Joe Gambles' racing and coaching excellence

He might be one of the world's top triathletes, but Joe Gambles has also turned out to be a pretty impressive coach. TriathlonWorld.com catches up with him after his amazing coaching debut and as he prepares for Ironman Arizona.

| November 11, 2016 | PERSONALITY

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

Joe Gambles has lots of racing still ahead of him, but he’s already proving that he has some pretty impressive coaching opportunities likely to come his way, too, once he decides to hang up his running shoes and bike.

Gambles has more than a few impressive results on his resume: he won Ironman Wisconsin, his first full-distance race, in 2010. He won the ITU European long distance champs in 2008, finished second at the ITU world long distance championship in 2011 and was the bronze medalist at the Ironman 70.3 world championship in 2013. Add to that five Ironman 70.3 Boulder titles and lots of other wins and you have a very respectable resume.

He feels, though, that despite those impressive results, he’s “yet to reach (his) full potential, especially over the Ironman distance” and hopes to focus on the Ironman World Championship in Kona for the next three or four years to see if he can meet his goals. He’ll continue his efforts to get to the start line in Kona next weekend at Ironman Arizona.

Gambles was in Kona this year, but thanks to some injury issues over the last year or so, he wasn’t there as an athlete, but rather as a coach. His coaching debut on the Big Island was a resounding success – in January he started working with Heather Jackson, who raced to a stunning third place finish.

Photo >Getty Images

While in Bend, Oregon visiting a physiotherapist, Gambles spent some time with Jackson and her husband, Sean Watkins.

“I’ve know Wattie (Watkins) since Wildflower in 2005 and Heather since 2007,” Gambles says. “Wattie was my former manager and Heather was on the Trek/ K-Swiss team for two of the four years I was on it. They came to our wedding a few years ago … I got chatting with Heather – we swam together a few times, and after one of the swims we got talking about her training. She didn’t seem to be as motivated as I’d seen her in the past and didn’t seem to have a lot of motivation and direction. A few hours later Wattie called me and asked me if I’d be interested in coaching Heather. I started coaching her the next day.”

For Jackson the move turned out to be a good one. Earlier this year she blasted through the Ironman Lake Placid course, setting a new course record along the way, then had that third-place finish in Kona.

“He’s incredible, but part of it is that he’s also a racer,” Jackson says. “For me it’s been huge validation to do a workout, or string together weeks and weeks of workouts and have him be complementary and say “not so many pros are able to do this. For me this year it was consistent – he’d put a week of training in, I’d do it, and he’d put the next one in.”

The admiration goes both ways:

“She’s so easy to coach,” Gambles says. “It’s been a successful year, for Heather and my first of coaching.”

Gambles, always extremely analytical about his own training, has found it helpful to be thinking about someone else when it comes to training plans. He used himself as a “guinea pig” for Jackson’s training heading into Lake Placid through his own preparation for the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt. Unfortunately a back issue a few weeks before that race forced him to pull out of that race, but obviously the preparation was solid (based on Jackson’s impressive performance a few weeks later.)

Despite his coaching success, Gambles has no intention of slowing down his own training and racing, or taking on any other athletes. Life is busy enough at the Gambles home in Boulder, Colorado, where the British-born Aussie (his family moved to Australia in 1985) has lived since 2008. Gambles and his wife Paige are expecting their first child in a few months.

Gambles looks forward to big things for both himself and Jackson next year.

“There’s big improvements still to be made for Heather,” he says. “We made a big step forward in her swim, but we didn’t have any one-on-one contact with her swimming. I want to get her out to Boulder and I’ll get out to Bend to really work on the technique side of things. We saw a glimpse of her bike potential in Lake Placid. We want to bring her swim up, get her bike back to where it should be and maintain her run.”