We recently sat down with a close friend of mine and one of our sponsored Triathletes; Chris Mintern for a reflection on his 2019 season and to get his thoughts on the sport in general, where it has come from and where it is going.
Chris is somewhat of a local hero within the Triathlon scene here in Ireland and dominated the local races here while rising through the ranks in his younger years. At the still youthful age of 24, Chris decided to transition from Olympic to Half Ironman (70.3) distance after he narrowly missed out on Tokyo Olympics qualification, having pursued that goal, travelling the world the previous 2 years.
Chris has landed on his feet with the Half IM distance, having had his best season to date in 2019 and holding 3 national titles in various distances simultaneously.
We asked him some of the most common questions, not just surrounding triathlon, but around the world of professional sport and what it takes to compete at that level also.
What were your personal highlights of the 2019 season?
I think Ironman Dun Laoghaire 70.3 was my best result, finishing 4th in the professional field behind big names such as Alistair Brownlee. I was also happy finishing 8th at Challenge Heilbronn against some of the biggest household names in the sport. Winning National Middle Champs as well as Olympic Distance Champs was also nice. If you can't win at home you can't win abroad.
Do you have a coach?
Yes, I'm training with HupHup, based in Wicklow. It's the best training group in Ireland. The coaches are Gavin Noble & Eanna McGrath. Gav raced in the 2012 Olympics, Eanna is a science wizard and also raced internationally. They've got experience, years of exposure to high performance sport, the sort of stuff that can't be taught at a weekend training course to get a verified coaching certificate.
What are the key changes you've had to make from a cycling perspective this season to help transition to the longer distance events?
From a training perspective, it was essential to incorporate longer hours and mileage on the saddle to build endurance through the winter and into the season.
We worked a lot on my position and flexibility throughout the season in HupHup to get as low as possible and minimise drag.
Once we achieved aerodynamic gains, we worked on dropping the weight of my bike to make it as light as possible. When you work tirelessly all season to keep your weight as low as possible, its important that your bike replicates the same. What good is it trying to drop the very last couple of 100 grams in body fat if your bike is a kilo heavier than it could be? Having options such as the JRC Components Pro4.4 wheelset for days with heavy winds proved ideal given the weight of the wheelset.
How do you become a Professional Ironman athlete?
It depends on the qualification criteria set out by the National Governing Body. Different countries apply different criteria. For example an Irish athlete wishing to apply for a professional license must have either finished top 5 at National Championships, completed a sub 9:30 Ironman, or else have finished top 10 at a previous professional race. To get a pro license itself isn't too difficult, being competitive is another story. There are a lot of Irish athletes eligible to race professionally but choose otherwise.
Can you make money racing as a Professional triathlete?
Lets look at the balance sheet for 2019. The only money I made racing as a professional this year was $750, finishing 4th at Dun Laoghaire 70.3, the cost of a pro license is $800 for the year. So, it's an expensive business. I'm racing as a 'professional' and sometimes people assume that I get a wage for racing, or that I must make a lot of money from racing. I don't. But that's not why I do it. It's only the household names that make any decent money, and it's only the guys finishing on the podium regularly that make enough to keep living the lifestyle. I wouldnt have been racing in 2019 if it wasnt for the support of JRC Components, Base2Race as well as my family and girlfriend. So to answer your question, it has actually costs me money thus far. It really has to be for the love of the sport and / or the prospect of climbing the ranks to reach a level of comfort financially.
What is your opinion on doping in the Professional Ironman scene?
I'm naturally sceptical. Ironman is a combination of swimming, cycling & running, these sports have a rampant doping history. It would be naive to think that the sport is totally clean. With that said however, I lived and trained with George Goodwin (IG: @gj_goodwin) in 2017, he recently finished 12th at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and won several 70.3 events throughout the year. He gives me hope that it is possible to compete at the top level as a clean athlete. Imagine you are playing a game; There are winners and there are losers. You want to win. But how much do you really want to win? Would you be willing to hire a hitman to kill your opposition? Would you break every rule in order to guarantee victory? If not, could it be argued that you don't want it enough? These are the questions I have asked myself before. I'm not willing to hire a hitman, I'm not willing to dope. So yes, I'm competitive, I want to win, but there are certain things I'm not willing to do. Maybe I don't want it enough. I've realised that winning alone isn't everything. The only time I was tested in 2019 was at the National Olympic Distance Championships, I've been tested at the Irish National Champs every year for the past three years. Good for Irish anti-doping however I doubt the same is happening across the board in all countries worldwide.
Will you be competing at Ironman Youghal 2020?
Unfortunately I won't be racing at Ironman Youghal 2020 as there is no professional mens race. Maybe it's a good thing. I did my first triathlon in Youghal in 2008, I spent every Summer in Youghal growing up, I'm probably not ready for an Ironman but I know I would want to do the race purely because of the location. Youghal holds a lot of value sentimentally for me and it would be great to get a result there in front of my home crowd. Theres a difference however between competing and completing. I could plod along and complete an Ironman in the morning. Competing is a different story. When my time comes to race a full distance Ironman, I want to compete.
If you want to keep up to date with Chris Mintern's progession in the sport, you will find him on Instagram @crimsonmintern or on his Facebook athlete page https://www.facebook.com/CrimsonMintern/