CRANK Cycling News goes international!
We were very fortunate to chat to Brad Kearns who, unbeknown to many, was the first athlete ever to use the tri-bar in competition way back in 1987.
The 1980s provided great strides and innovations in many pro sports with triathlon and cycling being at the forefront of this “innovation revolution”. Tri-bars, heart rate monitors, swimming specific wetsuits are just a few of the spin-offs from this pioneering era which have evolved into the mainstream equipment and training practices of today.
Now an author, coach and fitness consultant based in Auburn California, the innovative Kearns chatted to us about his pro career as well as providing some interesting views on various athletic topics.
CRANK: Brad, as an endurance sport coach could you give a description of your coaching philosphy? Are you limited to coaching triathletes or are you involved in a greater spectrum of sports?
BRAD KEARNS: I focus on peak performance coaching and serve mostly endurance athletes but I also spent 2 years at a Silicon Valley software company helping regular folks eat healthy, lose weight, quit smoking, or complete their first mini triathlon. I also spent a lot of time and energy coaching kids, since I have a 12 and 10 year old. The principles to follow for health and fitness are the same regardless of your goals or ability level. Currently I’m involved with former triathlon great Mark Sisson and the Primal Blueprint movement. This is a lifestyle program that appeals to everyone. I appreciate my journey in the triathlon world but it’s important to apply the principles and lessons learned as an elite athlete in other directions too.
CRANK: In your blog you emphasize the the need for balance and “listening to your body.” Being a former professional triathlete, how has your experience influenced your coaching style? Would you say your current philosophy is a direct “off-shoot” from your experiences?
BK: Of course my experience frames my philosophy. I had to learn many lessons the hard way about balance and harnessing competitive instincts. It actually goes beyond “listen to your body”. Lots of people listen and they hear “full speed ahead” when really it’s an adrenalin buzz caused by an overstress condition. I like to use the word “intuition” which entails listening to the body and then reasoning the best course of action with your brain – big difference.
CRANK: In your autobiography, “Can You Make a Living Doing That?” you document your pro career and mention the inventor of the “Spinning” bike, South African Johhny G, as one of your early influences – could you tell us a bit about him? What is he up to these days?
BK: Johnny G introduced me to the DH bar and I was the first athlete to use it in a multisport event, in February 1987 in Palm Springs Desert Princess World Championships Duathlon. I had a bad first run and was 37th starting the bike, and finish the bike tied for 3rd. So a lot of people got to see the aero position in action. Andrew MacNaughton immediately got a pair and blew away Mike Pigg on the bike at an April half Ironman event. Then Pigg got a pair immediately after that race and started his winning streak en route to “Triathlete of the Year” in 1987. It didn’t take long for acceptance in other words, but the initial comments were mostly ridicule! I actually received the bars by UPS just before the race and rode about 2.5 miles for practice before racking my bike in Palm Springs. It was immediately clear to me that this was the greatest innovation in cycling since the derailleur which was from around the turn of the century.
CRANK: How would you compare the triathletes of your era to the top guys of today? In your opinion, what are the primary differences of today’s pro triathlete versus those of your era?
BK: The triathletes of my era did a somewhat different sport since there was no ITU drafting legal circuit. The leading ITU athletes do a sport “with which I am not familiar”, to use Jack Nicklaus’ quote about Tiger Woods. Getting off the bike and running a 29 minute split is not something I can fathom, even going downhill. I also imagine their swimming pace is superior to our day since the packs are so large. However, at Olympic distance during my era, our sport was essentially defined by the bicycle time trial. You swam in the pack (hopefully) and then tried to stay in striking distance of some very, very intense all out time trialing, then tried to survive the run. There were rarely packs of 8 at the 9k mark lining up for a sprint finish. It was more likely to see Pigg, Allen, MacNaughton or Lessing jogging along waving to the crowd after disposing of trouble well before.
With today’s era being so different, I don’t think we have seen the equal of the best time trial bike performances on hilly courses from late 80’s early 90’s. For example, Andrew MacNaughton solo’ed a bike course record at Wildflower in 1990 that held for like 14 years before Steve Larsen broke it, while chasing furiously after being behind on swim. Mike Pigg St Croix in 1988 going 2:16 for a 56-mile bike ride on an incredibly difficult course has simply not been equalled or even approached since. I doubt anyone has tried to train as hard as Pigg did to deliver that performance and others during his reign. He was not a magical talent like Simon Whitfield or Javier Gomez or Chris McCormack, but his work ethic was superhuman.
Since the Ironman race is the same dynamic through the years, it’s amazing to see how the performances have held through time. Mark Allen/Dave Scott in 1989 is still the gold standard. Thomas Hellreigel and Normann Stadler and Peter Reid and Tim DeBoom and so forth into today’s Craig Alexander and Macca represent the ultimate of human achievement in multisport. What’s also interesting to note in Hawaii is that if you run a 3:00 marathon split you will be top-10. It’s a rule of thumb we used in the 1980s and it still holds true today. Even if you are pretty far back on the bike, you can run your way into top-10 with a 3:00 split. Check the history and you will be amused about this.
CRANK: With the accessibility of news/information etc in today’s world just a few keystrokes away, do you think that that athletes having personal websites/blogs and/or making use of social networking utilities such as FaceBook/Twitter etc are more likely to attract sponsors versus back in the 1980s/1990s? What was your philosphy in hunting down sponsorship during your career?
BK: I think attracting sponsors involves lots of legwork, whether it’s tweeting or calling them on the phone and “pressing flesh” at conventions.
CRANK: Given that you spent a lot of time travelling and sometimes racing back-to-back on some weekends, how would you manage your training around constant racing and travel?
BK: I tried to respect travel as a really hard workout. You have to taper for and recover from travel just as if you went out and rode 100 miles, instead of jetting off to Europe or Australia.
CRANK: What eventually made you decide to call it a day as a pro? What did you move on to and how well did you adjust to life after pro sport?
BK: My career ended with a whimper after I experienced lingering fatigue from racing 44 times in 2 years during my best streak of performances in 1990-91. I was tired for 2 years after that and could get graphic feedback from workout times and race performances. Races that I’d won the year before I was now coming 4th or 7th, 2 minutes back or whatever. It was a really nice transition to have no unfinished business and rather just the opposite. My business was completely finished if you know what I mean. My final race was the Wildflower Half-Iron Man in 1995 where I came third. It was a good effort, I ran 2nd to Cam Widoff for 69 miles and then some rookie came flying down the final hill and blew by me. I didn’t give chase and that’s when I knew it was over. I crossed the line threw my bloody racing flats in the garbage can, took my free Power Bar and banana wildflower prizes and went home.
CRANK: Given that a number of South Africans have and continue to study in the USA on athletic scholarships, what are your impressions of the collegiate athletic system?
BK: The college athletic system in the USA chews up and spits out athletes for the goal of winning. I don’t believe a scholarship is even a fair trade. Considering that at least in the major sports the time commitment is 40hrs/week to the team, you are basically an indentured servant who is asked to perform while injured or burnt out, you cannot switch schools without severe penalty, and there is very, very little concern for the individual’s long-term best interests. Being that I was a runner in high school and severely injured and failed runner at UC Santa Barbara before I moved into multisport, I have a consequent negative opinion. Take the example of a major running powerhouse like Stanford. They draw all the top high school talent in the nation year after year and then produce NCAA champions and Olympians year after year. However, they also have a good percentage of recruits/student-athletes that they completely destroy. It’s a survival of the fittest mentality to “win-win-win” and it does not have to be that way.
CRANK: What are you up to these days sports-wise?
BK: What am I up to these days athletically? I’m up to 5’6″ on the high jump and I can also still dominate 7th graders in soccer and basketball but they are catching up to me quickly!
For more information on Brad, check out his website