Friday, October 05, 2012


                                                             For this installment of Running Minnesota we “switch gears” a little and catch up with local pro triathlete, Devon Palmer. After pursuing the sport of rowing, the “illustrious uninterested” 25-year-old Minneapolis resident found the sport of triathlon and eventually turned pro three years ago. According to his blog, Devon is “consistently ranked among the top 3 funniest pro triathlete Tweeters.” You can see if this is true for yourself by following him @dpalmertri. Following him also means staying up to date with his mustache, which is “ranked in the top 20 of all male professional athletes worldwide.” (Photos courtesy of Yndecam).

Which sport came first for you, swimming, biking or running and how did you transition (pun intended) into triathlons? And did you play any other sports growing up?
My brother and I were not particularly athletic kids growing up. Our parents tried to get us to do a number of sports and nothing took. One day my mom proposed we join a swim club and we went along with it. I don’t think either of us liked it, but for some reason my brother got to quit and I had to keep swimming. I was an illustriously uninterested swimmer until I got to high school where I was finally of some use to my team so I began to appreciate competition. I got more serious and on a whim tried track as a sophomore. By the time I graduated I was a really ambitious athlete but not particularly accomplished. I went to a Big 10 school and had no shot to swim or run. After a two week stint as the shortest Division I rower ever, I began thinking about triathlons. The summer after my freshman year I did four races and knew I had found the right sport.

A few years ago the big question in the local triathlon scene was whether or not you’d turn pro. For those of us out there that don’t really know what it means to be a professional triathlete, can you give us some insight? I’m guessing it doesn’t mean million dollar contracts, entourages, agents, etc.
Being a pro triathlete is very different than being in the NFL, NBA or even being a pro cyclist. In established sports there is a system you work your way through and there is a clear process to reach ‘pro’ status. Since we are such a young sport it is really the Wild West for professionalism.

It is incredibly easy to get a ‘pro card’ from USA Triathlon, our governing body. Race to a top 3 finish at certain competitive amateur races and you are qualified. It’s that easy. Anyone who has any reason to think they should be racing as a pro can get a pro card. There are several fast men and women in the state who could be racing as pros if they chose to. Racing with a pro card just means at events where there is a pro field, you race in that wave and have a shot at the prize money. For me I also race many local events where there is no real distinction for being a pro.

Racing as a pro means nothing for income. Every dime you make you either earn as prize money or by hunting down and doing an excellent job representing sponsors. Earning sponsorship is tricky as it requires results, knowing the right people, working hard to be a good ambassador and cultivating yourself as a brand. Many people race as a pro for a few years for fun or for the experience. It is much harder to find a way to make a living and many pros hold part time jobs or even work full time. I am glad I went pro in 2010. I have experience racing with the big boys and am learning what it takes to be successful at this level.

NASCAR winners like to rattle off a bunch of their sponsors during post-race interviews. Assume you just won the biggest race of you career, can you give me you best imitation if you were asked to describe that race afterwards?
“I am so grateful for the support of Gear West Bike and Triathlon, OptumHealth Performance, TYR, Harvey Skees. I also have to thank my parents for their genes and for raising me to be a winner, my girlfriend for being cool about me sitting on the couch all the time, and Kris Swarthout my manager. I could not have won this race without them!”

How have your first three years gone as a pro and where do you see your career going? Will you focus on shorter races, half and full Ironman events, draft-legal racing, off-road Xterra stuff, or a little bit of everything?
The first three seasons have been pretty good. Certainly not remarkable but I am happy with how things started and the progress I am currently making. My litmus test for being a pro is actually earning a paycheck in a pro race, which I’ve done every year. My best results have been in the half iron distance where I can usually swim close to the front and ride with the leaders.

Since I do not have the uber-talent to just go pro and start winning, I look for little victories, like making the front pack in a swim or leading on the bike or cranking the best bike split. One of my most exciting races was Racine 70.3 in 2010 where I was swapping the lead with multiple world champ Craig Alexander. Going forward I will always do some of the local short races but will focus on the half and ironman distance professionally.

Now it’s October and the local tri scene is over for the year. Is that the same for your season too or do you still have some races left in warmer climes?
Lots of people are losing motivation rapidly. I’m reaching new levels of training and excited to race again in South Carolina and Florida this month.

In addition to your own races, you are also a coach. How is that going and how can people find out more about your services?
I love coaching triathletes. As a population, they are almost too motivated. The only downside is they tend to be very successful people overall, so we are trying to fit their training in with a career and a family. It is very easy to create hard training programs. It is more challenging to fit all the training tools a triathlete needs into a very limited timeframe, knowing some sessions will be missed or moved due to scheduling issues. It has been exciting to see the improvement that is possible once you get people doing appropriate, organized training. I do my tri coaching through OptumHealth Performance. Anyone needing coaching, swim lessons, or just some good advice is more than welcome to contact me Another way to get in touch is by following me on twitter, @dpalmertri

What one piece of advice do you give to your athletes the most?
Settle down. Some get too hyped up if a workout goes really well or really poorly. Some get too frazzled if a race is not perfect. Some get too excited and want to hammer a race or workout as hard as possible right away. When in doubt, settle down.

What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
Strategically my greatest strength is biking fast. My greatest weakness is not running fast enough.

What is your fondest memory from tris?
Hard to say. Training and racing, you have some pretty amazing experiences. Turtleman 2009 the swim was cancelled due to a storm but we raced the bike and run anyway. I was really strong that day and rode about as fast as I ever have and got off to have one of my best runs.

I also will always remember a Wednesday long ride with David Thompson (the week of Racine 70.3 in 2010) where we rode through thunderstorms, sun and heat, and then more storms – later found out the sirens I heard in Rosemount were for actual tornados. We went 117 miles and it was not slow.

Another favorite memory is the Firehouse 50 four-man team trial back in 2009. The Gear West all-star team consisted of David, Kevin O’Connor, Curt Wood and I. We covered the fifty mile course in 1:46 and averaged something like 28.8mph. Riding like that is just a blast.

Do you have a favorite local and/or national race?
Locally I am a big fan of the Manitou Sprint. You can really fly on the bike and the run is flat and fast and short. My favorite national race was the Lake Stevens 70.3 in Washington, great swim venue and a hilly bike with good roads.

If you could swim, bike or run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
Greg LeMond has got to have some interesting stories, so I’d love to ride with him.

I would be pretty excited to run with trail blazing legend (course record holder at Trail Mix and Afton 25Ks) Ben Kampf. Heard he is just an incredible guy.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started doing triathlons?
Bodyglide is to be applied before all runs and races and chamois cream before all rides.

Finally, I’m more of a beard or goatee guy, but you definitely rock the mustache. Are there any secrets you can share for how to rock a great ‘stache? And what’s the best/funniest comment you’ve ever heard someone make about it?
Sadly having excellent facial hair is a genetic gift. You’ve got it or you don’t. If you are going to have a look as bold as mine you have to be ready for some positive feedback and some negative feedback. I have gotten two comments while running, once a lady told me ‘nice mustache’ out her car window. Another time I got approval from a group of hipsters riding their fixies. That was very encouraging. If anyone cares to comment on my facial hair they should follow me on twitter @dpalmertri.

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