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Interview with Dave Scott about Fitness Training

Dave Scott is the most recognized athlete and coach in the sport of triathlon. He is a six-time Ironman World Champion and the first inductee into the Ironman Hall of Fame. Today, Dave continues to live up to his reputation as “The Man” through his many speaking engagements, sport clinics and race sponsored activities. He currently trains several top professionals and age group triathletes and has recently completed a DVD on nutrition called “The Art and Science of Fueling, for Pre, During and Post Endurance Training and Racing” available at: www.davescottinc.com.


Here are my 5 questions with Dave and his answers:

1) There is a misconception amongst some that you won the first ever Ironman. You actually won the third Ironman, which was the first televised Ironman, correct? At the time you crossed the finish line for the first time did you have any idea that you had just become an early icon (founder if you will) of an elite society of alpha individuals and endurance junkies… distinguished from the status quo by dotted M tattoos and hints of masochism?

Yes, 1980 was the 3rd Hawaiian Ironman. Well, I’ve never had the desire to put an “M -Dot” tattoo on my body. The passion I have for health and ultimately triathlon was underway well before my first Ironman. My “true” roots stemmed from coaching a large group of master’s swimmers in Davis, CA. They taught me “skills of life” and elevated my passion towards being healthy. Triathlon merely pushed the envelope a bit further!

2) Over the years I have spent a pretty penny getting my gait analyzed and adjusted. I have been told to keep my arms at my side and pretend like I am pulling the rope of an imaginary bell in front of me. When I watched the long distance runners in this year’s Beijing Olympics I saw everyone running with their arms up by their chests, something I have been discouraged against by multiple coaches. You are famous for having a very unique gait and yet you are still a world-class runner. What are your thoughts on making adjustments to a runner’s form? Obviously making anatomical adjustments has its place (ex. getting a bike properly fitted) but I am curious about your take on gait analysis.

Running technique is an individual art. My form was disastrous, but I did one element of the technique fairly well – keeping your hips up and slightly forward. This creates a subtle posterior tilt in the pelvis and takes the load from your quads. Additionally, it creates the ability to increase your cadence and reduces the time in the stance phase. Imagine you are a puppet and a puppeteer is pulling up on the strings while you simultaneously, lightly squeeze your glutes together – this will get you into proper position. This simple cue will work for everyone – even you Michael! Regarding your arms being rigid and too low, that creates a robotic running form. Get a new coach!

3) Middle of the Packers (like myself) live for the special needs bags – from gummy candy to In-N-Out Burgers – there is nothing like getting some real food in the middle of the race, especially from a morale standpoint. Another mystery is flat cola. There was a recent debate in a nutrition class (in which I was a student) and after the debate I was tasked with rationalizing why this was a better choice than an electrolyte drink. Even though this is a welcome beverage on any Ironman course, I could find no hard evidence on why it is part of the traditional nutritional offerings. To summarize my inquiry into two answerable questions, if you are burning that many calories does it really matter what you eat in the second half of the marathon leg of an Ironman (if it doesn’t make you sick)? Second, what is the deal with flat cola?

Long question on nutrition. If you are well hydrated and working aerobically (as in most marathons or an Ironman) Coke can give you a big jolt of calories and yes, it can work! The draw back is the volume that you drink at one time. The sugar concentration can exceed a fluid replacement drink’s (FRD) sugar by 3 to 10 times depending upon your intake. This can cause inter-cellular water to be drawn to the gut to dilute the sugary fluid. Bad news if you are slightly dehydrated! Additionally, FRDs contain higher levels of sodium which help maintain the water in your cells. Coke does not have the proper sodium levels. If you are a heavy sweater – Coke again is a bad idea. Also, there is a breakdown of protein during longer loads and the circulation of blood proteins start to diminish as a long race continues. Keeping these blood proteins elevated has a synergistic effect with the carbohydrate in FRDs. FRDs spare muscle glycogen, reduce muscle breakdown and maintain electrolyte levels – Coke does not have proteins. Lastly, no one has won using Coke for their fuel. Surviving – maybe, winning – no!

4) One piece of knowledge that I took from last quarter’s business interview with Olav Sorenson was that average people actually do themselves a disservice when they try to replicate the regimen (or use the roadmap) of a person that has been blessed with innate and/or inherited resources not available to a layman. In your experience training amateur athletes to reach their ultimate potential, how do you mediate the human assumption of “what is good for the goose is good for the gander” (especially considering most iron distance triathletes tend to be over-achievers)?

Most triathletes are like sheep. If the leader tells one to do a workout because it is good for him or her — the rest of the sheep follow. Bad idea! A workout in a book is not the answer for all triathletes. Without tweaking the workload, progression and recovery for each individual a guaranteed plateau or falling off will occur. Regarding the Ironman folks, the tendency is to do more volume! There is a point of no return in just squeezing in more distance in your training. Without teaching your body to burn fuel at the rate of your projected race pace and providing the physiological overload needed for adaptation, the athlete is destined to go slow during the race. Ironman athletes at all levels need sub-threshold training. In simple jargon, this means the intensity is moderately hard to hard in effort. For example, you have a 3 hour bike ride scheduled in mid summer, try to include 40 – 60% at an intensity closer to your 1/2 Ironman pace. Cruising along at 16 miles per hour, taking pictures and stopping at every convenience store does not replicate the intensity (even for folks who just want to finish) of the race. All races heighten your performance and ultimately extract your highest potential. Do not run or ride away from discomfort – just learn to manage it

5) Since I have tried to challenge some conventional wisdom throughout this interview I’ll conclude by simply asking what are some tips that my readers can takeaway, which can be acted on immediately?

– Be consistent.
– Do what you can in the moments available to you! Even if it’s a 20 minute run, do it.
– Strength train year round to prevent injuries and to consistently “trick” the muscles – go to my website davescottinc.com for programs.
– Have other interests besides talking about your spoke weight, new Lycra running tights, and your sets in the pool. A dull athlete will lead to a dull performance!