In the fourth and final installment of our meeting of the new members of the 2010 Gear West Bike and Tri Development Team I wanted to introduce everybody to Josh Riff. As with most triatlete’s, Josh has… shall we say… a lot going on. In addition to competing as one of Minnesota’s best long course triathletes, he’s a husband and father and leads up the ‘Minute Clinic’ for Target. Oh, and he works one night at the ER. This past year he really turned some heads at the Liberty Half Ironman where he finished 2nd overall ahead of many local studs with a solid 4:17:37. He followed it up with solid placings at the Chisago Lakes Half (4:05: 14) and the Pigman Half (4:18:56) and then a solid, but injury-ridden 10:06. We asked Josh a few questions to get to know him better. Make sure to read all the way to the end, because he provides some great nuggets of wisdom.
CW: Why did you choose (or agree) to race for Gear West Bike and Tri?
JR: When I first moved to Minneapolis in 2007 I was told that the bottom line in Triathlon in Minnesota was Gear West. That season I was primarily bike racing but I found that at any Time Trial there were these guys in Red and Black and they were fast. After many years of training and racing alone I decided I wanted to join a squad to have the opportunity to train and race with some fast guys. I knew from my first race with GW that this was a team to be on. Besides having really fast guys to hang out with all of the cheering for GW when racing is motivational. As a solitary endeavor being part of the GW crew really brings an element of team to the sport. Also winning a team prize at Pigman was awesome. It allowed me to be part of something bigger than my own effort.
CW: What’s your athletic backround and what got you into triathlons?
JR: I was a mountain bike guide in Whistler, B.C. Upon returning to McGill university I used triathlons as a winter cross training tool but within 2 seasons I was hooked.
CW: So, work brought you to Minnesota from Arizona. Was that a tough adjustment, or are you an indoor trainer lover?
JR: Living in Tucson was a Triathletes dream. I could leave my house and ride over 100 miles with less than 5 stop lights. The climbing was awesome, Mt lemmon for the big long rides and Gates Pass for the grinding slog. The riding was varied and never ever boring. In addition I could train year round. Add a famous 100+ person group ride on Sunday’s (The Shoot Out) and Tucson is a riders paradise. Minnesota on the other hand, is a bit of a challenge as it is hard to get a good run in on the ice and I do not enjoy treadmill running. As for indoor cycling I actually really enjoy the computrainer as a training tool and have done 4.5-5 hour workouts before so that is not too bad. I would argue that the racing here is much better in MN than in Arizona but the training cannot be compared. Anyone needing a winter training camp or getaway should call me. Tucson rocks for this.
CW: You really seem to excel at the longer distances, specifically half and full Ironman. Why do you think that is?
JR: I have not really raced short course since the world in 1998. I love the challenges of the IM distance as it really is a complicated puzzle and anything can happen. I think I really have learned how to race an IM and understand the race fueling which I think is a weak link for many people. That said the training really grinds me down with the lack of recovery time that my life provides. On the other hand I love the half distance as you can really race it and not just survive it as you did in an IM (at least as I do). I never really focused on the half distance and look forward to a year or two of focusing on these events and building some speed up. I have not done a track workout since 2006 so I look forward to that type of pain. Actually I do not look forward to it but I will do it. When I visit Tucson and drive past my 1 mile repeat section or the high school track I have phantom bile in the back of my throat.
CW: With your work at Target, ER, and family, how do you fit in training and what’s a typical in season training week look like for you?
JR: Sketchy at best. I usually would get up at 5 am on M/W/Th/F to get 90-120 minutes of cycling or running in and would try to commute to work as much as possible (11 miles each direction). I usually would also get a 40-50 minute swim in at lunch. For the weekends one day would have a longer ride and the other a 2-3 hour one. Due to family commitments there were a few Saturdays with 3-4 am wake ups to get a long ride in (first half on the computrainer). I had to switch up my training though as Friday morning used to be my long run where I would do 90-130 minutes from my house to work. I would get to work, shower, eat, and then get into my day sitting at my computer and sitting in meetings. My legs were constantly post-marathon sore from the lack of recovery so I had to switch my long runs to the weekend so I could take an ice bath. Since I work Monday nights (3 pm- midnight) I would usually take Tuesday off and Wednesday was usually a limited session due to fatigue. So basically
Monday: 90 minute run or ride, swim at lunch. Work in ER
Tuesday: Commute to work. +/- swim
Wed: 90 minute computrainer session, commute to work. Swim at lunch
Thursday: 60 minute computrainer or easy run, swim
Friday: 90-120 minute run to work
Sun: run or ride
CW: With a little research, I found that your Hawaii PR is 10:01 in 2004 and 103rd overall (correct me if I’m wrong). Share with us your IM and half IM time PRs.
JR: Good question. I had to google this. My fastest IM PR is 9:29 at IM AZ. This is ironic as I trained very little for this and went in as a final swan song thinking I would be happy to finish. My IM Hawaii time in 2004 was slow at 10:01 but the placing is one of my proudest accomplishments. I was aiming for a 9:15-9:20 this year in Hawaii but really bad knee pain leading into the race really slowed me down (a post race MRI showed a stress fracture along an old fracture line). As for halves I am really proud of a 4:14 at Eagleman that qualified me for Kona in 2004 but I think my fastest was a 4:05 at Chisago. I am also really proud of a 3rd place AG finish at Wildflower despite a flat. I raced hard on those trails.
CW: What would you consider your triathlon career highlight?
JR: When I was younger I used to lift a lot of weights and put on some mass. Years later when I took up triathlon I wondered if all of those years spent in a gym lifting weights was a waste of time and if I would ever look back at Triathlon with the same mindset. While it is too early to say I think this will not happen because my career highlight is the great relationships I have formed and the awesome locations I have traveled. If you are asking about race highlights though I would say I am really proud of my first Hawaii qualification and I think the way I ran myself from 9th at the half way point on the run at Liberty to 2nd place overall was pretty cool.
CW: What’s your biggest training or racing blunder?
JR: You name it I have done it. Let’s see: getting flipped over a pickup truck while on a training ride is probably the biggest blunder. Eating a bowl of raising bran before a group run, blunder number 2. Racing a half with no socks, number three. New elastic laces before IM Hawaii in 2004, #4. Shall I go on?
CW: Nutritional weakness/guilty pleasure (non-racing)?
JR: This is a pretty lame one but as a kid growing up dried fruit was our reward. My mother was a nutrition freak before it was in vogue so there was no candy or ice cream so to say. If you finished your dinner (and we would have to sit for hours) you could have a piece of fruit or if you were really good raisins or dried pineapple. Psychologically to this day dried pineapple is my indulgence of choice. Not that it is bad for you but my obstacle to ideal race weight is not quality of food it is quantity. When I go apple picking I can eat 8-12 apples before check out. No questions asked. As for post race indulgences or if I nail a workout and set a goal I like to grab a Wendy’s frosty.
CW: What’s your racing plans for 2010 ?
JR: I am trying to nail this down. I am definitely not racing any full distances. This winter I am taking some time off to see what happens without compulsive training. I will race a few cross country skiing races including the Birky (I tried skiing for the first time last year and made the first wave for this year by the skin of my teeth) and see how my knee rehabs. I am going to analyze my running this winter as I always have injuries to my left leg. Assuming I can rehab I would love to race a bunch of local halves. More importantly though I want to have some fun and be social at the races. Traditionally I train alone, I show up, I race, and I leave. I think this is the year to make it a sport again.
CW: Anything else you’d like to add?
JR: I tend not to be too philosophical about life but triathlon has really been an amazing sport for me and has taught me some of the most important lessons in life. In medical school it gave me the mind set to work hard every day so I did not have to cram at the end. During residency the complexity of IM training gave me the understanding of balance and the comfort with being a jack of all trade but master of none. More recently the patience I developed in tackling a 100+ mile ride that seems overwhelming at first but is manageable once broken into segments gives me insight and comfort when working on long term projects at Target. I would recommend to any Triathlete to look at their life in a similar manner. Triathlons may be a lifestyle, or a religion to some, but at the end of the day injuries or age may sideline you so it is essential to learn to look at the training and racing as a process and not an end point. As people say getting to the starting line is the goal and the reward of the hard work we put in.