Scott Molina interview

Crank Cycling News is very fortunate to introduce you to Scott Molina, aka the Terminator, one of the legends of triathlon and member of the sport’s fabled “Big Four” (the other members being Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Scott Tinley).

Scott was one of the pioneers of the sport in the early 1980s, with his 1988 Hawaii Ironman victory being a highlight amongst his 102 professional wins over a fifteen-year career.

One of the first triathletes to make a living from the sport, Scott brought a blue-collar work ethic to triathlon racing almost every weekend while maintaining an exceptionally high training mileage. Tales of him riding his bike to and from races (and winning) to prepare for upcoming long-distance events are legendary as were his innovative approach to race nutrition and body maintenance during an era lacking the availability of knowledge that we have today.

Residing in Christchurch, New Zealand, Scott now shares his years of experience and firsthand knowledge of the sport with others as a coach and tour guide-cum-athlete-cum-mentor in the Epic Camps, which are training camps with a difference.

After talking with Scott, it is clear that he is still as passionate and enthusiastic about endurance sports as ever.

Scott Molina: 1988 Hawaii Ironman Champion.

CRANK:  Scott, with you being resident on New Zealand’s South Island, how are things going after the earthquake earlier this year?

Scott Molina: This poor city is really a mess. So far they have demolished about 120 of the 800+ buildings that will have to come down.  The general consensus now is it will take about 5 years for the city to start looking normal.

The main issue is that it will take so long a lot of the businesses that were in the Central Business District are finding permanent homes outside the CBD.  So it’s hard for landlords to have any certainty that if they spend a bunch of dollars to re-build that they’ll have anyone to pay the new, increased lease costs.

A lot of uncertainty here, which will slow things down even more.

For us triathletes its also been drag with most of the swimming pools ruined and years away from replacement, roads are like third world all over the city and many of the fantastic running trails we have here are either off limits or covered in huge boulders blocking them entirely.

CRANK: Your 1980s career is fairly well known and is chronicled brilliantly on your recent interview with Competitor Radio ( You did however compete professionally well into the mid-90s, which were a time of great change in the sport with drafting being introduced and a new breed of triathlete emerging. How did this impact on your career and did you find you needed change your approach to remain competitive?

SM: Drafting came in just after I retired in ’95 – thank goodness because it would have been too late for me to do anything about my run speed at that point. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been as successful as an ITU athlete if I had been racing in the current era.  I ran 30:50 on the track for 10km at age 20 in college, so I was a fair runner and its safe to assume I would have gotten better than that into my 20’s, but I certainly wouldn’t have been winning 100 races like I did.  The races that suited me best had very hilly rides.

CRANK: That interview with Competitor Radio highlights the fact that many of the races that defined your career no longer exist, one being the legendary Zofingen Duathlon, which you dominated in 1991. Could you take us through your buildup to that particular event and how the actual race panned out for you? I remember reading somewhere that you weren’t even listed as a pre-race favorite!

SM: The race was still in its infancy at that point and most of the top guys in previous years were duathletes.  So that’s why they were thought to be the favorites.

One of my best friends and training partners was duathlete Kenny Souza who won the race previously, so I knew all about it and was really excited to do well there. My preparation was done mostly in New Zealand and I hit the hills hard here for 3 months to get ready.

A typical long day during that buildup would be:

Morning  – 20km steady run with 500 meters of vertical gain, 3 hour ride in the hills with 1500 meters of vertical gain.

Evening – full body gym routine emphasizing squats, leg press, leg extensions, hamstring curls, lunges, box jumps followed by a run of 60 minutes that included 20 x 200m accelerations on the grass, 100m jog after each.

Kenny Souza –  Big hair and big miles: If multisport ever had a rock-star like personality it was duathlon with Kenny Souza’s race attire consisting of Bon Jovi style hair, a skimpy vest and bikini-size speedo complete with a “Victory or Death” tattoo emblazoned on his bicep. With a stratospheric VO2 Max, Souza’s cycling and running prowess was world-class, the combination of which dominated the fledgling sport of duathlon for many years. A longtime training partner of Molina’s, the duo performed much of their training in the Rockies adhering to such training motto’s as “Minimum Daily Climbing Allowance”.

CRANK: You ended up taking a year off competition in 1993 with a back injury. What steps did you take to correct this problem?

SM: I have struggled my entire adult life due to wearing out my lumbar discs, mostly the one between L3-L4.  I often got through training and races only due to ibuprofen. In ’93 I had a particularly bad spell leading up to Ironman New Zealand and got some severe ulcers in my gut from the anti-inflammatories and my wife and I decided I was really on the verge of ruining my body for good.  I DNF’d that race after vomiting up blood on the run and just knew I had to stop doing what I was doing.  So I decided to take the year off and possibly call it quits.  The other factor was that our son Miguel was born in April of ’93 and I wanted to be home with him and not traveling a lot.

My back isn’t great but over the last decade its been a bit better due to me not riding quite so much and doing a zillion hours of rehab to strengthen it.  Everything else is falling to bits though!

Old habits die hard: A former Hawaii Ironman Champion, Scott out on the Queen-K Highway in the 2010 edition of the event. (Courtesy: Scott Molina)

CRANK: What made you come back to the sport in 1994? Did you ever feel hesitant in returning to top level competition considering your injuries and did you have different approach compared to your “pre-comeback” career?

SM: I actually did run quite a bit in ’93 and was living in Boulder and started coaching, so I was right there involved in the sport every day.  Then my wife Erin Baker ( decided to race again, but we decided she would only race a bit through the beginning of ’94. The big change I made was to start getting advice from Dave Scott who had a great group of pro’s he was working with.  He also guided Erin when she returned to the sport after having Miguel.  He did a lot for my morale and taught me a lot about how to train without killing myself.  I still thought I had a few victories in me and was still loving hanging out and training with my friends and we would need some income so I figured I’d race for a year or two.  My last pro races were in April-May ’95 and I was getting injured again so decided to go to work as a Personal Trainer and coach.

TTT: Scott's diary of his French Irontour experience appeared in the December 1994 issue of Triathlete Magazine (Photo's by Richard Holstein). Look closely at the top photograph: you can see Simon Lessing (far left) pushing Wes Hobson (#5) to keep the team together. Scott Molina is obscured behind Mike Pigg (#3).

CRANK: The ’80s and ’90s was certainly an innovative time in the sport not only with equipment but also with event formats. Could you tell us about your participation in the French Iron Tour, triathlon’s equivalent of a cycling stage race?

SM: That was a great concept and the initial years were outstanding.  The year I did it there were 6 stages in 6 days with a couple of sprints and the rest were Olympic Distance or thereabouts.  The final stage included 2 big climbs including the Alp D’uez and the run was a tough 10km in the village of Alp D’uez.  It was a team event and my team cleaned up due to us having Mike Pigg and Simon Lessing as teammates.  Simon absolutely killed everyone there and won easily.  I punctured and crashed on the last day and had some serious road rash and lost a lot of time waiting for a wheel change but still loved it.

We also had a lot of laughs as Jimmy Riccitello, Andy Carlson and Wes Hobson were also on our team.  That was one of the best triathlon experiences of my life for sure and I was sad to see that event didn’t flourish and was reduced to a few small sprints.

CRANK: Your impressions of racing in Europe versus the US circuit? Which European triathletes impressed you at the time?

SM: In the beginning there was Rob Barel from Holland and then everyone else.  He was king over there in the early 80’s.  There weren’t’ many Europeans making it in the USA.  It was mostly Australians. There were a couple of Germans who did well at IM distance early on, but it wasn’t until the 90’s that they started to have the depth we see them enjoying now.  I did like the tough bike courses they had over there starting with the Nice Triathlon in ’82.  I raced there 6 times and always loved it.

CRANK: Do you still have much contact with your competitors from back in the day?

SM: I really only stay in touch with Scott Tinley to any degree, and Dave Scott and I always get along great when we see each other.

I’ve lived in New Zealand permanently since ’94 and that was “pre-internet” days so it was always harder to stay in touch with people then.  I make friends through the sport quite easily so it’s been easy to live here.

CRANK: Reading through your blog and Epic Camp updates, it’s clear that you are still as passionate and excited about the sport as ever. What kind of training are you doing these days and how are you holding up with the various injury problems you’ve written about over the last few years?

SM: I started that little gig with my buddy Gordo Byrn ( because my favorite times in the sport over the years have been training with my friends and seeing new places.  So I combined those two things into a camp business.  I knew doing those camps would keep me motivated and enjoying the sport and they have for 8 years now.

My main limiters over the last decade have been chronic calf problems so my running is just crappy! I don’t’ even worry about running fast any more. I just try to keep on top of my rehab and run when I can and try to enjoy it.  I ride my bike every fine day!  And I’m not kidding.  Christchurch is a great place to be a cyclist.  Usually its about 90-150 minutes a day but I do quite a bit of bike racing and long rides too.  We have a great bike-racing scene here.

I also swim about 200+ times a year for 40-60 minutes and get into the gym 4-5 times a week – I love the gym!  It’s one thing I can improve at these days. I’m bigger and stronger than I’ve ever been. That’s also one of the reasons I run so slowly!  We’re just put in a great new home gym and we’ve got Endless Pool coming to install in my wee indoor lap pool so I’ve got a great set-up here to keep it rolling for the next 50 years.

I’ve got an Epic Camp coming up in August in the French Alps followed by 4 triathlons and some bike races prior to the end of the year, then it will be back to bike racing until this time again next year.  Always plenty to do to keep me motivated and having fun at this stuff.

Motivation: A view of Scott's fridge magnet at his Christchurch home (Courtesy: Scott Molina)