I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with TCSD member Brandon Mills. After a long quest with a handful of near misses Brandon finally secured his slot at the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Please join me as we get to know this very determined guy.
Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon?
Brandon: Growing up in the High Desert of LA County through most of my later childhood wasn’t easy. We didn’t have a lot of organized sports available to us within a reasonable distance. I spent most of my weekends hopping on my BMX bike and riding up to my friend’s house who lived approximately 11 miles away. It would take me over 2 hours to get there and I’d be completely smashed. After a short Kool-Aid recovery we’d set out to hike through the trails at Devil’s Punchbowl until sunset. It wasn’t until high school that I realized I had a talent for endurance sports. A friend of mine was running cross-country and would brag about the workouts they were putting in. I told him I do that for breakfast, and was thinking to myself I’d do circles around these guys. That spring I followed him out to the first track practice and began my endurance career.
Craig: How did you get started in triathlon?
Brandon: My first experience with triathlon was definitely a big blow to my endurance ego. That same friend who got me out to run track in high school also convinced me to do a triathlon with him our freshman year in college. Training consisted of a few short runs, never riding a bike and one or two 5-minute swims at his apartment complex pool to make sure we wouldn’t drown. We raced a Sprint Triathlon in Oceanside. I swam with no goggles, and was wondering why everyone else was wearing them, but didn’t take long to figure that out. Jumped on a Huffy Mountain Bike I borrowed from a dorm room colleague and got crushed. Thought I would be able to get off that bike and run my usual 16-minute 5k and realized I couldn’t even run straight. Finally finished the run which felt like a marathon and put my triathlon career up on the shelf where it sat for nearly 7 years.
Craig: When did qualifying for the Hawaiian Ironman become a realistic goal in your mind?
Brandon: When I first decided to race an Ironman I’d been exposed to triathlon for about one year and had already met a lot of amazing people within the community; particularly I met two of my good friends Phillippe Krebs and Mathew Dixon. We all decided to race IM Arizona together in November ‘08, and doing so trained a great deal together for nearly 12 months. Phil had already raced Kona in ‘05 and was a good mentor to help us prepare for this race. After months of quality training and being able to hang with these guys I thought I had what it took to get a slot the first time. My ”Rudy Ruettiger” approach to Ironman didn’t pay off right away.
Craig: What Ironman races have you done and how did they go for you?
Brandon: Arizona November ‘08 was my first and I was pleased with just crossing the finish line after under-estimating the run (1:09/5:04/3:25/9:47) 9th AG (Age Group) 91st OA (Overall). After a year off I raced IM Coeur d’Alene ‘10 under the coaching guidance of Jim Vance and finished 7th AG, 41st OA and missed Kona by 1 slot (1:11/5:14/3:21/9:50). The following year I kept up with the training and raced Utah ‘11 and was outkicked to the finish by two guys in my AG to finish 9th AG, 32nd OA and miss going to Kona by 1 slot and 16 seconds (1:11/5:16/3:21/9:55). After a very disappointing go at St. George I didn’t want to give up on all that hard work and my wife Sarah and I had to make the tough decision to try and give it another shot. I sat down with Coach Vance and we worked out a plan to get us over that hump without being hindered by the fatigue brought on by St. George. I nabbed a Foundation slot to IM Coeur d’Alene ‘11 and decided to travel up to CDA on my own and get the job done. And even after a tough fought race I went 6th AG, 39th OA and ran my way to a Kona spot (1:11/5:18/3:09/9:45).
Craig: What was Ironman Utah like for you this year?
Brandon: Even though I missed Kona at Utah, I still feel like it was a good race for me overall and I was in the best shape. The swim was calm and not too cold and I felt comfortable. I stuck to the plan on the bike and rode myself up into striking distance while taking in the awesome scenery and killer course. I did suffer on the run with the heat and poor nutrition but was still able to catch a few people. I passed two guys midway through the marathon, but they regained themselves late and were able to make a strong surge from behind to pass me within the last half mile and outkick me to the finish. They both had a good tactic of knowing where I was, being in front, and when to attack late in the race. Unfortunately those two guys were both in my AG and nabbed the final Kona slots.
Craig: How did you pick yourself up after the disappointment in Utah?
Brandon: Utah was very tough on me. I had put a lot of time and effort into that race and could feel it all slip away on that drive home. I thought for sure Sarah wouldn’t let me keep this lifestyle going and I couldn’t blame her. But she saw the disappointment I carried around and all the sacrifices I had made to come so close. And even through all the selfishness I brought upon her she told me to go out there and get it done! By the next day I was sitting down with Coach Vance and we worked on getting our race picked out and our plan ready. Knowing I had the support once again from my wife and all my friends I didn’t hesitate to get back on the roads and commit to another 7 weeks of Ironman training.
Craig: What went into the fairly spontaneous decision to race Ironman Coeur d'Alene?
Brandon: I didn’t want to keep putting future plans with my wife on hold. She’s also a very hard worker and deserves to have a balanced life. I didn’t want her to wait another year for MY dreams to come true.
Craig: How did this year's Ironman Coeur d'Alene go for you?
Brandon: I had a mindset going to Coeur d’Alene unlike any of the previous 3 Ironmans. I was much more relaxed and not too worried about the outcome. Even though I was giving it one last shot, it didn’t feel like a failure if I didn’t make it. But my laid back attitude stuck around a little too long. My swim and bike were very flat. It felt like I could never engage into the race both physically and mentally. I kept thinking that I burned all my matches in Utah. After doing some quick math in my head towards the end of the bike, I knew if I came up here to “get it done” then it was going to be on the run. This time I wasn’t going to stray from the plan. “Get out into your pace and stay there” was the plan. Surprisingly, after a flat feeling on the bike, the running legs were ready to roll. I knew there were plenty of people ahead of me, but too many to even start counting. So I sat in my zone and let the miles tick off. At mile 19.5 approximately my home stay rolled up next to me on the course and says that I’m in 7th. “Bad news is the next guy is 7 minutes up on you, good news is he’s running an 8:40/mile, so go run him down!” I didn’t hesitate to quicken the pace and stayed on the gas. I had no idea when I passed that guy with all of the other runners out there, but was stoked when I heard I finished 6th AG. Now I had to play the waiting game and see how many slots where going to be allocated for Kona the following morning. There was only 5 slots given to my AG this year and once again I was stuck waiting for a roll down. The 5 slots had to be taken by 11AM and by 10:30 3 where gone. There was hope for me after all. With 3 minutes left the 4th slot was taken which really made me nervous. But once the official stood up from the table and walked away with the last spot left not taken, I knew my luck had changed and I was going to Kona.
Craig: What are your favorite benefits of membership in the TCSD?
Brandon: Being part of TCSD has been an unbelievable experience. Without partaking in the club races I would have never met those who have been a huge influence in my life. I’ve also had the privilege to represent TCSD in the RnR Marathon Challenge and received an entry to race Alcatraz! A race that I will always remember and how those committed to this club made that possible.
Craig: What are your pet peeves in the sport of triathlon?
Brandon: My biggest has to be all the products and gimmicks out there on the market that everybody continually buys into to try and better themselves the “easy way.” You hear all too often how this shoe is faster than that shoe or this bike is better than that bike. I understand how marketing works, but unless you are selling the product yourself, I really don’t want to hear how much better it is. There are a lot of suckers in this sport looking for the edge, but the bottom line is “DO THE WORK.”
Craig: What do you do for a living and how do you fold triathlon training into your career?
Brandon: This has to be my toughest task to deal with. I work as a Geologist for a Civil and Geotechnical Engineering company and spend many hours on the road and out in the field. Not every day is the same so trying to build in a routine is impossible. I must plan out my workouts around my work schedule each day. My swim workouts can easily vary from the 6am masters in Encinitas to the 7:30pm TCSD workout at the JCC depending on the day.
Craig: Do you have any sponsors?
Brandon: Yes, and I’ve been very fortunate to have some amazing support backing me. Moment Cycle sport has been there every step of the way since I’ve started this Ironman goal. Big thanks to Trevor Glavin at Skinfit for all the support along with the Skinfit athletes for always pushing the pace. Huge thanks to Brian Hill at Rehab United for making me stronger than ever. Though not sponsors, a huge thanks goes out to my friends Sean and Phil for continually pushing me through the tough workouts even when they didn’t have any races on their schedule!
Craig: What are your future goals in triathlon?
Brandon: I haven’t spent any time thinking about my goals beyond Kona especially since it’s my 3rd Ironman in 5 months. Kona has been on my radar for the past 3 years and I’m stoked to finally get to race with a lot of good friends and training partners. I know Coach Vance will have me prepared to race at my full potential and I just look forward to finally taking it all in. As far as next year goes you’ll probably have to ask Sarah that question.
Craig: When I heard how close you had come to qualifying at Utah, my heart just sunk. Then when I heard that you qualified for Kona at IM CDA I just knew I had to interview you. I was very aware of how much effort you have put into making this dream a reality so I was absolutely thrilled for you. Thank you for sharing your story. Please know that the entire TCSD is behind you all the way to Kona.