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Daniel Bretscher: 2014 IM Wisconsin Champion

51 Speedshop’s Mat Steinmetz, Dave Ripley and Ben Waite all grew up in Indiana and have a very special interest in the success of Hoosier triathletes. One of the best triathletes to come from Indiana is Daniel Bretscher. Although he is only 31, Daniel has been racing at a very high level for over 8 years. In 2007 he was the USAT Age Group Triathlete of the Year and a year later he was the USAT Elite Rookie of the Year. He has become a force to be reckoned with at most courses around the midwest but really broke through into the national spotlight with a win at Steelhead 70.3 in 2012, finishing second while nearly out running Crowie at Kansas 70.3 in 2013 and then the huge win last weekend at IRONMAN™ Wisconsin where he finished in a course record time of 8:31 and a run course record of 2:50:14.

51 Speedshop has been working with Daniel for a few years now. We sat down with the newly crowned IRONMAN™ Champion to give you an insight into the life of a triathlete we are proud to be associated with.

51SS: Can you give us a little background on Daniel Bretscher the triathlete? What sports did you play growing up and what brought you to triathlon?

DB: Both of my parents were swim coaches so I grew up around the pool. I was introduced to triathlon by my father, he finished 69th overall in the 1987 Hawaii Ironman (while working as a full time teacher), and placed top-5 at the Muncie Endurathon a couple of times in the 1980s where he qualified for Kona. If you prod him he will brag about how he enjoyed racing on a $300 bike and beating all the athletes who rode ‘absurdly expensive’ $1000 bikes. He actually still has a lot of his old race results at home. In one race, the Mrs. T’s Pierogies Chicago Triathlon, he, Bryan Boggs, Michael Smith, and 16 year old Lance Armstrong all finished in the top-15 overall. He and Bryan Boggs were big rivals in the ‘80s and would duke it out every year in the Shelbyville Triathlon Series. Towards the end of his career is when the ‘young gun’ Michael Smith came on the scene. It’d be cool to hear the 3 of those guys talk about their races back then. Pretty neat that I won my first Ironman the same year that Ian Boggs (Bryan’s son) won collegiate nationals and turned pro, and I know Michael Smith has a daughter running in college, the same path I took to get where I am. Anyway, some of my earliest memories growing up are of my dad’s races.

I swam and ran through High School (Greencastle Indiana) and raced triathlons in the summer to have fun and compliment my High School sports. I attended DePauw University where I competed in Cross Country and Track all four years. The DePauw track team is also where I met my wife.

Spring semester my senior year at DePauw is where my triathlon journey began. While all my classmates were applying for grad school and jobs, I knew in the back of my mind I wanted to pursue triathlon. At the time I knew nothing about what it took or meant to be a professional triathlete, from both a performance and financial perspective, I just knew that I had a deep passion for triathlon and wanted to give it my all. Upon graduation I moved home with my parents, didn’t have any expenses or distractions, and was able to just invest everything into training. Initially I gave myself two years to put off real work/school, but I started having success and the two year investment kept growing. I would have been completely content and happy had it not worked out, but in order for me to work a traditional job, I first had to have the peace of mind that I gave everything for two years in triathlon. As it’s turned out, I had more potential than I ever realized back in 2006.

51SS: After many years of racing at a high level, how do you keep motivated? How do you keep searching for and finding small differences?

DB: The motivation part is easy, this is my dream job, what I love and am passionate about. Sure I go through patches where I struggle with motivation to get out the door, even days where training is the absolute last thing I want to do, but I know the life I’m currently living is short term and will be finished in a decade so I better live it up! Plus there will always be more to accomplish in the sport. What’s the only thing better than winning an Ironman? Winning 2 Ironmans! I do have to thank my wife Katie, I went through one particular bad patch with motivation in July this year when I wasn’t racing well, and she kept kicking my butt out the door until I snapped out of it.

At my level the competition is pretty even physically, and it may take me a year or more to physically improve 5 watts on the bike or 5s/mile running. It’s important that I get every bit of ‘free speed’ possible out of equipment and bike position. In the past year I’ve started working with 51 Speedshop for my bike fit and moved to a Trek Speed Concept. The proof is in the pudding and I improved my bike split by 6 minutes this year at Ironman Wisconsin. After 8.5 hours of racing, 63 seconds was the difference at the finish line between first and second and just 7 minutes between first and fourth. Every detail matters and sometimes the smallest details are what make ‘the’ difference.

51SS: Talk a little bit more about the relationship you have with the 51 Speedshop team and how does it aid to your success?

DB: I met Dave Ripley back in 2007 and through my years being in contact with him know that he understands the technical side of the sport as well as anyone. He is very good at separating what makes a quantifiable difference from what is BS, and will not hold back when giving me his opinion of things. When he and Ben Waite opened 51 Speedshop in Indianapolis, I knew that they were going to do it right and that was what led me to them. 63 seconds, the details matter.

51SS: In the past 3 years under the guidance of 51 Speedshop you have gone from 172.5mm cranks in 2012, to 170mm in 2013 and this year you are on 165mm cranks. Admittedly, short cranks aren’t for everyone but what changes have you noticed that makes them right for you?

DB: The second I jumped on the shorter cranks I felt more comfortable, my hip angle being more open made aero position much more comfortable and I noticed my feet coming over the top of the pedal stroke much easier. I can’t say for certain how that translates to increased power and speed, but I can say for certain that I’m not any slower and I will be staying on 165 going forward. Although I can’t feel any difference in my run, I can’t argue with a 2:50 marathon (7 minute PR).

51SS: How has training and racing with power improved your fitness?

DB: I got power on my bike for the first time in 2013 and looking back on it now 2013 is when I learned how to race a time trial properly. I am able to dial my workouts in more specifically in order to gain fitness, but the main place I notice the benefit of power is how I execute my rides. I’ve learned how much free time there is to gain from pushing downhills hard, and I’ve learned the importance of staying seated and not pushing uphills.

51SS: 2014 was not an easy year for the first 8 months for you, what was your mentality heading into Ironman Wisconsin? Were you confident of your fitness regardless of your injury?

DB: Being injured in the spring of 2014 was a setback which resulted in less than desired race results for the first half of the summer. Finally in July I knew I didn’t have the base fitness and the only solution was to cancel my races in favor of a major training block and putting everything into Ironman Wisconsin. The 5 week training block I did was the best, most uninterrupted, 5 weeks of training I’ve done in my life. I wouldn’t say I was my most confident heading into IMWI simply because all I had done was train and I typically get my confidence from race results. But I knew I had done some training sessions which I’ve never been able to do in my life so I believed there was potential for the best race of my life. My mentality race weekend was that I was racing for the win.

51SS: During your big training blocks, do you have any specific sessions that you continually do to gauge your fitness levels? Were these sessions pointing towards a 8:31/2:50 type of a race?

DB: On the bike I have a 5 week cycle of interval workouts that I repeat throughout the season. I’ve been doing this same 5 week cycle for 8 years now and I’ve collected enough data points over the years that I pretty much know from my performance in the workouts what kind of shape I’m in and what I can expect in the race. Going in to IMWI I was pretty sure I would ride 4:38-4:45 depending on the conditions. I rode 4:43 but actually had a minor mechanical during the ride in which I spent 90 seconds on the side of the road. I thought beforehand that the course record was possible with favorable conditions but I thought I’d have to be at least 4:40 on the bike for it to happen. It’s pretty rare that I do something in a race that I didn’t see coming from training, but I never saw a course record 2:50 marathon coming even in my best case scenario. I had expected to be 2:53-2:55. Looking back on it now I did a couple things different with my run training leading into this race which I think really benefitted me more than I realized. There’s also the intangible factor that this was the first time I’ve ever been racing for the win and subconsciously I was probably pushing harder than ever before.

51SS: An Ironman is a very long day. What did you keep telling yourself when you knew that Konstantin Bachor was riding away from the field and would have a 10+ minute lead going into T2? Did you know you could run him down? Were you just sticking to your bike/power gameplan?

DB: I couldn’t help but laugh to myself during the race because the first 7 hours were a carbon copy of last year’s race when another German uber-cyclist, Maik Twelsiek, went off the front and built a 10+ minute lead into T2. Truth be told I had never heard of Konstantin before race weekend, but heard others talking about him on Friday. I searched his race results, and it was pretty obvious that I’d once again be chasing from behind all race. Honestly, I wasn’t phased or bothered when he was off the front and putting so much time into us because it was exactly what I expected and I was already pushing as hard as I could anyways. I had hoped to limit him to a 5 minute advantage but even at 11 minutes down, I’ve done enough Ironman marathons to know that anything can happen. Starting the run I wasn’t even thinking about him, when someone’s that far ahead you can’t do anything except execute your own marathon to the best of your ability.

51SS: At mile 19 when you made the move into the lead, what were your emotions? How confident were you that your move was going to stick? What was your body saying?

DB: Halfway through the run I was still 8 minutes down, Konstantin looked good, and I wasn’t even thinking about the win having pulled back just 3 minutes. I was focused on how I could catch second. Second started to fall apart at 17 miles and right when I took over the position I got word that Konstantin was just 2 minutes ahead and walking. Although winning had been my goal for 365 days, that moment was the first time I thought about it and felt it possible during the race. I got goosebumps and started to actually get emotional. I caught myself and had to tell myself to ‘snap out of it’ as my mind was wandering and I was daydreaming about winning instead of focusing on what I was doing in the moment. Right when I took the lead I passed my family which is one of my favorite memories from the race. They had last seen me in 3rd place, 8 minutes down, and now I come around the corner and I’m in the lead. The sudden excitement in their cheers was infectious and something I’ll never forget. I pushed really hard to the last turnaround at 21 miles and hoped I could home run trot the final stretch to the finish but was suddenly demoralized when I saw Brandon Marsh had moved into second and cut my lead down inside of 3 minutes. About that time the enormity and gravity of the situation took hold and I went from flying high to unable to contemplate running 5 more miles. I had to really slow down, take in calories, and get my mind back in the moment and focus on what I was doing. Thankfully it passed and I was able to nurse myself to the win by just 63 seconds.

51SS: What are your plans for the rest of 2014 and 2015?

DB: Undecided. I promised myself I was going to enjoy this win and let it sink in for 10 days and not think about races. It’s been 8 years to get this one and for all I know I may never win another so I want to make sure I celebrate and enjoy it since I know this emotional high will not last forever. I’m going to see how I feel when I return to training this week and will make a decision if and what to race the rest of this season. As for next year, I’ve always promised myself I would never chase Kona points until I won an Ironman. Now that I’ve got that win the Kona lure is certainly there, and I’ve got a great jump start in points. It’s an expensive trip though and I’m positive that I’m not top-10 material yet. But 13 months from now? Anything is possible.

51SS: If you had one piece of advice to tell 2008 Daniel Bretscher who just won the Elite Rookie of the Year, what would it be?

DB: Injuries and setbacks are going to happen, it’s how you handle them that matters. Looking back at 2007 when I was Amateur of the Year, and 2008 when I was Rookie of the Year, the thing that shocks me the most about that two year stretch is that I had zero setbacks or injuries. I didn’t realize it at the time but everything was going the way it was supposed to, I was living in a fantasy world. Then in 2009, reality set in. I had some injuries, setbacks, and honestly, could not have handled it worse. I was not mentally equipped to handle setbacks and made minor issues so much worse than they needed to be with the way I handled them. I ended up giving up halfway through the season and going through the motions and then in 2010 then exact same thing happened again. Fall of 2010 it all came to a climax, I was applying for jobs and grad school and had something worthwhile panned out I was ready to quit the sport and move on in life. Obviously nothing panned out and in 2011 I mentally ‘reset’, rediscovered my love for the sport, and really matured as an athlete. Perhaps the thing I’m most proud of about with my Ironman win this year is that it came on the backend of a season marred by injury and poor race results. In 2009 there’s absolutely no way I could have pulled off the turnaround that I did this year.

51SS: Tell us something interesting about yourself.

DB: When my father raced the Hawaii Ironman in 1987 he, completely out of coincidence and not sponsor affiliation, wore a Timex visor. When I joined the Timex Multisport Team this year he dug up the visor and gave it to me. Should I make it to Kona next year, I plan on running the marathon in the same visor he did.

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