Davy Vanderheyden, Ultra Runner & Triathlete
Davy Vanderheyden came to Coach Robb Solutions as an ultra runner with aspirations to complete his first triathlon. He had sustained consistent nagging injuries and was not getting any faster; the more he trained, the slower he went. Over the last year we worked on reducing the overall fatigue in his body, both mentally and physically, making him more resilient to absorbing the training volume without getting injured. We started with functional strength and sport-specific range of motion exercises. We also changed his eating habits both from a quality and quantity standpoint and focused on sleep quality to ensure he was getting the benefits associated with deep sleep. Davy completed his Phase 6 re-assessments in June 2020 and surpassed his own expectations by improving his time trial results by a staggering 3 minutes.
What is your athletic history?
Growing up in Belgium, unfortunately sports was not part of school culture the way it is in the U.S. I aspired to become a motocross racer, but only was able to purchase my first motorcycle 3 months into my first job at the age of 21. I have been racing motorcycles even since. Unfortunately, conditioning was never a big part of my schedule at that point, so my biggest athletic feat came at the age of 29. I had realised that my professional career and sedentary lifestyle had brought me to 220 pounds. I was very proud to be able to lose 60 of those mainly by running and changing my food habits. As a result, I scored my best moto finishes in Belgium at the age of 31 with a second in the Vet class of the Belgian Enduro Championship as well as some top results in endurance races. After moving to the US, I kept on riding dirt bikes. Thanks to some good friends I got involved in different other events such as Ragnar relays and local Mountain bike races. On top of that, I fell in love with the adventure you can find living in Utah. This all led to taking on new challenges ever since.
What drew you to ultra sports?
In a way, the fear of getting old. It had always been my goal to enter and finish a triathlon before turning 40. But the idea was pitched during a pairing of cheese and beer by one of my wife’s friends. She convinced me to run the Bryce Canyon 50k – even though I had never even attempted a regular half or full marathon at that point. The race sounded appealing to me because it looked more like an adventure than a running race. You are to run 50k in an area with some of the most beautiful trails. On top of that, I had to create a plan and train accordingly which added to the challenge of getting in my best shape possible.
What do you find your biggest challenges are as an ultra runner?
There are a couple, but the first one has definitely been finding the time to train. Combining the training hours with a demanding job and family life – I have 2 young kids at ages 4 and 5 – has been a challenge. Secondly, wondering if you are training enough, eating the correct food, resting, etc. That has been the big change to me in working with Coach Robb. I do not have to worry about my training schedule. I know going into the week what I have to do, and the results from my tests every 6 weeks show the improvements I am making. I can’t wait to see the results at my next ultra marathon when I run the Dead Horse 50k in Moab, Utah.
What made you decide to venture into triathlons, specifically Half Ironmans?
It has always been one of those things where a triathlon was the ultimate challenge, it is such a complete and well rounded sport. Finishing more and more of these running and cycling events, it just felt like I was ready to make the next step. Even though it was mentally tough to finish the swim during that first race, once I got on the bike I was able to appreciate how the three categories make it such a complete sport. The exhaustion of the swim sets in as you transition towards the bike but make sure you save some energy for that run at the end. It really is a sport where you have to be fit, strong and smart to do well. You have to come in with a plan, eat and hydrate at the right time, keep an eye on your heart rate, and make it so you can finish strong. I loved it and can’t wait to do more.
Of all the races you have done, what has been the most challenging and why?
Definitely my first Utra – Bryce Canyon 50k. All went according to plan – I thought – and at the 40k mark I was on target to finish around the 8 hour mark. I had prepared very well with my drop bags and food intake, but forgot to stick to that plan and ended up not eating and drinking enough. As a result, my fingers became the size of breakfast sausages and my legs the weight of heavy logs that lost the ability to bend. Even though the majority of those last 10k were downhill, unfortunately it took me three hours to complete. On the good side, this fed the hunger to do better at the next event!
Furthermore, my first triathlon was mentally challenging in particular because of the open water swim. This was the one part I had never done before, and the combination of cold, dark water and being in the middle of the lake definitely caused some loss of sleep the night before. Thanks to the training exercises received from Coach Robb, I remembered my stroke count per 50 meter. Keeping my mind counting down every 50 meters allowed me to forget about everything I worried about and actually finished the swim.
Paul McDonald, Ironman Roth Finisher
We sat down with Paul McDonald, Vice President of the Darwin Triathlon Club in Australia, to discuss how he got started in the sport, as well as his experience at one of the most challenging Ironman distance races – Ironman Roth in Germany.
How long have you been racing triathlon and how did you get started?
I did some small triathlon races back in high school, but never continued after school, instead enjoying long distance running and a raft of adventure sports. Only after settling down post beginning a family did the idea of training for an Ironman distance event bring me back into the triathlon scene in 2016. Having some experience in marathon running and longer distance road riding, the back two thirds was covered, but the notion of swimming for more than an hour was very daunting. I spent the first year just assuming it would take me many more years to prepare just for the training required to complete an Ironman distance event. In 2017, we moved in next door to a fellow indeed already training for an Ironman. After some convincing that I would not be left for the vultures, I tagged along for some long (three hour) rides and runs during which I’m sure I’m sure I extracted every possible triathlon question. I realised that not all training is conducted at maximum effort and that my goals would be quite achievable with the correct planning.
What made you choose to compete in such a difficult race as Ironman Roth?
My neighbor was training to complete his ‘bucket list’ race, being Challenge Roth. I trained alongside and tracked his progress on the day from Australia. Unfortunately, he did not complete the entire event, but immediately on return home signed up to try again in 2018. Discussing the training commitment required to my wife, she agreed that so long as the race was in the school holidays and the whole family could come they would be in. Thankfully, one of the only races that aligned well with our local school holidays was Challenge Roth, so I entered. I didn’t truly appreciate the allure of Roth when I entered, but the more I mentioned it to people the more I realised this race was held in a very special regard, both for its unique experience and challenging course.
What was your biggest hurdle training for Ironman Roth?
Being my first Ironman distance event, the idea of swimming for over an hour, and conducting continuous activity for close to 12 hours. But through progressive training and very low effort endurance training (2 hours swimming, 7 hours riding), I was comfortable that I could focus mentally and physically for those periods. I was very thankful to be guided through the basic nutritional requirements by my neighbor, as this was one less thing to be concerned about.
Would you do Ironman Roth again, and if so, why?
If it wasn’t so far away I’d enter every year! The efficiency of the staff and volunteers at every interaction, coupled with the overwhelming crowd and local support, made the physical excursion of the day, almost, fade away. Apparently Solarberg Hill is steep, but I don’t remember my legs hurting, only the swarm of the crowd parting to let me through. .
How do you balance the demands of family, professional, and training?
With my whole family now participating in triathlon, that balancing act is very hard. My wife and I both find that starting the days training before the sun is up provides less excuses. I am very privileged to have an employer that supports my participation in sport, allowing me to conduct some training inside my work hours. Bike, shoes and towels adorn our cars to fit training sessions in between other family and work commitments throughout the week, with very early (4am) starts on weekends to get long workouts completed, both out of the heat and to allow quality time with my girls. We are blessed with an amazing extended family in our local Darwin Triathlon Club, which allows my wife and I to compete together in local races, whilst our girls cheer on the side lines.
Aaron Jordan, Triathlete
We sat down with triathlete, 2x Ironman Finisher, and long-time Coach Robb client Aaron Jordan to learn more about how he got started doing triathlons and his biggest hurdles coming into Ironman Florida.
How long have you been racing and how did you get started?
My first triathlon was June 6th, 2015. My wife Liz and I were working out at a bootcamp group and we meet Chris Carter who ran a lot and did triathlons. We had never been runners and decided to do a 5k. After we did a few more runs we did a half marathon which was huge for us. Somehow he talked me into doing a fun Sprint triathlon in Clermont. I borrowed a friend’s crappy hybrid 10-speed and did the race. After that first race I realized that this was not easy, but I would try again.
What has been your favorite race to day and why?
My favorite race was my first Ironman 70.3 in Cozumel Mexico. I had met Robb at a local Tri club and did his three month 70.3 program, so I was ready to race. I never trained so much before for anything. The week was full of obstacles. The first was that we shipped our bikes on the airline but they never left Orlando. We rented bikes in Cozumel but ours showed up the day before the race at noon. So we had to assemble them and get to transition before it closed. I was riding my bike to transition adjusting me aero bars through the streets of Mexico. The morning of the race we got to transition via bus 10 minutes before it closed due to road closures. The swim start was at a aquatic park that had dolphins performing in an ocean cage with docks around it where you jumped in the water. The swim was beautiful with 25 ft visibility. Part of the bike was along a barren road with the sea on one side and nothing on the other side. Then it came into town that had a ton of locals cheering you on. The run was long and hot but I finished with my current PR. We ended up having to stay a few more days at the all inclusive resort because there was a hurricane hitting Orlando so we could not fly out. We had a great vacation, rented private sailboats, celebrated birthdays, and completed my first ironman 70.3.
What advice would you give a first time triathlete?
It will be a day of nervous firsts, so just show up and have fun. Don’t rush out on the swim, just take it easy. Use whatever bike you have or can borrow, then just run. Drink some beer at the after party, you deserve it. After a few days, pick your next race and find some training tips at Coach Robb’s YouTube page.
What was your biggest hurdle to get to Ironman Florida?
I had a lot of hurdles throughout training this year, with work, home life, mother with Alzheimers, dad going through cancer treatments, neck and back pain, but the worst was when I took a spill on my bike the Monday before the race. I had all kinds of mental hurdles, then it became physical. It was a slow crash but I fell directly on my left side of my ribs. The pain was intense. I did not feel like I broke my ribs but definitely bruised. Having an injury like this before I knew it was going to be bad for the race, but to my surprise, the next day I actually felt better. Coach Robb told me I would be fine and I did a very easy short swim that day. It was very painful in the beginning but felt better at the end. Following his instructions of short workouts to gauge pain, NO RUNNING, along with massage and chiropractor visits we left Wednesday for the race. With all the stress of race week, I was really concerned how I would feel on the swim in a wet suit at race pace, fighting the usual swim fight. On race day it was 41 degrees on the beach with 70 degree water temp at go time. They did not allow us to warm up in the water since it was so cold. Coach Robb’s advice was to go out slow and that’s what I did. I worked through the pain and got to race pace to finish with a great swim. On the bike I felt fine with little side pain but I had done some riding before the race and knew it would not be bad. But when it came to the run I was not sure how I would feel on the full marathon. Well, I totally forgot about my ribs when I realized in transition to the run that I did not have my insoles in my running shoes. I had run in the rain the week before and took them out to dry then never put them back in. So now I have to run a marathon with no insoles, at that point I forgot about my side and focused on my feet. Turned out that my feet we fine, my ribs were fine, and I did my fastest marathon even beating my stand alone marathon time by 20 minutes. I set my ironman PR of 12:15:17 by 40 min. It would not of happened without Coach Robb holding me together mentally and physically. Thanks man, I would have never made it without you!
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