Challenge Bahrain gets underway Saturday. TMC spoke with Challenge Penticton champ Jeff Symonds before the race.
Chris Willer (CW): How are you feeling about the race?
Jeff Symonds (JS): I’m excited! It’s been awesome here and it’s a stellar field and it’s full of opportunity and I can’t wait to get out there and get ‘er done.
CW: I was looking at the success you’ve had with Challenge Penticton. This year it looked like you got through unscathed in comparison to 2013 [Jeff suffered a crash on the bike prior to pulling through and winning]. Also in Ironman Canada you came second. How would you say your season has been going?
JW: I had a couple of really good races. It was great to be able to race in your hometown. It’s been great to take that Challenge brand and bring it over here to be representing not only myself and also the Challenge Family. It’s also been a great season and like most others I’m selfish and want another good result and a good one tomorrow.
CW: What’s it like to be one of the two Canadian pros here and the national pressure and prestige of being here as the only male invited Canadian?
JS: It’s cool. I don’t know if pressure is the right word. More like having fun representing your country. It’s about more than just coming to Bahrain, it’s about meeting other athletes and sharing with them what Canada is and what triathlon is like back home.
CW: What’s it been like during race week meeting some of the others pros as there’s a huge field racing?
JS: It’s pretty inspiring to see them all and seeing what Michael Raelert is eating in the buffet. How are they conducting themselves?They are just regular people. They’re just guys and that makes them seem beatable and helps with the motivation just to know they can be beaten. It’s also been a good learning experience to see how some of the pros that have been successful carry themselves and also some of the guys who carry themselves in ways that I don’t want to carry myself in the future.
CW: One of the noticeable achievements from an external observer was your 3rd place at the World Championship 70.3 race in 2011. Do you look back at that success as a turning point in your career?
JS: Yes. It’s the good and the bad. It was a breakout performance and gave me a lot of confidence in myself. Also with results comes pressure and it’s been challenging dealing with that. Being able to have a good result when it matters and that’s the challenge and beauty of sport when champions rise to the occasion. I’ve been able to have a good deal of success over the Ironman distance and I’m hoping that now that I’m back in a deep field and coming in healthy and fit, that’s it’s going to be a good race.
CW: Do you look at your results in your career and know what distance you’re best at? You’ve had success this last year with Iron-distance racing. Do you see your strengths at that distance?
JS: Ironman has always been my strength. I’ve had some good results at the 70.3 distance. Ironman uses my skills. I love suffering and getting out there and fighting the mental battle. Ironman is my best distance. That doesn’t mean I can’t have success out here and have a good race.
CW: When you plan for the half-distance race do you run your own race or do you react to what your competition throws at you?
JS: You have to adapt for sure and how you’re feeling. I do have paces that I do in training to prepare. I’m going to spin out the speed cobwebs for the 70.3 distance and shake off the Ironman mentality and get back to the push, push, push speed that you need at the 70.3 distance. It’s cliché to say, although I’m going to go hard on the swim, hard on the bike, and getting ugly on the run.
CW: ‘Getting ugly on the run”? That’s a by-line on your website and on your Asics adverts. What is it?
JS: I can’t remember exactly where that came from. I think someone yelled it at a race once. Maybe it’s best not to know where that phrase came from, it’ll get passed down in legends…It’s what I’m all about. It sums me up. Get Ugly. It gets to the core of why we do this. We’re getting ugly out there. It’s not easy or glamorous. The beauty of triathlon is just going hard and finding that limit. Facing that adversity and facing something tough and doing whatever it takes to get to the finish line.
CW: What’s it like to have a lot of local and national racing success and now to be at a high profile international event?
JS: As you progress as a triathlete you have to do a lot of things. I started out at bigger races by racing at World championships, going to Clearwater a couple of times in a row and Las Vegas a couple times in a row. I was racing the big races. I took a step back from that to get used to the Ironman distance. You are training hard and getting better and getting faster although I lost touch about the big races through that process. Preparing for the big races, I’ve brushed up on all the skills to get ready. The big idea for coming to this race and the reason I picked this was because the best guys are here. I wanted to have a great hit out and get back on that track. I hope next year to be able to take the success I’ve had at Challenge Penticton and the success running a 2:40 marathon at Ironman Canada, and translate that to success in other big races. I want to lay it down to represent Canadians.
CW: Can you tell us what your next season plans are?
JS: I don’t have plans. I’m focusing on tomorrow’s race. I’ve got some ideas like Kona. It’s a great race. It’s a course that suits me almost perfectly. A non-wetsuit swim, a tough windy hilly hot bike is awesome and a suffering run in the heat. That race plays to all my strengths. It’s hard to look at that race and not realize it would be a great opportunity for me. I also see what Challenge is doing here and it’s incredible. They are serious. They have some big things planned as well. Abu Dhabi is coming up from Challenge. I might do Ironman Melbourne. There’s a lot on offer and we’re lucky as triathletes that the more races come out the better and better it is for our sport. The answer to next year is “we’ll see.”
CW: Challenge is putting in a big effort to invite the pros and to be ambassadors to the amateur athletes. How do you balance this series with the WTC race calendar?
JS: At the core of it is that the all the professionals are here because we love triathlon. We want to find events that excite and motivate us that we love to do. Racing in Canada is something that is special for me and especially racing in the West Coast because I have friends and co-workers participating with me in the races. It’s very motivating. As pros it’s our obligation to inspire people to get out there and be active and get into sport. The inspiration goes both ways though. The age groupers and are friends are very inspirational to me.
There is a balance between the Challenge Family and the WTC races. My philosophy is to build triathlon and to build the sport and make these events successful and to have a positive impact on the communities that host the races, whether it’s Whistler or Bahrain. I’m going to continue supporting the races that are fun just go for it with my results. Bahrain is very special as there isn’t a long storied triathlon history here. As professionals we can make an impact and inspire a culture of sport to grow. Today for instance I was giving out medals at the kid’s race as part of the Challenge Bahrain weekend. One of the racers was a 16 year old from Bahrain who was a swimmer and just picked up the sport of triathlon 6 months ago. You could see that pure excitement and opportunity that’s been presented to him as a result of this race. That was phenomenal to see. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes the first Bahraini athlete in the Olympics for triathlon.
CW: I notice that you give back and inspire others. Closer to home in Canada how do you do that?
JS: As a pro we have projects on the go, working with races, with sponsors or with the local shops or running clubs to get people out and do your part. As pro athletes with our schedules we can’t take on too much or organize a race but we’re looking for ways to help bring inspiration. It’s a busy lifestyle. My girlfriend Sophia she is involved with the sport and she does a lot of stuff to make it all possible.
CW: The last question is what else do you need to do today to have an excellent race tomorrow?
JS: Chill out! We’re going to watch rugby 7s in Bahrain and Canada’s been on there. We’ll watch that. There’ll be stress with race lead up but it’ll be fun. There’s a lot of pressure to do things right to live the dream and then you realize by looking around that you’re already living the dream and this is awesome. I get to race the best in the world.
CW: On behalf of Canada, good luck tomorrow and have a good ugly race out there!
JS: It’ll definitely be ugly out there. Thank you.
The best way to catch the race live is via Challenge’s Bahrain website at https://live.challenge-bahrain.com.bh/ that promises to cover the action with Chris McCormack commentating. Tracking athletes will be through Sportstats at https://raceresults.sportstats.ca/display-results.xhtml?raceid=20744. You can also follow on Twitter with @challenge_bh, #challengebahrain.