I got a few questions over to good friend, former training partner, and new professional triathlete James (Jay) Mccurdy. Jay and I have known each other for the better part of 3 years and he often has to endure my quest for information and advice, not only in triathlon but sometimes in beer drinking as well. I figured I would get some of his knowledge out to the public, so enjoy.
Eric: Hey Jay how’s it going?
Jay: Hey Eric, thanks for the questions. Things are good. I wish you’d come back down to Auburn for some training (and maybe some partying).
E: I would love to come back for some partying, and maybe some training…We had talked about doing a little interview so I wanted to shoot over some starter questions to get the ball rolling.
E: Help me reflect on this past year a bit. I know you had a great showing at Memphis in May, along with many other solid races at College Nationals, Hyvee, and 70.3 worlds (let’s not forget the interesting setup in Muncie 70.3*) but what were some of your favorite races and race moments of this year and why?
J: Great questions. I could write an essay about most.
I had been battling some hip injuries last fall – pyriformis and lower back tightness, so I hadn’t done much running going into my spring training. My coach, Eric Bean, and I worked the swim and bike, and just tried to build back into regular running. I went from nothing to about 25 miles a week in 6 weeks. My first race of the season was a small race in Santa Barbara, while I was out there for an FFT training camp. It was cold, and I didn’t perform well. Then, 2 weeks later, I raced Collegiate Nats. I wasn’t on fire, but I had a good race and felt motivated coming out with another top 10, but not top, finish.
Memphis was a hot race. You were there. You know. But it’s one of my favorite races. It was my first Olympic (when it was still in Millington, ahh.. the good ol’ days). And I’ve missed it only two or three times in the last 8 years. It’s also near my family home in West TN, so there’s lots of support. This year, there was some controversy about amateur finishing times compared to those of the pros. The issue was that the pros started about 15 minutes after I finished (2hrs later than I started). Those guys suffered more due to the already stifling heat and gusty mid-day delta winds. Regardless, I felt like I could have placed in a relatively similar position, despite the differences in start times.
The season progressed from there. I wound up racing Muncie as a qualifier for 70.3 Worlds. Muncie, as most folks know, was shortened due to high temps. It was questionable whether they should or shouldn’t have done so, but in the end, no one died, so the desired outcome was achieved.
I travelled for a couple of weeks during the summer and took about two down weeks – basically just maintaining and resting. Then I had a few weeks build before Hyvee and 70.3 world’s in Vegas. I wasn’t proud of my performance at either race. After back to back races, I was spent. The heat in Vegas had melted my brain, and it took me two weeks to get back to regular training.
Augusta 70.3 was my first race amongst the professional field. I was 4th, despite not really having my best swim. Coming through the chute with a dozen or so tap-dancers was a pretty cool moment. Two weeks later, Rev 3 was a disaster. Again, my swim was poor, and I was dead last out of the water. IM Florida was to be my 3rd ever full, and my first full as a pro. I was 9th in 8:29, but I think I can do a lot better. Definitely coming into the chute at the end of IM FL was a nice feeling.
We have talked before about some of the measures to use while judging race results, since a finish time can have so many variables. Which of the races you did this year would you consider to be your most successful, whether it’s from your place, time, or what you may have learned along the way?
It’s difficult to judge race results, partly due to the challenge of a course, but amongst the professional guys, the unpredictability is certainly due to who hooks up in the swim and how many guys get together on the bike. If it’s a pack swim then a pack bike, you can bet there’s going to be pain inflicted on anyone left behind.
E: This year you did part of your season at the pro level. What influenced your decision to make the jump to being a professional? What are the pros and cons of racing as a pro vs racing as an age grouper? Aside from having the talent, work ethic, and dedication that you have, are there any other tips you might give someone who is working toward the pro level?
J: I made a decision in 2009 to pursue triathlon more seriously; i.e., I wanted to become a pro but had no idea how to do it, or even if I was capable of doing it. After several years of racing and training, I felt this year might be my last chance. I’m graduating next year, and I doubt I can manage a full time job while making it as professional. I hope next spring and summer set me up to race full time, but only time will tell.
The benefits are often unclear but far outweigh the negatives. Some things I’ve enjoyed thus far include: 1) high-fives and genuine excitement from spectators while coming into the finish chute; 2) product support from folks like First Endurance Nutrition, CompuTrainer, Keen-one Quinoa, Fast Forward Triathlon, CEP compression, Inside Out Sports; 3) free race entries and awesome home-stays.
On the contrary, there are some negatives. I hadn’t expected a fan base, but it’s certainly proven difficult to do what’s necessary to promote myself and my sponsors. I’m not a terribly forward guy when it comes to selling myself. I kind of despise social media, but one can’t be aloof in this business. It takes some marketing knowhow and a lot of time. Another negative is how many guys are competing for so little money. There’s next to nothing to be made at a lot of big races, which is discouraging for an already struggling student who is looking to make a buck racing.
E: I know you are coached by Eric Bean and the guys at FFT. They seem to have put together a very solid team that really gets behind all of their members. Triathlon training can be a bit lonely, so how has it helped you this year to have a solid crew to train and converse with?
J: Eric Bean is my coach – the dude’s awesome. Fast Forward has some great coaches, and they’re really working hard to develop a repertoire of elite athletes. Thanks to FFT, I’ve had the chance to explore my limits with some of the best amateur and pro athletes in the country. It’s great to have people backing you who know what you’re going through. Several of us exchange emails on a monthly basis and keep the little monsters in the back of our minds in check. Most of us work full time, so it’s reassuring to hear the same complaints about time-management. Of course Eric keeps my job requirements in mind when making my schedules, just like he does with the amateurs he coaches.
E: Reflecting on this season what do you think some of your weakness were and what kind of off season training do you have planned to improve some of those things?
J: Well, as I’m typing, I’m beginning my 5th week without structured training. But that’s soon to end. I certainly have a weakness in the swim. It’s obvious that to make the bike group, I’ve got to get out within half a minute of the lead swim group. For this reason, Eric and I will talk this week and start to add some sessions dedicated to improving my swim. Other than that, I hope I can keep improving on the run and bike. I’ve never had a huge problem getting time in during the winter hours. I typically ride a lot on the weekends. I lift twice a week, and do a lot of stability stuff at home. I run a few times a week, and I do local running races to stay sharp.
E: You got me hooked on Keen One Quinoa, which was pretty easy considering their selection of vegan items. How did you get hooked up with those guys?
J: Keen One founder, Chris Algae, and I were undergraduates at the Univ. of Tennessee, Martin. I followed his company’s progress from school project to healthy business. Their products are delicious, healthy, and have a story behind them.
E: You have a lot of other things going on. You are still relatively a newlywed and you are in the doctoral program at Auburn, which seems to be a full time job. How do you find the time to juggle all these things and still get in the training you need? I imagine movie night with Vicky while you are spinning on the computrainer in front of the TV.
J: Vicky and I are approaching our 1st anniversary, but we’ve been together for nearly 6 years. We’re busy people. As PhD candidates and research assistants, we typically work 40 to 50 hours per week. I’m in Agronomy and Soils, while she’s in Biomedical Sciences, so we both have similar professional interests and understand the science behind smart training. I should mention that Vicky is quite an athlete. She played tennis at Tennessee and is a pretty fast runner. She’s almost always within 10% of my time at running races – I think her PR for a 10k is around 37 minutes. She’s also my tennis coach.
In addition to my support at home, I’m lucky to have a boss who understands my pursuit of alternate interests. I think he would agree that my course work and research don’t suffer from time spent training. My work is fairly flexible. I’m usually up before 6, then, depending upon time of year, I do some work or go for my first workout of the day. I try to work standard 8-to-5 hours, but I usually swim over lunch break. Relative to my previous jobs in the industry (when you might not even get lunch), it’s a great schedule.
E: Training at any sort of level can be taxing on the body. It’s well established that we get better through our recovery so what are you doing in the moments after the workout? On the recovery workouts and off days?
J: Nutrition gets a lot of attention, rightfully so. My menu revolves around breakfast, and I try not to supplement my short to mid- distance workouts with calories unless there’s a risk of cracking. I soak a cup of rolled oats in a cup of water before I go to bed then warm it in the microwave in the morning. I add half a cup of cheap Kroger brand granola, half a banana, and some dried cranberries or raisins for my morning meal (~800 calories). If I’m doing a mid distance workout, I typically don’t eat until afterwards – just black coffee prior. I use First Endurance products during and after hard sets. I especially like Ultragen Cappuccino on ice immediately after a long set.
Another aspect of recovery is stretching and preventative strength work. Chris at Prevail Conditioning was instrumental in some of my ongoing routine. It’s a lot of stretching and working problem areas. I got away with minimal stretching during my youth, but it’s my number one recommendation to athletes looking to take it to the next level. Stretching helps to lengthen muscles, which makes them more effective. It infuses them with oxygen rich blood, which helps then recover, and it strengthens connective tissue. These things lead to a healthier athlete. Just don’t stretch tired muscles.
E: It’s a little early in the off season but any idea where we can expect to find you racing next year?
J: Powerman Alabama Duathlon, March 24
Maybe New Orleans 70.3, April 21
then Memphis in May Olympic, May 19.
After that, I’m going to focus on halves and fulls. I’d like to qualify for Kona, but I’d also like to graduate. It’s going to be an interesting year.
E: How can we stay up to date on everything Jay McCurdy?