I had the pleasure recently of being able to talk triathlon with Tri Club member Norm Smith.  Last year Norm had a very successful Ironman Arizona as he finished in 11:07:35.  Please join me as we get to know Norm better.
CZ: What was your athletic background before participating in triathlons? 

NS: I spent most of my youth in Chicago.  While I was there I played some soccer when I was younger, but I mostly focused on hockey (“real” hockey – on ice.)  I played hockey for about 8 years – through my first year of high school – until I transferred schools and was forced to give up the game because of a non-recruiting policy by the Illinois High School Athletic Commission.  I really didn’t play many organized sports at all after that until I began running about 3 years ago.

CZ: Tell us about your first triathlon? 

NS: My first Tri was the Carlsbad Triathlon in May of ’04.  It really was a thrilling experience: I was terrified of the 1000m swim which doesn’t seem like that much now, but at the time the longest session I’d completed (in a pool) was 500 meters and I’d only done one open water swim of about 5 minutes to test out the wetsuit I bought the week before the race.  I remember being ecstatic when I exited the water – after all, no one drowns on the bike or run.  I had no idea how to pace myself, however, as I was relatively new to biking and my running experience was all in longer distances.  Because of that I had a lot of energy left at the finish, but I still remember being in a bit of daze and thinking to myself “well, I guess I’m a triathlete now” and not really knowing what to do next.  Surprisingly (to me, anyway), the heavens didn’t open, women didn’t flock, and life went on.  But I was hooked 

CZ: What is the funniest or strangest thing that has happened to you while training or racing triathlons?

NS: Other than the usual mishaps (starting the bike with goggles on, starting the run with my helmet on, etc.), I seem to lead a fairly tame triathlon life.  One thing, however, that does seem to happen to me quite regularly is that during races people seem to mistake my contorted grimace of pain for a smile.  I can’t think of an event I’ve done where I haven’t had half a dozen spectators yell out “great smile”, “keep smiling”, “nice teeth”, etc.  In fact, now that I think about it, after IM Arizona last year, one of the girls handing out medals commented that I had a great smile – and that she was in a position to know as she worked for a dentist.  (Being completely out of it at the time, I automatically asked her out – we had dinner the next night; a finisher’s medal, a bracelet, and a date – no wonder I’m planning on doing another Ironman .)

CZ: That’s interesting about your smile.  I told my wife that I was going to interview you.  She remembered you from one of the networking dinners as the good looking guy from Chicago with the awesome smile!  And I thought I was the good looking guy from Chicago with the awesome smile.  Hmmm.  What Ironman races have you done? 

NS: Ironman Arizona in April of ’05 was my first Ironman and my only one to date.  I wasn’t really sure about wanting to do an Iron distance tri, but I figured it would be my first Ironman and it was Arizona’s first time hosting an Ironman, so it must be fate.  The race itself was amazing – my goal, of course, was to finish, and I was hoping to get somewhere between 12 and 14 hours.  Obviously, I was thrilled to get 11:07.

CZ: Which Ironman races are on your things to do list for 2006?

NS: I am currently signed up for IM Arizona (I figured I did the first one, and it’s so close to home I should keep doing it) in April and Ironman Coeur d’Alene in June.  Provided I can secure a slot at one of the other IM races, I also plan on signing up for Ironman Wisconsin in September.

CZ: Since you raced the inaugural Ironman Arizona, what advice would you pass along to other Tri Club members doing that race this year?

NS: Be ready for the wind.  The bike course is flat but extremely windy – which is very nice on the way out, but a bit of a shocker on the way back into town when you’re headed right into it.  I believe they modified the bike course a bit for 2006 so there will no longer be the shorter “city loop” which caused so much confusion for both age groupers and pros last year.

Other than that, be ready for the heat.  If I remember correctly, it got relatively hot towards the end of the run last year.  Of course, by that time I was a bit delirious so I’m not certain I can really speak intelligently about that.

CZ: What are the key workouts you like to do to prepare for an Ironman race?

NS: I’m still trying to figure out what the best workouts will be, but I am doing much more running this year than I did last year.  Last year I focused a fair amount on the swim as, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure I could go 2.4 miles.  Because of that, and because my background (if you can call it that) was in running, I didn’t put in that many miles.  And the run hurt.  A lot.

So currently I’m trying to get significantly more miles in than I did last year.  I’m also trying to get in more miles on the bike.  I guess my theory is that if I can’t figure out what a quality workout is, I’ll go with the quantity route .  I am, however, going to break down and finally attend a masters swim session – in fact, by the time this goes to print I hope to have made that a regular part of my routine.

CZ: What is your favorite race and why?  Have you done the Chicago Triathlon?

NS: My favorite race thus far would probably have to be the Hotter than Hell Half Ironman in Kansas City, KS.  Partly because I like the name.  It’s a smaller event and relatively new (2 years old now), but it’s a beautiful course, the people are great, and again – I did the inaugural event as my first Half Iron distance tri so it’s got a special place in my heart.

I haven’t done the Chicago Tri yet.  It’s on my list of events to get to at some point, but I haven’t yet been able to fit it in.  And when I lived in IL, I hadn’t even heard of triathlons.

CZ: How has the Tri Club helped you achieve your triathlon goals? 

NS: The Tri Club has been invaluable for me mostly because of the wealth of knowledge that folks have.  When I was first getting into the sport, it was very intimidating, but everyone was extremely helpful and willing to answer even the dumbest questions I could come up with.  Recently, as I’ve been improving my cycling and running (you may have noticed my tendency to avoid swimming at all costs), it’s been handy having some of the folks in the group keep me humble and to continuously push me.

CZ: What coaching advice would you give to your best friend who was doing his first triathlon?

NS: It’s all mental.  I’m convinced that if I can do it – anyone can.  Granted, I would recommend making sure that you are physically capable of doing the distance, but honestly, after the swim – heck, you get to sit down on the bike, and well, running is really just like walking – only a bit faster.

Seriously, I would just recommend that people approach doing a tri methodically (that’s the engineer in me coming out):  Make sure you’re capable of doing all the distances individually, then work at combining them.  And honestly, the most important thing is to remember to enjoy it.  99% of us aren’t making money at this (even the pros aren’t making a killing), and so we must be doing it because we enjoy it.  People need to remember that.

CZ: What advice would you offer an enemy? 

NS: Actually, I’d probably recommend that they duplicate my race schedule.  I somehow seem to get overly excited when I’m signing up for events (a year beforehand – it’s all easy when it’s just on paper), and I’m currently signed up for 22 events this year – not including IM Wisconsin or the 70.3 championships I’m hoping to qualify for (2 IM distance, 6 Half IM’s, 4 marathons, 5 half marathons, and a handful of other local races.)

CZ: You sound like an endurance animal!  Now I do have some concerns because my wife has run 118 marathons and will run 10 more in 2006.  You have a lot in common and she sure likes your smile.  Hmmm.

Seriously, you are a-ok in my book.  Thanks for sharing your story.  We wish you the very best in 2006 in all your goals.