By Jeff Barton
It’s the pinnacle of the DEKA FIT experience: earning the crown of an Elite World Champion. Hundreds of athletes attempted to qualify. Twelve of the best hybrid athletes on the planet did battle in Atlantic City with the world title on the line. One man planned the race of a lifetime and executed it to perfection. He’s your 2022 DEKA FIT World Champion, Rich Ryan.
The first ever DEKA FIT elite male world champion. You’re that guy. How does that feel?
It is really validating. It’s validating in the effort that I put forward and the time I spend with training, thinking about training, learning about training. A lot of the fitness shows up within the training itself. Racing is a different animal – you can be the most fit on the course and still not win. I’ve bumped up against that in the past couple of years, so going into that event it was a mental hurdle to actually win and beating the established guys like Rylan Schadegg and Ryan Kent. So being able to beat the athletes that are considered the best was very validating for the perspective of mindset, being able to put all the rage pieces together from a physical and the mental side.
If looking back gave you a sense of validation, then looking forward to the world championship at the end of last year had to offer some trepidation. Right before Worlds, in West Palm Beach, some of your fellow racers were putting PR’s left and right and you did not turn in one of your best performances. Was it stressful? Was it strategy? Where was your head after West Palm Beach?
I don’t know if frustrated is the right term, but I definitely got worked at that race. I thought my fitness was at a better level than it was but it definitely was part of my plan. I did not want to show up to West Palm at my best. That doesn’t mean I didn’t want to race well but I didn’t want my focus on the season to be pointed at something that wasn’t the championship. Being in West Palm was more about gaining the race experience. I was physically probably closer to 80 or 85% of my training and race preparation. It became more about what I could take away from there, and then moving forward towards my training for the championship. It was easy to move past that race, and that gave me a good sense of what I had to do in training to beat these athletes. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and it was a whole new dose of motivation knowing I was going to be going against guys like Rylan Shadegg and Ryan Kent, who are always going to be the fittest people at any event. And then you think about all the depth behind them at West Palm. I ended up seventh or eighth in that race and I just figured that okay, it’s not going to be easy even to be on the podium at worlds let alone to win. So it was definitely more of a motivation factor than it was any type of frustration. I had a plan and it was part of it.
When you think about the performance is put up right before worlds by Ryan and Rylan, within 10 seconds of each other, it’s both impressive, but it naturally creates a rivalry between these two specific racers. Do you think it’s an advantage to you to not have the pressure of trying to be embroiled in a rivalry, getting to train for your own race?
For the World Championship event, specifically in Atlantic City, it was certainly evident that those two were wrapped up in racing each other. And that led, from my perspective, for them both to go a little too hard too soon. They may not have been factoring in anyone else to be at their fitness level, so I was able to capitalize on that pretty well. And while I don’t mind being under the radar, if there are expectations for me, I am good with that as well, because I already have expectations of myself. What is going on during the race, all the external factors of what other races are doing, All the eyeballs that are on us as we’re competing. One of the layers of my success has been my ability to block those things out and maintaining my focus on the things I need to concentrate on. And that’s both in training and during the race. I’m never trying to chase what somebody else is doing. I have trust in my training and I know what I need to do for the process. So going back to the initial part of the question, yeah, it was good for me that those two went out a little hot and my fitness was definitely better in Atlantic City than it was in previous races.
Take me back to the actual race itself for the DEKA FIT World Championship. Was there any point during the race that kind of dawned on you that “holy crap, I’m gonna win this thing!”? Do you allow that to enter your mind or are you focused on simply crossing that finish line?
It was probably later than it looked during the race. Looking back, I had a healthy margin probably coming out of the assault bikes having already taken over the lead right after the farmers carry, which is the halfway point of the race. But thinking back to my experience racing earlier in the season in Chicago and then again in West Palm, I fell apart on the back three stations so even though I was trusting in my fitness, I knew that a crash was possible. I really tried to stay engaged through the dead ball wall-overs and by the time I got to the tanks I had already established a one lap lead and I knew it would be hard to make up that kind of time so late in the race for others. So it was when I left Zone 9 that I was pretty sure I had it. And even heading into the burpees in the final zone. I felt some negative feelings slip in. The thought of “just don’t blow this” entered my mind. And there are plenty examples out there of athletes who get in their own way and don’t realize they are doing so in the moment. I usually don’t try to motivate myself from the negative perspective, but this is a legacy situation. I don’t want to be that athlete who didn’t grab an opportunity. Winning a race is hard not just from the physical side but the mental side as well. You have to allow yourself, to trust yourself that you can do this. Even at that point in this race I wasn’t quite sure I was ready so I actually tried to just hold onto the lead, keep the pedal down and tried to stay engaged in exact moment where I was.
So now you find yourself as “the guy”, the defending World Champion. Do you feel any type of obligation to defend your title, does it feel like a burden or a responsibility or is it just something that’s going to happen one way or the other?
It’s going to happen, one way or the other. I don’t feel a lot of pressure to perform well. At the same time, I’m confident that I will perform well.
Last year’s mid-season performances were more by product of my training intent, maybe not prioritizing being fast and being ready until the very last second when I needed it to be there. My strategy is going to be a little bit different this year. I plan to be more race ready all season so I don’t create a crunch time where I need to focus harder or I need to get a qualifying time. I enjoy the process of race preparation I like training like this I like thinking about it, bringing up new things. It would be easy to run back the same type of strategy I had last season, but I like to explore, I like to work and figure out how I can progress this thing further. I want to see what else I’m capable of doing in this category of fitness I’m excited to get back into the lab to see what my fitness is from last year to this year and see what we can figure out.
Favorite DEKA Zone
I feel we are just scraping the surface of what we can do on the machines. So I’d say I like the ski erg. The row erg is a little too early in the course to totally go crazy on, but you get to that ski erg, and there is a lot of time to be made up there. It’s a very trainable machine and the progress that we can see is going to be exponential. There’s a lot of room to grow, I really like working on that machine, seeing the improvement and it’s at a point in the race that is make or break. I know how the rest of the race will play out once I leave that zone.
Nemesis DEKA Zone
It’s the dead ball wall overs or the tanks as well. Part of it is their positioning in the race, and that they are both very effort based. So if things are really dragging for you as a racer, it’s easy to let time slip away with the wall overs. It just seems like a zone that you should quickly get in and out of but it’s easy to lose 20 or 30 seconds by not being focused.
The assault bike zone is one area that really kills people. People need to think about what isn’t going to kill them coming in and out of there. You want to survive that zone and manage the rest of the race rather than getting on the assault, bike and hammering the thing because you’re saying position changes going on. Do you want to perform well there but you don’t want to focus to the point where you expect close to a personal best every time.
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