CoachCast: Virtual IRONMAN Racing with Michael Lovato

CoachCast: Virtual IRONMAN Racing with Michael Lovato

Former pro triathlete and current coach Michael Lovato discusses the process of creating IRONMAN Live commentary as well as career highlights & lowlights.

If you’re stuck indoors with plenty of motivation and time to train, this is the episode for you! This week we interviewed the loquacious Michael Lovato, the voice of IRONMAN Live and former pro triathlete. Michael discusses what it takes to be an IRONMAN commentator—from talking for nine-and-a-half hours straight to keep an eye on athlete power output, to even strategizing around limited bathroom breaks. 

He and Dirk also review his career highlights and biggest mistakes made during his time competitively racing. He even touches on how he’s advising his athletes during the time of quarantine and distancing.  

Stand-out Quotes

  • “We get more coverage. We get to see them more often than we would on an IRONMAN. We’re watching their cadence, their form. We talked to them at times. We see their watts per kilogram, we see their watt, their current watt output…it’s a different kind of exciting.”
  • “I’m embracing the challenge. Nobody knows what you’re supposed to do when the start line… is moved. Nobody has a blueprint for this.”
  • “Take your vitamins, take your recovery drink, take your rest, sleep. Because the last thing anybody wants is to take their pastime and their hobby and their career (for the pros) and have it backfire. You know, if all of a sudden you go for a hard run, you come back and your immune system’s in the gutter and you pick up the virus.”
  • “To me it’s consistency from year-to-year-to-year—it’s huge for developing the most out of yourself, but also consistency day-to-day. The most important thing is, let’s not do too much that it interrupts consistency and let’s not do too little that it interrupts consistency of progress. Right? And it’s just, find out what makes that athlete to go without forced interruption from injury or too tired or, or any of that. Just what is your path to consistency?”

Resources

Michael Lovato’s Instagram

Michael Lovato’s Twitter

Michael Lovato’s Website

Episode Transcript

Dirk Friel:

My guest today is Michael Lovato, who you may know as the voice of IRONMAN Live. He was a pro triathlete for 15 years where he was top 10 in Kona three times. Besides being a commentator for IRONMAN, he is also a well-respected triathlon coach at Lovato Performance Coaching. Hey, Michael, thanks for joining us today. You know, we’re both in Boulder, so I’d rather be doing this in-person, but these are strange times, so thanks for joining me. 

Michael Lovato:

Yeah, well, thanks for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to chat with you and yeah, I certainly would. You know, I think you and I are both social guys. We’d love to be in that super awesome TrainingPeaks studio doing this or, or even in just enjoying a coffee together. But these are the times we’re in and I’m psyched that we could still do all this stuff virtually. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. Everybody’s going to virtual now, obviously. And I think you’ve experienced a lot of those changes, so it’s going to be kind of fun to talk about and see how things are different in your life. So how are you and your family doing? You’ve got two kids. How is homeschooling going? 

Michael Lovato:

Yeah, great question. The two kids, a two-and-a-half and six-and-a-half. So Valentine and Zane. Valentine is six-and-a-half. And she’s in kindergarten, well she’s sort of at the end of her kindergarten year and she’s the one who gets the schooling programming designed around her. And, and Zane is, my preschooler would be, and he’s, he’s not even in pre-school yet or wasn’t, but he, he’s a tag-along. So I have to be honest, Dirk, I love it. It’s, it’s like I’m sort of in rare, I’m a rare breed there. I really enjoy the challenge of it. I really enjoy the fun of it. I enjoy being with my kids, so it’s, it’s been kind of awesome. When I’m in that little environment and I tune out what’s going on outside, 

Dirk Friel:

That’s a great way to look at it. I mean, you have to take advantage of the time, you know, and now with a family. So you typically would be traveling to IRONMAN events. I suspect a lot of people may know your voice. If they’ve tuned into IRONMAN Live at all, especially for Kona, you know, you’re on there with Welchy, Greg Welch and doing some long days. So how long have you been, how long you’ve been doing Kona Live? 

Michael Lovato:

I started in 13, 2013. As far as commentary goes, I raced it up until 2012. My daughter was born in 2013 and I did not race it that year. I did commentary. And so that’s, you know, this would hopefully this’ll be year eight consecutively. And you know, I actually did a bunch of commentary through my racing career off and on just never Kona. So that was probably starting in about ‘06 so here and there, it’s been a lot of years, but Kona, the last eight. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, I dunno how you do it. I mean, are you doing it for what, nine hours straight? 

Michael Lovato:

You know that’s, yeah, and I’d say obviously on the show, on the faster races and Kona is fast because the competition’s good. We get done in about nine, nine and a half hours with the pre-show. It’s a lot of talking, but I think no one ever accused me of having nothing to say. So the talking is the easy part. The content tends to be the easier part for me naturally, sitting and trying to not need that many breaks for a bathroom or food standpoint. Those are the challenges. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. You guys are always trying to piece things together. You don’t always have a clear picture of what’s going on out there. I had the privilege once of being on one of the lead motorcycles and I was texting back to the booth, you know, time gaps and who just had a flat, etc. So you guys are taking in information from all over and trying to interpret it. So yeah, it’s definitely great to hear you on that. It definitely keeps the show alive. And now you do a great job. And now you’re doing some marathons too. Is that right? 

Michael Lovato:

Yes. And thank you. Yeah, it’s, it’s the Rock & Roll Marathon and Rock & Roll Half-Marathon series. We started that, a little bit of a dabble in it last year. But now all our stuff runs on Facebook and, and the IRONMAN group owns Rock & Roll. So with that  opportunity, they brought me in and a couple of people in to do a little live show on a half marathon and it can be, I say little, it’s still four hours. I know Allen Culpepper felt like it was a long day and I was kind of chuckling because it was over before I knew it. Right. But it’s neat, Dirk, because it’s a totally different market that we’re speaking to and it’s a totally different race that we’re speaking about. So it’s, it’s pretty fun and it’s a cool series that has all this great music and great, great vibe, great energy. And we, we’ve had all those races canceled and they haven’t started and gone virtual yet. But it is a cool, a cool job. That commentary gig. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. I mean I think this is inevitable. You know, taking race coverage to the web in a way is better. I mean, I, I absolutely hate commercials every five minutes during TV coverage, you know, and we get so much more of a behind-the-scenes look and full-coverage, you know, of these events. So I, I definitely think that was, that was inevitable. Do you see any other, I don’t know, exciting things happening around the online coverage or you know, it’s things you want to experiment with around technology or data flow? 

Michael Lovato:

I think, yeah, good. You know the cycling world very well and better than I, and you know that they do a super job on TV. Of course, here’s the trade-off. If you want all that super awesome stuff, like all the data, the heart rate data to power data live on your screen and that’s a little bit more in-depth information coming to you. It costs money. And that’s why those TV broadcasts have the advertisements that nobody enjoys. But so there’s a trade-off. I think it’d be awesome. I think it will be awesome when eventually our pros in the sport start having their data pop up on screens. We start seeing it. We can speak to their power output, the files live… you at TrainingPeaks, when you guys would come in and analyze data with us and Best Bike Split where we’d predict those times. All that stuff was, is as techie as we often get. And outside of that, it was an estimate. So for me, I think eventually we’ll see, that we go in and out of having partners that will provide data, but it’s, you know, it’s a, it’s a costly endeavor. So hopefully that comes out Dirk, cause it’d be cool to see, it’d be cool to see that data, wouldn’t it? 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. Well now, we’re in the world of virtual racing and we are seeing almost data in, we’re just inundated by it, and somehow you have to interpret it. So, this past week was kind of a first-of-its-kind event. Tell us more about the IRONMAN VR racing. 

Michael Lovato:

Oh, for sure. Yeah. Last weekend was VR One, the Virtual Race One and this weekend starting tomorrow is Virtual Race Two. And it’s evolved so fast and it came about so fast. Obviously we had the calendar laid out to cover all these actual IRONMANs around the world and we all, we do all that remotely. Anyway, so a little heads up. Most every show, not every show, but most every show I do from Boulder in a studio with an incredible crew of people at Boulder County Communications. They’re so, they know how to produce shows when we’re not there.

So they and IRONMAN just put together this amazing way to bring virtual racing to our age group and pro athletes all over the world. And it, as I said, it evolves so fast. At one point we were going to do a one-on-one professional challenge, one man against one man and then one woman against another woman. But with the social distancing and the stay at home orders in Colorado and around the world we went to, we went to even more of an extreme where it’s now four athletes on, on a pro standpoint, racing one another from their own home pain cave or training center and some more fancy than others. But, so for, for women on Saturday for men on Sunday and Dede Griesbauer and I, we watch from Skype and they get on Rouvy, the online platform and they just, to your point there, they’re on a trainer. We get more coverage. We get to see them more often than we would on an IRONMAN. We’re watching their cadence, their form. We talked to them at times. We see their watts per kilogram, we see their watt, their current watt output. If they are the highlight lead athlete, it’s really super, super awesome to people that are big fans of sport. It’s super inspiring. If you’re training indoors and I can see Dirk, it’d be pretty boring if you’re used to watching like a premier league soccer or NFL, it’s not that kind of exciting, it’s a different kind of exciting. 

Dirk Friel:

So I watched the first one and I was really intrigued and what I really enjoyed was seeing the at-home pain caves, the basements, the garages and that was a part of the personality of that athlete that you never otherwise get. You only see their game face in Kona or wherever it might be. So I enjoyed literally seeing the video of those athletes and that blew me away because I was just expecting, you know, dot racing. 

Michael Lovato:

Yeah, totally. Totally. And that’s been some of the feedback from our viewers, to be honest, it’s been a fun thing to see. Everybody says, oh my gosh, there’s Mirinda Carfrae’s daughter on camera—that happens to me all the time where she strolls in. Joe Gamble’s son popped his head in the camera and wanted to be a part of the show. And then, you know, to the extreme where Tim O’Donnell accidentally unplugged Mirinda’s trainer, the husband-wife duo. If you’re not following the sport, I’m sure most of you do. Right. And so, but all that stuff, it’s so real and you can see, gosh, their setup is super tech-savvy and, and maybe super awesome and two screens and all these treadmills and trainers and then others of us are watching someone in the living room and that’s, you know, Jeanni Seymour & Justin, they’re there in the living room and that’s most of us, or many of us that just that pop it up and take it down. And so it’s, I agree with you, it was super cool to see. Very relatable. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. So, is it here to stay? I mean if we were, fingers crossed we’re going to get back to what we know as normal or normal racing. Is this virtual racing here to stay? 

Michael Lovato:

It is. And I don’t have a direct line to the IRONMAN head office. Well I have that line, but they don’t let me call it very often. So, but no, I did ask, because I’m on the, we’re trying to put these shows together and I said, I need a placeholder in my calendar as far as if I’m doing shows and yeah, we could be upwards of another of two, two months or eight or nine weeks straight of doing these shows and doing these the cool thing, and I, I’m not plugging the brand or what they’re doing, I’m not like doing an ad here, but they’re raising money and they’ve raised over a $100,000 for COVID relief, which is pretty cool. And they’ve got, they have 20,000 people racing this weekend virtually, which is, wow. Staggering. I think so, yeah. It’s here to stay. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, definitely. People need something to focus on and have something to look forward to. And so this is every weekend looking forward. This is going to be great. You know, I’ve watched F1 E, and now that’s actually on TV. Like, I think it was F1 Bahrain was actually televised, but it was virtual. So it’s almost inevitable. Like if you’re a legit pro sport, you have an E level of it. So in a way that’s really welcome, it kind of legitimizes a lot of it as well. So looking forward to how that develops. Okay. So moving on, how about coaching-wise—you’re doing all the commentary, you’re also coaching. It’s obviously been tough for athletes of all kinds. Walk me through the conversations you’ve been having with your athletes and now that races have been canceled. 

Michael Lovato:

Yeah, great question. And the coaching is as you know, an ever-evolving landscape and it always has been. I started coaching in 2001 when it was a super different, not only [the] method of training, we trained differently back then. Like you were in the front edge, Dirk and you—power meters and developing all your cool stuff that you guys did. And it was neat to see. But I was very traditionally old school in a XL, you know, and do this and by feel and heart rates. And so I evolved out of that way early or fairly early coaching methodology. And so it changed from then to the mid-two-thousands to the late two-thousands or to the two-thousand-tens to now. 

And when I started going more and more full time, it’s like, I feel like coaching has, what people need has evolved every single year and what people want has evolved every single year. What I want to deliver has evolved every single year. And so this is just one more step in that evolution. And I have to be honest again, I am embracing the change. I was getting a little burned out on my old method and the way I was going for a while. And I have to again, acknowledge that outside. I recognize that this pandemic is devastating to life and the economy and social and everything, I understand it. But to me to move forward, I block it out a little bit and I focus on what I can control. I focus on my attitude and internally, and I prefaced that Dirk because I want to say like my coaching, I like what I now have because it’s something new.

It’s a new challenge. How do I address this group of people that was on my typical pattern of buildup and now boom, we’ve changed, they’ve all changed. Everyone has to change now, you know? So I embrace that and I’m interacting with people in a different way. I don’t see them. My run group, we’re doing it all virtually, photograph-wise. We’re doing it like Instagram’s sort of wise and just sharing and I’m embracing the challenge. Nobody knows what you’re supposed to do when the finish line is, or the start line is moved. Nobody has a blueprint for this. So I’m saying, all right, more calls, more interaction, more check-ins, more focus on recovery. 

I guess in some bullets, I’ve talked to every athlete I coach, which it’s a smaller roster than it was this time last year intentionally. But I look at my roster and I say every one of them, I say guys, first things first, don’t get sick, don’t tank the immune system. Treat every hard or longer effort that you may still have with twice the respect that you did before. Like in other words, listen to me when I say “recover.” Well, take your vitamins, take your recovery drink, take your rest, sleep. Because the last thing anybody wants is to take their pastime and their hobby and their career for the pros and have it backfire. You know, if all of a sudden you go for a hard run, you come back and your immune system is in the gutter and you pick up the virus. So that’s the conversation. Number one. That’s bullet point number one. Bullet point number two is, we almost, everybody had a pretty high level of fitness building and was about ready to hit some April-March, April-May, races. So it was a, in my version, a reshift of what we’re calling periodization. They just hit the brakes and maybe do a virtual five or 10k or virtual IRONMAN or something to express some fitness and get some satisfaction but then start over. So that’s point number two, pivot. Right?

And then point number three is just, gosh, have fun and take motivation because I think that I’ve always believed through my career and as an athlete or as a coach, this sport should be a stress reliever, not a stress add-er you know, it’s like we should be able to go out there and ride the bike on the trainer outside, whatever, run, swim, stretch cords, gym, to relieve some stress and burn off the family or the work or the COVID pandemic vibe too. And so keep doing that. You use that as your guiding light. Those are my three bullets. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. So I heard, kind of back off a bit, obviously the intensity is not full-tilt as it might have otherwise been because of the immune system. The same with volume. You’re not really seeing, you’re not all of the sudden switching to just alright, long, slow miles now. Right?

Michael Lovato: No, no. And see, that’s the hard thing is that I think if it were an injury or a race cancellation or which we’ve had like we’ve had race cancellations, I’ve trained people for a race, it just didn’t happen and it got canceled right before. I’ve trained a few people for a race where the swim got canceled. I’ve trained people, you know, and they get injured the day before the race or sick, you know, we all have as coaches. And it’s not that if it were those things you can transition to load up more of this or more of that or long slow miles. And in this case that I think that can be a little risky because I mean, you know, the audience here knows that, that those deeper efforts, a six-hour bike ride, it could put your immune system in jeopardy. 

So every athlete is different. And this is the thing that we coaches like to say everyone is different. Every scenario is different. I spoke with a guy yesterday to use a very real point. We’re going to probably take four weekends. He’s going to get out there for a long ride on one of those four because he knows he’s not actually gonna do an IRONMAN until November, December or maybe not at all. Cause that’s what he’s got on his calendar. That’s so he loves long rides, but we have to temper them. Right, and so yeah, it’s not just a quick fix. It’s gotta be an analysis athlete-by-athlete and also the immune system is very individual and the person’s exposure is very individual. So that all is factored in. I’m sure everyone’s coaches are doing that painstaking analysis. Right?

Dirk Friel:

How about some tips for not being able to swim now?

Michael Lovato:

Yeah, I hope. All right, well, so taking a look across the social streams, some people have been super generous in sharing good stuff. I’ll reference Dave Scott who I always referenced as the best coach I’ve ever interacted with. He’s a good friend and he’s a good dude, but he’s, he shared a cool Instagram post of a couple of his favorite stretch cord routines. I think stretch cords are invaluable. They can also burn you out and give you some tendonitis. So you want to do them sparingly, a couple times a week to, you know, start with twice a week if you’ve never done them, maybe three times a week. And if you’re really good, you can do it every day. But 10 to 30 minutes max. I mean 30 minutes would be a monster stretch cord session that’s including rest. But stretch cords are very, it’s the most specific muscle use I think. 

So stretch cords are really big. TRX is another bodyweight system that I think enables you to do some swim like motion. If you are a rower, if you have a row machine or you row, or if you have a Vasa swim trainer, there are all these other things that are out there that you could pick up on eBay or wherever you buy stuff, you may already have them, just use them, but just do it in moderation because there’s going to be a good crossover. And then I think one of the most valuable things to know is everybody that doesn’t have an endless pool is going to detrain. Like everyone is going to lose a little bit of that fitness if you were swimming. Right, and, that’s the bottom line. Like we’re all kind of in this together, 90% of us that don’t have those little pools or, or real pools. 

So if you’re in that category, just understand that you’ll detrain. And I saw a really brilliant coach share that with, I can’t reference him cause I can’t remember where I saw it, but saying that it just Olympic swimmers, they were training for the Olympics. You’re going to go, you know what’s going to happen. You’re not putting in those miles. So we’ll go backward, but take that in stride and know that this is not forever. 

Dirk Friel:

How about skills work, if we can. We’re assuming most listeners, those in Europe, obviously cannot, but even if they can’t, what about skills work? Are you having any discussions around bike skills, run skills or, or just even without this pandemic? What about working in skills into the weekly routine? 

Michael Lovato:

Well, pre, you know, pre-pandemics skills. A lot of my people that I coach, I used to always have five or six elite pro athletes and they all needed the work, but they were all resistant to do it. Because of time and hassle and like we’re not short course athletes that have technical courses. So our skills were often transitions as getting on and off the bike, getting in and out of your shoes. And I coached a lot of up-and-coming professional women that needed that help and they didn’t love it. We would do it periodically. And it, I think that’s something I would now it’s a great way for anyone that is on a trainer and didn’t use to be, to practice — you long course athletes that really stink at getting your shoes on and off when you do it on the trainer, because guess what, you’re locked in if you’re not on rollers. 

So practice that, to where you can do it without looking down and get some skills so then you can transfer that to outside if you are able to go outside. We used to do it on the track or the turf surfaces, which, here in Boulder are closed to the public now. But if you can find a softer surface, practice, those are the biggest skills we used to practice. And then, I can’t say that I’ve gone a little bit more of the approach of let’s do stuff that makes us healthy and have fun. 

Dirk Friel:

Maybe the next obvious question is strength work. Is this a time period, may not be for every athlete, but are you seeing athletes where this is a time to take advantage? 

Michael Lovato:

Yes. And that one is great because I believe every athlete should do strength work and strength stretching, mobility of some sort, a combination of something. And the cool thing is now you pretty much with everyone eliminate the excuse that we all validly know we’d use, which is “I don’t have the time, can’t get to the gym,” right? That sort of goes away. It really becomes, do you want to do it? So I’m encouraging everyone to do this. If a lot of the year, I’ll say we do two times, some of the year we do three times a week wait in my normal programming and now I’m just saying to everyone like give yourself three days where you give a focused period of time. 

So I personally Dirk, might drop down on the floor at any given moment and do a bunch of pushups and stretch and call that my day’s work. I’m not competing at a high level anymore so that counts. It keeps me going. But I would say the concerted effort, like I’m going to spend time for me. I go into my garage, I have TRX hooked to my wall, I have some dumbbells and a pad. It’s real basic, but I can do my maintenance strength work because I am 46 years old. I am trying to run every day or a lot of days. I am trying to be an athlete still. I do like to compete and push myself. I do like challenges, so I don’t want to get injured and I know if I don’t do TRX, if I don’t do some gym stuff, I know personally I’ll get hurt. So I tell everyone, put yourself a couple times [on the calendar], 20-30 minutes where no one’s bugging you or you get your kids involved. Amanda’s got, my wife has got our two kids doing little stretch and yoga sessions and it’s awesome. And they, they can’t focus the whole time, but she can and they’re there and it’s like, do that! It’s massive. It’s going to be wellbeing. It’s going to be a huge boost for you. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, I noticed on your Instagram, I think you posted a TRX routine couple of days ago, right?

Michael Lovato:

Yeah. I might’ve, yeah, I did—like a story, that’s something I’m trying to do is share stuff that motivates and keeps people positive. I’m going to do more of that where I can, I can actually record, you know, record a little bit more of that what I do because I think the more content out there, the better. Not just to educate, but to put a smile on a face and give some positivity. I think our world now more than ever needs to smile and needs to lift one another up. So, and I’m all about that. 

Dirk Friel: Yeah, super. Hey, I want to jump back in time a little more into your racing days. You mentioned Dave Scott. He was a pretty important part of your racing days. He coached you for a couple of years or what was your interaction with Dave as a coach?

Michael Lovato:

Yeah, Dave’s great. So back in 2000, I first turned pro in 2000. I was living in Austin and I wanted a coach. I knew I needed a coach. I’d been in the sport for about seven years, eight years at that time, fully uncoached like most of us were in the nineties. And 2000 came around — I turned pro. I had a successful amateur season that last year. And my mom said, you know what, she gave me a birthday present at the end of that year, she said “I’m going to buy Dave Scott coaching for a season or for six months or something,” and I said, “This is the best gift ever.” You know, I’m broke and Dave lives in Boulder. I live in Austin. It was all virtual. 

I got phone calls and spreadsheets from him every day, every week. And he, and it was, it was formative, right? Because I learned a whole new approach and a fun, funny story. I’ll never forget this cause now the joke is if things aren’t going to work, try doing what your coach said, right? Or something. There’s that ongoing joke in coaching. And when I first started with Dave, it took me about six weeks or so before I could fully complete one of his first weeks, like fully completing the running. I could always do all the cycling and the, and the swimming, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t finish it. I remember it was a victory when I first finished his program because he just, he was very reasonable, but it was a lot more running than I was used to, so when we started in 2000, I trained with him for a year or two years and then I took a break because I couldn’t afford it. 

And I moved to Boulder with my wife, from Austin. We came here, we were girlfriend-boyfriend at the time. And Dave was luckily here. And that was a lot of why I came was it was the epicenter, well it wasn’t really the epicenter as you know, in the early ‘00, it was sort of a faded, it was in the nineties, a handful of triathletes here for sure, the pros. But we came here and Dave invited me to swim with them. He said, come swim with us if at the Flatiron Athletic Club, come swim with Simon Lessing, Matt Reed and we’ll just do a little swimming together. The four of us. Well, they kicked my butt anyway. And, I sort of went through a season where I realized all of 2002 Dirk, I was worthless as a pro. 

I had an injury, fell off my bike and couldn’t race, didn’t make it. I made about 600 bucks that year and I was like, I have to go back to Dave. I mentioned that because it’s my third year of pro-racing. I was suffering. I was in a new town, no money, I’m broke, I’m living the full-on like destitute pro lifestyle, working at Fleet Feet, a couple of hours to make some cash, tutoring, you know, we’re struggling from a financial standpoint. And then I hired Dave again and he just, we clicked really well. I really, really agree with his, I mean we just get along very well, and I like his style. So 2003 I hired him back and he trained me, he gave me so much confidence as training that that year I just broke through. I followed his program, I trained with him in person and I took the podium at a 70.3 and then five weeks later I won an IRONMAN, my first IRONMAN. And then four months later I got my first top 10 in Kona. And it was, it was like, oh man, those were the sweet days for me and the Dave Scott training program. We had a group and it was just, yeah, I learned immensely from Dave in that window. 

Dirk Friel:

How about the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in a race and maybe a lesson you learned from it? 

Michael Lovato:

Oh, I’ve made some big mistakes. I have made some big mistakes racing. I’ll talk for a long time if I tell them all, but what I’ll say is that one of the biggest mistakes that, I don’t know, this is kind of profound, but like in 2007 and eight, I got ninth place in Hawaii, ninth in ‘07, ninth in ‘08. And I said, I am coming back here in ‘09 to go top three, really top five or top three, and I believed I had the tools to do it and I changed everything in ‘09 which again, that in and of itself was a little bit foolish. I watched that now going, well, why did I change everything? I was so, I didn’t need to change everything. I needed to just get a little better. 

And so I changed everything and I went at that race so hard. My training season, I was, I got very greedy. So this wasn’t in the race, but I got, I saw massive gains on the bike. I started training with a power meter and seeing all these huge gains. And I just went too deep in my training and didn’t race an IRONMAN that year. And so I just, I went into that race, it was one of the first times I ever, I had. I didn’t have really that many bad Konas and I was really just, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what happened to me. I just felt very, very tired. I just felt very bad. I was under-rested, you know, I was over-trained, I was tapped out.

And so, did that mistake happen in the race? No, it happened all year probably. But the way I dealt with that, I finished, which I’m proud of, but I just, I couldn’t get the ship turned around ever. You know what I mean? Like, I couldn’t right the vessel, I couldn’t even go average, I felt so bad. As much as you can give up and still finish, I just gave up that day and, and was like, I don’t have the tools. And that was never me. So I look back on that year. And so to top that off, this is where I get a little deep. I told myself that year, if I don’t go top three or five, if I get ninth again, I’m out. 

Like, I don’t need to race again. I want to win this race, I want to go podium. If I can’t, then let me go win a bunch of other cool races and I’ll try my hand elsewhere and I didn’t, I tanked it and I didn’t listen. And this is the typical athlete. This is like I was so in it that I raced, I could’ve walked away. Then I didn’t, I went back the next year and had an average race. I went back two more years. I went three times after that, Dirk, and just kept racing very average cause you know I was done and I just, I didn’t see that. And so that was kind of like, I don’t know if that’s a mistake if that counts, but to me, that would be one of the big lessons that are glaring, the facts seem super obvious now, 10 years on. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. Maybe little changes can have bigger effects than reaching for everything under the sun to change. 

Michael Lovato:

Like, here’s an example like Tim O’Donnell, he was second in Kona last year with a sub-eight performance, phenomenal the best he’s ever raced. Bar none. And I’ve spoken to him personally about that. He agrees. Now here’s the mistake if he goes after it with this whole new approach, like I was so close to winning, I’m going to go nuts, I’m going to ride more, I’m going to run more, I’m going to take that program I did, but double the run mileage or triple the this or double the… like no, the answer is you were the best ever. So kinda craft something that puts you in that position. Again, little tweaks to do this, to do just a little better. Just last year he was fresh cause he rode a ton, he didn’t run. So maybe that was part of it. So learn that lesson. And we as athletes do not do that. We as coaches are typically very good at observing that. Does that make sense?

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. I’ve heard coaches talk about, you know, the smart ones that, it’s during the peak period when you can do everything wrong. It’s so easy just to do things wrong. Where I’ve heard you talk in the past about finding the consistency and that’s within not just pro-athletes, but any one of your athletes—finding that routine that creates that consistency year-over-year. 

Michael Lovato:

Yes, definitely. And thanks for bringing that up. I agree. I agree with that wholeheartedly. To me it’s consistency from year-to-year-to-year—it’s huge for developing the most out of yourself, but also consistency day-to-day. And if anybody that hires me on as a new coach and they say, what’s your philosophy? What’s your strategy? How do you train? What’s your blah blah? They always have that same question and really it’s kind of a lame answer, but the most important thing is, let’s not do too much that it interrupts consistency and let’s not do too little that it interrupts consistency of progress. Right? And, and it’s just, find out what makes that athlete to go without forced interruption from injury or too tired or, or any of that. Just what is your path to consistency? 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, that’s great. Hey, one last question here. We could talk, I could talk forever with you, but, how about the proudest result and it may not be IRONMAN or within your racing career. What was that proudest result, maybe a lesson learned from that? 

Michael Lovato:

That’s a great question. Thanks, and this is what I can tell you right now. 10 years, you know. Well, let’s see. I retired in 2013 from pro racing, so it’s been seven, going on seven years. My answer will be different today than it was a year ago, 10 years ago, or after my first win. And yeah, that’s perspective, right? So I’ll give you this answer. I gave it just recently on Facebook in a comment. So there’s a race that I love so much. It’s called Buffalo Springs and it was an IRONMAN 70.3. It was a half IRONMAN before that. It’s one of the toughest old school races that I’ve ever done. It scared me Dirk before I ever did it. I was afraid to do it for years. I literally, I respected it.

Dirk Friel:

That’s the best kind of race.

Michael Lovati:

Exactly. It’s why I raced, it’s that challenge, but I had to build up. So the proudest race I ever had, and this is, this is no BS, this is from, from me straight up right now in 19- in 2000 I won. I won the race and I had gone second in ‘99, in 2000 and it meant so much to me. I won the race in 2001 and I was so happy because, you know, it was like, “Oh, I’m on top.”

And then, and that wasn’t my proudest moment. I was psyched. But I thought” “Oh, onto bigger things.” In 2002, I went back there and this was this year where I was really struggling as a pro. I’d moved to Colorado and I went back to that race and I thought I was going to just defend my title and walk away this big hero faster than ever. Two-time winner. I’m going back to Texas where I cut my teeth and I’m going to go to Buffalo Springs and light people up and win, you know, win 500 bucks. 

And Mike and Marty Greer put this race on and they were psyched. They welcomed me. I got there and I was racing this race, Dirk. And halfway through the bike ride I crashed and I hit the ground super hard. Chris Lee hit the ground right in front of me. He was racing that day. Australian athlete. We, I hit the ground so hard and it was so hot. It was this melted surface of, it was the hottest race I’ve ever done. But I, man, I hit the surface, I hit the ground on this slick surface and I got up and I just, I got back on my bike and I won’t go through the long version. The point is I limped my way through the bike ride and I got off the bike and I really, was  okay. Actually it was weird how it didn’t slow me down that much.

But as soon as I got onto the run, I was limping and I knew I had damaged my hip, I was limping along and I got to about mile… I said, if I can get to a mile-a-half running, which is where the sprint turn-around was, I’ll walk because I was too proud to walk. And so, anyway, long story short, I walked this whole damn thing 13 miles. I ran 1.5 miles and then I walked and it wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I tell you that right now is not the smartest thing. I was hurt for a long time after that. And I was too stubborn to drop out. 

But I’ll tell you what, from that year, it took me eight hours to finish that race and I got out there and I was able to, I was able to be there for like every athlete that I had raced against that I had beaten the year before that I had trained with that I started the sport with. It was just this amazing… I recognize it in the moment as a triumphant moment. But the way that I fell in the way that people told me they felt by seeing me do that and just, and I mean just finishing when I started. To this day, like I get, Mike Greer just messaged me the other day and he mentioned and that was my proudest moment because it stuck like it was, it was truly me. And so that above all of the victories or any fast times, that was my day. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah! Well, that’s honorable. I think that’s the essence of the sport. You know, trying to go out and finish what you, what you started, no matter what the actual time may be at the finish line is definitely a part of the spirit of the sport. 

So that definitely lived up there. And Michael, thank you so much. We’re going to see you online plenty, I’m sure with all this VR racing and hopefully we’re back to normal soon and I’ll see you and hopefully have a coffee beer with you and Kona later in the year. 

Michael Lovato:

Oh, I hope so, Dirk. That’d be great. I appreciate you guys have me on and I appreciate all you guys being out there listening to us and y’all be safe out there. Take care of one another and stay positive and keep smiling, I have to say. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. Thank you so much Michael!

Heidi Weingardt

Heidi Weingardt is the former Social Media Specialist turned Coach Content Editor at TrainingPeaks. She is a trail runner, cyclist, and skier. She loves hiking fourteeners and exploring the mountains with her Goldendoodle named Happy.