Interview of Billy Hafferty by Brendan Hall
BHall: Haff, as incredibly open and honest as you are, I think most of BTT would still consider you a man of mystery, a conundrum or perhaps even a half-unwrapped piece of sprinkle-encrusted candy. Please tell us about yourself. (i.e. Where did you grow up? Family life? College? Formative athletic experiences?)
Hafferty: Huh? My story? Okay. Sandwich is where I called home growing up, conveniently located just about the half-way mark on the Boston to P-town ride. I went to school not too far from home at Mass Maritime Academy (“MMA”) where I called myself an offensive lineman, a “prop” on the rugby pitch, and the Student Government Association (“SGA”) student trustee. I did a lot of things at MMA; but swimming, biking, and especially running were never one of them.
BHall: You were a grizzly lineman at Mass Maritime, eh? How much weight have you lost since then and how did you get into triathlon?
Hafferty: I graduated MMA at about 230. My top weight was about 240 and I am pretty happy to say I am not THAT big anymore… I got off my car carrier after spending a few months in the lovely Persian Gulf and after a week or so of owning Call of Duty n00bs, I decided I had to stop being a slob. I went for a run. I was living in Somerville at the time and I couldn’t tell you where I went but I ran for about an hour and felt miserable. After a long sit down meeting with one of my more, how do you say, “porcelain” friends, I decided I wanted to run a half marathon. I had no idea what or how to train (still don’t) but I fell in love with running and training, and I loved seeing the pounds fall off.
It was a new me after a while and none of my friends or family knew what got into me. I finished the Providence “Rock and Roll” half (in quotes because the bands couldn’t play, it was raining so hard) in the pouring rain and with a huge smile on my face. I needed more. I was addicted. My brother convinced me to get a bike, so I did, and started riding (still with no concept of how far “far” was). That was the benefit of having 6 months of paid vacation per year! I did whatever I wanted and rode for however long I wanted.
I have no idea how I found my first sprint tri (Middlebury, Connecticut) or why I signed up for it. No clue. Not one. I bought a wet suit off of Craigslist from a guy who looked like my size (never tried it on) and toed the line without ever swimming for any sort of distance. (I hit the first turn buoy of a ½ mile swim and did the back stroke the rest of the way. I thought I was going to die. After the race I deemed an IRONMAN impossible. But still I needed more. For the record, I can still throw down in Call of Duty.
BHall: It's a well-known fact (to Tim Daley and me, at least) that you have spent a considerable amount of time at sea. You’re a decorated Seaman. There, I said it. What the hell were you doing out there? How did you pass the time and what was the most interesting sea creature you encountered?
Hafferty: It’s weird being gone for so long… and when the ship wasn’t passing my time for me, I found even weird ways to occupy my time. (One of) The weirdest being that I would read as many “stranded at sea” books as I could find. I have no idea why but that is just what I wanted to read. They are highly symbolic and very intriguing, don’t get me wrong, but why I wanted to read them and only them in my free time (not much), I had no idea. Books like Unbroken (great because this one was about being stranded at sea AND running), Life of Pi, Old Man and the Sea, Master and Commander, and Perfect Storm…
The most interesting sea creature I have ever encountered was a bartender in Bremerhaven, Germany. It’s a long story and I haven’t had enough tequila tonight to tell it…
BHall: There is a legend of a man who disembarked from his ship in the San Francisco Bay, ran 10+ miles to the Golden Gate Bridge, snapped a selfie, emailed it to his boss and then ran 10+ miles back to the ship, all for the allure of overtime pay. Are you that man?
Hafferty: Ha! That is I… Kind of. I had the watch in the engine room from noon to midnight… The chief engineer asked me if I could possibly extend my two month stay on the grand hotel-de-oil-tanker luxury cruise line. I told him unfortunately I could not because I was committed to my first 50k… When he found out the date of the race and did a little math, his next question was “How are you going to run 31 miles two weeks after you get off the ship and with no training?” I told him I had no idea and he then threw down a bold statement and, minus a few expletives, said if I could run to the Golden Gate Bridge from the ship (docked in Richmond, CA), not only would he stand my watch but he would pay me to do it!... Seeing this as my only opportunity to become a professional runner for a day, I spoke no more of the challenge and went to bed once I was relieved of watch (midnight). I signed off the ship at 0330 and since you can’t run over the San Rafael Bridge, I took a cab to the end of it and got on my little way – It was pitch black out but I had my head lamp and cell phone. I, very timely I might add, snapped a selfie with the ship across the bay and sent it to the chief at 8am (union coffee break time). It was about 18 miles to the bridge and afterwards I decided to “gump it” and just keep going… I ran to the curvy and famous Lombard Street. I ran up a hill to catch a trolley and rode it around for a bit sightseeing in my running shorts. I took a cab back because my pockets were fat and legs were tired (both from running all day)! Chief was pissed. It was awesome.
BHall: I don't mean to “out” you in front of BTT like this but you are a serious Cross-Fitter which is quite controversial in the tri community. Do all those flying burpee- pull-up-tire-jump-flips help you when you’re out on the race course? If so, please elaborate...
Hafferty: Ahhh you went there! Crossfit started for me as just another way to get my heart rate up and move around a bit. I’ve always been obsessed with the movement of the body. I think everyone has the right to be able to express themselves fully through movement and range of motion (maybe that’s why I like to dance so much?) But seriously, flexibility and mobility is huge. Being able to get down into a full squat without raising your heels off the ground, being able to hold a hand stand.
Crossfit really grew on me after I hurt myself training for the Hyannis half marathon this past February. My IT band was shot after the race and I didn’t want it to happen again. I wanted to get stronger and correct the movement. That is what Crossfit did for me. I couldn’t run for months after the Hyannis half but squatting, lunging, and jumping rope were awesome. Crossfit is high intensity functional movement and as long as you listen to your body and not be stupid (some Crossfitters are) about form and weight you aren’t ready to lift, it will pay dividends huge.
Crossfit is high intensity functional movement. Watch somebody do a “strict muscle up” on the rings (Youtube it) and tell me… if you put the person horizontal, in the water, it is not the perfect hand and elbow position for a swim stroke…. Or doing a heavy set of squatting; if you can keep your knees from going valgus, your core tight, and neck long it will help you do the same thing on the bike or running, it will enable you to access your glutes and posterior chain (bigger muscles) while you go thru a pedal stroke or a stride.
BHall: Speaking of absurd acrobatics, many of us watched with great delight as you crossed the hallowed ground of the IM Lake Placid finish line…on your hands. Was that a product of your brain short-circuiting after 140.6 miles or was it a bit of premeditated tomfoolery?
Hafferty: Ha. I knew I wanted to do something to stand out. Call me an extrovert. While I was training I just thought of how much time I invested into finishing and I wanted to make it memorable for myself. The only way I know how to do that is to go over the top and make it memorable to everyone else. I don’t know. I just wanted to share the moment with everyone. I have a ton of fun in every single race. It doesn’t matter if I feel like crap or am nailing a PR, the one thing I pride myself on is never forgetting to have fun and enjoying the moment I am in “right now”… To be honest, I was really aiming to get in a couple more strides on my hands in but, well, I was exhausted… I have a burning desire to top it in Canada next year… Open to suggestions but I have a few thoughts in place already.
BHall: You have, what some would describe as, an unreasonable amount of enthusiasm and energy. What pump-up music do you listen to before a race to bring that energy into razor sharp focus or do you just listen to the booming bass of your own war drum-like heartbeat?
Hafferty: “I hear your hearrrrrt beat to the beat of the drum, BOOM BOOM”… ahh I’ll listen to anything BHall… I sometimes thumb thru the radio stations and see how many songs I can pick up singing wherever it is (most of the times I do this I am alone).
I have been known to TJ (trainer jockey) the Landry’s indoor training sessions with Jorge and E3ers and I’ll be damned if the power increase over the 8 weeks wasn’t a little bit a result of the music we listened to on day one and the final test!!!... Trainer rides in the winter get long and boring and I have music-ADD so the thought of a full song kind gets old after a while… Enter EDM, dubstep, and mashups… HUGE FAN – 101.7fm the evolution… as some of you may know… it starts in Boston. I was down at the electric zoo festival the beginning of the month; mind-altering drugs and people dying aside, it was a great time…
BHall: Switching gears…Have your heard of Madlibs? No? Ok, then just fill in these blanks. Completed by Hafferty.
My favorite part about being on BTT is:___the golden speedo______ and if I could somehow inhabit the body of one current team member, it would be:___Brett Johnston_____because:__of the methodical and flamboyant way he sports the epic speedo__ and not because I like to wear other people’s skin as a mask.
-A day without___Bullet Proof Coffee_____is a day not worth living but if I were forced to live such a day, it would be (in the arms of Brendan hall) because that is my favorite place in the world.
-The next place I’d really love to travel to is_usually bed__.
-Something that no one on the team knows about me is:__I can think of a movie line or Youtube clip in seconds that fits perfectly into the moment/conversation (see question one)__.