I Am Ironman
Houston trial attorney Brian T. Coolidge's endurance racing spans decades
Interview by Adam Faderewski
From the September 2021 issue
Brian T. Coolidge crosses the finish line at the IRONMAN
Texas event in The Woodlands. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN T. COOLIDGE
Swimming. Cycling. Running. The three legs of triathlons and IRONMAN competitions in that order. Brian T. Coolidge, a trial attorney in Houston, launched his foray into triathlons in the opposite order—starting with running in high school, cycling later in life, and picking up swimming when he became serious about competing. His interest in IRONMAN competitions began with a slow boil after seeing Dave Scott and Mark Allen on Wide World of Sports and reached its zenith many years later when IRONMAN Texas launched in The Woodlands in 2012. Coolidge has qualified for the IRONMAN 140.6 World Championship on multiple occasions, the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship once, and the Boston Marathon many times. Recent meniscus surgery has sidelined him from training, but Coolidge is enjoying the pause from his hectic training regimen and preparing for his return to racing.
WHAT GOES INTO YOUR TRAINING BEFORE EACH RACE?
The thing is it depends on what you’re getting ready for. If you’re training for a full IRONMAN, it takes months to get ready. The amount of training is pretty substantial for somebody who has a job as a lawyer. Another factor is family. You’ve got a lot of things in life to balance, and you really have to take that into account. Training for an IRONMAN takes so much time—at my peak, I found myself training about 14 to 15 hours a week. What that really means is that you’re training usually twice a day and then weekends because you get more time.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR STRONG SUIT AS FAR AS SEGMENTS OF
It’s running by far because that’s my background. My next strongest is the bike. My limiter is my swimming. Triathlons always go swim, bike, run, so I start out with my weakest. I’m one of the people that as the race goes to the next stage, the race tends to be more like my style of racing—so it helps quite a lot.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR BIGGEST OBSTACLE DURING THESE
ENDURANCE RACES? IS IT THE PHYSICAL ASPECT OR IS IT THE MENTAL
I think the physical and mental aspects come up in every race, and so no matter how much you train, you are going to find some challenge with each of them. I have found, though, as I’ve started to age, the physical has started to tax me in a different way than it did before. I find myself limited in terms of what I’m able to put out. It’s frustrating because you’re used to doing something at one point in your life and I’m not able to put out at the same level that I was maybe 10 to 15 years ago.
Brian T. Coolidge runs in the 2016 Boston Marathon—one of many Boston Marathons he has qualified for. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN T. COOLIDGE
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT COME UP DURING A CHALLENGE THAT A
PERSON WHO HAS NEVER RACED WOULDN’T THINK OF?
Nutrition and hydration. I’ve had some issues in races where my blood pressure plummeted, and it turns out that I wasn’t taking in the right kind of electrolytes. You have to think through it constantly—what do I need to take in. When swimming, you obviously can’t swim and eat. We tend to talk about cycling like it’s a rolling buffet. You should be eating the whole time—taking in energy gels, Gatorade, or electrolytes of some kind. At some point you’re sick of it. You’ve been out on the bike for nearly five hours, thinking I don’t want any more of this stuff. You have to think about applying that to the run, knowing that you’re going to need fuel while you’re running. Of course, you can eat while you’re running, but if you don’t load up on the bike, you could set yourself up to run into some problems. I’ve had those kinds of issues before.
YOU QUALIFIED FOR BOTH THE BOSTON MARATHON AND THE IRONMAN
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP IN HAWAII. WHAT WAS THE QUALIFYING
I’ve gotten into Boston many times. They have qualifying times based on your age, and if you run a marathon faster than that qualifying time, you can apply to get into Boston. It’s getting a little more complicated now, and while that may qualify, it’s probably not enough now to get you in because Boston is so popular and limited in terms of its size. People actually have to beat their qualifying time by some number of seconds or minutes to get in. IRONMAN is very different because the organization will make slots available at each race, so for example, I qualified by right in Los Cabos. I would have qualified in Texas through the rolldown process, but I didn’t really understand the process well at that point and I did not know how to claim. Basically, I missed my opportunity to claim so the guy who finished after me in my age group ended up going to Kona, Hawaii, that year. That was part of the reason why I started training differently—trying to really make this a goal. In terms of how much time you put in, another thing is your family. I’m really lucky that I have an incredibly supportive wife, Kim, who is OK with me doing this.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE RACES?
It’s always fun to race the big ones. Kona was certainly a memorable one, and another was the Chicago Marathon— because of how big it is. The ones that you have a personal best at are great. The Houston Marathon is the marathon where I ran my fastest ever, so I always think back about that one. Cozumel was one I really liked because I raced it really well. In Cozumel, the water is so clear—you can see everything. If you’re in a triathlon, you’re going to look up between strokes and pick out something on the horizon to try to swim to. In Cozumel, the water was so clear and there’s coral and things on the bottom. You can look up to see where you need to go and put your head back down and see a rock formation ahead and swim for that. It was a wonderful swim, and it’s a fun event. I think the ones that stick out are either the ones that are big or the ones that you nail. TBJ