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Interview with Ironman Ospaly

19. May 2014

ENG version

Filip Ospalý (38) is one of the best Czech triathletes. Ironman, Sydney Olympics representative and a cool guy to talk to. So, we asked him about some tips for training which ended up in a nice interview.

So Filip, first things first. Could you tell us how you started doing triathlon?

I started doing triathlon in ’92, not until the age of 16. And I say this because nowadays people start when they turn eight or ten. At that age I just just did what came to my mind – but then when I turned 16, my older brother told me not to waste my energy and try some race; that I might actually win something. So, in 1992 I tried my very first triathlon in a nearby town of Blansko, which was quite challenging and I didn’t train properly. But, I grew fond of it and since then I started to train swimming, cycling and running systematically.

Filip and his brother Dalimil who talked him into performance sport


What would be your advice to a beginner, or better someone who wants to kick their hobby up a notch? For example, someone like me at the age of 26.

The first thing is that it’s never too late thanks to age groups. When you start at 40, 50, you still compete among other equally “young” people. Even if you start at the age of 26, it means that you are only going to get better in the first couple of years. And if you are really serious about it, try some race. There are so many of them – these different sprint triathlons or sprint distances which last about an hour and a half according to the terrain. You try it out, you don’t stress about it so much, see if you like doing it, and then you can start training systematically. After that I would definitely suggest finding a coach or a triathlete and consult everything with him. There is plenty of advice to be found on the Internet, but the worst part is, that when you start doing something and you lack the basics. People can easily ‘over-train’ or get hurt. Or they do it the wrong way and can’t get that great feeling out of it. A beginner should invest in getting advice rather than material.

What is, according to you, the biggest mistake a beginner can make while training (apart from not training)?

That’s one there, but except that they have to deal with a surplus of information which, are moreover often opposing. That’s both the advantage and disadvantage of the Internet. When I started doing it, I found a swimming coach and got all advice from him. Then I met Michal Šanda, the best Czech long-distance swimmer, who was also into cycling and he advised me on riding a bike.

Sometimes, I read articles about how the ‘pros’ train, which is naturally interesting, but it can’t be taken out of context. Nevertheless, many people take it as directive; they say to themselves: “This guy trains so much, so I have to do so as well.” Except the fact that a professional trains two hours in the water, has a breakfast and then rests. So, if someone does it only as a hobby, he might do two hours in a pool, but then he goes to work for eight hours and you can’t count that as rest. So, after they come home they might be tired, stressed from work and the evening workout session has to be lighter and only if you fancy doing it. You should not start with intervals, and then also bother about the fact that you are doing triathlon just for fun, but the heavy training brings you none. It is much better to speak to a coach and have a plan tailored just for you.

What’s the biggest myth? What is the biggest waste of time?

That’s hard to say, but simply don’t look for anything extra new in the training. During winter you focus on the foundation of aerobic capacity on which you start building up endurance with intensive training during spring for relevant events. There is nothing special about it. It’s still the same, every year. Only through improvement can a man train faster, or eventually, as long as he has time, he can improve his capacity. A triathlete has an advantage that it doesn’t matter if he gets it through swimming, running or riding a bike. During my time, when there was snow in our town, I only used to swim and run. I didn’t cycle at all. I made up for it during spring when I could set off on a bike. And then at the first races at the end of May and beginning of June I didn’t lack anything.


Tell us 3 things that lead to success in triathlon, in your opinion.
Patience. That you don’t mind stereotype. And also, generally in sport – recovery and regeneration.

Triathlon is an endurance sport, it is a long-term affair. When you start from the scratch you improve really rapidly; afterwards it naturally takes more time. But on the other hand, when you stop training for a while and your body remembers all, it takes only three training sessions and you are almost where you stopped. Endurance sports are about patience, repetition, and long-term preparation. And also about regeneration – your performance increases during the recovery and rest period, and not during the training.

If you had 4 weeks to train, what would you do? We both know those longshots who suddenly remember that they have a race in a week, and the paths and forests are instantly full of them.

You won’t acquire anything by training in a week. Week before a race is mainly designated for rest and food. During that week you should avoid all the extremes, both in food and training. Just do what you fancy, so you feel fine and all right after the training.

A month is actually quite a good period for doing something. So, I would slip it into 4 cycles:
1st week: Endurance. You start building up. You cannot just jump in and run a marathon. The first training should be from 20 to 30 minutes, the next one from 10 to 25 percent more, third day is a day off and repeat. So, in the first week you familiarise yourself with the sport and you try to incorporate it.
2nd week: Capacity. I am no trying to say to train or run as much as you can, because that would ruin you, but to continue with increasing the capacity from the first week, and at least one training session as long as the race will be.
3rd week: Completely intensive training. In terms of hourly ‘training load‘- it would be lowered almost by a half compared to the previous week, but you would put it into pace. And that’s when training starts to hurt.
4th week: Rest and regeneration. The longer and the harder race awaits you, rest should be bigger. You should come home from training sessions with a smile on your face. If you don’t feel like it or the weather is bad, you should rather stay at home and enjoy being a couch-potato.

What is your ideal training-week like? What do you eat and how does your schedule look like?

Of course, it’s at home with my family.It does not have to rain, but it also does not have to be 35 degrees and clear sky. Around 20 degrees and cloudy is enough.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday I swim around 6 – 7 km in a pool from 6 am to 8 am. In the last couple of years cycling has been the most important one for me, so I do five to six training sessions a week, around 400 – 500 km. I train with a coach twice a week intensively and twice a week I do a lighter session from 90 km to 100 km; and during the weekend one session around 150 km. I run four times a week: twice a training session on a track (on Tuesday it’s pace training with legs from 1 to 8 km and altogether around 20 km, on Friday I do pace training, when legs are 1km long in maximum). On Sunday I do a long run from 2 to 2.5 hours long on an empty stomach, on Thursday I usually do combined training sessions, i.e. I come back from cycling, change myself and run out. I combine it with two gym workouts. An ideal training is from 27 to 28 hours.


Do you use any gadgets during training sessions? Pulse meters, clever wrist-bands, or a phone app, so you can share your results with your friends?

I only measure my pulse while on a track. I don’t follow it during training, but evaluate it afterwards and write it down to a diary. I know which times I have to run during the year to win. Hence, I focus on the times, but I don’t focus on whether I finish the run below or at aerobic level. The pulse meters are, among the performance of a sportsman, influenced by heat, health condition of the athlete, etc. But mainly, if anyone wants to run with the pulse-meter, they have to go to their performance evaluation test, where they find out their limits and according to them they deduce the zones in which they should train.

What if you are not running well during a race?

Well, it happened to me on couple of occasions. It depends how far from home I am, how prestigious the race is and if it’s worth finishing it. Once, I had a tough time running, but after one lap I was doing quite well and also money-wise it still made sense to finish even tenth. Some other time, during the running component, I got in the top 5, but then I went through a crisis that, when I realised how many kilometres there are still left, what good runners are behind me and that I would probably end up 15th without any points and any money, I decided to call it quits. It was also because I was going to take part in the Czech Championships in Brno in five days, so at that point it was better for me to save my energy for that race, which I won in the end, than to fight for a 15th spot somewhere in Las Vegas.

What is your strategy during a race? You touched upon that when you are not doing well, you don’t try to overcome it.

I go through the starting line-up. There are mostly ten to fifteen people at the start who have a real chance of fighting for gold. I go through their recent results; I go through the final standings of the race from last couple of years. We usually know each other among the ‘pros’. We know who is a good swimmer who is better at cycling and who is a good runner. We know who likes which climate and which course suits them. And then during the race itself you are able to guess whether the guy who is riding away on the bike after swimming leg is capable of doing it during the run, or that everybody will catch up with him. Unfortunately, it’s not possible during the age-group races. There are over a thousand of triathletes at once, and you don’t know in which age group they’re in… So, it’s best to put on ‘blinders’ and watch your own tempo which you can maintain in the long run – according to the pulse-meter or the watts on the bike. You try not to get into a crisis during the race – it is better to overtake during the last kilometres than to be overtaken.

Are there any trends that you come across in triathlon? In equipment, in diet, etc…

When I started with triathlon the ‘pros’ usually finished their careers at the age of 30. Nowadays there are athletes who are 40 years old and capable of winning races. So, thanks to nutrition, regeneration, and technique triathletes’ age is being prolonged. That is a plus for me, because I am 38 and I can still do it.

I like the fact that you take Internet as a big advantage, but also as a disadvantage…

It’s mainly about each person’s approach, and how you can choose adequate information. Ideally, you should consult it with someone who has the experience.

What do you think enhanced your performance the most?

I saved most of my time and avoided many mistakes by consulting it with people who had experience and were able to compress my learning period a lot. I was really fortunate to have them around and I have still been working with most of them until now.

Is there something like “the best advice you have ever got”?

Less is more. A week ahead of a race you will not acquire anything by training more, even when your intuition tells you that you should train a lot. This is connected to overtraining and insufficient regeneration, as I was saying earlier.

Could you tell us your most important tip for running?

Try running on soft terrains. In the long term, running on a road or concrete leads to problems with your joints, even with the best trainers on. If you can, set off to a dirt road or to a forest. And your most important tip for swimming? The more you train, the more you get better. The fact that water is a different medium, which we were not ‘made for’, makes this rule of proportion really true. It’s really not enough to swim just once a week. It’s almost not worth it.

Also, what’s your most important tip for cycling?

Mind your clothes. Nowadays we are able to tolerate more due to clothes. At the same time we need to realise that when the thermometer shows 5 degrees Celsius above zero and we cycle the actual temperature that affects us is, due to wind and other factors, 10 degrees lower. It’s not good to dress for 5 degrees above zero when during cycling the temperature is 5 degrees below zero. When the temperature is lower than 20 degrees Celsius I usually cycle in three quarter length tights or I wear knee warmers, because knees are injury-prone the most.



You mentioned running on softer terrains. What do you think of ‘barefoot’?

I think there is a bit of marketing involved and in a couple of years there won’t be such hype about it. Of course there is something to it, the initial idea is correct. But those Kenyans and Indians, who are mentioned in the books about barefoot, used to run barefooted since time immemorial. Other people have been taught by previous generations to wear some protection on their feet and thus their feet evolved differently. So, of course you can’t just switch from protective footwear to barefoot overnight. The best thing to do is to find a compromise, to check what suits you.

What is, apart from suitable clothing, important for the cycling part? In the last decade a huge attention was brought to materials and their construction and after all cycling represents, time-wise, the longest part of triathlon.

I agree, especially in long triathlons cycling represents the longest part of the race and it is individual time-trail. Apart from a perfect aerodynamic riding position, the wheels themselves are the most important thing in cycling. The rotary parts play a key role for reaching the best results. According to the laws of physics each gram on a rotating wheel with a 28-inch diameter equals two grams in fixed parts. To put it simply, if you can save up 100 grams on the rim, it is approximately the same as when the rim itself would be 200 grams lighter. That’s why I pay maximum attention to choosing a wheel. I put on lower and lighter rim profiles for hilly tracks. On the other hand, I use rear disc wheel and front wheel with higher rim for flat terrains. After that the wheels work as a flywheel and the grams are not that important. Moreover the disc wheels have ideal aerodynamics.



And what about swimming? What is your advice for the start?

Everybody who wants to improve their swimming should have a person who will eliminate their shortcomings in style. This person does not have to watch them during every training session, but at least once a week. Also, it is important to have a training plan written down. If a person swam in a pool for one hour using the same stroke and pace he would not get better a lot. It is convenient to change strokes, pace, tempo, and to use aids (flippers, fins, floats, kick boards, snorkels, etc.). A swimming training session should be a game – a change every while.

What was your biggest sport experience? Was it the time below 8 hours at Ironman, or is there some bigger win we haven’t heard about yet?

Victory-wise it was definitely the European Championships 2001 in Karlovy Vary. I won, it was in the Czech Republic, and it was broadcast live on the Czech TV. I finished the race, raised my hands over my head. All my relatives, friends and coaches were there. Nevertheless, I caught on it afterwards from the media coverage. Those 8 hours at Ironman are definitely great, it was not that long ago, but emotionally it had to be Karlovy Vary. The Olympic Games in Sydney were another strong sporting experience. I couldn’t finish the race because of health problems, but afterwards I spent another 10 days in Sydney and really enjoyed the Olympics with all the trimmings.

What are your favourite books or sources?

There are not many books about triathlon. I have recently finished a book from Chris McCormack, one of the best triathletes in the history of triathlon. It is an interesting book, but unfortunately it was translated badly, so I will have to read the original. You can get most of the information from the Internet. Whether it is interviews, equipment or diet reviews. I follow Czech websites like triatlet.cz, etriatlon.cz and I check triathlon at ihned.cz too. I also follow slowtwitch.com.

Who is the most controversial triathlete according to you? Emil Zátopek was laughed at because of his hopeless technique and yet he kept on winning…

It is hard to name just one person, we all have something. Olympic marathon is dominated by the Brownlee brothers from Great Britain, who love running, so they run almost every day, just because they like it so much. Because of that they are able to finish 10 kilometres below 30 minutes in every race. They say that American Andy Potts, the best swimmer among triathletes, does more than half of his cycling training on an ‘indoor cycle’. Some people like it, I don’t. I like when things around me move. In Czech, for example, it is Petr Vabroušek who takes on ten long triathlons a year and finishes all of them in the top 10. Hats off to him.

And finally, is there anything you would like to add?

Don’t carry it too far and finish your training with a smile on your face. That should be the feeling you get after the majority of training sessions, don’t sweat it and don’t worry about not finishing a race. You don’t have to train for 6 hours at all costs, when it’s cold or windy. If you train regularly and in the long term, one skipped training will not get you out of practise.

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