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Article - 21 June 2011

Interview with Michi Weiss - Pro Ironman triathlete and future King of Kona

Michael ‘Wiki-Miki’ Weiss is one of the world’s fastest Ironman triathletes - already. Why already? Because so far, he is has only entered 5 Ironman races in his very short triathlon career. Weiss switched from mountain bike racing - previous U23 European Champion - to triathlon in 2008, proceeded to win the first 4 triathlons he showed up at and in the process, fell in love with swim, bike, run. With a lifetime of endurance cycling in his legs, Ironman distance racing was always going to be the logical next step for an athlete with such a deep training base.


Michi and Garth outside the US Olympic Training Centre


His first Ironman was Hawaii 2009, in which he came 25th. In 2010 he won Ironman St. George, and came 13th in Hawaii, ominously posting the 2nd fastest bike split of the day just behind Chris Lieto. So far in 2011, Weiss’ lowest finishing position out of five races has been 4th. Ironman Austria is next up in July where he will be looking to improve on his 3rd place of last year. The big goal for any Ironman Pro is always going to be Hawaii in October and although it may only be his third attempt at Kona, a top five placing this year is entirely realistic for an athlete of Weiss’ calibre. I caught up with Michi Weiss at his Colorado Springs year round training base a few weeks before his attempt on Ironman Austria. Here is what the Wiki-Miki Express had to say:-


GF: What’s with the name ‘Wiki-Miki’?

MW: In the Hawaii language, 'Wiki' means fast and Michi is short for Michael in Austrian. It was actually Greg Welch (Oakley, Ironman World Champion 1994) who came up with the name 'Wiki-Miki Express' as a way of describing my bike splits, which I have become known for as they tend to be pretty fast.

GF: You have come a long way in a very short period of time in the world of triathlon. Why do you think that is?

MW: My cycling background. The bike leg is half of a triathlon and I have that part nailed. Even though I was a mountain biker, the maximal aerobic power and threshold that you develop in that discipline transfers really well to the road. Even now I regularly get out on my mountain bike as part of my Ironman preparation. It's a great way to get out of a training rut and mix it up a bit.
"On the bike I know if I attack, no one can follow me!"

GF:  Let's stick with the cycling theme a minute and talk bike leg pacing - a critical skill which age groupers often find difficult to consistently get right. The latest research into pacing suggests that a variable pacing model, where you push a little harder on the hills and try to recover downhill, may be the most efficient. Do you go along with that?

MW: Yes up to a point. In full and even half Ironman, you use a lot of energy on the bike. So the key is to know your threshold power output and then stay well below it, even on climbs. Supra threshold efforts on the bike are the best way to be first to the showers not the finish line. Having said that, when I first get on the bike after the swim I intentionally go really hard for about five minutes as I find this 'kick starts' my engine and I then settle down into a sustainably hard effort.  After all racing is racing and it hurts. But I am always listening to my body but in these early stages when I am fresh I constantly check my SRM power meter to ensure I keep a lid on the effort. Sometimes that is really frustrating because on the bike I know that if I attack, no one can follow me! Check out Michi's Hawaii SRM power files here.

GF: What about training on the bike, how do you ensure that it translates to racing?

MW: In the six weeks before an Ironman race I will get in 3-4 sessions of 4x30 minute Ironman pace efforts. I only look at power and never pay attention heart rate or speed – they are just too variable to be reliable. Understanding how power output relates to how you feel is the most valuable feedback you can have as a cyclist. Also, as I mentioned throwing in some mountain biking can really put some zip back into the legs and it also teaches you how to modulate the fatigue you feel by getting out of the saddle or varying the cadence. I think age groupers tend to stay in one position for too long. This means that the same muscle fibres are doing all the work. To squeeze more out of my legs I use every ramp in the road to get out of the saddle, usually at the same time as shifting up a few gears. This allows different muscle fibres to take up the strain and others to recover. One piece of advice I would have for age group athletes is not to be afraid to get out on the trails from time to time even as part of your Ironman preparation. Sure, you may not be in your time trial position doing steady efforts but believe me, when your body gets used to punching up steep trails at 800W with cadence at 130, the steady state Ironman bike leg feels like being on a beach!
“Racing is racing and it hurts!”

GF: How much time do you devote to position and bike set-up and how important a factor is it to bike good pacing?

MW: I rarely change my position. The reason is that I have a position that I like and that is very important when you are spending so long pedalling. The longer the event, the more you should focus on optimising comfort over aggressive aerodynamics. I am constantly monitoring how my legs feel in order to pace my effort – I can only do this if my position is such that I feel at one with the bike.

GF: Do you intentionally ride with a certain cadence?

MW: I am actually trying to train myself to ride with a slightly lower cadence, below 90 rpm because I feel that high revs burn fuel more rapidly and that if I can reduce it and maintain my power I may have more left for the run. We'll see.

GF: Looking at your power files from Hawaii 2009 and 2010 bike legs and it seems that you dialled in a better power distribution in 2010 which lead to a higher average power. Was this an intentional strategy?

MW: Yes for sure. Power is nothing in Ironman without control. I tried to avoid the spikes in power output that really sap energy reserves. It worked well because I also ran the marathon 18 minutes faster then the previous year!

GF: What about nutrition during a race? I know that you never experience problems in this area. Why do you think that is and do you have any special tips for the athletes out there plagued with gastro issues during races?

MW: Sure. Also remember that what you eat, especially on the bike, will also directly affect the run. So I make sure I eat enough but also test products in training before you race with them. I use Powerbar products which seem to work very well but I also stick pretty closely to what I know works for me. For example, I never mix bars or gels with sports drink. Rather I wash them down only with water and keep the carb drinks separate, as it just feels 'cleaner'. Other than that I make sure I get around 80g of carbohydrates per hour on the bike and drink a little too much rather than too little. Getting enough sodium is an important consideration for us longer distance triathletes and it is possible that too little can lead to cramps and other problems. Myself, I never have cramping issues either but I do pay careful attention to the sodium content of my nutritional products so perhaps that is why. But the most important thing you can do is to train with the products you intend to race on – I don’t like surprises in a race!
"I never mix bars or gels with sports drink. Rather I wash them down only with water and keep the carb drinks separate, as it just feels 'cleaner'."

GF: You are an uber cyclist, a quick runner but a relatively weaker swimmer. Would that be a fair comment?

MW: Definitely. There is nobody better aware of my strengths and weaknesses than me – and maybe Mario! (Mario Huys has been Michi's coach for the last 2 years). My running is good. Sub 3hrs is not a problem for me and training has been going very well. [On the day of the interview Michi had a completed a 30km trail run at 15km/h – and it was a hot, 32C!]. But the swim is the area that I now need to focus on. I need to be close enough to the front swim pack on exiting the water that I do not have to use too much energy chasing them down on the bike. That is the goal and it comes down to swimming smart. Fitness is not my limiter here. I lack some experience, swimming volume and perhaps specific swim training in open water. But the really exciting thing for me is that I have a very clear goal of what I need to do to get better. The swim training I have been doing has given me a great base and I am starting feel the benefits. [Michi swims around 5000m, six days a week with USA Triathlon at the Olympic Training Centre under the watchful eye of Mike Doane, swim coach to Andy Potts].

GF: Finally, a word on altitude training. Here we are in Colorado Springs (1850m above sea level) where you live and train, how important to sea level performance do you think that is for you?

MW: When you first arrive here, everything feels more difficult, wouldn’t you say? [GF struggled to swim more than 200m at an easy pace without stopping for recovery!] But when fully acclimatised – which takes around 3 months -  then everything feels normal, even mountain biking up to 3000m. Although I am not exactly sure what the mechanisms are, when I arrive at a race venue typically 10 days before the race itself, I feel really good. Whether it is an up regulation of certain energy systems or improved movement economy I don't know but it works for me.

GF: Well Michi, thank you for taking the time to chat. As well as  for the week-long insight into the preparation required for success at the very pinnacle of the sport. I wish you the best season ever. I also understand that August is going to be a pretty special month for you and that it has nothing to do with training and racing is that right?

MW: That’s right. I am getting married in August to my fiancée Rachel Cole whom I met during Ironman Hawaii a few years ago. You might say that Ironman is destined to be a very important part of my life now for ever and a day!

GF: Congratulations. Sounds good to me!

HARD FACTS:

Name: Michael Weiss
Nickname: Michi
Date of Birth: January 17, 1981
Hometown: Gumpoldskirchen, Austria
Base: Colorado Springs, CO, USA
Marital status: engaged to Rachel Cole
Height: 187cm, 6 ft 2"
Weight: 79 kg, 175 lbs
Occupation: Professional triathlete
Club: "Ciclopia Triteam" (based in Austria)

Key Sponsors: SRM, Powerbar, 2XU, Cannondale

RESULTS:
2011


  • 2nd Ironman Austria (7:57:39h)

  • 2nd Ironman 70.3 St.Pölten (AUT)

  • 4th Nautica South Beach Triathlon (Florida/USA)

  • 3rd Ironman 70.3 Oceanside (California, USA)

  • 1st SuperSeal Triathlon (California, USA)

  • 1st overall Pikes Peak Winter Series (COL/USA)


2010

  • 3rd XTerra World Championships, Maui (USA)

  • 13th Ironman Hawaii (USA)

  • 1st Challenge Walchsee (AUT)

  • 3rd Kärnten Ironman Austria (AUT)

  • 1st Neufeld Triathlon (BGL/AUT)

  • 6th Ironman 70.3 St.Pölten ((AUT)

  • 1st Ironman St.George (Utah, USA)

  • 1st SuperSeal (California, USA)

  • 13th Half Ironman Oceanside (California, USA)

  • 2nd Winter Series Colorado Springs (USA, Crossrun, 4 miles)

  • 1st Cricket Wintercup Vienna (Crossrun, 5.7 miles)


2009

  • 3rd XTERRA World Championship Maui

  • 25th Ironman World Championship Hawaii (first Ironman)

  • 2nd Half Ironman Monaco

  • 3rd XTERRA Czech

  • 1st Tri Neufeld (Olympic distance, Austria)

  • 3rd Kirchbichl (Olympic distance, Austria)

  • 6th XTerra Italy

  • 12th Half Ironman St. Poelten (Austria)

  • 1st Obergrafendorf (Olympic distance, Austria)

  • 16th Half Ironman Oceanside (California)

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