Saturday, December 5, 2009

JP, on the Scene:

Freestyle with the Rappstar

Jordan “Rappstar” Rapp has been scorching hot this season with a solid 4th place at wildflower, several fastest bike splits, and his first Ironman victory at Ironman Canada where he absolutely blitzed the field. He recently backed that up by taking out Ironman Arizona after knocking on the door at that race for several years. With that win, he topped the course record previously held by Andreas Raelert.

JP: So you have had an unreal season so far, what would you say is responsible your breakthrough?

JR: No one thing in particular. I think I learned a lot from the mistakes I made last year, especially in Ironman, but I also just continued to learn and develop as an athlete. The problem with looking at success is a breakthrough is that you tend to see it as a singular moment. Suddenly you are “successful,” which implies that in the prior to that moment you weren’t. But that’s not reality. There is a huge difference between “bursting onto the scene” as the public sees it and the actual progression where a minute here and seconds there add up to the difference between a win and podium spot. I wasn’t really prepared for the attention I received after winning Ironman Canada, simply because it didn’t seem to me to be so different from coming third in Arizona. I just swam a bit faster, biked a bit faster, and ran a bit faster. But the difference in how people saw my performance was massive. There is winning and there is everything else. But of course that is because people only see you on the race course. So things happen in jumps. But it’s actually just a very steady progression day-to-day and week-to-week that ends up manifesting itself as a “breakthrough.”

JP: How has your training changed from years past?

JR: I suppose it depends on how you look at training. If you focus on the differences, then there are certainly a lot since I started with a new coach – Michael Kruger of Denmark – this year when my previous coach – Joel Filliol – took a job with Triathlon Great Britain in February. But the core aspects of my training have remained very consistent – lots of hard training with intelligent structure and purpose. However, I would say that are two definite differences between this year and last year. I have a bigger delta now in training load between my hardest days and my easiest days within a training block. My hardest days seem harder on a per-day basis (though the hardest individual workouts are no more or less hard), but my easiest days seem easier. The overall load within a week is quite similar; it’s just broken up differently. The other difference is that I’ve become more targeted in my training. In the past, the delta of intensity between my easiest workout and my hardest workout was very large, so my easiest individual workout was very easy. Now I think it’s much smaller, so I generally don’t ever do an easy swim, ride or run. I don’t know if it is those two changes that caused my success or if it was simply making *a* change that caused my success or if it was just the natural progression of consistent hard work and dedication. I imagine it’s some combination of the three.

JP: What did it feel like to win your first Ironman?

JR: Unreal. It’s a fleeting moment of pure, unadulterated joy. I almost didn’t want to cross the line. I wished I could just stand in the chute and stop time so that it would never end. Of course, I also want the race to be over. But I felt nothing once I hit the carpet except absolute bliss. And then you step over the line and sit down and are exhausted and it’s gone. But it’s wonderful.

JP: How have things changed in terms of sponsorship after your two huge wins?

JR: I signed a deal with Specialized, which was really exciting, but other than that, I don’t have much news. I am sticking with the companies that stuck by me before I won, since I couldn’t have done it without them. I have taken care of the majority of what I need. And for those things that I don’t have covered – like running shoes, for example – I am exceedingly particular about what I’d use, which can make it hard to find a company to work with. I need to work with them, and they need to work with me, and that’s not always an easy combination. I do hope I can find a non-endemic sponsorship this year, since I think triathlon has a lot to offer to companies outside of the industry, but getting your foot in the door to show those companies the potential ROI of a triathlon sponsorship is very hard. Companies understand Tiger Woods or NASCAR or the Super Bowl. Triathlon is not in their field of view. So you sort of have to do double duty. First you have to convince a company that triathlon has value and then you have to convince them that you are the person to deliver that value. But that’s what I’d like to do this year, so wish me luck.

JP: You come from a competitive rowing background, what made you decide to change to triathlon?

JR: I got injured my first year out of college when I was training with the hopes of making the US National Team. I’d done one year of U23 National Team selection, and two years of Senior National Team selection, and I thought I was really on the cusp of making a boat for what would have been the 2003 World Championships. (Selection means they invite the best rowers from around the country and then select the number that they need to fill the number of spots they have for races. Both existing National Team rowers and non-National Team rowers, such as collegiate athletes, can be invited. National Team athletes are not guaranteed a spot in a boat, but they do receive support from the US Rowing throughout the year and are considered to be a part of the US Team, meaning they are part of the drug testing pool, etc). But I was an idiot training myself without a coach to guide me after four years of very structured and supervised training. I did too much, got injured – intercostal (rib muscle) strain, then did too much as soon as I thought I was healthy again and got injured again, and that pretty much ended my hopes of making a boat for World Champs. So I decided to do something to stay fit that didn’t involve a boat or an oar. I rode my bike for cross training, but I didn’t know anything about bike racing (i.e., I did not understand drafting) and when I asked how fast they rode at the local crit, I thought “there is no way I can do that.” So I decided to look for something else. I had seen the Ironman on TV and thought “triathlon seems cool.” I also knew some rowers who did triathlon, so I thought it would be a good way to stay fit and then I could return to rowing really being truly injury free but still in good shape. Almost seven years later, and I’m still waiting to return to rowing. Maybe in another seven.

JP: You are known for your amazing bike strength, what do you do differently than everyone else that allows you to fly on two wheels?

JR: I don’t really know that I actually go so much faster than other people. I think it’s actually that I slow down less. That’s definitely the case in Ironman. In half-Ironman, I can speed up in the second half, but it needs to be the right course. In terms of what I focus on, I think I take care of the details – good equipment underneath a biomechanically and aerodynamically sound position – and then it’s just a matter of the unglamorous stuff – hard riding day after day, week after week. Train hard. Recover well. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. And of course, I need to thank my parents for good genetics and the opportunity to invest myself wholely in the pursuit of excellence. Without that initial opportunity provided by their genes and their unwavering support, nothing else would matter.

JP: I know you are heavily involved in bike fitting, what would you say are the most important considerations in a good bike fit?

JR: Comfort is king. Of course, I don’t mean comfort in the context of sitting in a LA-Z-BOY, but comfort within the context of racing being inherently uncomfortable in that wow-this-really-hurts-and-I’d-like-to-stop-or-at-least-slow-down sort of context. Your saddle can’t chafe. Your aerobar pads need to be supportive. Your shoes need to fit well. Those are all things that matter. And your muscles need to be able to work well through the range of motion that is required of them. Power is comfortable and vice-versa.

JP: Do you have any tips for your average age grouper to improve their bike fit and improve their bike times?

JR: See a good fitter. There are, unfortunately, not as many good fitters as there should be, but there are more and more every year. It’s like seeing a therapist – you can figure out most things on your own, but it’s easier if you have someone there to guide you. For improving your riding, buy a powermeter and learn how to use it. A powermeter is the best tool there is. It’s the one thing I would never give up. I’d rather ride a road bike with clip ons and training wheels with a powermeter than the fastest/lightest/newest/tech-est/best-est bike out there without one. There is no better way to spend your money than on a good fit and a good powermeter. Both of these things will yield vastly more return on investment than anything else you can spend your money on for cycling. And they also are things that will last a long time if you invest wisely from the start.

JP: Describe your basic training week.

JR: I try not to delve too much into the specifics of how I train for two reasons. One, the actual training program is the intellectual property of my coach, not me. I pay him for my training plan, not for the rights to publish it. And secondly, I’d need to be extremely specific in order for someone to really learn something from what I do. I.e., if I say I ride at X watts for Y time, but you don’t know my FTP, then that is meaningless. And if you don’t know what I did the week before, or what I will do the week after, that is also not very helpful. It also changes quite a bit based on what time of year it is, how close I am to a race, etc. So I don’t really have a typical week in the general sense. Given that preamble, I’ll try to give a rough overview. I don’t have any junk workouts. Every workout that I do has a purpose, which doesn’t mean every workout is hard, just that every workout is designed to be done at a specific level of “hardness.” I don’t ever set out to “just run,” or “just swim,” or “just ride.” Have you ever seen any of Conrad Stoltz’s videos, where he talks about his “organic” training, like where he just gets into a lake and swims for while based off how feels and letting that dictate time and intensity? That is the exact opposite of how I train, which I don’t mean as implying that one is right or wrong, just that we sort of fall at different ends of the spectrum (at least as far as I can tell from reading about his “caveman training,” which I love to do). I know what I need and want to get done when I start a workout, and I do my best to meet that goal. If I don’t achieve that, then I try to figure out why I did not achieve my targets. On the rare occasion when I know I will not (or would not) hit my targets, then I talk to my coach, and we make changes to the training. I guess I could summarize it as “I listen to my coach.”

Time for the lightning round…
Favorite Movie: “Full Metal Jacket” directed by Stanley Kubrick
Favorite Book: Book Five Rings written by Miyamoto Musashi
Favorite Bike Workout: Slowtwitch Mountain Hillclimb (Big Pines Hwy from Valyermo to Wrightwood)

JP: How are you planning on using the well-earned off season?

JR: I got married on Sunday, November 29th to Jill Savege, my girlfriend of three years and fiancé of one. That made an already amazing year even more unbelievable. So nothing could top that. I’m not sure how I’ll cope with a return to normal life after an Ironman win and a wedding to the love of my life within a week (since I finished in AZ less than 168 hours before my wedding). Now I am really just excited to sleep a lot, eat a little bit of bad food, and enjoy the chance to not have to be as focused and targeted in my training as I normally am. This is the time of the year when I will go out and just run or just swim or just ride. Jill and I will go on a honeymoon later in December, and I know that will be really special no matter what we do and will put a punctuation mark on a magical year.

JP: What are your plans for the upcoming season? Will we be seeing you at Kona?

JR: I am planning to focus on the three Rev3 races – the Olympic distance race in Knoxville, TN, the half in Middlebury, CT, and the ultra in Sandusky, OH. I will also do the new race in Abu Dhabi, which I am very excited for. You will see me in Kona, but I am not sure if I will be racing. I will definitely go to be involved with Specialized and some of my other sponsors, but I will not race in Kona if I have a good race at the Rev3. If I had some bad luck at Rev3 ultra – which is about one month before Kona - and was not able to finish or finished poorly, then I would consider racing Kona. So right now, I am viewing it as an “insurance” slot. But if everything went to plan, then you’d see me as a spectator rather than a competitor. Specialized has some very cool projects for the year that I will be a par of, and I could do a lot more work on those projects in Kona if I was not racing, so it will be great either way.

JP: Anything else you would like people to know about you?

JR: I raised money for World Bicycle Relief by selling tickets to a raffle before Ironman Arizona. Thanks to the generosity of a lot of awesome triathletes, who bought the tickets, and many of my sponsors, who donated a lot of fantastic prizes, I was able to raise $24,120 for World Bicycle Relief. This includes personal donations, matching gifts from donor’s companies, some money from the Janus Charity Challenge, and my own personal contributions from a percentage of my prize money at IMAZ. This money will be then further matched by an anonymous donor who has agreed to match all WBR donations in 2009 up to $1,000,000. So we will end up giving $48,240 to the project, which will provide bicycles to at least three entire schools (100 bikes to each school plus the training and equipping of two mechanics costs $15,000) and then some. Each bike gets used by and/or benefits about twenty people, so we’ll end up impacting over 6,000 people with this work. That makes me feel really good. As John F. Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”