Superseal Triathlon

Craig with friend Julie Dunkle, 1st place in women's age group 45-49.

Craig with friend Julie Dunkle, 1st place in women’s age group 45-49.

Craig with friend Diana Noble, 2nd place in women's 50-54 age group.

Craig with friend Diana Noble, 2nd place in women’s 50-54 age group.

On March 16th I raced the Superseal Olympic Distance Triathlon at Coronado, CA. I was very pleased with my start to the 2014 triathlon season as I placed 2nd out of 15 men in the 50-54 age group and 31st out of 344 overall finishers.

It was a really hot day in San Diego as temperatures climbed into the mid 80’s. Even the water temperature was warm – they said 64 degrees. The Sprint race started at 7am and the Olympic race started at 8am. My age group did not start until 9am so it was going to be warm all day for me. I much prefer the heat over the cold. The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was in the San Diego Bay. The water was totally flat and very comfortable. The biggest challenge was going to be sighting as there was not a cloud in the sky and lots of glare. I swam a very straight route and came out of the water in 2nd with a time of 23:03.

The 40K (24.8 mile) bike course was 2 laps up and down The Strand – flat and fast! I started the bike with 1 big 24 oz water bottle with PowerBar Perform mixed with CarboPro for some extra calories because of the late starting race. Thankfully they had an aid station where I was able to grab additional water both times I went by because it was hot and dry out there. My bike split was 1:07:23 (21.8 mph) which was 4th best on the day, but I dropped down to 3rd place.

The 10K (6.2 mile) run course was partly on some sand and trails and partly on asphalt. Any kind of soft sand is still not good for my foot’s plantar fasciitis. It was only about 1.5 miles of sand, but my arch still felt a bit tender after the race. Thankfully my foot did not suffer a set back to the progress I’ve made over the past 6 months. I took in all the water I could on the hot run course as well as a PowerGel for more calories. By the 5K mark I moved into 2nd place where I finished. My Team USA and Tri Club of San Diego friend Dean Avery won the race in wire to wire fashion. Dean had the best swim by 54 seconds and then he put nearly 3 more minutes into me during the bike. I had the best run (40:57) in the age group by only 3 seconds, but it was not enough as Dean beat me by 4:53.

Click on this link to view my race photos:

Posted in 2014, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

TCSD Conversation: Cory Gasaway – March 2014

Cory Gasaway finishing the 2013 Ironman Arizona

Cory Gasaway finishing the 2013 Ironman Arizona

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with the TCSD’s Director of Sponsorships, Cory Gasaway. I was thoroughly impressed with how professionally Cory handles his volunteer role for the club which is critical for us to continue and thrive. I’m sure you will enjoy getting to know this husband, father, product manager, volunteer and Ironman Finisher.

Craig: What was your sports background before triathlon?

Cory: I really didn’t have an extensive background in sports. I grew up swimming in New Mexico State University’s youth program and went to the New Mexico state equivalent of championships as well as some International Dual meets with teams from Juarez, Mexico, but was never very “decorated” as an athlete award wise. I often joked that I DQ’d more races than I won. I stopped swimming at about 10 years old and switched over to tennis. I played tennis and lettered in high school but I viewed tennis as something to do after school with my friends and not really a serious pursuit. In reality, my every waking minute of junior high and high school was spent drumming. I would spend several hours a day playing, listening to Rush, working on that craft, etc. In college, I did a bit of intramural tennis (sometimes sober!), but again it was mainly drumming in bands, marching band and drum and bugle corps.

Craig: How did you get start racing triathlons and what was your first triathlon like?

Cory: My wife, Carol, also a TCSD member whom I refer to as “my faster half”, met in college at James Madison University and moved out to San Diego together in 1997. We lived here for about 13 years, had our two daughters here and then a job opportunity took us from San Diego to Austin, TX. That was 2009. We got to Texas, I took a look at my “new life” there and was very happy and excited with all aspects of my life… except my health. A cross country move, a 4 year old and 2 month old baby, Information Technology job, and several helpings of Austin Bar-B-Q and I found myself weighing about 217 pounds and no real plan to do anything about it. So we just happened to move into a neighborhood where within a few blocks from our house lived quite a few endurance athletes and several multi-time Ironman finishers and I thought, well this seems pretty obvious. I know I can swim, I think I can bike, and I know I can run… or walk. So I literally drove down to Barnes and Noble and did what every IT professional does when they need to research something… I bought a Triathlon for Dummies book and registered for the 2010 Austin Sprint Triathlon. I then drove down the street to a sports store, bought a $110 Schwinn bike and thought all the hard work was done.

I approached the “training” as such a novice. I remember running one day and hitting 3.1 miles and thinking “Ok, the running part of the training is done.” Luckily, our neighbors helped with tips and I managed not to kill myself along the way. Austin is a great city in general, but it really has an amazing triathlon community and base. Those two facts, combined with friends we had made in our neighborhood that raced and I was hooked. About a month later I signed up for my second triathlon, a 70.3… Obviously. Carol soon started doing them with me as well and we both were bit by the bug. It was about this time that I realized we had just moved away from the triathlon “Mecca” and had never even attempted or cared to do one when we lived here. We planned on maybe coming back to San Diego one year for a vacation and doing a local race. Little did we know we would be moving back here in 2012 as I was hired by my former boss to return. The excitement of being able to participate in the great triathlon scene we have here was definitely a big factor in our move.

Craig: You moved up to the Ironman distance pretty fast. Which Ironman races have you done and how did they go for you?

Cory: Ha! I don’t know that my plan was the most recommended but it worked for me. After having done a couple of 70.3’s and Olympic distance races, myself, along with a good friend and training partner just looked at each other one day and said “Let’s do Ironman Texas”. I remember registering and hovering my mouse on the “Submit” button while on the phone with her saying “Are you sure? Did you click it yet? Do we really want to do this?”…because I was afraid I would register and then she would not get registered in time and I would be stuck by myself.

IMTX itself was and is a great race. The venue is wonderful, the crowds are exciting, and it was awesome. The race was rather uneventful, mainly because I had a great coach who had really done a great job in preparing me for everything. The only story that was interesting had to do with the swim. I am a pretty good swimmer so I usually get towards the front and do well. While I was treading water before the swim, a guy kicked my ankle and I didn’t think anything about it but as soon as the cannon went off and I start swimming I felt something hitting my calf. I realized it was my timing chip. I had safety pinned it on but realized something was wrong so in the midst of the lovely mass of humanity that is an Ironman swim start, I quickly reached down and found that the strap holding the chip had ripped through and the timing chip basically just slid off into my hand. I think I muttered a few colorful metaphors and remember thinking “dude, you are getting ready to get mauled if you don’t move it.” It was a no wetsuit swim, so I couldn’t shove it in my suit, so I simply held the chip in my left hand and did a closed fist drill for the 2.4 miles in my left hand. I still managed a 1:15 so I was pleased. I came out of the water yelling “Timing, Timing”; they got me a new strap and I was on my way. I finished in 13:39, was able to hear Mike Reilly call out my name, had Chrissie Wellington put my finisher medal on and I thought “This does not suck!” Next morning, we all had breakfast together and as most first time Ironman finishers say afterwards “I am never doing that again…” and then as most first time Ironman finishers do 6 months later…. I signed up for Ironman Arizona.

Craig: Why was Ironman Arizona a better experience for you?

Cory: Mainly for 3 reasons, the biggest of which was simply changing my mindset. My goal at IMTX was simply to finish, but I set out on IMAZ with a mindset that I need to push myself and improve. I made a goal early on to shave an hour off of my time from IMTX and started planning accordingly. I stopped focusing so much on solely letting data, running rates, HR zones, etc., dictate my training/racing and instead started just trying to compete and push myself. With so many races here during the summer, the more I raced, the more I felt good about how I was doing and how I was feeling and I changed my mind from saying “You are going too fast, slow down and save it” to “You are going fast, you are doing well, your training is working, keep it up.” Now I am not saying it is a good idea to stop monitoring all that data, but it is a balance and the technical guy in me had swung way too far to one side of the pendulum and balancing back helped me.

The second reason was the course layout in Arizona. It is an awesome venue and course sets up well for me. For example, the IMTX bike course is a one loop…one 112 mile boring loop. No other way to say it. You leave the main race area, race on chip sealed roads through farms and cow pastures and little to no crowds for 99% of the ride. Your mind starts to wander. I had a great nutrition plan worked out for the bike, hit the ride, was doing great, got caught up in the moment of realizing I was actually doing an Ironman, hit mile 80 and looked down and had forgot to consume most of my nutrition. When you forget that part, suddenly get back to T2 in 90+ degrees, 80% humidity at 2:30PM in Houston to start a marathon you are in for some suffering. IMAZ on the other hand is 3 loops for the bike, all out and back so six equal segments. It was so much easier for me to execute my nutrition plan. I would ride out, hit the end of the leg, turn around, sit up, take my nutrition, then hammer down to the next turn around, sit up, take nutrition in, hammer down etc. It also let me break up the ride in my mind more easily. I could be struggling and say “4 miles until the turn around, then you got the wind at your back”, which was a huge motivator. This allowed me to break 6 hours on the bike which was a goal and literally finish 100% of my planned nutrition on schedule.

The last, in all honesty, was TCSD. The scheduled workouts and rides each week that members get are incredible. I utilized several but the main was Bill Gleason’s Tuesday Night Ventura Cove swim. He is a great coach and this session offered a great level of intensity and real open water race condition training. As narrow as the race lane is for IMAZ with that many people, I found it to be one of the more intense swims starts I have ever done and Bill’s class helped me handle it well which gave me a great start to the day. And although it goes without saying, the members and friends I made and trained with helped along the way.

All of these factors made IMAZ a great day for me. Allowed me to break my IMTX by just over an hour and more importantly had a great day with a lot of TCSD members both racing alongside as well as cheering and volunteering along the way. For those that don’t know, TCSD was the TriClub Division Champion for IMAZ, and I was happy to have helped contribute to the team’s win.

Craig: Did I hear something about you and a sub sandwich at IMAZ?

Cory: Ha, yes well, as I was coming into the end of the bike I could not have been happier. I knew I was going to break 6 hours on the bike, knew the nutrition had gone well and my stomach started growling and I was hungry for real food. I had done a lot of training blocks in the past right after lunches at work or with solid food during long rides off and on and I could tell I was really hungry for real food. I came into T2 and the volunteer said, “What can I get you?” I said, “I need some water without ice and any solid food you might have.” He said, “I have pretzels, cookies or sub sandwiches.” I literally remember the moment freezing, like a movie scene where car breaks skid in the background. “You have sandwiches?” He said, “Yep, here” and handed me a Turkey sandwich. I ripped off everything except the meet and bread, headed out of T2 and ran the first mile gnawing on this sandwich. I remember hearing people cheering as I ran by say “Does that dude have a sub sandwich???”. It became this funny story after the race and a race photographer even caught me eating it in a photo. Again, not recommending it for anyone else but it helped me that day for sure.

Craig: Your wife Carol has been very successful with her brief triathlon career. As a family, how do you balance 2 adults training, racing, raising children, careers and relationships with family and friends?

Cory: Well anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes with me face to face knows that I am very proud of my wife, Carol, and I have no problem whatsoever talking about her to anyone who will listen. I feel like Bob Babbitt sometimes talking about a pro he interviewed or something… But I am proud and she is quiet and humble so I brag. In the last 2 years she has done 13 races (1 overall female win, 7 age group wins, and last year she got on the podium in every race she did except one where she got 4th, a week after a stingray sting from the La Jolla Shores….sorry, I am bragging about her again aren’t I….). Also in the family is Reagan (8) and Madison (4). If you have seen 2 girls running around race finish areas wearing tutus and trying to steal more expo samples, that is most likely them.

We do get asked this question by our friends often and while we don’t have a failsafe plan, we have been able to work out something that seems to work for both of us. Mainly, we have the understanding and acceptance that we don’t get to train or race together much at the same time/race. As a result, we have to pick and choose our races carefully and allow each of us time to prepare for our own “A” races. For example, last fall was “Cory time” so every weekend leading up to IMAZ, Carol simply knew that she was on kid duty and that I was going to be gone a lot. I would come home from a long ride/run, walk in, kiss her, and she would tag off and head out for a run/bike/swim while I napped with the girls. After IMAZ, that switched over to “Carol time” for this year. She is doing Oceanside and has USAT Nationals in Milwaukee later this year. The weekend mornings are hers and I do what I can during the week and after she gets home to get my workouts in. I will do another Ironman diatance most likely next year and we will switch back and forth as needed. But in general we have a good balance of being completely selfish and unselfish with each other’s time when needed.

But we also do our own kind of dates to spend quality time together. While many people will get sitters on a Friday night for dinner and a movie, we have our babysitter show up to the house at 7am on a Saturday so we can go to Great Western Loop with our friends. If she is lucky, I might even throw in Chipotle for lunch afterwards. Spare no expense. It is also not uncommon for us to put the kids to bed, dim the lights… and get out the trainers and ride together through a True Detective or Walking Dead episode.

Also, we both agree that our kid’s come first and that they will be our main focus always. So our Mission Bay runs usually include Reagan and Madison leading us along the way on their scooters or time at the pool will be Carol lap swimming while I swim with the girls and then tag off to get my swim in. This is the healthy lifestyle we are trying to live and promote to our kids. Carol and I feel strongly about being positive role models to the girls and Carol’s increased involvement with the TCSD Youth program is another way to help out as Reagan prepares for her first triathlon this year. By the way, Reagan did the Rock and Roll Kids 1 mile run last year in 7:30… am I bragging again about my girls? Sorry.

Craig: How did the Director of Sponsorships position fall in your lap?

Cory: When we moved back to San Diego in 2012, we had a lot of old friends that we were looking forward to see again, but since we had never raced here, we knew nobody in the triathlon community here in town. We knew of the club and had seen logos and kits at races before in Texas, so we had a feeling we were going to be involved once we got here. Carol attended an Intro night with Paula Munoz and Jay Lewis and the next morning she signed us both up. About a week later the email asking for applicants for the Sponsorship Director came through the Yahoo group and I decided right away it would be a great way to quickly meet a lot of people and become involved at a high level. I applied, and started in the position about a week later. Carol and I have met so many awesome people, both in club, as well as local business owners, etc. It was a great decision, and one I don’t regret at all.

Craig: Everyone “in the know” recognizes you are the ideal person to be Sponsorship Director. Why have you been such a good fit in this position?

Cory: I appreciate the compliment and have been happy with the job I have been able to do so far but I there is no way I would be able to keep this going without the help of Dave McMahon, the previous Sponsorship Director, the Board of Directors and especially Steve Banister. I certainly don’t operate in a vacuum and am sure Steve is happy when a day or two goes by without a text from me.

As far as my fit in the role, in short it is because this is very similar to my “day job” that I do for a living. I manage a team of product managers for Sony Network Entertainment, or as most people probably know it by, the Sony PlayStation Network. My team is responsible for building out many of the features anyone who uses a PlayStation or other Sony connected device to access, buy, play etc. over the Internet. My definition of what product management does is basically the “CEO” of a given product. We are responsible for identifying what the customers want or need, how important it is to them, what they are willing to pay for it and how we translate that into a product we can sell to the end consumer. I view that as no different than my role here for TCSD. While the club is a “club”, it is also most definitely a business with many of our own business partners, customers and “employees”. I use the term customer but only because that is how I view it in my role for TCSD. The sponsors ARE my customers, and if I and TCSD provide them a good product, with strong customer service, then they will come back again and again and will turn into a partner for years to come.

Like in any business, my job is to work with the Board in supporting their initiatives for the year, understand the budget constraints we are up against and put together a “product” that not only our sponsors are willing to “buy” but will deliver either the cash or product that will make our members happy. The membership TCSD has, and more importantly, getting access to the membership for marketing purposes is something that sponsors have valued significantly in the past. So, we have to productize that in a way we can maximize the benefit the club can receive from a given sponsor while balancing that with maximizing the return on investment a sponsor will get for their advertising dollars with us. That is why we have recently tried to max out our advertising channels to help get our sponsors message out. We recently appointed Kat Gunsur to Director of Social Media. I can’t stress enough how phenomenal of a job she does keeping Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ updated with our sponsor’s message, promotional ads, etc. Sponsors see the activity we have for TCSD and find real value in it. We have also offered up focus groups to sponsors who want to try out new products and get direct feedback from their ideal customer demographic, and have even helped introduce partners from outside the area to local retailers in hope of helping them establish direct retailers in San Diego County to get their product out. Just trying to squeeze out all of the possible value the club can provide to the sponsors to make us the most attractive marketing option they have to the triathlon community here in town. So far, so good.

Craig: What are the criteria we look for as a club when we decide to partner with a sponsor?

Cory: I try to focus on 3 main things:

Are they to be a good fit for TCSD?

Going back to my previous answer, we are trying to establish ourselves as a good investment for our customers but there is a saying in business that the only thing worse than not having a customer is having a bad customer. For TCSD this mainly means that we need to make sure who we partner with, is a customer that not only is excited to work with us, but one to whom we know we can bring value to them. The last thing I want to do is sign up a large sponsor who I know is not going to get a return on their investment because of whatever factors. If I know we can’t help them and bring them value then I tell them so up front that it is not a good fit and explain why. Otherwise it only causes a strained business relationship, no parties are happy and most of the time leads to them simply not re-signing on as a sponsor which in the end is not worth it for either party.

How do they balance to our current sponsors?

We have a huge, great list of long time loyal sponsors. But obviously not all of those sponsors are the only ones in their field. There is competition for every single one of our sponsors out there and in a LOT of cases, those competitors would love to advertise with us, give us discounts, anything to try and take a customer or two away from the competition. It is imperative that I look at the sponsors who are, and have been here when looking at new sponsors who are interested in signing on. Are they going to upset a long time sponsor who might walk away from TCSD? Are they selling something direct that takes away sales from the bike shops? These are just a few questions that I have to ask when talking with potential customers. The same thing goes when a shop who is not a sponsor says “Hey, you don’t have to do anything, I just want to give all your members 15% off. Can I communicate that to your members?” And 99% of the time my answer is “No!” The reason goes right back to creating a product that is valuable. I think access to our members is valuable and our sponsors do to. We have to maintain a level of exclusivity for our sponsors, otherwise it becomes worthless and the sponsor paying to advertise stops paying. So while I appreciate the fact that many local shops want to give discounts to our members, in most cases we already have a sponsor who is willing to give the same discount and has already done more for the club like giving us the money to buy the food for meetings, give aways for the raffle table, or paying for the youth program.

Is the return on investment for TCSD worth the time and effort for the club?

I have talked a lot about the return on the investment for our customers, but equally important is the return for TCSD. Is the amount of time or demands from the customer worth the value or benefits they provide TCSD and its members. This not only means how much cash or product they are paying as part of their sponsorship, but also what time or special requests do we need to work with. Again, this is a 100% volunteer run organization and most if not all of us have full time jobs on the side. So all of our time is important and in some cases more important than the benefit TCSD is getting form a sponsor. We have declined to sign or renew sponsors in the past based solely on this point.

So when I look at those 3 points, I can usually have a good feel on whether or not we should pursue them and I do my best to get to an arrangement where all parties sign up and feel that they got a great deal for their respective parties.

Craig: What can our members do to help you as Sponsorship Director?

Cory: This is a great question and there are a LOT of things that every single member can do easily from their computer in the time it takes to read this interview.

Follow TCSD on twitter or Facebook! As I have stressed above our sponsors see those numbers and see the reach their message could have with our group. The higher the number, the greater the reach, the more value we can sell them on when negotiating.

Brag to me about your purchases! Email me at , facebook message me or tweet me @gasaway and tell me when you make purchases from our sponsors! Get a new bike from a bike store? Tell me. Get a new wetsuit? Tell me. Take some swim lessons? Tell me. I am serious. That is data that I need and can use when talking to sponsors. If I know that someone made a purchase for a certain amount and am negotiating with that sponsor, that is direct data that helps me in showing direct sales value TCSD members are bringing them. I can’t stress it enough how much it helps.

Brag about our sponsors! Write a Yelp review, post on Facebook, tell a friend… and mention you are with TCSD. This gets back to sponsors and just like when you make a big purchase and want reassurance it was the right thing to do… so do our sponsors.

And as obvious as it sounds… Brag to your friends who are not in TCSD and renew your TCSD membership every year.

Craig: Where do you see the future for sponsorship with the TCSD?

Cory: The main goal this year for the club, in my opinion, is to move fully to a 5013c. We are currently a different type of non-profit which allows to be exempt from taxes, but prohibits us from accessing a lot of the larger corporation’s charitable funds as well as government grant programs. In our current state, companies can write off their donations/sponsorships to us as marketing expenses, however in larger corporations, there are separate budgets for corporate giving than there are for marketing and the corporate giving process is much more documented. Once we switch to a 5013c, we will be able to apply for grants aimed at educating and promoting healthy lifestyles as well as target some of the larger corporations in town for larger scale donations to help our programs such as Youth or Beginner education programs grow and flourish. This in turn allows us to be less cash focused with our smaller sponsors who are trying to grow their business and can rely on those partners for product only donations to get their brand/message out to the club.

We have a great balance of sponsors themselves that will probably remain about the same, but our focus to really take the club to the next level financially is to move to 5013c. It won’t be fast, but I think it is the direction the club needs to go.

Craig: What is your favorite benefit of TCSD membership?

Cory: The free burritos at meetings! Ok, well maybe just the meetings in general. It is just an incredible opportunity for triathlon geeks like myself. When you think about it, tell me where else in the entire world you could show up, get fed, maybe win a helmet or $100 gift certificate and THEN see Bob Babbitt in person interview the athletes we have had. When you just look at the people we have had in past 14 months???? Pete Jacobs, Andy Potts, Luke McKenzie (oh by the way, let’s just rent out La Paloma Theatre and show the Kona broadcast a week early), Javier Gomez, Rinny and T.O, Michellie Jones, Alistair Brownlee, Taylor Phinney, Lynn Cox… and for under $100 a year? It is just crazy to me, but I’ll take it.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Cory: This year is focusing on running and allowing Carol to take a couple big swings at her races. I will do the Challenged Athletes Foundation Triathlon again and probably HITS Lake Havasu Half Ironman and a few sprints here and there during the summer. I will do another full next year. Hopefully Challenge Roth if I can get in, otherwise IMAZ where I will shoot to break 12 hours. And if I am crazy enough I might try to race Carol and beat her at some point.

Craig: Cory, thank you very much for sharing your story with us. Your family is blessed to have you as their #1 cheerleader and the TCSD is blessed to have you working so hard to benefit us all. Good luck with all that you do!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2014, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TCSD Conversation: Mark Kenny – February 2014

Mark Kenny and Matt Sparks (on left) climb Mount Whitney

Mark Kenny and Matt Sparks (on left) climb Mount Whitney

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

This interview was with a real life saver. Seriously! I sat down and talked triathlon and search and rescue with the Tri Club’s own Mark Kenny. Mark is a genuinely great guy who has risked his own life to help many people over the years. I know you’ll thoroughly enjoy getting to know this Good Samaritan.

Craig: What was your sports background before triathlon?

Mark: I was a competitive tennis player in high school and for a few years into college. I wasn’t great; I broke more rackets than won tournaments. I ran cross country one season as cross training and really liked it. I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and our home course was the Mount Sac course where they have some outstanding races; it was a great introduction to running.

I joined the Sierra Club in college. They had a Basic Mountaineering Course that taught us navigation, rock climbing, snow and ice climbing; it was a great way to learn more about the mountains I loved since visiting Yosemite as a kid. I climbed in the Sierra Nevada, Tahquitz, Joshua Tree and all over California in the 80’s. I had a few “Epics” — climbs that go awry due to bad judgment, simple mistakes, illness or weather. I suffered through some long nights and grueling hikes so maybe endurance events were in my future.

I continued to run as training until I started to develop some knee pain around my late 20’s. I took up road cycling in the 90’s when I moved to the Inland Empire and competed at the Redlands Classic public races. I took up swimming later when I started to travel for work. So I had done all three sports recreationally prior to starting triathlon.

Craig: How did you happen to get started racing triathlons?

Mark: I followed Ironman in the 80’s and 90’s and always thought that would be a great challenge. I moved to San Diego in 2001 and started ocean swimming. I joined a firm in 2004 where many of my colleagues were endurance athletes. They said “you ran in high school, swam and biked after college, so you just need to put them together.” It sounded like fun so I signed up for Spring Sprint in 2006. At the same time, I learned San Diego had a mountain rescue team. I had always wanted to get back into climbing and felt a rescue team would be a worthwhile way to do it. I thought the triathlon training would be good preparation for the physical demands of the team.

Craig: What is the Search and Rescue team you are a part of and what do they do?

Mark: Mountain rescue as a discipline emerged post-WWII when former troops from 10th Mountain Division and other units who had fought in the mountains returned home and wanted to apply their skills. Mountain rescue teams are specialized teams that train and operate in high altitude, alpine environments on rock, snow and ice and have medical first response as well as technical rescue skills. We have a certification body, the Mountain Rescue Association, and each team re-certifies annually in one technical area (Snow and Ice, Technical Rope Rescue, etc.) We also have federal, state and local requirements that we have to meet, including training, technical knowledge and background checks.

San Diego Mountain Rescue Team was founded in 1967 as a result of two hikers that got lost in the Sierra Madre Occidental in Baja. The team is one of only two independent teams in California (most teams are organized and operated by their local county Sheriff, which has the legal responsibility for lost person searches. We have about 60 active members, ranging from 21 to 60+ years old – some of our best searchers are in the 50+ group so age is not a factor, there is a role for everyone to apply their strengths – physical, mental and experience – to the team.

You might ask why we have a mountain rescue team when San Diego County has no mountains above 6,400 feet in elevation. Our skills translate to some of the well-known areas in the San Diego backcountry where people can get in trouble. We also support teams in San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles where the mountains are higher. Since San Diego and Southern California has such a wide variety of terrain, we train monthly in the mountains, deserts and everywhere in between. Our desert training is in August (think Kona training with a pack) and our best trainings usually involve some rain, snow, darkness and vertical exposure.

We operate in conjunction with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team. We respond to both urban and back country callouts and average about 30 operations per year. Urban searches involve “at risk” individuals (Alzheimer/Dementia, mental or emotional challenges) who have walked away, gotten lost or threatened in some way. Callouts go to all active searchers and we average 10-50 searchers per operation based on need. The Sheriff has additional resources such as helicopters, ATVs, canine search teams that we work closely with.

Craig: What is the process to join the team and what was the qualification experience like for you?

Mark: We recruit each fall and the only paper requirements are that you be 18, have extensive backpacking experience and be in good physical shape. Of course you must be a team player, calm in stressful situations, have a desire to help others and other “soft” skills. We interview applicants and invite a small group to join us on a weekend training in the local mountains. We average about 15-20 recruits each year with about a 50% attrition rate in the first year.

I joined in 2007 and my biggest concern was whether the group would be a type-A, military-oriented, risk seeking bunch of yahoos. After a lot of triathlon training and hiking up Iron Mountain with a heavy pack I knew I was ready for the endurance aspect of the training. However, I wasn’t prepared for physical demands of carrying the litter, extra packs and all the gear the team brings.

We had a small recruiting class that year so the group consisted of about 20 people carrying the litter with the gear in it up Devils Slide trail (2.5 miles, 2,000 feet gain) on Mount San Jacinto in heavy winds. Later that night we were met with rain, then freezing rain/sleet and finally snow. We woke to a cold mist and had two full days of navigation, rappelling, litter packaging and mock searches. We ended the weekend carry a team member down the mountain in hot, dusty conditions. It destroyed me! I got home around 6 p.m. Sunday and fell asleep by 7 p.m. It took the better part of a week to recover!

I found the team to be very much like the skilled, cautious, supportive, teams I climbed with in the Sierra Club in the 80’s. I was accepted onto the team as a Trainee. All team members must attend 50% of trainings and 20% of operations each year to maintain their active status. The next two years were spent training, taking a medical first responder course and gaining experience on operations. Eventually I started leading groups, trainings and was elected as a full Rescue Member in 2010. Rescue Members are signed off on all skills, have led trainings and demonstrated leadership on the team. I also was elected President of the team in 2011 and served two years in that role.

Craig: What have been some of the more notable searches you have been part of?
Mark: I searched for Chelsea King the night she disappeared. That was a tough search because we had a lot of concerned friends, family and public involved and we had to balance their concern with our need to manage the search. That night, we were looking for someone who had gone missing and was presumed injured.

As the search continued over the five days, our goals changed, we had heavy rain and many more resources including the FBI. After Chelsea’s body was found, we were then called out multiple times to search for Amber Dubois. While neither outcome was hoped for, finding the girls and bringing closure to their families was satisfying.

That was a tough time for many of our team members; we have support resources and critical incident debriefings that help members process their feelings and achieve some level of closure as individuals.

I also searched for Guillermo Pino in 2012, who had gone missing in the Arroyo Tapiado mud caves of Anza Borrego State Park. That was frustrating as we did not find him over 7 days of searching, involving up to 250 searchers from as far away as Santa Barbara, including a cave rescue team. Eventually his body was found by a private party and he was recovered by a mine rescue team due to the dangers of the cave he was in. He had fallen in one of the caves near his last known location and had expired prior to our arrival the following morning.

Those tough searches are contrasted by the many successful searches the team has participated in over the years. In almost all cases, the lost person is found or returns safely within 24 hours. We found a nice elderly gentleman recently eating by himself in a taco shop. His family said he loved tacos so we sent teams to all the taco shops in the area and found him there!

Craig: What is the most rewarding aspect of being part of the Search and Rescue team?

Mark: I think most of us do this because we have been lost or stuck somewhere in the back country and would like to think there is someone who will get out of their warm bed and go into bad conditions to try to find us. The camaraderie of the team is also a very important part of staying motivated to attend trainings and meet the membership requirements. The gratitude of the individuals or their families is especially poignant and somewhat unexpected. I am amazed at how grateful they are even when presented with difficult news.

Craig: What have been some of your most favorite triathlon experiences?

Mark: Well, mostly the people in the sport and the support among the athletes. Little things like a “good job” or high five can go a long way in the event. As most people know, I really enjoy Wildflower and that whole weekend. However, I’ve curtailed my camping since I do a lot of it every month now with the team! It must be like working in an ice cream shop; you lose the desire you once had for it! One of my most pleasant surprises is falling back in love with trail running, competing in Xterra trail runs and running in the Grand Canyon.

Since I train more than I race, I’d have to say some of those long days where you transcend the physical aspect of the sport, the endorphins kick in, a sunrise or sunset or a freak snow shower on a ride or run in the mountains have been some of my best experiences.

Craig: What was the dumbest thing you have ever done as a triathlete?

Mark: Wow, there are so many! First, not joining the club prior to doing my first triathlon! I was doing my own swims in the ocean (not recommended) and didn’t really know what sighting was all about. I strained my neck and pinched a nerve at Spring Sprint 2006 and could not race the rest of the season. Ouch! Arranging all my gear in T1 only to have it rained on during the swim was another “duh” moment.

I’m pretty famous for showing up with the wrong gear or missing something. I’ve run in bike jerseys, biked with swim goggles and shown up without my shoe insoles for my first ultra. I had to drive back 11 miles to the nearest town and buy a generic Dr. Scholl’s. I missed the start by 30 seconds. That was fun.

Craig: What is your favorite benefit of TCSD membership?

Mark: Definitely the people I’ve met and relationships I’ve developed that transcend the sport. I met my lovely wife Elizabeth at a swim and “chased” her for a couple of years before she said yes to a date in 2009. I think we were both smitten from there. We dated long distance, married in 2012, suffered through her nursing school and my job changes and are just now looking forward to having more time together and racing more. She has changed me in so many positive ways, keeps me grounded, doesn’t suffer my whining (much) and is very supportive of my search and rescue work. I’ve also met so many good friends who indulged my crazy schemes for workouts or “events” over the years.

My favorite “tangible” benefits are the club pot lucks, work outs, and sponsor swag and discounts. This can be an intimidating sport to get into and the club has done a great job building a support system around the sport.

Craig: What athletic performance are you most proud of?

Mark: Definitely the 2009 Montana De Oro 50K since it was the event where I put together a training schedule, did the work outs, fully prepared (except for the insoles) and completed without injury. I had committed to running the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim with a couple of friends in October 2009. I had some great training runs including your Rancho Santa Fe 11-miler (many times), several Xterra races, repeats on Devil’s Slide trail on San Jacinto and several late night runs (“yes honey, I’m fine, go to bed, you have a race in the morning, I’ll be home soon”).

I signed up for the race which is held in one of my favorite State Parks in California and took my daughter and my niece with me as support. How I got two teenagers to hang around a race tent for 6 hours I don’t know. The race is two loops equally 25K that you repeat for the 50K.

I go out conservatively and feel great on the downhill’s, just bombing away like at the Xterra’s earlier in the year. I’m running in front of a woman and she’s complimenting me then I realize she and her friends are doing the 25K. Uh, maybe I should hold back a little? I get passed by numerous 50K racers then who I ended up passing in the second 25K.

I was really proud to keep it together and I’m just flying past people who are walking the final couple of miles. I enter the final switchback and I see my daughter and my niece hurrying from the parking lot down to the finish on the beach. My niece has had a tough time with rheumatoid arthritis so she can’t run and I’m watching her kind of shuffle run down this hill and I just lost it. It was my most satisfying finish.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you like to change?

Mark: That is tough, the sport has grown so much in just the last few years. Anything that makes the sport more accessible and fun, like a triathlon “park” that has permanent transition stations, showers, and course markings would be great. I think the junior programs and school programs that are emerging are great. Triathlon is the gateway drug to so many other fun pursuits, let’s keep it growing!

From the club perspective, I’d like to see races during the week (other than the aquathlons). Some of us have weekend commitments (kids, jobs, search and rescue) that prevent us from attending weekend events. How about a Friday evening race?

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Mark: Wow, I feel I am just starting to progress within the sport itself and I look at guys like Gerry Forman and others as inspiration to go farther into the sport. I’ve had some back issues that go back to pre-triathlon years that I feel are just starting to be resolved, so I’m optimistic.

I believe you and I had a conversation once about how not running in my 30’s (due to vague knee issues that my conservative doctors never diagnosed as IT band) might have allowed me to run well into my “adult” years! I do feel like trail and beach running has allowed me to build strength and flexibility and stay relatively injury free over the years.

I still want to complete my first half ironman and then we’ll take it from there. I’d still like to go to Kona but I have a lot to learn, especially about nutrition.

Craig: How can people contact you for more information about the Search and Rescue Team?

Mark: Thanks Craig, they can contact me at or visit our team’s website at They should just be prepared to train and race a little less!

Craig: Mark, thank you so much for sharing your story. You have made a huge contribution to our community with your search and rescue efforts. Stay safe, my friend!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2014, Marathon, Running Race, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

46th Annual San Dieguito Half Marathon

Craig showing off hard earned 2nd place San Dieguito Half Marathon sweatshirt.

Craig showing off hard earned 2nd place San Dieguito Half Marathon sweatshirt.

Start line of 2014 San Dieguito Half Marathon - Craig front and center rockin' the PowerBar gear.  Overall winner Patrick Baldwin near left in red singlet.

Start line of 2014 San Dieguito Half Marathon – Craig front and center rockin’ the PowerBar gear. Overall winner Patrick Baldwin near left in red singlet.

On February 9th I ran the San Dieguito Half Marathon for the 15th time. Over the years this has been one of my favorite races. The course is hilly so it suits my strengths. I was very pleased with my result as I ran 1:23:53 (6:25/mile) and placed 2nd out of 65 men in the 50-54 age group and 18th out of 987 overall finishers.

I had to skip the race last year due to plantar fasciitis so I was chomping at the bit this year. In 2012 I did the race in 1:20:44. I knew I’d be much slower after the long layoff last year. This was going to be my longest run in over a year. I did a run recon of the course 7 days prior to this year’s race. I wanted to see how I’d do on my new foot…which is really an old foot at this point. The recon effort led me to estimate I’d do the race in about 1:26. Race adrenaline is an amazing thing as it enabled me to exceed that estimate by 2+ minutes. Man, I love to race!

The top 3 in each age group get on the podium. All podium finishers win a coveted San Dieguito sweatshirt. It took me 7 attempts at this race before I won my 1st sweatshirt. Now I’m proud to say I’ve earned a collection of 8 San Dieguito podium sweatshirts. The 1st place guy in my age group was Jeff Creighton. Even if I had never been injured, I was never going to beat Jeff as he finished in 1:19:35. I finished comfortably in 2nd place as my triathlon friend Mark Ford came in 3rd to round out the sweatshirt collectors with a time of 1:28:41. Another triathlon friend, Patrick Baldwin, won the overall race in a time of 1:14:43.

Posted in 2014, Half Marathon, Running Race | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

TCSD Conversation: Judi Carbary – January 2014

Judi Carbary and the San Diego Youth Tri Team

Judi Carbary and the San Diego Youth Tri Team

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the honor recently of talking triathlon to Judi Carbary, a great lady who has been worth her weight in gold as the TCSD Youth Triathlon Coach. Judi has only lived in San Diego for a few years, but she has made a huge difference already. I wish we could clone a few more Judi’s!

Craig: What was your athletic background before you got started racing triathlons?

Judi: Before starting triathlons, I played tennis on the high school tennis team, started running when I was in college, then saw someone swimming fast in our community pool. Since all the other adults were always laying on the chaise lounges, I asked him what he was training for. He told me triathlons. So I thought it might be a great change from just running, since I didn’t have to be as fast as a” real” runner, swimmer, or biker. At that time I was only doing some side stroke for fun, so I started side stroking 1 more lap at a time until a got up to ¼ mile, and biking and running the distance of the shortest upcoming triathlon I could find to compete at.

Craig: What was your first triathlon like?

Judi: So I signed up for the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Triathlon in September 1985. Driving the course the day before I was scared to death seeing the steep hills on the bike and run course, since I was just training on flat roads, and seeing the river current I had to swim in, after just swimming from one pool wall to the other. I knew I had made a big mistake. To top it off, since the race didn’t start until 11am, my friend took me to an all you can eat breakfast to carbo load, and carbo load we did. I felt so stuffed I was nauseated and sick to my stomach the whole swim, but kept side stroking so I wouldn’t drown until I finished the swim. After finishing the swim, I was so relieved to be done, the hills on the bike and run actually didn’t seem as hard as they had looked on the drive the day before. I was so happy to just be able to FINISH a triathlon!

Craig: What has motivated you to keep doing triathlons and duathlons for almost 30 years?

Judi: Being able to finish my first triathlon inspired me to start really training to do more and actually try to teach myself freestyle swimming! Trying to balance triathlon training with a full time job and 2 young children was the next challenge. I started running in the dark before work, and biking or swimming at lunch to get in enough training to hopefully finish. I began placing in my age group, and qualified and competed in the 1997 Triathlon World Championship in Perth, Australia, but my swimming always was my challenge. So a friend suggested, kindly, that I might do better if I did duathlons. So, taking that as a challenge, I signed up for Duathlon Nationals, and wound up qualifying for the 1999 Duathlon Worlds without much real training. After experiencing and enjoying the Team USA “club med” travelling and camaraderie lifestyle, I began “real training” to be able to keep qualifying each year for Worlds to keep up with my friends.

Craig: It’s a small world. I was on the same Team USA with you at the 1999 Du Worlds in Huntersville, NC and again in 2001 in Rimini, Italy. You have told me the Rimini race was one of your greatest races. What was this experience like?

Judi: So in 2001, I was nationally ranked 3rd in my age group for duathlons, and qualified to do the Duathlon Worlds in Rimini, Italy. Arriving at our hotel on Sept. 11, some teammates turned on the TV and saw some buildings exploding, but the language was all in Italian. We were horrified but didn’t know what was happening. Somehow we found out what had happened and feared for our families and friends back home, but getting a call or email out at the internet café was next to impossible. Over half of the Duathlon Team USA never made it to Italy, unable to get a flight out. USA Triathlon was so concerned for our safety abroad that they had a meeting to inform us that we would not be racing in our World Championship. Later that week, they changed their mind and said we could race, but not wear our Team USA uniforms, then changed that to us wearing black armbands. I remember race day rain, with wet pavement on a curvy flat course, and feeling scared, like a moving target, not knowing what would happen during the race. Many of the Italians seemed to laugh at us and at the US when we were out in the town. I don’t know if it was my trying to go as fast as I could to retaliate for this crisis situation, or because I was scared and didn’t want to be a target, or because half the team couldn’t make it to the race, or because I had trained well, or a combination of all of this, but I wound up having one of my best races ever, and finishing 2nd among the Americans, and 6th in my age group.

Craig: On what other occasions have you raced for Team USA and was there anything particularly memorable about any of those opportunities?

Judi: Besides competing in 1997 World Championships in Perth, Australia and in 2001 in Rimini, Italy, I have qualified almost every year since 1999, but with work commitments was able to compete in 7 world championships. Each time, along with training hard, it offered an opportunity to travel around the world and experience the Team USA camaraderie and “club med” lifestyle. By this I mean, I trained hard, but then was worn down after travelling to our destination and partying with our team, instead of training together like the other teams, and found out “if anything can happen it will”. For instance, in Perth, the Australian teams were coached in the pool and on the race course while our USA team went shopping, sunbathing, and experiencing the Australian lifestyle.

In Italy, our prerace dinner was at an Italian wine cellar. Since I don’t usually drink, I decided to take sips to taste the various different wine samples. It didn’t hit me until I woke up race morning with a severe headache and was so sleepy I almost didn’t wake up to make it to the race start.

Before travelling to Calais, France, I was working the day before at my job as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and a child coughed right in my face. I remember thinking, I hope those kid bugs don’t do me in, but sure enough, after all my hard training all year, I woke up in the middle of the night unable to take a deep breath. I spent the day before leaving in urgent care receiving a taste of my own medicine and nebulizer treatments, still unable to breathe well and coughing continuously. What was I going to do? Well, since I had trained, paid for the travel and race, of course, I would go and finish off using up all my waning energy, to drag myself to the start line with the help of the Team USA doctor’s magic. With my luck, the weather the day before was beautiful, then on race day, the temperature fell to 42 degrees with rain, as I set out in my bikini, expecting the weather to warm up as it had been doing all week, to race on the cliffs over the English Channel. We were also not expecting steep climbs with hairpin 180 degree turns at the bottom since the race info USAT was given showed a flat course with little elevation which we had all based our training on.

Then there was Affoltern Du Worlds in Switzerland, again with beautiful weather during the week before, which plummeted to 40 degrees with pouring rain race day. On the looped hilly course, I remember seeing less and less people thinking I was really slow, and feeling my fingers and legs freezing up so I could barely change my gears. Running on the muddy trails and down the hillside covered with bales of sinking hay and mud was another real unplanned for adventure. I found out after I finished that over half the field had dropped out with hypothermia, so I actually did well just to finish.

Craig: You moved to San Diego 4.5 years ago from Columbia, MD. What was your triathlon involvement back in Columbia?

Judi: After competing in for over 20 years, I was ready to just race for the fun of it and help others learn how much fun it is to do triathlons and duathlons. So after getting certified as a USA Triathlon Coach in 2005, and getting the approval from the Columbia Association, who managed all the city’s aquatic and athletic facilities, I began to coach an adult group triathlon training program, as well as giving private swim and triathlon coaching. From that beginning, I found a triathlete friend who was willing to help me, and we began to expand our coaching program, TriUSCoaching, to provide open water swim clinics and triathlon camps to prepare our triathletes for their triathlon events. About this same time, as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, I was beginning to see an abundance of obesity in the pediatric population I was caring for. There were no kids’ triathlon events in our area, and I felt that if kids had a goal to train for, like the adults, they would experience the same fun with their exercise as we do, to motivate them to have a healthy lifelong lifestyle. So I began trying to coax my friend, Rob Vigorito, the Race Director for the Columbia Triathlon and Eagleman, and soon now the new Challenge USA race, to put on a kids triathlon, and I would provide a kids training camp on the same course to prepare the kids. It took me 2 years, planning the race course and providing my kids triathlon camp and practice triathlon where kids could learn how to do transitions, swim, bike, and run safely, and finding a potential other race director who was willing to do it, that finally convinced Vigorito to put on the first Columbia KIDZ Triathlon in 2007. He has held it every year since, growing from 100 kids to over 500 kids competing last year.

Besides coaching, I continued to compete in triathlons, duathlons, and World Championships, and to try to inspire others to experience a healthy lifestyle. I was asked to, and became a member of the DU2R Multisport Racing Team, where my fellow athletes were nationally ranked and very competitive in World Championships.

Craig: How did you get involved in the TCSD?

Judi: Upon becoming a TCSD member in 2011 I approached the club President, Thomas Johnson about the need for coaching and offered to volunteer to organize beginner brick workouts, which I feel are a key endurance workout, on the 56 bike path. This gave me the chance to meet many really nice people in TCSD, as well as the opportunity to help them with my triathlon coaching experience. It was not long after that, I volunteered at a packet pickup at the Ironkids Triathlon, and coached at the National Youth Championships, when I met Andy Concors, a great guy who was also a University of Michigan graduate like myself, and longstanding TCSD member and the original founder and coach of the TCSD Youth Program, who was at Ironkids presenting a youth clinic. He was so welcoming, the kids were so motivated and fun to work with, and their parents so supportive of their kids efforts, I offered my coaching assistance. Andy took me up on my offer and we started co-coaching the TCSD Youth Tri Program (SDTRIKIDS). Andy had been coaching the youth program for the last 5 years and was getting very busy at work, and burning out trying to do everything himself, so at the end of 2012 he asked me to take over the youth program coaching. Immediately I said that I enjoyed working with him and had no intentions of doing it without him, but before I realized it, he started to slowly phase himself out. It was either continue the program on my own, while pleading for volunteers to help, or there would be no youth program. Wanting to continue to work with such great kids and parents I decided to continue to coach the youth program. I really enjoy the opportunity to coach the kids so that they can experience our healthy multisport lifestyle.

Craig: How is the Youth Program that you lead different from the TriJuniors group that Jim Vance leads?

Judi: The TCSD Youth Tri Program focus is on introducing kids from 6 to 14 years of age to the sport to triathlon while keeping it fun to inspire them to continue to love exercise and lead a healthy lifestyle hopefully for their whole life. We meet on Sunday afternoons each week, and twice monthly in the off season.

The program focuses on teaching kids the basics of transitioning, triathlon sport specific techniques, and USAT safety rules, and then using these skills in practice ”races” at varying age specific distances. As a Pediatric and Family Nurse Practitioner, as well as a USA Triathlon Certified Coach, I am very focused on safety, by teaching proper technique for injury prevention, as well as holding practices in a safe, well supervised location. I recruit the assistance of parents and club volunteers to help keep the kids safe when we practice.

In addition to the basic TCSD Youth Program, I saw the need to have a “one step above the basic program” for kids that wanted more challenging training to improve their racing performance, but still wanting to keep their training fun and in balance with their other family activities and sports. So in 2013, I formed the San Diego Youth Triathlon Team. We meet once or twice weekly, per family/athlete preference, to do bike/runs, track workouts, open water swim workouts, aquathlons, and monthly timed practices. Our youth team is open to any child who wants to join us who wants to challenge themselves to train a little more. The kids on our team seem to love the camaraderie and have fun racing each other, as they all want to return in 2014. We will still keep the team open for any child who wants to join us who wants to improve their race performance.

For a comparison of youth tri programs locally, while the TCSD Youth Tri Program focus is on introducing kids to the sport, and my San Diego Youth Tri Team is the next step up for a fun performance challenge, the Formula Endurance Program (formerly Tri Juniors) coached by Jim Vance, can be seen as more intensely focused on youth and teen athlete performance.

Craig: What is the Youth Tri Series?

Judi: While working with Coach Andy Concors, at the end of 2011, we recognized the need for the kids to have a goal for their training, since Ironkids and Youth Nationals had moved out of the San Diego area, and there were no other youth triathlon events nearby. Having experience producing my youth triathlon camp and other triathlon clinics and programs, I knew producing events would be a lot of extra work, so I began contacting several local race directors who were willing to add a youth triathlon to their existing events. To help kids compete with others outside the immediate local area, races were selected within a 1-1.5 hour driving distance to include some destination mini family vacation races. All the youth races also have adult races where parents can compete at the same time. As part of the discussion with the race directors, they requested and I offered to provide prerace and open water swim clinics to specifically prepare the kids for their races, as well as supply parent volunteers to help support the extra youth participants during the race. In 2012, TCSD offered to sponsor our first SoCal Youth Triathlon Series, and provide ads and award prizes for kids completing the series races and clinics. The participation has grown each year in our youth series, from about 250 to over 400 kids participating last year. 2014 will be the 3rd year for our youth triathlon series.

The 5 event youth triathlon series features mostly USAT sanctioned youth races with age specific distances and awards 3 deep in each age group (7-8 years, 9-10 years, 11-13 years, and 14-15 years) at each race. The focus of the series is on participation at safe, fair, fun youth events. I offer youth coaching at 2 open water swim clinics, and prerace clinics, with a practice course and transition area preview, review of USAT youth rules, and practice of course specific triathlon skills, before each race, to make sure the kids are safe and well prepared for their youth races. The Series Championship race is open to all youth and culminates with our series awards, awards buffet, and a challenging race course.

Craig: How can parents get their kids involved in the Youth Program and the Youth Tri Series?

Judi: I feel it’s important for parents to be involved in their child’s triathlon training and racing, and I recruit their assistance, for helping to make sure they are safe on the courses when we practice, for encouraging or helping them when they need it, for reinforcing what they learned when training at home, for volunteering at our youth tri series races, for cheering on their youth athletes when training and racing, and by being healthy lifestyle role models for their young athletes.

Any parent who has a child from age 6 to 14 is welcome to come and try out our youth program practice to see if their child enjoys it before joining TCSD as a youth member. Any well-fitting youth road or even a mountain bike that is in good working condition and bike helmet is fine. Before investing in expensive tri gear that kids will outgrow anyway, they just need to practice consistently to build their endurance.

Any child from 7 to 15 yrs. can participate in our youth triathlon series. An annual USA Triathlon youth membership is required for the USAT sanctioned events and is only $15 for the whole year of events, or $10 for a one day membership. Participating regularly in our youth program practices, as well as our prerace and open water swim clinics, will well prepare kids for their youth races.

Craig: You have also been involved with USA Triathlon on the Duathlon Committee. What has been your involvement with USAT?

Judi: In 2000, I became a member of the Mid-Atlantic Duathlon Committee, where I helped to form a regional duathlon series, with awards for top finishers in the series, to help to increase duathlon participation. Subsequently, in 2002, I was selected to become a member of the USA Triathlon Duathlon Committee, to help provide ideas and develop a USAT National Duathlon Series to spark the regrowth and participation nationally in the sport of duathlon. This series allows our TCSD members to travel only a short distance, to Orange County for instance, to compete in the OC Duathlon as one of the races in the series. By competing in 2 or more series’ races you are eligible for series awards, and possibly qualify for the Duathlon World Championships.

Craig: What are your goals for future triathlons and duathlons?

Judi: Competing in World Championships were my favorite highlights in triathlon and duathlon racing. Although I decided to take the pressure off competing and just enjoy racing for the fun of it when I moved to San Diego, when I’m ready to get serious again, I hope to have the time, strength, health, and energy to qualify again for World Championships. It requires a strong commitment to train hard to compete among the best in the world. Until then, I’m enjoying trying out all the fun local races and experiencing the challenging ocean swims and different venues.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?

Judi: My favorite benefits of TCSD membership are meeting all the wonderful people who are members. When I’m not busy coaching the kids, I love the cove swims, club races, and seeing other TCSD members and athletes I have been coaching at races!

Craig: How can people contact you for your coaching services or to help with the Youth Program?

Judi: The best way to contact me is by email: for private adult or youth coaching, more info on our TCSD Youth Tri Program, more info on my San Diego Youth Triathlon Team, or more info on our SoCal Youth Triathlon Series, or to volunteer with our youth triathlon program or series.

The youth triathlon program webpage is at:, Training, Youth Program.

This webpage has all the latest info for the TCSD Youth Tri Program and our SoCal Youth Tri Series.

One of these days I’ll get around to updating my coaching website,

Craig: Judi, thank you so much for sharing your story. You have been such a difference maker in so many people’s lives. Both the young and “less young” are grateful for your services.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2014, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TCSD Conversation: DeeAnn Smith – December 2013

DeeAnn and Norm Smith at 2010 Boston Marathon Finish Line.

DeeAnn and Norm Smith at 2010 Boston Marathon Finish Line.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

This month I talked triathlon with TCSD member, DeeAnn Smith. You will see that DeeAnn is a very special lady. She is on the top step of the podium in more ways than one.

Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon?

DeeAnn: My family moved to Phoenix, AZ from rural Illinois when I was in 6th grade. Before then I did not have many options. I started with gymnastics and loved it. In school I tried something different nearly every year. First was soccer, then softball, then volleyball. I got to high school and sadly, yes, sadly I did the cheerleader thing. Not sure what I was thinking but the gymnastics came in handy!

Craig: How did you get started in triathlon?

DeeAnn: NBC gets credit for getting me started. It was a Saturday and I was cleaning my house and saw “Escape from Alcatraz” triathlon on the TV. I was in awe. I was young and cocky and said to myself “I will do that someday”. Since I could not swim a stroke, nor did I own a bike, I got swim lessons and picked up a used Nishiki. My first tri was Mountain Man Triathlon in Flagstaff, maybe 1997? I was 5th to last coming out of the water and my Mom was standing outside transition screaming at me “Oh my God woman! I thought you drowned! Now get going, you’re almost last!” I remember seeing the results and thinking I was happy to be in the top 10 of my age group. I think there were 10 in my age group. My mom was my biggest fan. I began doing well after a few seasons and would get on the age group podium and even had a few 2nd and 3rd overalls. Mom would tease me, lovingly of course, “3rd again! How about a first?!” The summer she passed I went to Big Bear and did the Sprint Xterra there. I finally won overall! I know she would have been ecstatic.

Craig: You have had a great triathlon career that includes 4 Ironman finishes, the Xterra World Championships, ITU Long Course Triathlon Worlds and Boston Marathon. What are some of the race performances you are most proud of and why?

DeeAnn: These big races were great experiences. I think the individual journeys to each of those races are what stick with me most. In prepping for IM Lake Placid and IM Louisville in 2008 I was getting married. Norm and I got married in June 2008 so that entire year was IM training and wedding planning! As for Boston and ITU World’s, I had what I feel is the “master” plan…work your tail off to qualify and then go enjoy!! I did not train or race hard for either of those events, but I had a whole lot of fun! I love mountain biking! Convincing my husband to go off-road was the toughest part of Xterra World’s!

Craig: What is your favorite race?

DeeAnn: Without a doubt, Escape from Alcatraz is my favorite. This year was my 7th Escape and 2014 will be my 8th! I love it because it is an intimidating course. The water is cold and can be crazy plus jumping off the boat is chaos! The bike is challenging. It is hilly and technical. The run is also technical and difficult with several stairs, sand and the legendary “sand stairs” are a killer. It is different in some way every year, yet the course does not change. I have never been on the podium at Escape. That is my dream! I have been close, 4th a few times, including this year (2013).

Craig: You are married to TCSD member Norm Smith. I actually interviewed Norm back in 2006. How did you meet Norm?

DeeAnn: We met on a flight to 70.3 World Championships in 2006. I got on the flight to Tampa in Phoenix (where I lived at the time), the flight was coming from San Diego. If he tells the story, it was me that did not stop talking and he just wanted to read his book. I don’t remember it quite that way! We exchanged phone numbers and met up after the race with some other friends. We kept in touch and began the dreaded “long distance relationship” in early 2007. A lot of our “dates” were race weekends, which at the time was what we both did a lot of, so that was great. I moved to San Diego in September 2007. We got engaged on the same San Diego/Tampa flight, same seats, one year later…on our way to 70.3 World Championships.

Craig: I’ve had about a million phone conversations in my life, but one I’ll always remember came from you. You called to tell me you had breast cancer. The breast cancer news was memorable enough, but what stood out most to me during that phone call was your concern for how Norm would handle the next few months. You love one another so much. So much! And you were so selfless as to be worried about Norm. I thought “What a beautiful, loving couple! God, please let them make it through this.” Please tell us how serious it was for you.

DeeAnn: 2012 was a rough one for both of us. I found a lump in my breast in December 2011. I was worried, as anyone would be, but I really did not think I could have cancer. Are you kidding me? I am athletic, I eat right, etc. etc. Just no way! The breast surgeon, who does the biopsy, had time to get to know me a bit. That along with what I was assured by her and my gynecologist were 3 characteristics of the tumor that did NOT point toward cancer, made for a big surprise when the phone rang on a Friday afternoon at 4! I knew it could not be good. I remember telling her “but I have a race tomorrow, what do I do?” She said “go race, live your life! This is just a speed bump!” A “speed bump”! I could not imagine it at the time, it looked to me like Mt. Everest. Norm came home and we cried together. I woke up the next morning and won a 5k in Temecula. This was January 20th. The next months looked like this:

February 2012 – Body and bone scans came back clear. Decided against lumpectomy and unilateral mastectomy after countless hours of research on recurrence.

February 22 Bilateral Mastectomy yielded results: Stage 2b breast cancer, Grade 3, Estrogen and Progesterone Positive, HER2 Negative, 7 lymph nodes removed. One node has a “micro-metastasis”. This meant Chemotherapy was a definite. This was an incredibly painful surgery, both physically and emotionally. My surgery was on a Thursday. I walked 1.5 miles to IHOP with my friends the following Tuesday. I did as much as the doctors would allow as far as activity and the day I was “released” to run was March 23.

March 24, 2012 – Race for the Cure LA. I won the 5k – - I entered the survivor division, I was 1st overall female. The next day I ran a 10k.

April 2, 2012 – First day of chemotherapy. Norm shows up at the Y to pick me up for my treatment with a Komen edition 2012 Fiat 500. Silver with a pink stripe, of course! OMG! Who gets a new car on their first day of cancer treatments? Me, that’s who! 16 weeks, 8 treatments done every other week. This was no picnic. I stayed as active as I could during chemo. I had to keep some things “normal” with my routine, this helped me stay sane and remember that this would come to an end. It did seem endless at the time. So not only did I try to exercise (I gave up calling it “training”, because it wasn’t), I would also brew coffee every morning, even though I could not drink it. And I would set my alarm at 6am and get up. Because that is normally what I do!

The day of my treatments I would get up super early and run, knowing I would be down and out for at least 4-6 days. Days 1-2 were never too bad which sometimes would lead to me overdoing it and paying a huge price the following days! Days 3-4 were always the worst. Nausea, fatigue, think of a bad flu. Just yuck. With bone and muscle pain (not from training!). Day 5 could be hit or miss. If I was feeling better, this was typically a Saturday and I would go ride with the B group. Sundays I would run 5-9 miles. Both of these were very, very hard and sometimes not the smartest choice for me to do. I paid some consequences from time to time.

I teach cycle at the Y in Oceanside and I did not miss one class while in chemotherapy. Nor did I miss one session with my strength trainer, which is also on Mondays! I am very proud of that. Some of those workouts were not pretty, but that was never the point.

July 10, 2012 – Last day of Chemotherapy.

July 28, 2012 – Reconstruction Surgery. I thought the surgery in February was bad. This was worse. February’s surgery had 3 days of intense pain and then a steep recovery curve, I felt better by leaps and bounds after the first week and was running in 4 weeks. The reconstruction surgery was not so much intense pain, but the recovery time for both running and swimming was weeks longer!

At the end of August 2012 I had a big “so long Cancer” party, it was awesome and I have not looked back since!

Norm never left my side. Dr. appointments, treatment days, bad days, he was here. Fixing me food, strange food that you crave during chemo! Keeping the meds straight, running to the pharmacy. Googling medical terminology, symptoms, drug side effects, you name it! No way I could have made it through any of this without him.

Craig: Among many other things, I really admired how you held onto your exercise during your cancer treatments. Please tell us how that helped you.

DeeAnn: I was in the best physical condition I have ever been in January 2012. This was a huge hit to my ego. I was told, and knew that I could “weather the storm of treatments and surgeries better than most”, just because of my fitness. Great, so I got in great shape…to fight cancer!?!?! I did not want to come out of it with nothing, so I did what I could, when I could and accepted it…sometimes with grace and sometimes not so much.

Craig: So you got the clean bill of health in July 2012. What challenges have you still had to deal with since then?

DeeAnn: You got me here because I just stated “I have not looked back.” That is not true. Actually it is impossible once you encounter something like cancer. It changes you, changes your whole life. As hard as I tried to resist that change, it happened.

When you start doing triathlons, who do you meet? Triathletes, runners, etc. When you have cancer you meet … other cancer patients. Same cancer, different cancer…scared but brave, tired but pressing on. I have met so many others in similar situations to mine and some who, although the situation is similar, the outcome has been dramatically different. I have become familiar with a term, “survivor’s guilt”. It is an emotion I deal with quite often. When I got done with everything, I wanted it ALL to go away! It doesn’t and it can’t. It is part of who I am now. This is something I am still working on accepting. Part of me? Yes, but NOT who I am. I will not, just as in treatment, be defined by this. This is not to say I won’t, at some point, enter the “survivor” division of a race!

Any ache, pain, bump, spot, anything…OMG, it’s back?!?!? It sounds nutty, but it goes through your mind. I want so much to train and race as I did prior to 2012. I can’t. I am on a medication called Tamoxifen for 5 years. Among other things it causes bone and muscle pain and muscle cramps. I am not happy about it, but I am happy to be alive. I do what I can as far as training. Structure and recovery, always huge components in any training plan, are key for me.

Craig: Who have been the most influential people in your life?

DeeAnn: My family (mom, dad, sister) and my husband, Norm. My mother was born and raised in rural, farmland, Illinois. She always urged me to get out and try new things, explore, travel, etc. My dad was the conservative one which kept my life balanced. My sister is nine years older than I am. We are very close, but very, very, different. She has had too much heartbreak in her life, losing both her children when they were young. Shortly after which our mother passed away. My sister is a pillar of unwavering faith and strength. Norm is my best friend and my everything. He has seen me at my best and my worst and everything in between. He supports me in anything, no matter the craziness level. Having Norm by my side I know everything is going to be great!

Craig: You were on the USA Triathlon Southwest Region Board from 2005 to 2011. What were your responsibilities and what does that organization do?

DeeAnn: The USAT Regions are parts of the whole. USAT utilizes the regional boards to divvy up monies and responsibilities. The individual regions have liberty, to some extent, to do what they wish with their share of funding. I started out as Treasurer. Honestly for the first 2 years, I sat back and attempted to get a handle on how things worked. Politics are NOT my “thing”, and at the time a lot was going on with USAT.

I was in charge of writing the checks, balancing and creating the region’s budget. I ended up 2009-2011 as Vice President, which really is no more than a board member who can step in if the President is unable. I did like the VP position, less paperwork!

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you like to change?

DeeAnn: This is tough because I have several strong opinions about a lot of different things in our sport. Bottom line is I love triathlon. With that in mind I am going to stay off a soap box and hopefully not start a riot by simply stating: I would love it to be mandatory for anyone who rides a bicycle to successfully complete a series of bike handling skills courses.

Craig: What is the funniest thing you have seen during your triathlon years?

DeeAnn: I love helmets on backwards coming out of T1 and helmets still on the head, in any fashion, coming out of T2, that is always good clean fun! And on that topic, I work part time, very part time, at a bike shop. In walks a guy about a year ago with his 2 pals. They are in kits and on nice bikes so I make the assumption they have some experience and some knowledge. By the way, that was not a good assumption to make. One guy has his helmet on backwards! I pull aside one of his pals and say “you should really let your friend know his helmet is on backwards.” He says “Oh no. That’s how he likes to wear it”, and walks away. What? Ok, so I go up to the guy, “Sir, you know your helmet is on backwards?”

“Yes, I know, it feels better this way”, he says. This guy is 50+ years old, he knows what he is doing, right? Anyway, I proceed to tell him how the helmet cannot do its job (protect his head) if it is not worn properly. No sale. Wearing it backward, because it is more comfy that way! What is that saying? “You cannot fix stupid.”

Craig: What is your favorite benefit of membership in the TCSD?

DeeAnn: One? There are too many! I do enjoy the club races even though I do not take advantage of them as often as I’d like. The Yahoo group is a fabulous resource for me. Access to our enormous and generous TCSD family can cover almost anything a person needs … advice, carpool (across town or across the country!), a teammate, a workout buddy, you name it!

Craig: What are your future athletic goals?

DeeAnn: 2013 was a wash for me. It was my intention to take this year, have fun and do what I want, when I want. I felt I deserved that after last year. Now I feel I just threw myself a year long pity party. So let’s move on!

Athletically, I will be competing this year in triathlon but there are a couple other things I would like to do. One is do more OCR (obstacle course racing). I just love it and I will do the Spartan Sprint in January. I would like to do more mountain biking and do some CX races next season also.

My newest passion is black cats. My mother never liked cats, another influence she had on me. I never knew I liked cats at all until I got my husband a cat on his 40th birthday. This was right in the middle of my chemo treatments. This cat was my immediate pal. Who knew? Long story short, I soon realized that black cats are the least likely to be adopted (by over 50%) because of the myth that they are bad luck (and other reasons). Anyway, we have 4 cats now, 3 are all black. Two I rescued from Georgia – another long story. I am currently volunteering at a local cat rescue and the Feral Cat Coalition. I hope to spend more time volunteering this year to help all animals in our county.

Craig: You are also a triathlon coach. How can people reach you if they would like to learn about your coaching services?

DeeAnn: Yes, I am a Level 2 USAT and Level 1 USA Cycling coach. My company is Gorilla Multisport. I have been coaching endurance athletes for over 10 years now. My website is and my phone is (602)369-2575.

Craig: DeeAnn, thank you for sharing your story. God obviously has a lot more planned for you and Norm. We are lucky to have you both as TCSD members. Good luck with all your future goals!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

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TCSD Conversation: Susanne Davis – November 2013

Susanne Davis crossing the Hawaiian Ironman Finish Line to become the 2013 Women's 40-44 World Champion.

Susanne Davis crossing the Hawaiian Ironman Finish Line to become the 2013 Women’s 40-44 World Champion.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

It’s not every day that we get to hear from the reigning Ironman World Champion, but today is one of those special days. I know you will enjoy this conversation with TCSD member Susanne Davis who won the women’s 40-44 age group at this year’s Hawaiian Ironman to go along with her USA Triathlon National Championship.

Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon & who influenced you?

Susanne: Who knew I would be going 9:41 at the Ironman World Championships when quitting Cross Country after my first race in 7th grade. I thought running 1.5 miles was extremely long and painful! In 8th grade the coach encouraged & pressured me to try out again because he coached 2 of my older sisters and said we were given good genes. From that moment, I’ve been a runner. In Junior High I was brought up to the High School level to race Varsity! I ran with Suzy Favor – 4 x National & State Champion; but my passion and drive to be a runner came from the influence of my sister Beth. I was always competing to be as good as she was. I even went to the same college, University Wisconsin La Crosse. I loved the team atmosphere of people in Cross Country and Track. Everyone always supported and pushed each other to get faster. I was an NCAA All American in the 1500 racing (4:41) and in Cross Country which my top finish was 2nd Overall at the Regional Championships.

One of my favorite memories was running the Boston Marathon with my sister for her 40th birthday four years ago. She had a dream or running under 3:30. As a gift I said, let me coach and pace you! I’ve never ran a race and not “raced” it. The gun went off and we ran side by side for 26.2 miles in matching bright orange outfits I had screen printed 3:30 or BUST. We killed it and finished in 3:26! It was an epic day, memory and her personal best! The pride, joy and endorphins we experienced together gave me a new appreciation for running and coaching.

Craig: What was your experience like during your 1st career as a triathlete and what was your greatest accomplishment during this time?

Susanne: Before my senior year in college I did my first Triathlon. I borrowed my boss’s bike and signed up. I think the entry fee in 1993 was $25. I came out of the water almost in dead last and rode past 100 people. I sat down in T2 and tied my running shoes! I passed another 50 people running up to first place in the first triathlon I ever entered and WON $100! I quickly learned that the biking, swimming and cross training from triathlon was a big help in my running. I knew I had to become a better swimmer, so my senior year in college I joined the swim team! I learned how to do a flip turn the day before practice. This was the hardest sport I’ve ever done. I swam 3000 to 5000 sometimes 2x a day! I pulled myself out of the pool in front of the coaches and started bawling. “I’m going to drown. I’ve never swallowed this much water and I don’t think my legs can manage one more kick!” The coach laughed and gave me a hug. He liked my determination and worked diligently with me for 3 months, I took 10 minutes off my mile time! Think about that. A LOT of time. All runners who think they can’t learn to swim? Good news, you can!

In 1995 I packed up my Chevy Celebrity car and moved to Phoenix. Warm weather to train in and a job interview was the carrot I was chasing! I turned down the job and moved to Tucson to chase my dream and a 5 year journey of becoming a Professional Triathlete and Olympian!

As an amateur I won most of my races and set some new course records! Running was my strength and I became the top female triathlete and duathlete in the state of Arizona. This helped me decide to turn professional in 1996. My first Pro win as a triathlete was at one of my favorite races still to this day; the San Diego International Triathlon. I won a check for $800, which seemed like a big pay day! If you watch Seinfeld it was “gold Jerry, gold”.

In 1998 and 1999 I was selected for the US National Resident Triathlon Team. I was lucky to live and train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and do camps in Chula Vista, CA during the winter. New names on the triathlon circuit back then but Olympians today were two of my teammates Laura Reback Bennett and Hunter Kemper. We all lived, trained, ate and travelled together for the 2 years hoping to make one of three spots on the first Olympic Triathlon Team. In summer of 2000 in Sydney, Australia, triathlon would become an Olympic Sport!

I raced and travelled every 2 weeks chasing points to build up to my 8th place in US and 42 in the World Ranking. I flew to Japan, Australia, Brazil, most islands in the Caribbean, many parts of Mexico and all over the United States. Five years of hard work, racing with lots of ups and downs due to winning or placing 50th in a World Cup culminated in reaching one of my dreams. I competed in the US Triathlon Olympic Trials, held in Dallas, TX in May of 2000!

Craig: How did you meet your husband, Scott?

Susanne: Despite the belief that being a professional triathlete is glamorous and a great life style, it was very difficult. I was constantly training and traveling to the next race with virtually no money. If you had a bad race you didn’t make prize money and had way too much time on your hands to think about it or question if giving up your college career job was the right path. It was really an emotional roller coaster now that I reflect back.

In June of 1999 I was scheduled to race at a World Cup Triathlon in Oceanside, CA. As I lived in Colorado and didn’t have a lot of money I reached out to the Triathlon Club of San Diego for a home stay. I headed to California and stayed in this guy’s house for a week with another athlete from Canada named Sebastian. The homeowner wasn’t even there and a neighbor let us in his house! I thought how trusting for a person to let 2 strangers live in their house when not even in the state! He was on a business trip in Charlotte, NC. I met him the night before my race for a brief 15 minute conversation before I headed to bed.

I raced terrible that morning, but that evening a group of athlete’s including my homestay Scott insisted we go out for dinner at Coyote’s Bar & Grill in Carlsbad. I made new friends and learned my homestay was from the mid-west, just an hour from where one of my sisters lived. Three months later Scott travelled to Tucson for work. I just moved there and we hooked up for an 8 mile run then had a 5 hour dinner! That spark lit the fire and he has been my husband Scott Davis of 12 years :)

Scott later told me he offered homestays as a way to give back to a sport that was so important to him. We’ve had many homestays since!

Craig: You have raced the Hawaiian Ironman 4 times now. How did your first 3 attempts go and what did you learn from those experiences?

Susanne: I never intended to race in Hawaii. It seemed way too long, hot and not something I could keep my focus on. My attention span for a 2 hour Olympic Distance race was hard enough. In 2005 I had a 2 year old son and was working to get the baby weight off (58 lbs). Vineman Half Ironman was an appealing goal because I went there when I was pregnant but couldn’t enjoy the camping and vineyards and always wanted to go back! It had the reputation to be a great race and seemed like a perfect vacation venue. In my first attempt, I earned a slot to Kona! After a 5 year break from triathlon and being burned out after the Olympic trials I earned a slot to the most prestigious triathlon! My gut told me- go for it! I didn’t really know how to train for these longer races. I had learned many tricks from great coaches all over the US, but they taught me speed for shorter races. Ironman was a whole new thing and now I was a mom on top of it! My first IM World Championships in 2005, I went 10:18 and proudly placed 3rd on the Podium in my age group! I thought that was it for Kona. I had an amazing experience and didn’t think I’d do it again.

After my second child, Brooke, was born in 2008 I again had baby weight to lose and went to the Honu Half Ironman with my family for a vacation in our favorite warm, sunny, beautiful place. I said to my husband that there is no way I’m going back to Kona, it was too much training and now we have two kids. He said, “Susanne, you’re 39 years old and you’re peaking, this may be the best you’ll ever be. Are you sure you don’t want to go?” “NO”, I said with authority. “Leave the checkbook at the hotel and let’s get to the awards.” My name was called and I went on stage to receive my Umeke bowl. Standing there the MC explained that “Umeke Bowl” symbolized honor & accomplishment. You athlete’s should receive this with great pride and respect. These sacred traits are what you hold within yourself”. That moment I decided I had to go back to the Ironman. I had achieved my personal victory and wanted to feel that again! Then my husband turned to me and handed me the check book. He just said, “told ya you’d go.” He knows me very well.

My second time in Kona was 2010 and I had an amazing race. I went 9:50 and was 2nd amateur in the world! I broke the age group existing World Record, but was beat on the day by another German girl in my age group! Can you believe it? Now the fire was lit! I was 6 minutes away from the Amateur World Record in the history of the Ironman. I knew I could find 6 minutes. The next year I joined Team Timex and our goal was to break the Amateur World Record. In 2011 I went back to Kona and I was slightly injured but had a strong race. This time I was in the 40-44 age group. I again broke my age group existing World Record going 9:51 but was 2nd again! Having a type A personality I wanted to perfect my performance and still had a burning passion to go for it one more time! In 2012 I was injured and couldn’t race. When you can’t do what you love it makes you appreciate what you don’t have even more. I strained my achilles and couldn’t run for 8 months.

This year I came back to Kona and finally won my age group and was the fastest woman over 40 with the result of 9:41. I didn’t break the all-time amateur world record, but I am the fastest American Amateur over 40 in the history of the Ironman which just celebrated its 35th year! Bucket list, check mark!

Craig: This spring brought lots of promise and hope into your life, but your family had to endure a terrible adventure that I would not wish on anyone. What happened that turned your life upside down?

Susanne: In 2000, the year before Scott and I were married he and I were perfect training partners. We loved running and biking together for hundreds of miles. We knew each other mentally and could help motivate each other to get in a 6am or 6pm workout even if tired. Scott was going to race in his life goal of Ironman California here in Oceanside and I was racing in the first US Olympic Trials. Athletics has been part of love and lifestyle which brought us together. A couple years later we took two bike trips across Tuscany enjoying Italy at its finest!

This April our world was turned upside down and the unexpected happened. My husband Scott had a heart attack at 49 years of age, in a friend’s garage, just before going biking. It was no doubt the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to endure. It took the EMT 2 shocks to bring back a hearty rhythm after a close friend had given him 10 rounds of CPR. I was called to the hospital and they had no idea what caused the arrest and if he would live or die, or live but experience brain or physical limitations after waking up.

We road 60 miles together the day before this happened climbing over 5000 feet in elevation. God really had his hand on Scott. Scott has been athletic his whole life. He grew up competitive in track, baseball, & football. His journey was cut short when he had his first open heart surgery in high school due to an imperfect valve in his heart since birth. They fixed it when he was 17 years old, but it leaked 25 years later and he had another immediate 8 hour open heart surgery with me at his side in 2007.

His heart attack this past April was due to genetics. He had a Double Coronary Bypass Surgery. 90% of his blood was blocked going in and out of his heart. When he first opened his eyes the first question I asked was if he remembered our children’s names? He said both of their names then added and you are banana. That is my nick name; Susanna banana, only to my husband. I took 3 months off of training to help him get back to health along with our two young kids Matthew 9 and Brooke 5 years old. God showered us with so many loving friends and people in the community to help us with meals, carpool and life’s daily demands giving me more time to focus on Scott. God and my faith has taught me to pray and turn toward him when life throws you a curve ball, explosion or just more than you can handle on your own.

Craig: Another terrible event happened in August. This time to your best friend’s family. What happened?

Susanne: Udo Heinz passed away. He and his wife Antje are 2 of my very best friends. We met due to triathlon when I first moved to California in late 1999. We bought dogs together, had our first child 2 weeks apart and basically went from singles to newlyweds to parents together. Udo was needlessly killed by a city bus while riding in Camp Pendleton. It was very, very difficult not just on me but also the entire cycling community. My husband spoke and honored him at his memorial service which attracted about 200 people from all parts of his life. It hit us so hard because it was just too close to home. That could have been any one of us. Also, it was the second funeral I had been to in 4 months of husbands and fathers being torn from their family. It’s just become so much more dangerous out there. It still stings and I’m certain it will forever.

Craig: How did you manage to go forward after these things happened to Scott and Udo?

Susanne: It was really tough. For 3 months my attention had been caring for Scott. He couldn’t work, drive or lift anything over 5 pounds and I felt so bad just leaving him home alone to go train. I questioned why I was even out training? What purpose did it have in my life and should I spend my time doing something else, being with my family or something that contributed to society in a more impactful way? But it always returns to God. He’s been a compass throughout my life that has guided me. It has with Scott also. I heard the pastor speak on Sunday about the gifts that God had given us. I thought about it throughout the coming weeks and found peace that my athletic abilities were gifts from God. The best way I could honor God was by using them. The contribution to society I was questioning was easily answered when my clients missed me and wanted me back. I was helping society in a very meaningful way. I was working with clients to make their dreams come true. They’re lives were changed and goals were achieved by going to Boston, getting a college scholarship, competing in the Ironman or standing on the podium for the first time. The positive energy which that brought into their lives was seen by others.

Craig: You won the USA Triathlon National Championships in Milwaukee less than 1 week after Udo passed away. How did that race go for you?

Susanne: Yes, and that was a very difficult decision. I didn’t want to go. I called Antje (Udo’s wife) and had a conversation about it. I didn’t ask her permission as much as I told her I wasn’t going to go. She insisted I should still race. Udo was an incredible fighter and so tough on the bike. He was one of the most perfect cyclists I’ve ever ridden with. She told me & I knew Udo would want me to go. So I did. I think the only reason I went was because it was in Milwaukee and my entire family lives in Wisconsin. They all came for the weekend to see and support me, as well as my college roommate Carrie and my amazing Timex Teammates and managers. If it were anywhere but there I don’t think I could have jumped on the plane.

The race went exceptionally well. It was a marker to see how well I was progressing towards Hawaii. I knew my engine was there but didn’t know if I had the extra gears to go hard on the shorter course. A 2 hour race is a lot different than 10 hours. All my numbers were right on the money and I finished so strong on the run with my family screaming at me along the entire course. In the picture below you can see me saying “Udo” as I came across the finish line. He propelled me and I thought of him much along the way. I finished in 2:09 and knew I left it all on the course mentally and physically for that day. I was now the US Master’s Champion and felt an amazing pride and appreciation for the human body and mind. My family was there to see it and celebrate with me. Thirteen years ago I raced in the US Olympic Trials and now I was the National Champion at 41 years old. This is when you realize that only God knows how the story will play out. You are just in it for the ride.

Craig: You won your age group at the Ironman World Championships in Kona in October. How did that race go for you and what challenges did you have to overcome to win?

Susanne: It went almost perfect. My husband is ridiculously detailed with numbers. He knew all my competitors, where they qualified and what their strengths were. He had me projected to finish anywhere from 9:30 to 9:44. That was a big jump from 9:50 and I was 3 years younger then! I went 58:30 for the swim which is was 1:30 faster! I dropped to 5:11 on the bike beating my previous time by thirteen minutes! I was on course record pace and feeling great. I changed my whole bike program which included big blocks of 300+ miles. I learned that I could hold my running mileage longer in my system than I could hold my biking. I consulted with a couple professional cyclists and they all confirmed my hunch. Then I hit my strong leg of triathlon, the run! I’d run 3:17 and 3:18 in Kona in the last 2 races and I knew I was in 3:15 shape. Running is usually my playground but not this time. Ouch! My hips, glutes, back and it seemed like my entire body was locked up. I ran 2 good miles and then things really started to go south. This is where I leaned on my life experiences you just read about and I sang the song, “He can move the mountains, my God is mighty to save he is mighty to save”. Others were walking. I was tight and running in discomfort for 24 miles but my heart knew that I could break thru that mountain of pain and persevere. Ironman is a personal journey and I am happy to share mine without filters. I crossed the finish line 10 minutes faster with a new PR (personal record) and set the fastest American Amateur Record for women over 40 in the history of the World Championships in Kona which just celebrated its 35th year.

Craig: How have your experiences in triathlon while you were in your 20’s translated to your success now that you are in your 40’s?

Susanne: I’ve actually been getting faster with age! I guess that means I probably didn’t reach my potential earlier. In your 20’s you are out to prove something. You want to earn a living, get sponsors and create a life for yourself that is solely based on how fast you went in your race last weekend. That is an enormous amount of pressure on a young person. If you didn’t race well, it stayed on your mind until you had a good race. In your 40’s you realize how unimportant winning is in the scheme of your life. You have a home, husband, children, relationship with God and the benefit of hindsight. Don’t get me wrong. I love to win and I am a tenacious competitor, but at the end of the day I realize that it is a piece of my life but not all of my life. In your 40’s as a mother, wife and coach you have very limited time which can be a benefit. You have to be well organized and planned. You only get a very small window for your training that day so you have to get it in. When you’re younger you can spend half the day procrastinating.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you like to change?

Susanne: I truly love this sport and when I don’t have the passion anymore I will find something else to compete in or give my time and energy. I think there needs to be a drug testing program with the amateur athletes. The entry fee’s of Ironman have gone up from $350 in 2005 to $775 in 2013. I believe $20 of every person’s entry fee could be allocated to the cost of a drug test for the top 3 people in each age group at a championship event. I find it odd that when I was 2nd in the World at the 2010 Ironman World Championships that I crossed the finish line and they thought I was first and wanted to drug test me. They grabbed my arm but after 2 minutes when they realized I was second they let go of me and didn’t test me! This year I was top in my age group at Kona and wasn’t tested. Let me be clear that I don’t know the answer and I don’t know anything about how and when drugs show up in your system. I just see everyone getting so fast that it boggles my mind. A lot of these faster times come from improved competition, but course records are getting smashed. Records that have stood for 8 years are now getting faster by 30 minutes! The more people you have doing a sport, the faster it’s going to get. There should be some type of program in place to at least deter it. Again, I don’t have any knowledge that it exists at all. I simply feel that it’s gotten so competitive to get into Kona and it’s such a star in someone’s athletic career that some out there might consider a short cut. I just want that deterred in some way.

Craig: Who are your sponsors and how have they played a role in your success?

Susanne: Timex Mutlisport Team, Power Bar Elite, Shimano, Quintana Roo, Nytro, Blue Seventy, Skins and my husband Scott are the most wonderful sponsors. I am very fortunate to get support with the newest, fastest and best equipment. I’ve been sponsored many years, but what I’ve now realized is that these aren’t companies but people with a relentless passion. As a younger Pro, I didn’t have the maturity or self assurance to talk and get to know the people in the companies. Now I have tremendous relationships with the people that support me and they genuinely want to see me succeed and win, not just because of the brand but because they are friends.

When we say it takes a village it really does. Elite Care Chiropractic, Gina Rittschof Massage therapy, Studeo DNA bike fitting, Dr. Lumkong our MD who also takes my weekly spin class and numerous friends and family.

Certainly my husband Scott is my number one fan and my children. Scott’s more than accepting of me doing the sport, he loves it. After doing triathlons for 20 years he can now appreciate the sport in a different way even if he can’t race anymore. What he really brings to the table is a level of excitement and teamwork and sharing this with our children. I’m my own coach, but he’s an emotional coach to me. He knows me better than anyone in the world and he’s been with me for more than 100 races. He knows if I’m procrastinating, being lazy or if I need a kick in the butt to get out the door. I cannot mask or fake it with my husband.

Craig: In addition to mother, wife, and world champion triathlete, you are also a triathlon coach. What is your coaching philosophy and how can people reach you?

Susanne: There is no “one” best coach for everyone, but I may be the best coach for you. I’m clearly different than a lot of coaches out there according to the athlete’s I train. First, I like to work more one on one with clients. I don’t train 40 athletes at a time and give them all the same workouts. I don’t have cookie cutter programs and brief calls with my athletes once per week. I feel like everyone is completely different and balancing three sports with a job, travel, family and friends is very difficult. I like to eliminate that stress and help people reach their highest potential.

Some people are strong swimmers, cyclists or runners and some don’t have any experience at all. The focus and starting point for a person’s program varies and should be detailed toward where they currently are as an athlete. The first meeting with me is about finding out if we would be a good fit. You have to have explicit trust in your coach so it’s much more than just heart rate and power. It’s about communication. People come to this sport from all different backgrounds and therefore need more guidance in one area vs. another. I’m a technical coach and my plans are very detailed as well as my form of coaching. I tell my clients what route to run or ride because I know the terrain, what I’m trying to accomplish and the clients so well. I will run, swim and bike with you. When I run alongside you I can hear your feet and breathing and watch your form change over paces and terrain. I can see your attitude shift more positive or negative. I wait to see how you will deal with adversity then offer a few words of encouragement to see how you can self-adjust. I can see the heart rate and pace data each day when you upload it into Training Peaks which informs me immediately that you achieved or struggled to finish the planned workout. I know my clients extremely well, some of them have been with me for 10 years and most of them have become lifelong friends. I love the sport of running and triathlon. I race it myself and continue to improve or learn something. I’m faster now at 42 then I was at 32. Triathlon is a lifestyle and it’s a moment in life I hope to be part of and will always remember. or email at Ffollow me on twitter @tricoachdavis or facebook Susanne Martineau Davis.

Craig: Susanne, you and Scott have been good friends for many years. Thank you for sharing your story. Congratulations on your accomplishments this year and always.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

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Fearless Triathlon

Showing off my 1st place winnings in the men's 50-54 age group at Fearless Triathlon.

Showing off my 1st place winnings in the men’s 50-54 age group at Fearless Triathlon.

On October 26th I raced the Fearless Triathlon in San Diego and earned my first age group victory of 2013. I did the Double Super Sprint race which was swim, bike, run, swim, bike, run. In other words, it was 2 triathlons stacked back to back with no rest in between. I really love short, fast anaerobic racing like this. I had a great time and can’t wait to do it again!

The swim course was 375 meters in Mission Bay. The early morning fog made visibility a challenge even on the very tiny course. All 100 men in the field started at the same time so it was very chaotic trying to get around the first turn buoy 150 meters out. I was very glad to have my wetsuit for the first swim. Within my age group I somehow managed the best swim (6:01) among the chaos.

The bike course was 10K (6.2 miles) around Fiesta Island. I biked pretty well as I averaged 21 mph. My 1st bike split was 18:00 which dropped me into 2nd place by 10 seconds.

The run course was supposed to be 2.5K (1.55 miles), but the top 31 athletes got sent the wrong way and I was part of that group. Our first run was extremely short, probably just over 1K. My split was 4:17 which moved me back up to 1st place where I stayed the rest of the day. The short run was not to my advantage as my strength is the run so I was not able to increase my lead.

To save time no one put on wetsuits for the second swim. My initial thought when I dove back into the water was how I wished I had tied the draw string on my bike shorts! My shorts slipped down, but thankfully I did not lose them. Having a wetsuit really does help for speed as my second swim split was only 7:57. I had a heck of a time getting back up the boat ramp this time. It was caked in algae and very slippery. I would run up the ramp only to slip and fall backwards again. Finally I got out of the water!

My second bike split was very good – 18:12. And my second run (the entire 2.5K this time) was 8:24. My finish time was 1:07:02 and I won comfortably by 3:05. I placed 1st out of 7 men in the 50-54 age group and 15th out of 141 overall finishers.

After the age group race I volunteered as a lap counter for the professional race. The pros raced on a television friendly circuit (their race was televised on Universal Sports). Their swim was just 1 lap like the age groupers, but their bike course was 8 laps and the run was 5 laps. They also did this twice through. It was a lot of pressure on the pro’s since if they get lapped, they must drop out. The women’s race started with 6 and finished with only 3. The men’s race started with 14 and finished with 10. I’m glad to be an age grouper!

Click on this link to see my pictures from the race:

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: Kosuke Amano – October 2013

Friends, Fernando Blanco (1st place in 2:37:14) and Kosuke Amano (2nd place in 2:37:59) after Ventura Marathon.

Friends, Fernando Blanco (1st place in 2:37:14) and Kosuke Amano (2nd place in 2:37:59) after Ventura Marathon.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently got to talk triathlon with Tri Club member Kosuke Amano. Our conversation left me 100% impressed. Kosuke has come a long way in his life and has achieved many great things, but he remains grounded and humble. I know you will enjoy getting to know this great guy.

Craig: You were born in Japan and moved the US when you were 5. What are some of your early memories of arriving in the US?

Kosuke: The majority of my early memories in the US take place with me in the speedo…and things haven’t changed much since. My parents started taking me and my sister to swim lessons when I was three and she was four and we continued with that once we moved here. My early childhood memories basically involves me swimming, running around with friends before and after swim practice and the monthly trips to swim meets. These swim meets were usually a pretty long ordeal, having to be there for warm ups at around 7:00 am and staying there until the meet ended in the afternoon. In addition, since you are pretty much only swimming 4-5 events that take about a minute to do each time, it leaves a lot of time in between races. We spent those breaks just playing all sorts of games with teammates, catching frogs by the creek nearby, and playing cards and such. When it was time to swim, you got your goggles, stood behind the blocks, did a couple arm swings and you were all warmed up and ready to go. That part was awesome. You didn’t have to do any long warm ups or cool downs and since you were growing, pretty much every race was a PR. It was pretty sweet.

Craig: What was your athletic background before you got involved with triathlon?

Kosuke: My main background is in swimming. I did gymnastics for about 3-4 years when I was little, and I dabbled in water polo my first two years of high school. I enjoyed water polo, but when it came down to going up against some better schools there were some huge guys out there that could toss around a little Asian boy like a chewtoy. So, I figured I’d go back to swimming full time which I did by my junior year of high school. I ended up being fairly good at the sport. My highest achievement in the sport was when I won the Division IV Southern Section CIF 200 yard freestyle and got 2nd in the 500 freestyle my senior year of high school.

I had aspirations of swimming in college and had a couple of Division I colleges interested in me, but I ended up going to Arizona with the goal of walking onto their team. My sister was also swimming for Cal, so there was definitely a part of me that wanted to swim in a Pac-10 (now Pac-12) school with her. Unfortunately, I never made it onto the team. I swam on the club team there for a couple of years trying to get faster. It was a pretty neat set up because the club team was affiliated with the University’s team. I even got to train with the college team during the summer after my freshman year. That was an amazing experience, to be in the same lane or next to Olympians and future Olympians every day at practice.

Unfortunately, while my swim was improving, my school work was not going so well. I was partying, farting around too much, and my GPA had dropped down way below a 2.0. And needless to say, that didn’t really help with my chances of getting on the team. I swam competitively for one more year, but it became clear that year that I was burnt out and the love for the sport was gone. I was only was holding on to swimming because that was the only thing I ever knew and it was something I felt I had to keep doing.

Even though I was clearly burnt out, I still failed to realize my goal of swimming in college and it was really disappointing. But looking back now, I feel it was something I needed to go through and it is because of this experience and disappointment that I learned the importance of balance in life.

Oh, and I have to mention, my sister ended up having a very successful college career, becoming an All-American one year and being a vital member of a team that included some big names like Natalie Coughlin.

Craig: For the past couple of years you have been one of the TCSD swim coaches at the JCC. Trying to keep our beginner triathletes in mind, what are a few tips you have found to be most helpful?

Kosuke: It’s important to make sure that any movements you do are not causing more damage than good. One bad technique can even hurt you in multiple ways. For example, when you add the kick to your swim, I see a lot of people bend their knees too much (like the running motion) or spread their legs too far apart. Every time you do this, you’re wasting energy moving your legs AND it is actually causing drag which will also lead your hips to sink and slow you down.

Drills and analysis of your stroke is something you will do no matter how fast you are. Even Olympians do drills. They have coaches look at their stroke often and get critiqued on what they are doing right, wrong and what they have to fix. Luckily, nowadays, it is very easy for anyone to get feedback. You can even use something like a phone or ipad to take videos of your swimming and have someone qualified look at your form. When you do have to change something in your stroke, don’t expect instant results all the time. Sometimes you need to take a step backwards in order to take two steps forward.

It’s also important to concentrate on good technique when you are tired. That’s when you are working the muscles essential to proper form. If you change your stroke when you feel tired and start doing something because it feels easier, you’ll never build the muscles you’ll need to hold proper swim form.

And finally, when you are just starting off, just get in the water. You don’t even have to do drills or anything specific. Just do flips, do handstands, go down and touch the bottom of the pool, lounge on your back and float around with a mai tai (sorry, but with no floaties of any kind when you do this). It is very important to just get used to knowing what your body feels like when you are in the water and to get comfortable in it.

Craig: My first association of you was your dominance at the TCSD Aquathlons a couple of years ago. What are some of the keys to racing successfully when there is a surf entry/exit?

Kosuke: I think the key is to work on dolphin dives, high leg running and practicing those so you know at what depth and places you should switch off between those two and normal swimming. There’s also the balance between speed and effort. You may be faster running through shallow waters, but it may take a lot more out of you. There are times when you need to emphasize speed in order to get into a good pack you can draft off of, but it may also cause you to redline and it can take some time to recover from that. There’s no right or wrong way, it all depends on the situation. The majority of the time, since it is so easy to get caught up in the moment and redline when going through surf entries, I hold a little back so when I start swimming normally, I’m still going strong.

When exiting, look back behind you for waves you can ride in and also for safety reasons. You don’t want to get knocked underwater from a break you didn’t see coming. Slow down if you need to and position yourself to catch a wave in. You can get those couple second back and also save some energy body surfing a wave in.

Another thing is attitude. You just basically have to look at the waves and entry ahead of you and think, “Bring it on, you stupid wave, I’m coming for you!” This attitude and confidence comes with practice, but I think just having that mentality helps especially during a mass start into surf entry.

Craig: What was your first Half Ironman like and how were you naive?

Kosuke: My first Half Ironman was the Hawaii 70.3 in June 2011. I had just raced to a top 5 finish at the Wildflower Olympic distance race in May and I was too arrogant going into the race. I thought I had everything all figured out. I ended up cramping big time from the heat and humidity of Hawaii. I had to stop for a bit on the bike and limped the run for a 2:41 half marathon time, which was around an hour and a half slower than my stand alone half marathon time. The thing is, without this experience, I don’t think I would have gotten my elite card later that year. After the Hawaii race, I went back to the drawing board and started studying and experimenting with nutrition from scratch. I learned that what may work for other people may not work for me. It’s taken many, many failed experiments and a lot of close call potty breaks, but I’m finally starting to figure out what type of nutrition plans works for my body, stomach, cramping and energy level.

Craig: You attempted a very aggressive goal this summer, but came up short. What did you learn from that experience?

Kosuke: I attempted to swim the length of Lake Tahoe. A direct length from the south to north shore would have been 21.25 miles. I followed the English Channel swim rules. I wore one rubber cap, a jammer and just covered myself in Vaseline. And once you hang onto anything for support, you’re done. I ended up getting through a little over a mile, maybe 35-40 minutes before I succumbed to the cold and had to quit. The discomfort I felt during the last 10 minutes is something I don’t ever want to experience again.

Going into the race, I knew Mother Nature had to be on my side for me to complete the swim. The only thing I had control over was the type of training I did and the type of shape I could get myself into for the swim. I felt fairly confident going into the swim that I could swim the distance. A week away from the swim, the lake temperatures were hovering right below 70 degrees, so I felt I had a good shot. Unfortunately, the wind picked up a couple of days before my swim and mixed up the cold waters from deeper in the lake. I think the buoys on the lake said the water was 63. It felt colder, but maybe it was all in my head.

I learned that I have the greatest friends and I am nothing without them. My friends Brannen Henn, Brian Wrona and Matt Elmore had come up to support me on this swim and I couldn’t ask for a better support team. They were there for me before, during and after the attempt and you just can’t be down for long when you have friends like them. They even helped me put Vaseline on my back before the race, which I assume didn’t go down as one of the best moments of Brian and Matt’s trip.

I am planning on attempting this swim again. It may be 5 or 10 years from now, though. I learned that training for this swim while planning to do a marathon a month later doesn’t work. I need to dedicate myself fully to this challenge, maybe eat some donuts, gain a little bit of weight and train specifically for it. For now though, I’d like to see how far I can go with my running and triathlon interests and I won’t be able to purse both at the same time.

Craig: You ran your first marathon this summer. How did that go for you?

Kosuke: I did, and everything kind of fell in place for me. I’ve always wanted to do a marathon and run in Boston one day. I always thought it would be later on in life, though, after I got done concentrating on triathlons. The events at this year’s Boston Marathon did hit me at a personal level. I had friends there. People I care deeply for. These events are what the human spirit is all about. It is people coming together to celebrate the joy of running, camaraderie and the passion they share for life and racing. And I really wanted to be a part of it next year.

As luck would have it, there was an inaugural marathon being held in my hometown of Ventura in September. I went into the race in pretty good shape but dealing with plantar fasciitis. I really didn’t know how it would react. I knew that if it didn’t act up, I had a chance of running somewhere in the 2:40 vicinity. But the PF was really affecting me before the race so I was worried how it would hold up. I also knew from my first Half Ironman experience, and coming fresh off the Lake Tahoe attempt, anything can happen on your first try at something. I was just thinking, “oh man, I can’t have 2 DNFs in a span of little over a month!” so I really just wanted to finish this one.

At the 12 mile mark, I found myself in 4th place with the leaders not that far off. It seemed that the insoles and ibuprofen was doing its job and my foot was feeling ok. I decided what the hell, start pushing it. How many people get the chance to race for a win in their hometown’s inaugural marathon? Go for it, see what happens and leave it all out there on the course. I ended up catching the leader around mile 15 and while I started struggling around mile 23, led until mile 25. Shortly after mile 25, my friend Fernando Blanco came by me like I was standing still. I tried to give chase, but he was just a stronger runner that day. I ended up second at 2:37.59, less than a minute from the winner, but it was really a pleasure finishing second to Fern. He deserved the win and I wouldn’t have broken 2:38 if it wasn’t for him. It was awesome running my first marathon through the streets I knew and I can look myself in the mirror and say I gave it everything I had. I couldn’t ask for a better race.

Craig: You have done a lot of different kinds of races. What are some of the racing accomplishments you are most proud of?

Kosuke: There are a few races that I am most proud of. The marathon is definitely up there. Another one of them was my first pro race I competed in. It was the Clermont Draft Legal Sprint Triathlon in March 2012, which was also an ITU Continental Cup race. From the pre-race meeting sitting around with people from different countries and being in the same room as people like Jarrod Shoemaker and Gwen Jorgensen, to the race itself, it was an amazing experience. The swim was definitely an eye opener. With my swimming background, I was used to always being one of the first people out of the water. Not this time. I think about 50 people started the race. Running out of the water I was thinking “hmmm, why the crap are there so many people ahead of me…” Then I looked back and I saw maybe 5 people behind me. It was a kick in the butt “welcome to racing with the big boys” moment for me. I ended up 40th out of 47. Not even close to competing for a podium but this is my proudest race in triathlon. I had the chance to race with some of the world’s best and at the same time, had front row seats as a fan watching the race unfold.

The most memorable race for me was a quarter-marathon race I did when I went back to visit my folks and relatives in Japan a year ago. My dad had picked up running recently and was going to run the race, so I decided to run it as well. The race was an out and back and after the turnaround, we saw each other and we got to give each other a high-five when we crossed paths. Race medals, podiums, my pro card, PR’s, winning, they are all very cool and all, but that high-five was the best moment I’ve had in all my experiences at races.

I remember asking my dad before the race when his last run race was. He said this was his first one and that there wasn’t that many opportunities for him to take part in things like this when he was growing up. My dad was born in 1952, only a short time after WWII ended, and I think his generation did not have the opportunity to take part in extra-curricular, recreational activities like run races. But for some reason I do. It really puts things in perspective that living this sort of lifestyle and having opportunities like racing and training is something I should never take for granted. Every time I get to step up on that start line and race is a gift.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?

Kosuke: The races that the club offers are great. It gives people the opportunity to race, have fun and experience what triathlons are all about without having to cough up several hundreds of dollars. When I first moved down here, I was a broke college grad that couldn’t afford to do many races. So, TCSD races were instrumental in giving me the experience and fueling my passion for triathlons. I also feel as though the Triathlon Club acts as a gateway for living a healthy lifestyle and also serves as a blanket organization for other organizations around San Diego. For instance, because of TCSD, I met and became friends with several people from the San Diego Track Club. This led to me joining their club and having the opportunity to race on the Track Club’s Open Men’s team for the past 4 years. I have met so many great people and had so many great experiences through it. I’ve also had the privilege of getting to know, train and race with people from the UCSD Tri Team. Tri Club was the thing that bounded all these other great organizations together for me.

Craig: Who has been particularly influential in your life?

Kosuke: My parents, my sister and my friends. I mentioned my dad picked up running recently. Well, my mom started taking swim lessons a few years back and is always emailing us about how fun of a challenge it is and how one day she’s going to do a 25 butterfly without stopping. She competed in her first Masters meet recently and it is very inspiring. Yep, the thing is, my parents never really learned how to swim. They only knew how to tread water and do some breaststroke to get by. That’s why they put my sister and me in swim lessons at such a young age. They wanted us to be able to swim and be comfortable with the water. They may have regretted that decision when they started having to take us to 5am morning workouts and drive us for hours on end going to swim meets.

But in the end, it’s how they live life that is influential. My dad is a tough as nails, hardworking, plow the dirt with your face type of person. If a job needs to get done, he will get it done. And he’ll get it done without complaining, without making excuses, without stepping on or using other people or things for his own benefit. He’s someone you can rely on. If you need anything, he just buckles down and gets stuff done. Plus afterwards, he’ll buy you a beer (or 3 or 5) so you can drink it with him. My mom is…well, let’s just say there are a bunch of people that will offer you an umbrella, then take it right back when it starts to rain. My mom is one of those people that will offer you her only umbrella when it is raining. She’s the most selfless and kind hearted person I know.

I can’t say enough about my family and friends. They inspire me with their athletic achievements, but more so with their character and how they act in life. They inspire me to become a better person and to aim for the stars but keep my feet on the ground.

Craig: Do you have any sponsors?

Kosuke: I don’t have any official sponsors, but I have been lucky with friends and companies that have taken care of me over the past few years. To name a few, Jake Mclaughlin and Justin Elmore at Aquasphere, Trevor Glavin at Skinfit and the people at Moment Cycle Sport have been great. And I know I would never have had so much fun and success in this sport without coaches and colleagues who’s taken me under their wing or given me so much advice over the years. Brian Grasky, the head coach at Tricats (the University of Arizona Triathlon Team) along with local coaches like Jim Vance, Ron “Sickie” Marcikic and Terry Martin from UCSD masters have always been there to give me guidance along the way. People like Phillip Krebs, Lars Finanger, Brendan Wolters, Kim McDonald, Bill Gleason have all helped me immensely when I was first getting into the sport and even more, they saw potential in me. That is something that means so much to me.

Craig: What do you do for a living?

Kosuke: I am a software engineer at Neustar. After my hiccup in my schoolwork the first 2 years, I was able to get it together and managed to graduate from Arizona with a degree in computer engineering with a minor in math, computer science and electrical engineering. I moved out to San Diego and luckily got hired by them and have been there for over 5 years now. I love the people I work with. Many of my co-workers are active in the running/fitness world and it’s been great going out to races with them. Plus, so many people including my boss have been very supportive of my triathlon/multisport ‘addiction’ outside of the workplace.

Craig: What are some of your future athletic goals?

Kosuke: It’s kind of up in the air and strangely, I feel super excited because it is that way. In the short term, I will run Boston in April and in the preparation for it, I’d like to take the winter months to see if I can get down to a sub 15min 5k on the track. I’m not sure after Boston. I do have one more year of eligibility racing as an elite so I may take advantage of that and take part in races and events that I may not be able to do without it.

My other main goal is to improve my beer mile time. I went 8:20 my first time, but the last 3 times I have done it has just been a total disaster. I really need to step up my game and “train” a lot more. My goal is to someday run a sub 7 min beer mile. If I can, and I’m sure people who have seen me do the beer mile will attest, it would probably go down as my biggest athletic achievement ever!

Craig: Kosuke, thank you so much for sharing your story. I know you will achieve everything you set your mind to. Your parents put you on the right course and you have the tools and talents to move mountains. Good luck!

Kosuke: It was my pleasure. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences and thoughts.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

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Lifetime Fitness Triathlon Oceanside

Craig with friends, Gina and Jim Correll at Awards Ceremony for Lifetime Triathlon Oceanside.

Craig with friends, Gina and Jim Correll at Awards Ceremony for Lifetime Triathlon Oceanside.

On Sunday, October 20 I raced my 3rd triathlon of the year at the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in Oceanside. This was the 11th race in the Lifetime season long nationwide series. I had a good race, despite racing with a group way over my head. I raced in the open men’s elite category and placed 13th out of 16. All of the guys who placed ahead of me were in their 20’s and 30’s. If I had raced in my age group (men 50-54), then I would have placed 2nd out of 16. Sometimes it’s fun to take a walk on the wild side!

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was in the Oceanside Harbor. 2 days before the race a 13.5 foot oarfish washed up dead in the Oceanside Harbor. These giants can grow up to 50 feet and live 3,000 feet below the surface. Thankfully I did not swim into his brother during the race. But I did swim head on into 2 other swimmers. It was extremely foggy so sighting was difficult on the out and back course. Given those conditions, it was very understandable that people would swim off course. My swim time was 24:51. Not very fast for me. I was 10th out of the elite men and would have been in 4th in my age group.

The 40K (24.8 mile) bike course was 2 loops on Hwy 76. The fog and damp cold slowed things down. I did ok as my bike split was 1:11:17 (20.9 mph) on the mostly flat course. This effort was 14th best among the elite men and would have been 6th best in my age group.

The 10K (6.2 mile) run course was 2 loops along The Strand next to the ocean. There were 3 occasions when we had to make our way up a steep climb to get up to the Oceanside Pier. My run split was 42:55 which was 12th best among the elites and it would have been the best against the guys in my age group. My finish time was 2:22:13 and I placed 40th out of 232 overall finishers. The highlight of the race for me was having my wife, Laurie, there to cheer for me on the run course.

This year was the inaugural Oceanside race and it was a lot of fun. I look forward to a bigger and better race next year.

Living the life…

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