Overcoming obstacles is nothing new to my next spotlight guest. Tommy Ferris has battled back from a string of injuries over the past few years to prepare for another season of high level competition against the best age group athletes in Ontario.
I met this highly motivated athlete a few years ago as we jockeyed for position during a few early season duathlons. After he caught my attention, with a very strong effort in the Milton Sprint Du (the first time we were in the same field), we spoke a few times online to discuss training, future races and lots of other duathlon stuff.
We then met up again that summer for the Ontario Duathlon Championships in Gravenhurst. In this race, he showed off his efficient running form to pull off a gutsy pass, finishing one spot ahead of me in 5th Overall. I knew from this late race surge that he had the heart of a winner.
Even though we have only raced head to head in one race since Gravenhurst (due to injuries, my attempt at triathlon, different race schedules, etc.), we have kept in touch and offered up support for one another.
As this Toronto based Graphic Artist prepares for a return to triathlon in 2011, I will be cheering him along, hoping he reaches all his multisport goals!
10 Questions with Tommy Ferris
Q1. What made multisport an attractive recreational outlet for your post graduate years?
- I actually competed in triathlon before starting post secondary ed, so I was hooked on multisport long before I'd finished school. After graduating, I moved to Toronto to start my career. I was broke (my first apartment was a closet. I'm not kidding!) and couldn't afford a gym membership so the only training I did was some running with a few running groups here and there and riding my bike throughout the city. I always wanted to return to multisport and, after a couple of years as a competitive rower, I began competing in duathlons at the end of rowing season. I started with duathlon because it had been years since I'd done any swimming other than jumping in the lake at the cottage. What made multisport so attractive for me, at that point especially, was it was something I could do on my own. Rowing is a team sport and if your crew is one rower short, the entire team is affected. Another attraction with multisport was it's a sport I could take with me anywhere; all I needed was a pair of running shoes or my bike. I had to give up rowing in early 2008 so it was at that point I started training full-time for the duathlon.
Q2. You have had a number of tough injuries over the past few seasons. What motivates you to continue training as hard as you do?
- Yes, injuries have been a huge struggle for me. My 2009 ended early with a stress fracture, 2010 ended early with a torn AC joint as a result of a bike crash, and 2011 started with some fairly debilitating tendinitis in my knee as a result of running too hard in slippery conditions. I feel like I'm constantly walking a fine line... if i push myself too hard and go too far over that line (in an attempt to get faster) I'll hurt myself, and if i stay on this side of the line my run speed won't improve but I'll remain injury-free. In the past, I was a strong runner that struggled on the bike, but because of my injuries things have now done a complete 180. My riding is my strongest discipline and running is my weakest. In fact, I feel it's awful and it's nowhere near where I'd like it to be. What motivates me to keep going is the belief that there's a strong runner inside me trying to come out but keeps getting set back.
Q3. Which race do you believe is your best overall performance? Why do you pick that particular race?
- In terms of athletic performance I'd have to say my race in Welland (2010) was my best so far. My goal heading into that race was to let someone else set the pace on the first run, average more than 40km/h on the bike, and then run a faster time on the second run. All three of those things happened and it felt like the perfect race. However, the performance I'm most proud of would be my race at the Duathlon World Championships in September 2010. I had a good first run (almost setting a 10k PB), made up 12 spots on the first lap of the bike, and was on my way to a top-10 finish... I was having the exact race I'd wanted. On the second lap of the bike I went down hard in a nasty crash. I was traveling more than 60km/h when I wiped out and I thought I was finished. Spectators ran over to help and gathered up all of my things (including the lens that had popped out of my sunglasses!) and called the paramedics. While I was lying on the ground letting my spinning head and nerves settle, I closed my eyes and the letters "DNF" flashed before me in black and white next to my name. I'd worked so hard and traveled so far to be there that I had to try getting up. I ended up finishing the race covered in dirt and blood on my mangled bike, and the fact that I was able to fight through that and cross the line on my own two feet is something I'm quite proud of.
Q4. Who (if you could pick anyone in the world) would you love to have as a coach or mentor for this sport?
- It seems too obvious an answer, but I think Simon Whitfield would make a great mentor. He's an incredible athlete and having him guide me through the ins and outs and ups and downs of the sport would be amazing. There isn't anyone out there I can think of off the top of my head, so if I had the opportunity to pick any coach in the world I'd have to do some research. What I do know is that when I first took an interest in triathlon in the late 1990s, Peter Reid was the first athlete that sparked a flame inside me. I didn't know anything about the sport, and little information was available back then, but I somehow knew he was sponsored by Reebok. I remember going to the Reebok outlet in Cookstown and asking if they had Peter Reid posters for sale, and they were like, "Who's Peter Reid?". I wouldn't turn down an opportunity to be coached by him for sure!
Q5. After a number of successful years as a duathlete, you want to focus on Half Ironman Triathlons this season. What made you want to get back into the water?
- A few reasons. The first was I was feeling ready. It's been more than 10 years. I didn't want to start my swim training from scratch and get back into triathlons until I felt like a strong enough athlete on the bike. Swimming will likely be my weakest event for a long time, but as long as I can come out of the water in a position that isn't dead last, I'm confident enough with my riding that I'll be able to make up some ground and have a solid finish. I race better when I'm chasing people down from behind, and since the ride is the largest portion of any triathlon, I'll have plenty of time to do just that. The second is I've always wanted to race the 70.3 distance. The third is there's nothing like Kona for duathlon. I want to go to Kona someday to race in the Ironman World Championships, and I can't do that as a duathlete.
Q6. What is the one piece of equipment you wish you had in your arsenal?
- Power meter. As I'm transitioning into longer distances, race management will play a huge roll in my success on race day. A power meter is an excellent way to track and manage your power output when riding such long distances.
Q7. It appears the duathlon is losing many of it's competitors to the triathlon. Do you have any ideas that would help improve the duathlon?
- First and foremost, people need to start taking duathlon more seriously. I can't count the number of times people have said to me, "Oh, you only do duathlons." Well, I can tell you that as a duathlete I train just as hard or, in many cases, much harder than most triathletes. Duathlon is very tough. In triathlon your running legs are fresh and ready to go once you're off the bike, but by the time the second run rolls around in a duathlon, your legs are dead. Some series in Ontario are much better than others, but on a grassroots event level, race organizers need to stop treating duathlons like nothing more than a formality. From a big picture perspective, I think duathlon needs an annual event or series of events in North America with a large prize purse and lots of promotion that appeals to the world's top multisport athletes. Such an event would generate a lot of buzz and really get people excited about duathlon at every level.
Q8. Are you able to stick to a healthy diet or do other factors in life make it difficult to eat the way you would like to?
- I have a raw food-focused diet and do my best to always eat as healthy as possible, but just like everyone else I cave into those cravings for fast food every now and then. Life's circumstances make it difficult to always eat the way I'd like to, but I don't stress out about it too much. On the whole my diet is very good, so eating food that isn't so great every now and then won't have much of on impact on things overall.
Q9. You traveled to Scotland last season for the World Duathlon Championships. What was your overall impression of racing at this level?
- My overall impression of racing at that level was that there are truly some incredible athletes out there! I doubt I'll ever race a course as tough as that one in Edinburgh, and the fact that people were able to pull off the times they did still amazes me.
Q10. What is the one thing you hope to accomplish in the next 3 years of triathlon/duathlon?
- Over the next three years I'd like to climb my way up the rankings in my age group and qualify for the 70.3 world championships. In order to do that I'll have to get my injuries under control and really get a handle on my running. That's what I'm focusing on right now.