Tuesday, February 2, 2016

In Our Corner: Jeff Shilt

by Nick Mathers

Jeff Shilt, M.D., has been involved in triathlon and other endurance sport for over a decade. An orthopedic surgeon in Boise, Idaho, with a specialty in pediatric orthopedics, Jeff is also an accomplished competitor and coach and serves the team doctor for Team Exergy. Before moving to Boise, Jeff served on the faculty of Wake Forest School of Medicine and was a co-founder of TriCoWS (Triathlon Club of Winston Salem).

Endurance Corner: Many Endurance Corner readers know you as an elite age-group competitor and as an expert on recovering from sports-related injuries. How has your approach to triathlon evolved over the years?
Jeff Shilt: Like most new triathletes, I was extraordinarily ignorant about training in the beginning. I was at the place where I thought if you ran more than one day in a row your legs would fall off. At the time I was training five to six hours a week.

At that point I really enjoyed it, but I was working 80 hours a week, so six hours was the extent of what I could do. My brother John and I started TriCoWS to bring people in the area together. We started to learn from some of the more experienced guys, got motivated and started training more diligently.

EC: At what point did you start becoming more competitive?
JS: I had a medical student with whom I had become close friends. He was graduating in 2003 and for his graduation he wanted to do Ironman Brazil. So I signed up with him. The big bet for me was everyone saying, “you can’t run the entire marathon.” And I wanted to prove them wrong. I ran every step of it -- not particularly fast, but I was running.

After Brazil I got more serious. I hired a coach and planned on racing Ironman Wisconsin in 2004 with my brother. I met Gordo right before Wisconsin when he did a talk for the TriCoWS during his ride across America. We instantly clicked.

But then I went and had a terrible race in Wisconsin. Both my brother and I had a horrible day and walked it in.

After the race, I was sitting in my hotel room completely depressed. I got online and read about Epic Camp. I was concerned about being accepted because I wasn’t at the level of their usual athletes. I contacted Gordo and Scott Molina and they agreed to let me in to Epic Camp Australia.

I remember writing goals before camp: show up and start every session. My best advice I gave myself was: If I ever felt like quitting, I would take five minutes to regroup and try again. I was able to do every session. I was inspired by all the guys around me and what you can do if you take the constraints of “you can’t do that” out of the equation. Every day I was doing more than I had ever done before.

When I came back there was a huge change. I didn’t have excuses about training anymore -- I just did the work. I went down to Brazil that year and ended up grabbing the first rolldown spot for Kona in 2005.

From there, I just kept at the sport and have been having a great time since.

EC: You took a sabbatical in 2007 and focused on triathlon. How did that come about?
JS: I was strongly considering a change in my career path and a move away from academics so that I could have more time with my family and be able to pursue triathlon more aggressively. I was fortunate in that everything came together in 2007. Gordo was just setting up Endurance Corner in Boulder and my university allowed me to take a sabbatical. I took the time and helped get things up and running while spending a good amount of time training myself.

Gordo became my coach beginning in January of 2007 and then for four to five months that I was in Colorado. Amusingly enough, both Gordo and Scott had declined my request for coaching when I was down in Australia. I had to move to Boulder for him to take me on.

I got very serious about triathlon when I took that sabbatical. I trained full time and had the opportunity to do what lot of other age-groupers can’t afford to do. I trained like the pros, I ate like the pros, I recovered like the pros.

EC: Do you feel that time focused exclusively on triathlon changed you?
JS: I had a great time and learned a ton. It ultimately reinforced how much I like the sport and the lifestyle. I do it now because I love the camaraderie and the training.

If you’re a pure cyclist there are risks of osteoporosis. If you’re a pure runner there are a risk for lower extremity injuries. Triathlon has always been a healthy full body workout. I really enjoy training as much as I do racing.

EC: You’ve done some exciting events over the years and had a huge schedule this year.
JS: In 2009 my brother and I did Otillo in Sweden. In 2010 I kind of plugged along -- a handful of Xterras including Worlds in Maui. In 2011, my brother he said he really wanted to get after IM again so we signed up for St. George and Louisville and I ultimately qualified and returned to Kona.

I had also been applying for Leadville 100 for a few years and 2011 was the year I was finally accepted. So it went from, “Oh, I’ll do a couple races with my brother” to “I’ll do a couple ironman races with Leadville in between.”

EC: Do you find you’re holding the same speed even though you don’t have such a focus on IM?
JS: I’m actually getting faster. Louisville was my PR.

When I was really focused on trying to get to Kona, I was always really structured. That’s not the way I train anymore. I feel I have the ironman base built up over the past five years. I rarely do a five-hour road ride anymore. I do a lot of mountain biking and lot of road bike racing.

So the load is still there, but the approach is different now. My strength is to drop into one gear and ride steady for the entire day. Now I’m training against my natural preference which I feel has given me that extra edge.

EC: You’re an accomplished coach yourself now with a unique specialty in the triathlon world. How does your medical background cross over into your coaching?
JS: I coach a few athletes at a time so as not to infringe on my family life and medical career. Right now I coach two guys from North Carolina and Australian pro Kate Bevilaqua.

The coaches that have influenced me most are Scott Molina, Kevin Purcell who I met at Epic Camp, Alan Couzens and obviously Gordo -- they have a very holistic approach to training and I’ve incorporated that into my own coaching.

My academic medical experience is in working with kids with cerebral palsy so I have a deep background in biomechanics. And it was an easy transition to place that background to use for athletes -- gait analysis, swim stroke analysis, pedaling form.

What’s fun is working with the extremes -- helping kids with severe biomechanical issues and the elite athletes looking to shave a few minutes off their IM time -- and then having that knowledge and experience trickle down to the other 97% of the population.

My niche is working with athletes who have injuries that may be keeping them from reaching their potential. That’s how I started working with Kate -- she had had a number of stress fractures that were keeping her off the start line. I had met her during my time in Boulder and we spent a year building her back up. At the end of the summer of ‘09 she brought me on as her formal coach.

As an orthopedist, I do a mix of pediatric and adult orthopedics. Over the last few years I’ve taken on more endurance athlete injuries. People are interested in a physician that can understand and relate to their issues. A lot of times, my patients tell me they’ve gone to another physician with an overuse injury and they’ll get the usual, “Take six weeks off and ice it.” And that really doesn’t work. That’s been a fun thing -- being able to mix my day job and understanding of how the musculoskeletal system works and my understanding of endurance sports.

EC: How is your time spent between your medical career, coaching and your personal training?
JS: I look ahead at the year and figure out the three or four events I want to accomplish. For me, my schedule is fairly predictable as far as cases in my clinic. What’s not predictable is call -- group call, trauma call. When I see an event coming up, I’ll try to schedule all my call away from that build up period; maybe three weeks or so preceding an event. And then when I’m recovering from an event I’ll load up at work.

EC: Do you feel that the way you schedule your life helps you avoid some of the common working athlete stress of, “How am I going to get a workout in on top of everything?”
JS: When I started my job in Boise, I had an opportunity to schedule my week the way I wanted to schedule my week. I feel good when I can train some almost every day. My schedule is set that my basic, repeatable week is amenable to me training every day. I need one half day during the week where I can accomplish a really solid day and I need one day on the weekend where I can complete a nice training day. Having one family day is also very important.

So I took that basic week concept that Gordo is famous for and applied that to both my training and my work. I have a basic week at work that allows me to have a basic week of training. So for most of the year, I have a basic week that I can accomplish 80 to 90% of the time. And then I adjust as call requires.

I really arrange my life around busy times. When I’m busy at work that becomes my priority and I don’t feel guilty about scaling back the training.

If anyone has questions about an injury they’re facing, feel free to contact Jeff at jshilt@aol.com
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