Getting stuck in your gut while its trying to be absorbed is step one in gastric distress, cramping and bonking.

TM: So many athletes have gastric problems during long-course races. How does EFS help to limit that?

RK: Its designed to be absorbed super, super fast so it gets used as fuel. It also has an electrolyte profile that is second to none. We formulated EFS with three high glycemic carbohydrate sources which is key to its performance. Maltodextrin, sucrose and glucose are all high glycemic, meaning they get absorbed fast. Because they are different carbohydrates they also get absorbed in different channels of the digestive system which greatly improves the performance of the mix. All three carbohydrates can get absorbed concurrently in their respective channels. Nothing in EFS will get stuck in your gut.

TM: How does Optygen HP work to improve the body’s ability to reduce lactic acid and increase aerobic threshold? How does long-term use of Optygen HP maximize the benefits associated with the product (versus short term usage)?

RK: These physiological improvements are secondary functions of Optygen’s true benefit. Its primary benefit is it reduces the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is chronically elevated, which is common among hard training athletes, performance and recovery suffer. Modulating cortisol allows athletes to recover better, improve VO2, improve lactate threshold and ultimately improve performance. OptygenHP also has a key ingredient that targets lactic acid directly (not through the cortisol mechanism). Beta-Alanine increases carnosine levels in the blood. Interestingly enough several studies have proved that consuming carnosine directly does not increase carnosine. Carnosine’s role is to synthesize lactic acid back into fuel to be re-used to fuel exercise. So, when you increase carnosine (via Beta-Alanine supplementation) you improve lactate threshold. The research shows that this takes about 28 days of supplementation before a significant improvement is found.

Improvements in all these physiological systems long-term allow an athlete to systematically improve their own physiology and become faster athletes with more endurance. Its through months of great training that you become a better athlete. OptygenHP simply allows you to get through all that training without going into an overtraining state, so you consistently improve over many months.

TM: Is there any value in including caffeine in an endurance athlete’s exercise nutrition?

RK: Yes, using caffeine during a workout gives you an ability to go harder on that workout. We all know that improvements happen when you recover from a hard stimulus. If you go harder on a workout, you will require more time to recover from it. Our PreRace product which has caffeine is recommended only once or twice per week for those hard, intense workouts. You can go harder and your body adapts to that hard state, but you also have to manage your recovery from that hard workout. If you manage this appropriately, you can certainly benefit from caffeine or a complete formulated product like PreRace.

TM: You recently announced a new flavor of Liquid Shot. Any additional new flavors on the horizon (maybe Cappuccino)?

RK: Yes, maybe Cappuccino, maybe Lemon, maybe mocha.

TM: (bonus question) My favorite recovery drink is an Ultragen Smoothie – where I essentially mix up a serving or two (depending upon the duration of my workout) of Ultragen and then toss it in the blender with some ice. I see it as a super-fast way to cool down, yet still get the benefits of Ultragen. Please tell me that I’m not reducing the benefits by turning it into a smoothie!

RK: The way you are doing it, no. Some others throw fruit, or ice-cream or milk or other calories in the mix. Understand that Ultragen must be absorbed during that critical thirty minute window to maximize its effectiveness. If you throw in any nutrients that slow its absorption, you limit its effectiveness. Its best to use with only water or water and ice.

Visit First Endurance’s website at http://www.firstendurance.com/