Ironman 70.3 World Championships – Mooloolaba, Australia

View of transition area from our 8th floor condo.

View of transition area from our 8th floor condo.

Craig on the run!

Craig on the run!

On September 4th I raced the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mooloolaba, Australia.  We had a gorgeous day to race – temperatures in the mid to high 70’s, clear skies and a light breeze.  I had a race to be proud of as I placed 85th out of 177 men in the 50-54 age group and 1,375th overall out of 2,577 finishers. 

The 1.2 mile swim was an in water start in the Coral Sea.  The water was calm and warm, but we were allowed to wear wet suits.  I had a great 30:03 swim split putting me in 53rd place.

The 56 mile bike course went from the coast to the hinterlands and back.  It was relatively flat and easy for the first 30 miles.  That changed in a big way at mile 33.  At that point I faced the steepest section of road I have ever ridden on a bike.  It was short, probably only ¼ mile, but brutal.  I saw 2 people walking their bikes up that climb.  It was that steep!  And this was a world class field.  Everyone in the race had earned a qualifying slot.  The final 20 miles had some rolling hills and mild head winds.  I really struggled after mile 50 as that steep climb knocked the stuffing out of me.  The bike course had just over 2,200 feet of elevation gain.  My split was 2:55:33 (19.1 mph), the 134th best bike split.  Not so good, but I did the best I could.  It dropped me down to 124th place.

The 13.1 mile (21K) run was comprised of 2 loops of 10K.  Right out of the gate I saw a spectator holding a sign that seemed meant for me – “Humpty Dumpty also had wall issues”.  I ran the first 10K pretty hard, but thankfully only faded a little bit in the final 10K.  The 20th K was up a hill and into the wind.  I was really on fumes at that point.  My wife, Laurie, was spectating on that hill.  I wanted to stop and walk so badly at that point, but there was no way I was going to walk with her watching and me so close to the finish line.  I managed to get up that hill and then it was downhill the final K to the finish line.  I had the 33rd best run on the day and my run split was 1:34:52 (7:13/mile) for a finish time of 5:12:26.

Click on this link to see my race pictures and finish video:


We had such a great trip to Australia in every regard.  Our travels were all smooth and stress free and we saw so many great sights.  We started at Kangaroo Island.  From there we flew to Adelaide where we toured the Adelaide Oval (cricket, rugby, soccer stadium), the Migration Museum, the South Australian Museum and took in an Alfred Hitchcock play – The 39 Steps.  Then onto Brisbane for an evening.  Brisbane was beautiful along the river and we had dinner with 3 of Laurie’s former Carlsbad roommates from 15+ years ago – Darren and wife Jenny and friend Nina.  And finally onto Mooloolaba for the race.  We shared a condo overlooking the transition area, swim start and race finish with our Carlsbad friends, Diana and Brian.  The 4 of us spent a wonderful afternoon at the Australia Zoo, made famous by the late, great Steve Irwin.

Living the life…    

Posted in 2016, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kangaroo Island Half Marathon

Laurie and I with our hardware

Laurie and I with our hardware

L-R: Race Director Nate Godfrey, Craig, Laurie, Edson Sanches, Sharon Kerson.

L-R: Race Director Nate Godfrey, Craig, Laurie, Edson Sanches, Sharon Kerson.

On August 27th I ran the Kangaroo Island Half Marathon and my wife, Laurie, ran the Full Marathon in South Australia.  Kangaroo Island is a big place (1700 square miles) and home to a lot of wildlife.  Many of the athletes, including us, were bussed 90 minutes on race morning from the small town of Kingscote to Flinders Chase National Park where the race was held.  There must have been hundreds of wallabies and kangaroos that ran in front of our bus on the way to the race.  We even saw a koala hanging out in a tree by the start/finish line.

We both had great races.  I was the overall winner of the Half Marathon with a time of 1:32:22.  My race had a small field of only 57 finishers, but a win is a win.  I think my last overall victory was in the late ‘90’s so I made certain to enjoy it.  Especially nice were the Lululemon girls giving me all sorts of attention at the finish line.  In my mind, though, the best girl out there was Laurie.  She finished 3rd overall female in the Marathon in what she described as the toughest course she’s ever run.  It was hilly and windy out there!

We met some really cool characters in this race.  Possibly the biggest highlight was Laurie seeing her old New York friend Edson Sanches board the bus on race morning.  Laurie had no idea Edson was doing the race so when she saw him she let out a good holler at 5am that woke every person and all the wildlife at Kangaroo Island.  This race was Edson’s 99th country to run a marathon in and his 590th marathon of all time.  Amazing!

I met a guy named Scott Kerrison who did the Half Marathon with me.  Scott finished 3rd overall.  After our race he was going to fly to Perth to run a 12K the following day in Australia’s largest annual running event – City to Surf.  So between the 98 runners at Kangaroo Island and the 40,000 runners in Perth, Scott had both extremes pretty well covered.

And Eoin Loftus, the CEO of Majestic Hotels, also ran the KI Marathon.  This was his 4th marathon in 4 days.  Eoin ran these marathons to raise awareness for Aboriginal foster children in South Australia.  Very impressive!   

The following day we took a tour of Kangaroo Island.  We enjoyed sea lions, koalas, the Remarkable Rocks and the stalactite covered Admirals Arch.  We will have a lot of fond memories of Kangaroo Island.

Living the life…     

Posted in 2016, Half Marathon, Marathon, Running Race | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

TCSD Conversation: Melissa Sosnowski – August 2016

Melissa and Marc Sosnowski on their wedding day - 2015 AFC Half Marathon

Melissa and Marc Sosnowski on their wedding day – 2015 AFC Half Marathon

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently had the opportunity to talk triathlon and everything under the sun with TCSD Treasurer Melissa Sosnowski.  I could not be happier for this great lady who has become my friend over the past couple of years.  Read below and you will see how Melissa has used running and triathlon to improve her life.

Craig: Did you play any sports when you were growing up?   

Melissa: Not much…a few intramural-type sports in middle school, but for the most part academics were stressed in my family.  Besides, I was a Navy brat and we moved every 2½ years.  I went to 9 different schools between kindergarten and 12th grade so there was no consistency.  I often think “what if…” I was encouraged to play sports, would I have done well?  Much to the surprise of my current adult friends, I was painfully shy as a child.  With moving all the time, it was just easier to blend into the background.  I came out of my shell late in high school, but by that time I had missed the formative sporting years and I just cared about where the next party was.

Craig: You took up running late in life.  What were the circumstances that launched your running career? 

Melissa: So this is kind of a long story but I feel that all of the events in my life had a purpose, whether I realized it at the time or not.  It’s much easier in hindsight to provide how everything interconnected to lead me to running, then to triathlon.

To set the stage, we have to go back to 2006 (I can SEE you rolling your eyes, but trust me, there’s a point to this).  I was 37 years old, just had my 3rd child in 4 years and I was tired and, <ahem>…thick and slow moving.  Prior to 2006, I had run a few 5ks and I think one 8k, but never took running seriously.  I may have averaged one race every year or two, or three.  I was always borderline pudgy and having all those kids had exacerbated my problem, so I decided to run to lose weight.  I started from the bottom…on an elliptical in my basement for 10 minutes.  That’s all I could handle.  I made what I called “micro-goals”—tiny goals that would encourage me to continue.  Eventually, I worked my way off of the elliptical and onto a treadmill at the local YMCA.  I pretty much never went longer than 3 miles, but I was able to get to sub-10 minute miles by training alone on the treadmill.

A college friend of mine who was into running convinced me to do the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon in September 2006.  I had no idea how to train for anything longer than 3 miles.  I looked online and found the Smart Coach section of the Runner’s World Magazine website.  I input my goal time and how often I wanted to work out and it spit out a training plan.  I printed it out, followed the plan and showed up for the race.  I beat my friend.  She was so happy for me she somehow convinced me to do all of the Rock and Roll series races in 2007.  Yep, all of them!  All five.  Hard to believe there were ever only five, huh?  That was back when they actually had bands at the races.  Well, we did it—Arizona, Nashville, San Jose, Virginia Beach and San Diego.  Unfortunately, at the time, San Diego only had a full marathon option—no half.  I returned to my trusty online Smart Coach and printed a marathon plan.  We had a blast doing the races and we received a GIANT ROCK STAR medal.  I think only about 200 people did all of the races that year.  It was really fun and I was hooked on running.

Or so I thought!

So, let’s just fast forward through to 2011.  All I’ve got to say are these tidbits:  cross-country move, financial ruin, divorce, 3 young kids, a stalled career and trying to date after 20 years.  Things got a little hairy, as life does sometimes, and I had bigger things to worry about.  By mid-2011, I was stable, single and ready to get into shape.  I had gained about 50 pounds over the ‘dark years’ so I decided to start running again. I thought the best way to do it was to join running groups; besides, I needed to meet people.  For anyone who has not gone through a divorce, you basically lose all of your friends.  Richard Duquette’s Sunday morning runs out of Carlsbad became a great way for me to meet other runners (and unexpectedly, triathletes).  I signed up for the Silver Strand Half Marathon thinking a flat course would be a great start for my “return to running” (cue Rocky theme song).

Craig: A photo was taken of you just before the start of the Silver Strand Half Marathon.  How did that change your life?

Melissa: So here’s the serendipitous part of my Silver Strand experience and how everything came full circle in my running life.  A fellow single mom that I had befriended came to the Silver Strand race with me.  She was a runner too, but on this day she was my support and cheerleader.  She insisted on taking a picture of me as we walked to the start line.  To be honest, I was feeling pretty good.  I was excited that I had been able to lose weight and get back into racing.  Off I went.  I had an OK race experience but knew that running was back in my life forever.

And that picture my friend took?  It ended up as part of my online dating profile.  Yep, I had jumped into the insane world of online dating (for the 2nd time, but that’s a whole OTHER story).  And guess who saw that photo?  A man who had never ran any more than a 10k (once) and was training for his first half marathon.  He emailed me under the guise of getting help to train for his race (and I fell for it!).  Whatever he said worked because 3 and ½ year later, that man became my husband!  There might have been a few other things that happened during that time, but it’s clear that the indoctrination of running into my life in that basement on the elliptical in 2006 led me to my one true love in 2012!  What a long road, but totally worth it!

Craig: How did you get started racing triathlons and what are your favorite benefits of your TCSD membership?

Melissa: I continued to train with running groups and there were a few triathletes in those groups.  I had seen the Solana Beach Triathlon in 2011 and was impressed that not everyone “looked” like an athlete.  There were people of all shapes and sizes.  Not only that, but everyone was encouraged and cheered, first or last place.  That impressed me and planted the seed that would start me in triathlon.  At the time, I was still running with Richard’s group.  The group would meet for coffee after the run and one day a triathlete showed up (aside from Richard and his wife).  Just a random guy that I didn’t know.  I mentioned the race I saw and that I was scared to even think about triathlon because I didn’t have confidence in my swim.  Let’s just say that by my last sip of coffee, Richard, his wife and this guy, who later I found out was Bruce Meister, a TCSD member, had convinced me that I could do it.  I don’t think they know that their infectious enthusiasm was my start in triathlon.  If they’re reading this, thanks guys!

It was one of those things that you have an argument in your own head about.  “Can I? I don’t know how to swim”… “No!  Well, maybe”… “I don’t have a bike”…“No, that’s silly”…“Maybe, but how would I?”  And the crazy self-talk continued for a few months.  Please be nodding your head like you know what I’m talking about.

To dovetail into my timeline above, I had done Silver Strand in November 2011, met Marc in January of 2012 and joined the Tri Club in February of that same year.  In another serendipitous moment, I was talking to a new co-worker about attending the TCSD beginners meeting to see what this “tri club” was all about.  Coincidentally, he had just moved here and his wife had already done triathlons.  He thought she’d like to come with me.  Alexis Barnes and I met at the Tri 101 meeting at Moment Cycles in February of 2012.  I liked her immediately.  We both joined the Tri Club and started training together.  She had already raced triathlons but she didn’t like to train; I wanted to train but was nervous about signing up for a race.  We made the perfect pair!

The benefits of being a Tri Club member were immediate.  I had signed up for the ITU Sprint distance in May 2012 for my first race.  Thao Vu put on unofficial training days that were great!  I couldn’t believe how many people volunteered their time and went through a huge amount of effort so that I could train!  I also went to the Beginner Open Water Swims (BOWS) to learn how to open-water swim; used the JCC masters to train; attended the Saturday Del Mar bike rides (full circle moment:  that’s where Marc and I met the men who became the best man and groomsman at our wedding).

To this day, the dedication of the TCSD volunteers amazes me.  The logistics of getting everything and everyone where they belong for training, races, expos, meetings, social events, etc. is enormous and is virtually invisible to the members.  They do it so well, it took me a while to realize what a huge effort is put into running the Club.

Craig: You raced Ironman Arizona in 2014.  What was that experience like for you?

Melissa: I have this very clear picture in my head of going to my first Saturday morning Del Mar bike ride.  As I unloaded my bike, a TCSD member who had parked next to me introduced himself.  It was Kevin Koresky and as we chatted about my “newbie-ness” he said “trust me, within 2 years, you will do an Ironman”.  I scoffed at the idea.  I hadn’t event done my first race yet!  Those distances were beyond anything I could imagine.  I just knew that they were long enough for me to not be able to memorize the exact miles, or was it in kilometers?!  Those races are for those nutty OCD athletes, not me.

Fast forward two years and I was doing an Ironman!  There was so much preparation that led up to that race.  I wrote a rather long-winded article for the TCSD newsletter about my Arizona experience.  It had made such an impression on me.  Not only did I have a spectacular training and race experience but Marc proposed to me at the finish line.  To say that was one of the best days of my life is an understatement.  I felt as if all of the trials and tribulations that I had survived over the ‘dark years’ were very similar to the trials and tribulations I encountered in an Ironman race.  The themes of being able to handle whatever was thrown my way, in the race and in life, solidified my confidence to believe in myself.  The pudgy mom sweating it out alone in her basement could achieve anything she set her mind to!  It was really a transformative moment.

For anyone thinking about doing an Ironman, I would encourage them to get a coach and to utilize the TCSD workouts.  Both were invaluable.  Not to get too “Psych 101” on you, but I would not only look at it as just a physical goal.  You will find out very quickly that the mental aspect of the training is far more important.  To be adequately prepared, you will be forced to prioritize your life and that will lead to some self-assessments about what is really important to you. It will be transformative in all areas of your life.

Craig: What are your favorite races?

Melissa: To be honest, any TCSD race is my favorite.  They are free and they are fun!  What more could you want out of a race?!  Being able to hang out with like-minded individuals is awesome.  Not only that, but I could be commiserating with someone who is a podium finisher, Olympian, or pro athlete and we all have a shared experience.  Triathlon is crazy that way.  There’s this comradery that transcends athleticism, especially within TCSD.  I love that!

Craig: What did you do to help Carol Gasaway start the TCSD Youth Program?

Melissa: In early 2014, Carol put together a small group of women to relaunch the TCSD youth program.  Besides me, Linda Rich and Liz Olsen volunteered to help as well.  At that point, being a single mom put severe restrictions on my ability to volunteer, so I thought I’d help out because it would allow me a way to volunteer for the club and include my children.  I was so impressed with how organized Carol was.  We met one time to talk about the overall program and within a month she had put together an outline of the program, developed a mission statement, goals, and membership benefits.  She would never take credit, she’s a very humble person (and extraordinary triathlete) but she really was the architect of the program.  She had a really clear vision and knew how to execute it well!

Craig: You are now serving as the TCSD Interim Treasurer.  Thank you for stepping up to the plate to volunteer!  What are some of the tasks you do in this role?

Melissa: I know everyone is super-excited to learn about the thrilling world of accounting!  I pay bills!  I review tax returns!  I budget!  I’ll stop now, I know your heads must be spinning.  Seriously, though, I am a CPA by trade, so when the Board approached me to fill in as interim Treasurer earlier this year, it was a “no-brainer”.  By this point my schedule had changed to the point that I was no longer able to help Carol so I was in need of an avenue to volunteer that didn’t take time away from my kids, who had—to my dismay— rejected Triathlon as their sport of choice.

Aside from the routine bill-paying stuff, there was some other unfinished business.  We had been selling merchandise which required us to get a seller’s permit from California, so I spear-headed that project along with catching us up on prior years sales tax.  I track all of the money coming in and going out, so I developed a simple pie chart that summarized our year’s activity in a simple form.

I’m also gathering information for a discussion about the Club potentially converting to a non-profit charity (we are currently a non-profit sports club).  In the past, this has been a somewhat divisive topic.  My goal is to alleviate that problem by being the provider of information.  Therefore, to present the “pros and cons” in an unbiased manner is really important to me.  Think of me as the Switzerland of this topic—I’m taking no sides but I think people should base their opinion on facts and information, not conjecture and emotion.  It’s tough with a group as dedicated and passionate as our TCSD members but it’s also one of the reasons the club is so great!

As Treasurer, there are things that come up almost on a daily basis, which surprised me.  It made me think what a time commitment the other officers who deal with the races, meetings, permits, membership, social events, social media, etc. are required to have.  The position really made me realize how tough it is to be an officer!  It also made me realize that the key requirement for ANY officer, is the ability to work in a cooperative manner with the other officers, directors and members of TCSD.  If you cannot compromise or do not have the ability to move forward even though you may disagree on the direction, then do NOT become an officer.  Cooperation is key!!!  TCSD does so many wonderful things and it takes a HUGE amount of effort and planning to make those things happen in the seamless manner that we are accustomed.

Craig: What does it mean to you to be on the TCSD Ambassador Team?

Melissa: To represent the Club that has given me so much throughout my short 4 years as a member is amazing.  I cannot tell you how many times I think back to the enthusiasm that I experienced in that post-run coffee shop talk.  I am now THAT enthusiastic person!  I try to recruit just about anyone who will listen to me, telling them stories much like the ones I am sharing today.  I am especially focused on people with children and couples who train together, since that has been my life experience.  I think that’s the best thing about the Ambassador group…they all bring such diverse experiences together and can relate to so many different people on so many different levels—people who’ve had tragedy hit their lives, people who want to lose weight, people who are both life-long athletes and newbie athletes.  It really is a diverse group and it’s always interesting to hear the stories of what lead them to triathlon and how transformative it is.

Craig: What is the funniest thing you have ever seen in training or in a race?

Melissa: Funny, but in a tragic way.  My husband and I were at Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee (he qualified, not me).  We were waiting for his start and watching the first place male swimmer come out of the water.  He was SO FAR AHEAD…like 3 minutes!  We couldn’t believe it.  We see him enter transition and run down an aisle.  Then back UP the aisle.  He started jumping up and down waving his hands in the air.  He couldn’t find his bike.  Although we couldn’t hear him, we knew what he was saying.  Probably not printable in our family-friendly newsletter.  He ran up and down the aisles 4 or 5 times, jumping and waving, it was almost cartoonish, we had to laugh.  Eventually a volunteer tried to help him find his bike but he was in such a frantic state that he couldn’t communicate properly.  He eventually found his bike, but by that time a few more guys had entered transition and they knew where their bikes were.  Needless to say, he lost his lead!  It provided me a good lesson to make sure that I know where my bike is in transition.  It’s also helpful that I’m such a slow swimmer—it’s usually the only one left!

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

Melissa: Cost.  It’s so expensive to get started in the sport.  I think that’s one of the greatest barriers for a lot of people, besides finding time to train.  Even if you can gather the equipment, the races are extraordinarily expensive.  That’s what makes TCSD so great!   I found most of my equipment through the TCSD classified ads.  TCSD-ers are more than willing to cut you a deal if you are putting their equipment to good use.  What I didn’t purchase through the classifieds, I WON at the monthly meetings—Rudy helmet, Rudy sunglasses (my favorite), a GARMIN 510 for my bike (given to me by Andy Potts, no less!!!), various gift certificates, I had an amazing raffle run the first year or two!

Craig: What are your future goals in the sport?

Melissa: I’m a goal-oriented person, so I could go on forever in answering this question.  Improving my swim so that it is in line with my ranking in the bike and run is my top triathlon goal.  I’m a runner, so a lot of goals center on improving my run speed.  Qualifying for both the Boston and New York marathons were goals that I had never even thought possible 2 years ago but I did it in 2015!

I’ve learned to taper my expectations because it can be overwhelming and it’s easy to get caught up in the “me, me, me” aspect of training.  I have a full time job, a wonderful husband and 4 kids at home (and 1 not at home) so our lives are busy and the need for balance is paramount.  I have come to accept that there is only so much training I can do to achieve my goals.  I’m willing to be patient. I recently heard a quote by Arthur Ashe that sums it up perfectly:  “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”  That has certainly been true for me and I feel like my journey has just begun!

Craig: Melissa, thank you so much for sharing your story.  We are lucky to have you on the TCSD team.  And Marc and your kids are really lucky to have you in their lives.  I have a feeling that any goal you set your mind on has met its match.  Good luck in all you do!

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

Posted in 2016, Half Marathon, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

USA Triathlon Age Group Sprint Distance National Championships

86 years young - Sister Madonna Buder and Winston Allen

86 years young – Sister Madonna Buder and Winston Allen

Craig with San Diego friends Steve Thunder and Denise Ingram

Craig with San Diego friends Steve Thunder and Denise Ingram

On August 14th I raced the USA Triathlon Age Group Sprint Distance National Championships in Omaha.  I had raced the Olympic distance event the day before so I was not going to be at my best for the Sprint race, but I figured I should race since my bike and I were both in Omaha.

All the distances were exactly half of what we had raced the day before.  The 750 meter swim was in Carter Lake.  The water temperatures were still well over 80 so no wetsuits allowed.  Just before my race started I happened to hear my friend Tim Yount announce some of the All-Americans and Team USA members in our wave.  Tim announced my name as “Craig Are You Going To Eat All That Zelent”.  Tim has seen me eat many times so he knows what he’s talking about.  My swim time was 14:25, good for 24th place.  Yes, I was tired from the day before!

The 20K (12.2 mile) bike was an out and back on mostly flat, smooth roads.  I did the best I could, but could only manage the 56th best bike split 36:59.  That dropped me down to 41st place.  I wish I could tell you my brakes were rubbing.  So tired!

The 5K (3.1 mile) run was also an out and back.  Typically I want the run to last forever so I can reel people in, but I felt like I was carrying a piano on my back.  Somehow I still managed the 3rd fastest run split 18:31 to finish in 1:13:21.  I ran my way up to 26th place out of 74 finishers in the men’s 50-54 age group.  If I had the energy to be 1 minute faster I would have moved up to 19th place, but it does not work that way.  I was 266th out of 1,248 overall finishers.

I think about 15 guys in our age group did “the double” and raced both days.  I had the 7th best combined time.  I’ll take that.  I love to race and I had a lot of fun.

One of my San Diego rivals Steve Thunder was “all in” for the Sprint race.  The top 8 in each age group from the Sprint would qualify for the 2017 Sprint World Championships in Rotterdam.  Steve dropped me like a bad habit about a mile into the bike.  He had a great race, finishing 6th so I was really happy to see him earn his slot to Rotterdam.

And one of the great sights during the weekend was the pair of 86 year olds who raced.  On 8/13 Sister Madonna Buder finished the Olympic distance in 4:23.  And on 8/14 Winston Allen finished the Sprint distance in 2:22.  Needless to say, both won the 85-89 age group in their respective races.

To see my pictures from the Sprint race click on this link:

Living the life…

Posted in 2016, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

USA Triathlon Age Group Olympic Distance National Championships

Craig celebrating post race with Ricky and Kim Jacob and their daughter Sierra.

Craig celebrating post race with Ricky and Kim Jacob and their daughter Sierra.

On August 13th I raced the USA Triathlon Age Group Olympic Distance National Championships in Omaha.  My goal was to earn 1 of the 18 slots for my age group to represent Team USA at the 2017 World Championships in Rotterdam.

I had invited my cousin Ricky Jacob to the race as he lives in Winnebago, NE, about 90 miles from Omaha.  Ricky and I found one another about 10 minutes before the race.  That made me feel so good as he has supported my athletic career all the way back to my Little League baseball days.  This was Ricky’s first triathlon so I was extra motivated to make him proud.  Ricky was the awesome spectator as I heard his cheers when I finished all 3 disciplines.    

Omaha is a warm place in the middle of August, but we had mild conditions compared to how hot it could have been.  Race day only heated up to the mid 80’s with some humidity. 

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was held in Carter Lake which is actually in Iowa.  The water temperature cutoff for wetsuits is 78.  The lake temperature was 84 so wetsuits were not allowed.  I predicted I would swim just over 24 minutes.  I felt like I had a really good swim.  I swam hard.  I swam straight.  I had minimal bumping with the other guys so the swim felt pretty good to me, but I reached the swim finish in 27:02.  I did not know it at the time, but that put me in 29th place.  The very best swim was 21:09, but only 2 guys were in the 21’s.  Most of the guys ahead of me only had 2-3 minutes on me.  I learned after the race that the swim course was probably a bit long by 100+ meters.

The 40K (24.8 mile) bike course was advertised to be very hilly and challenging.  I guess that depends on where you come from.  Training on all the hills in San Diego had me well prepared.  I found the Omaha hills to be pretty easy.  A lot of the roads had recently been paved so the conditions were fast.  It was a simple out and back route with very few turns.  My bike split was 1:10:25 (21.2 mph).  I felt like I biked great and very few guys seemed to pass me, but I learned after the race that I only had the 55th best bike split and I had dropped down to 34th place.  It is hard to know what place you are in at any given time, but I would have guessed I was in a better position than 34th

The 10K (6.2 mile) run was pancake flat, but the challenge was going to come from the heat.  The course was pretty simply – out and back to TD Ameritrade Park where they play the College World Series.  We actually ran a lap inside the ballpark on the warning track and could see ourselves on the Jumbotron – pretty cool!  I had a very solid run as I had the 3rd fastest run split in a time of 39:09.  This effort moved me up to finish 17th out of 105 men in the 50-54 age group with a time of 2:20:02.  I finished 250th out of 2,048 overall finishers. 

Mission accomplished – I had my spot to Rotterdam!  Once again God has really blessed me as this will be my 24th Team USA.  Since the Rotterdam World’s will happen in 2017, the Team USA slots are determined based on our ages on 12/31/17.  I will be in the 55-59 age group at that time.  I placed 8th based on our ages on 12/31/17 so I qualified pretty comfortably.  Sheesh!  55-59 – that’s old!   

Click on this link to see my race pictures:

Living the life…    

Posted in 2016, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

TCSD Conversation: Reg Whatley – July 2016

Reg taking a short time out in the Technical Officials Lounge at the 2015 WTS Grand Final in Chicago

Reg taking a short time out in the Technical Officials Lounge at the 2015 WTS Grand Final in Chicago

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with TCSD member Reg Whatley who will represent us in the Rio Olympic Games.  Reg has paid his dues and been selected to be a Technical Official for men’s triathlon on August 18 and the women’s triathlon on August 20.  Reg is a 5x cancer survivor with a great perspective on life.  I know you will enjoy getting to know Reg.

Craig: What sports did you play when you were growing up?

Reg: Well let me preface by saying, I am a Military Brat, meaning we lived 2 years everywhere. The privilege and experience living in so many different cultures allowed me to gain tolerance of all living things. This being said, my early years were throughout Europe so Football (Soccer only in the US) was what we played on the schoolyard, in the backyard, in the streets, the parks and anywhere we could. Since we were stationed near Munich, of course FC Bayern Munched was my favorite. I recall my first bicycle at age 5.  It was a red Bianchi decked with Campi everything, of course. Sports are always a great manner to cooperate and to gain new friends, wouldn’t you say? I gained a respect for deep water as a youngster when my dad tossed me in the deep end of any Olympic pool and apparently, I passed his test, I made it to the surface and ‘swam’ to the wall. Swimming has always been my passion and especially in open water, you don’t have to flip turn incessantly. The open water swimming was further expanded when we were stationed in Hawaii, where the North Shore of Oahu was quite close and always provided some of the best and largest waves in the world. Since my High School was quite close to the north shore, you could tell when the swell was up, there were a lot of truants. Suffice to say, the tie-in to Triathlons had a fairly good foundation.

Craig: What was your first triathlon like?

Reg: My first tri was in Hawaii, early 1980’s more of a informal challenge rather than a sanctioned-organized event. Many of us heard of the long distance challenge (first Ironman) a few years earlier, but none of us were up to the distance, especially around Oahu, it didn’t seem sane at the time. There were probably 30+ of us, who swam into the 10’ surf, past the jetty at Haleiwa and some were fortunate to catch a wave and body surf in. I suppose the distance was a kilometer, give or take. For T1 there were no racks, just a collection of bikes laying down or propped up on shrubs or leaning on trees. We got on the frontage road near Kam Highway, only because we shared the 2 lane road with local and tourist traffic, there were no bike lanes and the loop turnaround was risky as it was, look both ways and make illegal u-turn. It was about 30K out and back and again back to the beach to take time to put on your running shoes, maybe eat a sandwich or I think the energy bars were like Hershey bars or Snickers. Then those who wanted to run the couple kilometers in to town and back, did it, the others hung around to trash talk or encourage the others. This was more of a personal challenge for me, as I was only a few months in to a new challenge in my life and I was beginning to understand what “Limitless,” meant.

Craig: You have been a part of triathlons all over the world.  I believe I have shaken your hand in at least 5 different countries.  What have been some of your favorite destination races?

Reg: I do recall seeing you everywhere Craig, so to you, I bow my head and compliment you. That’s a great question, as there have been literally hundreds and I’ve been extremely lucky to be part of so many international events, it only helps to share the take-aways so that other Event Organizers and Technical Officials can build their respective events to a greater customer experience. These are not in order, but there were the CISM (World Military Triathlon Championships) in Lausanne, where transition was just in front of the grounds of the IOC Museum. Because of my background being around the military for so many years, I have the greatest amount of respect for regimentation and respect and the Motto of CISM, “Friendship Through Sport,” really validates the underlying fact, that even most of the teams are Military first and athletes second, the passion and comradery that competitors from all over the world have, is because the lines are only on the maps. My first time in Rio was 2011 for the World Military Games, only second in attendance to the actual Olympics and the venue where our event this year, is precisely the same as it was five years ago, Copa Cabana Beach. The course this year is more challenging and technical, but what a background for our sport. Another of my favorites is Yokohama; there is something to be said about this legacy event and the venue setting is absolutely picturesque. This is also challenging in the logistics as the bike and run course share the same roads, which happen to be main thoroughfares for the locals and their businesses. I very much enjoyed the daily challenge of all the ITU Grand Finals that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of from Auckland, London, Edmonton, Chicago and this year to be in Cozumel and yet there are many, too many in the international theater to mention here. For a long day of challenge brought to you by Madam Pele, and all that it represents in long course, it’s the big Kahuna Ironman World Championships in Kona. I’ve officiated there many, many years and know that course like the back of my hand, many good and some not as good memories. The O’hana of the locals, personified by Sharron Ackles, I do miss Sharron, she was the epitome of the Aloha spirit.

Craig: You, like many people in our society, struggled with chemical dependency. When did that start for you and what do you attribute as to the cause?

Reg: This is an inherited disease that is misunderstood and sometimes mistreated, and yes it is, a daily struggle for many. My background being earlier shared, the Military, and those who have experienced war has it’s way of forcing one to escape, escape their memories, their experiences and the demons that might reside in ones’ head. I learned and inherited my escape by watching how my parents dealt with their demons. At the time we were in Europe my father had already experienced two wars, and while we had not yet come upon his third war, no doubt he carried a lot of pain. My mom, a victim and survivor of WWII, and being from Lithuania, saw and experienced more than any human, not alone, a child. She witnessed the execution of both her father and her older brother at the hands of soldiers. My beginning was after being subjected to horrific abuse as a child, and in order for me to deal with it, I began to drink at age 8. Abuse was never something a child was supposed to experience, so where do you go to share or seek help? This was 1957 and abuse was not even a subject that was readily researched. There were memories in a child’s mind that made it difficult for me to understand, they were painful and having a few sips of my parents Vodka, put them in the background for the moment only. They never really went away, and I had no idea how to reach out for help, who do you go to? What do I do?   On January 25th, 1981 I began my journey.

Craig: Congratulations on being sober for these past 35 years.  How did this come to be and what has enabled your sobriety to continue?

Reg: Thanks Craig, the sobriety is a gift of life to me from me. For me, each day is a gift and for me, it’s a joy to wake up and realize I can do anything, I am limitless.

While I experimented with the recreational chemicals of the sixties, I was recruited in to Rock and Roll in the late sixties and my career as a substance abuser now had a profession to support it. Only issue being, in Rock and Roll, everything was readily available and it was free. When I share, Rock and Roll, it was the big time, acts like Jimi, Elton, Leon, Billy Preston, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Steppenwolf, the Stones and so many, the problem was, it came at a price. Over the more than 11 years that I toured with these bands, we, the world, lost 8 very close friend/musicians and yet I continued to ignore that, I too, could be on the bathroom floor or lying still in my hotel room. The signs were all there, but I scoffed at the friends who pleaded with me to change, I refused to believe I had a “problem.” Not me, I was invincible, or at least when I got buzzed, I thought I was.

Yes, all the stories that you may have heard about being around entertainment, especially Rock and Roll in the Sixties and Seventies are true and then some.

Craig: You are a 5x cancer survivor.  That is amazing!  2 battles with skin cancer, 2 more battles with your vocal cords and 1 battle with your liver.  Do you know the cause?

Reg: Yep, in retrospect, the need to take care of your body, your health both physically, mentally and emotionally is a requirement, even at an early stage. I suppose the information wasn’t available during that era, or I simply ignored it. Did I already share, that I thought I was invincible? I really learned that I am limitless in the positive. Had I not began my journey of sobriety I have no doubt I wouldn’t have survived to be diagnosed with my first bout with skin cancer; no surfers on the north shore back in the sixties wore sun screen and zinc oxide got slippery but the key in any and all of the battles, is prevention and early detection. In each instance, my body was telling me, something wasn’t normal, something wasn’t working optimally. In every instance I listened to my body and sought help and in each case, they were a stage one, early enough to strive for success. Triathletes and for that matter any person should become aware and understand what their body is communicating and when a flag goes up, seek consul, seek an expert’s advice, perhaps even more than one if you are completely informed to your satisfaction. All five of my battles, I can comfortably state, were a direct result of abusing my body, whether through prolonged exposure to the elements or prolonged consumption of chemicals.

Craig: What have you learned about yourself through each of these battles with cancer?

Reg: Not only have I been fortunate to live a life around the world, experience many cultures, many people, many languages and have the opportunity to try new things and continue to live two lives, one of fortunate opportunity and another of a dark side dealing with my internal demons. There is one very underlying lesson that I’ve gained, especially during the years of sobriety; “When we gain strength, courage and wisdom, it becomes our responsibility as human beings, to share this experience in hope that one other might benefit.” It’s all about giving back, in any and every way that you are able. Whether it’s a smile when another person is down, or a hug, or better yet, offering yourself and experience as a volunteer in any facet of life, where you can make a difference, no matter how little or small it seems to you, it’s volumes for another.

During my 13 months of chemo with my last battle, some 14 years ago, I had no guarantees that tomorrow would ever come. No doctor would give me anything better than a 50/50. For me, waking up in the morning was an absolute joy, and even though the chemo kicked my ass big time, I was only dealing with the next moment, the next minute, the next hour. The same manner in which I deal with my chemical abuse, was a great segue into dealing with cancer, a day at a time. The goals no matter big or small are never insurmountable, when you deal with them on a daily basis. Put it in to perspective, same goes for your race goals, deal with them in pieces and the combination on race day comes together. The ability to run through the finish line rather than to the finish line becomes a practice, performed during a training session, or at an event, or during your work, your play or any facet of human behavior.

Craig: Besides triathlon, where do you volunteer your time?

Reg: I find it necessary to give back, not just for the joy you may bring others, but the absolute confirmation of human kind and gratification you achieve for yourself. For some reason, I vibe very well with all living beings, so when I can, I volunteer at the Animal Shelter. Our county has shelters all over, some larger than others, some that specialize to a degree. The Escondido shelter, for instance, has the largest population of American Pit-bull, often they are abandoned, mistreated, wrongfully trained to act out some whacked out human beings twisted sense of violence, vicariously. My son and I would go to this one regularly to share some positive vibes with all the dogs, many of the pit-bulls were our favorites.

I’ve also volunteered at the Carlsbad Triathlon, mostly because it’s right in my front yard, in fact transition is definitely my front yard and it’s always a great event to give back. I am a regular volunteer at many of City of Carlsbad events, again, the joy you may bring another is priceless.

Craig: How did you get involved in officiating triathlons?

Reg: The benefits of our sport and the healthy lifestyle it offers was a natural progression for me, when I was sidelined with one of my cancer battles.  It was difficult to train or compete and yet still I had this need to give back.  I recall volunteering at Fiesta del Sol Triathlon in Encinitas in ‘95 shortly after my vocal cord surgery.  I was placed in transition and got this idea that I could give back subliminally, a natural area was officiating. Inspired by Gurujan Dourson, and just as Tri Fed was transitioning to USAT, I became certified and gave back as much as I was able. 1996 was the first year I did both USAT and ITU style event officiating.

Craig: In regards to officiating, what have been some of the bigger changes you have seen in the past 20 years?

Reg: There has been an evolution of our sport and as a result, an evolution of compliance i.e. Competitive Rules. This typically occurs as athletes become either more competitive or some begin to find areas where they believe the written rule doesn’t apply to their behavior. Where I’ve seen the biggest positive move, is the level of education of our officiating programs. Of course, educating the customer is a great proactive manner in which to avoid confusion or infraction of the Competitive Rules. I would like to believe, through the education of our officiating programs both USAT and ITU, there is a certain expectation that a competitor can experience consistency, a consistency of compliance. Where I observe the largest pushback, is when an athlete will contest a technical specification of their equipment, stating, “Well I was in XXXXX last week and they allowed it.” The appropriate response is to advise the competitor of the specification and how it’s being applied to the current event they are registered to compete.

Whereas there are different types of multi sport, the rules have become more aligned between National and International Federations.

Craig:What things did you need to accomplish to qualify and be selected to be a Triathlon Technical Official for the Olympic Games in Rio?

Reg: This was a surprise and never a goal of mine. The process of selection has evolved over the course of this now being the fifth Olympics for triathlon. Prior to Rio, there was a more informal approach, more than a formal qualification and certification process that is now in place. I made the long list, then the short list for London 2012, but for some reason, even though USAT has the largest membership in any Federation in the world, the choice was to select only one individual. Many of the attendees at London had already been in attendance for the prior three, making it difficult for any new Technical Official to aspire to be selected, if it was a goal for them.

For Rio, our Federation has a point system based upon level of event i.e. International, Continental, National, Regional as well as a multiplier corresponding with the level of the official’s assignment and certainly the actual Level of the Technical Official. This would be ITO or International Technical Official or Level 3, CTO or Continental Technical Official or Level 2 and NTO National Technical Official or Level 1.

Each Federation had to nominate to the International Federation, a couple of nominees for either the Olympics or the Inaugural Para-Triathlon at 2016 Rio Para-Olympics.  This list was then reviewed and voted from all the National Federations in the World, with selection of proposed candidates approved by the Technical Committee, then this list was further reviewed and approved by the Sport Department and finally certified and approved by the Executive Board of the International Federation. This scrutiny is what humbles me, as I have a sense of accomplishment and contributions that have been recognized by my peers all over the world.  I am very humbled and honored to represent TCSD, USAT, ITU and all the Technical Officials who have any aspirations of achievement at any level of event or competition. Again, it’s all about “Sharing experience in hopes one other might benefit.”

Craig: What does it mean to you to be on the Olympic stage?

Reg: I’m not sure what it means today, but I am focused on accomplishing small goals each day, by approaching each of the events that I participate in as if it were “Their Olympics,” with consistency and compliance. We were recently Officiating at the WTS Yokohama and I was asked to train local NTO’s from Japan Triathlon Union for Swim Exit Handlers that would volunteer for the Para-Triathlon event held the same day. Although language was not a barrier, we approached our task as if this was in preparation for Tokyo 2020. This was our mantra, “Tokyo 2020, Tokyo 2020,” and the team had a phenomenal spirit, energy and zest and succeeded in a great event for the para’s. We were all proud of each others’ accomplishment in the training and the team unity during the event. They are a great team and many friendships have been forged through these efforts.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals beyond Rio?

Reg: Giving back, what else Craig, giving back.

I believe there may be some sprints to participate, I no longer compete, but I do enjoy the small and fun stuff, similar to the first one back in Hawaii.

Craig: Reg, thank you so much for sharing your story.  We hope your Rio experience is everything you ever dreamed of.  Good luck in Rio and beyond!

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


Posted in 2016, TCSD Conversation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Freedom Four

Karin and Kent Yohe and Craig

Karin and Kent Yohe and Craig

1st place men's 50-59.

1st place men’s 50-59.

On July 4th I raced one of my all-time favorite events – the Freedom Four Mile Run in my hometown of Glen Ellyn, IL.  I was back in the Chicago area for the holiday weekend visiting family so I decided to run the race for the 15th time.  The Freedom Four was the 2nd race I ever did, way back in 1982 when I was just a pup.  Now I’ve done over 500 races all around the world.  I’ve come a long way, baby!

I had a very good race on the hilly course.  At about 1 mile into the race another runner asked me my age.  I told him 54 and he said he was 42.  We were both relieved that we were in different age groups.  I let him go ahead because I had no need to chase him.  At mile 2.5 I could hear the spectators cheering for a girl named Lindsey who was moving up behind me.  Uh oh!  At mile 2.75 I passed the 42 year old guy.  I told him “42, you are about to get chicked.”  42 got chicked and soon after I got chicked.  Lindsey won the women’s race and beat me by 32 seconds.  I think this was the 3rd time she’s won the race.  She got a trophy that was at least 2 feet tall.  So jealous!  My time of 23:00 (5:45/mile pace) earned me a tiny medal.  I placed 1st out of 66 men in the 50-59 age group and 15th out of 793 overall finishers.  

My grade school buddy Kent Yohe was also in town visiting his family.  Kent, his wife Karin, daughter Megan and sister Beth were all at the race.  It was great to see all of them.

The #1 highlight of my visit, though, was staying with my 95 year old Mom and seeing my sisters Cindy and Debbie.  We all had a great time.  The good Lord has blessed me.

Living the life…  

Posted in 2016, Running Race | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

TCSD Conversation: Bob Babbitt – May 2016

Bob in his frog outfit at the Mini Muddy Buddy Austin event with double above knee amputee Cody McCasland.

Bob in his frog outfit at the Mini Muddy Buddy Austin event with double above knee amputee Cody McCasland.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently to talk triathlon with the legendary funky dude, Bob Babbitt.  Bob is a TCSD member as well as a member of the Ironman Hall of Fame and the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.  It is an honor and a thrill to share Bob’s story.  We are so lucky to have this guy in our club!

Craig: Who was the most influential person in your life?

Bob: The most influential person in my life was my dad, the amazing Jack Babbitt.  He and his three brothers worked seven days a week at the auto parts store that my grandfather had started back in the 1920’s. Each brother would get one day off per week and they would rotate taking holidays like Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving off. Long hours, customer service and hard work was what the Babbitt family represented. The only day that the auto parts store was ever closed in its long history was the day of my grandfather’s funeral.

When I was about 16 years old, I remember my dad bringing me into his office at our house and walking me through the stocks and bonds that he had been investing in for years and years. He told me something that day I have carried with me ever since: “Bob, I don’t care how good of a doctor or lawyer or carpenter you are,” he said. “There are not enough hours in the day to support your family for the long haul just by working. You have to invest, you have to find a way to make money when you’re sleeping.”

When we launched Competitor Magazine back in 1987, we had a very small staff and no money, so it became imperative that we create long term relationships with our readers, our clients and our writers and photographers to help promote not only our magazine, but also these young sports of triathlon, running and cycling. We knew we couldn’t do it alone, that it would take a village.

When Jeffrey Essakow, Rick Kozlowski and I founded The Challenged Athletes Foundation in 1993 to help our buddy Jim MacLaren after his second accident, my dad’s words again came into play. We had the three of us plus Virginia Tinley and Tabi King working on putting this new charity together. We needed the community to embrace the cause and to raise money through their efforts as well as ours. For any charity to survive, you need to be able to figure out a way to make money when you’re sleeping.

Craig: You went to the greatest university in the world – the University of Illinois which happens to be where I went to school.  What was your career after graduation?

Bob: When I finished college at the University of Illinois in 1973, In moved back to the Chicago area and started working at a place called Central Baptist Children’s Home where I worked with emotionally disturbed children. It was a great experience and I learned a ton about patience during those two years. Then I moved to San Diego in 1978 and took a job at The Children’s School in Sorrento Valley. I ran the PE program there for seven years – it was called Bob Time- and I had the opportunity to go out and play for about six hours a day and get paid at the same time. It was the best! During the summers I put on Bob’s Sports Camps and we played racquetball, baseball, capture the flag and swam in a local pool. I started working at the school in 1978 and that’s when I started running and doing this new sport called triathlon. Most of the early races were at Fiesta Island and my roommate and I raced as many of them as we could. My roommate’s name? Ned Overend. Ned went on to become one of the most decorated mountain bikers in history, but  this was way before mountain bikes had been invented and he was working as a mechanic at San Diego Suzuki.

Craig: What was your experience like at the 1980 Ironman?

Bob: Ned and I read about this event in Sports Illustrated called the Ironman Triathlon after the 1979 race. Tom Warren, who ran Tug’s Tavern here in San Diego, had won the race and there had been only 15 people in the race and only 12 finished. Ned and I tracked Tom down to learn more about this Ironman thing. It’s not like you could go online and sign up for events back then! We bought bikes at the police auction for $75 each. Mine had been burned in a fire and the back end was charred. I added a fuzzy raccoon seat cover and foam grips to the handlebars plus I bungie corded a Radio Shack radio to the bike so I could listen to tunes along the way. I added flat proof solid-rubber tires since I had no idea on how to change a flat tire plus I added panniers, to the back so I could carry a sleeping bag and tent with me during the Ironman. For some reason I thought the Ironman was a two-day adventure, that we swam 2.4 miles and rode 56 on day one, camped out, and then rode back to Waikiki and ran the marathon. Who knew?

On race day in 1980 there were 108 of us on the start line for the third ever Ironman and the last one on Oahu. Because of the huge surf and because ABC was going to televise this crazy event on Wide World of Sports, the swim was moved from the Waikiki Rough Water Swim location to Ala Moana Channel. The surf was so huge they didn’t think they could run the event on the designated race day, and if the event had to be postponed from Saturday to Sunday, ABC had another commitment and couldn’t film the race. Ned and I were happy since the surf at Sans Souci Beach, the original site, was 8-10 foot that weekend, we had done all of our training in a 15 yard pool in Mission Valley and we would have definitely died if the race hadn’t been moved. Dave Scott and the Navy SEALs who were entered that year were definitely not happy that the swim was moved from the ocean to the calm waters of the channel.

We had no idea how to fuel for the Ironman so I had my crew carry Hawaiian Sweet Bread and Gatorade for me to eat and drink throughout the day. My crew treated me to a Big Mac, fries and a coke 25 miles into the bike ride and to a root beer snow cone at about mile 80.

When I finished the bike ride, I heard the sound of a boom box when I entered the transition area. My crew had a bamboo matt laid out and asked if I would like a massage. Who wouldn’t? I had a 45 minute massage between the bike and the run and felt awesome! Then I started the marathon after weighing in. They had a rule back then that you had to stop and get weighed a few times during the bike ride and the marathon. If you lost 5% of your body weight they would pull you from the race. When I got off the bike, I weighed in and went right back to eating Hawaiian Sweet Bread and drinking Gatorade. At about mile four they weighed me again:

“Hey,” said a voice from the other end of the walkie- talkie.“ Can you give me that number again? This guy gained four pounds…you can’t GAIN weight doing this thing!”

I did.

When I was running the last part of the marathon up Diamond Head with my crew driving behind me in their Fiat convertible, I knew that this event, that this thing called the Ironman, was going to change my life. I was expecting to see big crowds at the finish, but instead I saw a line of chalk across the road and a light bulb hanging above me. A voice from the darkness in the park yelled ‘Hey, you…are you in the race?’ When I answered yes, the response came immediately back: “You’re done!”

That was it. No flowered lei, no medal, no bands or crowds or music.

Just one fellow finisher doing one arm push-ups in the park.

But I knew immediately that I was changed, that finishing this Ironman event had given me a level of confidence in myself that I had never had before. I had earned this business card that day in Oahu card that told me that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. If and when things got tough in life, I could draw on that experience.  If I could finish the toughest day in sport, in my mind I could accomplish absolutely anything.

Craig: What was your path to a career in journalism and media?

Bob: After finishing the Ironman in 1980, I put together a fun event at The Children’s School that I called the IronKids Triathlon. Pretty creative, right? I went to Tijuana and bought Incredible Hulk plaster banks as prizes for the kids and we combined a short run, an obstacle course and a swim across the pool in the complex so the kids could get a feel for the sport of triathlon. I called up Mike Plant at Running and Triathlon News Magazine and asked him if he was interested in covering my new event. He said he was too busy and that I should write it up. I had never written anything before, but I put together a short article. Mike liked it and asked me to keep writing. That led to a series of articles I wrote for Mike that somehow touched a nerve. If ‘The Running Wino’ didn’t upset enough people, maybe ‘The Old Fart of the Month’ could be a tad more offensive. Then came my phony advice column called ‘The Reverend Campagnolo Minister of Triathlism’ and for some reason people seemed to respond to the articles.

And I realized I loved to write.

Mike ended up hiring me to be the Los Angeles Editor for Running and Triathlon News in 1984 and Lois Schwartz, the art teacher at our school, decided to join me as our LA photographer. The two of us would drive to running, triathlon and cycling events every weekend and we savored every minute of it. We met great people, covered awesome events and got to tell inspirational stories. What could be better than that?

Craig: How did Competitor begin?

Bob: In April of 1987 Running and Triathlon News closed down unexpectedly and Lois and I were out of a job. We went to meet with the owners of both Southwest Cycling Magazine and California Bicyclist Magazine to ask them about working together on a magazine that would cover running, triathlon and cycling. Neither group was interested and told us that cycling was their passion, that triathlon was a fad that would be gone in five years and that they would never put a skinny runner on the cover of their magazine.

When we returned home, Ron Mirolla from The Sports Page, a running store in Pacific Beach, and Larry White from San Diego Vitamins, called Lois and I and asked us to meet with them and some friends. They presented us with a check for $17,000 and told us to start our own magazine.

We rented out 200 square feet of space in a race director’s warehouse underneath thousands of pounds of bike racks for $200 a month and in June of 1987 came out with the very first edition of Competitor Magazine. We didn’t pay ourselves for the first two years and I lived on friend’s floors to save on rent. We had no background in business, but we were passionate about our publication, our sponsors and our readers. Nothing else really mattered.

Craig: When did the radio show begin?

Bob: Three years later, in 1990, we created Competitor Radio and it aired every Sunday night on what was then The Mighty 690 am and is now The Mighty 1090 am. Since our sports and our athletes were not that well known at that time, what if regular sports fans went from a radio chat with Wayne Gretzky or Magic Johnson to one with Steve Scott, Paula Newby-Fraser or Mark Allen? To grow Competitor, we needed to grow the awareness of our sports and our athletes among mainstream sports fans and mainstream sports media. That was the reason we created Competitor Radio. Now in its 26th year, it is definitely the longest running show in endurance sports. Back then people had to listen on live radio here in Southern California on Sunday nights to hear our show, but everything changed when we were able to save the shows and put them on iTunes and on our own website so people could listen whenever and wherever they liked. The show, now known as Babbittville Radio, not only airs on The Mighty 1090 am every Sunday night between 8 and 10 pm, it also airs on iTunes and on so our fans can get a workout in while listening to a conversation between myself and Taylor Phinney, Dave Scott, Jan Frodeno, Daniela Ryf or Kara Goucher. Over the years the world of endurance has expanded to include obstacle racing, adventure racing, running, cycling, triathlon, cyclocross and mountain biking. I just added it up the other day and I’m pretty sure we’ve interviewed over 4,000 people on our show.

Craig: Back in the day, you organized an underground Ride & Tie race at Penasquitos Canyon on Thanksgiving and Easter mornings.  How did those events come about and what did they lead to?

Bob: Back in the early 1980’s, I was asked to participate in an event up in the Laguna Mountains called Ride & Tie. It was a 28 mile trail event where a team of two runners took turns riding a horse and running, leapfrogging their way through the course. Ride a few miles, tie your horse to a tree, start running. Your partner runs to the horse, gets on, rides by you and ties the horse to a tree. Simple, right? Unless you’ve never ridden a horse before. The race started with a shotgun and our horse Shasta suddenly changed his name to Lightning with smoke coming out of both nostrils by the time I tried to climb on his back four miles into the event. Eventually I was able to mount up and hold on for dear life as my horse jumped over rocks, trees and runners on his way to the front. I remember thinking to myself, ‘this is a really cool concept. We just need to lose the 2,000 pound eating and crapping machine that can kill me.’ At mile 20, there was a vet check before the horse was allowed to run the last eight miles. By the time I arrived at that checkpoint, I had run 16 of the first 20 miles and was looking forward to walking the last eight miles sitting tall in the saddle. When I arrived at mile 20, I was surprised to see Shasta being loaded into the back of one of those horsey corrals. “what’s wrong with him?” I asked. “His hooves are sore,” someone yelled back. “His hooves are sore?” I responded to no avail.

While running the last eight miles, it became very clear to me. Keep the concept…..lose the horse.

So in 1982 or so we did the first ever Ride & Tie on Thanksgiving morning. Two runners….one cruiser bike or mountain bike… permits and definitely no horses. It was an off-road event and Mark Allen, Scott Tinley, Scott Molina and all of the legends came out to give the event a try. It was 12 miles round trip, I was in a Turkey suit, we had spam stations instead of aid stations, and I hid stuffed animals along the way. It was a safari and every stuffed animal had a time bonus attached to it. So you didn’t necessarily have to be fast. You had to be cunning and, since there were absolutely no rules, you could steal other people’s stuffed animals or take the front wheel off their bike and toss it deep into the woods. One of my favorite moments was two-time Ironman World Champion Scott Tinley and another participant arguing over who actually should get a time credit for the four foot tall purple Barney. The event was a total hoot and everyone had a blast. Entry fee was ten cans of food per team that was donated to a local charity. We had championship belts made out of tin foil by my buddy Ben Boyd for the winners and before you knew it we had 100 teams of two showing up on Thanksgiving and Easter, since I also happened to own a bunny suit.

Flash ahead to 1998 and a meeting with the President of Brooks Shoes to put together an ad plan for Competitor Magazine. When he said he was looking for a cool new event to partner with rather than an ad package, we pitched the idea of taking my off- road ride & tie event with mountain bikes with the addition of some obstacles and a mud pit. We called this brand new event Muddy Buddy and launched with 250 teams at Camp Pendleton in 1999. Over the years the Muddy Buddy Ride and Run Series grew from one San Diego event to 18 events.

I always was a firm believer in promoting and connecting Muddy Buddy to Competitor Magazine and, when possible, with our Challenged Athletes Foundation as well. As the Muddy Buddy Series grew, we promoted it through Competitor Magazine and our radio show and only put events on in regions of the country where we either had a regional edition of Competitor or a publication that was part of our Gen A Media family of publications. As the official charity of Muddy Buddy, we generated over $300,000 for CAF over the years and showcased many of CAF’s amazing challenged athletes.

Craig: One of my greatest victories was winning the 2007 Ride & Tie with John Montanile as my teammate.  I still have my tin foil belt on display at home.  You have had quite a career.  What is the lasting legacy of Bob Babbitt that gives you the most pride?

Bob: Of everything we have been a part of over the years, nothing has brought as much joy to my life as CAF. Watching Sarah Reinertsen become the first single above knee amputee woman to finish the Ironman Triathlon World Championship was special. To be able to witness the growth of double above knee amputee Rudy Garcia-Tolson from a six-year-old hoping to be able to walk and run one day to a 26-year-old CitiBank sponsored, Ironman Arizona finishing,  four-time Paralympian and a two-time Paralympic Gold Medalist has been unbelievable.

People may not realize that CAF started to help one man, Jim MacLaren. Jim was a 300 pound football player at Yale who was going to acting class in New York City on his motorcycle when he was hit by a bus and thrown 90 feet in the air. He lived, but he lost his left leg below the knee. Jimmy became the best amputee endurance athlete on the planet running a 3:16 marathon and going 10:42 at the Ironman World Championship in Kona on a regular everyday walking leg. This was before the cool OSSUR running legs even existed.

I met Jimmy while covering him through Competitor Magazine. He was fully sponsored and was racing all around the world. In 1993 Jimmy was racing a triathlon in Mission Viejo when a van went through a closed intersection, hit the back of Jimmy’s bike, propelled him head-first into a pole and a guy who was already an amputee became a quadriplegic. From covering wheelchair athletes at Competitor, I had interviewed wheelchair bound athletes and asked them the worst part about being paralyzed. Repeatedly they told me how tough it was to be 25 or 30 years old and have mom and dad come back into their lives. They had lost their sense of self and independence because they needed help to do anything and everything.

So when Jeffrey Essakow, Rick Kozlowski and I got together to put on a triathlon for Jimmy at La Jolla Cove in the fall of 1993, the goal was to raised $25,000 to buy Jimmy a vehicle that he could drive with his hands. We raised $49,000 through the support of the triathlon community and thought our job was done. But three amputee women approached us after the event to let us know that Jimmy had been their hero and that Jimmy had inspired them to get into endurance sports. They also told us that, when someone is injured, their health insurance covers a walking around leg or an everyday wheelchair, but that anything to do with sports is considered a luxury item and not covered by insurance.

That’s when we decided to get our 5013C designation and make sure that if anyone needed a piece of equipment, travel expenses or coaching to stay in the game of life through sports, CAF would be there for them. Through the support of the wonderful world of endurance sports we have now raised north of $70,000,000 dollars and provided north of 13,000 grants to challenged athletes all over the world. Just a few weeks ago, out of our amazing state-of-the-art Deni and Jeff Jacobs Challenged Athletes Center building in Mira Mesa, we sent out over 2,098 grants worth north of $3.7 million dollars. Plus, Paratriathlon for the first time will be in the Paralympics this summer in Rio. I don’t think that would have happened without the great work of our amazing CAF athletes, supporters and the triathlon community here in San Diego.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of membership in the Triathlon Club of San Diego?

Bob: I think the world’s greatest value is a membership to TCSD. I think the cost is $70 for the year. For that you get four aquathlons, which are my favorite events of the summer. Are you kidding me? Each Aquathlon should have an entry fee of $100! So you start with four Thursday evening races with permits, lifeguards, full on post-event buffet and chip timing.  Watching the sun go down while hanging out with your buddies after an aquathlon is one of life’s great pleasures. I’m serious about this. I race upwards of 30 times a year and the very first events I put in my schedule each year are the aquathlons. There is absolutely nothing better.

Then you need to add on the Fiesta Island Triathlons, again with food and timing and actual permits and a duathlon series. That’s not including the weekly workouts and our monthly club meetings where we have one-on-one interviews with, I don’t know, only the greatest endurance athletes in history. Check out the list sometime. Mark Allen, Dave Scott, Javier Gomez, Alistair Brownlee, Taylor Phinney, Mirinda Carfrae, Rod Dixon, Chrissie Wellington, Sebastian Kienle, Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall are just a few of the guests we have had with us over the past few years. To me, with the amazing value TCSD brings to the table, I can’t believe we don’t have 5,000 TCSD members.

Over the years I have seen a lot of clubs become exclusive and not inclusive. Cycling groups are notorious for having first timers show up and doing nothing to make them feel welcome. TCSD has never been like that. We have been the model for inclusion. I remember when Jim McCann was the President of the club. We were at La Jolla Shores and a first timer was trying on a wetsuit for the very first time. He put it on inside out and came walking out of the bathroom. Jim walked over and very quietly said to him, “You know, I think it might go the other way.” It would have been easy for everyone to point and laugh and make this person feel awful. That’s not the way Jim or TCSD has ever been. We want everyone to love the world’s best sport and to understand that on race day, it’s you against yourself and you against the course. Yeah, there are other people in your age group, but those are your buddies who have the same goals you have: to enjoy the day, enjoy the sport, enjoy the catered workout and enjoy getting a great workout in before most people are even awake.

Craig: If you had a magic wand that you could waive over the sports world, what would you change?

Bob: Right now the sport of triathlon is flat in terms of growth. The reasons? There are a few, but in my mind we are in this awesome era of Endurance Entertainment where people have so many fun options from triathlon to running to Spartan and Tough Mudder to Gran Fondo and Color Run. Because there are so many options, triathlon has to do a better job of letting people know how great and inclusive our sport is. I think we are missing the boat by USA Triathlon not promoting the sport of triathlon at running events. You have sometimes 20,000 marathoners and half marathoners at an event and, in my opinion, the orthopedic reality is that one day, if they want to stay in endurance  sports, they will need to add in some cycling and swimming and weight training. Very few people can become better runners after the age of 50, but triathlon is the Fountain of Youth. Because there is no weight bearing, you can become a better swimmer and cyclist as you age. I know I have!

Craig: It seems like you race all the time.  How have you been able to continue racing and why do you love it so much?

Bob: Last July I decided to change my eating habits and eliminated bread, gluten, sugar, salt, soft drinks and alcohol. Dr. David Clayton was a guest on Babbittville Radio and I asked him for a verbal cue, something to remember when I was about to eat the wrong things. He told me the following: If it wasn’t around a million years ago, don’t eat it. And if it has a label on it, it wasn’t around a million years ago so don’t eat it. For some reason, that message made sense to me and, along with the help of my wife Heidi, I eliminated bread, butter, sugar, salt, soft drinks and alcohol. I went from 184 to 161.4 in about 16 weeks and went from 24% body fat to 16%. More importantly, my energy level is even all day and I feel better than I have in years. Getting rid of two bowling balls makes cycling and running so much easier! I have always loved racing and, over an 11 week span recently, I raced 12 times including Triton Man, Lava Man, Super Seal, Ironman 70.3 California, two TCSD Fiesta Island races plus the Boston Marathon in my Elvis suit, which I highly recommend!

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Bob: My goal is to race as often as possible. I love meeting people, getting feedback on our shows and interviews. I have always believed that hanging out with 20, 30 and 40 year olds helps to keep us folks in the 65 to death category young. I’ve raced 12 races in the past 11 weeks and I’m hoping to see how many weekends I can race in 2016.  Aging up to 65 is a good thing. Fun story. Some of my fellow members of the 60 to death age category were chatting before the Solana Beach Triathlon last summer about how long we were going to keep getting up so damn early to hang out in a dark parking lot. The answer was unanimous: As long as we can!

Craig: Bob, thank you so much for sharing your story.  You have done so much for the TCSD, our sport of triathlon, the Challenged Athletes Foundation and everything else you have touched.  Your success has not changed you.  You have always been and always will be one funky dude!

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

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Big Bear Triathlon

Men's 50-54 Podium - Kevin 1st, Craig 2nd, Duane 3rd

Men’s 50-54 Podium-Kevin 1st, Craig 2nd, Duane 3rd


On June 18th I raced the Big Bear Triathlon in Big Bear, CA.  This race has been around for 20 or 30 years, but I’ve never done it.  It has been on my bucket list for a few years and now I can say I’ve done it.  It is a unique event because it is held at 7,000 feet above sea level in the San Bernardino Mountains.  Not easy!

The 0.85 mile swim was in Big Bear Lake.  The signs of the drought were immediately apparent as the lake was very shallow.  The lake bottom was soft and thick with mud to mid-calf.  I was amazed I did not lose my timing chip which was strapped to my ankle.  The water was 66 degrees and very comfortable for the 2 lap swim.  Typically I breathe every 3rd stroke, but the altitude forced me to breathe every 2nd stroke.  I had the 4th best swim with a time of 22:13.  Bill Richardson swam 19:15, but the next handful of guys came out of the water with me.  I was in a good position.

The 30.5 mile bike was on open roads, but there was very little traffic so that was not an issue.  The road surface was mostly good.  The course offered plenty of ups and downs, but no brutal climbs or descents.  The only part I did not like was the final 4 miles was thru a residential neighborhood with a lot turns.  But everyone had to ride the same course.  The weather was clear and temperatures were in the mid 70’s so it was a gorgeous day.  I had the 7th best bike split with a time of 1:36:35 (18.9 mph) to drop me into 6th place.

The 5.6 mile run was all on paved neighborhood roads and it also had plenty of ups and downs.  My wife, Laurie, was out there spectating which is always nice.  I saved some energy for the run.  I had the best run split with a time of 37:37 to finish 2nd out of 16 men in the 50-54 age group with a time of 2:41:03.  Kevin Sullivan won the age group by a whopping 13:43.  Kevin won the race with his outstanding bike split.  His bike split was 17:38 better than mine.  Either he’s a much better cyclist than me or he was breathing out of a bigger straw than me.  I managed to edge out Duane Morrison who placed 3rd by 5 seconds.  And I placed 17th out of 125 overall finishers.  I was satisfied with my race as this event definitely favors the better cyclists.

Living the life…

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Tri Rock San Diego Triathlon

Craig running at 5:59/mile pace.

Craig running at 5:59/mile pace.

Men's 50-54 Podium: Scott Jones 1st and Craig 3rd.

Men’s 50-54 Podium: Scott Jones 1st and Craig 3rd.

On May 22nd I raced the Tri Rock San Diego Triathlon in downtown San Diego by the Convention Center.  I knew when I arrived on race morning that I would have my hands full as I saw Steve Thunder racking his bike.  Steve is in my age group.  We had raced the Superseal Triathlon in March and I narrowly edged him out for the win.

The most unique aspect about Tri Rock is the time trial start format.  Each age group does start together – sort of.  Before the race they line us up by age group.  But the swim start area is so narrow that only 1 or 2 athletes can jump off the pier at any point in time.  Each athlete’s race officially starts when he crosses a timing mat at the end of the pier.  This means you better race hard all the way to the finish line because you really won’t know how you did until a few minutes after the race. 

The swim course was 1.5K (0.93 miles) in the San Diego Harbor.  We were aided by a gentle current.  I had a great swim as I completed the course in 21:06.  As it turned out, I had the fastest swim time in my age group, but I did not know that at the time.

The bike course was a major challenge for me.  It was only 22 miles, but it had a lot of turns and was very bumpy at times.  The turns posed the biggest challenge as that meant a lot of energy was spent to re-accelerate back up to speed.  Very few courses in North America are like this so I was not trained for this type of anaerobic effort, but I doubt my competitors were either.  I only managed the 9th best bike split in the age group with a time of 1:03:17 (20.8 mph), but I did the best I could.  This effort dropped me down to 6th place.  Steve did pass me about 13 miles into the bike course, but I had no idea of when he started the race.

The run course was 2 laps for a total of about 5.6 miles.  Parts of the course were on concrete and brick so it was not very easy on the body.  I knew I’d feel it the next day.  The 1st turnaround was about 1.5 miles into the course and Steve was about 1:50 ahead of me.  Uh oh!  Steve is too good a runner.  I knew I’d never catch him, but hopefully I could get close and hopefully he had started the race before me.  I did have the best run on the day as my run split was 33:22 (5:59/mile) for a finish time of 2:01:12.  That was good enough for 3rd place out of 18 men in the 50-54 age group and 15th out of 353 overall finishers.  I did manage to beat Steve by 6 seconds, but 2 guys from Boulder (Scott Jones) and Las Vegas (Todd Mitchell) beat me.  Oh well.  I had a lot of fun and that’s what counts.

The highlight of the day was racing with my Team USA friends George and Jane Esahak-Gage.  It’s been 10 years since we all raced together.  Back in 2006 George and Jane were on a Sunday morning bike ride near their home in Arizona when they both got hit by a car.  Jane got a pretty serious concussion, but George was a real mess and nearly died.  It is a miracle that he lived and has been able to race so well – thank you God!  Jane won her age group and George placed third in his age group.

Living the life…

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