Tuesday, February 2, 2016

In Our Corner: Paul Linck

by Nick Mathers

Paul Linck has been tearing up the field in the 45-49 age group, winning his AG with a stellar 9:36 at this year’s Ironman Coeur d’Alene, a second in last weekend’s Ironman Louisville, and multiple AG podiums in half ironman events around the country. We caught up with Paul to talk about his development in the sport from beginner four years ago to one of the top AG racers in the country.

Endurance Corner: Let’s track your progression a little. What was your sporting background?
Paul Linck: As a kid I played the big three a little, but by the time I got to high school I was too small to be much of a contender. I wrestled in high school, because that was a sport that if you put the work in, you’d be better than most of your competitors.

I had been active through college and through my young adulthood, but it was recreational – racquetball, that kind of thing. I started running about 10 years ago right around the time my first son was born, mainly because I had gotten fat. I did a few local races on around 15 miles a week. I wasn’t really tracking anything – races, training, anything. So I got back in shape and vowed I would never get fat again.

At some point, my neighbor goaded me into signing up for my first marathon. I brought my twin brother along because basically we do everything together. It was a blast and we just started doing them all the time.

Boston became a goal and we both qualified in our third marathon.

EC: How did triathlon come in?
Paul Linck: This is my fourth season. After my second Boston Marathon in 2008 I just decided I wanted to try something different and signed up for a half ironman. I felt like I was a distance guy and didn’t want to start out with “one of those shorter ones.” I thought, “How hard could this thing be?”

I didn’t do any research; I just showed up at the local bike shop and bought a tri bike. I did the half – Macon – a few weeks later and really got an appreciation of how hard triathlon really is and what’s involved in actually going fast. I had been training about six to eight hours a week, which, as a runner, was a lot. After Macon I signed up for the Great Floridian in November and went into that on about 8 hours a week with pretty haphazard training. I finished in the low 11s for that and placed in my age group.

EC: You clearly have a naturally affinity for distance triathlon. What time of year was your first half and what was your time?
PL: It was in early summer and I came in around 5:48.

EC: So with only a few months of what you’re calling haphazard training, that’s a huge progression between your first half and your first iron-distance race. What was your evolution in the sport like after that?
PL: I hooked up with a local coach who helped bring me along to that next level of being competitive in my AG in local and regional events.

EC: How did you get started with EC?
PL: My cousin, who is also a Kona-qualifier, put me on to Gordo and what became the EC coaching team. I started working with Alan Couzens in late 2010 right before the Great Floridian. Alan really knows how to get a middle-aged guy like me to Kona. I really just do what Alan tells me. I set into his training and race plan for me and it always comes through.

Working with EC has really opened my eyes to what it takes to be fast in triathlon. I can sum in up with something Gordo said to me at the EC Tucson camp – one of those ad hoc, Gordo standing around with no shirt on kind of things – “What you have to understand is that when you get into your 40s, there are a lot of people taking this sport seriously. If you want to win, you need to work.”

EC: You race quite a bit.
PL: I do race a lot. I love half ironmans. Last year I did eight HIMs, three IMs and a two Olympics. I like to use racing to force me to do the training that I don’t naturally prefer to do -- longer, higher intensity work. So, I go into a half as a really hard workout. Sometimes it’s hard on the ego to go with the strategy of training through events, but it’s necessary to release the ego a little as component of how I prefer to train.

EC: It seems like you achieve all the goals you set for yourself fairly quickly. How do you keep the motivation going? Some people that ramp up as quick as you may say, “Oh, I’m done, I set out what I wanted to do.”
PL: There’s always something new to keep my going. First it was running to get fit. Then it was running to finish a marathon. All marathoners dream of Boston and, like I mentioned, after my second trip there I started looking for something else. For me, if I don’t have a big goal, I can’t get motivated.

Boston was it for running. It seemed so unachievable until suddenly it wasn’t unachievable anymore.

Kona seemed so unachievable for me because I had tried so many times and I totally f-ed it up and then I finally got it.

And now the motivation is to race with the big guys in my age group: Albert Boyce, Mark Pietrofesa, Shawn Burke – those guys are the rock stars in age group racing.

EC: Let’s talk a little about your racing partner -- your brother.
PL: Jim is my identical twin. We shared an egg for nine months and we are just as close today. We do almost all of our races together.

Since we are so alike, he is by far my best training partner -- we can push each other in ways no one can understand. He’s a professor at University of Georgia in Athens which is about an hour from me in Atlanta, so we try to train together when possible. We’re very similar physiologically, so can use each other for pacing in training, whether than be easy or hard days. We once did a VO2 test together and the data was so close it was probably in the range of error.

A funny story that relates how close we are is that we both crashed at Great Floridian in 2009 and both spent a few days in the hospital in Clermont. We each crashed at totally different times of the race without knowing that the other had crashed; a total twin thing. We had most of the staff at the hospital doing double takes for a few days.

We are pretty darn close on the bike and run, but he is still struggling with the swim so I usually clip him in tri. He almost always gets me in an open running race though.

My goal this year was to get to Kona and have him get there too. The only thing better than getting to Kona is if he could join me. It didn’t quite happen in Louisville this year, so we’ll try again next year.

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