'Zinc Out Loud!' with pro triathlete & coach Joe Gambles
Pro triathlete and coach Joe Gambles shares his more technical approach to training and coaching. And he’s got a new tech gadget you gotta check out!
Zealios: How’s is life going in the wonderful world of Joe Gambles? New house? Chasing kids? And how’s triathlon life?
Joe Gambles: I’m tired! Yeah it’s been a busy year with a full house. We have a 17 month boy and he keeps us on our toes and being right in the middle of the race season... It’s a balancing act for sure.
Triathlon wise, I have my last chance to qualify for Kona in 2 weeks at Ironman Mont Tremblant. So it’s go time.
I’m feeling good. My performance especially at this year’s 70.3’s haven’t reflected the training I’ve been doing, due to some bad luck. So hopefully that’s all behind me and I can put together another good Ironman after my 2nd place at Ironman Boulder a few weeks ago.
Z: Wow, race season in full swing for you.
Last time we caught up was at 70.3 Oceanside, and after throwing it out there during our Tube Talk interview, your fanbase wants to know what pre-race song your wife picked for you?
JG: She keeps talking about giving me one this season, but no she hasn’t given me one!
Z: Maybe that’s the problem. You might need one!
JG: Ha! I should take note of that!
Honestly, race mornings just seem so rushed this year. I don’t even put my headphones in half the time. The time just disappears and before you know it you’re on the start line ready to swim.
For Ironman Tremblant I’ll definitely get my wife to pick a new song. Lately I have been listening to a lot of Metallica and reliving my youth.
Z: Early Metallica I hope…
JG: Of course.
Z: So Oceanside was the start to the season, how have things been going for you? I know you made some pretty big changes to your schedule by not competing in the Asia Pacific Championships and choosing Ironman Boulder instead. Is everything shaking out ok?
Photo cred Jeff Yingling @whistlepig56
JG: Mont Tremblant is one of the last Ironman races this year you can qualify for Kona. As long as I have a good race I should qualify. Then 8 weeks later, turn around and race Kona.
The short turnaround could be a blessing and curse. Because when you race that close you’ve obviously already prepared for one Ironman and you get the benefit of competing in another and you get a fitness boost from all that as well.
After Tremblant, I’ll be forced to take at least 2 weeks of easy recovery and those last 6 weeks are for fine tuning. So I feel as long as I can get my head around racing another Ironman, which Kona is a pretty easy race to get yourself motivated, then I’ll be good.
Physically this might work better too, because I’ve only got 6 weeks to dig myself a hole as opposed to the guys that have started preparing for Kona 16 weeks out. I’ve tried that before and sometimes you get a month before the race and it’s game over and you know it. You’ve done too much.
Hopefully I’ll let you know how it goes after I race Kona (the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii) and have a good race.
Z: With your race experience and many years in the sport it’s going to be a fun next couple of weeks and months.
How did you pick your races this season?
JG: My focus is on full Ironmans and qualifying for Kona. And that requires working out the best way to get points to qualify. My plan was always to do 2 full Ironmans this year and using the 70.3 distance as a build up. So in terms of planning out my year, I have to work backwards.
This year I started my training on January 1st or 2nd I guess… depending on how big New Years was. Which, nevermind, it isn’t big anymore…
Z: Ha! Ha!
JG: I don’t think I’ve actually made it to midnight for probably the last 3 years!
The 2 full Ironmans were to give myself 2 realistic shots at winning an Ironman title, qualifying for Kona, and putting together a strong race at Kona. Hopefully all goes well for me and I could sneak into the top 10 at Kona.
I took 2nd at Ironman Boulder and I think I was only 3 or 4 minutes behind 1st place. Ironman Tremblant was definitely looking good for a possible title until Lionel Sanders decided he’s going to race it.
JG: Right?! He says he’s using it as a training race... I’m just hoping I can put together a good race and stay within the same zip code as him. Ha! ‘Cause if he’s on his top form, he’s pretty much unbeatable.
Also it has positives because I want to put in a good showing to at least give him a good race. I’m a better swimmer than him and depending on how well I swim, I could come out with a lead and hopefully fend him off. At the end of the day it’s still a race and anything can happen.
Z: Definitely an added challenge to an already big challenge of pushing yourself.
JG: Mont Tremblant is an amazing course. I raced World Championships in 2014 and I was 6th in the 70.3 World Champs and the full course is basically twice what we did.
The race suits my strengths, it’s pretty undulating on the bike and same on the run. It’s really well supported and the community gets behind the race. And I’m bringing my mother along for support!
Z: That’s awesome. That’s good support there! We’ll be following along on our Ironman Apps and cheering for you out there.
Z: You seem to be really into data with your training. You keep a log of what you eat, workouts and monitor your vitals. Would you say that your training and approach to the sport is more data-driven than most?
JG: It’s probably slightly above average.
I think that’s where the sport is going these days. You have heart rate monitors which have been around for years and now everyone seems to have a power meter nowadays and there’s a new company Stryd that measure your economy when running, like your vertical versus horizontal oscillation on how efficient you are covering ground coupled with cadence and heart rate.
I’ve gone more in the technology and data in the last couple of years probably because after I got injured, which I‘d never been injured before, I had to take a few steps back and figure out why I got hurt. There was a year where I was injured off and on and it was really frustrating.
Also, with a family I have to be more time efficient. I don’t have 35-40 hours a week to train. Which a lot of guys will do, but you question how much of that is junk. I know, because I used to do that.
I’m 36 years old and I’ve been doing this sport for 24 years and seriously for like 20 years now. I know the training is there and I’ve done the work so I now try to do least amount of the training for the most benefit.
If I was training for 35 hours a week I might not be where I am now. By training smarter with technology and data, my biggest weeks are 26-27 hours.
But seriously… if you want to geek out, Joe’s race recaps are full of data points and lists of all his race day gear. See his IM Boulder recap here.
Z: There’s a lot of metrics out there for athletes to look at like heart rate, cadence, power, etc...
What do you think is an important piece of data that most athletes should pay more attention to?
JG: From a more personal level, I’ve been looking at heart rate a lot these days. After going on a long bike ride with my friend and one of the top cyclisting coaches in the world, Ben Day, he advocates for using heart rate for lower intensity work.
Unless you’re racing Olympic distance triathlons everything you do is sub threshold work all the time, so heart rate is a great indication especially for me to tell how tired I am. I know if I can’t get my heart rate up to a certain zone, it’s because I’m tired and need another rest day.
Z: Do you have a favorite tech gadget that you use? We’ve seen you post about a finger monitor thing (that’s our super technical description of it anyway…)
JG: Ha! It’s a device called Masimo. You put it on your finger and in 30 seconds it gives you your current heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiration rate and blood circulation.
I use it mainly in the morning when I get up to measure how recovered I am. If my heart rate is higher than normal I may not be recovered from the day before.
With the oxygen saturation, you want to keep an eye on it because it can get low when you’re in a big training block.
While taking your heart rate first thing in the morning has been around for a long time, the device allows you to upload the data to your phone and share. It’s an extra layer of data that you can see when you may have over done it and modify your training moving forward.
Z: We’ll have to look into that!
So first and foremost you are an athlete but in 2016, you also decided to add the challenge of coaching into the mix and started working with Heather Jackson. Can you tell us how that came about?
JG: Coaching as always been in the back of my mind as a transition from racing for me. It’s how I’m wired. I see how people swim and bike and I can’t keep my mouth shut... I’m always trying to help people.
I’ve known Heather for a long time. I went out to Bend and was hanging out with Heather and Wattie. We did a few swims together and shortly after they asked me if I would be interested in coaching her and I was like, ‘Of course!’.
I thought I might get into coaching when I finished racing in 3 or 4 years, but it was such a great opportunity and I could see a handful of things that I could help in Heather’s training. I also wanted to see her reach her potential as an athletes and friend. It’s been great, she’s amazing to work with.
If I could have ten Heathers to coach post-racing career, I would really enjoy that. We work really well together. I think communication is really important. If the athlete and/or the coach aren’t communicating well you’re pushing shit uphill. That might be more important than the actual training.
Z: Do you find it challenging to balance being a coach and an athlete?
JG: No, I think it compliments my own training. I actually coach myself and I try a lot of the stuff on myself before I give it to Heather. It makes me think about my own training because it’s easy to take a step back and tell an athlete that’s too much, but then you find yourself doing that as an athlete and pushing too hard sometimes.
Photo cred Wattie Ink @wattieink
Coaching one athlete is so easy and Heather is so receptive and easy to coach. she’s not an athlete you have to motivate, I only explain to her the why behind the training and she gets it.
I’m excited to take on more athletes. But for right now it’s a great balance between family, my own athletic career and coaching Heather is ideal.
Z: Let’s talk nutrition. You’ve been a lifelong vegetarian. How did you come to be a vegetarian? Having never eaten a piece of meat, EVER, did it start with your parents?
JG: It actually started with my grandparents on my dad’s side. 5 of out of the 7 children are vegetarian.
For me, it never made sense to eat something that was out running around enjoying life. I don’t see much difference between a say a dog and a cow. So, yes, it was the way I was brought up. My parents, sister and younger brother are strict vegetarians as well and I guess I saw it as more ethical and I loved animals too much to eat them as a child. Then I learned more and saw the actual health and environmental benefits.
I’m actually transitioning to remove dairy from my diet. Which I have to be very careful. I’ve always been particular about the quality of dairy I eat and I’ve relied on those calories from dairy as an athlete.
So I’m trialling things now and removing one thing at a time. First thing I removed was milk. There wasn’t really a need for it. There are so many good alternatives like coconut yogurt or hemp milk. Cheese is a little harder to substitute. Eggs are easy on my own but they put eggs in so many things you buy and can be challenging when traveling.
It’s a learning curve and I’m not rushing it because it’s my athletic career. Veganism works well for a lot of people and it’s better for the environment, something I’m passionate about.
Z: So was it the athletic performance or environmental impact that pushed you to test out veganism?
JG: Well, I would definitely struggle more if I didn’t live in Boulder and have so many good vegan options. I think the environmental aspect leads for me. The dairy industry as a whole maybe isn’t the best thing for the environment nor the best in how the animals are treated. There are good sources of dairy, but it’s not like I have a cow in the backyard with chickens.
But also the health aspect is important to me. I never felt good having milk based products especially before training. It didn’t sit well in my stomach. Now I have granola with hemp milk or coconut yogurt and I can run out the door 5 minutes later. That would never happen if I had cow’s milk.
Check out Joe’s Veggie page. He breaks down his “old” non-vegan diet and how he’s altered meals to be vegan. Like this delish veggie pie!
Z: What has been the biggest challenge of becoming a vegan? Besides the dumb questions from people? Ha!
JG: No question, my wife eating cheese in front of me. She really likes cheese.
Z: We get that. Cheese is extremely likable.
Z: And as we end things up here, we’re dying to know… what’s your favorite Zealios product and why?
JG: The Sun Barrier. I use it everyday.
The sun is pretty harsh in Colorado so having that zinc in there I find I’m not fried even if I forget to reapply after a 5 hour ride.
It absorbs really well. I always put it on 15 minutes before I head out. It doesn’t stop me from sweating or run into my eyes.
I seriously have a tubes stashed everywhere, in my swim bag, bathroom draw, everywhere. We get over 300 days of sunshine in Colorado so sunscreen is crucial.
Z: As always, it was great catching up with you and thank you for your time. We’ll be cheering for you at Ironman Mont Tremblant! Good luck man.
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