Training for an Ironman presents numerous challenges on its own. Training for the Ironman World Championships while in space is even more difficult! But for astronaut and International Space Station Commander, Luca Parmitano, it's a challenge that he embraced and conquered. Join us for an 'out of this world' episode as Luca and his coach, John Mayfield, discuss training in a zero gravity environment. Listen in as Luca makes comparisons between preparation for space and triathlon training.
TriDot Podcast .031
From Spaceman to Ironman: The Luca Parmitano Story
Intro: This is the TriDot podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training. Giving you better results in less time, with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We'll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation, and let's improve together.
Andrew: Hey folks, welcome to a very special edition of the TriDot podcast. We have a lot of awesome athletes in the TriDot family, all from different places with unique backgrounds and stories. But none of us, and this isn't subjective guys, this is very objective, none of us have experienced anything close to the guest I have with me today. Luca Parmitano is a European Space Agency astronaut.
He completed his first six-month mission to the International Space Station in 2013. He returned to space in 2019, serving as the third European and first Italian commander of the International Space Station during Expedition 61. Luca has spent 366 days in space conducting six spacewalks, totaling 33 hours and 9 minutes in his career.
And as if all of that wasn't cool enough, Luca was the first astronaut to perform a live DJ session in space. And of course, he's an avid triathlete and Kona finisher as well. Luca, welcome back to earth and, more importantly, welcome to the TriDot Podcast.
Luca: Thank you, thank you for having me. This is really cool.
Andrew: Also joining us today is Coach John Mayfield, a successful Ironman athlete himself; John leads TriDot’s athlete services, ambassador and coaching programs. He has coached hundreds of athletes ranging from first-timers to Kona qualifiers and professional triathletes. John has been using TriDot since 2010 and coaching with TriDot since 2012.
And John you've also served as Luca’s coach since he came into the sport. Should I add a note to your bio moving forward that you are the only tri coach in the world to coach an athlete in space?
John: I've actually coached two in space.
Andrew: Plot twist.
John: So the bar is raised.
Andrew: Bragging rights!
John: Yes. Like somebody can come along and do one, and I'm still ahead.
Andrew: All right. Well, who am I? I am your host Andrew the average triathlete, voice of the people, and captain of the middle of the pack. Today we're going to get going with a warm-up question, and then we'll move on to the main set talking with Luca about his spaceman and Ironman experiences.
Then we'll cool down with John and I asking some rapid-fire style questions to Luca about all of the kind of living in space kind of things that we all want to know about. It's going to be great, let's get to it.
Narrator: Time to warm up; let's get moving.
Andrew: So today's warm-up question is 112 percent inspired by my wife and I who have recently been binge-watching all of the Marvel superhero movies during the COVID quarantine. But with a real-life superhero of sorts on the show today, I feel like this question works, guys.
So let's just say aliens and superheroes are real, and you are dropped into the Marvel Universe to help the Avengers fight in space to save earth. What superheroes powers would you most want to have? Luca, as the guy in the room who has actually been to outer space, I'm going to start with you. Do you watch all the superhero movies?
Luca: I am an avid superhero movie watcher.
Andrew: I'm glad to hear. I was a little nervous scripting that; I was like, what if this guy's never seen any of these movies?
Luca: No, I watched them all, and while I was in orbit, my daughters watched all of them. Not in release order, but in the chronology order around what makes sense, so kudos to them. So I actually like the idea of the normal average guy that gets to do something really extraordinary.
So rather than having a superpower, I kind of like the Falcon guy, having a suit that lets you fly and being able to kind of rise above normality. Not by having a superpower, which is really, there's no merit in any superpower. But being capable of flying a machine and maneuvering and mastering something, I think there's something really cool about that.
So if I could have a super-suit, then it takes the average guy like myself and makes him do something really special that would be my thing. In a way when you wear a spacesuit and go outside and you're able to perform and work in open space, in the vacuum of space, it's a little bit like that.
Andrew: It's very much like that because it's taking an ordinary person and adding, letting the technology kind of elevate you to superhero superhuman status, right?
Luca: Exactly, and that is actually one of the things that most astronauts like to communicate. We are visible in a way, because of what we do. But as people, we are really ordinary. As a matter of fact, during the selection process.
Andrew: I don't buy it, John, he's not ordinary.
Luca: Let me expand on that. During the selection process, I think what the space agency looks for is not somebody that really excels in a field or in a particular job, because usually when you have somebody that is incredibly focused on one specific thing, you might be lacking on other sides.
And so, instead, what I now just do in my selection process and the subsequent ones is that what the space agencies are trying to achieve is to get a person that can perform a variety of tasks. And really, I don't feel like I will ever excel at anything, but I can do a lot of things well or really well or not so well, but I still can manage to do that.
Andrew: Good enough to be sent to out of space, he can do them all. So John, what about you? So for Luca, it's almost the becoming Ironman, becoming like he said Captain Falcon like any of the guys that just kind of take technology and utilize it.
John: You know I suck at these questions, I always struggle. And I'm struggling actually with this one because I'm not a superhero movie guy.
Andrew: John, you're not a movie guy just in general.
John: I'm not. But I will say the correct answer for Luca would have been the ability to breathe underwater because during his first spaceflight, he actually almost drown in outer space. Which is actually a story in and of itself, but he was out on...
Andrew: That's going to come up, we're going to cover that.
John: Okay. So the correct answer for Luca would have been much shorter and would have simply been the ability to breathe underwater.
Luca: Yes. But Aquaman is the wrong universe, so I'm not going to bring in the [crosstalk]
Andrew: See, he knows, he knows the difference between Marvel and DC and all the different things, yes!
Luca: You're talking to an astronaut, I am a nerd. Like nerd squared, so nerd x nerd, and then you have me.
Andrew: I love it.
Luca: So I know a lot of different universes of comics.
Andrew: I love that. So John, what about for you though, any of the characters maybe you caught a trailer, and you're like, that guy looks really cool.
John: I guess. I don't know. Batman has some cool toys, I guess.
Andrew: He does, yes.
John: And has a Batcave.
Andrew: Who would be your Robin in this scenario?
John: You. I think you'd be a great sidekick Andrew.
Andrew: Deep down, that was the answer I was hoping for, so John, thanks for not letting me down.
John: You're welcome.
Andrew: All right. I know for me personally, again having seen all the movies and like Luca knowing the difference between Marvel and DC and all different worlds I loved Dr. Strange, Dr. Stephen Strange that movie was really cool, really different. He's kind of the wizard who protects the city of New York from all the alien invasions, and he's got all the little, the time stone, necklace that he wears, and it kind of gives him all these different powers and things that he can do.
And he can kind of manipulate time and space and stuff around him. And I don't know, like it, that story arc is just really cool. If I was jumping into the Marvel Universe as a superhero, I would want to be the Stephen Strange Wizard-whatever you call it. All right, we're going to throw this question out on our social media page.
TriDot triathlon training on Instagram, on Facebook, out on the I AM TriDot group on Facebook as well. We want to hear your answers, what superheroes powers would you want to have? And would you use them to save the world, or would you use them to speed up your triathlon time? Go find us on Facebook and let us know.
Narrator: On to the main set, going in three, two, one.
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Being a triathlete that has completed an Ironman puts you in pretty good company. Being a triathlete that is completed in the Ironman in Kona puts you an even rarer company. Being a spaceman who was also an Ironman that has completed the World Championships in Kona, puts you in the rarest of companies.
And today, we are talking to Luca Parmitano, who is one of the two people in the world that fits that description. Luca, no one becomes an Ironman by accident. There are usually months and years of preparation before someone crosses the finish line, but even more so, no one becomes an astronaut by accident. So tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a European Space Agency astronaut.
Luca: Sure. I'll try to keep it short because I don't want people to fall asleep while listening to me. It'll be easy because I would say that my story is so typical to almost be boring. I grew up in southern Italy, in Cecily as a matter of fact. So for most of my life, I thought that being an astronaut would be an impossible dream, and in many ways, it was. Then I became an exchange student in the United States, and I met a person that kind of changed my approach to many things, including my approach to flying and military flight.
And it was so fascinating for me that when I went back to Italy, I was still a high school student. I applied for the selection to become a cadet in the Italian Air Force Academy. I was selected, I went through the Air Force Academy in Italy, and I became a pilot. Once I became a pilot, that dream of becoming an astronaut sort of came back, and that was my entryway into the European Space Agency. Because in 2008, there was a call for astronauts about 8520 people sent valid applications.
Andrew: It's quite a few.
Luca: And then through a one-year-long selection process, they selected six astronauts plus one reserve.
Andrew: Out of that 8,000 applicants?
Luca: Six astronauts plus a reserve, and there is currently a seventh astronaut of the core. And then yes, that's how I was selected as an astronaut in 2009. And then went through basic training about 14 months and right after that, I was assigned to a mission right off the bat. I graduated as an astronaut, got my pin, and was assigned to a mission and started training for my first expedition.
Andrew: So you get picked right off the bat, and kind of assigned to a mission?
Andrew: And so what was kind of the process from there on and actually getting ready to launch into space?
Luca: That's where the fun started.
Luca: Because now you have this guy who, in theory, is graduated from basic training and he doesn't know anything about being an astronaut. So now you have to teach this guy who is an astronaut today to become an astronaut. And also to really take a crew that has never worked together, and so you take three people, and you transform them into a crew. And that's where the story with Chris, the other astronaut who's also an Ironman starts. That's where we met for the first time, doing the astronaut training.
So when you are assigned to a mission to an expedition, there are several parts to it. A lot of it is again going back to school, classrooms about the systems. You have to become proficient with all the basic systems and emergency systems of the space station and the Soyuz. In my case, I was the Soyuz pilot. You have a commander, a pilot, and a passenger, and as the pilot, you are responsible for the systems of the spacecraft. You basically have to become as proficient as that commander of the Soyuz.
And hence, the need for Russian training. And you end up spending about half the time in Russia both learning the language and technicalities, and how to fly the spacecraft. And then there are a lot of other aspects you need to learn. You need to be able to fly the robotic arm, the canadarm2, which is this huge robotic arm that is what built the space station. And currently, it tracks and captures the cargo vehicles. And then one of the parts that I like the most is EVA training, and that is really cool because you do it in several different ways.
Andrew: And EVA is?
Luca: An EVA is an extravehicular activity, EVA, extravehicular activity with the EMU suit, and yes, everything has an acronym in the space world. And that's for spacewalks exactly, and then you do it in different ways. Some of the training is done underwater with an actual suit, and that's in order to learn how to move in 3D and how to navigate the space station, the outside of the space station.
Part of it is done in a virtual reality environment wearing a VR helmet and gloves and moving around in a VR space. And then a third part is suspended in a very cool system called Argos, and that's wearing a real spacesuit, and it allows you to interact and interface with tools that are actually real. The ones underwater are special versions that can stay underwater.
Andrew: Wow. So it gets a lot more hands-on as you're starting to prepare for the actual mission itself.
Luca: Exactly, and that's the biggest difference. You start working on the experiments on the different systems, and you learn how to use them and to work in them. It's not too different; I would say that in many ways, it's consistent with what you do as an athlete. Where, in order to achieve performance, you cannot just rely on your physical capabilities.
You also have to understand the physiology behind it and how the system works and why your body reacts in a certain way. If you just start running without having a plan of how to improve your speed or your form, you're not going to improve. And that's what we try to do when you prep for our spaceflight, you start with understanding, and then you go on to the practical aspects of it.
Andrew: I was watching the Apollo 11 documentary that was put out recently. We actually took the actual footage of those guys and the actual sound bites from Mission Control, and kind of made a documentary out of it. And I remember then from a health aspect, that they were saying what those guys’ heart rates were as they were taking off into space and when they were actually landing on the moon, what their heart rates were.
And those dudes were cold-blooded like their heart rates were like 110. Like I would think my heart would be just like beating out of my chest, strapped into a rocket about to take-off into the outer space, right? And they were chilling. Like what is that moment like, when you're strapped into the rocket, and you're about to blast off in the outer space?
Luca: I was pretty excited; my heart rate was about 85. And that's true because I do have the numbers. Again, there's nothing superhuman about those guys or these guys or certainly me; it's all about knowledge. Your heart rate goes up because you are dealing with an unknown, and the physical reaction to the known is what we call fear, which is, in fact, a combination of many different things. Your heart rate goes up so that the blood goes to your muscles so that you can fight or flight. You can react either running away or fighting whatever you don't know.
Andrew: I'm a flighter, 1000%.
Luca: And man, that's the right answer to 95% of the cases I would say. But that's the reason why we all react like that; it's just to increase the performance, right? But if the systems then part of that unknown goes away, part of that stress goes away. If you're familiar with the spacecraft that's launching you into space, you have faith in how the system is going to work.
So that's why you have to count on the resources you have. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were relying on their skills for which they trained long and hard. They relied on the ground team that was guiding them and giving them counseling, and they relied on the spacecraft that they had studied, and that's how you keep your heart rate down just out of knowledge. It's the only antidote to fear; it's knowledge. And that's the same when you go out on an EVA for the first time.
John: So I was in Mission Control or actually like a room right next to Mission Control both times that Luca launched.
Andrew: Well, look at you. How cool are you? I had no idea.
John: I'm as cool as Luca lets me be.
Luca: You were actually invited to the launch in Kazakhstan, and then different things didn't allow him to come.
Andrew: You didn't go to Kazakhstan for the launch? Luca invite me next time. I'll go to the launch in Kazakhstan.
John: I wanted to go. But yes, I was back home in Houston, and I will say my heart rate was not 85. But I did not have the knowledge and all that Luca did, but even the second time. So yes, I'd say maybe it was a little less nervous the second time. But I will say yes my whole family, so at the time Luca lived across the street from us, that's how we got to know each other.
And that's actually how Luca learned what a triathlon, not what triathlon was, but he got recruited in as so many people we pull in. So yes, me and my family were at both of Luca's launches. And yes, we could tell, definitely more nervous than he was on those. So yes, I was more like high zone two, maybe low zone three at launch.
Andrew: So I grew up in Florida, and I grew up in a town called Lakeland, Florida. It's probably about 45 to 60 minutes away from Orlando, probably about 90 minutes from Cape Canaveral, where the space shuttles would launch. And so in elementary school, on launch days, we would go outside of the elementary school and step out in the PE field.
You could see it from a 90-minute drive away, halfway into the state away, you could see the space shuttle going up, plain as day, you could see the plume of smoke behind it, and it was an event. Every time a Space Shuttle was launched, we would just go outside see and then go back in and go back to class. So it's crazy how far away you can feel the rumble, you can see the flames, like what does it feel like being launched into outer space on a rocket?
Luca: Well, this, you see, was a little smaller than the shuttle. So having talked to people that have both the experiences, what I can tell you is this. The Space Shuttle was very smooth coming back, and really rough going up, and this flight was the exactly the opposite, it's a very smooth ride going up. Because you're trained for so long for that moment, both times, I felt a very calm sense of chaos.
The days are really long, but at the same time and there's all this music, all these people, all this excitement, but you are really calm inside because you're focused. And so there are two parts to the launch, there is the professional side, there is the astronaut. And he is focused on the instruments, on the procedures, on the spacecraft, on everything, what's happening in the momentum. And with your brain, you're about five to ten minutes in the future of what's about to happen so that you can prevent anything going awry.
On the other hand, and that's the best part. There's Luca from 30 years ago, the kid that six years old, ten years old, the teenager dreaming about what it's like to be an astronaut. Now that person, that Luca is still there, and he still cannot believe that it's happening.
So that part of me still leaves that fact of going to space as a dream state, and it's in a state of awe. And I love it; I love the fact that I can look back and think about my internal, my inside self is smiling with wonder both launching, getting into space, into orbit. Arriving on the space station, and every single second spent in microgravity.
Andrew: Walk us through kind of a typical day aboard the International Space Station. What are kind of the day-to-day tasks that you're doing?
Luca: There is a general structure of the day, which is you wake up somewhere between 6:00 and 6:30 because the day starts around 7:30 with the first call to the ground. We initiate the call from the space station, it's usually the privilege of the commander to call down and say hey Houston, good morning this is expedition such-and-such and we are ready for the morning DPC, the daily planning conference.
Before that, between the time you wake up and that daily planning conference, that's when you have breakfast, get ready by checking out what the day is going to be like. In general, we are supposed to work about six and a half seven hours a day from 7:30 to 7:30 in the evening with one hour break for lunch and two and a half hours set aside for physical exercise. And then the rest of the hours are divided usually between maintenance, the space station is 20 years old, so it requires a lot of maintenance.
And the core business of what we do in orbit, which is science. What we call utilization, but really what we mean by that, is science. The core business in the space station is new science and technology; the space station is an orbital lab. And that's when the astronaut that used to be a fighter pilot, test pilot becomes a scientist or a plumber or an electrician because that's what you end up doing most of the day.
Andrew: What was maybe one experiment that you worked on in your time as a scientist on board that was the most fun for you?
Luca: Oh, there are so many that were fun. Really, I love science; again, you're talking to a nerd here. But one experiment that comes to mind for sure is one called confined combustion, where we were burning? Can I use cuss words on this?
Luca: We were burning shit up.
John: I was just eager to see what word he was going to use.
Luca: Yes, it's the best way I can express that. We were just doing that, yes. And you know that fire is probably not the most common thing to deal with in a space environment.
Andrew: No, like everything up there is there to prevent things to catch on fire, right?
Luca: Yes, we have a lot of things. So fire is one of three major emergencies that we have on the space station. So to take somebody like me and actually telling him hey Luca, you're going to burn stuff; you're like giving me a big reason to smile. So we were burning stuff, and we were controlling the speed of the advancement of the flame and looking at it and recording it and giving our observations, it was a lot of fun. I loved burning; I loved this experiment.
And the results were fantastic that you change the conditions of a flame, and the behavior of the flame is completely different, it's day and night, and so that was a fun experiment that I really liked really cool stuff.
Other experiments that kind of stay in my mind that were very popular with the ground was baking cookies in orbit, how'd you do that? You need a special oven and a special way to craft the cookies, why do we do that because we don't know if you can. We don't know if the conditions change, and the results change.
Andrew: Surely. This is NASA wanting to know if we're going to put people full-time in space to live on Mars, or in a space station. We got to have cookies up there like that sounds imperative to me.
Luca: Well, you're talking to a guy that doesn't like cookies, but I can tell you that we were highly appreciated by everybody else on the station.
John: So Luca is talking about having all these really cool tools and doing these experiments. He's a lieutenant colonel in the Italian Airforce.
Luca: Actually, a full colonel.
John: You didn't even tell me that.
Luca: I was promoted last year.
Andrew: I read that in his bio. He got promoted after he got back from this previous mission, correct?
Luca: I got promoted a few days before launching.
John: Ah, before launching.
Luca: For the second mission, yes.
John: So it made me feel, and then I'm John Mayfield, who lives across the street from this guy, that's pretty much top of my resume is I lived across the street from Luca Parmitano. It made me feel good when I had to go across the street to jumpstart his wife's minivan because Luca didn't have jumper cables or the ability to get the car started when the battery was dead. You do your thing; I do mine.
Luca: Well, maybe this is a good time to, actually the way I remember. One of the first times I interacted with John, I drove by, I've been abroad for a couple of weeks and like here's John, and we start talking.
He's like, so what do you do? Oh, I work here, I just moved in because I work for NASA I'm about to go to space in two years and nice to meet you. And John is like, oh wow, I thought I was the cool guy because of the triathlons.
John: I thought I had a cool job.
Andrew: And so you spent a total of 366 days in space in your career so far, that is a full calendar leap year of your life spent on the International Space Station. From all that time, what are maybe one or two of the standout memories you like to talk about?
Luca: There are a couple of things that come to mind. Of course, every time you do something for the first time, it stands out some somewhat more than any other memories. I want to say this, being in orbit just living on the space station makes everything extraordinary. Where the most mundane activity becomes something to cherish just because you are in orbit. But of course, when you do something for the first time, it's a discovery; it's a moment of wow that stays with you.
So for sure, getting to orbit the first time, seeing the earth, seeing the sunrise. And then there are the EVAs from a professional point of view; I would say that the extravehicular activities or the spacewalks both for the complexity and because of what it entails, even as a human, they will always stay with me. And let me explain what I mean by that, first of all, not everybody gets to do a spacewalk, not every astronaut gets it. If being an astronaut is part of a small community, there is an even smaller community of astronauts that have had the privilege to go outside.
And the difference between watching earth and everything else from inside the space station through one of our windows, and going outside and working in the vacuum of space. So it'll be the same of going to an aquarium and marveling at all the different creatures and colors and corals and everything that's underwater and admiring it. Or grabbing your scuba gear, and going to the Maldives and scuba dive among the sharks.
Andrew: Actually, immersing yourself in that environment.
Luca: Exactly, being in that environment. There's an intangible quality that just cannot be captured when you're inside. And recently, on one of my last EVA's I actually had the presence of mind of doing one of the transfers on the robotic arm. I was attached to the Canadarm2 just by my feet, and because I was going back, my hands were empty, and I could do two things.
Either take snap a lot of pictures or just take a couple of seconds and say, hey Luca, look around yourself, absorb yourself in the moment, and look at where you are and what you're doing. And I focus my eyes on the atmosphere of the earth. So it was close to sunrise, and I could see the first ray of sun coming up from behind the curvature of the earth. And I can still see it in my mind's eye, the different layers of the atmosphere.
It's such a subtle beauty that disappears from the filters of the other windows from inside the space station. But when you're outside, all you have is your helmet and maybe one inch of Plexiglas in front of your eyes. So those layers stood out, and I could see all these different colors in the atmosphere. And then slowly, everything else coming up with the sunrise. Obviously, the ocean and then the lands.
And those are things that you experience differently every single time, because it depends on the light, the season, where you are and who you are. Your mood, your capability of perceiving the moment. And so those are memories that just stay with me, and the reason why astronauts land and start thinking again when is it going to be the next time I go up.
Andrew: So you had one of those EVAs where you kind of had a really unfortunate happenstance.
Luca: Oh, that one.
Andrew: Only one, right?
John: Do you remember that?
Andrew: And John hinted earlier where it was your helmet was starting to fill with water?
Luca: Yes, what happened, so that was the end result. It was the consequences of a lot of different things that just happened to be at the same time, and to lucky me. So what happened is that the life-support system that we carry in our backpack, that truly is the spacesuit. If you see the spacesuit as a system, it's actually in the backpack. And then you can consider the front where the astronaut is basically an inflated balloon, with another inflated balloon inside.
Andrew: That you're living in.
Luca: Yes, exactly. So what happened is that the life-support system uses water, cool down water to extract the heat from your body, because in orbit you don't have a way to get rid of extra heat of your body, generated heat. So you have to extract it, and we use water, and it's circulated through several yards of tubing around your body in what we call the LCVG liquid cooling venting garment.
Luca: Yes. If you saw the movie Gravity where...
Andrew: Sandra Bullock.
Luca: Yes, Sandra Bullock.
Andrew: And George Clooney.
Luca: Yes. Sandra Bullock takes off the spacesuit, and she's in shorts and a tank top.
John: Actually, I did see that movie. I watched it with Luca, and he completely ruined it, he's like that doesn't happen, that doesn't happen.
Luca: Yes, I know we don't wear tank tops and shorts under the suit.
John: They would never do that. Luca, shut up. This is why I don't watch movies, I watch a movie one time, and Luca ruined it.
Luca: Yes. We don't wear shorts; we don't wear tank tops, we wear this very unglamorous suit which is white with all these tubings. And that's basically the system that keeps us cool. In order to recover that water, we have this pump that separates the humidity in the suit from the air, which we keep breathing. And the liquid that cools us down. Now that pump failed, and instead of separating the water from the air, it started mixing it.
And as you can imagine, when you mix water with a ventilation system, that's probably a recipe for trouble. And that's what happened; the water started accumulating in my helmet. And it eventually sprayed about one and a half liter, probably closer to two liters of water in my helmet. Now the helmet is really small, and so when you put my noggin inside plus with two liters of water, it doesn't leave a lot of space.
John: Hence the need to breathe underwater.
Luca: Hence the need to become like Aquaman. And unfortunately, at the time, I was not capable of breathing underwater, still working on that. And I was outside separated from my crew member.
Andrew: In space, the vacuum of space.
Luca: In space, in night. And when the water covered my eyes and my nose, I was not able to see; I was not able to breathe through my nose. And then, unfortunately, it went in my ear and so I couldn't hear anything. And it also covered my microphones, so nobody could hear what I had to say. So yes, I was isolated in pretty harsh conditions, and I had to find my way back to the airlock by myself.
John: That's how he got up to 93.
Andrew: So, on your most recent mission, the beyond mission, you were the captain of the International Space Station for six months. What did that honor mean to you? And what was accomplished on the space station under your command?
Luca: It's really hard to express that honor, and I was when I was assigned the responsibility to be the commander. It was the first time for an Italian and only the third time for a European in 20 years of operations of the space station. So I was really surprised and very humbled by the thought and the responsibility.
The way I saw myself from the very first moment was as the facilitator of the crew, you are in charge of an incredibly professional and trained group of people. So they certainly do not need a babysitter, you don't need somebody issuing command, it's quite the opposite.
Andrew: It's not like Star Trek.
Luca: It is not, I don't think I ever said, “make it so” in the four and half months that I was a commander. What it is, you are at the service of your crew; you try to create an environment where communication is open, and everybody is capable of performing to the max extent of their capabilities.
And you do that by giving feedback and receiving feedback by talking to the ground, making sure that there is a very clear understanding of the objectives. Both for the day, for the expedition, and that everybody is on board with what the plan is.
Andrew: So you found the sport of triathlon a little bit before your first trip to the International Space Station in 2013, and we'll talk a little bit more about that in a moment. But first, kind of tell us this, once you were in space, were you able to keep up your training at all?
Luca: You have to, absolutely. It's going to be very different from what you are able to do on the ground. You can't swim, that's a huge impact for somebody like me. I love swimming. I'm not extremely talented in swimming, but I just love the feeling and the exercise that you get from swimming.
So, unfortunately, that's something that you absolutely cannot do. But you do have to exercise like I said about two and half hours a day. We have three machines on orbit that we use for exercise; one is basically a static bicycle. Sort of what would you see imagine like a spin bike, but without a seat and without a handle, because you float so you don't really need it.
Andrew: So your legs are strapped in, and you're able to pedal?
Luca: Your feet are strapped into the pedals, and then you have a computerized machine that creates a load. And as long as you can maintain 75 RPMs, you're basically fighting against a load and a profile that is inserted in the computer. And that's called the civis, and it's probably one of the easiest ways to exercise from a cardiovascular point of view. However, that wouldn't be sufficient to come back in a good state because what you also need is loading.
So the cardiovascular is good for your legs, for your heart, for your orthostatic system and for your heart, but you need also loading, loading on your spine, and on your bones. So we have two systems that provide that; one is called T2, which is basically a treadmill, treadmill number two, T2.
Andrew: Not terminator two, John.
John: Or transition number two.
Luca: Neither one of those. T2 is a very good treadmill, and the way we work out is that we wear a harness that then is connected through bungees to the floor of the treadmill, and that distributes our weight to the shoulders and the hips.
And that provides a little bit of loading and impacts that is good for the bones, so for the Osteomuscular part of your body. And you can you can run different profiles, you can run a very high speed for short times, or do a long run or even passive where you become the engine and push the treadmill that it's incredibly hard, by the way. That was one way I could get my heart rate to really go up.
Andrew: You can imagine.
Luca: I would do sets of sets of Tabatas, you know thirty seconds on, thirty seconds off, for about an hour, and I could really get my heart to go up. And then the third system is called ARED, which is the advanced resistive exercise device, is a resistive device that basically allows you to do weight lifting in a weightless environment.
Luca: Really clever, and loads of different exercises that you can do to load your spine, your muscle, your body up to 600 pounds.
Andrew: When you sweat in space while you're working out, where does the sweat go?
Luca: So, a lot of the sweat just ends up pulling on your skin for the property of water of surface tension. So if you have a noggin like mine, you have a few more water that just sits on top of your head and gives you a water afro; it's really fun to watch, and then you eventually have to wipe it with towels.
Luca: And then what we do is that we hang the towels to dry, and we recover that water. And days later, it's ready to be drunk again and become coffee or juice or water or whatever you want it to be.
So we recover ninety-five percent of all the water that we use on a space station, including, yes, you guessed it, including urine. They're not just your own, but everybody else’s.
Andrew: So John, as Luca’s coach, what adjustments do you make to his triathlon training plan when he was on the space station? Or is it just do what you got to do while you're up there, we'll hit it when you get back?
John: So largely, I have to hand off control for those couple months when Luca is in his final phases of training.
Andrew: No Zwift in space, unfortunately.
John: I bet there is, I think we're very close. Actually, one of the other astronauts ran the London Marathon a while back, strapped into the treadmill. So I got to believe that Zwift will eventually make an appearance in space, and maybe that'll be Luca's third trip to space. He'll be leading some group rides up there from the space station.
But the ISA and NASA and all the space agencies are primarily concerned with keeping the guys alive and keeping them physically in good shape. They're not really concerned with how quickly and how far they're able to swim, bike, and run.
Andrew: And it makes sense, I guess.
John: Yes. But it is I guess just a really cool coincidence that the primary means of training is cycling, running and strength training. So we're really close in those. So, Luca, both times, has been able to return from extended periods in space in fantastic condition, in great shape, and really just ready to hit the ground running literally when he gets back from space. Now I did ask if he would be willing to pace me on a 5k like a week after he landed, he passed on that. But I think...
Andrew: Could've been a little soon for that.
John: Maybe, I think he was being conservative, but I think he was ready.
Luca: Well, the main reason was that I was coming back to Houston the previous night. I was more concerned about waking up early with the jetlag than my capability of running.
John: Keeping up with me is just not that much of a challenge.
Andrew: The body was ready, but the mind wanted to sleep. I a thousand percent get on board with that. So Luca, tell us how you got started in the sport of triathlon in the first place?
Luca: So I have always actually been attracted to triathlon. I was fascinated by the challenge of mixing three very different sports running, cycling, swimming. When I was at the Air Force Academy, I was actually in the swim team, and I also ran. And the two things to me were almost incompatible, because of the way you use the muscles in one and the other, and I was never a biker, so the challenge of joining those three things really fascinated me from the beginning.
When I learned that John was a triathlete, he all at once gave me an opportunity to get close to that idea. And then John told me hey, there's a race right here close by, why don't you do it? And that one, I don't think they do it anymore, unfortunately, but it was a 51/50. It was right here about half an hour from where we live, and John was doing the Olympic distance.
And I think it was also a sprint distance for the first time. So, as a matter of fact, I bought the bicycle just for that, and I started riding just on my own without a plan, without anything. Running, biking, swimming, and I signed up, and I did the race, and I had such a blast. I loved every second of it, and as it happens, I got hooked right away.
Andrew: I mean, we all get it, everybody listens to this gets that story because all of our stories are similar in some way. Although, for most of us, though, we weren't on course with John Mayfield for our first race. So that's kind of a plus you had.
John: I think that was also the last time I ever beat him.
Luca: Actually no, you did the Olympic, so we were on different races. But then two weeks later, I signed up for another one, and that one we did together, and that's the one that you beat me by like 40 seconds something like that. And I didn't even know that we were so close to each other on that race that was trying and just try.
Andrew: John, did you have to kind of swallow your pride a little bit on that knowing that he was catching up to you that quickly?
John: No, I'm way over the fact that people beat me, it's fortunate.
Andrew: John, you and I never bill ourselves as the elite athletes, so we can I guess not be intimidated by people being a little faster than us. A buddy of mine has been on TriDot now for just a couple of months. And his bike dot is already higher than mine, his last assessment, his bike dot went up five points, and he's now a stronger cyclist than I am and he's been in like we literally Craigs-listed him a bike a couple of couple months ago.
And I kind of have to just swallow my pride for a second and say good for you, so my buddy Jonathan out there in Sarasota Florida, up yours for being faster than me on a bike. But, really happy for you.
Luca: But there's a beauty to that. One thing about being in the community of astronauts and high-performance people is that all of us that work, whatever environment we work in, be it a national or high-performance athletes. I think it's better to feel good about people showing how good they can be in the field. It happens to me with astronaut colleagues that are much better than I am, but it's also happening in a sports environment.
One of my friends, he was a potential Olympic canoeing rower, a potential Olympic rower. And he chose academia over sport by becoming a Ph.D., and now he is a professor in his field, fantastic guy, and fantastic athlete. And sure enough, a few years ago I told him, hey, if you happened by Houston, let's do a race together. And then he came by, and we spent a couple of days together, and then we raced in a local sprint.
And that was the first time he ever entered a triathlon competition on a bike that wasn't his, borrowing my tri suit and not only beat me, but he got first place. And so since then, he has done several competitions, including Half Ironman distance, and he's always beat me on any single times I could never dream of being close to his times.
Andrew: Yes, but you're happy for him, right?
Luca: I am incredibly happy for him.
John: Me too. I'm a big fan of Jossepi.
Luca: I mean, if I could compete and I'm looking forward to competing again, I certainly do it for myself. I love the competition, I love passing other people being fast or feeling fast, but I understand that there are people that are just better than I am. And I would rather use the positive energy of feeling happy for them after the race, than feeling bad about myself during the race.
Andrew: No, that's great. So your first Ironman was Kona in 2014, which is a pretty big way to kick off an Ironman career. How did the World Championships become your first full distance race?
Luca: Well, thanks to that guy that's sitting next to you right now, it's all 100% devoted to Mr. John Mayfield. So while we were in orbit, Chris and I, Chris Cassidy, and I had this very bonding experience of going through the space flight and the extravehicular activities, and we had a blast; we had such a good time.
And honestly, when the time was coming to go back down to earth, we were thinking, what do you do after such a cool experience as living on space and working in space? Where do you find the motivation to keep going and enduring? And that's when I thought, how about performing a race that is really hard like an Ironman, which it was not even in my horizon. I had never even done an Olympic, I had done two sprints and just enjoyed them, and now I was in orbit completely deconditioned from triathlon training.
So I called John, and I was like hey John, do you think I could do an Ironman within one year of coming back? And he's like well Arizona is a great place, why don't you try and sign up for that one.
Andrew: Did you call John from the International Space Station?
Luca: I sure did, and I wrote to him too.
Andrew: John, how cool are you?
John: Again, I'm as cool as Luca lets me be.
Luca: I called him also from this expedition, even though I didn't ask him to sign me up for an Ironman competition.
John: He called me on my 40th birthday this time.
Luca: That's how cool he is.
Andrew: Yes, that's cool.
Luca: So John is like you know I think I can get you in Arizona, so I was super excited. I'm like, wow; I'm going to do an Ironman. I told Chris, I'm doing an Ironman when I come back. I have one year from landing in November to competing in November; Chris looks at me and is like I'm doing it with you.
So sure enough, call John again, John. I think Chris wants to do it again. And that's where John upped the ante completely and said you guys are astronauts, and you're not in the best condition to come back down and do this. So how about we ask if your story is interesting enough to make it a human story for Ironman for Ironman Kona.
So he contacted people, and started moving all the waters and then sure enough within four or five months after landing, I get a phone call and say hey Luca, you will be competing Ironman World Championship, all you have to do is complete an Ironman sanction race before that 70.3 or full distance, and then you can compete, you and Chris. And that's how the story started, and together with that one, there is this fantastic memory I have of racing with John at 70.3 Buffalo Spring Lake.
John: Oh, yes, in Lubbock, Texas.
Luca: It was my worst performance ever, also one of my fondest memories, because I shared that with John. It was an adventure.
John: It was such a hard day; it was so hot.
Andrew: 100 degrees.
John: 100 in the shade, of course, there was no shade. I was back when they had the Texas Energy Lab, and that was a day.
Luca: And the wind.
John: There was a slight breeze out. The swim was great, but you come out of transition, you're a hundred yards like literally hundreds yards to transition. You hit those like four percent climb, and actually, one of my favorite photos is from that race. And it's Luca and I after the race, we're in this parking lot by the lake, and we're in these like dollar store, collapsible chairs, and we both have IVs in.
Because at Buffalo Springs back then, especially like they would hand you your medal and then IV bag. It was pretty much just a guaranteed thing that everybody needed it, everybody did. So I am incredibly needle phobia, Luca couldn't care less. So he was much easier to get him stuck than me, but yes, that's one of my favorites. Yes, me too, one of my favorite race memories was thereafter getting; we had like our happy hour was in the form of IV bags after that race.
Luca: Can I expand on that?
Luca: Because first of all I think this is one of those, this sport is one of those few ones where you can really celebrate your worst performance.
Andrew: Yes, that's a great point.
Luca: It happens to so many people, and as a matter of fact, I know that when I did Ironman Texas a couple of years ago, I finished with another friend of ours that had a very tough day that day.
He had completed Boston only a week prior, and so his legs were shot, he was suffering. And when we talk about it, he still loves the memory of crossing the finish line together with me. But Lubbock, first of all, it was my first ever long competition.
Andrew: You've done two sprints?
Luca: I've done two sprints and then Lubbock, a 70.3.
Andrew: Two sprints, went to outer space, and then Lubbock?
Luca: Yes. And Lubbock was five months into after landing; I remember coming out of the water thinking this is great. I'm going to dominate this race, go Luca. I got on the bike, and I had no idea about the hill that was only maybe thirty yards after.
Andrew: Because you're like climbing your way out of a canyon, right?
Luca: Yes, and it starts right away, so I had the wrong gear. So the first thing I do is kick the chain out because I was pressing too hard, and I try to change, and I wasn't fast enough and sure enough. So that was the beginning, and from there it only got worse.
Andrew: We're going to find that picture John and post it up on social media for everybody as this episode airs because that sounds like a picture worth. John is showing it to me right now, and you guys are back in like beach chairs with IVs in your arm just chilling hanging out, I absolutely love that.
Luca: Yes. John and I we finished, and we go and like they're offering a massage, John, let's go get a massage. We go get the massage, and I start cramping like my muscle was, I was looking at these legs, I'm like who's legs are those? Oh, those are my legs; they're doing the wrong thing. And the massage therapy is like sir; you need an IV like right now like I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. And we ended up getting two, I think.
John: Yes, it was two rounds. And again, I'm needle phobic; I hate needles. And one of the reasons they're so have to give out the needles there is its right near Texas Tech, so they have the nursing students come in.
Like we're literally guinea pigs, like so these nursing, the phlebotomy students can learn how to run a needle. So I was like I'm going to need a supervisor, but yes, good times.
Andrew: Alright. So you finished that race, and that qualified you for Kona?
Luca: Man, I was really proud of the idea that I could actually race Kona within one year because it ended up being exactly 11 months from the day from when I landed. I landed on November 11, 2013, and Kona 2014 was on October 11th.
So I needed a program, I needed something that could get me to the finish line. Now, I had a lofty idea that I could compete in an Ironman distance triathlon. And on the day of, I realized that I wasn't competing, I was surviving.
John: Yes, you and I both.
Luca: But I still needed that, I needed a training to get me to the finish line. This is where John came in with his offer; he said Luca I'll be your coach, and we will follow this training program that's called TriDot And it's a way to optimize numbers. And because I'm a nerd, I like numbers.
Andrew: It spoke to you.
Luca: It did, it sure spoke to me, and it spoke to me on different levels. I like the idea of using science and resources, and I like the idea of optimizing resources, including the most precious of resources, which is time.
So I jumped on the train, Chris jumped on the same offer, and so we started using this training program which I believe has evolved tremendously since 2013 as a matter of fact 2014. And the end result is that Chris crushed Kona, he did. He qualified in the top 30% of the competition.
Andrew: That's awesome.
Luca: That's what happens when you get a Navy SEAL to do a competition. And on the other hand, when you take an Air Force fighter pilot to do it, you get up in the bottom 30%.
Andrew: But you were there, and you finished.
Luca: I was there, and I finished on the same day, and I still have the picture, and I'm smiling like there's no tomorrow, I'm so happy. And that also got me wanting more because once you have that feeling, that rush. And again, I experienced many different kinds of satisfactions, but there is something to say about the last mile of an Ironman that is just an incredible irreplaceable feeling.
Andrew: So let me ask you this because I know again being from Florida, my stepdad worked for NASA for a while, and he actually worked on the space shuttle Atlantis. And so just this past summer actually, we were in Florida vacation with my family on the coast and my wife, and my sister-in-law had never been to Cape Canaveral. We went on school field trips all the time, and we'd seen it all in an amazing facility.
But my father hadn't been back in a long time; we hadn't been back in a long time, our wives had never been there, so we just did a little family afternoon at Cape Canaveral. And it just so happened that while we were there, the Space Shuttle on display was Atlantis, the one my stepdad worked on. And so when we walked into that building where they have it on display, you watch this little movie, it's almost like a little Disney World ride.
They show you this little movie in this room, and you're seeing the history of the shuttle and this and that and how it's built. And they open these big bay doors, and there's the shuttle in front of you they just taught you all about. And so for my dad, he's a very stoic engineer guy, he's a jabber box when you get him talking, but you got to get him talking first.
He was oddly emotional seeing that space shuttle again in person for the first time in decades, and he couldn't stop just standing there just staring at it and saying I spent six months getting that hatch door right there, and he's like talking about different things.
And so when you're living inside of something like the space station for 366 days of your life, I'm sure there's some sort of an emotional attachment that comes with living on there and the ships that take you to and from and just a part of that process, journeying back to earth has got to be somewhat emotional. So how do the emotions compare from that to finishing an Ironman?
Luca: You're absolutely right when you say that there are a lot of emotions connected to that. The space station, the first time, is easier your home, your gym, your workplace, and in the place where you meet with your friends. The second time it was my spaceship, it was my responsibility, it was my job to keep it safe and to keep my crew safe. So I left a lot of emotions up there, and a part of me.
A part of my time, a part of who I am, I gained a lot from it. Now when you take those words that I just said, and you put them in an experience of competing in an Ironman or any competition, you could say the exact same words and express the exact same emotion. You put a lot of time and effort into preparing for something like that. You leave a lot to yourself on the road; you leave some of yourself in the effort to finish that three point eight kilometers of the swim.
And the experiences that you share on the road running the marathon with the other competitors, with the other runners, the Ironman. Some of the best stories come from connecting to the other people. They become your crew; they become your friends; they become your family. Even just for a few hours, there are a lot of similarities. And I think that's what attracted me and Chris the first time when we decided that we wanted to try something on that.
Andrew: Well, what were from that race in Kona, a couple of those key memories for you?
Luca: Oh, there are so many, there are so many. First of all, it starts with getting to Kona, and it was the first time for me to go to Big Island and the excitement, and at the same time, the sense of familiarity. I was born on an island and grew up on an island, and it's a volcanic island, Caecilian. I lived right under a volcano for most of my life and as a teenager.
And so the lava rock and the vegetation and the air, the feeling in the air, the breeze of the sea those are all familiar feelings and so it was exciting and familiar at the same time. And then it continues with watching all the athletes getting ready for the big day, participating in all the pre-race activities. And then the dawn showing up way before dawn to set up, and the excitement the butterflies in your stomach feeling that every racer, no matter how experienced, has before the day of the race. Dig me beach and treading into the water to get set up, and super emotional speech by the guy that's getting ready to fire the cannon.
And then the sound, and all those arms and legs and water, going around. The swells were pretty hard the day, the water was tough, and the swim was hard. And I had planned to stay with Chris, and that plan lasted about two seconds, and then I was on my own. And the clarity of the water and the beauty of the swim with the fatigue that comes with it, and then finally coming out of the water and through the shower.
And then the happiness of having a swim behind you, and jumping on the bike. And like everybody I know has experienced that happiness then lasts about an hour, because then two hours later you're thinking I can't wait to be running. And the ride in Kona was probably the toughest 112 miles I've ever experienced in my life.
Andrew: Hot and windy?
Luca: It was hot, windy, scary, scary windy. It was a very windy day; I never experienced anything of the sort. And when it came in bursts from the side, I thought that it was going to blow me over. And it's a lot of air; there were a couple of accidents that day.
The only reason it didn't blow me over is that I'm pretty heavy; I think I raced at about 178 pounds on that day. And I'll be honest more than once; I wished that I could be blown over by the wind so that the pain would be over. Like I could quit honorably by saying I got blown over, I hurt myself, I can't finish, and then the pain would finish.
John: So living on the Texas Gulf Coast, I was confident, and I've trained other athletes for Kona personally before, and several of them had trained on the Texas Gulf Coast. And so one of the primary things I talk about is the heat and humidity, and I was like well, we've got plenty of both. So obviously the race being in October you're doing a lot of training in those months leading up to it.
Andrew: He survived 70.3 Lubbock!
John: Yes, which that wouldn't have the humidity, but it was certainly hot. So yes, I mean all the training into it through August, September, and into October still very hot and humid on the Texas Gulf Coast.
So we had that nailed, but we actually drove the course a couple of days before we got up to Hawaii and we got there, and there was not a breath of air like there was zero wind, and we were like okay, this is not so bad.
Luca: This is great.
John: There's a little different experience on a race day.
Luca: As always, he said it always. So yes, hot and humid and windy conditions. But I remember a couple of great moments, I remember seeing Chris coming down from Hawi as I was climbing, and I yell with everything I had, go Chris. It was such a happy feeling to see him on the bike course, even though he meant that he was about already an hour ahead of me. But it didn't matter; I wasn't trying to compete against him.
Andrew: It really is great seeing a familiar face, a friendly face on course.
Luca: And then finally you're back, and again now you're dropping the bike, and you're so happy that you can start moving your legs and running, and that happiness lasts about ten miles. But even though I remember finishing after the sunset, it was lonely and dark, but the people, the people, and the course were all incredibly supportive. Nobody made me feel as if I was out of place even though I had not qualified.
Because that's a little bit of a sort of a self-imposed stigma, everybody else qualifies, and then there are about a hundred people that are invited because of something they have done. So I wasn't sure that I belonged, and nobody on the course ever made me feel like I didn't deserve being there. And that is something I'm so grateful for to the whole community of athletes.
They embrace the fact that I wanted to be there, and the grit that it takes it's just the same, whether or not you qualified. So I was very grateful for them, and John was there to support me on the course as much as he could. And then, of course, that last mile is just glorious. That is something that every second, every step, every yard of that mile I can recall the faces, I can recall the feeling.
I remember how the pain lifted off my legs and my feet and my arms and my shoulders, and it was just excitement and feeling quicksilver in my veins as I am smiling and getting ready for the cheering and excitement, and then the corridor. I have this picture with my arms spread, and I'm high-fiving on both sides of the final shoot, and then crossing the line and crying my heart out full of emotions.
And the voice from the space station Luca Parmitano you are an Ironman and those stay with you forever. Maybe I'm not racing this year because of all the different conditions that are happening. I cannot be a triathlete, but I would always be an Ironman.
Andrew: Are there any ways that you would say that your journey to become an Ironman has helped your journey as an astronaut and vice versa?
Luca: I would say so, I think John can actually attest to that. John always adjusts his style of coaching depending on the person he is in front, and that's what makes him a great coach, by the way, kudos to John. He knows that somebody like me, you have to push me. You can't just tell me, hey; you're doing a good job because I will not accept that. So John was always pushing me to strive to run harder, to bike harder, to swim faster.
Even on the first swim that we had together, I think I remember telling John, “hey John I just came back, I can't swim that fast,” and his answer was like, “of course you can, just do it.” And I did because he was expecting me to do it. And that grit has helped me in many other cases where a task as an astronaut can be long and tedious, and we have all done it several hours on a bike inside on the trainer.
Nobody can ever said they enjoy those winter days when it's raining, and you're on a bike trainer. And the same way you can be on the space station doing a very tedious methodical task, and you just have to focus and show your grit. And as a matter of fact, being an endurance athlete, I think, helps in today's condition when you have to stay home and separated and do all the social distancing and endure conditions that can be mentally really hard.
Andrew: John, as Luca's coach, what reflections do you have when you think of Luca first coming to the sport, the Italian astronaut down the road who signed up to do a sprint with you, to where he is now as a man and kind of finisher. What reflections do you have on that journey?
John: I would say typical and atypical in that. It's probably one of my top favorite things about coaching is meeting an individual wherever they are, especially as a beginner as Luca; he had not ever done a triathlon. And then see that process of going from that first, that first sprint finish.
And seeing the elation and the joy and that passion that comes from it. And then really being able to work with Luca especially, and for him to apply, Luca has a very tenacious work ethic. He's going to get the work done. I think this is in one of the ways that being an astronaut has really played into his ability to be a great triathlete. He approaches his triathlon training with the same methodical approach as the astronaut training, and he's fantastic at following instructions, he does as he's told. He executes with everything he has, and he's reaped the benefits of that. So yes, it was an absolute joy to be there with one of my best friends as he crossed the finish line in Kona.
And then he had some fantastic races which he hasn't mentioned even since then. Some fantastic sub-five, 70.3 I mean he's a very talented triathlete. And I think it comes both, he's obviously very genetically predisposed, he's genetically gifted, but he applies the work ethic to that, and it's just been great.
And again, that's so cool, whether it's at this level or whatever level, to start working with an athlete and see them go through that progression of learning and maturing and then being able to really achieve oftentimes more than the individuals think they can. So it's just great to see that come out of people and utilizing the sport to produce that.
Andrew: So let's maybe land the plane here today, and then we'll ask you a couple of rapid-fire space questions, and we'll be done. But for our last kind of main set question here, for any of our listeners who are in an Ironman training cycle right now, and they've got that big A race on the calendar, and they're heading towards their first Ironman.
You've been there; you are back from space signed up for Kona. You trained for it, competed in it. So as someone who successfully kind of gone through that process, what encouragement would you have for somebody who's maybe working towards that first Ironman right now?
Luca: That's an interesting question because, rather than suggesting, you're asking for encouragement, is to see that obstacle as an opportunity for growth. There is a lot more to the effort of going through the drills and the training and the performance. There is a lot more to that than just physical improvement.
And if you're a first-time racer in a long-distance, an ultra-long distance, in a full distance, embrace the hill, embrace the difficulty and use that hardship to understand how your brain works when facing an obstacle. There are two ways to look at that obstacle, one is to go around it, or the other one is to climb it, you pick the way to go.
Narrator: Great set everyone; let's cool down.
Andrew: For our cooldown today, John and I are going to drill Luca with a dozen rapid-fire space questions. When interviewing an astronaut, you just have to ask all the day-to-day life in space questions that only an astronaut would know.
I'm sure Luca has been asked some of these many times, but that doesn't change the fact that we all want to know about things like weightlessness, space travel, space food, walking in space, talking in space, going to the bathroom in space, etc. So, Luca, I saved these for the end so we could kind of blow through them real quick and fun, are you ready for these super random space questions?
Luca: I'm ready for the cool down.
Andrew: Number one, favorite food you ate in space?
Luca: Crispy cheese.
John: Weirdest food you ate in space?
Luca: Japanese rice ball.
Andrew: What was the number one food item you missed while you were in space?
Luca: I know. I love celery with peanut butter, and it's crunchy and fresh, and we don't have it, so yes.
John: We were poised to go rapid fire, but that was the response that just derailed everything. Never in a million years was I expecting celery.
Luca: I love the look on your faces.
John: All right. In between your duties, what did you do for fun in space besides call me?
Luca: I loved launching myself from one side of the space station and trying to traverse all the modules without touching anything.
Andrew: That leads into question number five, is zero gravity as cool as it seems?
Luca: It's way cooler than it seems.
John: What was the most challenging everyday task to do in zero gravity?
Luca: Oh, hard to say one on top of the other. But something that never becomes easier is going for number two.
Andrew: Did you take any triathlon items with you to space?
Luca: My chest strap, yes.
Andrew: So when you're on race day, you can know that that heart rate strap that's been on has been to space with you.
John: Which is more cramped? The bathroom in space or race day porta-potty on an Ironman course?
Luca: The space station toilet is smaller, but the porta-potties are stinkier.
Andrew: Do you have any cool space souvenirs or things you've kept from your missions?
Luca: We don't take a whole lot of things with us on the space station, and I don't collect anything. But the European Space Agency permanently lends me a watch, and I took the watch with me, and it's back down on earth with me. So it's a very cool souvenir, and as a pilot, we all love watches.
John: Before you were an astronaut, you were a standout pilot, what is your favorite plane to fly?
Luca: The next one.
Andrew: What is your favorite space-themed movie?
Luca: There are too many I love. But if I think of one, just on top just because of the theme that it talks about, Interstellar. I love the way it talks about the relationship between a father and a daughter. And it's all masked by the idea of sci-fi movie, but really it's about how love, especially the love between a father and his daughters, transcends space and time.
Andrew: See, this is a guy I need to watch movies with John. I adored interstellar.
John: I did too, that's a good movie, one of a few.
Luca: I didn't spoil it for him.
John: We didn't watch it together. Did you see any aliens when you're up there? Maybe any solar events you couldn't explain?
Luca: Well, I saw my face every morning in the mirror, and man that looks like an alien to me.
Andrew: Well, that's it for today, folks. I want to thank Luca Parmitano and John Mayfield for talking about Marvel movie's outer space and Ironman racing. Shout out to TriBike Transport for partnering with us on today's podcast.
It may not have come up in our interview, but I know for a fact that TriBike Transport is what spaceman Luca himself uses to get his bike to the Ironman race site. Enjoying the podcast? Have any questions you want to hear our coaches answer? Head to TriDot.com/podcast and click on submit feedback to let us know what you're thinking. We'll do it again soon, until then happy training.
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