A couple years ago Jason Smith and his now fiancée Adrienne Hengels arrived in Santa Barbara and immediately became part of the local triathlon scene, attending an SB Tri Club meeting their first night in town. Since then they have both gone on to bigger and better things in the triathlon world, Adrienne having just competed in and finishing her second Ironman Hawaii World Championship race, while Jason stepped up to race in the pro triathlon ranks this year.
Jason is not the first local athlete to turn pro and race triathlons, but he is certainly one of the most approachable and likeable. Through good races and bad, learning experiences all, when asked how did you do he always replied with an open and honest reply, never blaming anyone for his issues, taking it as a challenge and looking forward to his next opportunity to race and improve. I wanted to hear how his racing season went, so now that all the dust has settled on his 2012 season, I posed 10+1 questions to this very likeable and very talented man.
1) Fred: What made you finally decide to race pro this year?
Jason: Four years ago I decided to switch from cycling to triathlons and one challenge I gave myself was to shoot for elite status during my first triathlon season. At IM Louisville in 2009 I was overall amateur going into the run, but with 12 miles to go I had to pull out because of a pre-existing knee injury. The past two years have been trials and tribulations but I finally qualified so I decided to make the leap to elite status for the 2012 season.
2) F: Had you ever won a big race or been the top age group finisher behind the pros?
J: “Big” race, not as a pro, but some great amateur overall victories. I’ve learned being an amateur is much more fun! As an amateur, catching the back of the pro field always keeps the train on the tracks. I’m actually looking forward to amateur status down the road so I can whomp on Craig Spreadbury……….chump!
3) F: What’s your plan for racing pro? How many years do you think you’ll race pro, or is your decision more results oriented, year to year?
J: I would like to race professionally for as long as I can as long as I’m having fun. I believe once an athlete loses enjoyment of the sport, it’s time to rethink options. As a cyclist I raced a lot of PRO AM races, for almost ten years, and I got to a point where no matter how hard I trained I had to face the facts of my ability on the bike; same goes with triathlons. As long as the belief is still there, that’s all that matters to me.
4) F: What’s the biggest misconception you had about being a pro that racing this year has shown you wasn’t true?
J: You would think that becoming “pro”, it would be easy to accumulate sponsors, but it’s really not. Sometimes it’s harder to get on a good team or get sponsored by supporters as a pro. It’s all about how an athlete can market a product/team/identity and how that particular athlete can be a good ambassador to the sport. It doesn’t matter if you are a professional or not. You would think the opposite.
5) F: How have you changed your training and preparation for the races?
J: I really haven’t changed my prep that much. Maybe going to bed and waking up earlier during race weekends is the biggest difference. Pro waves start so bloody early!
6) F: How many races did you do as a pro this year, and are you able to race all of them as “A” races or do you still have races that you’re “training through?”
J: I wanted to compete in a variety of series so I could get a better picture for the 2013 season, to see what series I should focus on. If a pro is competing in a series they are trying to accumulate as many points as they can at every race. Since most professional triathlon series are based on a point system every race is an “A” race. Some pros compete in two to three 70.3 and even Ironman race weekends in a row because they need the points and every race has to be an “A” race. For example, this year, Matty Reed won Lifetime Minneapolis triathlon then he backed up his win with a 6th place the next day at 5150 Boulder Peak. Most of that were probably contractual obligations but racing is all about accumulating points and prize purse so these guys train every race like an “A” race.
F: Based on this comment, have you decided what series you are going to focus on next year?
J: As of now, my coach (Greg Mueller), and I are pointing towards the Rev 3 and Ironman series. We have a plan that will hopefully keep me in the hunt to place well but time will tell. LOTS of strength work, slow swimming technique and running technique focused workouts.
F: As a reference, here’s a “short” list of Jason’s races for 2012:
- Costa Rica Rev 3, Olympic tri, Costa Rica, Mexico, March 17-18
- Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, Oceanside, CA, March 31
- Chardonnay 10 Mile, run, Santa Barbara, CA, April 14
- Ironman 70.3 Hawaii; Waikoloa, HI, June 2
- Breath of life Triathlon, Olympic tri, Ventura, CA June 24
- Ironman 70.3 Vineman, Sonoma, CA, July 15
- Santa Barbara Long Course, Santa Barbara, CA, August 25
- Lifetime LA Triathlon (Toyota Cup), Olympic tri, Los Angeles, CA, September 30
7) F: What did you have to give up to become a pro, anything? Or does it all fit in your schedule?
J: I would say time is something that we give up as triathletes (pro or amateur) across the board. The question is how much time are you willing to give to achieve your goal(s)? That means time away from your friends, family and career. Luckily, I have people in my “corner” who support me and understand why I do what I do. Finding balance is key so during the off season is when I try to catch up with the people that mean the most to me.
8) F: What’s your best advice for someone that has been very successful in their racing and is considering racing as a pro?
J: Be patient and have fun! Make the jump because you believe in yourself and the ability to compete with the best!
9) F: Do you scrutinize everything you do now, eating, training, rest, sleeping, work, free time, in order to maximize your efforts as an athlete?
J: Nothing dramatically has changed but I would say that I’m more in tune to how my body is functioning, what I’m consuming and recovery strategies. Every little bit helps as I need every advantage I can get, so staying consistent with all the necessary things to keep all cylinders firing is essential. The average professional triathlete is 5’10, 157lbs, resting heart rate below 50bpm, and lung capacity of 5.69liters (1.48 gallons), and can ride anywhere between 315-350+ watts for 25miles to 56miles. Main point, these top pros have the physiological means to go fast. I’m much taller, weigh more and do not have the same “engine” that these top pros have, so I have to pay a little closer attention to detail when it comes to eating, training, rest, etc to maximize my ability to keep up!
10) F: What’s the biggest perk you’ve received?
J: I have to say that by not paying for hotel rooms and registration is a huge money saver. Not all races are like that but with most series the race directors do a good job in taking care of elite athletes.
F: So I have to ask this, as you didn’t mention huge appearance checks for showing up at races, or complimentary use of fancy cars and jets! Racing as a Pro triathlete doesn’t seem to be a way to make a lot of money, unless you started out with a ton of it before. Can we assume that financial reward is not a key reason to turn pro, but that it does give you a chance to capitalize on your success after your career to make money?
J: Well I definitely didn’t have money turning “pro” and I’m definitely not making much money from triathlons. I’m in this sport for the passion to compete, that’s it! I’m actually taking a pay cut to train so there really isn’t a lot of incentive to turn pro if you looking for bags off money. The guys you see on TV, only around 2% of the professional field can actually make a good living just by racing triathlons. Most pros have a job on the side or they are in school and they work to train just to cover the cost of training and racing fees. Regarding financial means, I heard someone once say, “Never allow your financial situations be an excuse from what you want to do in life. If you’re truly passionate about something you will find a way to grasp onto what you’re reaching for.”
11) F: And last but not least, did you have a backup plan when you proposed to Adrienne, just in case she said “No!”, or “Jason, I just finished Ironman Hawaii, can I please have a friggin moment to take that in before we make this all about you?”
J: HAHA! I’m a guy! Since when do we have backup plans!? In all sincerity, I know Adi’s coach and I had a lot of confidence in her training leading up to the race. The key to Adi having a good race was patience and having fun! By her mannerisms and outlook towards Kona I had a feeling it was going to be a good day. Note: When Adrienne is smiling ear to ear a week before a race, WATCH OUT!
Thanks Jason for sharing your thoughts. We all look forward to following your racing career in the years to come, with continued success, so keep having fun and kicking butt!