Things are going well for Tim Berkel as he prepares for race day for the 2014 Cairns Ironman. Last year Berkel ran a 2:44 to get very close to winner Luke McKenzie after losing time in the swim and getting a penalty on the bike. Berkel’s run was over 15 minutes faster than McKenzie’s. This year he is better prepared and after some great results looks like he has fine-tuned the recipe.
Berkel has had more wins and podiums in long-course triathlon than many people realise. Often more than many of the higher-profile professional triathletes currently racing. He has won Ironman Western Australia and twice won Challenge Copenhagen as well as multiple half iron distance/70.3 titles, including the Australian Pro 70.3 title. Add to that the untold podiums he has had at major races and you start to get a picture of this great long-distance triathlete (view Tim’s results here). Despite this impressive race CV he often flies under the radar. We spoke to Tim and his coach Grant Giles, of Aeromax, in the lead up to Ironman Cairns to find out how he has been traveling and what we can expect on the 8th of June in Cairns.
Trizone: Tim, you have had a great start to 2014 with two strong wins at Challenge Melbourne and Ironman Busselton 70.3 added to your impressive list of wins and podiums on your CV. How are things going in Boulder, Colorado in the weeks leading up to Ironman Cairns?
Tim Berkel: My attitude is really great at the moment and things are going well with the guys I have been training with which in clyde wannabe TV host Callum Millward, Mark Bowstead, James Seear, and John Polson. They are fantastic to be around and really upbeat. I am thoroughly enjoying being in Boulder again and my body is feeling healthy with no injuries. Altitude training is very beneficial to me as my aerobic speed seems to benefit the most from being here. I am loving the mountain climbs in Boulder as it makes it very easy to get these sessions done – Two hours in the mountains compared to being at home. I can keep the power up really well during these sessions.
Grant, how much more pace and endurance do you think Tim can get out of himself this year?
Tim has an enormous aerobic engine. When Tim gets consistent and into good volume/endurance based blocks he tends to start to fire. In that sense he is what I would call and aerobic animal when he’s very fit. The plan this year has been to bring Tim to peak twice this year to the capability of what I call being prepared to die for the result. Not in the literal sense but I believe there are only a few times a year where a well-trained athlete can go that deep inside for that result hence the term prepared to die for it. That kind of desire doesn’t lend itself to repeated efforts because it’s too draining. So the plan from my point of view early on was to bring Tim some more wins without ripping too far into his reserves. So that meant leaving Tim 8 strong weeks into Cairns, firstly here in Lennox, then his final phase of the preparation at altitude, where Tim has always thrived. Based on his current form you couldn’t have wished for a better training start to the year. He’s on track for Cairns and well on the track also for the rest of the year.
In addition to the already strong training squad you have, Brad Kahelfledt and Peter Robertson join, amongst others, yourself and the likes of Joey Lampe, Clayton Fettell and Brad Clarke under coach Grant Giles. Has the addition of these two former ITU greats lifted the levels of work rate?
I couldn’t ask for better teammates. They have a deep understanding of the world of the triathlon. It certainly has added to the professionalism of the squad as well as it keeps the squad pushing that little harder – although we have always pushed hard.
The main thing that these two greats have brought to the table is professionalism. I think with all great athletes, regardless of their personalities, they have something unique about them, the X factor if you like. Brad and Peter have that. Brad is an incredibly focused human “an almost ruthless pursuit of performance and without actually saying it he demands that of the people around him. Peter knows his body better than most I’ve ever seen and he will switch it off as soon as he feels it, without an ounce of negativity about it. Peter has the ability to do what is necessary without judging every moment and that is a huge talent in my book. Two very different athletes and two very different personalities but their effect on the group as a whole is huge. The commitment level of the whole group has lifted because of it. I think in Tim’s case it’s a lot easier to commit and get it done when you have a like-minded group around you. It’s a good support network.
At Ironman Carins last year you went close to winning but a bike penalty took away any hope for the number 1 spot. You didn’t die wondering and ran hard never giving up on the thought that you could take the title. What did that race do for your confidence?
The penalty hurt, considering I was one of the strongest guys in the chase group. Going into the run I was pretty upset and started off at a ridiculous pace. It gave me the confidence to know that I can go that quick, if not even quicker for over the marathon distance.
The interesting thing about Cairns last year was that it was run off literally no specific Ironman preparation at all. Tim was going to Cairns to race the 70.3 and a week out came to me and said he was feeling very strong with his running. In my opinion, when Tim is fit he is one of the strongest athletes in the closing stages in the world. When he feels it and believes it, he can be unstoppable, so his switch to Ironman last year a week out was a no-brainer. I knew he would run hard over the back end. The fact that he ran a 2:44 into a ranging headwind is no real surprise from my point of view. When he is fit his pure aerobic speed is incredible. He has the capacity to run very fast for low aerobic cost for a very long time without eroding. I’ve seen Tim running sub 4-minute km’s in between fartlek sets on recovery when everyone is at a trot. This is Tim’s x-factor and I think it’s what makes him so dangerous. I’m sure it was a shot in the arm for him, but for a long-term view, I feel Tim Berkel has a lot left in the tank. This year will be his first Kona but if anyone can run fast in Kona, Tim can. I have no doubt that he has the goods for a top Kona performance going forward.
Going into Cairns last year we spoke at length before the race and on paper, you really weren’t prepared 100% to race an Ironman. How has your lead-up gone this year? Why have you gone to Boulder at this stage?
Training is going really well. I am doing a specific Ironman block for the race as I’m hungry to go well. I am training in Boulder because I believe the altitude works well for me. I gain good strength and aerobic speed from training here. I have had 3 big wins from training in Boulder.
Tim has had two Ironman wins off his preparation in Boulder. I don’t think altitude is for everyone, but for Tim, it works very well. I feel it fast tracks his aerobic speed and strength that underpins all great performances. The fact that it’s very difficult to train up there intensely doesn’t seem to matter to Tim, as the benefits he gains aerobically far outweigh any deficits he may have from the lack of intense work. From my perspective, in terms of this lead-up, I couldn’t be happier with where he is at. He strength and speed were at very good levels before moving into this preparation, as evidenced in his win at Busselton 70.3 and a new course record, and his consistent well-handled pace of 1:13.
His swimming currently is the strongest I’ve seen and he has good bike strength going in. I’m always a fan of athletes going into an Ironman preparation race fit “the dynamic that it brings is unquestionable in my book and with 2 wins under his belt already he is on top of a great lead-in.