Hard working, exceptional focus, extreme positivity: three qualities that I see as most important for succeeding in endurance sports. Top them off with natural athleticism and you’ve got Derrick Kittler written all over it.
We interviewed Derrick to find out how he got started and a little about his thoughts and training.
Q How long have you been participating in triathlons and what are your racing highlights?
I started in the sport of triathlon in 2014 with my first event being the Timberman 70.3. I raced the event with my wife with the goal of finishing and simply taking-in the experience. I survived the swim, crushed the bike and paid for it on the run and learned that salt intake can be your best friend. After the Timberman, I jumped into full-iron distance competing in Lake Placid in 2015. My goals for IMLP were(1) don’t drown, (2) finish, and (3) try to complete the day around 11 hours. The 2.4 mile swim was long and I survived, the bike was great and the run was epic. I new the run was going to be hard but I never expected this level of test. I finished the day in 11:37 and said I would never do another Ironman. That next week I signed-up for IMLP 2016 and set the goal for big improvements!
That year, synchronistic events worked out and I ended up meeting and taking the advice of Jim Quinlan who told me to contact Sharon Johnson at Breakaway. I worked the 2015/16 season with Sharon and realized my training needed to evolve to achieve the next set of goals. Given this focus and commitment I had a very successful season capturing several PR’s at the half-marathon distance, a 6th place at the Quassy 70.3 and 10th place at IMPL finishing over an hour faster than 2015. The main goal of 2016 was to qualify for a spot in the World Championships at Kona HI; a BIG goal given I have only completed in two 70.3’s and one 140.6. I missed it by about 30 minutes to a winning time of 9 hours 31 minutes and roll-down took less than the top 1% of my category. Absolute result aside, I had a very successful 2016 and learned a lot about myself, believing in your dreams and committing to your goals.
Q What sports did you participate in prior to triathlon racing?
I have always done some level of competitive sport my entire life and as child up through high school worked hard at alpine ski racing. Late high school and into college I started my endurance career with mountain bike racing in the early 90’s and raced through and after college with NORBA, USCF and then USA Cycling. I started road racing as a way to get the training miles for mtb racing as well as to keep the cost of replacement parts down; mountain biking has a way of destroying equipment. It wasn’t too long before I was hooked on knuckle-to-knuckle field sprints and the 27mph draft of the field across the beautiful countryside. During this period, I competed in much of New England circuit which included races like the Killington stage race, Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, my home club road race Jiminy Peak, all kinds of crits, TT’s, and cyclocross. I rode for Berkshire Cycling Association as a cat3 with points to upgrade to cat2 but no false assumptions of upgrading due to the next level of commitment and talent required to race cat1/2. Outside of cycling, I had a several year stint with masters rowing (competing in the Head of the Charles, Head of the Fish, Head of the Hudson, etc…), short track speed skating and super bike motorcycle racing.
Q Tell us a little bit about how you balance your training with work and family? How does your family feel about your involvement?
My family in incredibly supportive and only knows me as part of and in context with endurance sports. I jokingly believe they think I am nuts but in all honesty, my family is the reason I can do the training and be involved in sport at a competitive level. My wife is a ‘Superwoman’ and a very strong inspiration and motivator through the years. My children, Kolby, Keirin and Kali, see the effort and live with the sacrifices and commitment and my sense is they witness first hand what passion and will can achieve.
My work requires that I work-from-home and travel and I while I have traveled a lot in the recent years, I have worked hard to eliminate waste to be more productive and in better balance. My first Ironman was done training out of Marriotts and cities I never care visit again; I could write a book on how to complete an Ironman running on treadmills, swimming in Marriott pools and riding lifecycles.
Work only ever seems to stop when I am with family or training, although I have been known to do conference calls from the bike. What I have realized is that I need to relentlessly control how I allocate my time and minimize waste. Working to eliminate the waste in the day opens that time to be used in a productive manner that aligns with achieving goals.
Q What are your favorite workouts?
My favorite workouts are the ones where it is not only a physical test but also a mental and what I commonly refer to as a ‘spiritual’ test. These are the ones I look at and chuckle questioning myself on how in the world am I going to do that? For example, ride 4 hours with 4×30 minutes intervals at threshold followed by a short 30 minutes run afterwards; the next day go run 20 miles. Most recently, the seemingly impossibly long and intense swim session with set-after-set of what feels like water boarding. These sessions, however without doubt, have made me stronger, faster and what may be referred to as ‘dead-proof’. I am a huge fan of training, I love the time at effort where thoughts are absent and time is still … for me, this is a very meaningful part of my life that teaches me many of the most important lessons I have learned. Racing is fun but the training is where I really grow both physically and mentally.
Q Do you have a nutritional plan or habits that you feel help you maintain your high energy level and low body fat ratio? Any secret formulas you are willing to share ?
In all respects, I look at food as fuel with some caveats. I try to capture good quality calories balanced with proteins for recovery and carbohydrates to boost glycogen stores so I can manage the training efforts. Having said this, I am no ‘saint’ and will eat chocolate (love super-dark chocolate), pizza, and ice cream once and a while. I like to think I eat an eclectic montage of items; lot of eggs and veggies, goji berries, maca power, hemp hearts, beet (beet juice), garlic cloves, apple cider vinegar (note never mix the previous two items in one sitting), blindingly powerful hot peppers, and pretty much anything that has some theoretical biological benefit. I am always willing to experiment with diet due its direct link to both mind and body.
Q What are your favorite Breakaway activities?
Monday night strength class has done wonders for me. It has helped me in so many areas and provides a solid foundation from which I can train without injury and with consistency. Beyond functional strength, the computraining workouts have been critical in increasing my threshold power and are a key staple of the weeks plan. The swim sessions are quickly becoming one of my favorites and have already made me much faster than last year. The Tuesday night time trials and the race league are a lot of fun; the whole set of activities are brilliant in their own way. I feel it ultimately distills to the fact the people that comprise the Breakaway community are the most enjoyable part of the overall experience. The camaraderie, shared suffering, support and energy of the community is beyond powerful and is my favorite part overall.
Q What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from sports?
Being grateful for having the ability to do compete in sport. To be grateful for the physical ability to train and compete, to be grateful for a supportive and loving family, grateful for work/life balance and grateful for a supportive community. Beyond gratefulness, set big goals, work harder than you think you can to achieve them and don’t fear if you miss; it’s only hard or impossible if you let yourself believe it’s impossible.
Q What’s in your bucket list for future accomplishments?
I don’t have a bucket list per se but if I did it would include things like the Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon, and XTERRA World Championships and doing a lot of travel to pretty remote locations of the Earth and maybe beyond J. Currently, I am pretty focused on knocking down a number of goals within the sport and it’s going to take time, energy and effort to make them happen.