By Vinnie Santana,

Over the past decade as a coach, I’ve worked with hundreds of athletes from all backgrounds and with all kinds of goals. Those who achieve success in this sport are neither the most talented athletes nor the ones who fully immerse themselves in training for a couple seasons. Instead, athletes winning your age group at all levels of races are likely to have adopted triathlon as a lifestyle, training consistent for many and many years, while also carrying a sustainable and balanced lifestyle with work and family commitments.

This article tells one of those stories. Gustavo Moniz is your typical age group triathlete: has a full-time job; has family and kids; lives in a big city (in Brazil); and deals with all the challenges of anyone of the same profile. But his passion for the sport and his consistency in training have made him one of Brazil’s strongest M45-49 age group triathletes


Gustavo’s overall win in 1993, Vinnie watching the race

Moniz started in triathlons in 1986, at age 18. He found the right balance of his teenager days with his new working career. Since then, he hasn’t ever been away from training for too long. There were times when training would take a back seat. Moniz shifted to “maintenance mode” for a couple years, when he started his business and had his child, while at other times training would pick up and he managed to find that balance for two decades, winning some local events, racing internationally and he also got to do some races as a pro.

My first contact with him in triathlon was in 1993. At only ten years of age I was at a friend’s weekend house and inside the complex there was a triathlon event. We went to watch and the winner was this guy who ran barefoot due to blisters problems—that was Gustavo Moniz in action!

Fifteen years later we met via a mutual friend and started working together—the mission was clear and simple: to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Ironman Hawaii and the 10-year anniversary

For Moniz, Ironman Hawaii is the pinnacle of triathlon. Aside from being the world championships and attracting the fittest triathletes, pros and amateurs alike, to the start line, the race also carries a huge story of this sport.

In 1999 his opportunity to race in Kona came with the lottery system. While it was his first ironman and there wasn’t much of an expectation in terms of results, he did not consider the mission fully accomplished. Moniz wanted to go back to the island the proper way, qualifying as a top age grouper in the very competitive M40-44 division at one of the Ironman races around the world.

The Attack Plan

Before we started the training, we aimed to get him from 11h54-Ironman shape in 2006 to a Sub-10 performance. And while being a Sub-10 ironman is already decent enough, it doesn’t guarantee Kona slot—we had to pick a race that would suit his strengths while not exposing his weakness.

For a combination of reasons, we decided to go for a fast course with cooler weather, preferably a wetsuit swim, and flat to rolling hills on the bike, followed by a flat and fast run course. Our strategy was to hit the swim and bike as fast as possible, saving just enough in the legs for a quick shuffle on the marathon. Getting him into the top places by T2, we knew that if he were virtually running inside the Kona-slot placing, he would not give up his spot easily—he wanted it more than others. One of those times when heart is more important than legs.

With the race plan in mind, training had to follow. We tailored his sessions to fit in those race day situations, including a fast swim start then settling in the pack, and a solid hard bike with several smaller time-trial sections especially later in the ride, when he would be making up, or gaining, most of the time on the competition.

Run training was also adapted to the strategy he would be the prey, rather than the predator, on race day. He had to be mentally ready to hang on and hang in there for the whole marathon knowing there were fast runners coming from behind trying to catch him and his Kona slot.

Anyone who has done an ironman knows that, regardless of how you paced your race, the last third of the marathon will be very painful—and being in front is a mental advantage, while being virtually qualified for Kona also raises your pain threshold.

The Calendar

Ironman Austria 2008: 9h45 – 33rd place

We started with one of the fastest possible courses, which was also a very competitive event. Our goal was to learn how to race fast, pushed by fast athletes! A Sub-10 was also important for a confidence boost that he was now a new athlete racing in a different league.
We achieved these goals with a new PB and, while a bit down in the ranks, we knew the plan was coming together.

Ironman Arizona 2008: 9h55 – 13th place

Arizona was the first serious shot for the Kona slot. The race was almost perfect, except for a flat tyre.  Moniz was ONE MINUTE from the so dreamed Kona slot, a huge disappointment, and the obvious “what if I hadn’t had a flat…” crossed his mind.

While very disappointed, we say we can only control the controllable, so after some time off to recover from the training and racing of 2008 and the mental effort of focusing on Kona qualification, we moved on to the 2009 season.

Ironman Brazil 2009: 9h50 – 5th place

The mental cost of being so close to Kona at Ironman Arizona was huge. We decided to shift our focus to the process, rather than the result, for our next race in Brazil. Instead of racing for the slot, he would be racing for the best executed day he could possibly do, and be happy with whatever outcome that would bring, be it a slow or fast day, a win or last place, Kona slot or not.

On a magical day, Moniz finished the event in 5th place and finally got his Kona slot—the dream was achieved, mission accomplished.

Ironman Hawaii 2009: 11h33

“Ten years later” was the motto for Ironman Hawaii, to celebrate the 10-year anniversary since he first took part in that event. While there were little expectations in terms of results, a slower-than-expected finish time didn’t go down so well, we left the island with a certain “unfinished business” feel.

Ironman Brazil 2011: 9h24 – 6th place

Two years after his last Ironman race, we shifted the focus again to Brazil. In a perfectly executed race Moniz earned his new PB that day and placed sixth, qualifying once again for Kona.
Ironman Hawaii 2011: 10h13

As a more experienced and confident athlete this time in Hawaii, he had a smoother race with very few mistakes. With a new PB by more than  one hour, the mission was accomplished.

What’s Next?

In his own words, “My motivation is to keep on improving both my own personal times and within the age group ranks. My goal is to be able to sustain some sort of training forever.”

Moniz is the perfect example of how dedication, consistency and patience are crucial to a long-term success in this sport.

Enjoy your training,
Vinnie Santana – ironguides Head Coach



Date: August 21, 2013

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