Interview by Kristen McFarland
Summer 2005 – In May of 2003, Monica Caplan made an impression on the long-distance triathlon world. The impression: this gal’s going to be good! The setting she chose to make her first impression was the Utah Half Ironman in Provo; her method: second place in a stacked field. She followed up that performance with a strong third place showing at her debut Ironman race at Coeur d’Alene. Two top-sixteen Kona finishes later, Caplan has proven that her first impression was no fluke.
Fast forward two years to see that Monica has now notched another impressive second-place finish, this time at the venerable Ironman New Zealand in Taupo. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to sit with Monica for a small chat about that very race, her preparation for it, and other tidbits about this, her third, season racing against the world’s best long-distance triathletes.
Colorado Triathlete: When did you first decide to do Ironman New Zealand?
Monica Caplan: After Ironman Hawaii, I was supposed to come home to Boulder right after the race, and my now fiancé, Gordo Byrn, asked me to come to New Zealand with him, and to train and get ready for IMNZ in March. He said it was a great place to train, and that there were great people to train with. So, I was supposed to come home in October, but I just got back home… in May!
CT: Did you feel like you had enough of a break after Hawaii, or did you have to start training right away?
MC: I took a break after Hawaii, and I didn’t start training again until the beginning of December. January 1st was the time I chose to get into a routine. December was just putting in some hours with no routine. I did what I felt like doing: no hard stuff.
CT: Gordo told you it was good training and there would be good training partners, was that the case? How was the training?
MC: You have to remember that it was winter in the Northern Hemisphere, so anything that was summer-like was attractive. We were in Christchurch on the South Island, and it was actually pretty cold and rainy in November and December. The riding was great and the 50-meter swimming facility was amazing. There was a squad training with a coach named Rolie, which was great: there were a lot of triathletes and young swimmers there, so it was a great atmosphere.
CT: Who did you train with?
MC: Bella Comerford came down at the end of November, and we trained together the same way we do in Boulder.
CT: Aside from the swim coach, were you coaching yourself? Or was Dave Scott coaching you?
MC: I had my key sessions from Dave, and I built my week around the two hard run sessions and three hard bike sessions he gave me.
CT: It sounds like it was a good experience; would you go back there to train in the future?
MC: Definitely. For one, it can be hard to train in Boulder in the winter months. It’s possible, but it’s ideal to be in a warmer climate. Also, now I’m familiar with the place, and I really found it to be fantastic.
CT: Relative to some of your other races, how well prepared did you feel going into IM New Zealand?
MC: I had a good solid eight weeks of training going into the race, so I felt pretty confident. Plus, we did a training week down in Taupo to familiarize ourselves with the race, and that was huge. We were really able to learn the roads that way. I was very confident.
CT: Was it intimidating racing against a hometown hero, and the then two-time defending champ: Joanna Lawn?
MC: I wasn’t intimidated by her; it takes a lot for me to be intimidated by someone. Being a swimmer my whole life, I’ve seen every mind game possible. Before the race the interviewers really tried to make it out like we didn’t like each other, but that wasn’t the case at all. I really like and respect Jo; she’s an amazing athlete. I knew I was dealing with one of the best athletes in the world.
CT: This was your fifth Ironman, did you have a new, different strategy?
MC: I really wanted to be able to run off the bike. I have always run high 3:30’s, and the goal was to run between 3:15 and 3:20, so that was my focus. I ran a 3:29, which was still a nine-minute PR. On the bike my goal was to ride according to my SRM, and to finish stronger on the bike, as opposed to time-trialing with the lead men out of the water.
CT: You took three minutes off the swim course record, tell me about that swim.
MC: I have never swum so hard in my life. Normally (in an Ironman) it’s about 400 meters very hard, and then the pace eases off. This time it was about 2K of the hardest swimming I’ve done. I was the caboose and I was barely hanging on.
CT: Normally we see athletes wearing arm warmers at the start of the bike, how was the weather race day?
MC: It was very cold, and that morning Gordo had taught me how to roll my arm warmers on while riding, but I’m not the most technical rider (I can’t ride with no hands!), so I ended up just racing in my Speedo. It was so foggy and cold out there; I ended up throwing my glasses to someone because they were so fogged up.
CT: Did the cold play a role in the race for you?
MC: It would’ve been nice to have it be warmer, but no, that was just an uncontrolled variable.
CT: Tell me a bit about how the race played out for you personally
MC: I rode the first 90k feeling great. I was alone, and it took a while for the top age-group guys to catch me. It’s tough racing that way: out front, alone for a long time. I hit a bit of a wall with about 40K to go. It’s a really tough section with an uphill into the wind. I started thinking about getting the calories in me, and preparing for the run. Off the bike, Jo had a five-minute lead on me. I thought I could do that, so I regrouped and ended up shuffling through the run. I did the best I could, and I never walked.
CT: Any other thoughts on your race down there?
MC: The race in general was amazing. The Kiwi fans get so into that race, especially for Jo and Cam. They love the sport down there; it’s an amazing race.
CT: Getting an early slot to Hawaii must have been nice, did that change how you planned the rest of your season?
MC: Yes, Gordo and I had talked about making it two seasons: an early one and a late one. After the first half (with Wildflower), I have taken some down time. Now I can focus on doing some work to prepare for Hawaii.
CT: What are your plans for the rest of your season?
MC: I will look for a half at the beginning of July, I’ll do 5430, and then Hawaii. But really the main goal is to get top-eight at Hawaii.
CT: What about nine and ten, you wouldn’t care about those?
MC: Well, my coach thinks I can get top-eight, so I’ve changed my goal. I’ll go for that!
CT: It’s always tough to look past this season, but is Ironman New Zealand a race that you’d go back to next year?
MC: Definitely. Gordo has an Epic Camp on the South Island in January, so we’ll just stay over there and race NZ again. I really look forward to going back there and racing such a fantastic race.