I left for San Francisco on Thursday morning from Houston.  I was headed out to be “sherpa” support at Ironman Vineman for a triathlete I coach.  This was going to be her first full Ironman and the first time I had coached an athlete on all three legs of the race.  I had also planned on interviewing the first coach, Nick Folker, for the podcast.

I landed that morning in San Francisco, picked up the car and I wouldn’t be interviewing Nick until later that afternoon so I had some time to kill.  My first stop was at Blue Bottle Coffee.  I had read a lot about Blue Bottle over the years.  Blue Bottle was founded with an inspiring vision to “only sell coffee less than 48 hours out of the roaster to my guests, so they may enjoy coffee at peak flavor. I will only use the finest, most delicious, and responsibly sourced beans.”  It is always exciting to hear and experience people with amazing visions that bring them to life.  It is tough to maintain that level of excellence on a day in and day out basis.  That requires a very “high-tempo” kind of operation.  At the end of the day, I was a little underwhelmed by the latte and cookie I had that afternoon.   Maybe it was an off day for them.


Blue Bottle Latte

The other coffee shop I wanted to check out, but didn’t have the time over the weekend was Philz.  I had heard great things about Philz from a couple different locals, hopefully next time.

I ended meeting Nick around 3:30pm and we found a quiet restaurant and table in the back to do the interview.  We both grabbed a beer.  I had a Pilsner Urquell and Nick got a Stella.  We chatted a little before the start and then jumped right in.  I’ve included a little more background information on Nick and some background on the leap he made in strength and conditioning coaching for initially aquatic athletes.


Nick Folker, BridgeAthletic

As a kid growing up in South Africa there were many sports that competed for Nick Folker’s interest.  It wasn’t until after a misdiagnosis of asthma that he started to swim regularly.  By the time he was in his late teens he was a rising star in South Africa and attracted the attention of US college coaches.  He received a swimming scholarship to the University of Hawaii.  When he arrived in Hawaii, he was frustrated to find out that strength and conditioning for swimmers was only slightly different than in his native South Africa.  In South Africa, the strength and conditioning coaches were focused on how to train the rugby team and adapted those lifts for swimmers and in the US, the focus was on football players.  As a sprinter, Nick knew that the strength and conditioning could and should be better and more specific for swimmers.  Out of this frustration with the status quo at the time, Nick pursued a better way to coach strength and conditioning for swimmers.

In any established sport or institution change can be difficult.  There becomes significant road blocks to implementing different programs or trying out news ways of training.  Within swimming, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was still resistance to strength and conditioning for swimmers amongst some coaches at the age group level less so at the college level.  The orthodoxy was that swimmers needed more time in the pool and anything that diverted from that was a waste of time.  As coaches reached the limits of what swimmers could do in the pool even with yard piled upon yard, they slowly recognized that strength and conditioning could impact starts, turns, power, endurance and speed more effectively than endless laps.  Most swim coaches didn’t have much of a background in S&C and they leaned on S&C coaches for football to guide them.  At many programs, this resulted in “lost seasons.”  Swimmers would hit the weight room hard for three times a week for 90 minutes a workout and gain massive amounts of strength, but they would typically get slower for a season as their strokes adjusted to this new found strength.  A lot of times, the swimmers would get too big and their times in the water would suffer as a consequence.  Nick realized that there could be a better way. Swimmers were already heavily taxed in training and many times from all the pool time they were too “specific” which led Nick to develop his approach to S&C.  He uses strength and conditioning to create more balanced athletes to deliver strength, power and endurance through a more connected “kinetic chain.”

After the interview I headed up to Vineman.  The race is up in the Sonoma/Napa area. It was recently purchased by the World Triathlon Corporation. Vineman is the oldest Iron distance race in North America.  My big goal with my athlete was too keep her calm and relaxed.  We planned on doing a drive of the course the next day and she was hanging out with her family that night who came in to cheer her on.

For lunch, I headed to Santa Rosa, California and the home of the Russian River Brewing Company.  They make, among other beers, Pliny the Elder.  The beer is consistently ranked as one of the best beers in the world and they had it on tap when I arrived.  It’s a hoppy, Double India Pale Ale that doesn’t disappoint. And surprisingly they have some really good food.  I had a great meatball sandwich.


Flight at Russian River – Not mine, unfortunately.

After lunch, we drove the course for one loop.  The Vineman course is a two loop 56 mile course that winds it’s way through wine country north of San Francisco.  The race passes by some of the best vineyards in North America along two lane rural roads.  The elevation changes aren’t as bad as some folks make them out to be and “Chalk Hill” is a nice little challenge near the end of each loop.

I’ve pulled “sherpa” duty quite a bit in the past and worked for Ironman as a swim course director for a few years, so everything went smoothly.  Erin, the athlete I coach, used the Bridge program 2-3x a week over the past year in her lead up to Vineman.  It was one of the reasons we were able to back off her swim as much as we did (she swam 2-3x a week) and she still did extremely well (51:03).

All in all it was a great weekend and I look forward to more terrific interviews and more great races from the athletes I coach.

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