by Greg White
As one half of the popular “Ask the Coaches” segment on the Endurance Planet podcast, Tim “Lucho” Waggoner is a constant source of wisdom, a sort of wilderness Buddha. Whether he’s talking about life or sport, Lucho’s advice always feels at once universal and specific. I was lucky enough to have been on his Ragnar team twice in the past two years, and his passion for everything from fly fishing to building his own bikes shines through. Making his high-altitude home in the mountains of Colorado, the man they call Lucho is a true original: a coach, craftsman, dad, top-ranked endurance athlete, and podcaster. I’m happy to bring you this interview in the hopes that his words help guide you to your best self, on the roads or off.
Greg White: What is your background in running? What were your first encounters with the sport?
Lucho: I started running in grade school when I was asked if I wanted to run the mile at the Kansas Junior Olympics. I had ever “run” before outside of just being a kid. I ended up winning the race in my category. I was 11.
Was there a moment early on when you realized that you had a talent for running?
I never realized that I had “talent” per se. But I won a lot of races and it came easily for me so I just went with it.
What did your training look like as a youth?
Throughout high school I ran maybe 20-25 miles a week. But I only ran during track season. I played football and basketball and lifted weights almost every day throughout high school. I think the weights really are why I never became injured even into my 40’s.
I’ve heard you talk frequently on Endurance Planet about your MAF approach to training. Could you talk about why you train in accordance with MAF?
In 1996 I raced the St Croix International triathlon. I was living on St John (USVI) and had recently quit smoking to do a local race and my first triathlon. At St Croix I did very well and became hooked on triathlon. I saw Mike Pigg (legend!) sitting on a bench eating an ice cream cone (vanilla) and started to chat with him. I asked him what I could do to improve and get good in the sport. He mentioned Maffetone, asked my age, then told me to just train at a heart rate of 145-155 (I was 25) SUPER simplified but I took it seriously and did just that. This was before the internet (plus I was living on a tiny island in the Caribbean) so I had no clue what I was doing and no real resources to learn from. I taught myself how to swim in the ocean by watching old VHS tapes of the underwater swim shots of the Hawaii Ironman.
One of the aspects I’ve always enjoyed about your musings on Endurance Planet is that you are very much a centrist when it comes to your approach to things. You don’t obsess over diet or biohacking or all the rest, and yet you seem to still maintain a passion and dedication to the tasks before you. Could you talk a little about that?
I’d agree that I’m a centrist thinker but lean more towards extremist in action. At least when it comes to actual training. My training logs read like someone trying to kill themselves with volume and intensity. One of the downfalls to being super durable is that you never fall apart which meant I always trained too hard to truly race well. As for the diet and bio-hacking I prefer to keep things simple. Some the best runners on the planet grew up without electricity sleeping on a dirt floor. I’m not against all the super technical stuff, but wait until you’ve tapped out your training potential before trying to refine it. It’d be like worrying about the bathroom trim before your house is even built. I see people running 10 miles a week trying to hack their way to being faster. That’s a fairly broad view of it. I’ve found in running though that less is more. Run as much as you can, listen to your body, and keep a good training log. Your training log and learning how to use it is the most valuable ‘”hack” you can do. It’s a blueprint of YOU. It’s precisely specific to you.
In addition to swimming, biking, and running, you’re also an avid outdoorsman and fly fishing enthusiast, not to mention a leather craftsman. What do these other outlets do for you in your life? What part of you do they represent that training for endurance sport does not?
Wow. That’s a good question. I have fished less this year but last year I was on the river over 200 days. I blame the drop off on reading. Now I read constantly. Fly fishing is a beautiful, thoughtful thing though. From the movement of a cast to entomology to the brilliance of the trout. Plus you’re generally in an amazing and beautiful environment. There’s a certain element of discipline and discomfort that I thrive on and fly fishing combines that with art. I live up in the mountains near some amazing waters so everything is basically out my door. Last year I walked the 2 miles down to a favorite section of river. The fish were interested, time slipped and I realized suddenly that I was hypothermic. In a matter of minutes I went from focused casts to almost not being able to get out of the river. I became somewhat concerned because I could barely walk! Needless to say I made it home, but that kind of experience, out of my comfort zone and doing something simple yet beautiful is what I live for. I’ve never physically struggled to walk while doing leather work, but I like it! I originally just wanted to make a fly rod case for myself . Then I made a bicycle seat cover. Then I wrapped my handlebars… it just sort of rolled along. Partly it filled in the time on sleepless nights. I’m a horrible insomniac so I would listen to a book on disc and make something.
You also competed at Ironman Kona several times and placed quite well. How did you decide to get into triathlon, and how did you end up becoming a top ranked amateur in Ironman?
A friend of mine coaxed me into trying a triathlon. I did well and my OCD took it from there. Like I said previously I took Mike Pigg’s advice serious and it worked extremely well for me. I qualified for Kona in my 3rd triathlon. Kona was my 5th triathlon and I placed 128th overall in 9:50. In my second Kona I went 9:10 and 44th. In my 3rd try I went 8:50 placed 16th overall and was the top amateur. For sure my running and strength background played a role but I also was very disciplined and pushed myself to extremes.
You also won Leadman (a grueling ultra endurance meta-race comprised of several races, culminating in the Leadville 100 ultra marathon). Given the grueling nature of this race, what was your training like going into it?
That’s one of those do as I say, not as I do situations. I really just messed around and was somewhat half-assed in my approach and was able to rely on my nearly 30 years of base. I averaged 50 miles a week of running in the year leading up to my first Leadville 100 when I placed 6th. For Leadman I also averaged just 50 miles a week but I was also biking hard so the weekly time would get high. Those numbers are slightly misleading though because I live at 8200 feet altitude and the terrain is really hilly. I have a 50 mile route that has 11,000 ft of climbing and I’m never more than 6 miles from home. I have two little boys though so I wasn’t willing to sacrifice too much energy for them so I kept it quite moderate. Looking back, had I trained for Leadman like I did for Ironman I would have put the record out of reach. As it was I broke it by nearly 5 hours but it was then broken the very next year.
And on a broader level: why do this kind of race in the first place? What did setting such a giant goal mean to you?
I had done 15 Ironmans and I felt that I would never be able to get back to that level again, so I was done. I gave a shot at the marathon and did OK [editor’s note: he has a 2:30 PR], but once we moved up into the mountains I lost interest so I moved to ultras. I did well at the Leadville 100 run. Then the Leadville 100 bike. So there wasn’t much else left! So I entered Leadman. “On a broader level” after Leadman I felt that I was satisfied, something I hadn’t felt before so I pretty much walked away from competing. Simple as that.
What’s the most important thing running has taught you about yourself? About life at large?
Discipline and direction are a very good thing. You don’t need a ton of “things” to be successful. One aspect of our current culture that really bugs me is pervasive consumerism. The idea that more is more is not true in my opinion. Going back to the best runners in the world essentially having nothing is an example. I think too many people become distracted when it comes to running and end up spending more time thinking about it than doing it. Same thing applies to life I think. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing parents staring at their smart phones while their kids are in front of them. They’re missing out. Spend more time doing things that matter and don’t become distracted with the trivial.
What is a perfect day for you?
Going to the river with my boys. Start off fishing. They get bored. We end up exploring. I’m fortunate to be a stay at home dad so I’ve had quite a few of those days.
What are you proudest of in your life?
That I’ve always stayed true to myself.
You’ve been at this for decades. To what do you attribute your resilience and ability to still hit the trails whenever you want?
Physically I’m durable and strong still. But the mental capacity must always be there. It has to be there before you even consider the physical. So I think the desire to challenge myself and not become complacent is the reason. You have to want to be fit and you have to decide to be fit.
For more on Lucho, follow his adventures on his blog.