TCSD Conversation: March 2019 – Chris Holley

Chris finishing the 2016 Ironman Wisconsin.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently sat down and talked triathlon with TCSD member Chris Holley.  Chris was on my radar because I knew he was a great volunteer, but along the way I learned he has achieved some amazing weight loss accomplishments.  I know you will be impressed with his story.

Craig: What was your athletic background from your school age days?

Chris: I was in sports all through my childhood.  Started with swimming back in Minnesota and onto soccer, football, wrestling, and swimming all through high school.  Going to school at Westlake High School (Westlake Village, CA) I was never a stand-out athlete being around several other athletes who went onto play for the NFL (Superbowl Champion Tight-End Billy Miller of the Saints), but I was always towards the top.  We were league champs all 4 years that I played, and it was great to be a part of that history.  I got into football because it gave me a reason to not go home after school, and a free reason to hit someone.  So, every practice I was always running the ball up the middle when I could.  Looking back I’m happy I don’t have any TBI’s (traumatic brain injury), or so I’ve been told.  Swimming I was only 1 of about 5 people on the team that could butterfly without being disqualified so I ended up being pulled from freestyle (my best) and stuck on butterfly for 50, 100, 200, and all the IM relays.  I still hate the stroke.

Craig: How did you end up living in San Diego?

Chris: I was living in Nashville, TN at the time where I just got into the IT field.  I moved away from CA since my dad was able to get me a job out there, and I was always good with computers.  When I was traveling upgrading routers (the things that make the internet possible) during the whole Y-2K scare, I was sent to San Diego for a week.  Ironically, growing up in Westlake Village I never went down to visit San Diego.   The farthest south I had gone was Seal Beach for family gatherings.  When I got here back in 1999 I knew right then that this is where I wanted to move to next and stake my claim.  I’ve been here for 10 years only to realize that my family who lives in Minnesota still hates me when I rub the weather in their face as they are freezing.   It was the people, the weather, and the laid-back way of life that really made this place where I want to call home.  I’m not in the IT field directly very much since moving into the technical side of sales, so I spend most of my time being the pitchman and training sales reps for Quest Software.

Craig: You have shared with me that at one point you were very over weight.  At what point did you bottom out and how heavy were you?

Chris: I’m not sure what my heaviest was. I was in denial about being overweight, so I just brushed it off. I avoided the scales because I didn’t want to know that I was over 400 pounds. I’d work all week and then go to the local bar on the weekends to try and escape those 80 hour work weeks.  I felt trapped, like this was the best my life was ever going to be.  One night I passed out in a friend’s bathroom at a party.  When I woke up, I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t like what he saw.  I knew right then that I needed to make some major changes so I immediately stopped drinking and started working out at 24 Hour Fitness.  That one night is when I realized everything would change for me.

Craig: What were the key factors that enabled you to lose weight?

Chris: Not liking who I saw in the mirror was a pretty big factor.  It was that spark that I needed to start changing things.  Cutting out drinking, though, was the most difficult.  It wasn’t so much because it was drinking, but it was also my social life.  I felt as though I was going to lose who I was and my sense of community at the time.  That was a huge step.  I had to give up who I was and my sense of security so that I could become someone I liked and felt good about.   I’d use going out for walks, or going to the gym to pass the time instead of going out drinking to socialize.  As I got more active and weight didn’t come off I started moving to the various fueling strategies laid out in Bob Seebohar’s Metabolic Efficiency Training.  This has enabled me to stay healing and when I decide to follow it, my weight has stayed healthy.

Craig: What prompted you to do your first triathlon?

Chris: It was back in 2010 when I happened to get a postcard in the mail about the inaugural TriRock Triathlon.  I was just doing 5K’s then and I really don’t like running.  So I figured why not give it a tri?  I was a high school swimmer, I’ve peddled 12+ miles around Pacific Beach (intoxicated at times), and I can walk a 5K… why not give it a shot?   It was Steve Jobs who said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward: you can only connect them looking backwards”.   When I look back at things I managed to see all these dots I connected, that I had no intention of trying to connect at that time.

Craig: What was your experience like at TriRock?

Chris: Going into this race I didn’t know about TCSD, I didn’t even know people did triathlons outside of the Ironman that was on the ABC Wide World of Sports that I remembered from watching with my uncles back in Minnesota.   I showed up to the race with a bike from craigslist, a 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot, bike gloves, 7-up, and a small sandwich for once I was finished with the bike.  I didn’t have a wetsuit or a tri kit.   I was a bit in shock showing up to get my packet the day before and if I had a loudspeaker in my brain people might have heard me say “Oh, Sh*!” more than 5000 times.  I really leaned back on what I learned from my high school football coach Jim Benkert.  He taught us that everyone faces adversity of some kind, and only you can control how you’re going to let that affect your outcome.  I set out to do that race because I hadn’t done anything like that before and I wanted to finish.   I didn’t care that in T1 I did a full wardrobe change, took about 15 minutes to eat some food, drink a soda, dry off a bit, and then put my bib on my shirt for the bike ride.   I was there for me, and I blocked out everyone around me.  Coming out of T2 I rolled my ankle, but I had a brace with me in my transition area (I had rolled it 2 weeks before).  I threw it on and walked every meter of that 5K without any care of time.   I remember turning the corner on the island, seeing the red carpet and getting my medal.   To me at the time, that race seemed like Mount Everest.  I think I was so intent on finishing and proving to myself that if I set out to do something, that I forgot to have fun and enjoy the experience.   I always make it a point to tell people new to the sport to enjoy the experience.  When you’re an overweight athlete it’s a constant battle of inner voices in your head of judgement, negative self-talk, and self-doubt.  I think reminding people to stop, take a look around at the people who are cheering for you, and be grateful to be a part of the moment.

Craig: You had a big gap between your first triathlon and your 2nd triathlon.  What brought you back to triathlon?

Chris: I had always wanted to return to do another triathlon, but 2011 I injured myself snowboarding up in Mammoth (I still blame Def Leppard’s Rock of Age’s).  I was at the snowboard park and took a jump and landed pretty rough.  Gave myself a concussion, broken collarbone, hyper-extended right knee.  Needless to say I didn’t recover with enough time to race in 2011, and then in 2012 I had signed up to do the TriRock again.   At the same time I found myself going back to my old drinking ways and decided to go to the Vikings/Chargers game that same day so I blew off the race.  Then at a ’12 NYE party, I was talking with couple about running.   As we were talking the wife mentioned that she did the 2010 TriRock and we shared some stories about the race.   Then back in March I get a message from her that I need to sign-up for ITU 2013 in April.  I laughed and said I haven’t been training for anything and I’m out of shape.  She kept bugging me almost daily about it.  Apparently her husband signed up before she did, and she wanted the buddy discount and package that included sunglasses and a backpack.  So she really needed someone to sign up.  Finally I caved, and about 3 weeks before the race I signed up.  That woman is Diane Borys who I give the credit to for getting me into this sport.   I got a one piece tri kit from Amazon, and a wetsuit (NOT A TRIATHLON WETSUIT).   I told myself that I’m not going to make the same mistakes as TriRock.   I had a lot of fun this time around and looking at the Clydesdale times, I thought to myself if I get the right gear and some training… maybe I can be the fastest fat guy.   I wanted to be called up on the podium in front of everyone.  A couple months later at the 2013 TriRock I went from sprint to Olympic and took first in the Clydesdale division.

Craig: You have had 4 Ironman finishes.  Which races have you done and what were those experiences like?

Chris: Ironman Arizona in 2014 was my first Ironman when I decided that if other people could do an Ironman I could.  After going to a TCSD Meeting of the 2013 Kona viewing party and listening to Luke McKenzie talk about it and seeing other members wearing their gear and tattoo’s I decided that if they could do one, I can do one.   I had always thought only professional athletes did Ironman events.   I remember seeing Julie Moss doing the crawl on TV with my uncles saying that only crazy people do these things.  So my perspective had completely changed after that meeting.  I wanted to do Wisconsin but registration was closed, and only IMAZ was available.   After hearing horror stories of trying to get into IMAZ, I got the help of 2 friends and my mom to help get me into IMAZ online.  When registration opened, I didn’t get it, and 2 of my friends got messages that they couldn’t register.  Then I got an email saying that I was registered for the 2014 Ironman Arizona.  I’ve got the best Mom in the world!  I happened to be in Vegas at the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon, and was going to be boarding a plane back home.  The internet at the airport sucks for registering for Ironman events, just an FYI. The girl I was dating at the time Corine Rogers was also doing Ironman Arizona and we each finished the race and became an Ironman.  I’d go onto marry her 3 years later.  I then went onto do Ironman Louisville in 2015, and Wisconsin and Arizona again in 2016.  Everyone should do Wisconsin and Louisville at least once… the support and the crowds are like no other.

Craig: You have shared with me that you could be the poster boy for making a checklist of gear to bring to a race.  What pieces of equipment have you forgotten to bring to a race?

Chris: Everyone who knows me, knows that I forget at least something for races.  In 2013 at ITU, I forgot the timing chip and my wetsuit (the water was cold… very cold).  At St. George 70.3 I forgot my bike helmet and my girlfriend (now wife) worked it out for another member to bring my helmet out to me.  Got into the NYC Triathlon, sent my bike using TriBike Transport … only to forget my pedals at home.  I did the Lifetime Tri up in Oceanside and forgot my wetsuit yet again, and that race was in October… I couldn’t feel my legs until mile 3 of the 5K.  I also go against the grain of trying new things on race day… at Ironman Louisville I forgot my tri kit shorts.  I didn’t discover that one until Saturday getting my gear ready.  Thank GOD I didn’t chafe.

Craig: What are your favorite TCSD membership benefits?

Chris: I hear everyone say the discounts or the aquathons, but for me it’s watching new people come into the sport and find themselves like I found myself.  Being able to volunteer coach with the TCSD Masters program the last 3 years has been amazing.  I’m taking a break from it as my job has picked up and has me travelling more, but giving back has always been my favorite benefit.

Craig: You are in charge of the swim exit volunteers at SuperSEAL and Oceanside 70.3.  What has this experience been like for you?

Chris: I’ve been a volunteer and moved into a Volunteer Captain at the Ironman races here in San Diego for the last 2-3 years.  I started volunteering as a swim buddy at Koz races, and really had a lot of fun.  The first time I was a swim buddy was at the Carlsbad Triathlon, and there was a woman struggling and freaking out a little because she felt she couldn’t do it.  We did the side stroke and talked a bit, and before she knew it we were at the shore.   As she got up, she gave me a big hug and said that she could not have finished the swim without me being there.  I was hooked, and then being a VC with Ironman and pulling athletes out of Oceanside harbor is just a feeling like no other.  Thousands of athletes coming through with smiles, thanking you, giving you hugs, and then the volunteers coming up to you afterwards sharing their stories and seeing them come back the following year to either race or volunteer.

Craig: You are a certified coach.  What are your strengths as a coach?

Chris: I’m an Ironman Certified Coach and Licensed Primary Sports Nutritionist.  I take a holistic approach to the athlete and what they are trying to accomplish.  What an athlete does during the day and what they use to fuel during the day affects how they will perform.  It’s not just what you eat 30 minutes before, or during your workout that’s going to get the best performance gains.  I don’t just deal with triathletes either, I’ve worked with Crossfitter’s, Strongman Competitors, Runners, Swimmers, Obstacle Course Racers as clients who have gone on to place first at their competitions.  It took some trial and error finding my coaching strengths, but I’m a no nonsense coach.   I expect my athletes to follow the plan that we build out that works with their goals, take ownership of their choices, and put in the work.

Craig: What tips would you share with someone doing their first triathlon this year?

Chris: As cliché as it sounds… it really is just about having fun and enjoying the moment.   When you sign up for that first triathlon you have a goal in mind.  Stay focused on that goal, but also be grateful for the chance to be a part of the experience and the moment.

Craig: If people would like to contact you about your coaching services, how can they reach you?

Chris: I can be reached via email at chris.holley@evolutionmultisport.com

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

Chris: I mentioned my football coach Jim Benkurt earlier.   Every football practice he would talk about adversity and to always hold your composure in the face of adversity.  He didn’t limit the adversity to football either, it was a life lesson that I still carry with me today.  One of the things he would always tell us, as well, was that you’re not going to be the best at everything and you don’t have to be the best, but you have always be the best you.   He would say that every time that we would lose our composure on or off the field.

Les Brown is the other person that has played a huge role lately not just with Triathlon, but my personal and professional life.   He’s a motivational speaker, and during my training I’m always listening to him along with some others instead of music.  He mentions a few things that really stand out and change how I was I looking at life.  He quoted Wayne Dyer “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” And that quote resonated with me, and it really allowed me to change my life.  He also speaks of the 3 P’s: Passion, Patience, and Perseverance.  Those P’s have gotten me through the many dark times of an Ironman race, and also with my career.

Craig: What are your future athletic goals?  (This does not have to mean a specific race time or a specific race finish.  It could mean that.  But it could mean lots of other things, too, like keeping the weight off and leading a healthy life.  It could mean being a good mentor to others as a coach.  Etc.)

Chris: I’ve been taking a break healing up, but I would like to complete the Trans Am Bike Race from Astoria to Yorktown before I’m 50.  That’s my big one, but right now as I heal up and am able to do more things I want to get back into the short course where it all started and help find that fun again.

Craig: Chris, thank you so much for sharing your story.  TCSD and the San Diego community are grateful for all you do.  Good luck with your future goals.  I know you will continue to inspire everyone who is lucky enough to come into contact with you.

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

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St. Patrick’s Day Half Marathon

Closing out the final meters of the race.

Collecting the 1st place medal.

On March 3rd I ran the St. Patrick’s Day Half Marathon in El Cajon, CA. I think the race organizer needs to check his calendar because St. Patrick’s Day is actually on March 17.  I guess they were determined to get the party started early.

This was my first race of the year.  I selected this race because I wanted to see how my training was coming along for the Boston Marathon on April 15.  I also needed a fast half marathon time (sub 1:36:00) to get entered in a lottery to run the 2020 New York City Marathon, the 50th anniversary of that historic race.

The weather forecast called for drizzle so it was hard to get excited in the days leading up to the race.  On race morning I drove through some light rain, but by the time I parked my car the rain had stopped.  I was pleasantly surprised that the rain brought some warm air.  I decided to race in compression shorts and a singlet.  That was perfect as I had a good sweat going after the 1st mile.  The course was an out and back.  It was pancake flat for the 1st 2+ miles and then we had a couple of hills to break it up.  We had a light drizzle at mile 10 for about 10 minutes.

I had a great race as I finished in 1:25:51 (6:33/mile).  I placed 1st out of 7 men in the 55-59 age group and I won my age group by 2:45.  I placed 14th out of 167 overall finishers as it was a very small field.

To see my pictures, click on this link  https://scsphotoworks.zenfolio.com/f670280498?eq=18

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: January 2019 – Marc Sosnowski

Marc proposing to Melissa at 2014 Ironman Arizona

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure of talking triathlon with Marc Sosnowski, one of TCSD’s Sponsorship Co-Directors.  Marc and I grew up about 10 miles from one another in the suburbs of Chicago, but it took TCSD to introduce us in 2014.  It is a small world as in the mid ‘80’s I worked at the Morton Arboretum with Marc’s Dad, John.  The apple does not fall far from the tree – both Marc and John are great guys!

Craig: What sports did you do as a kid?

Marc: As a kid, I did a wide variety of sports including soccer, hockey, baseball and football.  I went to a smaller sized high school in the western suburbs of Chicago.  I ended up playing both ways in football, tight end/receiver on offense and defensive end on defense.   In track, I ran the 800m, occasionally the mile and the 2 mile relay.  I was speedy enough to run varsity as a freshman.  ​The thought of running longer than ONE MILE was ridiculous to me…why would anyone want to do that?!  As a teen I skied…a lot.  I also taught lessons and managed a sports and ski shop.  I taught my younger sister how to ski and she subsequently won many Special Olympic medals…more medals than I have for sure!  All those years of skiing, especially on the moguls, took its toll on my knees.  I never thought I’d be running long distances, let alone Ironman triathlons!

Craig: What sports did you do once you were out of school, but before triathlon?

Marc: I started coaching my son and daughter’s soccer teams at the YMCA and a few of the other kids’ fathers were interested in starting a team. For nearly 10 years I played on a men’s arena soccer league on Sunday mornings at Mission Valley YMCA (​with a knee brace!).   We played year around.  During those ten years of play, we won the Sunday morning league championship 2 seasons and placed 2nd a hand full of times.  I stayed in that league up until the time I started triathlon training.  Eventually doing both was not possible and the young men on my soccer team had matured enough to be able to manage the team themselves.

Craig: What are some of your first triathlon memories?

Marc: When I met my now-wife Melissa in 2012, I was training for my first half marathon.  She had done many half marathons and had just joined TCSD to train for her first triathlon.  At first I thought she was nuts but eventually my competitive nature took over.  My first triathlon ​was the TCSD beginner triathlon that was held on Coronado Island ​and it was quite interesting.  I went into the race overconfident in the swim due to being a lifeguard during 3 years in high school.  I will never forget Steve Tally giving an in depth transition clinic and helping everyone prepare for the event.  I had rolled my eyes when Steve had stressed taking it smooth and easy at the beginning of the swim.  I KNEW how to swim, DUH!   Approximately 25 yards into the swim, I was completely hyperventilating and doing the backstroke to regain my breath.    My darling wife Melissa, loves to tell this story to anyone willing to listen.

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

Marc: My favorite Ironman experience would have to be Ironman Arizona 2014, where I proposed to my wife at the finish line.  Knowing I would be crossing the finish line about 2 hours ahead of her, I had a friend bring me a change of clothes, I got a massage and was ready!  My coach, Jim O’Hara, put me into contact with Mike Reilly and we had a script ready to go when Melissa was to cross the finish line.  ​We both had great first time Ironman experiences and cherish the memory of our engagement.

Craig: You have done 3 Ironmans so far – Arizona, Canada and Santa Rosa.  What advice would you share with someone contemplating doing their 1st Ironman?

Marc: For anyone considering attempting their first 140.6 Full Ironman, I would strongly recommend building all three disciplines slowly over time.  Investing in a coach who is adamant about long runs and bikes both on the same day.  Long hard training days will help to guarantee a more enjoyable race day.

Craig: You have also had quite the running career which includes running the Boston, Chicago and New York Marathons.  What have been some of your favorite running races?

Marc: My favorite marathon was the New York City Marathon that Melissa and I ran together from start to finish.  We took photos every mile for the first half then ran a negative split for the second half which earned us two pairs of New Balance shoes from the New Balance NYC Back Half Challenge of 2016.  The NYC Marathon has huge spectator energy and support from start to finish.  The year we ran the race it felt like there was live music/bands every mile of the race.

For the last 5 years, I have raced Hood 2 Coast Relay with my coach Jim O’Hara and a mixed Masters Team of guys from San Diego, LA Track Team and Washington.  The team name is the Extra Virgins as we were once sponsored by Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  The race is a 200 mile relay that starts on Mount Hood, Oregon and ends at the coast at Seaside Oregon some 20 plus hours later of sleepless racing.  With 1500 teams and 12 people per team, there are a lot of runners and crazily decorated transportation vans everywhere.  Every year it’s a great weekend of hardcore racing with some really funny dudes who lay it all on the line.

Craig: You are also part of a running club.  What is the name of that group and what is their focus?

Marc: I have been a member of the Seaside Striders Running Club coached by Jim O’Hara who has been a local running coach for many years.  SSRC’s mantra is “Never outrun your joy of running”.  Jim has coached me through three Boston Marathons, NYC Marathon, Chicago Marathon and three 140.6 Full Ironman races.  Jim was a member of Team USA for Triathlon and has extensive knowledge of all distance running races.  Jim is both a great friend as well as a fantastic coach.  Fellow members of SSRC are more like extended family members than running partners.

Craig: What athletic accomplishments are you most proud of?

Marc: I race with Prado Racing Men’s Masters Cross Country Team.  In 2017 we came in third in the nation at the National Cross Country Championships.  In triathlon, I have been able to qualify for the USAT National Championships every year I’ve been in the sport.  I don’t always attend, but just being invited is an honor.

Craig: In what ways have you volunteered to help TCSD?

Marc: ​I started volunteering for TCSD at the beginner triathlons around 2015.  That was where I learned about the sport and I thought I could share my experiences as a “newbie” and then, later, as a more seasoned triathlete.  I thought I should pay forward the support that I received when I was starting out.  I would also randomly help set-up and take-down at various races, nothing in an “official” capacity.

Craig: Why did you want to take more of a leadership role in the club at this time?

Marc: My wife is now entering her 5th year as TCSD Treasurer.  Knowing how much work she had done and that she had weathered the ups and downs of various boards over the years, I decided that it was time for me to serve in a more official capacity.

Not only that, but I had been mentored by many of the Club’s long-time members.  I ran with Mike Plumb and Chris Costales at Mission Bay; Kevin Fayad taught me how to swim at the JCC—side note:  he was also the best man at my wedding; I would ride on the Club rides with Darrell Steele; and I had the fortune to meet Dean Sprague, bike fitter extraordinaire.  All of these people made an impression on me and I wanted to serve the Club as they did (and still do!).  I was also really excited about the new leadership that took office this fall; I have known AJ Lawson for many years and he was there when I proposed to my wife in Arizona in 2014.  I had high hopes and had discussed with him the possibility of volunteering when he took office.  So after a few discussions, it was determined that I would be a good fit in Sponsorship.

Craig: What are your goals as TCSD Sponsorship Director and how can other club members help you achieve these goals?

Marc: Sponsorship Director is such a huge role for the Club.  Not only do you negotiate on behalf of the Club members, but there is also a lot of follow-up including marketing, contract closing, billing, and planning throughout the year.  The Board has decided to have one “main” Sponsorship Director; that would be Danny Arnold.  Marsha Connors and I were appointed as “Co-directors” to support Danny.  I was a good fit based on my prior retail experience and my personality fit really well with negotiating.  I also understood that any partnership had to be mutually beneficial to both the sponsor and TCSD.  We have really worked hard this year to give TCSD members great deals and to promise to be better at following up with sponsors to be sure that they are happy.

Craig: Who and what have been the most influential people or experiences in your life?

Marc: My parents have been the most influential people for me growing up.  They always supported me in everything I did.  This goes for both sets of my grandparents, as well.  They attended every sporting event that I participated in.  And, of course, my darling wife has been my rock.  Her philosophy of always doing the right thing has had a substantial impact on my decision-making.  She makes sure to put me in my place when I truly deserve it.  I would never have gotten into the sport of triathlon if it wasn’t for her.

Craig: What are your future athletic goals?

Marc: My goal for years has been to run a sub 3-hour marathon in Boston.  I’ve done it in St. George, and have been chasing that dream since 2015.  Eventually, I’d like to qualify for Kona, someday, sometime.

Craig: Marc, thank you so much for sharing your story.  One of my favorite things about you is your never-ending enthusiasm.  That is a special gift in today’s world.  The club is lucky to have you and Melissa.  Thank you both for all you do!

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

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TCSD Conversation: December 2018 – World Championships

Craig & Laurie at Parade of Nations – Gold Coast, Australia.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

For this edition of TCSD Conversation I spoke to our members who raced World Championship events in 2018.  My hope is that more of our members will race the qualifying events.  This is a great way to see the world.

These are the members who answered my questions with their World Championship results.

Maggie Riley-Hagan: ITU Sprint Distance Draft Legal Triathlon World Championships – Gold Coast, Australia.  5th place Women’s 65-69 Age Group.

Chris Costales: ITU Sprint Distance Draft Legal Triathlon World Championships – Gold Coast.  73rd Men’s 40-44.

Judi Carbary: ITU Sprint Distance Draft Legal Duathlon World Championships – Fyn, Denmark. 4th place Women’s 65-69.

Scott Endsley: ITU Aquabike World Championships – Fyn. 6th place Men’s 60-64.

Jeff Krebs: Ironman World Championship – Kona, Hawaii. 90th place Men’s 55-59.

Diane Ridgway: Ironman World Championship – Kona.  6th place Women’s 70-74.

Rick Kozlowski:  ITU Sprint Distance Draft Legal Triathlon World Championships – Gold Coast.  3rd place Men’s 65-69.

Henri Morales: Ironman 70.3 World Championship – Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa. 42nd place Men’s 45-49.

Craig Woodhouse: Ironman World Championships – Kona. 156th place Men’s 50-54.

Bob Hubbard: ITU Sprint Distance Draft Legal Duathlon World Championships – Fyn.  5th place Men’s 75-79.

Andy Thacher: ITU Aquathlon World Championships – Fyn. 20th place Men’s 55-59.

Rob Watson: ITU Aquabike World Championship – Fyn. 3rd place Men’s 65-69.

Aaro Jarvinen: Ironman World Championship – Kona. 161st place Men’s 30-34.

Marisa Rastetter: Ironman World Championship – Kona. 32nd place Women’s 40-44.

Dan Redfern: ITU Aquathlon World Championships – Fyn. 22nd place Men’s 60-64.

Craig Zelent: ITU Standard Distance Triathlon World Championships – Gold Coast.  19th place Men’s 55-59.

What sacrifices did you have to make to race the World Championships?  Was it worth it?

Maggie: I had to work very hard at my job to earn enough money to afford to go and worked a lot of extra evenings and weekends. I also had to show up at work with wet hair, so as to get in lots of swimming.  I think that it was hard for some of my friends and family to understand why I might want to undertake such an endeavor at the age of 65.

Yes, it was a wonderful experience, both the race and visiting Australia. The race venue was beautiful, and the coast of Australia was magnificent!!

Chris: Luckily I didn’t have to sacrifice much.  Training for a sprint distance race is much less time consuming than longer distance competitions.  Travel time and cost was the only possible deterrent.  It was completely worth it.

Judi: Although I had a right knee bone spur causing pain when I trained and raced, I did as much recovery as I could to do my best race. It’s always exciting racing against the best competition in the world, traveling to new places, and seeing long-time friends.

Scott: As is always the case in participating in all multi-sport events, much energy, time, money, and personal sacrifices were made. Double that, because my wife Wendy also went along. It is always worth it. What a better way to create a life?

Jeff: The main sacrifices made while training all year for Kona were centered around spending time with friends and family.  I had to turn down offers for many social events during the year due to my long training days and my need to recover properly by getting plenty of rest between training sessions. I am fortunate to have loving and supportive family and friends who understood my time constraints and never complained. They were always encouraging to me, realizing that they were on the journey along with me. It was worth making these sacrifices and in many cases, they strengthened my bond with my supporters. I certainly garnered respect for my tenacity and my dedication to triathlon.

Diane: Sacrifices were few.  Missed some games my grandsons played in but often rode my bike to view them.

Rick: It’s a sacrifice for everyone who goes to Worlds.  First of all, you have to train to qualify. And, training hurts.  Secondly, you have to travel to someplace to qualify. That takes a sizable amount of money, time and scheduling.  Finally, you have to travel overseas. So just double the amount you spent to just qualify.

I make it worth it by spending additional weeks at the location. I drove and camped out along the east coast of Australia for 2 weeks with my son.

Henri: I qualified a full year before the race in my first Ironman 70.3 ever, Superfrog, and had always wanted to visit South Africa, so it really drew me into triathlon very quickly and shaped my year leading up to it. Once I qualified, I decided that I didn’t want to just attend 70.3 Worlds, but make a real run at the podium. I went all-in on a year long training block from there.

I was so focused on training and racing leading up to it that I overlooked booking accommodation and found all the hotels full. Fortunately I was able to get an Air BNB and ended up staying with an amazing local family, the Biddulphs, just up the street from IM Village. Dean Biddulph was actually the Nelson Mandela Bay City Councilman in charge of the ward where the 70.3 world champs was held. What started out stressful not having a place to stay turned into a blessing and really allowed me to focus on the race stress free and have an amazing cultural experience with local hosts.

Craig W.: As I tell everyone, my triangle goes as follows…. 1. God. 2. Family. 3. Everything else.  So, sacrifice? my time, which would be sleeping.  I have an active family, which I help with, I don’t miss out on any of those plans. My journey to the Worlds were different because I qualified under legacy.  Do I want to go faster? Why heck ya!! The best part about this Ironman journey… my wife, Erika being there for all of my races… giving me my Kona finisher’s medal has to be the best part!!

Bob: I had qualified/registered for the 2018 aquabike and duathlon by winning gold in the aquabike long distance at the 2017 ITU Worlds.  At the 2018 Worlds I had to “sacrifice” my entry to “defend” my aquabike gold due to a leg injury during the duathlon.

Andy: The sacrifices I had to make to race in the World Championships were primarily financial. Between the cost of the race entry fees, Team USA uniform & parade kit, airfare, hotels, train fare, and meals I spent around $2,500.

Rob: I’m retired and train year around with good friends, so I didn’t have to make any sacrifice other than having to do the occasional long training bike ride on my own rather than ride with my group.

Aaro: A lot of 2 – 3 hour training days on top of daily work. It was tough from time to time, but I think it was worth it.

Marisa: The most difficult sacrifice I made was spending less time with my husband, and my mom, who has advanced dementia.  I was training 20+ hours some weeks, and that meant that even when I was with my loved ones, I was probably tired and hangry!

The time sacrifice was worth it because it was an important goal for me.  I had been trying to qualify for over 10 years.  My husband was very supportive of my training schedule; he had a smile and dinner on the table every night.  And I’m back to spending lots of time with Bill and my mom.

Dan: I had to spend over $6,000 to attend, and yes it was worth it.

Craig Z.: My sacrifice is a willingness to train in the dark and cold of the winter months.  3 times per week before the sun rises I routinely run 2.5 miles to Alga Norte pool, swim 3000 yards with the masters group and then run 5 miles to get home in my wet swim gear.  This makes me really fit, but it is no picnic during the winter months.

What were the highlights of your race?   

Maggie: I surprised myself that I placed 5th.  I really enjoyed sharing the experience with my son, who did accompany me, as well as with my friends, Craig Zelent and Laurie Kearney, also from San Diego.  I enjoyed getting to know others from the USA and other parts of the world who share my joy of triathlons.

Chris: The highlight of the race was my swim.  I started out in the wrong position at the start line, but I was able to make my way to 19th out of the water.  Even the first half of the bike was exciting and fun being in my first draft legal race.  The second half of the bike (losing my draft group) and tired legs on the run made for a tough finish.

Judi: I was in 3rd place until half way on the bike when I was passed, pushed it to get ahead, then was passed again with 1 mile to go.  I pushed my last run to finish 26 seconds from making the podium and bronze medal.  Disappointing since I have received the bronze medal the last 2 years at Worlds, but also an incentive to up my training plan for next year.

Scott: Bad highlights: slow swim in jellyfish infested waters. Good highlights: passed all the swimmers except 5 on the bike, and no jellyfish on the bike.

Jeff: The highlight of my race in Kona has to be my time spent in the Natural Energy Lab (NELHA). My goal was to get there before the sunset so that I could fully enjoy this epic and storied segment of the race. In 2016 when I raced Kona for the first time, I had some nutritional issues which delayed my arrival in the NELHA until the sun had already gone down. It was a fairly easy and relatively cool run down there which, as strange as it might seem, was disappointing to me. This year did not disappoint. I really did love this part of my race.

Diane: Highlights were seeing my family on the run and I enjoyed the rain storm.

Rick: The race was only a blip on the highlights of the trip. But, I did meet a couple of nice Aussies and I’m looking forward to seeing them in Switzerland next year.

Henri: At Worlds each age group (AG) has its own wave start. Ours was last of the day. My swim was smooth 27 minutes (15th in AG). I made a few errors in T1 and lost a minute or so there. The transition procedure is a bit different at worlds. The bike was a hilly and technical seaside course especially with the roads slick from rain. From around 10 miles in it was a dogfight when I found myself in a tight international pack of cyclists for the remainder of the bike, sometimes bunched up and running the risk of a drafting call, and the motorcycles were everywhere watching for it. I even got a verbal warning to “be careful”! I finished with a competitive 2.5 hour bike split and had myself in a good position (23rd) to start the run.

I felt really strong the first 1/2 of the run going out. At 10k I had moved up to 19th. I thought for sure I would be able to close this out and make my move. Unfortunately at mile 7 or 8 the jetlag I had been suffering from all week hit me like a ton of bricks and I started tightening up and cramping. I had to back off the aggressive pace and just tried to hold it together. I finished in an official time of 4:40:00. After I crossed the finish line the skies unloaded with torrential rains that flooded out the venue and everyone took cover.

It was 120 percent worth going. Worlds is very deep and with the AG wave starts your competitors are right in your face the entire race. I missed the podium by 12 minutes and 45 seconds. That’s how close I got to it. You can project all you want that if you can swim, bike and run such a time that you will podium at Worlds. However, until you fly 10,000 miles to another hemisphere and country to race against the best in the world, look those guys in the eye, and experience firsthand out on the course exactly what it takes to get it done, it is just a pipe dream.

I realize now that a World’s podium is a 2-year project for me. I need to clean up some things in that race, eliminate sloppiness in transitions, get a bit stronger and faster on the bike, nail my nutrition and sleep next time so I have the kind of run I am capable of on race day.

Craig W.: Has to be either the “selfie” at the turn in Hawi or seeing all my friends all over the course! Another amazing gift, running out of the energy lab, as the sun was setting to my right, looking up towards the hills with amazing colors… I stopped to give Him praise… and just like that… lights out… it was super dark on the Queen K.  Head to the finish line!!

Bob: Although I raced with Team Canada (pressure from grand kids in Ottawa), I am still active as a member of USAT, and train mostly with TCSD/Team USA triathletes. That makes for competitive/good fun at the Worlds.

Andy: The highlights of my race were that I had a good swim, but during the last part of the swim there were hundreds of small jellyfish and I got stung around 6 times, primarily in the face. During the first part of the run, I had a slight allergic reaction to the jellyfish stings and was having trouble breathing, which slowed me down. About a mile into the run, I started to feel better and started moving up through the field and finished strong. Overall, I was a little disappointed with my race, but it was a memorable experience and am glad I went.

Rob: The highlight of the race was the bike course going through the island of Fyn, Denmark, with its beautiful countryside of farmland and woods and charming small towns lined with cheering crowds.

Aaro: It is difficult to pinpoint a specific highlight. The swim start in Kona is quite magical. The energy lab loop was tough and interesting. Of course, crossing the finish line in Kona is pretty special.

Marisa: The highlight of my race was the run, but it was also the most difficult part.  My 2nd metatarsal snapped during mile 1 – maybe a prior unknown stress fracture?  Who knows?  I panicked that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race.  After a quick pity party, I told myself I had plenty of time and could walk, or drag my foot and still finish.  I found a volunteer with Advil, I took 4, and I took 2 Tylenol, and told myself to keep running.  I hoped to be able to run 10 miles, and then I could walk.  At mile 16, I was still running and feeling pretty good. At mile 22, I was still running and feeling great.  I started to run faster and felt even better.  When I hit the top of Palani (about a mile to go), I sprinted all the way down the hill because I was so happy to be finishing the race!  The true highlight was high five’ing spectators in the chute, crossing the finish line and hugging my husband who was there to give me the finisher’s lei.  I ran a sub-4 hour marathon. The next day the Kona ER confirmed I had a complete fracture that was slightly displaced in the 2nd metatarsal (ball of my foot).  I had to wear a boot for 9 weeks, and will have to wait another month to start running again, but it was totally worth it!

Dan: Having the fastest swim split in my age group.

Craig Z.: Racing against the best in the world is always a highlight.  But I also thoroughly enjoy traveling the world.  The Gold Coast and Surfer’s Paradise are some of our favorite places on earth.  This was my 2nd time racing in the Gold Coast.  The 1st time was back in 2009.  This time my wife, Laurie Kearney, happened to race on the same day.  While I was racing in the Gold Coast, Laurie was racing the Sydney Marathon.  She placed 3rd in her age group and was able to enjoy a post-race lunch with long time TCSD friend Dee Dee McCann-Burton who lives in Sydney.  After Laurie and I reunited we went touring around Brisbane.

This question is only for those who raced an ITU event.  What did it mean to you to race for your country?

Maggie: It has always been a goal of mine to represent the USA in an athletic contest.  Although I am now 65 years old, it was still the fulfillment of a dream.

Chris: It was unbelievable to be on Team USA.  The night before the race we took our team photo, participated in the Parade of Nations, and then competing in the Team USA kit was a dream come true.  My hope is that in 2019 the swim won’t be cancelled at nationals and I can once again compete for the US.

Judi: It’s always very exciting and an honor for me to race with Team USA. This was my 8th World Championship competition and it is still as exciting as my first.  It’s not just an individual racing effort, but a “team” of athletes to cheer on and support each other.

Scott: The personal rewards for racing for Team USA always, always, always, outweigh all costs.

Rick: The best thing that came out of racing last year (2017) for USAT was that I was able to lobby the organization to have me included on the 2018 team since I was the top American to podium in my age group. This opened the door for this year in that if you placed first, second or third at Gold Coast, you were on the team for 2019.

This is a great reward for all the hard work and financial expenses these winners experienced. I call it the “KOZ” rule. Now, we’re competing for something of value.

Bob: At the ITU Worlds, the Parade of Nations encourages friendly interaction among all the triathletes.  Canadian and American triathletes are equally boisterous and leave me with fond memories of Denmark, having competed with and against both.

Andy: It is always an honor and a privilege to race as part of Team USA against some of the best age group athletes in the world. There is a feeling of camaraderie and support between you and your Team USA teammates and there is extra motivation to race your best because you know you’re representing your country.

Rob: Racing for Team USA was a wonderful experience, offering everything even the most spoiled triathlete could think of asking for–our own bike mechanics, massage therapists, chiropractor, guided pre-race course reviews, and every imaginable kind of support from the Team USA staff. I made enduring friendships with teammates from across the USA and also with triathletes from other countries. The Parade of Nations was a celebration and coming together of international sportsmanship and goodwill.

Dan: It was an honor to represent Team USA.

Craig: It means everything to me.  This was my 25th time racing for Team USA.  It never gets old.  I am honored every time I get to put on a Team USA race kit.

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

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Bonfield Express

Post race with Tera and Ben O’Malley and their kids Patrick and Violet.

Debbie, Cindy, Mom and I.

On November 22nd I raced the Bonfield Express 5K in Downers Grove, IL.  I had a solid race as I finished in 19:06 to place 1st out of 353 men age 50-59 and 80th out of 5,174 overall finishers.  This was the 4th consecutive year that I have started my Thanksgiving Day with this race.  This year my fellow running family member included Tera O’Malley while her husband Ben pushed Patrick and Violet in the baby jogger.  We all had fun.  Violet expressed her fun by crying a lot.  I guess your 1st Bonfield Express can be pretty emotional.  It sure was for Violet!

I traveled in on 11/21 and stayed with my Mom in Lombard, IL.  Mom is 97 and lives in her own apartment at Beacon Hill, in Lombard, IL. Later in December will be her 10th year at Beacon Hill.  My sisters (Cindy and Debbie) and I are so thankful she’s been able to live in such a vibrant place.  Mom and I enjoyed a delicious Beacon Hill Thanksgiving dinner.  It was safest and easiest this year for us to dine at Beacon Hill.  My niece, Katy O’Malley, hosted the big family dinner in Oak Park.  After my Beacon Hill feast, I ventured over to Katy’s for dessert.

During my visit I saw a lot of loved ones.  Beyond the usual suspects, I saw my cousin Donna Goffron.  In addition, I got together with friends Bruce McNair, Chuck Carey, Dave Dungan, Mike Gartlan, Craig Milkint, Will Johns, Ken and Lois Tyznik, Jean Pitra, and Lou and Lynda Hoornbeek.  And on top of that I had some special long distance phone calls with my cousins Ricky Jacob, Nancy Hardy, Ruth Colville and friends Jim Bremhorst and Rob Parmelee.  I hope I did not leave anyone out.

On what was supposed to be my final day of the visit the Chicago area got about 6+ inches of snow.  That led to flight problems for yours truly.  Thankfully my brother-in-law Jim O’Malley was able to retrieve me from O’Hare and I was able to spend the night at Cindy and Jim’s house in Elmhurst.  Thank goodness for their hospitality!  I finally got home 1 day later on 11/27 with 8 leftover pieces of stuffed Giordano’s pizza and some pecan Kringle, courtesy of the Hoornbeek’s.  This trip was a major success!

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: November 2018 – Rich Sweet

World Champion Rich Sweet (right) and son Ricky at 2018 Kona Awards Ceremony.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the privilege this month to talk triathlon with TCSD member, Rich Sweet.  In October Rich won the men’s 55-59 age group at the Ironman World Championships in Kona.  He beat the 2nd place guy by 21+ minutes and set an age group course record in the process.  I know you will enjoy getting to know the World Champ!

Craig: What were your sports when you were younger?

Rich: As a youth I focused on swimming, racing sailboats, and wrestling in the winter in high school.  I started swimming competitively when I was 8 years old and continued until 13 years old.  I was very competitive in all four strokes, but freestyle and butterfly were my favorite.  Around age 12–13, I found myself standing among men at times because I was a late bloomer, and I was not as competitive as I once was.

My father was an avid sailor, and I grew up on sailing on the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound. At age 12, I started racing sailboats (Lasers and larger boats) with many podium finishes, at regional and national levels, and this passion and competitiveness continued into my 30s. When the boats were put away for the winter, I wrestled in high school with moderate success because I did not like to cut weight to get in lower weight groups.  As a result, I found myself facing much larger opponents at times, which was fun and challenging.

When I was 28, one of the boat owners who I raced with introduced me to auto racing – he collected and raced vintage Porsches. While I could not afford to collect and build Porsches, I did race with Sports Car Club of America Improved Touring (SCCA IT) for 8 years racing with podium finishes on a regional level. Getting back to sailing and or racing cars are bucket list items for me later in life. Both are the same type of people with one group having dirtier hands at times.

Craig: What obstacles have you overcome to become a triathlete?

Rich: In my 30s, my wife and I were raising a family and almost all of my other hobbies were put on the back burner for a while.  I was always a casual runner, but at the age of 38 my weight ballooned to more than 200 lbs.  About this time my mother passed away suddenly at 63, and my father had passed 7 years earlier at 65. Their deaths at young ages were a day of reckoning for me given my health trajectory.

At some point in life, we realize that “genetics loads the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger,” and this becomes clearer as we age.  At this point I started to really watch my lifestyle and focused on losing the weight and changing my diet.  Within two to three years, I was able to get my weight and blood work to normal levels for my age and build, but I still wanted to get more physically active.  I raced a couple of half marathons and then decided to buy a mountain bike to balance the running.

Craig: What was your first triathlon like?

Rich: After a few years of running and mountain biking I became interested in learning more about triathlons after coming across a TCSD race at Fiesta Island one weekend morning in 2006 when I was running.  After talking the ears off some of the club members that morning, I decided to join the club.  After a few weeks of stalking various races, I finally worked up the courage to try a beginners race at Glorietta Bay.  Before signing up for the beginners race, I did get to the TCSD Master swim a couple of times after not swimming for 20+ years, but I felt my bike and run fitness was sufficient to go through the paces.

I remembered this practice race morning in vivid detail, mainly because I was the only one who showed up with a mountain bike and a rented wetsuit (from Nytro).  The club members were very supportive and helped me set up a proper transition area with bike and run gear set up against a tree. Members even helped me put on the wetsuit correctly after first putting it on with the zipper in the front.  In the end I was second out of the water, way back on the bike (obviously), but I was able to finish third after a short two mile run.  Soon after, I bought my first wetsuit and tri-bike, a used Cervelo P3 that was too small but looked fast to me.

Craig: What was your experience like at the first triathlon you actually had to pay for?

Rich: Some months later, a co-worker of mine, Jeff Fieldhack, and I were randomly talking about bikes during lunch, and I learned that he was a seasoned and successful triathlete (and former professional tennis player).  Jeff mentioned to me that he was racing Wildflower in six weeks, and he encouraged me to sign up.  I later went to him as I learned the Mountain Bike Sprint and Olympic distance events were sold out, only leaving me the option for the 70.3 race.  He said, “What do you have to lose?” Just sign up for the 70.3, and we can train for the next 6 weeks together.  I said ok not really knowing what I was getting into, but I was happy for his offer to train with me.

Over the course of the next six weeks, Jeff and I trained most days during the week and weekends.  He is 100% responsible for starting me in this sport, and anyone who knows Jeff can attest that he has always been a positive influence for me during all of our workouts.  No matter how bad I was suffering at times compared to him, he was and continues to be encouraging and complementary.

In the end, I had no expectations for the race other than to see what would happen. I finished with a time of 5:48:14 (29:46 Swim; 3:19:18 Bike; 1:54:12 Run) and placed 54th in the 45-49 age group.  After the race, I was hooked: All I could think of was how I was going to improve on this time.

Jeff and I have now been training together for more than nine years.

Craig: What have been some of the funniest, dumbest or strangest things you have seen as an athlete?

Rich: Through the last nine years in the sport, there are many funny, dumb, and strange things I have experienced, but the following are the most notable.

My second Triathlon was the Buffalo Springs 70.3 in Lubbock Texas.  Jeff wanted to go there because at that time there were Kona Slots. So I thought, ok, let’s do it.  For this race I learned a valuable trick that I continue to use today for bike racks. When I got to my bike after the swim, I found my bike knocked off the rack laying on its side and all of my nutrition had poured out of the aero bottle.  Needless to say, I was very stressed about this, as I had no clue when I would have any fluids (or what the fluid would be) in this south Texas climate.  As a precaution, I now always take a bungee cord and tie it (with a quick release knot) around my seat to the rack so no one moves my bike or knocks it off.

The oddest thing I ever have seen was in the same Lubbock race on the bike. I glanced over to see a pickup truck coming the opposite direction, and I thought I saw Jeff in the passenger side of the truck…“What is he doing in the truck?” I thought.  As it turned out, he got a flat and a local guy offered to drive him back to the aid station in hopes of cutting his tubular tire off the rim so he could replace it with the spare. In the end Jeff being Jeff, he went to the Race Director at the finish and DQ’d himself for getting outside assistance, even though he had to ride in on the flat and got a ride in the opposite direction of the course.

The funniest thing I have ever seen was during the swim this year in Kona.  About 15 minutes into the swim, people are starting to settle into packs and finding feet (drafting) is a big deal to save energy.  The first guy I found literally had feet that looked like the size of a bear with very distinct big orange callas pads.  Every kick he made was like prop wash from a power boat.  So, I thought perhaps I would put in some effort and get by him but realized that he was moving as fast as I wanted to, so I settled back in behind him.  At some point at the boat turn at the half-way point, I lost him only to see him again with about half mile left in the swim, and I was actually relieved, as this was a familiar set of feet and behavior.  This was actually a good distraction as I was thinking during the swim how I would describe these feet that I have never seen before during any race.  The hobbit did come to mind during the swim, but thought they were just too big for that comparison.  Later, I did check the swim finisher pictures and believe I found this guy, he was huge in all propositions even with a full beard.  Impressive that he is competing in Kona!

Craig: 2018 was the 5th time you have raced the Ironman World Championships.  How did your first 4 attempts go and what did you learn from those experiences?

Rich: After a few 70.3 races, I decided to do my first full Ironman distance race in 2011, which was Ironman France in Nice.  At this time, my bike and run conditioning were good, but not good enough to get a Kona spot, but this was Jeff’s goal.  We also went with a few other San Diego TCSD guys, and we trained all winter/spring together for this race.  For me, my expectation was to have a good showing and learn some lessons from my first full Ironman race.

In the end, Jeff was third in his age group, and got his Kona slot.  Jeff is five years younger than me, so we don’t compete in same age group. I was 20th with a time of 10:36.  I learned that I biked too hard on bike the first 30 miles, walking aid stations on the run, and had a poor overall nutrition plan. Nonetheless, I was hooked again for this longer distance, and as soon as I got home, I signed up for Ironman Louisville eight weeks later in August.  With the primary goal to get a Kona slot.

The training for Ironman Louisville included working on the prior race mistakes and improving conditioning for the expected heat for Louisville in August. My training was impactful, and I placed 1st in my age group and 16th overall with a time or 9:31, and I got my first Kona slot!

Six weeks later, I was racing in Kona with whatever rest and conditioning could be maintained after Louisville. Kona is a tough race, and my lessons learned at this race was no sugar, like Coke, on the bike.  I ended up 39th in my age group with a time of 10:05.  Jeff finished 41st also in his age group with a time of 9:44.

In 2012, both Jeff and I were plagued with injuries. January I was hit by a car in Fallbrook and Jeff later broke his foot on a trail run.  With contusions on my right knee and Jeff’s healing foot, we raced Ironman St. George in the spring with top 10 finishes. The next year was really about focusing on work and rehab for both of us.

It was until late 2013 that Jeff and I signed up for SuperFrog and Ironman Cozumel.  The time off and rehab paid off with both Jeff and I, second and first in our age groups, finishing within 20 seconds of each other and both receiving Kona Slots for 2014.

The prep race for Kona 2014 was IM Lake Stevens 70.3, which was 8 weeks out from Kona.  My 2014 goal was top 10, and I felt I could do this based on the results of my competitors who I have raced against in the past.  In the end I was third, and this was my first podium. Still my swim/bike was top 15 only, and I ran into 3rd from there with a 3:13 marathon, and a total finish time of 9:39.  The key takeaways there were I got lucky, and I was able to execute the run.  But I was still not happy with my bike abilities.

My Kona 2015 (qualified in IM Texas) goal was still to be back on the podium but closer to the top competitors off the bike.  That was not to be, but still I was able to run down the ex pro Jurgen Zack at mile 20 after he had a 20-minute lead in front of me off the bike. This year I was 2nd with a time of 9:46.

At Kona 2016 (qualified at IM Texas again) my body was starting to feel the mileage, and my run form was falling apart with hamstring strains in both legs.  I knew going into Kona this year that my run conditioning was lacking, but my focus on the bike allowed me to improve there with a 7 min faster bike split but a much slower 3:36 run.  I ended up 8th with a time of 9:46. Not what I was hoping for, but honestly not surprised as you have to be able to run in Kona to make the podium.

Once back from Kona in 2016, I took some time off to work on house projects, reflect on run challenges and decided to hire a coach who literally showed me how to run again – the right way.  He taught me that my over striding and fixation on striking my fore foot was what caused my hamstring injuries.  After focusing mainly on the run through the winter, I decided to enter Ironman Boulder June 2017 to test drive my run.  But all I did through the winter was run with last minute swim and bike build.  This was not sufficient to put a solid race together, but still I was lucky enough to get a roll down Kona Slot.  In the end, I withdrew from Kona because I did not feel I was ready to be competitive as my bike fitness was way down. So, my sights became focused on Kona 2018 as a new 55-year old.  I kicked off my training for Kona 2018 late September with Al Torre and Jeff, who were riding their last long bike rides before going to Kona to race a few weeks later.

Craig: What was the 2018 race like for you?

Rich: After withdrawing from Kona 2017, I set course to what was needed for Kona 2018 and had to include focus on staying healthy and listening to my body.  I did have a little setback in February 2018 when I fell getting out of the pool and came down hard on my knee.  This forced me to focus more on the bike and did not really run much before IM Texas where I hoped to qualify.  What I found, though, was there was a huge amount of fitness transfer from the bike to my run fitness as I was able to run enough in IM Texas still to win.  After IM Texas I was able to resume running and was starting to see my speed come back after really spending 2 years learning to run again.  I kept the bike as the primary focus through the summer and did a test race in September with no taper at Superfrog just 4 weeks out from Kona.  This allowed me to gage race fitness and how I would taper the next 4 weeks.

For Kona, I always arrive the Sunday before the race to give me time to acclimate to the temperature and time change.  During Race Week I train enough to stay sharp but try to stay off my feet and get at least eight to ten hours of sleep per night.  Jeff and I did our normal race week workouts and noticed it was much more humid than prior races (due to rain at night) so sweat rates would be higher.  The days leading up to the race I focused on taking in more sodium than normal and even drinking my race nutrition throughout the days leading up to the race.  It is normal to have prerace anxiety through the week which can manifest in a lot of issues and for me it is normally not being able to fall asleep.  But for me having the surprise arrival of my son and brother-in-law Wednesday before the race really took the edge off and left me very relaxed and able to sleep well.  It is really great to have family and close friends at the races and this is the first time at any IM to have both here in Kona.

Race morning I was up at 3:45 and had the usual coffee and toast with almond butter.  Also drank 2 bottles of Infinite but in a lighter concentration which I use on the bike.  I typically keep my race morning nutrition on the light side and only ate a banana and Bonk Breaker bar while relaxing in the transition area before the start.   The swim start is always stressful no matter how many Kona races you have done.  The key for me was just keeping steady and not wasting energy battling for position.  For me I could swim a sub hour but then my HR would take longer to come down to normal range for the bike.  For me it was important to get on the bike and be able to push from the start which I did.  This year the marshalling was much better than previous years and the penalty tents were over flowing at times.  I mention this because during the bike it is very hard to stay away from the packs especially when the majority of the athletes are getting on the bike course in a span of 15 minutes.  Can be very frustrating at times.  Throughout the bike I stayed on target power of 200W and about 20 miles out from T2 I backed off a bit on the bike and started to take in more nutrition for the run mainly because this is typically my stronger portion of the race.

Once off the bike and running I saw my son at the first mile who told me there was one person off the bike in front of me about 8 minutes ahead of me.  I was happy to hear that but did not know who it was so I kept steady.  To my surprise I passed this leader at mile 4 and he was not running that well; perhaps he over cooked the bike.  On the way back from the first turn on Ali’i Drive I was able to see the 2 Germans who are good runners and they appeared to be running well so I kept steady knowing I was about 5+ minutes ahead of them.  Once I passed by my son again he told me I was about 8 minutes ahead of the second place guy who was one of the Germans who has won his age group 4 times in Kona.  After that update I would not have anymore chances to see how my position was fairing until mile 17 when we turn at the bottom of the energy lab to head back to the Queen-K.  At this turn I checked the mileage on my watch and then checked it once I saw the 2nd place German and he was about 2 miles back (15-16 minutes) so I again stayed steady.  Once back out on the Queen-K Jeff passed me about mile 20 and we ran for a bit and he said he felt he had 3 or so guys up ahead of him in his age group and I agreed that he should keep pushing.  I felt there was no need for me to push any harder and risk walking at the last climb 1.5 miles before the finish so again I kept steady.  As I hit the top of the last hill I saw my son again who told me I was 20 minutes ahead of the 2nd place German so that felt great to say the least.  As I entered the finishing shoot I could hear Jeff’s name being called out as he was about 20-30 seconds ahead of me. In the end my goal of arriving healthy and rested paid off as I won my age group by over 20 minutes and set a new course record for 55-59 of 9:14:23.  Admittedly the bike conditions set this up, but whatever was given to us on the bike was taken away in spades on the run as this was by far the hottest run I have ever done; even worse than Houston or Louisville.

Craig: Jeff Fieldhack has been a key person in your success as a triathlete.  How has Jeff helped you?

Rich: Jeff and I talk multiple times a day, not only because we are friends, but we share a common passion for racing and training.  We are constantly evaluating what is working, what is not, how we are feeling, what new things we will try and more importantly goals.  Recently it has been harder for us to meet to train due to life, work and distance, but we look at all of our workout stats (power, heart rate, cadence, average speed, pace etc) and chart course ahead to both training and race execution.  I will say we may not agree on everything which is healthy, but keeps us never being complacent.

More importantly we both love to hear about other peoples experiences, too, to help mix things up.

Craig: What advice would you want to share with someone just getting started in triathlon?

Rich: Enjoy the journey and find people to share it with at all levels.  I remember 1 gal in Houston at IM Texas say – Raise your hands as you cross the line in victory, because it feels the same whether you are first or last.  It is your individual journey and victory.

Craig: What advice would you have for someone that is already a few years into the sport who is trying to qualify for Ironman Kona or the Ironman 70.3 World Championships?  As you answer this question, let’s assume that athlete has proven they are pretty good by getting on the podium of some local races.

Rich: Set realistic and stretch goals for training.  Know your competition’s strengths and weaknesses. Pick a course which favors your strengths and train like you race – this will help with confidence.  Know your limits especially at IM Distance races.  Make sure your nutrition is practiced, as well.  Lastly, address any physical kinks before they become chronic injuries.

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

Rich: Even at age 55 I still hear and reflect on the instruction and advice of my father.  He has shaped my ability to overcoming adversity, deal positively with uncertainty and ambiguity encountered in life daily. My father was the most influential for me and inspired me to set and achieve my goals.  He was a General officer in the Army with a very successful career.  As a family we camped and sailed all the time and he always would give me responsibilities, but first show me how to do those jobs.  For example, help him check the trailer lights, level the trailer after parked, checking the tires on the vehicles, painting my room,  and even allowed me (trusted me) to take out our boats with friends at a young age ~12.  My point being is he would inspire me to learn new things, do them the best I could and allowed to me fail and correct course on my own.  Same applies to my start and participation in triathlon.

Craig: How do you balance racing triathlons with your family and career?

Rich: I am a Electrical Engineer by education and have spent 30+ years in the wireless industry.  I have been fortunate to find the balance of work, sport and life mainly because I never stop unless I am sleeping.  However, there are sacrifices at times. My children all have their sports (Running, Tennis & Baseball) and my wife teaches and plays tennis at a level 5.  I enjoy my kids sports at times, but usually drop them off for most activities then my wife will pick up or we even ride share with other parents (uber too).  I am not an armchair parent and feel my kids will go to whatever level they want in sports as it is up to them.  If they show the interest and are putting in the work there is no limit to the resources and support I will offer for them to achieve their goals.

I bike or swim in the AM before work.  During work I will run and or swim.  Occasionally I can do a short ride depending on meetings.  After work I go to Fiesta Island and this time of year will ride until almost dark then I run in the dark on the lighted paths.  The weekends require coordination of rides for kids activities Thursday/Friday in order to plan the weekend training.  I don’t mind driving kids around in the AM because I like to train in the heat of the day when the wind is blowing.  In this case I can be found on the Strand.  In all I typically train 12-15 hours a week with peak weeks 20-25 hours which is largely a result of bike volume.

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

Rich: I would wish for safer training venues for the bike.  Better behavior from cyclists that breeds contention from car divers.   I will not ride alone anywhere, but the Strand and Fiesta Island but still with mirror and lights.  I hate the indoor trainer, but will use it at times.

I think the sport has become too expensive for new sustained participation especially at the 70.3 and IM distance with expensive entrance and lodging fees (it is all dialed in to empty your pockets).  As with sailboat racing perhaps there needs to be a Spec bike for the sport?  I talk to my nephews who think they need a $10K+ bike to get into the sport and go fast.  I have never spent more than $8K and even $3-$4K is getting a solid bike to start.  This perception needs to change.

Craig: Do you have any sponsors?

Rich: No I am not sponsored and I have never really pursued sponsorship.  I do ask for my TCSD discount thought.   I have, however, in the past been a formal/informal brand ambassador for the products I use religiously for racing and training.  Those include Kiwami, Desoto, Infinite Nutrition and ENVE.  I also have good relationships (with full acknowledgment that I am a difficult customer at times) with the local bike shops to include Moment, Pulse and special mention to Mike Willard at the Trek Super Store for his flexibility to get me in the service shop at a moment’s notice and the quality of his work is better than sponsorship.

Craig: What are your future triathlon and endurance sport goals?

Rich: I will race to win in Kona 2019 and this will be tough knowing who is aging up.  Jeff and I will perhaps enter Wildflower, IM Boulder and Superfrog.

Bucket list is an open marathon and perhaps a 50K.  Ultimately I would like to get a mountain bike and qualify for Leadville – this race looks awesome and hard!

Craig: Rich, thank you for sharing your story.  It’s not often that I get to talk with a World Champion.  And I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone that has seen Big Foot, especially during the swim at Ironman.  We are in the same age group, but you are such a good guy that I’m still going to wish you 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 tricraigz@yahoo.com.

 

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TCSD Conversation: October 2018 – Alex Dreu

Alex Dreu at Ironman Canada 2017

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I talked triathlon recently with TCSD member Alex Dreu.  She has already accomplished a lot during her relatively short triathlon career and I know there is more to come.  Alex has also done her share of giving back to the sport she loves.  I know you will be impressed by what she has done for Women for Tri as well as serving as a guide for visually impaired triathletes.

Craig: What sports did you play when you were younger

Alex: I guess I did what many kids do when they are younger: try out different sports.  I started swimming when I was fairly young and then all throughout high school.  Mostly focused on shorter distances, the 50m and 100m.  I wouldn’t say I was particularly great in it, but it definitely gave me an advantage when I started triathlon… I was comfortable in the water.  I also did gymnastics for a few years (yes, gymnastics), but was definitely not good in that as I really don’t have the best coordination.  In my teens and early twenties, I enjoyed ball sports, like tennis and basketball.  And specifically liked badminton, really enjoyed that.  It’s been ages since I played it ‘though.

Craig: How did you happen to become a triathlete?

Alex: I 150% blame Stacy Sauls for a) getting me into triathlon and b) make me do crazy things like Ironman races.  I was running half marathons for a few years in my mid- to late thirties and really enjoyed it, although I wasn’t particularly fast.  I actually did the first few while still smoking and about 30 lbs. heavier.  That just didn’t sit right with me, I needed to make the decision for myself to either do it and do it right or not.  So, I decided to quit smoking (cold turkey, yes it does work if you really want it) and lose some weight.  Amazing how much faster you can run 30 lbs. lighter!  That was about 6 years ago.  Then 4 years ago Stacy Sauls convinced me to sign up for the Mission Bay Tri (I think it happened during a Friday evening happy hour).  She gave me one of her wetsuits and goggles and such.  And I only had a mountain bike at the time, so that was fun.  My swim was a disaster, did the entire 500m or so on my back after a short freak-out moment, still finishing in a reasonable time.  Swimming in the pool by yourself and then open water during a race with everyone swimming over you are two totally different stories.  Nevertheless, I had a blast and got hooked.  I did a few smaller races the following year, and I signed up for my first 70.3 (of course, Oceanside) and 140.6 in the same year, in 2016.  Yes, the problem with IM Arizona is that you have to sign up very early as it sells out in like 10 minutes, so I actually did that before I had finished my first 70.3.  That year I also joined TCSD and got more involved in the club as part of the Ambassador Team.  That was a great experience and also contributed to me gaining proficiency in this sport.  I can recommend to anyone who’s new to triathlon or wants to do their first race to join their local tri club and TCSD if you are local to San Diego.  It’s a great way to meet like-minded people, people that are experts in this sport and get access to great training resources as well.

Craig: What have been some of the funny or dumb things you have done as an athlete?

Alex: As mentioned above, I did my first few half marathons while still smoking.  Looking back, I really think that was dumb.  I actually finished a few training runs and then lit a cigarette after.  Yuk!  Not good.  Anyhow, that was then.

A funny thing happened in 2016 during the Desert Triathlon in La Quinta, CA.  It was a very windy day (which seems to be the norm during that race, or many in the Palm Springs area) so they didn’t put up the large Finish arch (it would have blown away anyway).  Well, at the end of my second loop on the run I just kept on running.  I knew exactly that I had to cut left to go to the finish chute, but when you are in the moment you don’t think straight.  And I was looking for the large finish sign.  At some point, I realized something wasn’t right, so I asked someone where the finish was.  “About ¼ of a mile back from where you came.”  Darn.  Anyhow, since the run course was a little short, I actually ran the full 10k and still placed 2nd in my AG.  I doubt I’ll do that again…but you never know.

Craig: What have been some of your favorite destination races?

Alex: I love combining racing with exploring new areas.  And making fun weekends out of them.  I did Ironman Canada in 2017 and liked it so much that I signed up again 2 days after the race.  Nuts I know.  It’s a great race, although this year was hard hard hard, with 100 degrees and brutal hills on the bike.  I’d still do it again at some point, as Whistler is just a beautiful location with great race support and a gorgeous swim in the extremely clean Alta Lake.  However, so far, my favorite race has been Ironman Italy in Cervia (Emilia-Romagna) which I just finished this September.  I was born and raised in Germany, so it was amazing to have my parents and a great friend from college there to follow me along the entire day.  A friend of mine who works for Ironman Europe actually made it possible for my parents and my friend to greet me in the finish area, and my dad handed me my medal. That was very special. Ironman Italy is a very fast course… well, my run wasn’t as fast as I wanted it to be, but that didn’t have anything to do with the course.  The swim was great… clear calm Adriatic Sea with a lot of jelly fish.  I’d never in my wildest dreams imagine I’d finish an IM swim in under an hour, but I did in Cervia… I blame it on the jelly fish making me swim faster.  If anyone is interested in an Ironman race in Europe, I can highly recommend it.  Feel free to ping me if you have any questions.

For 2019, I added 2 fun destination races to my schedule.  First Hawaii 70.3 (also known as Honu 70.3) in June and then Challenge Roth in July.  I’m super stoked to have gotten into Challenge Roth for several reasons: it’s the biggest race in Europe (has anyone seen “We are triathletes”?  I mean 5,000 participants or so) and again, I’ll have my family there to cheer me on and share this experience with me.

I also try to do smaller races throughout the season.  BBSC puts on fun small races like Pumpkinman in October or Rage and Las Vegas Tri.  The LA Tri Series is a great one too.  June Lake in Mammoth is a great race as well, a tough one at 7,000ft elevation climbing up to over 9,000ft.  Challenging yet rewarding with a great scenery.

Craig: A couple of years ago TCSD had an Ambassador Team.  What did you like about being on that team?

Alex: In 2016, I was part of the TCSD Ambassador Team.  I really liked this experience as it also was in my early stages of triathlon.  It helped me learn a lot about the sport, share experiences with others, but also promote TCSD to people that are interested in triathlon and are looking for a community.

Craig: You have had some involvement in Women for Tri.  What does that group do and how did you help them?

Alex: Women for Tri is an initiative that looks to increase female participation at all levels of triathlon.  Their mission is to identify and diminish primary barriers to entry and mobilize triathlon advocates to encourage and engage female athletes across all distances and representing all athletic abilities. Although the participation of female athletes has increased over the last years, it’s still a very valid initiative if you ask me.  For instance, at Ironman Italy the share of women was only 12-15% of overall participation.  Together with the Ironman Foundation, Women for Tri is giving out grants to triathlon clubs for programs that will support their mission.

I saw this on Facebook (amazing how much we find out now through social media isn’t it) in 2016 and shared it on the TCSD Ambassador Team page.  Paula Munoz, then TCSD Vice President, responded that yes, TCSD should apply for the grant.  So, her and I together mobilized the application process.  We conducted a survey with members and potential members of TCSD to identify what they see as the main barriers to enter triathlons.  The majority brought up their fear of the swim and that they feel intimidated in joining masters sessions at times.  With this information, we put together a swim program coached by women for women, that allowed us to apply for the grant.  Which we received.  The grant money was used for an initial fun social kick off event that Paula organized, which included multiple topics, from open water swimming to nutrition, to bike changing clinics to talking about more personal female topics (I leave it at this LOL).  Then we scheduled several swim clinics together with the La Jolla YMCA, which allowed us to rent lanes.  We had awesome female coaches (big thanks to Julie Dunkle, Carol Gasaway, Holly Stroschine and Dawn Casaday Prebula) who dedicated their evenings to work with mostly beginner swimmers.  I know that TCSD kept the Women for Tri program running and extended it beyond the 2016 swim sessions to focus on other areas of triathlon in 2017.  I very much enjoyed being involved in this and making it happen for TCSD.  If we only helped 5 more women to do their first triathlon, then we’ve succeeded.

Craig: How did you get involved guiding visually impaired triathletes?

Alex: At the end of 2017, I saw a post from Amy Dixon, a bad-ass US Paratriathlete, looking for female guides for her triathlon camp in January of 2018.  I had met Amy during a Braveheart camp a year before.  Knowing that January was still my off season and that I’d very much enjoy this new challenge, I messaged Amy.  We met twice so I could gain some experience on a tandem bike, once for a ride and then for a turn session in a parking lot.  Her camp was amazing.  It took place in January 2018 at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.  The agenda consisted of many great sessions swimming, biking, running, strength and other lessons about nutrition, recovery, etc.  I met so many amazing people at this camp.  But the best part is that Amy is an excellent match maker as she paired me up with Rachel Weeks, who’s another bad-ass Paratriathlete from Florida.  Rachel is a very experienced triathlete and had completed several 70.3 and 140.6 races before camp. She taught me so much and helped me get confident as a guide.  We totally hit it off and have since participated in several camps and races, most recently at the ITU Sarasota Paratriathlon World Cup.  And more to come in 2019.  My hope is that Rachel will decide to do Oceanside 70.3, so I can guide her here locally.

Craig: What criteria did you need to meet to be a guide?

Alex: I’d say the most important criterium is to be able to handle the tandem bike, so ideally you should have strong bike skills to begin with.  And you need to be very aware of your surroundings (which you should be anyway when swimming, biking and running), as you are responsible for the safe-being of another person.

One other thing that may sound trivial but isn’t, is that guiding an athlete means that the entire event is not about you.  It’s all for them.  So, if you have a strong ego and like your own name always on top of podiums, guiding may not be the thing for you, regardless of how strong as a triathlete you are.  Don’t get me wrong, I like to race hard for myself and hit the podium every now and then, but when I train or race with Rachel, it’s the opposite.  My whole purpose switches to making sure that she has the race of her life and makes it through it without any hick-ups.

Craig: How can people get involved to become a guide?

Alex: The best way is to reach out to local organizations or join certain Facebook groups. In San Diego for instance, we have the Blind Stokers Club that helps getting more people comfortable piloting tandems.  On Facebook, you can find “Blind/Visually Impaired Triathletes & Guides” and join them.  Also, on a national level USABA (United States Association of Blind Athletes) and also USAT (USA Triathlon) are great resources.  If you are interested, feel free to reach out to me through Facebook under Alexandra Dreu.  I truly believe, this could also be a great way for TCSD to get involved in Paratriathlon by being a go-to group.

Craig: What athletic accomplishment are you most proud of?

Alex: For sure, completing my first Ironman in Arizona in 2016 is very high up on this list.  Up until 6 or so years ago, I’ve never heard of triathlon.  You’d think with so many strong German triathletes, we all start it once we are able to walk, but that’s not the case for me.  I didn’t know of this growing up in Germany.  So, going from a random runner to finishing an Ironman in 2 years is definitely something I’m proud of.  Another accomplishment is shaving off almost an hour on my best half marathon time.  I ran my first half in Carlsbad in 2010 – while still smoking – and finished in 2:43. Then 6 years later, in 2016 I ran it again and finished in 1:45 and then 1:44 at Rock ‘n Roll New Orleans a few weeks later.

Most recently, completing 2 races as a guide to a PTVI (paratriathlon visually impaired) athlete is one of the most rewarding accomplishments.  Rachel Weeks and I raced Paratriathlon Nationals in Wisconsin in June, where she placed third to qualify her for the ITU circuit.  Then again, just a couple of weeks ago, I was honored to guide Rachel again at ITU Sarasota World Cup. Through the races and camps I’ve joined as a guide, I’ve met so many amazing athletes that don’t let their situation hold them back from following their dreams.  I also know they can’t do it without having a strong guide so being just that is a great way to give back and support this amazing community.

Craig: Do you have any sponsors?

Alex: 2018 is my second year being part of the Nytro Women’s Racing Team, which consists of 10 badass female triathletes.  We have multiple great sponsors… most importantly Nytro bike shop in Encinitas, Betty Designs, Gatorade Endurance, Jaybird, Surface Sunscreen, Law Firm of Richard L. Duquette, Foodsense Now, San Diego Athlete Massage and Argon 18.  We couldn’t do it without them.  In addition, through my coach Julie Dunkle, I’m also a member of D3 Multisport, which is a national coaching group out of Boulder, CO.

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

Alex: Reduce the entry fees to Ironman races… just kidding.  There isn’t much I’d change for myself.  The one thing that I’m really not happy with is that paratriathletes aren’t able to qualify for Kona like us.  The only way for them to get a slot is through a lottery which gives out 5 slots every year.  If you want to annoy a triathlete, ask any visually impaired triathlete, what they think of this.  It cannot be very hard to also make a qualifying event for them, by either selecting certain Ironman races that are qualifying ones or set a certain time goal that needs to be achieved to be selected.

Craig: What are your future triathlon and endurance sports goals?  (This is really a wide open question.  It does not have to be all about race performance goals.)

Alex: My main goal is to finish an Ironman race and be fully happy with my performance.  In all of them, I had issues on the run that made me walk quite a bit.  My goal is to work mostly on my nutrition to keep any stomach or GI issues from happening.  And also, on the mental side as this is still a weak point for me.  I start walking way too easily.

A dream of mine would be to guide an athlete in an Ironman.  That would be something I’d love to do at some point in the next few years.  As mentioned earlier, hopefully Rachel decides to do Ironman 70.3 Oceanside so I can guide her there and gain more experience in longer course guiding.

I guess most triathletes have the goal to qualify for Kona at some point.  I’d lie if I say I don’t.  I do, but I don’t want that to control how I approach this sport, or which races I choose.  Alaskaman is also high on my list.

Craig: Alex, thank you for sharing your story.  You are a special person who recognizes the value of paying it forward.  We are lucky to have you in our community.

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

 

 

 

Posted in 2018, Half Marathon, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mission Bay Triathlon

I am flanked by 2 athletes I have coached the last couple of years: Susan Powell and Dan Redfern.

On September 30th I raced the Mission Bay Triathlon near Sea World in San Diego.  This was the 13th time I have done this race, but the 1st time in its new location at Ventura Cove.  2 years ago I volunteered at this race to be a Swim Buddy.  Some of the local races that are especially beginner friendly offer swim buddies to help the people who are deathly afraid of open water swimming.  It felt great to give back like that 2 years ago, but I wanted to race this year.

The 1K (0.62 miles) swim course was in Ventura Cove.  The water temperature was in the high 60’s so we could wear wetsuits.  I had a fair swim as I came out of the water in 15:19, good for 4th place.

The 38K (23.6 miles) bike course was horrible.  90% of the field should have been disqualified and that includes me.  The course was 4 loops of 9.5K each.  Each loop began and ended on West Mission Bay Drive where there was a 250 meter no passing zone in each direction.  That is 8 no passing zones that added up to 1K during the entire bike course.  That is not a race!  It was an accident waiting to happen as really fast cyclists were trying to co-exist with a bunch of beginners on a very narrow piece of road.  In defense of the race director, the city was doing some road construction and that was the cause of the narrow road that was made available to the race.  I was very patient and nice to people in the no passing zone, but I did pass a few people when I thought it was safe.  As far as I know there were no crashes in the no passing zone.  My bike split was 1:07:14 which was 4th best and it kept me in 4th place.  Yes, the bike course was a disappointment, but I don’t think it had any impact on my final finishing place.

The 9K (5.6 miles) pancake flat run was 2 loops.  Each loop took us along the boardwalk next to the beach and the finish was near the roller coaster.  I was pleasantly distracted by the sight of the women playing beach volleyball and some other people who contributed the smell of pot smoke in the air.  There was a lot going on at 8am on a Sunday morning!  I had the fastest run on the day as my split was 33:40.  I finished in 1:59:55 to place 3rd out of 13 men in the 55-59 age group.  1st and 2nd place went to my friends Andy Seitz and Troy Cundari, respectively.  I was 16th out of 268 overall finishers.

To see my pictures, click on this link:  https://photos.endurancesportsphoto.com/f177309155?eq=1279

I was so disappointed by the bike course that I decided not to stay for the Awards.  Instead, I drove up to my church in Carlsbad (Daybreak Church) and enjoyed the Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast.  I organize the Parking Team and was initially saddened that the church picked the same day as my race for this breakfast.  But it all worked out.  Nothing puts a smile on my face like free food!

Living the life…

Posted in 2018, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

ITU Triathlon World Championships – Gold Coast, Australia

Smokey wants to be the Team USA Flag “Bear”er at next year’s World Championships.

Laurie and Dee Dee McCann Burton in Sydney.

Team USA Men 55-59 at the finish line. Craig is 3rd from left.

On September 16th I raced the ITU Olympic Distance Triathlon World Championships in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia.  This was the 14th time in my career I have raced the Olympic Distance Worlds and 25th time I have raced for Team USA at a world championship.  It has been an honor every time.

The 1.5K (0.93 miles) swim was point to point with the current so times were going to be fast.  My age group was 3rd from the last to start at 8:30am.  The water temperature was in the high 60’s so we could wear wetsuits and the air temperature was in the mid 70’s.  I had a very solid swim as I completed the course in 21:57, good for 23rd place.

The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course was 2 laps of mostly flat roads.  The bike challenge was going to be the winds.  The evening before the race the organizers announced disk wheels would be prohibited because of the high winds.  That was not a problem for me as I don’t race with a disk, but it did cause some athletes to scramble to borrow or rent wheels.  I had all I could handle keeping my bike on the road with the crosswinds.  I felt safe in the aero position only about 1/3 of the time.  My bike split was 1:09:07 (21.7 mph) which was 68th best, dropping me to 49th place.

The 10K (6.2 miles) run course was also 2 laps of a pancake flat road.  My legs felt as good as they have in years on the run.  I had the fastest run split on the day with a time of 36:31 (5:53/mile) to finish in 2:12:48.  I placed 19th out of 92 men age 55-59.  I was thrilled to crack the top 20.  I was the 5th out of 16 Americans.

I had raced the 2009 Worlds on this course and placed 29th in the men’s 45-49 age group with a time of 2:08:02.  I was pleased that I have not lost too much speed over the past 9 years.

Click on this link to see my race photos (very few good swim photos, but lots of good bike and run photos)  http://www.finisherpix.com/gallery/photos/en/AUD/2595/21740

While I was racing at the Gold Coast, my wife Laurie was racing the Sydney Marathon.  Laurie had another of her great races as she placed 3rd in her age group.  This was her 257th career marathon.  I missed her for the day we had to be in 2 different cities, but I am so glad she did this race.  I could not be more proud of her!

We were in Australia for 9 days.  It was a lot of fun seeing old Team USA friends and making new ones.  The first half of the trip was spent relaxing at Surfer’s Paradise which is one of the most beautiful beach resorts in the world.  The second half we became tourists in Brisbane.  We enjoyed a few evenings of the light show at BrisFest along the south bank of the Brisbane River.  We toured the General Douglas MacArthur Museum as Brisbane was his headquarters during World War II.  We took a half day tour of the Tamborine Mountain Rainforest and a full day tour of North Stradbroke Island.  Straddie is the 2nd largest sand island in the world.  We saw kangaroos, koalas, sea turtles, dolphins and whales in their natural habitat.  We had a wonderful time!

God has really blessed us!

Living the life…

Posted in 2018, Marathon, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

TCSD Conversation: September 2018 – AJ Lawson

2013 San Diego Triathlon Classic. From left to right: Joe Taormino, AJ Lawson, Andrew Shore, Kurt Talke

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with one of TCSD’s most active volunteers, AJ Lawson.  I originally met AJ when we sang Christmas Carols at local assisted living homes and also while serving the residents of St. Vincent de Paul.  AJ is an original Team Solana member and someone you should know.

Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon?

AJ: My athletic background before beginning triathlon included some interesting sports. I grew up in San Diego and always road around on my BMX bike.  I also did all the typical San Diegan kid activities like surfing, skating, roller blading, and swimming.  I feel like I was the last generation on that cusp where we would come home from school and go hang out in the neighborhood with our friends until it was dark or we got hungry.  Cellphones were still not a big thing!  I loved cruising the streets on my bicycle, but I also enjoyed running.  It wasn’t until the end of middle school that I first played an organized sport.  I started out with pop-warner football and played for the Alvarado Patriots.

When high school began it was a whole new world of sports because of how many options we had.  I was an oddball in that I played badminton, wrestled, and played football through my high school career.  I was best at badminton and used football and wrestling to keep in shape and keep my connection with my non-Asian friends.  Badminton is known as being an Asian sport.  As a Caucasian kid playing badminton I definitely stood out.  Out of all the sports I did growing up badminton came easiest to me.  I ended up getting a badminton sponsorship from the top badminton company in the world.  I played badminton for fitness up until 2008/2009.  I coached badminton and competed in lots of tournaments.  I have a few trophies and medals but I wasn’t willing to give up my life to train for badminton so I never became elite.

Craig: What led you to become a triathlete?

AJ: While watching television when I was young I was able to catch the Ironman World Championship Coverage.  I was fascinated by the athletes and what they could put their bodies through. It was at around the age of 12 that I put triathlon on my radar. I kept the thought of competing in a triathlon race in the back of my mind throughout high school and into college knowing one day that I had to race.  I always wanted to do something extreme and triathlon fit the bill.  In 2009 I saw a post for a triathlon team through the Triathlon Club of San Diego.  That team was Team Solana and was a fundraising team for TCSD.  I joined the team and paid the fees as fast as possible.  I loved the thought of giving back to something while also having a group to train with.

Craig: What was Team Solana and how did that help you complete your first triathlon?

AJ: Team Solana was a random group of people with one goal in mind: compete in a triathlon race.  I joined the team in 2009 which was the first year it was introduced.  I believe there were about 20 of us who joined the team.  There was an information session followed by a Q & A.  I got enough information from that to know that I wanted in.  Our coaches included two guys names Steve and one guy named Dean.  The team had people from all walks of life, overweight and out of shape to hard core runner.  I knew this had to be the group for me.

The program was simple: Take people who have never raced a triathlon, give them all the tools and training needed to complete their first race, and support the tri community.  Our team coaches put together workout schedules for the week and threw us right in the mix.  We had pool swims, group bike rides, group runs, and these odd things called brick workouts. I went out and bought my first triathlon bike, my first pair of swimming goggles, and my first triathlon wetsuit.  After our initial workouts I knew I was hooked and would love this sport.  Our schedule consisted of coached beginner pool workouts at the TCSD rented pool during the week.  It was here that I learned how bad I was at swimming and how I wish I had been forced to swim growing up.  I slowly gained swim fitness and got a bit better at swimming.  Run workouts I mostly did on my own whenever I had free time.  The running came easy for me.  If I had to pick which of the three disciplines I was best at in the beginning, it would have been the run.

Cycling was a completely new concept for me.  Growing up riding BMX and mountain bikes I never thought I would be one of those spandex wierdos who get in the way of cars and ride with traffic.  Oh how one learns quickly!  Our team coaches started taking us out on the 56 bike path to get us comfortable riding distance and to gain a bit of cycling fitness.  I started out cycling in board shorts, I thought I was way too cool for spandex.  After my first few chaffing experiences I quickly bought some spandex shorts with the largest pad available.  After our first few rides I was talked into buying shoes and clip-in pedals.  This is when I experienced my first no speed crash.  I never thought it was possible to crash while not moving but man was I wrong.  After my first crash I had to let go of my pride and embrace the cycling lifestyle.  Our 56 bike path rides became my favorite training events.  It was here that I became good friends with the Christansen family as well as James Ismailoglu, Al Allington, Paula Munoz, Gordon Clark, Steve Tally, and a few others.  The rides turned in to a race each week and we all started to push one another.  After a couple weeks we started running as a group when we finished our rides.  We ended our couple month long training program with two transition clinics and a beginner triathlon before the Solana Beach Triathlon.  Solana Beach was my first real tri and it was such a pleasure having a tri family to race with and cheer for.  Being a part of Team Solana taught me what the true meaning of community is.   Team Solana Originals for life!

Craig: What have been some of your favorite races over the years?

AJ: There are so many great triathlons around the world now. One of my favorite races has to be Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens.  Ironman Lake Stevens was held in Lake Stevens, Washington, 20 minutes east of Everett and about 45 minutes north east of Seattle.  The race started out on this crystal clear fresh water lake which happened to be used for water skiing.  While doing the swim you really didn’t have to sight because of a metal wire they use for ski buoys.  The wire was always my life saver because I am terrible at sighting during swims.

The Bike course was beautiful as well.  It started out in the town of Lake Stevens and was one large loop into the country and back.  It was awesome to be riding on two lane roads surrounded by greenery and large trees.  The air was crisp and around each corner was the surprise of livestock or a hill.  During the ride I got to see horses, chickens, goats, alpacas, llamas, sheep, cattle, and the occasional deer.  The run course was scenic as well and went around Lake Stevens.  The true reason why this was my favorite 70.3 was the fact that my aunt and uncle own a home on the lake.  They would host my friends and I and were fascinated that we would travel to do a triathlon.  They were the most gracious hosts and always let any of my friends or acquaintances use their shower or hose post-race.  Unfortunately Lake Stevens 70.3 was cancelled a few years back by Ironman.

Some of my other favorite races outside of San Diego are the Wildflower Triathlon and Ironman Arizona 70.3/140.6  These races are within driving distance and have so much to offer.

Craig: What have been some of the dumbest things you have done as a triathlete?

AJ: As triathletes, I feel we do a lot of really silly things while racing.  I think it is called race brain and I tend to get a serious case of race brain.  As you know my first real race was Solana Beach in 2009.  I try to race in the Solana Beach Tri every year.  I must admit that the third time I did that race I wore my helmet out of transition and about half of a mile onto the run.  I had no idea why people were laughing and yelling at me, I just smiled and waved…  I was finally able to ditch the helmet when I adjusted my sunglasses.

You would think that I would know that course well for how many times I have raced there, but somehow I still end up making mistakes.  On at least two occasions I finished the race with no one near me and got really excited only to realize that I completely skipped the entire second loop of the run.  When I raced Solana Beach this year, 2018, I had a lot of friends racing as well.  When I got to the finish line I was chatting with my friend and fellow TCSD member Whitney Roline.  Whit said she got first in her age group, then said: “the run is only one loop, right?’’  We had a good laugh and I reassured her that I missed the second loop on the run two years in a row!

Craig: What obstacles have been most challenging for you to overcome as a triathlete?

AJ: There are many obstacles in the sport of triathlon.  What I feel is the hardest obstacle is training.  It can be so hard to wake up at 5am to get a workout in or to work a full day and know you need to put in time on your bike.  What really helps with this obstacle is will power and friends.  It has been so nice over the years to have friends who I can workout with, race with, and volunteer with.  In the end though, it comes down to our own will power and how much we are willing to give to achieve our goal.  I have learned so much over the years thanks to this sport.  It has taught me that I can accomplish anything if I set my mind to it and I believe the same is true for each and every individual who wants to complete a triathlon.  We all start our journey somewhere and are all working toward the same goal, crossing that finish line!

Craig: You seemed to get involved in TCSD as soon as you joined.  What have been some of the volunteer activities you have done for TCSD?

AJ: I am all about being involved in a community in which I have the opportunity to give back. After Team Solana I knew I wanted to jump right into the triathlon world.  I started out volunteering wherever I could.  By volunteering I was able to meet so many great people and make new friends.  Many of the Team Solana members went on to have key positions in the club.  My friend Jay Lewis became the race director for TCSD for a few years.  Having Jay as a friend I got to learn about what it takes to pull permits for races and create a race schedule a year in advance so TCSD members can put their race season together.  I also became friends with this guy Joe who had a Rottweiler named Max.  Joe organized the monthly cove potlucks which are held once a month after the Friday night cove swim.  Joe was really great at handing me his dog leash and spatula so he could get his swim in.  My friend James started to lead the TCSD beginner bike rides on the 56 bike path.  I was always willing to go help other beginners at this workout because it is where I first learned to cycle.

More recently I have been filling in the gaps wherever needed.  I guess it was a good thing that I learned so much about the inner workings of the club.  For the last year I have been helping with expo coordination, race directing, club meetings, TCSD storage management, and volunteer coordination.  My Triathlon Club of San Diego experience has been absolutely amazing and I owe it all to the outstanding volunteers who put in so much time and effort to keep this club astonishing and number one.  There is so much that goes on behind the scenes and it is so rewarding being able to give back to something that gives so much.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over triathlon, what would you change?

AJ: If I could wave a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, I would make sure races always had plentiful cow bells and spectators.  In Europe, Challenge Roth is a major event and entire cities stop what they are doing and go outside to scream and cheer for those racing.  My wand would ensure that any long distance triathlon maintains that energy and lets those racing know that they are supported.  I feel like a lot of the local races in the USA were or are being bought out and some are losing their home town feel.  I would wave that wand so hard and make all those races feel the same.  I guess I was spoiled by being able to do a few 70.3 races in small towns where everyone in the town comes out to cheer and scream.  Much of the time you are digging deep and fighting a tough mental battle with yourself to continue pushing and the energy and cheering from the sidelines is what really keeps me pushing.  Thanks to all those who cheer their hearts out and ring those cow bells for hours.  Oh and Craig, let me know when I can pick up my wand!

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

AJ: I have been so fortunate with my life.  I am healthy, surrounded by people I love, and am able to give back to a community which is so supportive.  My biological parents always encouraged me to work hard and complete tasks.  They set me up for success in life and always support my brothers and sister in all our endeavors.  My parents were there when I did my very first triathlon and were there when I completed my very first Ironman.

When I needed advice outside of my family circle I turned to my god parents or my best friend’s parents.  I loved growing up having the advice of three separate sets of parents. I still tell all my friends that I have three sets of parents.  I get to visit with each parenting couple weekly and am grateful for the love and support they continue to offer me.  Thanks Jon, Karen, Tom, Diana, Paula, and Mark for all the advice and support you have given me throughout the years.

Craig: Do you have any sponsors that you’d like to mention?

AJ: My friend James told me how great it was being on Team Zoot for the 2017 season so I went ahead and applied for the 2018 season.  Zoot is the original triathlon clothing brand and really know what they are doing when it comes to triathlon gear.  It has been a pleasure racing with other Team Zoot members this season.  Their one-piece kit is the only one piece I have ever been comfortable in.  I am looking forward to working more with Zoot in the years to come.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

AJ: I love triathlon as a sport and I hope to continue using it as a lifestyle.  I love that I have the option to swim, bike, and run.  I do plan to complete another Ironman in my near future.  I have always wanted to do a destination race in a country other than the USA.  I think Challenge Roth or Ironman Ireland, Cork are right up my alley.  I would like to be a bit more involved in the club in the future.  I am hoping to run for President of tri club and build an awesome volunteer team.  I would love to see TCSD become a shining example of what a good club is all about as well as giving back to the community we all love and are a part of.

Craig: AJ, thank you so much for sharing your story.  You do a lot for TCSD and the community.  We are lucky to have you.  If you happen to become TCSD President, I know we’ll be in good hands.  Good luck!

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

Posted in 2018, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment