I got to talk with Birgit Prigge about Ironman and triathlon. Birgit qualified for Kona at Ironman Germany with a time of 11:01:49. She has come a long way in the sport all the way to the World Championship. I remember doing a 100-mile training ride with Birgit in 2001 where halfway she fell in a stream crossing, but finished the final 50 miles. Even Lance Armstrong would have fallen on this slippery, algae covered road. This woman is determined!
CZ: How long have you been racing triathlons?
BP: This year is my 4th season of racing triathlons. My very first Triathlon was the Carlsbad Triathlon in 1999 for which a friend of mine and I signed up as a new years resolution. At that time I was running a little bit but not swimming or biking at all. So, my training started by signing up for a swim class at one of the local colleges and riding my mountain bike up and down the coast. I did not own a road or tri bike at that point in time and my plan was to actually ride the mountain bike on race day. I will never forget my very first transition run on which I wondered how I would be able to run 5K off the bike. Two days before the Carlsbad race friends talked me into borrowing a road bike for the race and when I took it out for a test ride I had so much fun and decided right then that I had get one myself.
Since I had been doing most of my swimming in the pool the open water swim in particular with a surf entry has always been the most scary but at the same time the most exciting part of racing. One day before the Carlsbad race I practiced surf entry with friends and with that I was ready to go for my very first race day. I had a great first race and very amazed to see that so many people get up early in the morning. That was the only race I did that year.
From there it simply evolved over time. I got a road bike, in fall '99 I joined the Tri Club, started doing spin classes, met a lot of other triathletes and learned more about training and racing and what triathlon is all about. The following year (2000) I did a few local short distance races and volunteered at the IM CA thinking that this is distance is simply insane...before I signed up for IM CA 2001 by the end of the year.
CZ: What Ironman races besides Germany have you done?
BP: I have done IM California in 2001 (12:01:51) and IM USA Lake Placid in 2002 (11:39:18.)
CZ: You have done a few Ironman distance races prior to Germany and they were all successful because you finished. But what was the difference this year that helped you be so good that you qualified for Kona?
BP: The more races you do the more you learn about yourself and how your body and mind may act (or not act) under race conditions. Just the experience of having trained for, participated and finished 2 IM races before Germany helped me a lot get physically and mentally ready for this one and race it.
My first ironman was about 'surviving' and it was the most emotional one when I crossed the finish line. I trained for it based on what I read in books, advice and guidance I got from friends. But the training was not necessarily in the most structured way.
When I started to train for IM USA I had a real training plan which spelled out build cycles, training volume, workouts and intensities (based on "SERIOUS Training for Endurance Athletes" by Sleamaker/Browning (...a great book, I highly recommend it!)). My attitude for IM USA was to really 'race' it and not just survive. Preparing for IM Germany I build up on that and the same training approach. I put focus on my biking since I felt that there was (and still is) room for improvement and the area in which I could make the biggest gains. One important thing I added to my training for Germany was to do long transition runs off the bike after long bike rides (e.g. bike 90mles, run 90min or longer). This completely changed my attitude to the run. I really got out of this "survival" mode of running a 45-60min transition run after a long bike ride. It got me to the point where started to pace myself on the bike because I knew once the bike was done I was still going to be out on a run for quite some time.
Also, for IM Germany I did not put myself under the same pressure than I did the year before racing at Lake Placid. I was going to my home country, see family and friends, and simply wanted have a good time racing. Maybe that was "the difference"...
CZ: Tell me about the moment it was confirmed that you had definitely earned a spot at Kona?
BP: The evening of the race I knew that I placed 4rth in the age group and based on what I had seen before on their official web site I thought there were three slots. So I thought that was it and I wasn't disappointed about it,...try again next time. The plan was still to go to the rolldown next day but I since I had missed a roll down slot at IM USA last year by 35 seconds I didn't get my hopes up really high on any roll downs. The bigger was the surprise when I found out that there were actually 4 slots and I had won one of them! I didn't even see that in the results book the next morning before Mike (my boyfriend) pointed out to me the column "quali" and a "yes" behind my name. That was so great! I couldn't believe it!
CZ: Now that you have an entry to Kona, do you think you can be just as motivated to perform well at Kona as you must have been in Germany?
BP: I am totally excited to go to Kona! I know it is going to be a completely different race just based on the race conditions but, hey it's the world championships and I have the chance to be part of it. I am going to enjoy just being there and doing the race...no matter how long it is going to take me to finish.
CZ: What do you think your future goals in triathlon will be after Kona?
BP: I haven't really thought about any specific races after October. I love the sport and I love to train and see that there is still a lot to do for improvement in all three disciplines. There are other international IM races I still would like to do one day like Canada and Australia. However, after Kona I may do a little bit more cross training (ride the mountain bike, go kayaking, surfing, etc.) and maybe tap into trying some adventure racing. We'll see...
CZ: Birgit, thank you very much for sharing your story. Good luck at Kona and beyond!