Scott Fliegelman recalls his first up-close exposure to the inner depths of the multisports world that exists in Boulder, Colo. It was 7 a.m., and he was strolling the deck along a pool’s edge, oblivious as to what lane he should use at his first Boulder Aquatic Masters swim at the East Boulder Community Center. Right about then, emerging from the pool after the 5:45 a.m. workout, were two particularly streamlined looking brothers, both razor-edge fit, each with slate-blue eyes steeled with intent. Tim and Tony DeBoom, as a matter of fact. This was right about the time Tim was closing in on the first of his two Ironman world championship titles.
A former Division 1 tennis player with professional snowboarding experience, Fliegelman pivoted toward endurance in the late 1990s after running a 43-minute 10k virtually off the couch, enjoying it enough to want to explore his potential. His intersection with triathlon came on the morning of his first Masters workout, which he performed in the first lane.
“I was by far the youngest in the lane,â€ he says, referring to some of the elder veterans of a swim program. “They were extremely helpful.â€ Helpful as in hinting that it was OK to sit out some of the intervals when the pace of the workout was escaping him.
“To tell you the truth, I was proud to have just made it to the workout.â€
Covering 3,200 of the 4,000 meters, he was zapped. In that one workout, Fliegelman is fairly certain he had matched if not beaten his lifetime accumulation of swimming yardage. “I took four naps that day,â€ he recalls.
The zap turned out to be a spark, and Fliegelman pursued triathlon both as an age-group athlete and later as a coach. In 2005, he launched Fast Forward Sports, a program intended to fill what he believed was a gaping hole in a town that many consider the world capital of endurance athletics.
“There were really great training options for the elites in Boulder and there were plenty of social-club-type endurance groups, but I felt there wasn’t a good team entity for those in the middle.â€
Fliegelman’s vision was to develop a team concept for the highly motivated age-grouper.
“I grew up on basketball teams and tennis teams that provided formal structure and training. There was always a seasonal orientation—seasons that built toward a Super Bowl of sorts,â€ says Fliegelman.
And so it followed that Fliegelman organized running and triathlon team-style programs aimed at races like the Boulder Peak Triathlon and, now, the Boulder Ironman.
Rather than a loose-knit social club atmosphere, Fliegelman sets standards for participation and effort that he believes are critical to success.
For example, if there’s a Tuesday night track workout for those committed to the Boulder Peak triathlon, barring an emergency, you’re expected to be there.
“It’s a huge and important point,â€ he says. “There’s a camaraderie element that feeds into everyone’s chance for success.â€ Working out together rather than just going it alone, Fliegelman says, brings out a level of focus and effort that pushes athletes toward higher levels of accomplishment.
“Occasionally I’ll hear something like, ‘Hey coach, I need to make my husband dinner tonight so I can’t make the team workout. Can I just do it on my own at noon?’ My answer to that is, ‘No. Tell him to make his own dinner.’â€
Fliegelman’s objective for the highly choreographed training session is a critical mass.
“We’ll have 85 people show up, so it’s no longer just a workout, it’s an event. The energy is huge. The same person that I told no about skipping the workout will get it. She’ll come up to me and say, ‘I never would have worked out that hard alone.’â€
“I’m in the business of saying no,â€ he says. “I think it’s what they’re paying me for.â€
Like when last summer’s announcement of Ironman Boulder spilled through the internet and Fliegelman’s phone began ringing off the hook with newbies bouncing on their toes and wanting to race their first Ironman.
“They weren’t ready for an Ironman whether they knew it or not, and that’s what I told them.â€ If they were still interested and could fork over the patience being asked of them, Fliegelman will help beginners chart an appropriate course toward a full-length Ironman that starts off with a race more suited to their working capacity. Then, in time, they can shoot for a half-Ironman, and eventually longer. He applies the same brand of candid guidance to the more experienced triathletes wanting to shoot for a goal like qualifying for the Hawaii Ironman.
A Kona-slot conversation often leads into how much time an age-grouper has to dedicate to triathlon and how that compares with the demands of the goal. The same applies toward athletes with Ironman goals that are generally less ambitious, like capturing a PR.
“We have 42 athletes training for Ironman Boulder right now. What I say to them is this: The busier they are the more they need our direction. If you don’t have the luxury of 25 hours a week to train, but only have 10, then you’d better use each of those 10 extremely well.â€