Interview by Michael Lovato
ISSUE #18, October/November 2002 – When Amanda Gillam arrived in Boulder last December, she was embarking on a journey into the unknown. She had just left her home of the last six years: Baltimore, Maryland. She had given up a job that enabled her to spend the better part of her days training for triathlon. At the onset of the journey, the then twenty-nine-year-old found herself in a beautiful place that was internationally known as one of triathlon’s top training grounds. And although she greatly missed the life she left behind, she was anxious to begin a new life in a new area with a new set of goals, dreams, and aspirations. She was ready to discover Boulder and to see what the new environment would do for her triathlon racing and training. Several months later, and after numerous podium finishes at some of the nation’s most competitive races, Gillam has seen a change in some of her goals, a modification of her race schedule, and a new perspective on training in Colorado.
Following is an interview Amanda gave to Colorado Triathlete.
Colorado Triathlete: How long have you been here in Boulder?
Amanda Gillam: Since December of 2001.
CT: What was it like moving here in December?
AG: It was cold.
CT: Did you find it tough to adjust to winter in Boulder?
AG: It was frustrating running, because I could never get my breath. It was frustrating swimming, because I felt like I was always going to drown. The only thing I really did enjoy was biking, but I couldn’t even talk because I was always out of breath.
CT: Beginning the season, what were your goals for the year?
AG: I wanted to race Hawaii Ironman, but otherwise I didn’t really have any expectations. I just wanted to have a good year.
CT: At Powerman Alabama you finished as the top amateur, and were sixth overall, how did you feel after that first race of the year?
AG: I was excited, I was really happy. It was the first time I had ever won that race, it’s a hard course, and I was excited to win.
CT: Did you feel like you were prepared to do as well as you did?
AG: No. I felt like my training was terrible because I really found it difficult to get used to the altitude.
CT: Did you feel the benefits of training at altitude while racing in Birmingham?
AG: I’m not sure. I did better than I expected considering my training, so I think I initially attributed that to having come down to sea level.
CT: Your second race for 2002 was the St. Croix Half Ironman, which you have won the last two seasons. Going into that race, what were your expectations? What were your goals?
AG: I wanted to win that race again. I wanted to uphold my little tradition from the last two years, and to qualify for Hawaii.
CT: Having once again finished as top age-grouper, this time you finished ahead of some notable pros, like Karen Smyers and Fernanda Keller. Did that bolster your confidence?
AG: A little bit because they had both beaten me in prior years, so it made me feel like I was doing something right with my training.
CT: Did that make you begin to think you could be competitive at the professional level?
AG: No. I talked to Karen after the race, and I knew that she wasn’t very fit. Because when Karen is fit I don’t think many people can be her. She had talked about how she was trying to have a baby, and that she hadn’t been training that much. And Fernanda is awesome at Ironman distances, and I knew she was getting ready for Brazil, so I didn’t know how tired she was.
CT: Having qualified for Ironman for the third year in a row, did preparing for Hawaii become your primary goal for the season?
AG: For the first half of the season, yes. I love Ironman. I wanted to improve upon my time from last year, and have a better race. But I feel like last year I had an awesome race, and in order to have a better race this year I would have to work a lot less and train a lot more, and I didn’t think I would be able to do that.
CT: Two weeks after St. Croix, you participated in the Memphis in May Triathlon. How did racing a flat, fast Olympic Distance race feel after completing a hot and hilly Half?
AG: It felt hard. It was fine; I just didn’t have any leg speed.
CT: Your next test came three weeks later at the World’s Qualifier in Lake Placid, NY. Tell me a little bit about that race.
AG: It was a great race for me. I won the race. I came out of the water four minutes behind the leaders, and I caught just about every single person on the bike. And I caught two more girls on the run, with three miles to go. The conditions were horrible, but I find that with bad conditions I do better because everybody else is so worried about the weather. I just don’t worry about that stuff, I just go out there and race.
CT: Having won one of the most competitive amateur races in the country, did the confidence you had in your training change?
AG: As the months went by I didn’t know what to think. I was totally unable to train like I had in previous years because of my work schedule. But evidently I do a little better when I’m doing a million things at once. I focus better when I have lots of things to do during the day, and I always get things done; versus when I don’t have a lot to do, I don’t get everything done.
CT: Knowing that you qualified for ITU World’s in Cancun, and knowing that the race falls three weeks after Ironman Hawaii, did you begin to question your goals for the season? The schedule you had made?
AG: No, I still planned on doing both of them.
CT: Two weeks after racing in New York, you returned to Lubbock, Texas for Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon, another challenging Half Ironman. This was your first race this season in which you did not finish in the top one or two spots, how did you feel after that event?
AG: Terrible. I was never really sure I wanted to do the race. I had done several races in the last few weeks and I wasn’t totally motivated to go down there. Ultimately some friends talked me into going, but I learned that if your heart isn’t fully into a race, chances are slim that you’ll do as well as you’re capable.
CT: Realizing that you were not going to have the time to adequately train for the longer races, was it difficult to consider skipping Ironman Hawaii this year?
AG: Yes, I enjoy doing Ironman Hawaii. Especially now that it’s coming up, I wish I were doing it. But it’s ok to skip a year here and there.
CT: You participated in the Denver Danskin Triathlon on August 4th, had you ever done a Danskin before?
AG: Yes, in Baltimore in 1997. I participated as an age-grouper; it was one of my first triathlons.
CT: What were your perceptions of that event?
AG: It was much bigger than when it was in Baltimore. It was really cool to see everybody out there: the first-timers, the elite and everyone in between. Sally Edwards is really good at reminding us that we’re all out there to have a good time.
CT: The following Sunday was the Boulder Peak Tri, how did you like racing on back-to-back weekends?
AG: It was fine for me. With the short-distance racing it doesn’t matter.
CT: You had a great race in Boulder; once again you finished as the top amateur, and had the second fastest time of the day. What do you remember most about that race?
AG: Being on the bike and going as hard as I could. Then having dudes jump on my wheel, trying to pass me back, then having to pass them again. This happened toward the last five miles of the race. I had a lot of those issues, but that always seems to happen.
CT: Did your Boulder Peak race give you a nice mental boost heading into Age Group Nationals?
AG: Yes, I was totally psyched. I wanted to do well at Nationals, and that was an excellent race to prepare for it. I was totally pumped up, I was ready, and I went into Nationals completely rested; I just didn’t have a good day.
CT: Did not having the day you expected discourage you, or were you encouraged to have another podium finish?
AG: I felt like I did the best that I could do on that day. I had a bad swim and the course was long, so that hurt me. I had a good bike, but I was flat for the run. It was a little discouraging.
CT: Although your next big race is the ITU Duathlon World Championships, you’ve been spending several hours in the water lately, what has gotten you so immersed in swimming?
AG: After Stroke and Stride, I talked to Grant Hollicky of Rally Sport. He offered to let me swim with his 13-and-under junior team. So I’ve been swimming with them five to six days a week.
CT: How have you been enjoying that?
AG: I love it. I really like the kids.
CT: Where is your confidence level heading into Du’ World’s?
AG: I don’t know. Whatever happens, happens. I haven’t been running and biking as much, but we’ll see.
CT: To close out the season, you’re heading down to Cancun (ITU World’s) instead of Kona, are you happy with your decision to forgo Ironman? What are your expectations for World’s?
AG: Part of me is sad. But I’m just going to think of Cancun as a vacation. My expectations are just to go out there and have fun.
CT: And finally, many of your 30-34-year-old counterparts (both here in Colorado and across the country) are dying to know: will you be graduating to the professional ranks in 2003?
AG: It is still too early to say for sure. I want to spend the next several months working on my swim. I need to feel like I’m going to be competitive across the board before I make the transition to professional racing. I will also need to find more time to train. Trying to blend a full-time job with a full-time training schedule would be very difficult. You’ll all just have to wait and see…
CT: Thank you for your time, and those of us at Colorado Triathlete would like to wish you good luck with the remaining races of the season.
Some of Amanda’s Achievements This Year
First Place Woman – Age Group World Championship Qualifier, Lake Placid, N.Y.
First Place – Danskin Denver
Top Amateur – Boulder Peak Triathlon
Top Amateur – St. Croix International Triathlon
Top Amateur – Powerman Alabama Duathlon