Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 16 - Zack Hamner - COACH BY EXPERIENCE - Part 1 of 3

That was that getting into coaching at that level was a little bit of-- My undergrad was in no way preparing me to be a coach, especially at the collegiate level. But it just kind of happened the way-- the timing worked out and I was able to get people excited about triathlon and I felt like I was pretty knowledgeable.

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“That was that getting into coaching at that level was a little bit of-- My undergrad was in no way preparing me to be a coach, especially at the collegiate level. But it just kind of happened the way-- the timing worked out and I was able to get people excited about triathlon and I felt like I was pretty knowledgeable. And so I really studied a lot of the sport and I listened to a lot of podcasts, read a lot; listen to some of the great coaches so I felt like I had a good knowledge. And then I'd obviously been there at a pretty high level so I knew kind of what took to get to that. And so that's why I think that kind of appeal to a lot of the athletes there.” This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri, Skincare for Athletes. Whether you're in the gym, on the mats, on the road or in the pool, we protect your skin so you're more comfortable in your own body. To learn more, go to JESSE: Today on the Smart Athlete Podcast, my guest is the current 25-29 Sprint Draft Legal Age Group National Champion. See if you can get that all back on the replay. He is a former pro-triathlete currently USAT Certified Coach and he's the head coach for the triathlon club at San Diego State University. Welcome to the show, Zach Hamner. ZACK: How’s it going, Jesse? JESSE: Going pretty well. You probably got a lot better weather going on in San Diego right now than we have. We had like rain ruined the Fourth of July. ZACK: Oh man. It's actually really gorgeous today and it was nice yesterday, but the past two weeks we've had some just overcast skies, a bunch of kind of light rain here in there and it hasn't really hit the summer. Yeah, but now today it's nice and sunny and gorgeous. JESSE: See, I don't believe you. In my head, San Diego is just nice all the time. There's never a bad and-- ZACK: We’ve had a really - it's crazy. Normally we don't. We have the nice sunny but yeah, this whole winter and spring, it's just been not great. JESSE: So, how does with club racing like around here, we've got a couple of the colleges, they have clubs, and they’ll race what I refer to as the normal season basically summertime. Do you guys have like an school tri season or is it also just the summer? ZACK: No. So, we actually-- The West Coast collegiate conference, we have a season, it's more so in lines with like a traditional kind of track and field season where we start-- We have a couple kind of small races in the fall that count towards our ranking. But by and large the bulk of the season that we have from collegiate club, especially in California, but it's probably like this all the West Coast too is in basically January through April for nationals. So, it all kind of like takes place in that first four months of the year. So, they jam packed probably six or seven races within that, within about two and a half-- JESSE: You can get away with it because you have all that beautiful weather in San Diego. ZACK: Yes. Most of the time, yeah. Although even like in January, you'll get-- We have a couple pool races so those are always fine. But you'll get like occasion, the downpour that'll have to cancel the swim. But by and large, it's all set and done. JESSE: Yes. I'm in the middle of the country so tri season doesn't start till May here. I have to travel if I want to go somewhere else. And even in May there's been like, water’s too cold, this year they shorten 1,500 down to 600 meters for the race in May because they're like oh, water’s too cold. And I'm like it’s 58, it's fine, but you kind of gotta be safe, I guess. ZACK: Yeah, - definitely have to at some point. And usually, we've had a couple of that, that occasion that happened several times this year, particularly, it's not normally like that where we've had to, like I said, we've had a really wet winter. And so a lot of times in San Diego, the water - it gets really, really bad with runoff. So, we had to cancel a couple swims. So, JESSE: ?? 4:22> ZACK: It's just the water quality. The temperatures, I mean cold, but it's rarely under 59 to 60 at that time of the year. So, it's not too bad. JESSE: So, you're-- I’ll call them kids, but they're not ?? 4:38>. Do your kids also like continue to race? Do they race in summer? Do they continue to race in the summer as well? ZACK: Yes, yeah, a lot of them will. Most of them, state is different, because we actually have a lot of out of town kids, surprisingly, that come in and race. And they're all like usually in parts of California, but they go home and I encourage them to race pretty regularly during the summer. But we have a small group of maybe like six athletes here during the summer that they'll race the local events and just kind of keep their training up. We have a small like summer training group that we just kind of keep, and it's pretty light. So, it's nothing really serious, just really focusing on getting consistent miles in during the summer. JESSE: Okay. So I mean, I don't know, I guess I'll say I don't know anything about club racing since I was on scholarship to run in college. So, I'm kind of familiar with the regulations there. I know with NCAA, there's only so many hours like a coach can have contact with athletes and that kind of stuff. Are you regulated like that or is it almost just wherever you go? ZACK: No, so we're actually not, I believe ?? 5:49> there's talk of more regulation with that, with the advent of more NCAA schools joining in triathlon. But I think by and large, especially during the summer, we're not regulated to that extent, especially, most of our athletes are not going to be training with the team on campus. So, where we kind of have a little bit of free rein, not that many of my athletes are going to be training even close to 20 hours during the summer. It's a pretty big course, pretty big load for athletes to maintain at the collegiate level, unless you're training kind of really, really training full-time, like the NCAA girls that say like ASU that are probably trading close to that 20 hour range. JESSE: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think I was training seven to nine hours, maybe a week in college and maintaining classes. I don't know if I could imagine trying to do 18 credit hours a semester and also training 20 hours a week just, it’ be bananas. ZACK: Yeah, it's really having now-- even now like working a regular job on top of coaching, seeing the balance that the athletes have to have with the training and their schooling all kind of combined, and triathlon is not like running. I know a lot of runners and swimmers and it was basically you had that designated time in the morning or maybe in the afternoon where you have that one practice and maybe you run on your own in the morning if you're double of whatever. But triathlon, it's getting a swim, bike and run in every day, for example, is a huge time commitment, especially for athletes that are just getting started in the sport. You’re getting former-- instead a former high school triathlete usually, usually is that all are going to be maybe they’re former runners, former swimmers, maybe they're-- And a lot of times the people that have no experience in any of those sports, and so they'll be really adding to balance. Now all of a sudden, not only training for one sport, we're trained for two more on top of course, as a freshman far from home, it's a big shift. So, a lot of the freshmen really kind of have to embrace that team aspect a lot with making sure that you're not pushing them too hard because the overall stress load is really high for those athletes. JESSE: Yeah. Big adjustments all around. I think that not just doing three sports but it's almost like the mental shift between all right, I gotta warm up, get this workout in, cool down, somehow recover mentally for the next workout and then do stuff in between. To me, it's almost more taxing on the mind sometimes than it is on the body, like the body and keep up but just mentally you're like, I'm tired of pushing. I just needed sit down for a minute. ZACK: Yeah, definitely. So, it's important that I really try to going back to like the summer, we really tried and like keep it, the athletes that do stay and I give training, in the past I've kind of given like really structured training to kind of really get big fitness gains during the summer. But I found that a lot of athletes, they might get really into that for about three or four weeks and they start to really Peter off with their just consistency just because they're so tired from already a full season of training and racing. And we're racing, maybe probably every other week, a the spring. JESSE: The sprint distance or what distance are they racing? ZACK: ?? 9:23> race Olympic distance at our regional championship and nationals-- So, we're gearing towards the Olympic distance, but it's mostly sprint events. But they’re not incredibly taxing. But when you're doing a lot, basically one every other week, or sometimes we've had during the season, it can be pretty tiring, especially with travel. And we're flying across the country, which is good, but having to sit in the car for hours to go up to Santa Barbara or to Irvine or wherever we're going really kind of can take its toll. And then having to come back, almost every athlete has to on Sunday afternoon, drive back from race, and then go and - at four o'clock in the afternoon. Now they have to study for their test they have tomorrow after - we can traveling and racing. So, yeah, it's a big load. So, I try to keep things really, really light in the summer with just kind of getting some skills developed as well as just like general consistency in training. JESSE: And there's no-- I mean, there's no scholarship involved with the club kids, right? ZACK: No. JESSE: It's not only is it there's no like financial incentive for, okay, I've gotta keep it up. It's just entirely self-imposed masochism to be like, I'm gonna do all of this. ZACK: Yeah, it definitely is. It's really, I've talked-- because I work closely with a good friend of mine, who is the Associate Head Coach for the women's swim team at state and they train full on through the summer. They're getting up at 6am every day, pretty much during the summer to go train and swim in the pool. But obviously, they're incentivized to keep that scholarship and to perform well, whereas everybody on my team will go home and kind of a few weeks rest, and then they come back in the fall. Hopefully, they had a good basic fitness and they developed some skills. But it's really very self motivated. It has to be like within. JESSE: Yeah, yeah. So, I'll shift gears a little bit. So, you're a former pro, like we're talking about before we kind of got going, you're only 26, correct? ZACK: Yeah. JESSE: So, I mean, it seems like pretty early to step down as a pro considering typically, endurance peak is 35 plus or minus five years. So, I mean what was the decision to turn in the pro card and give it up? ZACK: I mean, it was more so about lot of it was a financial thing.So, I turned pro at 21, I just turned 21, and I've been gunning for it through college, racing pretty regularly. I went to school in Colorado and so obviously, I lived in Boulder, so the tri season is really big there and so I really was trying to push for getting that pro card. I'd only been in the sport for maybe two and a half years. But a big part of that was just being in that atmosphere of high performance. and just being around like man, I should do this while I can because I might not get this opportunity. And so got that, got the pro card at 21, started racing. My plan was initially, to go to the following year and race a lot of the-- back in this is 2014-2015, something like that. They had the non-draft lifetime fitness series, they had the non-draft Olympic series. That was my goal was to race, start racing that and maybe try and do some IT races on the side just because I do enjoy the draft legal racing. But by and large, that was going to be my bread and butter was the Non-draft Olympic for now and then maybe progressed to half Iron Man later on. And within the first five months of me being Pro, they cut that whole series, all the prize money and that whole opportunity, kind of-- There's a really great article out there somewhere. I can't remember who wrote it about like how that was a huge blow to pro triathletes and developing athletes was when they cut that series because it kind of destroyed that pathway for young pros to move from the Olympic non-draft to the 70.3 and Iron Man over the course of six or seven years. JESSE: Because they're two completely different disciplines, draft legal versus non-drafting, and especially when you have to go long distance. Yeah. ZACK: Yeah, so you kind of cut out that middle ground. And I had planned my whole season out to where like I'm gonna race - apply five times in these events and maybe do some of the local Claremont or the local IQ events in Claremont and Sarasota. And then that got scrubbed and so I kind of was like, well I'm not really-- I wouldn't ever consider myself super talented, I just work really hard. So, by and large, I was decent across all three sports to become a pro. But to really kind of make that next step, I really needed to focus a lot more. And after college, I came back home and was-- have some big student loans to pay. So, I kind of had to kind of swallow my pride a little bit, and start doing some little jobs, and try and see where that went. So, I tried for about a year and a half to balance like a good job with racing Pro. But at the high level for 70.3 you have to be 100% committed is what I found. You can't be half in and half out. You have to-- JESSE: Yeah. I mean, unless you're like a genetic freak, then you could do it. But if you're a genetic freak, and you're doing well, you could probably be all in anyway. ZACK: Yeah, yeah. I guess I couldn't justify in my head, the biggest thing I couldn't justify financially continuing down that path, at least right now, maybe in the future. JESSE: Yeah, we'll see. ZACK: But I couldn't justify going down, continue to go into the hole financially for something that I wasn't probably going to make it incredibly far in. So, I decided to put that aside, and I'd already been coaching a lot. And I found that I actually really enjoyed coaching a lot more than I did. racing at that high level. I enjoyed racing, and I love racing but racing on the pro side is a whole different ball game. And I found that just training consistently up to 20-25 hours a week was really, it's what you have to do to be good. And I found that over time, I just-- I love the racing, but I didn't quite love that high volume training all the time year round. It just a lot out of you, and then trying to work on top of that. So, it just became the decision to just kind of focus a little more on coaching and try and get like a real normal nine to five job that I can do on top of that. That's kind of how the pro career ended. But I wouldn't-- I guess that it wasn't much of a career. I didn't make any money off of it. JESSE: That's okay. I mean, we've had this conversation. So, I talked to a couple different pros. Do you know Mike Meehan? ZACK: I’m sorry? JESSE: Do you know Mike Meehan? ZACK: Oh. Yeah, the collegiate. He races collegiate now again. I've definitely seen his name at nationals. JESSE: I'm not sure. I think he's still racing professionally, but maybe he had stepped down. Anyway, we kind of talked about how various pros make it financially and just how really, there's only like the top 10% or whatever that make a living from racing. So, it’s always like and you kind of illustrated the reality of it is like, you need an income source outside of racing if you want to race, but then that hampers your ability to race. ZACK: Yeah, absolutely. It's the catch 22. So, I just kind of, I didn't see-- And also, I found my heart wasn't in 70.3 racing. It was just super long, you have to kind of really have a passion for that. I mean, it's almost a completely different sport than the short course racing, especially-- JESSE: I didn’t here you. ZACK: So, it wasn't quite what I liked doing a lot. So, I remember my first few pro races, they were enjoyable because you have your-- you're racing against-- my first half Iron Man was in 2016-2017 when Jan Frodeno came to Oceanside. So, getting to have that experience was great and it was a blast to actually get to race with guys like that and guys that are actually doing it at that level. But in three and a half hours into a race and you're suffering on the run, and I kind of was like man, this is-- I'm not really enjoying this a whole two hours ago, it was fun for the first two hours, but I just wasn't quite enjoying it like I used to at that long distance. So, I decided just to kind of step down and focus more on the coaching. And then now with the advent of more age group draft legal racing and able to kind of continue doing that. Thankfully, the age group, swim and run is not nearly as fast as the actual pros so I can actually-- JESSE: Not yet. Yeah. ZACK: Yeah, not yet, but it's good, it's turning in that direction. But yeah, I can actually be somewhat competitive still in that stuff, which I enjoy. JESSE: Yeah. What did you do your undergrad in? ZACK: So, I actually got my undergrad in aviation technology. Yes. My background’s kind of-- JESSE: That's what I thought. I thought I saw something about aviation, but I wasn't quite sure. So, there was not a master plan for you to become a coach from undergrad? ZACK: No, not at all. No, I was-- I had kind of, just by nature of I think being kind of fast in the triathlon community and where I live now in Chula Vista is was at the time kind of really starting to blow up. And there weren't a lot of really coaches-- San Diego is known for triathlon but when people think of San Diego, they think of the nice, the beachy side, the very-- on the coast, especially on triathlete-- for the triathletes, the North County triathlon scene. But the South Bay where I live further south of IA was very underdeveloped and it was just starting to boom back in like 2010-2011. And so there weren't a lot of coaches and so people just kind of by nature, just when you're fast, people want to know how you got fast. And so they just kind of asked you for advice. And I took-- I kind of coached a couple people before while I was in college. And it wasn't till I spent-- I came back for a year to do some coursework at San Diego State that I got hooked up with triathlon team there and just kind of through circumstance and timing just fell into kind of volunteering and coaching for the team there. JESSE: Zack I may have lost you. ZACK: ...and then that-- Oh, sorry, I'm sorry. JESSE: No, you're right. You were talking and then you were gone. You're good now. ZACK: Okay, perfect. But that was that getting into coaching at that level was a little bit of-- My undergrad was in no way preparing me to be a coach, especially at the collegiate level. But it just kind of happened the way-- the timing worked out and I was able to get people excited about triathlon and I felt like I was pretty knowledgeable. And so I really studied a lot of the sport and I listened to a lot of podcasts, read a lot; listen to some of the great coaches so I felt like I had a good knowledge. And then I'd obviously been there at a pretty high level so I knew kind of what took to get to that. And so that's why I think that kind of appeal to a lot of the athletes there. Go to Part 2 Go to Part 3

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