March 9, 2010

The James Cunnama Interview

I wanted to do some interviews leading into IMSA and James is a good mate, so wanted to start with him, as he is also graciously allowing me back into his space before IMSA this year. Here we go.

IM Hawaii 2009

1. It had been quite a year for you. Give us a quick run-down where you were a year ago and the year that followed you to here.

It was quite a year! I can hardly believe it has been only 12 months with the amount that has changed and how far my career has gone in a year. A little over a year ago I was what I guess you could call a ‘wanna-be’ pro, training almost full-time, but making little to no money out of the sport. I was then introduced to Brett Sutton and invited to a try-out camp in the Philippines, where I secured a spot on TeamTBB. The year that followed was exceptional and a lot of dreams started turning into reality. Briefly, it consisted of another camp in the Philippines and a subsequent 6th at IMSA, then a breakthrough summer in Europe with multiple podium places in big races such as Challenge France and Germany, Alpe D-Huez triathlon, Embrunman and of course Ironman Austria. I also made my first trip to Kona and that was a good experience, if not a great race for me.

I am no longer a ‘wanna-be’ pro and am now making a living from the sport I love! Living the dream!

2. Training hours are quite the debate in training. Won’t you give us a typical breakdown in hours, of a base week, a peak week, and a taper week for yourself.

Whether I tell you 20hrs or 40hrs a week, it means little unless you know what was done in those hours (and that would be telling!). Actually it probably varies somewhere between those two numbers, depending on many factors. Within a camp environment, where there are no distractions and all we do is eat, sleep and train, 40hrs is not that hard to hit. But normally it is around 30hrs I think.

As for base/peak/taper numbers, we don’t really follow a normal periodisation. Generally it is more like ‘at home’, ‘at camp’ and ‘off-season’ mileage. Ironman doesn’t really have a season, so although we work towards specific races we generally try to simply build up our training performance. If you can hit your goal numbers in training, the races take care of themselves.

It’s important to remember that your mileage or hours done in a week plays a very limited role in performance improvement.
The secret: If you can push your body enough that it is stress beyond normal and recover enough that it adapts to the stress, you will get stronger and faster.


Whether you achieve that with more hours, higher intensity or new and varied challenges is up to you, your lifestyle and your goals.

3. How do you find balance as a pro athlete – surely it can be all consuming to eat, sleep & train ALL day.

The previous year was my first as a full-time Pro, and finding the balance took some time. Having a good coach made a big difference and I can certainly see why so many new pro’s burn themselves out in their first year or two. It is VERY difficult to spend enough time recovering when you have nothing else to do! After 2-3 hours of couch-sitting you feel completely recovered and ready for another session, but of course your body is barely beginning the recovery process!

Finding ways to keep yourself busy with other things is important, and trying to keep those things limited to non-physical and non-triathlon related as much as possible is the challenge. I think that focusing on triathlon 24-7 also is a major factor in newbie-pro burnout. I spend a lot of time watching TV and movies, and when in SA I try to spend time with mates who are not into triathlon as often as possible.

4. There surely is enough training advice out there, but what were they key adaptations you made to move from being an age grouper to a pro in terms of your training?

As alluded to in the previous answer, the biggest difference is probably not so much training related, as it is recovery related. Having the time to sleep or just veg out between sessions allows for the sessions to be that much more effective.

This improved recovery also allows me to do more high-intensity work and sessions that drain me completely more often – 1-2 days of real recovery and I can be back at it, where it would previously have taken 3-5 days to recover.

5. Who is supporting your cause this year in terms of sponsors?

In 2010 I will again be in the colours of TeamTBB, and the team is my main support providing a salary, coaching and training camps to attend. The team itself is sponsored this year by The Bike Boutique, Cervelo (new P4 next week!), Avia shoes, 3T, blueseventy, Louis Garneau and Scody clothing.

Oakley has also come on board and have given me some awesome eyewear!


6. Your view on the new professional license from the WTC?

Urm… Well, it is a tough question and I am not yet too sure of my answer.

On the one hand it seems like a big positive step in the direction of getting Ironman professionals and the sport as a whole organised, something that is badly needed. Improved drug-testing protocols have been needed for a while and having an official body providing pro-licenses helps to give the sport a professional face.

On the other hand, I can’t help but feel it is another money-making ploy by WTC. WTC promotes the system by saying that it will save me many entry fees as they are now all free with the license, but in my last 2 years as a pro I have never paid for an entry fee (except to WTC at Kona). Now I am forced to pay $750 and still have to pay Kona entry fee, meaning I will be paying upwards of $1350 to WTC this year, compared to the $500 paid last year for Kona. That extra money should be covering better drug testing, but we already see that failing as no-one was tested at Ironman 70.3 in East London this year!

What I really hope is that this system provides the catalyst for forming some sort of Pro union that can stand up to WTC and its monopoly on the sport, demanding bigger prize purses, better testing and giving the athletes themselves some say in the running of their sport – something that is badly lacking with WTC’s current dictatorship.

7. Who are your biggest competitors for IMSA in April and why specifically?

Honestly, I have no idea who will be racing Ironman SA yet! And probably won’t until I get to the press conference before the race. If Marino Vanhoenacker returns, he will be the hot favourite, and obviously Raynard Tissink is always a contender. I will be focusing on having my best possible race on the day, and we’ll just have to see who can keep up…

8. Is there anything specific you want to show us? I heard you got a new bike this week.

Unfortunately I don’t yet have my new Cervelo P4, but will be getting it on Tuesday. I fly out to Singapore on Monday (22nd) and pick up my new P4, kitted out with SRAM Red and 3T bars, before heading on the Krabi, Thailand for a 7 week training camp with the team before I return for IMSA in April. (I will send you photos of my new toy as soon as I have it!)

9. If people wanted to follow your movements, what are your blog addresses, facebook pages, etc?

• Facebook:
• Blog:
• Twitter:

10. Are there any secrets to the IMSA course that you feel make your day just that little bit easier because you know about it? Local knowledge is often the most powerful thing.

Having some local knowledge certainly helps, and I live on the course so I know every pothole personally. But the IMSA course is not technical at all so the advantage is limited. Perhaps the only thing you can learn is where there are ‘false flats’ as there are a few areas of the course where things suddenly feel tough despite being on seemingly flat road. Knowing where these are and how to push through them helps a bit.

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