ISW Athlete - Caleb Smidt, Triathlete

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Ironman 70.3 Branson 2010

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Ironman 70.3 Xiamen 2016

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Omaha Duathlon 2017

Since not everyone is familiar with the Ironman World Championships, can you describe the race, what makes it so prestigious, and the challenges of qualifying?

The Ironman distance triathlon is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and marathon (26.2 miles) run. It was created when some Navy Seals decided to combine the Maui rough water swim, the Hawaii road race, and the Honolulu Marathon into one race. They decided if anyone finished they would be called “The Iron Man” and the name stuck.

It is prestigious because it is the crown jewel event of the sport of triathlon. Imagine The Masters golf tournament, the Super Bowl, and Wimbledon rolled into one, THEN, you get to participate next to the same professionals who are also racing that day. I don’t know of another sport that allows the amateurs and pros to be side by side on the same day, racing the same course, with almost the same rules. It would be like playing Augusta National on the same day as Tiger Woods, right next to him. Pretty cool.

It has become increasingly difficult to qualify for the race. Qualification requires you to place in the top of your age group at a qualifying event, usually another Ironman, There are only 40 slots for a “regular” event to 75 slots for a regional championship and each race has about 2,000 people racing, then the number of events run by World Triathlon Corporation (the company that owns Ironman) is increasing, diluting the pool even further, making it harder and harder to find an event in which to qualify because there are fewer slots at each race. For myself, I found a Half-Ironman distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) race in China that was giving out World Championship slots and took a shot at it. I was lucky enough to qualify!

What one thing are you anticipating the most about going to Kona to compete?

The conditions of the course are legendary. It is hot, humid, and windy on the bike. Parts of the marathon are run through lava fields with no spectator support to help you out with their cheering and screaming. I am excited to test myself in that arena. I think that competitors want to find out what they are made of by trying the most difficult courses. Kona is probably the hardest Ironman course in terms of unpredictability. You just don’t know what the race will throw at you.

What does it mean to you to compete at such a prestigious event?

It is the Holy Grail of Triathlon, so it means to me, that I have reached the pinnacle of the sport, that so few get to experience. I feel very blessed.

It means that all of this time has been well spent, that my family gets rewarded with a vacation to Hawaii for all of the sacrifices they have made for me. I get to experience the same place that so many have tried so hard to get to, yet have fallen short. I will give it the respect and effort it deserves.

How is ISW helping you prepare for this world competition?

I have been working with Niki Kubiak for 3 years now. Her nutrition plans for both every day nutrition, and race day have taken me from a competitive age group athlete to the front of the pack at almost any event that I participate in. She works with me weekly and we have a great relationship that allows feedback and adjustment as my crazy life changes. She is wonderful! I HIGHLY RECOMMEND HER.

What led you into multisport?

I was overweight most of my life. I had zero ambition to do any physical activity, and I drank alcohol, and smoked to excess. When I turned my life around, I originally was just a runner. While training for my first marathon, I hurt my Achilles tendon very badly, and to rehab, I spent a lot of time cycling and swimming. The habit stuck. I have not had a major injury since, that was 8 years ago.

What is it about multisport events that keep you coming back for more?

The mental challenge of it. Each time, you are testing yourself, and trying to do the best you can do on that day. I have learned that time is less important to me than it used to be, I am more concerned now with making sure that I push the entire race and that I am satisfied with my performance that day, it is not easy to concentrate on anything for 10-12 hours, let alone while you are trying to do that while exerting yourself to your highest level.

What race or race experience has been your most memorable?

Probably my first Ironman in Cozumel. It was an incredible experience. I had done several Half Ironman races, but doubling that seemed almost impossible to me. The race had 30 mph winds on the bike and pouring rain on the run. I spent the entire race breaking it down into smaller and smaller chunks that I could wrap my head around.

I almost didn’t realize I was done with race until I saw the lights of the finish line. By that point, I was looking at the ground and gauging effort in 10 step intervals. When I finished, I got to the recovery area and saw my wife, Donna, and just collapsed into her arms. I cried for what seemed like a very long time. It was the release of so much that I had held onto when I started the journey of weight loss and life changing habits only 4 years previous. I immediately told myself that I would never race another Ironman again, the woman next us said without missing a beat “yeah, I have said that 7 times now,” I went from crying to laughing uncontrollably. I have started 3 Ironmans now, Kona will be number 4.

Which race or race experience do you wish you could forget?

I don’t think there is anything I would like to forget, I think that every experience is something you can learn from. I try to train in the worst conditions possible so that the race seems easy, so I have some training sessions that I really wish I could forget. An example, I ran a 12 mile hilly tempo run in 95 degree heat with no water while training for my second marathon. I am amazed I made it home in one piece. I would never do that now, I just didn’t know any better.

The worst race experience that I have ever had was Ironman Texas in May 2015. I was in the best shape of my life, and I didn’t respect the conditions. The hot, humid, windy day finally got to me at mile 17 of the marathon, I couldn’t walk anymore and had to drop out. It took 2 IV’s to get me back to reality. The rest of that year, and all of 2016 was payback for that DNF (did not finish). It is the only race I have not finished, and taught me to respect Ironman racing that much more.

What athletes, coaches, or individuals have inspired you and motivated you to keep going even when the going gets tough?

I really like people who “overachieve” in relation to their natural talent. Honestly, I get the most out of the back of the pack athletes at all events. You see people who you would think have no chance completing an endurance event, and yet they do. That type of can-do attitude, and simply not quitting, really inspires me. The last hour of the 17 hour time limit of an Ironman is called the “magic” hour. I want to experience that at Kona and see it for myself.

Professional athletes are another story, but I still admire their work ethic. I don’t know if we really understand how much they work. I remember reading that Michael Jordan was so insulted by the release of the book
The Jordan Rules, which said he could not shoot a jump shot, that he would spend every morning shooting 600 jumpers to warm up, try 100 then you will understand. He became one of the best mid-range jump shooters in the NBA and almost unstoppable on offense.

That’s just one example, but almost all the great success stories in anything, not just sport, consists of people who are willing to go further, do more, or do a very simple thing extraordinarily well. I think about that a lot on my long training sessions. There is nothing complicated about triathlon. You swim, you bike, you run. Almost every child can do those things. Doing it well, and to your absolute limit are actually very simple, but not easy. I try to not forget that.

I am a huge quote loving guy, since they pack a lot of wisdom into a few words. I put my goals and these quotes in my “Pain Cave” at home so that I see them every time I am putting in yet another long session on the bike trainer, or getting ready for a long run. My favorites:

“You don’t practice ‘til you get it right, you practice ‘til you can’t get it wrong” - Nick Saban

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all” - Vince Lombardi

“It always seems impossible until it is done” - Nelson Mandela

“Brick walls are there to find out how badly you want something” - Randy Pausch

These 4 are special to me for different reasons. Nick Saban is famously always concentrating on the process of making better football players. The games are almost secondary. He constantly drills his players on correct technique and position. When I was correcting my running gait after hurting my Achilles, I spent nearly 6 months re-learning how to run with a more mid-foot strike that occurred under my center of gravity as opposed to the heel strike out in front of my body which caused the injury. Now, when I have something that needs correcting, I take the same approach Saban does. Practice, look at it again, practice some more, look at how others do it correctly, then practice again, again, again, until it sticks. The only person limiting your growth is you.

Vince Lombardi’s teams rarely were out worked late in games. The two emotions that give me the most motivation are anger and fear. For me, I race in fear of failure. I don’t want to let my family down because of everything that they sacrificed for me to get to that event. I don’t want to think I could have done better. I don’t want to disappoint myself and redo all of that work to get back to where I was (which is why Ironman Texas was so motivating). I draw on that fear and it gives me strength to complete what is in front of me and use the anger associated with failure to keep me from failing again. Maybe that isn’t the most positive way of looking at it, but that’s what works for me. I don’t see it as negative.

Nelson Mandela overcame so much in his life, including 27 years in prison, to become the president of the newly free South Africa. When he went into prison, I am pretty sure no one except him thought his dream of a free South Africa was possible. Remembering that I am not limited by what I can accomplish today is a huge motivator for me. The one thing that I do better than almost anything else is relentlessly move forward. I didn’t ever think I would qualify for the World Championships, I just took very small steps each time an opportunity was presented to me until I did it. Nothing glamourous, nothing special, just continuing to work until the dream was achieved.

Randy Pausch is the author of
The Last Lecture, his story of his life and outlook while dying from cancer. He applied many, many, many times to Disney to work for them as a software engineer and programmer. He was turned down. A LOT. But he never gave up on that. His persistence paid off, he worked for Disney eventually later in his life, after accomplishing many other life goals. The brick walls I find in my life are just asking me if I think it is worth going after something. I may turn my attention to other things, but I keep going after that wall, when I can, when the opportunity presents itself. Great stuff.

Your wife and you own and operate your own daycare franchise, which requires a lot of your time and energy. What advice would you give to someone who may be in a similar situation that may want to train to qualify for Kona?

Time management and more importantly, family management is key. My family has made tremendous sacrifices for me to make my training and racing fit into our lives. I had a discussion with a former professional cyclist who I worked with before we started our businesses. She told me that champions have their training in order, but more importantly, THEIR LIFE in order. High achievement requires a high level of commitment from everyone involved. If that means that Donna and I often don’t see each other outside of work during the week, or that we tag team Clementine’s soccer practice and school events, we do that. I make up for it by picking up Clementine from school every day, training at night when everyone is asleep (I start work at 5am, so morning sessions are too difficult for me), or giving Donna a weekend day for herself. You cannot have resentment in this type of arrangement, for me, I need to know that I have the support of my family, or I don’t feel I can or should be working toward those goals. Knowing I have their support keeps me going.

I would tell someone else who wants to qualify to have a multi-year plan, so you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It might take multiple attempts to qualify for a race like Kona, and there are variables that are not in your control. Learn to stick to it when the going is easy, and don’t get discouraged when things get tough (and I promise that they will). Consistency over a long period of time will yield the best results, not a single season of racing.

- Interviewed by ISW Director of Nutrition & Health,
Niki Kubiak
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Ironman 70.3 Xiamen 2016

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Cornhusker State Games Triathlon 2014

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Ironman Boulder 2016