[00:00] Introduction/About Sami Inkinen
[02:53] Sami’s Training Philosophy
[08:26] A Typical Training Week for Sami
[14:00] Sami’s Swim Strategy
[17:21] Sami’s Cycling Training Strategy
[20:22] Good Running Strategies for Sami
[23:18] What Sami Does for Recovery
[26:33] Sami’s Diet
[29:30] Does Sami Use Any Tools
[36:16] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, folks. It’s Ben Greenfield, and today we are going to be talking about how to maximize your triathlon success with minimal training time. And whether or not you’re into triathlons, you’re probably going to get a lot out of this interview in terms of learning how to choose workouts and a way to exercise that’s going to allow you to get the most bang for your buck and not waste a lot of time with your training. The person who we’re going to be talking to today is certainly someone who has shown that you can do very, very well when it comes, especially to triathlon, with the kind of quality-over-quantity type of training approach.
Sami Inkinen is with us today, and Sami was the overall age grouper champion at the Wildflower Long Course Triathlon last year, which for any of you who know about triathlon here in the US, know that to be not only one of the more competitive, but also one of the tougher courses, really, in the world when it comes to triathlon. He was the overall age grouper champion also at the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, at the Ironman World Championships 70.3 Race in Las Vegas last year. He was the age group world champion for the highly competitive 35 to 39-year old age group. And he also raced, and I believe has raced multiple times in Kona, but he was second in that age group in Kona and raced an 8:58 at Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. And Sami is also an extremely active, basically he’s involved with a hectic work schedule, but he was involved with the company Trulia down in San Francisco, a San Francisco-based real estate search company. He stays very busy with his work life and really needs to train minimally, but is able to put out these fantastic performances despite his busy work schedule and the fact that he’s a successful CEO. So, Sami, thank you for coming on the call today. I’m excited to talk to you about your training and your training philosophy.
Sami: Yeah. Hi, Ben. Thanks for having me. It’s a privilege and pleasure to be, I’m happy to share some of the things that I’ve found useful in my own training and life.
Ben: So, with this unique approach to training, let’s first of all just kind of the cover the bases. What is your philosophy when it comes to triathlon training and kind of melding triathlon training with your busy and successful life?
Sami: Well first, I love exercising. I love going out for bike rides with my wife, running on trails, and doing all kinds of exercising. And I think, to some extent, that has been part of my life since pretty much the very beginning. But training, to me, it’s very different from exercising. To me, training is sort of goal focused activity to really maximize your performance on a race day. To some extent it appears to me that a lot of people exercise to prepare for a race. But when I train, I would say there’s probably two key ingredients that most often is surprising to people, particularly other triathletes when I talk about my training. And I think the first for me is I take a lot of recovery so that I’m almost always either fully or very well-recovered to start a new week. In other words, I don’t really put up or dig a huge hole over two, or three, or four months of very hard training and then try to miraculously recover over three weeks or two weeks of taper and hope that, come race day, I’m super fresh. So, that’s probably one thing that’s often quite surprising to people when I talk about my training, taking a lot of recovery. And then two, secondly, which probably is even more surprising to people is I really train about 10 hours a week, even do a 10, or nine, or eight-hour race that’s at Ironman. And many other semi-recreational athletes who do this stuff for fun, and that particular goes [0:04:55] ______ for the kind of results that I am train 20 plus hours per week. So, that’s probably the other thing, that I train way less, but bring a lot of intensity into my training. So, those are probably the two things that most often are piqued by others and people have a lot of questions. “How’s that possible,” and “Why are you doing it that way?”
Ben: How long have you been involved with triathlon, Sami?
Sami: That’s a good question, yeah. I had my very first triathlon in 2004 when I was in business school at Stanford. One of my friends encouraged me to just sign up. So, that was eight years ago. And I only had zero experience with, for example, swimming. I could barely float in a pool. I had four months before I signed up. And funny enough, it was a Wildflower Long Course that I signed up for moments before the race. So, that was 2004. And I didn’t even own a road bike. I bought my first road bike from eBay, a trek bike for about 900 to 1,000 bucks. That was 2004, eight years ago. And then during the business school, I did one or two races a year for two years. Then I co-founded Trulia, and life was so hectic and I moved to San Francisco and I thought it was impossible to figure out where to swim and where to bike. So, I actually had two, I think almost three years that I didn’t really, I didn’t do any triathlons for two year. So, out of the last eight years, I’ve raced, or done races for five years. And two years, I was kind of off.
Ben: Gotcha. So, basically, it’s not like you grew up as an extremely competitive swimmer, cyclist, runner and you’re relying on years, and years, and years of honed in experience. Triathlon is something you got into relatively late in life, right?
Sami: Well, yeah. Absolutely. I was, well, I guess I’m beginning to be an old man by now. But doing the math, I guess I was 29 when I did my first triathlon. It would wrong to say that I didn’t do any sports and I just sort of ran out of the office and started exercising. I grew up in London definitely outdoors was a big part of my life and did some cross-country skiing, that kind of thing. But when it comes to specifically cycling and swimming, I really had no experience. Obviously running, it’s something that all the people do, and I played a little bit of soccer here and there. So, I was an active child.
Ben: Yeah. That’s interesting that you bring up the fact that you think that a lot of people focus on exercising as a way to prepare for a race rather than really doing exercise sessions that simulate what’s going to be experience on race day and I suspect that’s a big, big key to your success. But let’s go ahead and jump down into the nuts and bolts when we look at a typical week of swimming, and cycling, and running, and how that philosophy of doing race-specific preparation works for you. What’s a typical week look like for you? A typical, one of these kinds of like 10-hour training weeks for something like an Ironman?
Sami: Yeah. First, looking at sort of all throughout the week, like I said, I probably train, when I’m really training, 10 to 12 hours a week. And then when I’m taking it easy and may not do a longer workout weekend, it might be seven or eight hours a week. So, that’s sort of the overall volume. I pretty much all the time work out in the morning. So, I train about an hour to an hour and a half each morning during the week and then a little longer workout during the weekend, and I can say that exclusively only train once a day. I can probably count with one hand in all the three years that I’ve done two or three workouts a day. So, that’s on a high level. In addition to that, I basically take one day fully off, and then maybe another day that’s a very easy. About two almost complete recovery days per week. And then in terms of specific workouts, swimming, I try to get to pool three times a week. There might be one, sort of a real one-hour workout, and the others 30 minutes or less, which I usually do after running or after cycling, so I don’t need to waste time going to shower two times or anything like that. So, maybe three times the pool, one is the sort of a little longer workout.
Ben: Now for…
Sami: Go ahead.
Ben: Well, I was just going to interrupt you about swimming. When you say like a longer work out, like a one hour workout for swimming, I know a lot of triathletes, specifically like Ironman triathletes, for the one-hour swim for example, they might just get in the water and literally swim for an hour. Just steady. Is that what you were doing or do you have certain sessions that you do for an hour of swimming?
Sami: Yeah, never. I never do anything like one-hour steady. I don’t think it’s a good use of time. If I’m on a vacation and I’m by a beautiful, beautiful lake, maybe I’ll do once or twice a year, swim an hour in the lake, open water. But I don’t think it’s a very effective and efficient use of training time to just swim one hour. Particularly in swimming because, as we all know, the water resistance is so high, so technique plays such a huge part in, way bigger part than fitness, a lot to biking and cycling. If you really want to get your technique right, even if there’s no coach standing by the pool, doing shorter intervals instead where you really focus on your technique and kind of focusing on technique gives much better bang for the buck. I never do 30 or 60 minutes just straight swim.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay. Cool.
Sami: You want me to continue your question and sort of just go quickly through those sort of swim, bike, run, what do I do?
Ben: Yeah, definitely.
Sami: So, that’s kind of the swim. Biking, I only ride once a week outside, and that’s usually Saturday and it’s sort of a semi-social ride with my wife. It could be anywhere from three to four hours. And then I do two additional rides on a trainer. About an hour, sometimes an hour and 15, maybe sometimes maybe an hour and 20, for about 70, 80 minutes on bike trainer. And these are the real interval sets that I do. So, three bike rides a week. And then running, usually two real runs. One is sort of a long run during the weekends. But even for an Ironman, I very rarely run more than 90 minutes at a time. So, hour and a half. So, that’s two real runs. One is a little longer, and another one some kind of interval set. And then I might sprinkle a few 10 or 15-minute runs here and there. It might be running to my pool for 10 minutes, and then swimming there for 30, and running home, or I might do a five or 10-minute quick break or just rest my legs after being on a training. It’s mostly two real runs and then one very short one. So, that’s kind of how the 10 to 12 hours, when I’m doing training, where it comes from. About an hour, hour and a half each morning, and then on the weekends, it’s a three, four-hour ride, and then maybe just an hour and a half run on Sunday.
Ben: Yeah. That training-once-a-day philosophy, I think, is something that perhaps a lot of people don’t really realize how much extra time that can free up alone just in terms of not having to shower twice, and prepare for a workout twice, and do everything twice in a day, which I know adds up for a lot of Ironman triathletes. As far as swimming, what’s an example of a swim session or a swim strategy that you would say gives you the most bang for your buck from a time management perspective? Like a favorite swim session or a swim approach that you use that you think works really, really well in allowing you to maximize your time in the pool?
Sami: Yeah. Well first off, like I said, I absolutely didn’t grow up swimming and I’m a pretty crappy swimmer, very crappy swimmer. It’s a skill. So, I don’t know how qualified I am to answer that. I did swim 56-minute something Ironman swim three weeks ago in Sweden in a wetsuit. So, it’s an okay age grouper time. But I’m no swimmer by any means. But what gives most bang for the buck, well first of all, like I said earlier, water resistance is so significant compared to air when you’re running and biking. That technique rather than fitness, I think, is so much more important. So, I would say, with very limited time, I would say frequent 20 to 25 minutes, yeah, that short, frequent 20 to 25 minute swims throughout the week, that would include very technique-focused swimming with a snorkel, which helps very much with the body positioning. And then maybe something like…
Ben: With a snorkel?
Sami: With a snorkel, yes. And then maybe something like 10 times, 50-yard sprint with some recovery. You can do that in 20 minutes. If I could do that five times a week, I’d be extremely happy. I think something like that could have amazing bang for the buck. So, if you would swim that five times a week, that 100 minutes, the one hour, 40 minutes swimming a week, which is probably as much as one big monster set, I think that would have a huge, huge impact. And if you could do it, let’s say you go and do some treadmill running at a gym and the pool is right by the treadmill, the transaction cost of hopping into the pool from the treadmill is very low. You only need to take a shower once and you just need to change your running pants into swimming pants. So, something like that would be very time efficient. And the reason I say that is, one, in that 20 minutes, you can do a little bit of high intensity like 10 times 50 yards. And then the reason I mentioned snorkel is I think the body positioning in swimming, given the water resistance, is probably the most important factor in how fast you will move in the water. And I found that as a crappy swimmer, moving your head when you breathe makes it very difficult to really optimize and learn the feel when you are very straight and smooth, and you sort of glide downhill in the water. But having a snorkel and doing relatively easy steps with the snorkel have been very, very helpful for me in trying to find the right body positioning. That’s definitely something I learned from an open water swim coach. It wasn’t something I discovered myself. But that would be piece of advice to others who don’t come from a swimming background.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay. Now how about cycling? In terms of cycling, a cycling session or a cycling strategy that you think is best when it comes to time management and quality when it comes to triathlon training?
Sami: Yeah. I think my staple workout is, it’s 60 or 70 minutes in a trainer. I hop on a trainer, which I have in my bedroom, or other bedroom, not in the main bedroom. It’s 15 to 20 minutes of warm up spinning, ramp up the work a little bit. And then about 20 minutes of actual interval time. I could be 10 times two minutes, five times four minutes, four times five minutes, whatever. I don’t think that’s very important. And then a couple of minutes to recover in between each interval. You accumulate about 20 minutes, depending on how [0:17:57] ______ you are today and what kind of race you’re training for. The power and the effort may change, but basically hitting 20 minutes hard, and then for me, that could be five times four minutes at, whatever, 370 watts, 360 watts. It doesn’t matter what the watts are because it’s very individual. And then, maybe there’s five minutes of cool down spinning. It takes 60 or 70 minutes. Extremely effective. It’s hard, but it’s still fitness like nothing else. And I’ve seen that happen to me year after year, a lot of the research that I read and what other coaches I subscribe to, sort of the higher intensity philosophy, I [0:18:42] ______ other things.
Ben: Now, do you do more of your cycling training indoors?
Sami: Like I said, I’d only ride outside once a week and then two indoor sets in-house, inside. So, frequency wise, yes. Definitely more on trainer. Time-wise, I might do a little bit more outside ’cause once you go out by the weekend, I really ride less than two and a half or three hours. So, I probably have more time on the saddle. But riding outside is extremely time inefficient, unless you happen to live in the middle of a forest with beautiful paved roads with no stop signs and no traffic light. And even then, you have downhills and it’s difficult to do those intervals without interruption. So, me discovering the CompuTrainer, I think it was 2009, 2008, was like a massive change in my training and also a massive change in terms of results. It was the best thing, really for me, living a hectic life and living in a city. Absolutely fantastic tool.
Ben: Yeah. So, the CompuTrainer, indoor cycling, and kind of avoiding a lot of that management of having to get ready to ride outdoors and deal with traffic and all those issues, it sounds like it has worked out pretty well for you as far as that goes. How about running? What have you found to be some of the keys to a good strategy for running?
Sami: Actually, very similar to cycling. I would say if there’s one type of workout that I would not like to skip if I’m preparing for a race or triathlon [0:20:36] ______ , that would be a 50 or 60-minute run where I do, similar to cycling, 15, 20 minute easy running, some easy sprints, some drilling just to sort of warm up. And then accumulating maybe 15 minutes or 20 minutes of actual interval time. And for running, something easy could be 10 or 15 times, one minute with just a one-minute recovery, best average pace from start to finish. A very hard workout, but if your fitness is very very bad. And surprisingly so, it doesn’t just build fitness for a 5K race, I use this as a workout even for Ironman. And although this is totally anecdotal, this is how I trained for three weeks leading into Ironman Sweden three weeks ago. And I ran 2:56 marathon. My longest training run was 90 minutes before the race, and my interval sets were basically running 300 or 400 meters intervals on a track. So, 60 seconds at a time with one minute recovery, 10 or 15 of them, trying to keep the average strong pace from start to finish, throughout all the intervals. [0:22:05] ______ was my threshold pace or my easy fat-burning Ironman pace. Everything just kept going up very, very rapidly. So, that would be my time efficient prescription for run training, based on my own personal experience.
Ben: Yeah. And certainly something that is not maybe mentally easy, but far less time consuming than the type of sets that you’ll hear a lot of triathletes who are training for Ironman especially doing, like three one-hour sessions a week and then another two to three-hour run on the weekend, which is fairly typical among the Ironman training crowd. So, it’s interesting. So, you’re doing, a lot similar to cycling, a lot of the shorter intervals. So, you mentioned that you do quite a bit of recovery you take that full rest day a week and you track recovery quite a bit. Do you use specific tools to manage recovery, whether it be to track recovery or to actually enhance your recovery on those days that you are recovering? Like foam rollers, or compression gear, or things of that nature?
Sami: Actually, when it comes to, especially with the recovery tools that you mentioned, the simple answer is none. I really use none of them. And based on research that I’ve read, most of the recovery, what I call recovery crap, is pretty much all related, whether it’s isocompression, or painkillers, or, you name it, you can spend an unlimited amount of money or unlimited amount time doing all kinds of tricks. There’s only three huge for recovery tricks, if you will, that I use and that have worked, and there’s research that shows that they work. The three things that are really useful for recovery, one, and the most important to me, is sufficient sleep. That’s when you produce growth hormone and all other great things happen in your body. So, sufficient sleep. And two is the right kind of real, pure food for nutrition. And no nutrition fix, just right, real food right after exercise, right after training, and throughout the day. And then three, it’s just a sufficient number of those easy rest days. So, to me, those tricks, if you will, those sort of three things, and everything else is either nothing or rounding error compared to those three things. And every time I meet one of those, especially if I miss for a longer period of time, things start truly falling apart and the sleep is probably, at least in my body, is most sensitive and so I’ve tried having off of four, three, and five hours nights of sleep and it’s just a recipe for disaster.
So, those are the building blocks that I have used for recovering that has worked very well. And another thing is, just sort of a minor thing, but when you’re living a very, very busy life, I may have an hour or hour and a half in the morning to do something, and even if I have a recovery day, I do try to invest that into some kind of useful training. Typically, that means swimming with a technique focus. So, if I take a Monday off, which usually is my rest day, it doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything. It might mean that I walked to my pool, and then I do 20 or 30 minutes of very easy drills, swimming drills in the pool, which doesn’t really create any kind of metabolic stress in my body as far as swimming goes. I could still use that 60 minutes that I have in the morning, 6 AM, a lot of the time I go, to somehow improve my training towards my race. Someone might call it active recovery, but I just call it trying-to-use-the-time-efficiently-rather-than-just-sit-and-read-the-morning-newspaper.
Ben: Yeah. And you mention, in terms of real high-quality food as being one of the components that you consider to be important for recovery. Do you actually have a specific diet that you follow?
Sami: Not really. I call it a lifestyle. Outsiders will look at my eating and they may say, “Oh, wow. You really have kind of a special diet”. But for me, it’s lifestyle and it’s pretty simple. What I eat and do is I eat lots of fat, carbohydrates during and after workout. And that could be in the form of gels, oatmeal, white bread, whatever it is. Lots of fat, carbs during and after workouts ’cause I want to get the most out of my workouts, particularly when I do high intensity. Almost exclusively, your body is using carbohydrates as a fuel. There’s no point in trying to do high intensity intervals and then you have to cut them back 20 or 15% intensity because you aren’t fueling the sugar needs that you have. So, around workout, lots of fats, carbs. And then throughout the day, all other meals, it’s very simple. Just a huge amount of vegetables and then protein from fish, or chicken, or beans, or something else. But that’s very simple. Lots of carbs around workouts and then veggies and, I guess you could say lean proteins outside of that. But very, very simple.
Ben: Yeah. So, you’re keeping your blood sugar levels from fluctuating too much by timing those carbohydrates to be more around the workout than before you go to bed at night?
Sami: Yeah. And I noticed many other reasons why I do this, but if I were to focus, my head gets very distracted if I start shooting fast sugars into my bloodstream, whether it’s, whatever it might be. If I feel much more focused than down consider the energy. But also, it’s important to fuel your muscle cells with carbohydrates. You don’t want to fuel your fat cells with carbohydrates, and one way to avoid that is to make sure that all these sugary stuff that you do need, you only take it around your workouts as opposed to in the evening before you go to bed or five hours after the workout.
Ben: Right. Yeah. That makes sense. Now, in terms of training, many triathletes are big into data, and tracking, and doing most of the bicycling intervals with power or the running intervals with speed or GPS. Are you using many tools when it comes to power meters, heart rate monitors, GPS, et cetera?
Sami: Good question. A fair amount. I’m not a huge fan of GPS while running, except for when you run outside. The terrain changes so rapidly, so the pace is all over the place. But the things that I really use is power on the bike. So, that could be CompuTrainer, that shows power. I also use PowerTap, especially when racing, and then if I do key workouts on the road. So, power is a very useful, has been a very, very useful tool for me that brings objectivity into your cycling workout. And then in running, I actually do a fair amount of my intensity workouts on treadmill. And again, it’s like power meter, it brings objectivity. You set a certain pace and you run two minutes there, there’s no slacking and there’s no changing. And the weather and the conditions totally change. So, that’s on running. And then heart rate monitor would be the third thing that I do use on the bike, and on the run, and even in racing. But it’s more of a tool to see what’s happening in my body. I don’t really prescribe workouts for myself based on heart rate. I use power and pace. And then heart rate tells me that, is everything okay, have I recovered, if my heart rate is too high, or some of those things that are pretty well-reflected in your heart rate.
Ben: Right. And you also, I noticed because I visited your blog. And by the way, for those of you folks listening in, I’ll link to Sami’s blog, he’s got some great articles on that as well about his training and other concepts as well. It’s over at samiinkinen.com. I’ll link to that in the show notes for this episode. But I noticed that you also use Restwise to track recovery. Is that something you’re still doing as well?
Sami: Oh, yeah. I definitely should have mentioned that. It could be a really nice, simple tool. Well, I don’t know if simple is a fair word. It’s complicated, I guess, on the back end, in their algorithms, but it’s very simple to use. What I use that for, and I thought of using it last year, is for tracking recovery and bringing objectivity to recovery. I’ve done a fair amount, that might be clear from a lot of my answers, same amount of high intensity training, and although the volume is much less, you can definitely do too much of it, and I think I was doing a little bit too much of it a couple of years to go and I wanted a way to be more objective about it. Is my body really ready for another or the next hard session? And Restwise, I’ve found to be such a tool that if you just, there’s a couple questions each morning that you answer, then it plots out the number percentage from 0 to 100%, how well-recovered you are. After using it for several months, then I sort of developed a much better internal sensor, an ability to, when I wake up, I kind of know, okay, how’s my body feeling and is it time to actually do the workout I was going to do, or should I take a day off, or just do a very, very easy recovery workout. I would encourage people to check it out. I’m not sponsored or anything like that, athlete by them. So, it’s just a tool that I’ve found to be useful and it’s pretty cheap and easy to use.
Ben: Yeah. We’ve actually had those guys on this podcast before, talking about their system. So, I’ll certainly link to that for folks as well. Sami, we’re starting to run short on time. This has been great information so far. But I’m curious, are you honing in on other Ironman here? What are your plans next?
Sami: So, like I said, I did Ironman Sweden three weeks ago, which was really my first real race. It’s a little special in terms of my time use and what I’ve been able to do and I…
Ben: And how did Sweden go?
Sami: It was an amazing race. I do have to say I went 8:24 in an Ironman, which was way faster than I expected. And on top of that, became the overall amateur champion, which made me very, very happy. And as a result, I also got my Kona spot, which I didn’t have before the race. So, I took it. So, in a couple of weeks, I guess four or five weeks from now, I’m going to Hawaii to give another shot there and see how things go there. So, that’s really the only race ahead of me an I’m excited to go and challenge myself and have fun on a big island again.
Ben: Awesome. Well, this is a unique training approach, but one that has obviously freed you up to have a lot of success in business. And you also, I believe, have a family as well. Correct?
Sami: Well, I have a wife. That’s the extent of family I have. We have no puppies, or kittens, or kids. Just two.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha. But you’re still up to quite a few other activities outside of triathlons, as I can tell over on your website. So, folks, I’ll provide some resources for you in the show notes here and link over to Sami’s website. But just an amazing example of what you can do in terms of maximizing your triathlon success with minimal training time when you actually have the correct training approach. So, hopefully today’s podcast just gives you a little bit of insight into how you can set it up and how somebody like Sami does amazing. 8:24 at Ironman Sweden. When was that? Two weeks ago, three weeks ago? Is that what you said?
Sami: Yeah, three weeks ago.
Ben: Yeah. And be the overall amateur champ. And certainly keep your eyes on Sami in Ironman Hawaii this year as well, where I’m sure you’ll be able to watch him do more amazing things. So, Sami, thank you so much for coming on the call today and sharing this stuff with us.
Sami: Yes. Thanks a lot! It was fun. And hopefully there’s some nuggets of information to your listeners. Thanks so much for having me.
In today’s audio episode, you’re going to learn the best way to implement a “triathlon training minimal time” approach, in a insider interview with Ironman champion Sami Inkinen, who trains just 8-12 hours per week.
Sami is just coming off an amateur Ironman winning time of 8:24 at Ironman Sweden, and last year, his finishes included:
- Overall amateur champion at Wildflower Triathlon Long Course
- Overall amateur champion at Hawaii 70.3. Ironman
- Age group world champion at Ironman 70.3. distance in Las Vegas
- Age group world champion runner up at Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, with an 8:58:59 Kona performance
Sami has a busy work life that only allows him a maximum of about 12 hours per week to train, and in our interview, he reveals his secrets, including:
-What 99% of Ironman triathletes do wrong…
-How a typical week of Sami’s triathlon training goes…
-Sami’s top swim sessions and strategies (including the use of a swimming snorkel)…
-How the combination of indoor cycling and a Computrainer can save you tons of time…
-Sami’s top run workout on the track…
-How Sami uses something called Restwise to track recovery, and what he really thinks about other training recovery tools…
-What Sami eats and what he avoids eating…
-And much more!
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