It is a true reflection of Jason Shortis’ career that he chose to give his first post-retirement interview from Ironman events with YOURIRONGUIDE, an athlete supported site. This speaks volumes as to the way he operated during his stellar career and embraced our sport.
I was lucky enough to run on course with “Shorto” for a while during his last race at IMWA a couple of weeks ago. I chatted briefly with him and also shared some aid station nutrition. In that space of time, I had the opportunity to see the outpouring of support he had while smashing out his final marathon run. Cheers and calls came from everywhere and it was obvious to see how well respected he is in IM circles. It also gave me the opportunity to let him know what an honour it was to join him for his final dance.
Jason began his professional career back in 1992 at Forster IM Australia. Since then he has won IM events in 4 different countries and twice won our iconic local Busselton edition (2004 and 2006). In 2006 he set an Australian record of 8:03 there.
Those results don’t do justice however to Jason’s standing in the sport. I remember a story of an age grouper at IMWA not too many years back that found when he put his bike in to transition the day before the race, his tyre had blown. Frantic to find a solution to the problem, “Shorto” told the age grouper not to worry and the tyre would be fixed ready for the race. Sure enough the next day, Jason delivered it ready for action for the worried athlete. Stories like this gave him the “people’s champion” tag where he seemed approachable to mere mortals like us.
This week, YOURIRONGUIDE was given exclusive access to Shorto and a chance to ask questions about his amazing journey so enjoy (and perhaps learn a little from his years of knowledge).
Shorto, your career started back at the Australian IM (Forster) in 1992 (over 22 years ago). Can you remember anything about your very first IM and the expectations you had standing at the start line for that first race?
I was training with Bruce Thomas who had somehow managed to talk me into doing an Ironman. At the time I hadn’t yet turned 22, so I was pretty young for ironman Racing.
Bruce had told me that all I needed to focus on was finishing and so I started the swim with that in mind. It used to be a one gun /mass start in those days.
I started riding conservatively, making sure I wasn’t going to “blow up”. Then a female pro (Louise Bonham) rode past me! My entire male, age group ego came to the fore and I took off on the bike.
I think I stepped off the bike just outside of the top ten. Anyway, I started the run and thought that this Ironman caper was pretty easy really. I kept passing people until I was in about 4th place overall, just in front of a triathlon legend called Marc Dragan. It turns out that I had run a 1.18 for the first half of the marathon! That combined with the fact that the longest run I had done was 25km meant that a metaphorical piano fell from the sky and landed on my back at around 28km.
I ended up walking along the road kicking coke cans and being a very grumpy boy, until a man called Mark Anderson ran up to me and convinced me to start running with him again. His encouragement plus some jelly beans at each aid station had us crossing the line together in about 22nd place. This got me to Hawaii that year where I won my age group. So I really owe Mark a lot for his selfless act (he reminds me of this all the time LOL).
This is why I view Ironman the way that I do and why I feel so proud of the way in which all the competitors really do share their energy by cheering other on!
Following that first event, how long did it take you to make up your mind you would do a few more IM events and did it seem a career path at the time?
As I mentioned, I qualified for Hawaii so the decision was made pretty quickly. I went on to win my age group there (## we checked and he smashed a 9:19 first up as an agegrouper on the big island). If I hadn’t have finished the very first one in Forster, I doubt I would ever have continued racing Ironman’s at all (Yes Mark, I really do owe you!).
From your own admission at IMWA, in those early years it seemed a great lifestyle to be training with mates. What was the best thing about being a professional athlete at that time and did it change at all over the years (the appeal to being a pro?)
The 3rd Ironman I raced was Ironman Australia again, where I finished 7th overall (2nd Aussie) and won some prize money. In those days there was not really a pro division. Basically the first 10 guys across the line won prize money but were ineligible for the age group awards. This meant that really you didn’t have to commit to racing as a pro. I didn’t consider myself as a professional. I was still working and going to Uni and most of the sponsorships I received were for products only. I felt lucky to be able to race and grateful for what I received from sponsors.
It wasn’t until 95 when I started to train full time and rely on money from sponsors as well as prize money (that I felt like a pro). Even then, there were times when I had to work to help support myself. The biggest appeal was the lifestyle. I was able to do something that I loved doing, and people paid me for it!
Don’t get me wrong, there were some years where I made really good money, but a lot of the time for most of the professional triathletes in our sport it is really tough to make a living, particularly if you have a family to support. Realistically, you can make more money doing something else, the difference is you just love what you are doing and the lifestyle is fun!
You seem to have had a really robust career as far as injuries go. Is this a misconception or have you had a blessed career with staying injury free? What do you put this down to?
I have had a long career for a few reasons:
I learnt very early on how important balance is and have always had friends outside of the sport.
I am genetically a strong guy and in my earlier years played different sports like AFL, basketball and soccer.
I have always spent time in the gym doing things other than swim, bike and run
I also learnt early on in my career the importance of recovery
The biggest issue for triathletes getting injured is that they don’t do some strength and conditioning and they don’t remember to recover enough. Triathlon (particularly Ironman) tends to attract a certain type of driven personality that believes that more is better. More is not always better!
One of your greatest attributes now has to be your knowledge of the sport. Can you share with us perhaps your top 3 tips for any Ironman program or race strategy to help us all make the finish line?
Here are my top 3 psychological tips - (stay tuned for Shorto’s informative tips on every leg of an Ironman in the next blog post):
One, stay focussed on the present: When you are training focus on what you need to do in that session. When racing, stay focussed on what you need to do at that moment to be the best you can be. When I am running in an Ironman, I focus on just 10 steps at a time. I try to make those 10 steps the best that I can make them!
Two, Focus on being consistent. The athletes that are able to back up each day and then each week in an Ironman preparation will get the best result! It is not just one great week of training that makes you have a great ironman race; it is weeks of solid preparation.
And three, listen to your body. One of the smartest coaches I ever worked with had a system with me where we would regularly touch base about how my body was feeling. We would make adjustments to the program based on how I was going. There is no use flogging a dead horse. Remember it is the recovery from the training, not just the training, which makes your body stronger and fitter.
With over 60 races under your belt, it seems like you would have seen it all. What is the greatest change to Ironman racing in your opinion you have seen during your many events?
The greatest change to ironman racing is just the sheer number of races that are around!
When I first started racing there were less than 10 ironman events worldwide. Now there are heaps.
If you could buy one of the following things only to race with (and not have the others), which would it be and why? A fast bike, fast wheels, fast wetsuit, bike power meter or GPS watch?
Out of these choices I would buy a bike (not necessarily the most aero, but the one that fitted me! The biggest limitation to performance that can be fixed in most athletes is body position. Body position in the swim affects drag through the water (the biggest limitation to performance). Body position on the bike affects power transfer and drag (the biggest limitation to drag on the bike is the rider position not the bike ‘aero-ness’). Body position on the run affects the athlete’s efficiency (very important for Ironman where energy limits performance). So the most vital piece of equipment is a well-fitting bike!
What is the weirdest thing you ever saw or heard of on an Ironman course?
Weirdest thing I have ever seen was an athlete who did a sh*t whilst running without missing a stride! (laughs) Impressive, but weird! ……..poo-shooter aptly describes it.
What was your motivation throughout your career? It seems almost superhuman to train and race at such a high level mentally for so long. How did you motivate yourself?
I enjoyed trying to get the best out of myself. It was a bit like a giant jigsaw puzzle and I kept trying to work out how the pieces fit to get the best result. That and the fact that I kind of liked the pain!
We asked some of our followers for their questions for you and they seem to want a list of the best and worst of everything:
What was your? -
Best Course: Ironman Western Australia
Best Swim course: Ironman Lake placid
Best Bike Course: Roth
Best Run Course: Ironman Whistler
Worst Bike ridden: Zipp beam bike
Worst triathlon Gadget: Seat position adjuster by profile I can’t remember the name (I was embarrassed to say but if Jason meant the fast forward seat post by profile design……I have one and use it J)
Even though you have only been retired for a little over a week, is there a regret you look back at or a decision in a race you might rethink nowadays?
Only regret is that I never finished top 10 in Hawaii.
## In case you wondered, Shorto had his best finish of 12th in 2003 in Hawaii. That year he competed against the “who’s who” of Ironman during that era. Peter Reid, Cameron Brown, Jürgen Zack (the Zack attack), Faris Al-Sultan and Normann Stadler were all there and if our calculations are correct, Shorto had a top 5 marathon split on the day……pretty handy!
We know you have already begun coaching athletes – what else can we expect to see in Jason Shortis’ future?
Most of the athletes I coach are age group athletes who have jobs and families. I want to do a lot more coaching.
I have completed my strength and conditioning accreditation and would like to work in some other sports in this role
I have also completed a post grad degree in Exercise physiology and am completing my hours to become an accredited exercise Physiologist. I would like to focus on lifestyle prescription and musculoskeletal rehab. I also want to go back and redo my physio accreditation again. Lots of work to come!
I did want to know about your thoughts on the future of the sport regarding professionals? Do you see it as easier now to be a pro in the sport or when you started? How hard has it been to carve out a life as a pro?
This is a tricky question to answer. I think that it is getting harder and harder to make a living as a pro. In triathlon, the poorest athletes racing are the pro’s.
That being said, having professionals racing is vital to the future of the sport. That is one of the main appeals of Ironman. You get to race alongside some of the best athletes in the world on the same course.
As I said before, there are much easier and more lucrative ways of making a living than racing as a pro triathlete!
I see the biggest growth area of the sport as being in Asia. If I was a young pro now, I would stay at home in Australia and race as much as I could in and out of Asia!
Finally, as an icon to racing – how would you like to be remembered?
Being remembered was not really why I did the sport. I am realistic enough to know that 6 months in triathlon is a very long time! There are a lot of young fast guys coming through who will be in the lime light for some time to come.
I just feel very fortunate to have been able to do something that I loved for as long as I got to do it. I have met some incredible people along the way and they are what really make this sport what it is!
Many thanks to Shorto for sharing a rare insight with us and being so open for an interview. Thanks buddy!!
You can find out more on Jason Shortis at http://jasonshortis.com/