Waterworldyork – Ned, thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to chat with you. Your long, storied career encompasses so much that we feel like we’re talking to a living, endurance-sports history book. We’ll start off by asking an easy one. How are the lungs?
Ned – “Old and getting older. I still had a few good performances in 02 and am excited about a variety of events in 03. Two bright spots this year were having the fastest bike splits at the XTERRA Keystone and XTERRA finals at Tahoe. I was third at Tahoe and fifth at Keystone overall. I was also third at the XTERRA in the Nederlands.”
Waterworldyork– I picked up a back issue of Competitor Magazine and read Bob Babbitt’s recounting of the ’80 Ironman in which you and he took part. Could you tell us, perhaps, your spin on that event back in those early, seminal days?
Ned – “Doing that Ironman was Bob’s idea, I went along because I had never been to Hawaii. I had never run a marathon and never ridden a bike more than 50 miles. Also I wasn’t really a swimmer. I did enjoy body surfing at mission beach. Bob and I trained in a 15 yard pool at our condo complex, the ends were too shallow for flip turns. At that Ironman in 80 every competitor had to have their own support crew. Pam, my girlfriend at the time was my support. We got separated after the swim until about 70 miles into the bike. I was stopping at peoples houses and drinking from garden hoses. I will never forget when big John Howard passed me about 30 miles into the bike. He blew by me and then disappeared over the horizon.”
Waterworldyork – How did you come to recognize that you might have had a little more endurance and/or internal fire than the guys around you?
Ned – “I discovered endurance sports as a sophomore in high school, Redwood high in Marin County north of San Francisco. I discovered distance running in the coastal ranges with trails through Redwood forests, and lots of hills. From the beginning I showed some aerobic talent and was fortunate that the cross country team had a great coach (Doug Basham) and a talented supportive group of runners. We won several championships in the three years I ran cross country, but there was no dominant runner on the team. Three or four of us battled to be the top runner and the rivalry motivated each of us to improve.”
Waterworldyork – It’s probably such a difficult question to answer, but was there a defining moment, or moments, in your career where you just sat back and thought, “yeah this is what it’s all about”?
Ned – “Well, 1987 was a good one. I was making a decent salary, good bonuses, good prize money. I won the national championships, went to Switzerland and won their “World Championships” then came back to the US and won our “World Championships” at Mammoth. I wasn’t so burned out from travel at the time because they didn’t have an international World Cup Series yet. I had quit my job as a car mechanic, but until then, I couldn’t be sure that I could make enough to just be a pro mountain bike racer.”
Waterworldyork – There’s an overwrought term I hesitate to use, but over the course of a 20 year career you’ve seemed to have “re-invented” yourself a few times with endurance running, bike road racing, Ironman, mountain biking, XTERRA, etc. Was it simply a matter of just looking for new worlds to conquer?
Ned – “The sports I have been involved in were a combination of timing and the different places I have lived. In the late seventies I was going to San Diego State. That’s when the sport of triathlon was first developing there. Bob Babbitt and I knew Tom Warren, who won the second Ironman and for some weird reason we decided to do it. In 81 I moved to Durango, Colorado and started road racing after seeing the local Ironhorse Road Race. I then got a job in a bike shop with the plan of becoming a pro road racer. Mtn bikes showed up in the shop in 82, so I decided to try racing off road, and the individual aspect of mtn biking appealed to me more than the team tactics of road racing. I raced mtn bikes until 96 and was getting burned out on the NORBA and World Cup format. I read about the XTERRA and though it would be a good way to end the season with an event in Maui. I had cross trained with trail running and swimming in the off seasons during the mtn bike years so it was pretty easy to transition into XTERRA. But I never expected to be doing seven of them in 02 six years after that first one in Hawaii.”
Waterworldyork – So, what will the next incarnation be? Adventure racer? Author? Race director?
Ned – “The past few years I have been doing some longer mtn bike races in Europe (60-90) miles. They call them Bike Marathons, they are usually point to point and cover a variety of terrain. The ones in the Alps will have a ton of climbing. I like these types of races and will probably do three different events over there this summer. This type of event is also an important area of promotion for my employer Specialized Bicycles. I am interested in trying some of the shorter adventure races. The longer ones would require too much time away from home. I wrote a mtn bike technique book a couple years ago and I am working on getting it translated into German.”
Waterworldyork – I imagine you’re presently juggling a handful of projects. Can you tell us what a typical “day in the life” is like these days?
Ned – “I take my kids to school in the morning about 8 and then catch up on email and phone calls for two or three hours. Cross training in the winter includes swimming three days a week with a small masters group for an hour. Depending on the weather and trail conditions, I will either run, cross country ski or ride road or mtn bikes. I do product development work with Specialized bicycles We are in the planning processes for the 04 product line. I give input to the product managers about things like full suspension cross country bikes and the parts spec’d on them, tires, shoes, pumps, multi tools etc. My perspective comes from racing on the equipment but also from talking to dealers and riders all over the country. Another function for Specialized is to help present the product to the global media. We do product launches to the media and to the dealers throughout the year and at the bike shows. I attend four day product review meetings every couple months at Specialized in Morgan Hill CA.”
Waterworldyork – You’ve witnessed the transformations of triathlon and mountain biking from fringe sports to mainstream. The marriage of those two brought XTERRA, which is undergoing a worldwide popularity boom. Interest in adventure racing is taking off now. What do you make of all this?
Ned – “I think interest in off road multisport is a natural progression, I am surprised it didn’t happen sooner. It just took the promoters like the guys from Team Event Sports of XTERRA to put together a great series with an emphasis on a quality race experience to make it take off. Likewise with the big adventure races, it was the promoters with vision and the ability to produce complicated events. I think in general racers don’t give enough credit to promoters. What if no one had stepped up to tackle the job of putting on the Ironman 23 years ago. The sport of Triathlon would have developed anyway but I think at a much slower pace.”
Waterworldyork – OK Deadly, you’ve got to have one Ripley’s moment for us. Tell us a tale that at the time you thought, “they’ll never believe this one.”
Ned – “I have some stories about my in-laws that are really bizarre. I have seen a lot of wildlife over the years but at the XTERRA in New Jersey I came within inches of hitting a huge black bear on a fast twisting downhill, it was standing right in the middle of the trail, I brushed by it and pedaled like mad without looking back.”
Waterworldyork – Maybe one question about training before we have to let you go. Some guys do mega-volume workouts; others focus on intensity rather than workload. Would you describe your prevailing training philosophy through the years?
Ned – “I am a low volume – high intensity trainer because that is what I like to do. It has been effective for me but that does not mean it is the type of training other athletes need. Higher volumes may have produced better results but if you don’t enjoy the training you won’t have as much longevity. That is an oversimplified explanation but all that I want to try and explain in this interview.”
Waterworldyork – Ned, SwimBikeRunStLouis and all of our readers in St Louie want to thank you again for both your time and for all you’ve done for the sports we love.
Ned – “Best of Luck!!!”