Du’ing Great: A chat with Suzanne Cordes

Suzanne Cordes has a lifetime of racing experience and a mountain of running, triathlon, and duathlon awards. This June, however, the 57-year-old athlete added some meaningful hardware to her trophy case—she took home the bronze in both the ITU Duathlon World Championship in Aviles, Spain, and the USAT Duathlon National Championship in Bend, Oregon. Her performance in Bend also earned her a third place Standard Grandmasters (50-59) Female award.

The trip to Central Oregon came just a few weeks after an impromptu trip to Aviles, where Suzanne competed on a whim, a prayer, and a lot of determination. A serious hamstring tear sidelined her for about four months earlier this year, but as typical of us stubborn athletes, she kept her sights on June.

When the doctor said “maybe” she would be healed enough to race, she took that to mean, “I’m going to try.” Makes perfect sense to me! She didn’t just try. She did, and later, stood on the podium with a big shiny medal.

A runner since age 10, Cordes competed in track and cross country in high school, college, and, later, as a high-ranking masters athlete. She has earned collegiate and Masters All-American status and is ranked internationally in World Masters Athletics, the governing body for international track and field and cross country events for ages 35-plus. She started competing in triathlon in 1989 and duathlon in 2014.

A certified USA Track and Field Level 2 Endurance Coach, a USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, and a coach with lots of other credentials, Suzanne trains runners, cyclists, and multisport athletes from her facility, In Training, in San Ramon, California.

I caught up with Suzanne during a well-deserved, post-Bend vacation in North Lake Tahoe, where she, her husband Rick (also a high-ranking duathlete), and their three large cats relaxed among the pine trees and magically blue water.

RBR: Tell me about the course in Aviles. All I’ve heard is that it was hot and humid and the transition area was very long!

SC: The bike had some hills. And we repeated loops—we went down a lower loop and made a hairpin turn, then to a far right loop and made a hairpin turn, then up and around another loop. And we repeated those loops three times. The run went along the River Aviles. It was basically flat, with some hard right turns and some little bumps. A lot of people didn’t run two loops and mistakenly got a DNF.

RBR: You had a phenomenal race! How did you overcome a nagging injury to finish on the podium?

SC: I had strong desire to perform well at the world level. Spain was purely mental. I wanted it. I had to mentally block out aches and pains and direct my focus on my mantra “keep the push!” to stay strong.

ITUbike
Suzanne Cordes keeps pushing through a technical 40K bike in Aviles.

RBR: Our mental attitude can really make or break a race.

SC: The mental aspect is huge. Many people don’t realize the power of the mind. They train the physical body, and focus on training, which is important, but the mind rules. You can be in the best shape of your life, but if your head doesn’t believe it, all that fitness is not going to rise you to the top. For me, Spain was a total mental race with so much want.

RBR: You coach groups in running and cycling at your studio in San Ramon. What training strategies do you use for new duathletes?

SC: My athletes have their workouts when they show up to practice. Most of them train in a group. I try to individualize within the group. Most of the training, though, is to build confidence. It’s not so much about whether they can run fast or bike well. That’s a given. They’re going to do the best they can. It’s about building confidence. I show them they can do it.

RBR: Does the confidence building come out in the words or the workouts?

SC: Everyone is different. I have to show them. We perform initial assessments as baseline data, develop goals with dates and distances to aim toward, then periodically compare times/watts. No mystery. They have proof of their improvements.

RBR: Is there a key workout that you do leading up to a national or international race?

SC: I’m always changing it up. I do a lot of my bike training on the trainer. A key workout for me though is to take my bike out to a place with no stop signs or signals where I can get in the aero position and simulate a race. On the trainer, I may divide up a workout into two times 10 miles and try to hit the watts that I want to hit in the race. Also, at my training facility, we’ve got courses that we’ll put up on a big screen and we race to them. That’s the secret sauce. That keeps Rick in the game. It gives you a total edge. When I look at the workouts that I do at the [training] center, it’s way harder than a race. All the stats are on the screen, and these guys are trying to beat me, and I’m not going to let them. It’s a game!

Follow Suzanne at @coachcordes.

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