TCSD Conversation: Tracy Cohen-Peranteau – August 2015

Tracy celebrating her birthday at the Athens Marathon.

Tracy celebrating her birthday at the Athens Marathon.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the good fortune recently of talking with Tracy Cohen-Peranteau about running, triathlon and just about everything else under the sun. Tracy is the ultimate ambassador for the TCSD! I don’t think you could fit any more goodness or enthusiasm for life into a person. I know you will enjoy getting to know Tracy.

Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon?

Tracy: I was raised by parents who believed that children are “seen and not heard,” which is hilarious, for everyone who has met me as an adult. I spent my childhood playing with Barbies, being a good student in school, and earning all of my Girl Scout badges. My parents took me to the local YMCA so I could learn how “not to drown” in a pool. Growing up, the closest I came to any sport was volunteering to be the statistician for my high school baseball team. When I moved away from home to attend San Diego State, I wanted to fit in to the San Diego lifestyle, so I took surfing, water skiing, and sailing at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center for my P.E. classes. If America’s Funniest Home Videos had been around back then – I truly would have been the star of the show!

I graduated from SDSU, became an elementary school teacher, traveled around the world during my vacations, and then I “settled down” to get married and have kids. In 2003, my whole life changed, when my mom passed away from breast cancer. Until that day, I had never known such a pain could exist. I had a husband and two young children who needed me, I had fourth grade students who needed me, and I had recently begun teaching aerobic classes, so those students needed me, too. I was so worried about all of the people who needed me that I didn’t take care of myself. My friends suggested that I take sleeping pills or get a prescription for my depression, as a “temporary relief to get me through the pain.” But I wanted long term relief, not temporary relief. Instead of lying in bed and staring at the ceiling for hours and hours every night, one night I just got up, and began to run. No one needed me at 4a.m. I was free. I could run for hours and mourn my mom. I could recreate happy memories and no one interrupted me. The more I ran, the more I wanted (and needed) to run. I became like Forrest Gump! As a result, I was a happier mom, wife, and teacher. When a friend suggested that I run in the 2004 Rock N Roll Marathon, I said, “Are you CRAZY? A marathon is 26.2 miles!!!” She convinced me to run the marathon with her, and I finished seventeen minutes from qualifying for the Boston Marathon! At 40 years old, I could finally call myself an athlete. For the first time, I felt success participating in a sport! I trained and successfully qualified for Boston, the following year. The same year, my only sibling passed away, and I ran to deal with the pain. The next year my marriage crumbled, and I continued to run, as my coping mechanism. I was officially addicted to the “running drug.”

Craig: How did you get introduced to the TCSD?

Tracy: I ran and ran until I got my first injury: a stress fracture in my heel. The doctor told me that the best way to heal was to bike and swim: cross train. I knew how not to drown, but I had no idea how to swim freestyle. I’d been on a mountain bike before, and I knew how to turn the pedals…….

One month after I got the stress fracture (2007), my friend Bill Gibbs told me that his friend, Jim McCann, the president of TCSD for many years, had passed away from a stroke. I wanted to support Bill, so I showed up at La Jolla Shores for the first McCannMan Aquathlon. I was in absolute amazement – there were over 200 people at this gathering. Everyone was telling stories about this inspirational man who had an amazing gift of bringing people together and creating this wonderful family called the TriClub. I wanted to be a part of this family! What would it take, and where do I sign up???? This was truly a Celebration of Life to a man who was dearly loved by SO many people. Sadly, I experienced that type of gathering again, in 2015.

Craig: What was your first open water swimming experience like?

Tracy: Bill encouraged me to attend a sprint triathlon at Fiesta Island. I doggie paddled the entire swim, and was very discouraged, when the lifeguards were bringing in the buoys, before I was finished. I laughed, when Buck Williamson told me that I had put my helmet on backwards, when I was getting onto my bike. Oh, how far I have come, in the past seven years!

I went to the pool at the gym where I now teach spin and weightlifting classes and my dear friend Lisa Rehberg tried to teach me how to properly swim. I was SO humbled. “I’ve run the Boston Marathon, I can do this!” Learning to swim as an adult has been such a challenge for me. Seven years of Master’s Swimming twice a week, and I’m still in the slowest lane. But that’s okay – I will never give up!

The first time I attended the Thursday Open Water Swim at Mission Bay, Jonathan Jefferson tried not to laugh, when he told me that the wetsuit zipper goes in the back. Seriously? That made no sense to me! JJ literally held my hand, as he led me into the water. I was petrified! The first buoy seemed so far away! My first time swimming at La Jolla Shores, where there were WAVES, I had a death grip on Thomas Johnson’s hand as he showed me how to duck under the waves. I could hardly breathe, I was crying so hard, from fear. To those of you who fear open water as I do, there is hope. Since I first swam in the open water (2008), I have completed 12 Half Ironman and 8 Full Ironman races.

Craig: What are some of your memories from your first 70.3 and Ironman?

Tracy: My first triathlon training partner, Alan MacNeilan and I were overjoyed to complete Vineman 70.3 together. We both called ourselves runners, and to call ourselves triathletes, was something we never thought was possible. We cheered for our TCSD friend Lisa Rehberg at IMAZ, and knew that a Full Ironman would be our next challenge. We swam. We biked. We ran. We practiced transitions. We did brick workouts. We joined the many weekly TCSD workouts. We became immersed. The one aspect of Ironman that I learned the hard way, was proper nutrition while racing for that many hours. I really wanted to break 13 hours at my first Ironman, and I finished in 13:04. I learned many lessons that day, but my biggest joy, was having my daughter and son at IMAZ, to cheer for me, and to see what their mom is capable of completing. The support of the many TCSD cheerleaders out on the course, truly got me to the finish line. When I doubted I could take one more step, there was Brian Long, yelling to me how close I was to the finish line….. Now I am an Ironman. I feel like I can do anything!

Craig: Over the years you have been an active supporter of the Challenged Athletes Foundation. How did you get involved in the CAF?

Tracy: Through TCSD I have met many incredible and inspirational people. Bob Babbitt is one of those people. His part in creating The Challenged Athletes Foundation and The Best Day In Tri is history in the making. Please watch the four minute YouTube video “Challenged Athletes Foundation 15th Anniversary.” The amount of lives changed as a result of CAF, is an unimaginable gift that keeps on giving. Even if you are not racing, PLEASE attend and/or volunteer at The Best Day in Tri (La Jolla Cove on October 18th). It will be difficult for you to ever be more inspired, by the athletes you see, that day.

Craig: What was your experience like on the Million Dollar Ride?

Tracy: Joey was a kindergarten student at my school who was born with Spina Bifada. I watched him sit in his wheelchair daily, while all of his classmates were running around the playground, at recess. I had raced the TriChallenge with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, when TCSD had a team. I wanted to help Joey be a part of a team. I decided to raise the minimum $10,000 to join the Million Dollar Challenge. One hundred people raise $10,000 and ride their bike from San Francisco to San Diego over a six day period. I asked CAF if they would allow a portion of my fundraising to help Joey get a sports wheelchair, so he could participate in sports. They agreed, and both challenges began. I had never raised that kind of money, nor had I ridden my bike 620+ miles in one week. My TCSD friends Daniel Powell, Jonathan Jefferson, J.T. Lyons, Diane Hyat, Ryan Morton along with basketball star Bill Walton, cycling legend John Howard and 95 of our new best friends, embarked on quite the adventure in October of 2011. Joey met me at the finish line near La Jolla Shores, and asked if I would ride the Million Dollar Challenge with him, when he turned eighteen. Hmmm, by then I’ll be 60. I answered, “Of course!” The following year, I watched Joey as he crossed his very first finish line of the one mile kids’ race in his new handcycle, at the Tri Challenge. Tears poured down my cheeks, when he proudly showed me his finisher’s medal.

Craig: The TCSD lost a great friend when JJ passed away earlier this year. What did you do to honor JJ at the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon?

Tracy: I was as shocked as everyone, when our TCSD friend Jonathan Jefferson was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, in 2013. He was the epitome of athleticism and paying it forward. He had taught me how to brave the open water and even gave me his first place relay team medal at my first Olympic distance triathlon, since Super Seal did not give finisher’s medals. He was my riding buddy at the Million Dollar Challenge and was truly a special friend. My favorite JJ story, was when Bob Babbitt wanted to gather a world record amount of Running Elvi (plural for running Elvis’) at the Las Vegas Rock N Roll Marathon in 2011. Jonathan designed a 25 pound SpongeBob Elvis costume (made with PVC pipe) in which to run the marathon, as he joined the 200+ other Running Elvi. When Jonathan’s cancer moved to his bones, and he had to have hip surgery, I asked him if he would let me run the 2015 San Diego RnR Marathon, wearing his coveted SpongeBob Elvis costume, in his honor. He agreed, and it became a joke between us, to see if I could finish the marathon faster than his seven hours. Since he passed away four months before the marathon, our “Running For JJ” team donned SpongeBob shirts, socks and made quite the scene at this year’s marathon. My two bathroom stops along the course took a very long time, as this costume was too big to fit into a porta potty or the handicap stall in the McDonalds’ restroom. As a result, I finished in 7:20, and barely passed the 92 year old woman, who completed her marathon four minutes after me. The outpouring of support from our TCSD family, as we celebrated JJ’s life continues to fill me with so much love. I want to thank Clay Treska, Rick Kozlowski, Daniel Powell, Paula Munoz, Lori Godwin, Steve Tally and Jonathan’s wife, Marilou for including me in the many celebrations we have shared, in remembering Jonathan. May we all lead a life so rich and full, as JJ did.

Craig: What are some of your favorite destination races?

Tracy: As much as I enjoy triathlons, I consider myself more of a runner- I like having my two feet on the ground. After I ran the Boston Marathon, my next running goal was to break 3:30, which I did at the California International Marathon (Sacramento) in 2007. My next goal was to run “longer than a marathon” so I ran the Tahoe Triple (three marathons in three days to circumnavigate the entire lake) in 2010. Then TCSD friend Cathleen Stafford convinced me to run an ultra (anything longer than a marathon), so we ran the Noble Canyon 50K in 2011. Four months later Steve Tally said, “What’s a few more miles?” So Lianne Chu, Deb Hoffman, Henk Overdest and I joined him at the Catalina Island 50 Miler. A few months later, I ran the Nanny Goat 100 mile run (first time in 26:56, second time in 25:22, third time in 24:06). Hence, the Crazy Tracy nickname. When people ask me, “How the heck do you run 100 miles?” I answer, “one foot in front of the other, until I cross the finish line.” Seriously, it’s the biggest mental mind game I’ve ever played……You just keep telling yourself to move forward. The minute you doubt yourself, you’re done. It’s truly a life lesson! TCSD friend Will Mayberry once said to me, “Why be normal, when you can be Tracy?” I considered that statement a compliment. I followed my first 100 mile run by completing the “Tahoe Triple Threat.” On a Friday morning in Tahoe, my crazy friends and I ran a marathon. Saturday morning we ran another marathon. Saturday night, we ran around the entire Lake Tahoe from 8pm-2pm (without stopping). Yes, that would be 124 miles of running over a 2.5 day period. Last summer, I joined 400 other runners, as we covered 120+ miles across the Colorado Rockies over a six day period (google: TransRockies Run). This event is like a Club Med for ultra runners. What an incredibly gorgeous adventure! I was singing John Denver songs the entire time! Definitely a “Rocky Mountain High.”

When I aged up to 50, I decided it was time to train with a coach for my next Ironman, rather than just swim/bike/run without a plan. I hired Mike Plumb and his individualized training plan helped me to earn my first age group award at the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe. One of my racing highlights in triathlon, is when Mike Reilly handed me that award. Not only do I swear by a training plan if you want results, but this really helped me to hold myself accountable. When I added yoga (thank you, Wendy Harp’s Bikram Yoga studio) and regular massage to my training, I noticed even better results. I am extremely happy to report that cross training (swim, bike, run, weightlifting, yoga, massage, nutrition, sleep) has kept me injury free throughout my entire eight years of triathlon training.

Craig: What is your current status in the pursuit of the 50 State Marathon Club?

Tracy: I ran my first international marathon on my birthday, in Athens, Greece on the original marathon course, finishing in the original Olympic Stadium. I would love to run more international marathons, but currently my goal is to complete a marathon in all 50 states. I just completed my 25th state (my 68th marathon+ distance, since 2004) and hope to complete four more states in 2015. The culture, the foods, the people, and the beauty of our country are the reasons I want to enjoy each of the states, one step at a time. In my opinion, the most beautiful marathon I have run, so far, is Big Sur. The most inspiring is Boston. The marathon with the most culture is Chicago. I was able to see the sun at midnight and a moose at the Anchorage Marathon (summer solstice). I ran across the famous Route 66 in Tulsa, OK. In the Bayou of Louisiana, I heard “y’all” used three times in one sentence, and it was grammatically correct. I sang Simon and Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song” as I ran across the 59th Street Bridge, in NYC. And I ran through all four theme parks at Walt Disney World, in less than four hours! The people that I meet at the marathons and those crazy marathon maniacs who I see at the race expos multiple times each year make traveling to these races feel like a family reunion.

Craig: What do you love about the TCSD?

Tracy: “Family reunion” are the words that come to mind, when I think of TCSD. Every time I attend a TCSD sponsored event, it feels like a family reunion. My favorite events are the monthly meetings, the aquathlons, the La Jolla Shores/Cove group swims, the potluck dinners, the networking dinners, the camping trips, the group rides and the many birthday/wedding/baby shower/graduation/going away parties I have attended. Very few of these events have anything to do with triathlons, yet every time I attend an event, I make new friends and catch up with old ones. Facebook has become a wonderful way for us to support each other with both our celebrations and our challenges. At Oceanside 70.3 I know more people on the course, than the athletes I don’t know – like a hometown gathering of friends. I feel honored to have been chosen as a member of the TCSD Ambassador Team, and I strive to represent our club in a positive way. I recruit everyone I meet, to join our TCSD family. Since I wear my TCSD kit in every marathon and triathlon, I hope to continue Jim McCann and Jonathan Jefferson’s quest to “pay it forward” and encourage all new members to become more involved, and to feel that TCSD is their family, too. Every single day I stop to “smell the roses,” and to thank God for all of the experiences I have been fortunate to experience. When Lisa Rehberg gave me a Road ID for my birthday, she had it engraved with: “You Never Fail Unless You Stop Trying.” Definitely a mantra to live by.

Craig: What is your next adventure?

Tracy: Road trip to Colorado, with my TCSD family Nathan, Danielle, Randi, Jeanette, Alaina, Chris, Audrey, Ryan, Jim, Lisa, Jeremy, Lauren and Kyra. And while we’re there, we thought we’d throw in a little Ironman in Boulder……..State #26.

Craig: Tracy, thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so proud to call you my friend. I am blessed to know you and the TCSD is blessed to have you flying our flag. Good luck to you in all your future pursuits.

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

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Chula Vista Challenge

Celebrating an 11 minute victory with an empty beer mug.

Celebrating an 11 minute victory with an empty beer mug.

On July 19th I raced in the Chula Vista Challenge. My former training partner from many years ago, Mike Drury, puts on this race. I have wanted to do this race for a few years to support Mike and this year the dates finally worked out. The race was supposed to be an Olympic distance triathlon, but due to some rare summer rain the previous day, they cancelled the swim and turned the race into a duathlon. The race went well for me as I placed 1st out of 18 men in the 50-54 age group and 11th out of 265 overall finishers.

Whenever there is measurable rain in our community the lifeguards strongly discourage open water swimming because of the run off. We had over an inch of rain the day before the race so the race started with a 2.8 mile run. My timing chip was faulty so I did not get any splits. But I would conservatively estimate that completed the opening run in 16:45, good enough for a 2 minute lead on the rest of my age group.

My age group was the 2nd group to start the race. We started 3 minutes after the oldest men and the elite men. During the opening run I passed all the old men and only had the elites ahead of me the rest of the day. The rest of the race was the loneliest I have ever been in a race. No one passed me the rest of the day. And I never did catch any of the elite guys. It was a real test of self-motivation to keep my foot on the accelerator.

The 40K bike (24.8 miles) course was a big challenge as we climbed over 1,300 feet. It was a point to point bike course so we started at 50 feet above sea level and finished at 550 feet above sea level. I pushed hard from the beginning, but felt like I ran out of gas with 7 miles to go. I thought it would never end. We had 2 separate 200 foot climbs after mile 16 so now I understand why it was such a struggle for me. My estimated bike split was 1:14:21 and that was the fastest bike split in my age group.

It was really hot to start the final 10K (6.2 miles) run. It was only 8:20 in the morning at that stage, but I bet it was already 80 degrees. I knew it would be a death march on the run which was around the Olympic Training Center. When the conditions are that tough, I usually hope for a 40 minute 10K. I would estimate my run split to be about 43 minutes as I finished the race in 2:16:21. That run was brutal! I won my age group by over 11 minutes so I really did have a good day. And I won a beer mug!

To see my race pictures, click on this link:

Living the life…

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ITU Long Course Triathlon World Championships – Motala, Sweden

From left to right: Norman Kim, Kyle Welch, Craig, Laurie

From left to right: Norman Kim, Kyle Welch, Craig, Laurie

Dan Redfern on the left and Craig on the right

Dan Redfern on the left and Craig on the right

On June 27th I raced for Team USA at the ITU Long Course Triathlon World Championships in Motala, Sweden. This represented the 20th time I have had the honor to race for my country. It is a great honor and privilege to have opportunities like this. It has been a drought of 3 long years since I’ve raced for Team USA so this experience was very much appreciated.

I qualified for the race by placing 3rd in my age group at the 2014 USA Triathlon Long Course National Championships in Grand Rapids, MI. I barely edged out Norman Kim by 43 seconds who placed 4th. One of my goals in Motala would be to beat Norman. We met up the day before the race and got to know one another. He’s a really great guy, but I still wanted to beat him.

The swim was supposed to be 4K in the Bay of Motala, but the water temperature was only 57 degrees so the day before the race they shortened the swim to 1.5K. On race day the air was sunny and warm, though, so it did not seem so cold jumping in the water. I wish they would have been more flexible on race morning because they very easily could have had us safely swim 2-3K. But for the safety of all the athletes, it was best that they shorten the swim. I swam conservatively and came out of the water in 15th place with a time of 23:43.

I had a terrible swim to bike transition (T1) as the safety pin holding the Velcro for my timing chip came undone. I was really clumsy dealing with that. Meanwhile 20 guys passed me and I had a tiny cut on my ankle. That’s right. Now I’m in 35th place to start the bike. Norman was one of the guys to pass me. I never saw him again.

The bike course was 3 laps of a 40K loop to make 120K (74.4 miles). Actually it was more like 72.5 miles. The roads were great and the course was mostly flat. There was a 1K climb towards the beginning of each lap. And we faced a mild head wind on the back half of each lap. Unfortunately there was a lot of drafting on the bike which is against the rules. I’ve raced enough in Europe to know the officials will look the other way, but I’m still going to play fair. I’m sure for some guys the drafting improved their times by as much as 10-15 minutes. I completed each of the 1st 2 laps in about 70 minutes, but the 3rd lap knocked the stuffing out of me as it took 79 minutes. Overall I was happy with my effort on the bike. My bike split was 3:39:50 which was 50th best, dropping me down to 49th place. That’s about what I predicted.

The run course was 3 laps of a 10K loop to make 30K (18.6 miles). It was a beautiful run course. Part of it was next to the bay and part was through a forest on trails. It was so much fun! I ran the 1st lap in just over 44 minutes and then the 2nd and 3rd laps I clocked 48 minutes. My total run split was 2:20:24 which was the 11th best run and it moved me up to 28th place out of 69 men in the 50-54 age group and 333rd out of 807 overall finishers. I was the 5th out of 8 Americans in my age group. My finish time was 6:36:24.

Despite some challenges, I still had a great time and am proud of my race. I believe I would have moved up a few places if the swim had been the full length. I am certain the change affected the podium standings in my age group. But the drafting on the bike may have had the greatest impact on the race. It is what it is.

Kyle Welch is a friend from many Team USA’s and he went into this race as the reigning World Champion in our age group. Kyle did finish 5th this year, but his race was over before it started as he was counting on the full 4K swim. The drafters really had an impact on Kyle’s race as he was 3rd after the swim, but dropped to 12th after the bike. On a properly officiated race that would absolutely not happen. Norman finished 12 minutes ahead of me to place 23rd. He voiced similar complaints about the drafting. Dan Redfern is an athlete I have been coaching for a couple of years now. This was Dan’s first time racing for Team USA as he had a great experience placing 50th in the 55-59 age group.

To see my race pictures, click on this link and enter my race #1210:

The trip was not all about racing. My wife, Laurie, and I also did some touring. The Stockholm highlights include visits to the Nobel Museum, the Abba Museum, the German Church and Old Town. We were joined in Stockholm by Kyle.

Prior to Sweden we travelled to Norway. While in Oslo we toured the Nobel Peace Museum, Viking Ship Museum, Folk Museum, Polar Ship Museum and the Norwegian Maritime Museum. I was particularly impressed with the Polar Ship Museum which housed the Fram and the Gjoa. The Fram was sailed on expeditions from 1893 to 1912. The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen sailed the Fram farther north and south than any other wooden ship. The Gjoa was the first vessel to transit the Northwest Passage as Amundsen completed that 3 year journey in 1906.

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: Bessy Leszszynski – July 2015

Bessy and Roger Leszszynski at the Chula Vista Challenge Triathlon

Bessy and Roger Leszszynski at the Chula Vista Challenge Triathlon

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I have been looking forward to interviewing Bessy Leszszynski for quite some time. We finally got together and it was worth the wait. I am certain you will enjoy getting to know this humble Christian woman.

Craig: What sports did you participate in before triathlon?

Bessy: I was never a member of any official sport, I just liked to do anything fun to sweat. Being one of five kids in my Brazilian-American family, playing soccer, run, exploring in the woods and “do it yourself” obstacle courses was just how we bonded. My brother was into martial arts so I’d practice a lot of obstacle and strength workouts with him. My parents moved to the US to open educational opportunities for us so I was hyper-academic in high school. After my AP classes I was involved as President of the National Honor Society, editor and writer for the school newspaper & yearbook, and a junior technician in the Computer Club. Whenever I had a chance I really liked to help the badminton team while they warmed-up before games. During track class, even if it made me gag or get light-headed I would dig deep to beat any boy that was running beside me. I guess some things never change – hahaha!

Flash forward, in 2008, I ran my first 10K, hauling as hard as I could in 1:00:00. The first few run races I did in San Diego in 2010 were transferred bibs from my husband, Roger, if he wasn’t feeling well. I just rode my bike as transportation.

Craig: How did you get introduced to triathlon?

Bessy: Short answer: Roger said that triathletes get to change into lots of different outfits since it’s 3 sports in one. Since I liked changing into outfits, I would like it. He was right. Joke now is that I need to regularly buy new outfits for 3 different sports. Hehe!

Full answer: In Fall of 2009 we migrated to San Diego from the east coast, and felt the best way for New Englanders to blend in would be to become surfers. Roger found TCSD in 2010 through some members of the San Diego Running Group on It would be a way to benchmark his progress on the swim to work towards surfing. Since I only knew how to float in open water – I chose to be his “sherpa” to support his open water swim sessions from land and make sure he was safe. I wanted to be able to share his experiences with him so I would wake up to support him on early morning trainings, volunteer & cheer at TCSD races, and I joined him at the monthly TCSD meetings. I was welcomed as a volunteer even though I didn’t know anything about triathlon. Being involved as a volunteer and getting to know other active members within the club by name started building my confidence that triathletes are people who just dare more than the average person to get out of their comfort zone. I really liked watching and meeting the triathletes after the races to see what kind of person thinks that this would be fun! Haha! People of all ages, abilities and sizes were putting their best effort to swim/bike/run and so when Jim Vance’s TriJuniors started to join the club races, the seed was planted.

In Fall 2011 I decided I’d only be comfortable to go for a triathlon race if it were just women, though. The all women sprint race SHEROX Triathlon was already in 3 weeks and I didn’t know how to swim, yet! Roger was done with his race season, so he was able to help me find a surf suit on Craigslist just to keep me warmer. It turned out to be 2 sizes too big even for a surf suit. Bill Gleason coached me on an intensive 6 lessons, and I swam every day for 2 weeks. I invited my friends to come witness my triathlon birth, and bawled so hard at the finish line. I had not been so scared and having such a blast ever in my life! Having cheered for Roger for over a year alongside the network of other “sherpas” and fellow TCSD members meant that many at the race already knew me by name, but this time they were cheering for ME!

I joined the club with the JUMP! Aquathlon registration in 2012. Roger and I love volunteering together at expos, being run/swim buddies at Beginner races, setting up the raffle table for meetings, serving breakfast at races or wherever we are needed at the time. It has been so fulfilling to cultivate friendships within the TCSD which started when I was just a cheering spectator and volunteer feeding off the awesome energy on the sidelines.

Craig: I’m certain you have seen some funny things since you’ve been doing triathlon. What stands out as being funny?

Bessy: My first duathlon was a event at Fiesta Island. During the 2nd lap of the run the other participants kept screaming out to me, “Safety first Bessy, Safety first!” I had no idea what that was about. I thought they were telling me to watch for cars. Then I realized after the finish line that I still had my helmet on from the bike that whole time! But you have to understand, when you grow up with a huge fro like mine, a light round object on your head just blends in with the curls and you forget it’s there at all!

The best one, though, was at the Chula Vista Challenge Olympic course last year, where the T1 and T2 are in different areas, and you need to drop off your running shoes the day before. On race day, I see this guy fly by me on the run course with his cycling shoes tucked into the back pockets of the cycling jersey he’s wearing. I see him again at the podium where he won his age group, but was clearly a newbie so I went to ask him about the cycling shoes in the pockets. He said this was his first triathlon. He didn’t get to put his sneakers into T2 so he had to ride with his sneakers in his jersey pockets. Then, not understanding how T2 would work, while he was cycling the last miles of technical turns and downhill, he changed from his cycling shoes into his running shoes. Yes, I needed to clarify – instead of waiting for T2, he changed into his running sneakers while still on the bike! I was baffled, and jealous of his speedy agility! Ain’t nobody got no time for T2!

Craig: I heard that you drove up to Palm Springs for a race and learned a valuable lesson. What did you learn?

Bessy: Palm Springs Desert Triathlon was my first “far away” race since we drove up 3 hours with all our race gear and had to stay at a hotel. First, I learned that a 3 hour drive in windy conditions can loosen your quick release bicycle wheels. Based on this, I learned that part of my bike check in the morning transition prep needs to include checking to make sure that your quick release wheels are tightly secured to your bike frame. Until that day, I would just fill my water bottle, and pump up my tires. Unfortunately I learned this lesson while riding in the race, going down the first hill I press the brakes and see my front wheel swaying from side to side since it’s totally loose from the drive up! Thankfully due to the low speed, the minor crash just scarred a few surface wounds and didn’t break anything. Secondly, I learned a few emergency tips especially when traveling to a race: know the course map and the street intersections of key aid stations, and exactly where transition is; also memorize a few phone numbers in case you need to call it from the ER.

Craig: In 2014 you were selected to be featured in a film called “Triathlon Film”. What is the purpose of this documentary?

Bessy: 2014 was the 40th year anniversary of the sport of triathlon, so Bob Babbitt and the producers of the Spirit of the Marathon series got together to create a documentary to share the spirit and the intensity that embodies triathlon. The film follows 5 athletes facing the largest and oldest full distance triathlon in the world – Challenge Roth in Germany. Each athlete is facing either emotional or physical “challenges” of their own while battling this ultimate test of endurance. This race sells out in seconds with 5,000 athletes each year – of which only 1,000 were women. The volunteers and spectators come from all over the world in the thousands to this small Bavarian village in the middle of nowhere in Germany, similar to the crowds in Tour de France and similar to the passion at the Boston Marathon – but for 15 hours.

Craig: That is so awesome that they chose you. I can see the movie star qualities in you, but why do you think you were chosen?

Bessy: The producers posted on the TCSD Yahoo Group looking for someone who had never completed a full distance triathlon before to submit some answers to questions to potentially be chosen for the film. I was shy about it, but Roger encouraged me right away to submit. I was chosen to represent the “First Timer” of the full distance triathlon. In 2014 I turned 30 and had already been planning to challenge my time management and mental/physical fitness to complete a full distance. For most of my life, a few emotional roadblocks discouraged me from leaving my comfort zone, but there’s something about leaving your 20’s that makes you re-evaluate the future you really want to live. I was ready to free myself from the prison I locked my mind into. The producers liked my story, as I share how the miles in training, in the silence of my own head, helped me to face my demons giving me the courage, and emotional strength to complete this insane distance – and future adventures in life!

Craig: What special opportunities did you get to enjoy by being part of the cast?

Bessy: The most exciting was to get a free entry into Challenge Roth. Roger, of course, wanted to come with me, and we paid our own travel and accommodations. While the producers wanted to get footage of the swim preview, I was able to join Luke McKenzie for that! He is so down to earth, and as expected, fast! The directing of the videographers to follow 5 athletes in a triathlon is an immense job with motorcycles, vans and a helicopter. Thankfully I didn’t feel stressed by it at all. A crew filmed my transition setup and swim prep, then they found me on the bike course right at Solar Hill then at T2 into the run where I got to see Mirinda Carfrae and Yvonne van Vlarken fly by on their last 10k while I was just starting. A treat available to all participants at Challenge Roth is the Erlinger non-alcoholic Bavarian-style social held 2 days before the race where professional athletes can toast a beer with each other, and the groupie fan athletes can talk to them and take photos. Pros from all over the world show up for this. Chris “Macca” McCormack was there even though he didn’t race; Pros wear the traditional Bavarian-style dress while the amateur athletes wear modern clothes.

Craig: How did the actual race go for you?

Bessy: Due to the filming schedule, I had 8 weeks notice prior to the race date, which only worked because I had been marathon training for 6 months already. The week before the race, due to lack of proper recovery I got sick and so weak. I flew to Germany as planned, and the jetlag and time change really affected my ability to rest. Sick and exhausted and racing Challenge Roth in 72 hours was a level of panic I wish on no one. Roger stepped in and helped build my bike and other race preparation so that I could focus on sleeping and recovering. 48 hours to the race, I tested out my rebuilt bike for a 12 mile ride then dropped it off at transition. I could barely stay awake while we drove along the bike course as a routine preview. 24 hours before the race, I finally feel better and go on a 6 mile run for first time in 7 days. Race morning, though, I felt excellent. I had the new one piece trikit from ZOCA that fit perfectly the entire day.

I was most nervous about the swim since they grouped all the women into ONE wave of 1,000, then they seeded the men to start every 2 minutes after that. My plan was to stay on the outside edge and keep a steady rhythm, to stay calm while the men swam by like lightening schools of sharks with fists and heels. Once I met the cutoff I just wanted to maintain 20mph on bike, which worked out pretty well. Because the flats and spiral down hills are so fast, the aid stations are on the up hills, so that was interesting on a tri-bike one-handed trying to climb to get water. That was the first time I ever looked down at my biceps on aero position and saw them full of dead flies stuck to my sweaty arms. It was so gross but also awesome. The new bike I got from Moment Cycle Sport with the full distance specific fit made it possible for me to jump off the bike pain-free; it was an incredible feeling to have enjoyed the 112 miles of the bike that much! The run was miserable weather of 90 degrees, hot sun and high humidity. There were sponges and aid stations every mile and it still felt too far sometimes. I had to slow down to a jog a few times, and I used the porta potty once. At the 20 mile mark it must’ve been the miracle watermelon slices on the course that I got a second wind and was ready to be done with it. The final miles filter you through a small cobblestone village with picnic tables setup as a beer aid station where spectators are drinking, singing and cheering for you. The forecast said rain was supposed to start at 8pm, my goal finish time was 6pm. Suddenly on my last 5k the rain started and my spirit started to fade thinking I was 2 hours later than what I was working so hard for… Roger finds me on the course like a happy dad trying to take pictures of me while he’s running on cobblestone, telling me I’m going to make it, the rain started early.

The finish line chute and the post-party are INCREDIBLE. Roth finishes in a round stadium that you need to run around the bleachers until you get to the clock. Then after, there was full buffet of Bavarian pastries, fresh sandwiches, all temperature beverages, and like 50 massage tables offering free massages! The race is complete in every way, it was an amazing day. I’m so thankful I was well enough in time to fully enjoy it.

Craig: What recent trends have you noticed in triathlon that make you excited?

Bessy: I’m excited to see short and smaller build women being able to dominate in such a complex sport like triathlon. Seeing athletes like Lesley Paterson, and Mirinda Carfrae who don’t have long legs or an extra long torso – to assist their efforts – is so motivating to me. Not only is triathlon an individual effort, it doesn’t require a specific body type to be successful. That alone is an incentive to see what you can do if you tri.

Craig: You train a lot. What do you think about when you are out there training on your own?

Bessy: When I started half marathon and marathon training, I would focus on my running form and breathing to use my energy as efficiently as possible. When I started swimming it was deafening to be in silence, but then I started looking forward to the short portion of the day to have that silent escape. Now that the 140.6 is over, I’m back to thinking about my techniques and body form while training.

The hours and miles spent in training for a 140.6, your mind starts to cleanse itself of baggage you closed off for years because you didn’t have “time” to deal with. Well, now all I had was time. I thought about how my mother had 5 kids by the time she was 30. It took my father 5 years to speak English well enough to interview for jobs he had degrees in. My parents taught us faith and humility by working at opposite shifts to support 5 children. Although graduating at the top of my high school class, needing to put myself through college was a burden since I had to dropout due to financial reasons. When my parents separated in the early 2000s, the children also split our own ways. Home, siblings, and educational foundations had shaken my self esteem, my confidence, my willingness to feel anymore fear. Bible reading (or listening with waterproof headphones) helped me stay positive and confident that I’d find a way to build my own foundation as an adult. Prayer narrated these thoughts through the majority of my full distance training, where I’d just get emotional on the bike or the run if I had to get all the negative out!

A few weeks before Challenge Roth, I finally asked my mother if she resented me for now turning 30 and not having any children. She told me, I had misunderstood what being a mother meant. She was thrilled to be my mother because she was able to extend the gift of life with another smart strong woman who could shape my own life into what I wanted it to be. She said if she wanted someone to make the same exact decisions she made in life, then she would’ve opted for a clone. She is proud and hopes I find my version of the level of happiness she feels in seeing her children’s lives blossom. Hearing that freed so much guilt I had been holding onto, and I was able to fully focus on my race experience. I’m so thankful I put myself in the position, and gave myself the time, to process these feelings.

Craig: Your faith is very important to you. How has your Christian up bringing helped to shape you into the athlete and woman you are today?

Bessy: Although I was raised with God-fearing parents, my shattered foundation lead me astray for my first years as an adult. I’m thankful that I’m back into my congregation again, and can share in the ministry and interchange of encouragement as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This thought helped me remember that God was looking for me as I was finding my way back. Psalm 139:9, 10: “If I would fly away with the wings of the dawn To reside by the most remote sea, Even there your hand would lead me And your right hand would take hold of me.”

This thought helped cleanse any fake actions for show, and really dig deep to benefit from a Christian peace of mind and purpose. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in holy acts of conduct and deeds of godly devotion.” (2 Peter 3:11)

Seeking Bible principles to guide my decisions has clarified so many questions I had from, letting go of resentment towards my parents separation, what love and a healthy marriage should look like, to when suffering, sickness and death will end.

My passion to maintain fitness and health is to show respect & appreciation for the amazing gift of the human body. Poor health would limit how I am able to serve others. Triathlon gives me plenty of exercise ideas to stay fit, find new goals, and it’s become a lifestyle in our home. Roger’s very supportive towards balancing chores and errands so that we can fit in our workouts, family, spiritual activities and time together.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Bessy: I’m 20 years behind on my swim skills so that’s an ongoing goal to keep improving my technique and time of the 1-mile. In 2016 I’d like to race a 70.3, looks like a perfect distance for the amount of training I can handle with my current schedule.

Craig: Bessy, thank you so much for sharing your story. I can’t wait for the Triathlon Film to be released. The TCSD is lucky to have you among our members. Once the documentary is released we will have to share you with the rest of the world. Good luck with all your future pursuits.

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

Posted in 2015, Marathon, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Midnight Sun Marathon & 10K

Laurie's 1st place and my 3rd place awards - and Pup!

Laurie’s 1st place and my 3rd place awards – and Pup!

Finish line in Tromso, Norway.  Note the bright sky at midnight.

Finish line in Tromso, Norway. Note the bright sky at midnight.

On the evening of June 20th I ran in a 10K in Tromso, Norway. Tromso is in the northern part of Norway and only about 1,000 miles from the North Pole. My wife Laurie ran in the main event which was called the Midnight Sun Marathon. We had just arrived from the USA less than 24 hours before our races so we did not have high expectations for good performances. But we both ran surprisingly well.

My race started at 7pm which was like 10am California time. At least the race was happening close to the same time when I would normally go for a run. I woke up at 11am and had an easy day strolling around Tromso. My big question was when should I eat my final meal? I ate light early in the day, but was starving by mid-afternoon. I ate an entire thin crust pizza at 4pm. I had 3 hours to digest that bad boy!

I had a great race! I ran 36:36 to finish 3rd out of 87 men in the 50-54 age group and 31st overall out of 1,840 finishers. 1st place in my age group was only 9 seconds ahead of me. Our age group had a very competitive race as 1st to 4th were separated by only 17 seconds. I rallied late to move into 3rd place in the final 1K and I did manage to keep the pizza down.

After my race I went to dinner while Laurie was running the marathon. At dinner I chatted with Brigt Rodli, the man who came in 8 seconds behind me to finish 4th. It was so cool meeting Brigt. We had shaken hands at the finish line, but over dinner we got to know one another a bit better. This was only Brigt’s 2nd running race. And this guy was flying! His primary sport is skate skiing. He said he’ll do races that are 90K and he’ll cover that distance in 3 hours. So he’s cross country skiing about as fast as I’d ride a bike! Brigt has all of my respect.

This was Laurie’s 219th career marathon. She ran 3:33:49 to win her age group by nearly 7 minutes. She had an amazing race! Laurie’s race began at 8:30pm so she finished just after midnight. The sky was still very bright when she finished. I could have read the newspaper outside at that hour. This was the longest day of the year and we were on top of the world – literally and figuratively. It was so cool!

To see my race photos and video, click on this link:

To see Laurie’s race photos and video (Laurie’s video is really cool as it was taken on the bridge with a beautiful church in the background), click on this link: Sun Marathon&match=192

Living the life…

Posted in 2015, Marathon, Running Race | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

TCSD Conversation: Chris Costales – June 2015

Chris Costales at 2005 Mission Bay Triathlon riding woman's beach cruiser with crate and empty 6 pack

Chris Costales at 2005 Mission Bay Triathlon riding woman’s beach cruiser with crate and empty 6 pack

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I just had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with TCSD Head Swim Coach Chris Costales. This was my first time really getting to know Chris and I quickly realized I should have done this a long time ago. Chris is a great example of using triathlon to lead a healthy life. I know you will enjoy getting to know Chris.

Craig: What was your athletic background during your early days?

Chris: First, Craig I want to thank you for taking the time to interview me, it is an honor. Growing up I played a variety of sports ranging from soccer, roller and ice hockey (Go Kings Go!), track, but my main focus was club swimming. I have two older brothers that I idolized (that is until they learned the art of torture and tied my hands behind my back, hung me upside down, put peanut butter on my face and let my dogs lick me for about 15 minutes). I wanted to do everything they did, so when they joined our local swim club I decided it was time for me to hit the pool as well. By the time I turned four I was competing against kids twice my age. For 14 years I traveled all over the west coast competing against some of the fastest kids in the US. My claim to fame in high school was finishing no lower than 3rd place in any event for all four years.

Craig: Who was the most influential person in your life as you were growing up?

Chris: I have been lucky to have a lot of fantastic people in my life, but I would have to say my mom was most influential. I am not ashamed to say it, I was a “momma’s boy” growing up. My dad worked a lot, and my brothers were 5 and 7 years older than me, so mom took me to school, swim practice, and a lot of movie, TV, and commercials shoots. It is a very LA thing to do as a kid, and I see myself all the time on shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Quantum Leap, Kindergarten Cop and Defending Your Life. There was a good span from 1988-1990 where if you saw a super blond kid in the background of a school scene it was most likely me. Anyway, driving to all these places gave me a lot of quality time in the car with my mom, and during that time she taught me to never give up and do my best no matter what is thrown at you.

Craig: Unfortunately you lost both of your parents when you were at a young age. How did that alter your path over the next 5-10 years?

Chris: We have all known someone affected by cancer in some way or another; unfortunately it hit both of my parents at a young age. My mom passed away from breast cancer when I was only 14, and two years later my dad died from colon cancer. You can just imagine what that does to a teenage boy while in those difficult high school years. Luckily I had some amazing friends, and especially their parents, who were there to comfort and guide me the best they could. At the same time I tried to focus on school and sports as much as possible to drown out some of that pain and grief. But by the end of my senior year I decided my swimming career was over, I didn’t have that drive without the parental support, and decided to just enjoy college life. I attended the University of California Santa Barbara, fell in love with the beach life, and moved to San Diego months after I graduated in 2000. But not a day goes by where I wouldn’t give it all up to have my parents back in my life. In fact, in their memory when I competed in my first Ironman I created a charity event that would benefit the American Cancer Society. I called it the Ironman-a-thon, where friends, family and co-workers donated money per mile completed. We were able to raise $8,000!

Craig: What prompted you to become a triathlete?

Chris: My triathlon career started around 2005 when I went surfing at San Elijo beach and couldn’t make it up the staircase without stopping 5 times to catch my breath. I am 5’8” and weighed about 215 lbs at the time. I guess the mounds of pasta and beer were not a great recipe for a non active person. I vowed to myself that day I was going to lose weight and by the time I went to bed that night I was signed up for the UCSD masters swimming program and was registered for the Mission Bay Triathlon. We had a ratty gym at work but it had a stationary bike and treadmill, so I put together a 3 month training plan to get in “shape” to finish the race. On race day there was no aero helmet, tri bike, or wetsuit. I came fully prepared with a Speedo, a red tank top that said “I may be slow, but I am in front of you” on the back, an old women’s beach cruiser (for hydration I added a crate and six pack of beer, you could drink on Fiesta Island back then), and a pair of shoes. In fact, I didn’t have the mandatory helmet so I bought a 10-dollar non-ventilated piece of junk off of a neighbor the morning of the race. Although I was completely exhausted, and the race took almost 2 hours to complete, I was hooked. The next day I bought the lowest level Specialized Allez from a local bike shop and within 2 years was competing in an Ironman.

Craig: You have done 2 Ironman races. What were those events like?

Chris: My first Ironman took place in 2007 in Klagenfurt, Austria. I told my girlfriend Keli that I wanted to do something really stupid, 140 miles in one day, and if I was going to spend the next 9 months of my life training the race better be someplace cool. I checked out all the US sights and thought I could do better. When I saw Ironman Austria I was amazed. You swim in a crystal clear glacier fed lake where the final 1,000 meters is through a canal lined with approximately ten thousand rabid fans, the bike winds through tiny towns in the Alps where you feel like you are competing in the Tour de France, and the flat run where spectators offer you beer around every corner was the perfect setting. In fact there were only two downsides. First, I wanted to film my final steps to the finish line. Right before the finish chute I grabbed my camera from Keli and proudly clicked the record button. I slowly walked the 100 or so feet, screaming at the top of my lungs and thrusting my fist in the air. The crowd was going wild and the announcer was pumping me up, it was amazing, that is until I got to the finish line and realized I was on the camera setting and not video. That whole time, I managed to snap one picture, I felt so stupid. The second horror story occurred in the finishers area. I was tired and sore after an 11:47 finish and all I wanted to do was jump into one of the 5 hot tubs available to the participants. I was just about to hop in when I quickly realized all the guys were naked…no thanks. I got dressed and drowned my sorrows in a couple of ice cream cones.

My second race was the 2011 Ironman Arizona. After Austria I vowed I would never put myself through that torture again. I enjoyed the shorter distance races and was playing indoor soccer with fellow club member, vice president, and close friend Paula Munoz. But the Ironman distance is like a forbidden fruit. My breaking point was watching NBC’s coverage of the World Championships, later that night there was a $500 charge on my credit card and I was registered for AZ. But 2011 was a struggle. First, I badly injured my knee on the soccer field about 5 months prior to the race (later I found out I had a torn MCL and partially tore my ACL). Second there was a 70% chance the race would turn into a duathlon when the Tempe Town Lake dam broke about three months prior to race day (luckily it was repaired and filled just 3 weeks prior to our start time). Third, the weather was horrible. Between the 30 mph winds on the bike and the rain/hail on the run, I was completely wasted after 11:41 on the course. Once again I vowed to never do another Ironman…

Craig: You are the Tri Club’s Head Masters Swim Coach. When and where are the workouts held?

Chris: This year we moved our program to La Jolla High School, otherwise known as Coggan’s Family Aquatic Complex. The workouts take place on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 8-9pm. We welcome swimmers of all levels, and the new location is fantastic because parking is just feet from the entrance and we no longer have to change lane lines or cover the pool. So although the workouts are a half hour later than previous years, we actually leave the deck at approximately the same time. Also you won’t find a better bargain in town in terms of price. We have a tiered system so 1 swim is $5, 5 for $20 or 10 for $30.

Craig: What could a TCSD member expect to gain by doing these workouts?

Chris: SPEED!!! No joke, if you are new to the sport our fantastic coaches lead a technique group focused on drills and stroke efficiency. If you are more advanced you can expect a masters workout that is typically between 2,000 and 3,800 yards. I have always said, the only way you get faster in the water is to get in the water.

Craig: What swim specific advice would you give a beginner triathlete?

Chris: Slow down. Beginners typically have fast arms and kick way too hard. Something you will see at every race, no matter what the distance, are beginners towing the start line. When the gun goes off they sprint as fast as possible for 25 yards and the rest of the swim they are either getting run over or are doing backstroke trying to get air in their lungs. To combat this my favorite drill is the “2 Mississippi drill”. I have the swimmers glide for two seconds after every arm stroke to ensure a good breath, a full arm pull, and it allows the body and mind to relax in the water. My second piece of advice, move to the back of the pack at the start line. Those extra ten feet won’t negatively impact your race time. In fact, by avoiding the mad rush in front you are not getting punched/kicked in the face, the leaders essentially allow you to draft, and you get to go at your own pace.

Craig: What would you suggest to someone who has just joined TCSD to give them the best experience?

Chris: Honestly, I would say volunteering. It took me several years to truly understand this and in fact without Paula Munoz I probably still would be that guy sitting quietly in the corner at club meetings and races. Even though I introduced Paula to the sport and club, she quickly passed me in terms of participation. It wasn’t until about a year and a half ago when she said, “Hey, I want you to meet Erin Hunter the Head Swim Coach”. My response “…um, ok…” The next words out of her mouth, “You should be a masters coach.” I…I…I…guess… But it has been one of the best decisions I have made. The people I have met, the connections I have made are priceless. I highly encourage everyone to give back to this wonderful club. It can be as simple as setting/cleaning up at meetings, running a workout, manning our tent at local races, or being a board member. Most volunteer opportunities only take about 1 to 2 hours per month but the value to TCSD is immeasurable.

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

Chris: It is an absolute honor. Being able to promote the club to fellow triathletes is so much fun. I have been to a ton of local races sporting my Tri Club gear, and when I hear a beginner asking questions like “How do I set up transition?” I provide my advice and let him know about all the advantages of the club. There is no better feeling than telling someone they can go to 12 club meetings with amazing FREE raffles and food, club triathlons, duathlons, aquathons, coached workouts, and crazy race/store discounts for only $75 a year. You will rarely see me on a bike or running around the bay without some sort of TCSD gear on, and if I see you on the road you will be sure to hear a “GO TRI CLUB!”

Craig: What athletic accomplishment has given you the most pride and joy?

Chris: I think my greatest athletic accomplishment is a bit different than other people. Winning a race, finishing an Ironman, getting a personal best on a course are all worthy of the top spot, but my greatest accomplishment might have been getting out touched at the wall in the 200 yard freestyle my freshman year in high school. With a 50 to go, I was 4 body lengths behind when I kicked it into overdrive. We were at the old Belmont Plaza in Long Beach where the place echoed when the crowd got into a race, and when I started to catch the leader I felt the crowd on my side. When we touched the wall I lost by a few hundredths of the second but I was so proud of myself for not giving up. But the most memorable part of the experience was watching the tape (yep, I said tape…I’m old) of the race the next day when my parents were going nuts in the background. I still have that moment on video and it is the only reason there is still a VCR in my house today.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Chris: My biggest goal is to qualify for Age Group Worlds. I have a long way to go, but I think if I can really focus on the bike and run anything is possible. The key is to train with people that are faster than me. So the Wednesday night UCSD track workouts, Saturday morning Del Mar bike workouts, and even the Tuesday and Thursday masters swims, are all great opportunities to improve my speed and technique. My plan is to really focus on the sprint and Olympic distances next year and push for the top ten spots at Nationals.

Craig: Chris, thank you so much for telling your story. You are a perfect fit for the TCSD Ambassador Team. I can’t think of a better guy to promote the Tri Club. Good luck qualifying for Team USA. You can do this!

Posted in 2015, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Los Angeles Triathlon Series

Craig with cousin Trevor Goller

Craig with cousin Trevor Goller

Men's 50-54 Podium: Craig 1st place and Chris Dyrek 3rd place

Men’s 50-54 Podium: Craig 1st place and Chris Dyrek 3rd place

On May 9 I raced the Los Angeles Triathlon Series race at Bonelli Park in San Dimas. I had a really good race as I was 1st out of 27 in the men’s 50-54 age group; winning by 4:43. I placed 6th out of 326 overall finishers in a time of 2:21:22.

The race did not start until 8am and Bonelli Park is only 90 miles from my home so I could drive up on race morning. I car pooled with my friend Dan Redfern who happens to be one of the athletes I have been coaching.

The 1.5K (0.93 miles) swim is in a fresh water lake. I had a solid swim as my time was 24:40 (1:38/100 meters). I managed to come out of the water in 2nd place, 16 seconds behind the leader. Dan is 1 age group older than me and he swam 22:21 which is amazing since his wetsuit got an 8 inch rip just before the race started. I wish I could swim like that!

The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course is 3 laps on a hilly course through the park and surrounding neighborhoods. I had the 5th fastest bike split (1:14:56) and averaged only 19.4 mph, but the course is a grind so times are never very fast. My effort put me in 3rd place to start the run.

The 10K (6.2 miles) run course does have a few hills to make it a significant challenge. Some of the course is off road and that section has earned the nickname of the jungle. Somewhere prior to mile 2 I passed my friend Chris Dyrek to move into first place. Chris is an awesome guy that I met way back in 1992 and happened to coach back in 2010. It is great to see Chris is still actively living the triathlon lifestyle. I ran the entire run with Julie Ertel who was the women’s overall champion and the only woman to “chick me”. My run split was 38:22 (6:11/mile) and the best on the day for my age group by 6:05.

After the race I was chatting with Chris when my cousin, Trevor Goller, walked up. I had no idea Trevor was in the race. And low and behold Trevor and Chris are part of the same triathlon club in the Pasadena area called Volt Multisport. And they frequently train together. It really is a small world! It was so great to see both of those guys. That made my day!

To see my race photos, click on this link, then click on “Search” and enter bib #345.

Living the life…

Posted in 2015, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

TCSD Conversation: Jessica Tomasek – May 2015

Jessica Tomasek - 1st woman to receive NCAA scholarship for triathlon.

Jessica Tomasek – 1st woman to receive NCAA scholarship for triathlon.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently to sit down and talk triathlon with TCSD member Jessica Tomasek. Jessica became the first woman to receive an NCAA scholarship for the sport of triathlon when she signed her National Letter of Intent to attend Queens University of Charlotte. Please join me as we get to know this accomplished young woman who is on the rise.

Craig: How did you get your start as a triathlete?

Jessica: My parents were the biggest factor in my initial interest and involvement in triathlon. My dad, Wayne, was, at the time, a part of a military endurance sports team, which was how he got his start in triathlon. My mom, Melissa, followed his lead and got involved in the sport as well. In October 2008, I decided to join in on the fun and completed my first triathlon. My first race was part of the Women’s Triathlon Series San Diego. I competed in the super-sprint family wave with my mom, and swam with my head out of the water for the entire swim! I did the bike portion on a mountain bike, and put running shorts on over my swimsuit for the run. Though I didn’t know much about the ins-and-outs of triathlon, I had a blast doing my first race. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I asked my mom when we could sign up for the next race!

Craig: When did you get involved with TriJuniors and what was that experience like for you?

Jessica: I joined TriJuniors in July 2010. After training on my own for a few years, I really liked the idea of being a part of a team. At the formation of the team, the Youth and Junior Elite draft-legal racing format was really starting to become more competitive. Coach Jim Vance realized that there was a need for a high-performance team in San Diego. Through TriJuniors, I had the opportunity to develop the skills needed for this type of racing.

Craig: Why did Jim re-brand TriJuniors and turn the group into Formula Endurance? What improvements resulted from this change?

Jessica: In the fall of 2013, Coach Vance changed the name of the program to Formula Endurance. The structure of the team is now both a USAT High Performance Team and a USA Swim Club. The reason for this change was to develop our athletes into competitive swimmers, which is necessary for success in draft-legal triathlon. With a larger number of athletes, the level of the team as a whole has increased and has become more competitive.

Craig: Where have you traveled for races?

Jessica: I have traveled to various places around the United States for races such as Junior Elite Cups, USAT Junior and Youth Elite Nationals, and CAMTRI Junior North American Championships. Some of these places include Richmond, Seattle, Ohio, Florida, and Iowa.

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

Jessica: I have always had an interest in traveling, so getting to explore different parts of the country through competing in different races has made the last few years very exciting. My favorite place that I have traveled to so far is Seattle. I have raced the Junior Elite Cup in Monroe (a city right outside of Seattle) for the past three years, and each race has been very successful. Apart from the enjoyment of doing well in the race, I’ve liked traveling to this race because I can explore more of the interesting culture and beautiful sights that Seattle has to offer!

Craig: What was your experience like last November when you raced the first-ever Women’s Collegiate Triathlon National Championships in Clermont, FL?

Jessica: I went into this race just looking for a good experience, and to get a feel for some of the collegiate triathlon competition. The race started out well, as I came out of the water towards the middle of the field. On lap 1 of 3 of the bike course, I was quickly able to get into the chase pack, and we gained 20 seconds on the lead pack by the end of the 1st lap. Then I took a technical turn too fast, and crashed into a fence. After fixing a few mechanical issues on my bike, I was able to finish the remainder of the race, but I had lost the pack. After the race, as I was addressing my crash injuries in the medical tent, Sonni Dyer came and introduced himself as the triathlon coach of Queens University. Now, at this point in my college search, I had already submitted applications and had my mind set on which university I wanted to attend…or so I thought. After Sonni told us about the new triathlon program at Queens University (in Charlotte,NC, not Queens,NY) the school was a strong contender on my list.

Craig: Why did you select Queens University?

Jessica: At the race in Florida, Coach Dyer saw that I am an athlete who gets back up after I fall. Because of that (and other previous accomplishments in the sport) he offered me a spot on the inaugural triathlon team, which included an athletic scholarship. It was not until I went to visit the school that I realized just how much Queens has to offer. The campus itself has state-of-the-art athletic facilities. As a triathlete I will have a number of coaches, to include multiple swim coaches (the same coaches who just led the swim teams to a national championship win), run and strength coaches, in addition to my triathlon coach, Sonni Dyer. I also really liked the academics at Queens. The small student-to-professor ratio (12-1) will allow me to connect with my peers and professors. When I first met Coach Jeff Dugdale, who is the head swim coach and will be overseeing the triathlon program, he had just been reviewing a spreadsheet of his swimmers’ grades. I was impressed by this and the rest of the coaching staff, and I got a sense that I would be really well taken care of, in addition to being held accountable for my academics. All of this made me feel like I was already a part of the Queens family, and I can’t wait to start this experience!

Craig: Who have been some of the most influential people in your triathlon career?

Jessica: My parents have always been very supportive of my triathlon goals, and have kept me motivated through difficult periods of training. They have also kept me very grounded when I do have success in the sport. My coaches are also very important because they are the ones who have shown me the process to take in training and racing, and have shared their own experiences with me. Jim Vance and the Formula Endurance coaching staff have a huge amount of knowledge of the sport and have provided me with the guidance that I have needed to get me to this level. I also believe that I am a product of the entire San Diego triathlon community. Many TCSD members have seen me grow up in the last few years, and have always been very encouraging and supportive.

Craig: How has your Christian up bringing helped to shape you into the athlete and woman you are today?

Jessica: Knowing that I am a part of something greater than myself has really kept me grounded and humble. I know that God has given me the talent and ability to be a triathlete, and because of that, I am able to find true joy in the sport and share that joy with others. Also, our faith in God as a family has kept our relationships with each other strong even through stresses of life, as well as extremely busy training and race schedules.

Craig: Who are your sponsors?

Jessica: I am currently sponsored by Fusion Bikes, a bike company based out of Arizona. Formula Endurance also provides support with equipment and some general costs of the sport for the team as a whole. Also my biggest sponsor is “The Bank of Tomasek,” i.e. my parents. I could not do triathlon without the tremendous support of my sponsors!

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Jessica: My short term goal would be to do well in collegiate triathlon, and help take the Queens University team to a national championship (Go Royals!!). In the future, I would like to race triathlon professionally, but my ultimate long-term goal is to maintain the multisport lifestyle for my lifetime.

Craig: Jessica, the TCSD has been a huge fan of yours over the years. Thank you for telling us your story. We are going to miss you when you are away in North Carolina. The sky is the limit for you!

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

Posted in 2015, TCSD Conversation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

119th Boston Marathon

Craig and Laurie with Tim Yount at USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Induction Dinner at The Harvard Club

Craig and Laurie with Tim Yount at USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Induction Dinner at The Harvard Club

On April 20th I ran the 119th Boston Marathon. This was my 12th Boston and my wife Laurie’s 19th. We had a fantastic weekend full of social events and 1 cold, wet run.

We flew in on Saturday and after a quick stop at our hotel to change we went to The Harvard Club for the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Dinner. As an Ivy Leaguer Laurie was right at home at The Harvard Club, but Big 10 Craig was a little lost. We were hosted by our good friend Tim Yount, the COO of USA Triathlon. It was a spectacular evening as triathlon legends Bill Bell, Tim DeBoom, Dan Empfield, Karen McKeachie, Carlos Moleda and Susan Williams all gave heart felt induction speeches. So cool!

On Sunday we met up with some Triathlon Club of San Diego friends for lunch and then a special screening at the AMC Theatre of “City Slickers Can’t Stay with Me – The Coach Bob Larsen Story”. Our friend Bob Babbitt hooked us up with complimentary tickets. Coach Larsen is a legendary Southern California running coach who ultimately coached Meb Keflezighi, the American man who won the 2014 Boston Marathon. We thoroughly enjoyed the documentary and it inspired us to race the following day.

Mother Nature threw some challenging weather at us on Monday – Patriot’s Day in New England. There was a light drizzle when we got off the bus at Hopkinton and rain was in the forecast for the rest of the day. We had to kill about 2 hours in Hopkinton before our race, but we found some warm, dry space to sit under one of the huge tents. All along the 10 minute walk to the start line I noticed the sewer caps all had big X’s drawn across them and onto the surrounding pavement. I noticed all the sewer caps along the race course had the same markings. I deduced that this was for security measures. If anyone lifted the sewer cap, tossed something inside and then put the sewer cap back down, the X would no longer be lined up. That would tell the security officials there had been a breach. They were not taking any chances. We felt very safe.

I ran through a light rain up to mile 16. I was wet, but not too bad. Then, it started to rain harder. From there on, I was soaked. Despite the rain, the crowd was still huge. It was wet and chilly (45 degrees) with a head wind all day. It was uncomfortable for the runners, but it had to be worse for the spectators because they were not burning up energy like we were to stay warm. By standing out in the rain, the Boston spectators really demonstrated how much they love this race.

My goal was to finish in 3:15-3:20. I finished in 3:17:42 (7:33/mile) so I was very satisfied with my result. Laurie also did very well as she finished just a few minutes after me. I placed 366th out of 2,058 men age 50-54. I placed 5,536th out of 14,588 male finishers. I placed 6,396th out of 26,610 overall finishers. I knew that my temperature would drop as soon as I finished the race. I made really quick work of the finish line process. The volunteers gave me my finisher medal and the best space blanket I’ve ever seen. It was thicker than usual and it actually had a hood. I did not bother grabbing any food or drink. I simply bee-lined it directly to my hotel for a hot shower. Ahhh!

To see my race photos, click on this link:

Living the life…

Posted in 2015, Marathon, Running Race | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TCSD Conversation: Richard Reilly – April 2015

Richard Reilly with son Aaron.

Richard Reilly with son Aaron.

Ironman finisher Richard Reilly

Ironman finisher Richard Reilly

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

When I learned a few months ago of the journey Richard Reilly has been on I knew I had to interview him. Richard has lost over 140 pounds, now fits into size 34 jeans and is an Ironman Finisher. Please join me as we get to know this skinny guy!

Craig: What was your athletic background before your became an adult?

Richard: My parents encouraged us to play multiple sports and were really involved at many levels. I am not sure there was a time when we were not playing a sport. We played football and baseball and I branched out in high school and added wrestling, soccer, golf and even threw the discus and shot put. Baseball was really my favorite sport as a youth.

Craig: What is the tale of the tape? How much did you weigh at your peak and what weight have you settled into?

Richard: Sadly, my highest weight was just over 340 pounds and which included a 52” waist. Today I try to stay around 185 pounds and a 33/34” waist.

Craig: What do you do for a living and did that lead to your weight gain?

Richard: I would like to blame my IT career for my weight but my issue is that I am a food lover and a workaholic. Being on call all the time leads to long hours and poor eating habits and with my ability to eat just about anything, it really did not help. It is so easy to just plod along through life focused on work and family and without any real exercise.

Craig: What inspired you to change your lifestyle?

Richard: It started with a doctor that was so focused on my weight and trying to make me believe I was a diabetic instead of just over-weight. She went so far as to enroll me in a program even after I did 3 months of testing and never was in any range showing I was a Diabetic.

I did start to work on my eating habits and exercise, but the real change came when my wife started training for her first triathlon. I could not walk a mile without knee pain but would walk with her and walk the block by our house as she cycled and ran. Then I got a bike so I could ride with her as she continued to train. I wanted her to have someone that could be there with her on her workouts. It just kind of steam rolled from there.

Craig: What were some of the key components that led to your successful weight loss and newfound health?

Richard: It was actually a few items that really kept me on track.

First, I had not eaten a regular breakfast since starting high school. This was one of my first changes, but it took me a while to find a few items I could eat that also helped me kick-start the rest of my day.

I also started actually watching and recording what I ate. Most people say this is hard but it really isn’t and it really helps you understand what actually goes in your mouth. There are a few really good tools out there that are free and work on multiple platforms, which allow you to record your input from anywhere. I used a tool that worked on my iPhone called “My Plate”.

The last item was finding enjoyment in exercise. Before starting this process, I broke a sweat getting my shoes on. Working out with my wife I found enjoyment in doing these three separate events and actually making some goals in the process. I had no idea that this would lead to me doing a triathlon and even running.

Craig: Did anything nearly derail your efforts? If so, how did you overcome those obstacles?

Richard: I have had knee issues since I was a teenager. As I started working out the weight was an obstacle but the knee swelling really was an issue. I went to several doctors who would drain the knee but often they would tell me to stop doing what I was doing since it was the cause of my issues. I was losing weight so I was not going to stop doing what I was doing, but it was discouraging. We found a doctor who was sports minded and he actually looked at me, learned about what I was doing and was the first one to say, keep it up, but maybe it is time to focus on other muscles. He actually pointed out that I had to do more than just pedal my bike and run. What a concept!

Over the last 6 years, the knee issues subsided as I got lighter and stronger and became more aware of my body. I still have little issues on and off but I no longer have major issues and appreciate that I was able to continue to move towards my goals and lose the weight.

Craig: Your wife Lisa really played a key role in your success. Not only in helping to get you out the door to exercise, but also by continuing to love you during the journey. Is she the best wife ever?

Richard: I can’t say enough how much Lisa has meant to me. She has supported and encouraged me even when I was discouraged and not the best person. Often she has done this giving up her time and that had an impact of her goals and desires. We have had several journeys in our 24-year marriage that should have really broken us and yet she kept everything together. It is so easy to get sucked in to the machine of life and what is next with work and home and so on.

Often people say you two are so lucky that you can do this together. I used to find this as an odd comment but today; I get what people are saying. I have had the benefit of a wonderful woman in my life and now we get to do things together especially as our children grow-up and become adults. It is enjoyable to do this together and learn more about each other along the way. I can’t wait to see what the rest of these years we have together bring. There are some destination events we are really looking forward to doing in the near future.

Craig: What race performances are you the most proud of?

Richard: My first timed event was the Wildflower long course. I definitely had no idea what I was doing. I had never run a trail and had never run a half-marathon either. I finished this event and when I got to the finish chute, I was hooked. It only took me a couple of hours to decide I wanted to do this again.

I would like to say that my first Ironman finish was my moment but it wasn’t and only led me to want more.

The real moment was watching my wife finish Ironman Arizona in 2013. It was an epic day for so many reasons but being there supporting her was hook number two for me and really took this whole thing to a new level. I can’t wait for this year’s event to get here as she signed up again and I look forward to this next journey.

Craig: What are some of your favorite destination events?

Richard: Leadman in Bend, Oregon was absolutely a destination event not only for the location but the race was handled so well. It is one of the events we want to do again.

I would love to do Wildflower again just to see how far I have come and compare the experience. I would have to do it without camping this time since that is part of the experience the family did not really enjoy.

We are now looking at events that we can do together including Ironman Chattanooga and Ironman Barcelona.

Craig: In what areas have you served as a volunteer for the TCSD?

Richard: I joined TCSD in 2009 before doing any events and answered an email about some tech help for the club and showed up to help. I have been helping somewhere ever since. I tried to do several things early on by helping at the events with timing, setup and tear down but as the training picked up, it was harder and harder to help out in those areas and still get those longer training days done. Of course, I still fit in other volunteer efforts at local events too. Helping on the website and in the digital arena really fit my schedule and I have been doing that ever since.

Today, I do website administration and manage the workout calendar, help moderate TSCD Yahoo groups and then assist on Facebook. I also work on covering race discounts and post them for members on the website. In 2014, I joined with a friend (Jim Richardson) to co-lead a running group at Lake Miramar. It really was a great way to help manage some new running goals and grow the training partner group. It has been a blast.

I did decide to do more this year and ran for a club office but was not successful at getting a seat but look forward to continuing to assist and hopefully run for another seat if time allows the next time they are open.

Craig: Beyond your TCSD job, what is your triathlon related mission?

Richard: I want to show people it can be done. It takes work, but it can be done and it can be fun. You can get outside, enjoy working out with others and even eat. Yes, you can watch your weight and eat too. It really gets easier when you find something you enjoy doing. It helps that we have a great group in TCSD and as you are out there in your gear, you hear “GO TCSD”; what a motivator.

Craig: What TCSD member would you like to single out as someone you really admire?

Richard: A few people came to mind here including many training partners and others who have supported me along the way. So many good choices, but I have to say Gerry Forman sticks out for me. He embodies that TCSD spirit and, of course, is always encouraging. We could be in a deep conversation during a run, figuring out some odd world issue and he would acknowledge others, stop and pet a dog, say hello to people and still continue on like nothing happened. Too often we just go about our workouts and this really showed a different side of the process. It has had a big impact on me and, of course, I find myself saying hello during a workout while passing others and I really enjoy the feedback. Now if I can just figure out how he remembers so many names.

I have met a lot of people in this journey over the last 6 years but I learned a few things from him and not just about the sport. I know a lot of people say “I want to be doing this when I am his age” and of course that would be great but I think what stuck out to me most is his engagement with others not just the ladies and the dogs.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Richard: I want to continue to do the 140.6 races (not focused on a brand but the distance). I want to start doing other courses outside my comfort zone. It is time to start going further to races than I can drive in a day. Yes, you heard right, so far, we have driven to all our races even Bend, Oregon. We have some destination goals like Barcelona Spain and I really want to do a 50-mile run soon. This opens up the course choices, now we just need to pick a new venue or two and work towards the goal.

Craig: Richard, the obstacles you have overcome already are very impressive. Thank you for sharing your story. Your family, the TCSD and our local community are lucky to have you as a great example of all that is possible. The sky is the limit!

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

Posted in 2015, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments