by Brad Culp
Ed. Note—we launch our Andy Potts Limited Edition Collection today, and contributor Brad Culp checked in with the American veteran on his preparation for Kona, now only a handful of weeks away.
Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? At 41 years young, Andy Potts isn’t afraid to try new things to get faster. What’s most impressive is that he continues to get faster at an age when most Ironman athletes are transitioning into retirement. Last year’s time of 8:14 in Kona was the fastest of his career, and this year he aims to go even faster. To do that, he’ll be riding a new bike, rocking a new kit and racing with power—something he hasn’t done in six years.
“I’m back to racing with power. I’ve always trained with it, but I’ve raced off of feel for most of my career,” he says. “It helps that we can gather all that data to see what’s required during a race and can then support that in training. Now we have all this empirical data for different distances and we can use that to make training more effective.” It’s not just about power; it’s about applying it at the right time. Potts is a Kona veteran in every sense of the word and knows that the most important part of the ride comes after the descent from Hawi, when the leaders make a right-hand turn back onto the Queen K Highway in Kawaihae. He’s seen the race won and lost at that point of the bike plenty of times, and this year he aims to have the “late power” to stay in the mix.
“A lot of what we’re focusing on in training is what we call ‘late power.’ We keep saying ‘we’re mining for late power,'" he says. “At [Ironman] Austria, at three and a half hours into the ride, I knew it was time to go and I had the legs to back it up. I ended up averaging 20 more watts over the final hour than I had for the previous three and a half.”
Potts’ big test of the summer—Ironman Austria in early June—was bittersweet. He got a chance to show his kids a bit of Europe and see their dad race, and he turned in a very respectable third-place showing on the heels of a 2:49 marathon. But a flight cancellation meant it took more than two days for he and his family to get there and he arrived with barely 24 hours to spare before the starting gun. Making matters even worse: Both of the men to finish in front of him had previously served doping suspensions.
“I’m considering it a win,” he says. “I’m not one to go on and on about how they’re doing a disservice to the sport and all of that. What I care about is that they’re literally taking food off my table. I had a good race—not a great race—but I’m calling it a win.”
Typically one to race close to home and travel as little as possible, Potts has made summer 2018 a bit of a European vacation and returned last weekend to race Ironman 70.3 Dun Laoghaire (formerly known as Ironman 70.3 Dublin). He was looking forward to seeing a new country and keeping things fresh for his final tune-up before Kona, but he wasn’t expecting to come across the hardest bike ride he’s ever done.
“Hands down the toughest bike ride I’ve ever done in my life,” he says. “I almost cried four separate times on the bike—I’m not kidding. The headwinds and crosswinds were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I rode the wrong set of wheels because I had no idea what I was getting into. I literally got blown into the bushes on the side of the road at one point.”
Case in point of just how tough it was: Potts rode 2:31:48 while averaging 323 watts. He now has the data to know that he actually had a pretty good ride, even though it resulted in a time that many age-groupers would be disappointed with. He went on to finish second after turning in the fastest run of the day and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything—especially because it turned out to be the perfect prep for Kona’s legendary crosswinds.
With a pair of solid prep races this summer and a treasure trove of data to analyze and build the perfect race-day plan, Potts is heading into his tenth race in Hawaii more relaxed than ever before.
“Most guys get nervous around this time of year and wonder if they’re doing enough,” he says. “That’s not really part of my process anymore. There’s less anxiety now—in terms of trying to be a new version of me when I get there. There’s no panic as the race approaches. Maybe I’m just getting older, or maybe it’s because my kids are kicking ass in school and in sports and that’s what’s important right now.”