Panda Paddle – Stand Up Paddleboard 5K

The novice dreaming about turning pro as he listens to the pre-race instructions.

Strawberry rhubarb pie – living the life!

On October 26th I did the Panda Paddle 5K Stand Up Paddleboard race in Mission Bay.  I had never done SUP before so this was going to be interesting.  I registered for the race in September and told my wife, Laurie, about it.  She offered to make it more interesting.  She said if I could break 2 hours, that she’d buy me a pie.

In the weeks prior to the race I spoke to a few friends experienced in SUP.  The consensus was that I should have no problem with my new sport and that I’d probably complete the course a bit faster than if I swam the course.  I’m confident I can swim 5K in less than 90 minutes.  My prediction for my 5K SUP was 80 minutes.  I did not care what place I finished.  I just wanted to try a new sport, support a good cause (World Wildlife Fund) and earn that pie.  I got this!

My race started at 11:45am and unfortunately for me we had very windy Santa Ana conditions.  I had pictured myself gliding over glassy, calm water, but this was more like a washing machine.  Uh oh!  5 minutes into the race I was in last place.  Then something funny happened.  My SUP must have had a homing device on it because I got turned around and 7 minutes into the race I found myself right back on the exact same shore where I had started.  Now I was really behind the rest of the field.

I got started again.  A course marshal came by and told me I was using the paddle backwards.  Go figure.  That advice helped a lot.  I started making slow progress.  I had only tried to stand up once and the wind/chop promptly knocked me off so I was having better success on my knees.

700 meters into the race the Race Director came by in a boat.  He said I was about to enter the part of the course in an open channel and that it was going to become more dangerous for me.  He discouraged me from continuing.  It was rough, but I felt safe the entire time.  I knew that if I had a major problem, I could always swim to the shore.  For the entire race the shore was always going to be less than 200 meters away.  There was no way I was gonna quit.  That pie was within my reach!  I realize the Race Director was just covering his rear end, but he should be out there encouraging people.

Over the next 1000 meters 2 other guys on SUP came by and gave me some really helpful advice.  My progress was improving.  By the 3K point I was no longer in last place.  I did try to stand up 4-5 times.  Each time I lasted 2-3 minutes before I got knocked off the board again.  It was hard on my knees, but my best position was on my knees.

I had fun the entire time.  That was the whole idea.  I finished in 1:40:28.  I placed 71st out of 75 overall finishers.  My ego had no problem with finishing in the back of the pack.  It gave me a new perspective and I’m grateful for that.  Laurie celebrated with me over a wonderful Chinese dinner at local restaurant and she bought me a strawberry rhubarb pie.

Living the life…

Posted in 2019 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

TCSD Conversation: October 2019 – Jason Verbracken

Jason Verbracken at Norseman 2019 finish line.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with Jason Verbracken.  In just the 2018 and 2019 seasons Jason has done some absolutely amazing races.  These include full Ironman distance races in Alaska, Iceland and Norway.  I think you will be fascinated by his story.

Craig: What sports did you play when you were in school?

Jason: I played hockey growing up. Born and raised in Wisconsin, my parents had me skating even before I could walk. During the winter, I remember my dad would take the snow blower, blow off all the snow, grab the hose and make a place for me to skate in our backyard, complete with a path from the back door to the ice rink. So, I would come out the door, put on my skates and skate on over to practice. My best friend lived across the alley, and we had a path to skate over to his house. He also had a rink in his back yard. We practiced more at his house because he had a cement wall perfect for shooting hockey pucks. Whereas, when we practiced at my rink, if we missed the net, the puck would disappear into the snow banks and would be lost until spring. Once spring hit, everything melted, and we would collect buckets of hockey pucks that we could finally find. I played hockey all the way through high school.

Craig: What did you do after your days in Wisconsin?

Jason: After high school, I enlisted straight into the Marine Corps. Actually, I signed up for the Marines at the end of my junior year, as a part of the delayed entry program. Compared to my friends, I felt the Marine Corp was the smarter plan. They were taking extra classes on how to perform well on ACT/SAT tests, as well as filling out college applications, and stressing over college acceptance. I would laugh as I said, “have fun studying. I’m going partying, the Marines already accepted me.” My ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) scores afforded me the choice of any job they had to offer. I remember my dad saying “send in the Marines, they will take care of it,” and, “the infantry Marine is the toughest person of the military.” So I chose infantry, despite my high testing scores, because I wanted to prove I was the toughest. Boot camp was here in beautiful San Diego. I graduated and went to the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton. Upon completion, I got stationed at Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. I felt like I had won the lottery. As a mid-west kid, I never saw the ocean or visited “sunny” states before joining the USMC. Living in California and Hawaii was like heaven. As a Marine, I also was able to see Japan, Australia, Korea, Okinawa, and American Samoa. My Marine Corp career lasted from 1994-1998, with some of the greatest memories and friends of my life.

Craig: What has been your career after the Marine Corps?

Jason: After my time in the Marine Corps, I moved back to Wisconsin, and got a job at a distribution center driving a forklift. It was a nothing job, so I was excited when my girlfriend from Hawaii invited me to move with her to San Diego. I wanted to be a computer programmer, and decided to use my GI Bill to enroll at Coleman College. I worked a few odd jobs, like installing fire hydrants, irrigation systems, and at one point, I was a bouncer. I found a great job at Pepsi as a merchandiser which worked great with my school schedule. I went to school Monday through Thursday and worked Thursday through Sunday. After two years at Pepsi I got promoted into sales. When I was getting close to graduating from Coleman College, my classmates were getting jobs in the computer field. They were starting at a lot less than I was already making. I was working Monday through Friday, paid vacations, full benefits, and holidays off, so I decided to stay with Pepsi. This is my 22nd year with Pepsi, and currently, I am an account manager for 7-11 stores.

Craig: How did you get started in triathlon?

Jason: It’s funny, my stepson’s motocross trainer (former motocross pro) had recently completed a sprint triathlon. We were all at a motocross race for the weekend, and it only took a few minutes and few adult beverages for me to bet I could beat him in a triathlon. We found a triathlon that was only twelve weeks away. I knew I could beat him on the run but he biked, quite a bit, which had me worried this is where he would get me. I had no idea what to even do or where to start. I didn’t own a bike, the only bikes I had were BMX bikes when I was a kid. I could swim, which really just meant I could play in the water and not drown. I could run, thanks to many hours of being forced to run during my years in the Marines. But I swore I’d never run again once getting out. So I went online and found the trinewbies website and used one of their training plans. I did all my training at 24 Hour Fitness, using the pool, spin, and treadmill for every workout. I remember just giving it everything I had, every workout, following the time requirements each workout called for. I knew nothing about pacing. My first race was the Steelman Sprint Reverse Triathlon in Rancho Cucamonga, February 2012. I ended up borrowing a friend’s road bike and bike shoes for the race. This was a one and done race so why would I need to go buy my own equipment? My friend is 5’9”, rides a 54 bike and wears size 9 bike shoes. I’m 6’2”, 58 bike and size 12 shoes. My thought was “it’s only a short bike ride, I’ll make it work.” The only time I rode the bike was the day before the race when I picked it up. I practiced in my driveway clipping in and out of the pedals and how to shift the bike. My plan was take off fast on the run and build a good lead. Hopefully I would be too far ahead for him to catch me on the bike. The swim was only about 150 meters so there would be no passing there unless one of us drowned. My plan worked perfect. I took off running as hard as I could, built my lead. I biked as hard as possible and he never caught me. I won the bet! Looking at the results, I actually had faster times in all three phases, which gave me even more bragging rights.

Craig: What led you to try the Ironman distance?

Jason: After that first triathlon race, the Tri training immediately stopped. I went back to just lifting weights at the gym. I had a great time doing the race and training for the race but nobody I knew was into doing triathlons. My son’s trainer and I kept saying we were going to have a rematch, but we never pulled the trigger. It wasn’t until June of 2016 that I made the decision to do another triathlon. I had been doing the gym and CrossFit thing but just wasn’t getting any excitement from it. I kept thinking back to how much fun I had training for that first triathlon. I went online and looked for a race that was a few months out and close to San Diego. The Mission Bay Triathlon popped up and it wasn’t until October. I called my son’s trainer and told him I found the perfect race for our rematch. This time was different, I knew I liked doing the sport and wanted to keep doing it. I started buying gear so that I had to keep racing, because I didn’t want to waste money on something for just one race. I found a used Tri bike on Craigslist, bought shoes that fit me and bought a wetsuit. I used the same training plan but also read everything I could get my hands on about triathlons. The race went great and I kicked my friend’s butt again. This time after the race I kept training. I was having so much fun and I loved seeing how far I could push myself. I thought, “what’s the next race I could do that was going to keep me motivated and that will really make me push myself?” I knew that Ironman races were the big, long, hard races. I started researching Ironman’s and found out about Ironman Arizona. It was perfect. It was a little more than a year away so I had plenty of time to train. It wasn’t far from San Diego and it’s a “flat” race course. The only problem was I heard it was impossible to just sign up and get into the race. My plan was find out when registration opens, and five minutes before, I sat at my computer and just keep refreshing the home page. Luckily, I got in. I feel it was it was meant to be. So I got in and had only done two sprint races and about six months total triathlon training in four years time.

Craig: What was your first Ironman experience like?

Jason: My first Ironman experience was unbelievable. All the months of early mornings, late nights, and weekends training, and then to finally cross the finish line was a great feeling of accomplishment. I had the full year to train for Arizona. I entered all the local sprint and Olympic distance races that I could find. I read everything I could find to better myself as a triathlete. I didn’t enter any half Ironman’s because I didn’t want to find out I hate racing, and not want to race a full. One Saturday morning in early August, I received a phone call from a Wisconsin number. It was a family member calling to tell me my dad suddenly passed away. At that time, I was at a race in Tennessee for my son and he was supposed to be leaving the next day to Canada for his first professional race. This completely stopped training, as I had to go to Wisconsin for the next few weeks to take care of everything. Once I got back to San Diego I immediately got back to training and it really helped me keep my mind off everything that happened. Late October, I was at Fiesta Island for a long bike session when suddenly, my front tire blew out, and I lost my front end into the sand. Immediately, it threw me off the bike and I went sliding across the asphalt. Luckily, all I had was road rash, nothing broken on me or the bike. I started questioning if I should be doing the race with these bad events happening. Everyone told me to stick with it, and that my main training sessions were already completed and that I was just going to have a little longer taper. On race day, I was all healed up and feeling great. However, I was definitely nervous that I didn’t get in enough training. I told myself “Dad wouldn’t want me to give up,” and I had to go give it everything I had. The race went perfect and I had zero problems on the course. Race day is a really long day where I get to reflect on all the good and bad days leading to this one event. I crossed the finish line in 11hrs, 43 minutes. I couldn’t believe my time and literally had every emotion imaginable rushing through me.

Craig: Your next iron distance race was in Alaska.  What led you to try that and how was your experience?

Jason: My brain is always going nonstop about trying to find the next hardest thing to do. Before even racing my first Ironman, I stumbled across the Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon. I watched the video of the race and my jaw was on the ground the whole time. My mind was blown. I thought Ironman races were supposed to be the hardest. Here’s a race that’s a little longer than a full distance race and has extreme conditions. The swim has water temps in the low 50’s, you have to run up a mountain, twice, and it’s mandatory to carry bear spray. It also required entering a lottery to get picked for race entry. I immediately wanted to enter, but common sense stopped me. How was I going to enter the race lottery without ever completing a full distance race? I might hate the whole full distance experience and not want to race that distance ever again. I actually called my dad and told him about the race and that I needed full support to race it. I told him if I liked doing the full distance I was going to enter the following year and that he could be my Sherpa. I signed up to stay updated on the race and when the next year’s lottery would open. Well, a couple weeks after IMAZ I got an email saying that not everyone that won a spot in the lottery signed up. They were going to have open registration until they were full. I immediately thought this was a sign from my dad. We were supposed to do it together and now was my chance to sign up and go race it. I went right to the website and signed up. Alaskaman Extreme was an amazing experience. It is such a beautiful place that every time I turned my head I thought I’d seen the most beautiful sight. From moose, bald eagles, bears, the lakes and mountains, Alaska was as incredible as it was beautiful.

Craig: Let’s pretend you are 7 years old again and the teacher asks you to describe your 2019 summer vacation.  What would you tell the class?

Jason: At Alaskaman, I won a spot to race the famous Norseman Extreme Triathlon the following year. All my thoughts and training were going to be concentrating on that race. In October I got an email from the race director of Alaskaman saying he was going to be putting on an extreme triathlon in Iceland called Ísland Extreme Triathlon. I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland and now here was my opportunity. The only problem, they were exactly one week apart from each other. How was I possibly going to do two full distance extreme races seven days apart? Norseman was the second race and the one I wanted to do my best at. I wanted to get the black finishers shirt (meaning I got to climb to the top of Gaustatoppen). My mind kept saying that I can do both and that this will be a triathlon trip of a lifetime. I decided to do both. I wanted to spend more time in Iceland because I had always heard how beautiful it is and there’s so much to see. I flew out to Iceland on July 20, a week before the race. The plan was landing in Iceland on Sunday, getting to explore for a few days, and get ready to race on Saturday. Rest and recover for a couple days and fly to Norway on Tuesday and race Norseman on Saturday. I landed in Iceland with all of my luggage and my bike, everything made it safely. We got the rental car and was off to our apartment. There seemed to be beautiful waterfalls every couple of miles. They were so beautiful we had to stop and go explore. We spent the next few days exploring, with perfect weather in the 80’s. My plan was to also get up early everyday and get into the ocean to make sure I was used to the cold water temperature. Monday morning I was up early to swim, all decked out in all my cold weather gear. I made my way to about waist deep and the water didn’t feel to cold so I dove right in. Instant brain freeze and my face felt like a thousand needles were stabbing it. My brain immediately started freaking out thinking there was no way I was going to be able to swim the full race distance in this temperature of water. Thankfully after about 10 minutes my face was completely numb and I wasn’t feeling anything. Everyday I was back in the ocean swimming and it kept feeling better every swim. But the weather kept getting colder and colder as the race approached. Thursday they informed us the swim was being moved to a lake because the tide had brought in giant lion mane jellyfish the size of basketballs. At the pre-race swim, I got into the lake and the temperature was around 56 where the ocean temperature had been at 51. I felt like I was swimming in a bathtub. My confidence was growing and I was ready to race. Saturday morning woke up to cold, rainy, and windy weather, the perfect extreme triathlon conditions! The race went great. I exited the swim in 12th place, got on the bike and the crazy weather conditions is definitely something I’m wasn’t used to living and training in San Diego. The wind was constantly changing directions, it was raining and cold. One time I was going down a hill leaning over about ten degrees, compensating for the wind. I could barely see because of the rain and I looked down at my bike computer and saw that I was going 45mph. I thought if this wind changes direction I’m dead. I kept my head down and worked my way up to 6th place coming off the bike. The run was an out and back. You went up and down a mountain turned around and went back. Since I had to race the next week my coach didn’t want my heart rate to hit zone 3. Which meant as soon as I hit the mountain I was walking. It was mentally hard not to get to race when I was in such a good position but Norseman was the bigger picture for me. Once I mentally accepted I wasn’t racing anymore, I got to just enjoy it and have fun. I would get passed, strike up a small conservation, wish everyone good luck and tell them they were looking great. I ended up finishing in 18th place. It is definitely a race and country I’m so glad I got to see and do.

Craig: What has been your most challenging race?

Jason: My most challenging race had to be Norseman. Everything about this race is a challenge. It’s the original extreme and supposedly the hardest triathlon race in the world. This race also has a lottery system to get an entry. They get over 4000 entry requests a year and only 250 racers. I talked to many racers who tried for seven, eight, and nine years straight before getting a spot to race. So the competition is unbelievable, they have been trying to race this race for years. The race is in beautiful Norway with the most amazing views. This is the most beautiful country I’ve ever been to. Lush green trees, mountains, crystal clear lakes, and views that never stopped lined the race course. Looking at just the race stats makes people not want to race it. The 2.4 mile swim in 50 degree water, 112 mile bike with 11,200ft gain and the 26.2 mile run with 5,962ft gain. There’s a cut-off point half way up the mountain on the run. They only allow the first 160 people and it has to be under a certain time. If you make this, you continue to climb to the top of the mountain and get the coveted black finishers t-shirt. On race morning we set up T1 and board a ferry that takes you out to the middle of a fjord. It’s still dark and the back gate of the ferry opens and they tell you it’s time to jump in. The drop is around 15 feet to the water. They corral everyone up and off we go. It’s still dark out and they tell you to follow the shoreline and you will eventually see a bonfire on the beach. My plan is to try and draft off other swimmers, keep down, and no looking  around or at my watch. I feel like I’m having the worst swim of my life and my mind keeps telling me to look at my watch and to take a quick break. I don’t listen, finally reach the swim exit, look down and see 1:09. My best iron distance swim ever. I’m so excited and think I must be somewhere in the top 100. That ends quickly when I get into T1 and see 75% of the bikes gone and my sherpa telling me I’m already past 160th place. I stay calm and tell myself I got to do some work on the bike. Right out of T1 you start climbing. The first 21 miles has 4,100ft elevation gain. You’re climbing up a mountain, in and out of tunnels, along a river and waterfalls. The views are amazing and I wanna look around but I know I gotta keep working. The tunnels are very hot and no air flowing through them. The shield of my helmet fogs up and I can barely see where I’m going. Sweat is pouring off like someone dumped water over me. About half way up that first climb my legs are already hurting. My mind starts questioning why I was so stupid to race the week before. I literally had to tell my brain to shut up and my legs that they had no time to be sore. I finally got to the top and knew the next 50 miles was fairly flat, a few rollers, and some long straight down hills. I passed a lot of people in this section. I was able to get into aero and go. After that it was back to climbing again for 20 miles and they were steep. Signs on the sides of the road warning trucks of how steep the hills were. My legs were on fire and starting to cramp, but I kept pushing. I knew once I reached the top, the last 20 something miles was all downhill. I pushed with everything I had, never stopped and finally reached the top. That last 20 miles of the bike was so fun. I averaged over 30mph and hit 50.5mph. I exited T2 in 94th place, passing over 70 people. The first 15 miles of the run were flat and my only goal was to just keep running. No run/walk breaks and to just keep a steady pace. At the 15 mile mark you start the run up Zombie Hill. Zombie Hill series of switch backs at a 9%-10% gradient up the mountain. At mile 20 was the check point where the top 160 racers got to keep going. I knew if I got to Zombie Hill and still under 100th place that there was no possible way that many racers could pass me going up the mountain that I wouldn’t be the 160th racer. I ran the whole way and got to Zombie hill in 87th place. From that point on I was on cruise control just enjoying the rest of the race. Nobody was running the hill, mainly power or regular walking up. My body was exhausted and I just regular walked and let racers pace. I knew had accomplished what I came to do and there was no point destroying my body for a few better places. I got to the check point in 104th place. I knew I was going to get the black shirt. All I had to do was keep going. It was three more miles of road until you get off the road and actually start climbing to the top. I finally made it to the turn off to start climbing. They had an aid station there where they checked to make sure you could make the climb. The last three miles up were literally straight up. There wasn’t much of a path, just arrows painted on rocks to follow. The rocks were boulders and at points you were pulling yourself up the rocks. This was the longest three miles of my life. It felt like we were never going to get to the top. After what felt like hours I could finally see the top. I could now hear people cheering and I picked up my pace. I got to the rock steps leading to the finish line. Crossing that finish line felt like one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

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

Jason: The dumbest thing was when I raced my third triathlon, which was another reverse triathlon. I had been reading about compression socks and the benefits of them. I wore a pair racing that were all the way up to my knees. They are so tight there’s no way I could take them off for the swim, so I just wore them swimming. During the swim they were starting to come off. I was trying to swim and pull the socks up. With the finish line at the pool where we swam, everyone was hanging out around that finish line after the race. And there I was – soaking wet, with the socks up to knees. I had to look like the biggest dorkiest newbie ever.

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

Jason: I love the group training sessions available. Everyday of the week there’s something going on and all the like-minded people with the same healthy goals. Going to all these destination races and meeting racers from all over the world we get to talking about our Tri clubs. They are amazed at all the things our club has to offer. I haven’t meet anyone that has a club as great as ours.

Craig: Who has been the most influential person to shape you into the man you are today?

Jason: My dad was the most influential person to make me who I am today. He was very hard working and a person that everyone loved. I can’t remember him ever being sick or not going to work. He had the biggest heart, and would help anybody at the drop of a hat. The Marine Corp was also very influential on who I am. They really taught me I could do anything. They not only made me physically strong, but also mentally strong. The Marines taught me how to keep pushing even when your brain is telling you to stop.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Jason: There are a few races I’m looking into that both scare and excite me. The first is Epic 5, five full distance triathlons, in five days on the five Hawaiian islands. If I can figure out some sponsor help with the $8500 entry fee, I’ll be racing this next year. I’m also looking at Icon Livigno Extreme Triathlon. This race takes place in northern Italy. The bike boasts a 121 miles and 16,404ft gain course. You get to cycle in the Swiss Alps and into Switzerland. The run has an additional 9,800ft ft gain course. The only problem is my family said I can’t do this until 2021 because they want to go to Italy with me. The last race I’m looking into is the Virginia Triple or Quintuple Anvil Triathlon. This race is a continuous 7.2, 336, 78.6 mile or the 12, 560, 131 mile triathlon. Any of these three races would be another amazing experience and will keep my brain going crazy figuring out how to finish.

Craig: Jason, thank you so much for sharing your story.  I could not wait to interview you.  It was well worth the wait.  You are proving that the sky is the limit.  Good luck with all of your future adventures!

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

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Ironman 70.3 World Championships – Nice, France

Laurie and Craig enjoy a delicious dinner in Turin, Italy.

The Cote d’Azur.

Just prior to the race start.

Less than a mile to go. Thanks be to God!

On September 8th I raced the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Nice, France.  This was the 2nd race on our racation.  The 1st race was the ITU Olympic Distance World Championships on 9/1/19 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

After Lausanne we shifted into tourist mode.  We picked up a rental car in Geneva.  This car would prove to be a blessing and a curse.  It was a blessing because it took us and all our gear where we needed to go.  It was a curse because it was an SUV so it was very challenging to park in the tiny parking spaces and garages.  Just picking up the car was a major challenge as we had to pick it up from the French side of the Geneva Airport.  This caused some stress as we split up to do this task – not the best decision we have ever made since I did not have any phone service.  Laurie picked up the car while I waited on the Swiss side with the luggage.  It all worked out and we were reunited after 90+ minutes.

Our first destination was Turin, Italy for 3 days.  We enjoyed some morning runs along the Po River.  We toured the Egyptian Museum, the Royal Palace of Turin and the National Cinema Museum.  We also went to the Cathedral of Saint John The Baptist where the Shroud of Turin is located.

The next stop was Monaco.  Both of us will always remember driving into Monaco.  Everything went well, but navigating the narrow and curvy streets gave us some excitement in our SUV.  The locals must have thought the Beverly Hillbillies had rolled into town when we arrived.  We found a nice place for dinner and strolled around the iconic casino and marina the following day.

The final 4 days of our journey was in Nice, the Cote d’Azur.  I met Laurie in June 2000 and the day after meeting her I traveled to Nice to race the ITU Long Course World Championships.  I was smitten with Laurie from Day 1 and so I always wanted to bring her to Nice, one of the most beautiful places in the world.  My dream was finally coming true after 19+ years.

Part of the story that must be told was the very sobering security presence around the race venue – lots of police and soldiers carrying big guns.  The French will never forget the 2016 Bastille Day terrorist attack on the Promenade des Anglais where 87 lives were lost.  This was basically where the 1st transition area was located.

The women’s race was held on Saturday while the men’s race was on Sunday.  The water temperature in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday was cool enough that the women wore wetsuits while on Sunday it had warmed up so wetsuits were not permitted for the men.  I thoroughly enjoyed the 1.2 mile swim.  It was a beautiful day and the sea was very calm.  I had a good swim as I came out of the water in 36:09 (1:52/100 meters), in 84th place.

I was very anxious about the 56 mile bike portion of this race.  The women and men had different experiences on the bike course simply because there were only 1,778 women while there were 3,261 men.  The route went from the Cote d’Azur to the climb up the Col de Vence and back down again.  The course had 4,927 feet of elevation gain.  The climb was not that hard as the gradient averaged 6-7%.  The challenge for me was the descent.  I am not very skilled or confident in my descending abilities.  I had one moment on the climb when another cyclist put his hand on my backside.  That is standard operating procedure when the cyclists get close together.  I joked with the guy by saying I thought that was the hand of God giving me a push.  God was very clearly on my mind as I was anticipating the descent.

Once I reached the top and started the descent I became very cold.  I was soaked with sweat from the climb and we were in the shade for the first part of the descent.  Because I was shivering, I was tempted to stop, but was glad I pressed on because I knew I would warm up once I got lower and started pedaling again.  We went through 10 very typical French villages and each time we’d approach a village there would be a welcome sign.  I learned to take that as bad news as that always meant speed bumps would follow.  The bumps were fairly gentle, but they were another obstacle to maneuver through.  I think due to a combination of being chilled, the bumps and simply being so anxious and tense about the descent my right shoulder started to really hurt.  It got so bad that I could hardly move my arm.  This problem seemed to come out of nowhere.  Thankfully I had warmed up a lot by the time I reached the aid station at mile 47 where the descent had pretty much ended.  I decided to stop to get a drink and use the bathroom.  This was 2 minutes very well spent as my shoulder loosened up and I was rehydrated to hopefully set up a successful run.  I finished the bike in 3:40:01 (15.6 mph).  This dropped me to 198th place.  Not very good, but I was safe and sound.

The 13.1 mile run was 2 laps along the Promenade des Anglais.  I love this part of Nice.  It is beautiful with constant views of the Mediterranean.   Because of some early season knee issues, I purposely was slightly undertrained for the run.  I was confident that on race day, I’d be A-OK and I was.  I ran 1:37:11 (7:28/mile) and I finished in 6:01:33.  This placed me 167th out of 214 male finishers in the 55-59 age group and 2,860th out of 3,261 male finishers.  That’s a far cry from winning my age group at the 2018 Ironman 70.3 in Muncie where I qualified. Muncie and Nice are different beasts.

To see my race pictures, click on this link

Living the life…

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ITU Olympic Distance Triathlon World Championships – Lausanne, Switzerland

Laurie & Craig at FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.

LAF cable car – Felsenegg.

Dinner in Lausanne with Tim Yount, our good friend from USA Triathlon.

On September 1st I raced the ITU Olympic Distance Triathlon World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.  Lausanne was a repeat venue for me as back in 2006 I had raced this event in Lausanne and placed 29th out of 108 men in the 40-44 age group.  2019 was the 15th time I have raced the Olympic Distance World Championships and 26th time across all the distances that I have raced for Team USA.  Racing for Team USA never gets old.  It is always an honor.

Laurie and I began the trip by arriving in Zurich on 8/28.  We had never been to Zurich before so this enabled us to do a bit of touring.  We went to the FIFA World Football (Soccer) Museum and took the LAF cable car to the top of Felsenegg, 800 meters above Lake Zurich.  We enjoyed panoramic views of the city and an outdoor patio lunch at the Felsenegg Restaurant where we attracted some bees.  Thankfully no stings, but we provided some entertainment for the other patrons.

We took a 90 minute train ride to Lausanne on 8/30.  Upon arriving in Lausanne we immediately discovered the new M2 Metro line which was completed in 2008.  Our hotel provided a free pass and this made our lives so easy during our stay as we could take the M2 from our hotel in the upper part of Lausanne down to the race venue by Lake Geneva 1+ mile away.

In 2006 I remember the water temperature was really cold so I wore a wetsuit and a thermal cap and swam 22:23 in calm conditions.  This year, the 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim wound up being extremely difficult.  On race morning it was announced that the water temperature was too warm for wetsuits.  Global warming – there is no doubt.  Historically I have never done well in fresh water, non-wetsuit swims.  Add to that, the choppy waters, and I was in for a tough swim.  If it had been calm waters, I probably would have done the swim in 26-27 minutes, but I came out of the water in 34:49, putting me in 80th place.  I felt really smoked after that swim.  Not good!

My day only got worse on the bike.  The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course was comprised of 2 laps for 1124 feet of elevation gain.  Each lap had 3 climbs – the first was 8-10%, the second was 8% and the third was 7-9%.  The steepest descent was 12%.  In 2006 my bike split was 1:11:06 on a very similar course.  Typically I climb well, but was so tired from the swim that I did not do well on the climbs.  And I never do well on the descents – I’m too timid and too light.  My bike split was 1:22:04 (18.3 mph).  This was only the 130th best bike split.  Seriously not good!

My day did improve on the 10K (6.2 mile) run.  The run course was very challenging compared to the pancake flat version in 2006 when I ran 36:37.  This year the course had 2 laps and each offered 3 brutal climbs – the first was 17%, the second was 12% and the third was 9%.  I had a respectable 15th best run with a 43:43 split.  I placed 80th out of 148 finishers in the men’s age 55-59 category with a finish time of 2:46:32.  In 2018 at the Gold Coast I placed 19th out of 92 and had the day’s fastest run.  I’d like to think that I’m not that much worse 1 year later as some slowing is to be expected.  Mostly I think Lausanne was just always going to be a tough course for me.

To see my race photos, click on this link.

I may not have raced very well, but I am very thankful for this opportunity.  Participating in international races and representing Team USA is a very special privilege.  Stay tuned for the next race in our European racation – the Ironman 70.3 World Championships on 9/8/19.

Living the life…


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TCSD Conversation: September 2019 – John Mitchell

John Mitchell performing flying sidekick against a 6′ 2″ opponent.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently sat down and talked triathlon with John Mitchell, the TCSD Beginner Bike Coach.  John has a huge heart and he is as good as they come at paying his many blessings forward.  John is a great example of how many wonderful people we have in our club.  I know you will enjoy getting to know John.

Craig: What sports did you do when you were a kid and young adult?

John: Sports started for me when I was 16 years old and a freshman at Linton High School when I took up TaeKwon-Do, a Korean Martial Art of self-defense.  I asked a friend, John Weatherwax who was also a freshman already a black belt to teach me at my home in Schenectady which is in upstate New York.  At that time, I was a very shy and introverted kid that was afraid of his own shadow.  I was bullied, teased and picked on because of this so I asked John to teach me Taekwon-Do to help give me some self-esteem and confidence.  During the same time, I joined the wrestling team for the same reason, plus the high school girls seemed to really be into wrestlers at that time!  I continued to practice Taekwon-Do and wrestle for Linton high School at the same time.  I eventually joined Northeast Taekwon-Do, the local martial arts school.  Over the years, staying active in both sports gave me the confidence I needed to stand up for myself.

I continued being active in sports through my college years when I was asked to be a member of the Schenectady County Community College track team.  I resisted quite a bit because even at an early age I have never been a fan of running, but due to peer pressure from friends already on the team I succumbed and became a member to the team.  What I didn’t know was that the team was so small that I would be participating in 4 events in every track meet.  I did the 100-yard dash, the 400-yard dash, the 400-yard relay and the long jump.  I was not a happy camper!  After a few events I said I wanted to quit, but I was told if I quit there would not be enough members to keep it a legitimate team so I stayed, reluctantly!

When I transferred to SUNY (State University New York) New Paltz to continue my 4-year Bachelor’s degree, I became involved in gymnastics and joined the team.  I always was very impressed by the combination of grace and strength that gymnasts have and this gave me the opportunity to give gymnastics a try.  I only did the floor exercise, but got proficient enough to be able to do round off back handsprings, summersaults, L sits and other movements.  I had a lot of fun doing this while at SUNY New Paltz.

While wrestling and gymnastics eventually fell off my radar, I religiously continued to practice Taekwon-Do and obtained the level of black belt.  I was so passionate of the sport at the time that all I wanted to do was to own my own martial arts school, but I developed osteo arthritis in my left hip a few years later and had to have 2 total hip replacement surgeries. One in 1997 and the second in 2000.  This pretty much ended my martial arts career.

Craig: What led you to move to California?

John: The way I got to California to be living the dream from upstate New York is totally due to my parents.  They decided they had enough of the cold and brutal winters of New York and decided to retire to a warmer, more moderate climate.  This was back in 1983-1984.  They decided on Escondido, California.  Me, my brother and one of our best friends Greg Bowler decided to visit my parents about a year later.  We were there for about a week or 10 days and my parents took us all over SoCal.  I absolutely fell in love and knew before I left to go back to Schenectady that this is where I was meant to be.  I told my parents before I left that I would be back and follow them to out here to California.  Since I had no significant other, no mortgage and didn’t really care for my job as a manager of a toy/garden store called Toys R Joy (which is no longer in existence) I had nothing holding me back from packing up and joining my parents.  I quit my job and joined my parents in Escondido in November 1986.  I moved to Mira Mesa in 1990 and have been there ever since.  The rest as they say is history.

Craig: What inspired you to start doing triathlons?

John: The way my triathlon career got started was back in 2004 when I was employed at Wawanesa Insurance and a received a call from a friend of mine Rob Hudiburg asking me if I wanted to join him in doing a triathlon.  I thought he was nuts because the only thing I knew about triathlons was Kona and I told him “are you crazy?  There’s no way we can do something like that”.  At the time I was just cycling 10-15 miles with a good friend, Michael Jackson, once a week, going to the gym and jumping rope. I also participated in the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) 56-mile bicycle ride a few times, but that was it. Rob went on to explain that we’d only be doing a sprint distance.  I then calmed down and said I would do it with him.

The branch manager and TCSD member, David Fitzgibbons, heard about this and invited me to swim with him and a couple of others one Friday evening after work at La Jolla Cove.  David and the other were all Ironman finishers.  When we all began to swim, they took off and left me behind as they were good swimmers.  Well, my ego said “no way” so I went all out.  About a football field away from shore I was done and thought I was going to lose my lunch!  I yelled to David several times and he came back for me.  I told David I can’t do this and he swam me back to shore.  I was so embarrassed, humiliated and mortified.  I swore that would not happen the following week.  The following Friday I just swam at my own pace, still not knowing how to breathe, but made it to the quarter mile buoy and back under my own power.

Although I love open water swimming it is definitely not my strongest discipline.  Probably because I never had any real swimming lessons or supervision starting out.  I just went to the Cove and swam.  I just figured the best training was swimming in the ocean. WRONG!!!  Although I am a better swimmer now because I’ve participated in master’s swims, I still can’t go in the ocean without a wetsuit as I have no buoyancy and I get cold really easy.  Everyone tells me I’m too lean at 7% body fat and they say I can take some of their fat!

Craig: How did your first triathlon go?

John: The first sprint triathlon I did was the Solana Beach Triathlon.  I was so nervous and downright scared.  I kept seeing all these fancy bikes and kits so I was feeling pretty intimidated.  This was my very first beach start.  I had been swimming at the Cove for several weeks but never faced any real waves.  I had no idea you were supposed to swim under the waves instead of going over them.  If my Ironman friends told me this, I don’t remember.  I was getting thrashed.  On the way back into shore, I don’t recall being told to look behind you for waves.  I got sucked under a wave and it seemed like forever I was under water and started to panic because I really needed to take a breath.  When the wave finally let me come up for air I was totally disorientated and it took me several seconds to even site the shore.  Once I got to shore and the transition area, I couldn’t locate my bike, even though there were few bikes left as most everybody already finished the swim.  I was literally running up and down the transition area looking for my bike when a volunteer pointed and yelled “is that your bike?”  I said “yes” thanked him and got on my bike.

As I was riding on PCH there was a teenager yelling the words “see me twice”.  I said to myself “see you twice?  Dude, you don’t look that good”. I had no clue that he meant to do 2 loops of PCH.  The run was uneventful.  Later that night Rob called and said we were both disqualified because we didn’t do 2 loops of the bike course.  I was disappointed, but was so excited from the experience.  The challenge of doing 3 sports one right after the other just seemed so awesome.  Plus, I wanted to redeem and prove to myself that I could do better the next triathlon.  From that moment I was hooked and knew that this was the sport I wanted to do.

Craig: Ironman New York City was only offered once, but you did it.  What was that experience like?

John: My full first Ironman was Ironman New York City 2012.  This was important for me for a few reasons.  I was still employed at Wawanesa Insurance at the time and many of my friends there know I was training for this.  Also, it was the first full Ironman in New York City, the state where I’m from and it was a goal to finish a full Ironman before age 50 and I would be 51 on August 19th, the Ironman was August 12th.  It was hot, muggy, humid weather.  Just the type of weather for my body type.  I perform better in much warmer weather conditions.  I was prepared for the swim as I did a lot of 2-mile swims at La Jolla Cove and did many masters swim workouts.  For me the swim went well.  The bicycle ride was more challenging than I thought it would be.  As soon as we got on the bike, we had to climb a 15% grade for a quarter mile.  the rest of the bike ride was on Palisades Pkwy which is kind of like Rancho Santa Fe on steroids.  Long rolling hills.  No flats areas, either up or down.

The run was brutal, but not because the course was that challenging.  First, several hundred run special needs bags were missing from the course including mine so I had to do the rest of the run without my gels and energy bars I had been training with for months.  The main reason the run was so brutal was because I heard another athlete say that Mike Reilly would only be allowed to make his famous “you are an Ironman” announcement up to 10:00pm because the Ironman ended in a suburban neighborhood.  We had to cross the George Washington bridge back into New York from Palisades Park in New Jersey. We had to climb up the metal stairs all the way to the top, run across the bridge and climb down the other side after about 20 miles of running.  I remember looking up and seeing the bridge and saying to myself “no f***king way”!

My brother had flown in from Denver, Colorado to support me and 2 of my best friends were driving down from Schenectady the next day after the triathlon.  There was no way I was going to tell them that I did not hear Mike Reilly announce my name because I wasn’t fast enough.  I didn’t have any kind of watch so I wasn’t sure how much time I had to get to the finish line so I started to run as much as my body would let me.  I started to run more than I walked.  I was like a little kid because I kept asking runners “are we there yet?”  It paid off in the end because I got to hear Mike Reilly say “John Mitchell, you are an Ironman”.

Craig: Over the years, what have been your favorite races?

John: As far as my favorite triathlons or races that’s easy.  Any triathlon or event I do is my favorite.  Each means as much to me as the other.  I say this because for me, it’s all about seeing my friends, the positiveness, the happiness, joy.  It’s so cool to see a friend you haven’t seen in a while and being able to catch up with them.  It’s almost like a reunion.  It’s about being with hundreds or thousands of likeminded people all committed toward the same goal, to do the best they can. It’s about being able to take selfies, all of us supporting each other, telling each other “you got this”.  I’ve participated in events that I really wasn’t that interested in doing simply because for me, it’s not so much about the event as who I get to do the event with.  Just being able to experience any event with the people I love makes it all worth while

If we talk about race logistics, my favorite races would be the San Diego International Triathlon and San Diego Tri Classic.  I love the downtown, Liberty Station and Point Loma areas to swim, bike and run in.  My father’s remains are at the cemetery off Catalina Blvd.  Each time I ride San Diego Tri Classic, I go off the bike course to visit him for a few seconds and safely enter back on.  This always gives me a surge of energy for the 2nd loop.

There are 2 other events very near and dear to my heart.  One is the CAF Best Day in Tri.  CAF provides special prosthesis for men, women and children that have lost a limb or limbs so they can participate in sports in whatever form.  I have been participating in the CAF tri now for about 12 years now.  I love Operation Rebound which is geared toward our brave men and women that have lost a limb/limbs and served in the military.  I love being out on the course with the challenged athletes, watching them give their all and being able to say “good job, keep it up”.  It truly is the Best Day in Tri.

The other event very near and dear to my heart is the 5K Race for Autism.  Both of my children are afflicted with autism and we all participate in the race every year. I have been running in this race every year for the past 15 years and have not missed a single race.  When my kids were old enough, I started having them participate with me.  My daughter Rene actually trains at the gym for this race and runs in the 5K.  My son has no interest in running so I run the 5K with him while he is on his rollerblades.  We are a staple/icon of the race.  As far as I know, this is the only race that raises money and awareness of autism in San Diego. My dream goal is to have a TCSD team participate and show support for this event one year.

Craig: How did the guy who is not that fond of running find himself starting a running club?

John: While employed at Wawanesa Insurance I started a running club.  I know this is kind of strange given the fact that I really don’t care for running at all.  It happened because I was running 3-4 miles during lunchtime on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I did this because I knew if I waited until after work to run, I would talk myself out of it by then!  One day I heard another employee, Damion Cormier talking to another employee, Curtis Kelly about running outside my office.  I walked over and asked if they would run with me and they said yes.  At least this way I wouldn’t have to run by myself.  After a few weeks, employees started to come to my office asking questions about our runs and if they could join us.  Of course, I said yes, “the more the merrier”.  As time went on more and more employees joined us at lunchtime, sometimes as many as 15-20.

A couple of months later many of us were involved in a group chat regarding the lunchtime run instead of working, and we decided to form our own club and give it a name.  We decided on “The Crew, Run with us or behind us”.  Curtis Kelly had the machinery to print the shirts.  All we had to do is agree on the type of shirt and buy them.  After that, we started participating in races as a group, Carlsbad Half Marathon, La Jolla Half Marathon, AFC Half Marathon, Silver Strand Half Marathon, Tough Mudders.

Also during this time, I sent a proposal to the Wawanesa Marketing department requesting they become an annual sponsor of the 5K Race for Autism.  Not only did they agree, I also got them to sponsor the first 50 employees that registered for the race and pay for special Wawanesa team T-shirts separate from the Race for Autism T-shirts.  they consistently did this for over 10 years.  During this time, I still continued to swim and bicycle and participate in triathlons.

Craig: You are the Beginner Bike Coach for TCSD.  What can people expect who show up for those workouts?

John: Earlier this year the Tri Club was looking for volunteers to help out and start beginner classes for those interested in triathlons.  I wanted to give back to the sport that has given me so much so I attended the volunteer meeting and agreed to volunteer at the 6:00pm beginner bicycling workouts Wednesday nights at Fiesta Island along with Chip Slack, April Guerieri and Liz (don’t know her last name) since cycling is my strongest discipline.  We rate beginning cyclists into 1 of 2 groups, C or D.  The C group is for someone that has some knowledge of riding, has ridden in some group rides for 20-30 miles or so.  The D group is for someone that virtually has no riding experience whatsoever.  Based on the level of experience of the beginner cyclist that shows up and it changes nightly, we have to quickly access their skills and adjust the workout accordingly.

Since I was a cyclist before I stated doing triathlons, my strength is bicycling.  That being said, I concentrate on the basics of bike handling skills.  I explain that there’s much more to cycling than just getting on a bike and riding.  I focus on simple bike maintenance like checking your tire psi (pounds per square inch), your brakes, make sure your seat and handlebars are tight and don’t move. Know and understand basic hand signals and common bicycling terminology. The proper way to clip into your pedals and move forward from a stopped position.  How to use your gears, become comfortable with cyclists being within their proximity, reaching for their water bottle without taking their eyes off the road.  How to safely make left turns at intersections with a group of cyclists with traffic and become accustomed to and avoiding pavement with potholes and defects.  Basically, it’s our job to help prepare D cyclists to prepare for their first triathlon, usually a sprint and the C cyclist to their next level of triathlon whether it be an international triathlon or longer distance.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of your TCSD membership?

John: My favorite benefit about being a member of TCSD is the monthly meetings at Function Smart.  So many show up and I get to see so many happy, smiling faces of so many friends.  Plus, they feed us pretty good too!  The added benefit as a TCSD member is that Bob Babbitt interviews famous athletes from around the world and we get to do a Q&A with them after the interview is over.  If they have a book, they will have a book signing and a photo op.  One of the last interviews Bob did was with Mike Reilly.  I got a chance to speak with him briefly about Ironman NYC and recalled the 10:00pm cut off time.  That was great!  And I got a selfie with him!

Craig: What does your family think of you being a triathlete?

John: Many of my friends not involved in triathlons seem to be pretty impressed with me.  They seem to think that I train a lot and still have time to work and spend quality time with my family.  I tell them that I am nothing special because there are many, many more dedicated and superior triathletes than me out there and not to use me as a standard for that reason.  But it is humbling that there are some that see me that way.

My kids just see me as their dad that just does triathlons.  Before I leave the house on Saturdays and say “dad’s going on a 80 mile bike ride with friends, I’ll be back later”, their response is just a casual “ok dad, have fun, be safe”.  When my daughter Rene introduces me to one of her friends, lots of times she says “this is my dad, he does triathlons all the time!”  It’s kind of like being the son or daughter of a celebrity.  They don’t see their dad as a celebrity.  To them, it’s just their dad.

My mom on the other hand thinks that we are all NUTS!!!  I’m not joking, she thinks we are all crazy and doesn’t understand why we do this to our bodies.  Last year I took my mom and the kids with me to Big Bear for the weekend for the Tour de Big Bear.  As we were walking I saw some of my friends from San Diego who were also there for the event and introduced them to my family.  I asked my mom to tell them what she thinks of the sport we do, she told them, “we’re all nuts, we’re all crazy”.  She said it while smiling and in a funny way, but she means it.  She thinks we’re all crazy nuts for doing this sport.  sometimes I wonder if she’s kind of right!

Craig: What have you learned from your kids?

John: Both of my children are afflicted with autism.  My daughter Rene has high functioning autism or Asperger’s and my son John is moderately Autistic.  In a nutshell, an individual with autism does not have the same filters in regard to their senses as we do. Also, Autism is known as the “the segregated affliction” or “social disorder” because those with autism do not develop emotionally or intellectually at the same rate as individuals that do not have autism.  This being the case, many times children with autism are segregated and ostracized from their peers as they grow up.  They are even more prone to being made fun of, teased and bullied as my children have been over the years.  I cannot tell you how many times I have had to leave work and come to their school or have them come home in tears because their peers made fun of and teased them.  In fact, there have been a few times in the past where me and my children have been politely asked to leave social settings because they did not act as typical children.  I did not get upset or make a fuss.  In those cases, I was happy to leave.  I just never associated with “those” individuals again.  If you cannot accept my children for who they are, then you do not accept me.

In spite of all the adversities they have faced time and time again, each morning they wake up with a smile on their face ready to face a new day just as if yesterday never happened.  No matter how many times they have been teased, made fun of or bullied they never give up.  Whenever I train or am in a race and feel like I just want to quit and keep going, I remember my children.  If they can keep going and never give up after everything they have faced throughout their lives, I should be able to keep going too.  This is what my children continue to teach me each and every day.  Each day is a new day and to never give up!  Because of their perseverance, my daughter Rene is taking classes at Miramar college and employed part time at Barons Market.  The manager always tells me how much he loves her being there and she is one of her best employees.  My son John takes piano lessons and has played in several recitals.  He also works part time at Soapy Joes car wash.  I couldn’t be prouder of my children!

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

John: I know this might be a cliché, but my father, God rest his soul, would be the most influential person in my life.  I choose my father because he has molded a lifelong attitude that helps to make my life drama free.  Growing up with my father, he was never an emotional, touchy feely type of man.  He was not a hugger and I cannot really recall when he said “I love You”.  It was just not his way.  Growing up, I thought there was something a little off with our relationship because I would see other fathers being so affectionate with their children.  As I grew up and matured, I learned that my father showed his love for us not by his words or emotion, but by his actions, by his deeds.  He dropped off and picked up me and my siblings at every sporting and social event.  He worked 2 jobs and 12 hours days to provide for us, put food on the table, buy us clothes and take us to theme parks during summer break from school while growing up in upstate New York.

My father was not much for small talk.  He meant what he said and said what he meant.  I would even say he did not have much use for most people.  One of the few times I was having a heart to heart with my father was when I was telling him how upset I was when I found out a person was talking behind my back.  I was in my mid 30’s at this time.  He looked at me with a puzzled look and I said “What?” My father said “do you respect this person that’s talking about you?”  I said “No, he’s not a real friend, I don’t know him that well”.  He said “If you don’t respect him then why do you care? What are you getting upset about?”.  He then went back to watching TV and said nothing else.  This is the lifelong lesson my father taught me.  Now I consider it a blessing or silver lining if a person speaks less of me behind my back because you will learn who your real friends are as they will be the ones that will support and come to your defense.  Rather than confront a person that speak ill of me, I tend to just keep my distance from people like this and keep my true friends even closer to me.

Craig: What are your future goals in triathlon?

John: My future goals have actually been molded, in part, by my mother.  I promised her that no matter what happens after IMAZ 2018 I would never participate in another full Ironman again.  I just wanted to be able to say that I am 2-time Ironman finisher.  Long story short, I was not able to complete the marathon run.  Because of this I am limited to participating in half Ironman distances.

I was pretty disappointed after my lack of performance at IMAZ 2018.  I did no training until January 2019.  I needed time to look back and reassess myself.  From 2016 to 2018 I participated and finished over 40 events.  Yet in each event, I only finished.  I felt kind of stale.  I was not excelling in any of them.  It occurred it me that I was racing way more than I was training. So, I decided to give my body and mind a break and did not do any training until 2019.  When I did, I only did the discipline I love that keeps me sane, cycling.  I decided I needed to start all over from scratch, establish a solid base and build from there.  I did not start to swim or run until April this year.  It’s a humbling experience to basically start all over again, but I always remember what my children have taught me.

Also, I wanted to give back to the sport that has given me so much, so my goal is to volunteer more which is why I am one of the volunteers at the TCSD Beginner Bicycle workout on Wednesday nights.  I also want to volunteer at other races, especially the ones that benefit not-for-profit organizations.  This is just my way of trying to pay it forward.

Craig: John, thank you for all you do for our club.  Martial arts’ loss is triathlon’s gain.  I’m going to give you plenty of personal space just in case you have 1 more flying side kick left in you.  You are an awesome father, loyal son and so much more.  I wish you the very best!

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


Posted in 2019, Half Marathon, Marathon, Running Race, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships – Cleveland, OH

Craig visiting Mike Land at his home in Bath, OH.

Craig in front of the “Long Live Rock” sign at the Hall of Fame.

On August 10th I raced USA Triathlon National Championships in Cleveland, OH.  Nationals is always my favorite race of the year.  It is the best organized, most well run and very competitive.  USAT does an outstanding job with this race every year.  In 2018 I placed 11th in the men’s 55-59 age group.  I am 1 year older in that same age group this year so the goal was to only lose a couple of places.  The primary goal was to earn 1 of the 18 slots for the 2020 World Championships in Edmonton, Canada.

The day before the race I met up with Mike Land who now lives in Bath, OH.  Mike and I have been friends from the Glen Ellyn, IL days for 45+ years so it was great to see him.  I also enjoyed a pre-race dinner at Olive Garden with 3 members of Team Wade – Wade Grow, Steve Wade and his wife Becky Wade.  We’ve all been friends for about 20 years.  It is always special seeing old friends!

We had perfect weather on race day – sunny and highs in the mid 70’s.  There had been an E. coli issue in Lake Erie a few days prior to the race.  I actually figured they would cancel the swim, but they tested the water and it met all the criteria so the swim was on.  But due to strong currents, they cut the swim in half from 1500 meters to 750 meters.  I think I would have benefited slightly from a longer swim, but I was not going to stress over it.  If the swim had been cancelled and replaced with an extra run, I would have benefited a lot, but I was here to swim, bike and run.

With the shortened swim course, my main concern was the short distance of 150 meters to the first turn buoy.  I feared a big traffic jam and a lot of kicking and screaming at that buoy, but it was pretty civilized.  I did swallow some water, but it’s 2 weeks since the race and I never got sick so I am very thankful.  I had a good swim.  My split was 12:50 which put me in 17th place.

The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course was the same as 2018.  The road surface was great with plenty of flat sections with a few sections of easy rollers.  My 2018 split was 1:08:42 and my 2019 split was 1:07:07.  This improvement was a pleasant surprise.  I had the 49th best bike split and I dropped down to 39th place.  I was right where I wanted to be.

They did change the 10K (6.2 mile) run course from 2018 and I would say they made it slightly easier as it was not quite as hilly.  I started the run with Michael Smith.  He is a great runner so I was hoping to run with him as long as possible.  By the time we reached the 2 mile mark Michael put a gap on me.  As much as I wanted to close that gap, I figured my best strategy was to run my own race.  By 3 miles I had completely lost touch with Michael.  At mile 4.5 I caught my friend, Jeremy Oury.  He’s a great guy and I told him I thought we were both doing well.  I wanted us both to succeed.  In 2018 I nearly crashed out on the run with the “flyover bridge” which was ¼ mile from the finish line.  This flyover bridge was a temporary bridge that was installed for the race so the swimmers could run under it on their way to transition while the runners ran over the bridge on their way to the finish line.  The bridge had a steep up section and an equally steep down section.  In 2018 I went way too fast on the way down and almost crashed.  I was much more careful this year.  I had the 3rd best run split of 39:00 (in 2018 my run split was 38:01).  Michael had the best run split of 38:25.  Michael finished 12th, I finished 14th and Jeremy finished 17th out of 122 men age 55-59.  My finish time was 2:03:53.  I placed 343 out of 1,525 male finishers and 368 out of 2,676 overall finishers.  I was very happy with this result and am already looking forward to Edmonton 2020.

Lee Walther won our age group by nearly 4.5 minutes over 2nd place.  An amazing performance!  Lee also won our age group in the Sprint race the next day!  Other friend’s in men’s 55-59 who finished were Clint Dowd (5th), Kyle Welch (7th), Kip Kimble (16th), Don Alden (20th), Mike Plumb (41st), Wade Grow (42nd), Steve Wade (12th place men’s 60-64) and Adrienne Leblanc (1st place women’s 50-54).

To see my race pictures, click on this link

The day after the race I did a nice, easy 8 mile run from my hotel to the race venue.  For 7 of those miles I could hear Tim Yount from USA Triathlon on the loud speaker announcing the Sprint race which was going on.  I know I enjoyed hearing Tim’s voice, but I’m not so sure about the folks that live in the neighborhoods I was running through at 7am.  Next I toured the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.  I spent 5 hours at the HOF and was thoroughly impressed.  If I ever visit Cleveland again, I will absolutely go back to the HOF.  It was that good!

Living the life…

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Legacy Triathlon

Wade Grow and Craig before the race.

Jeremy Oury, Craig and Wade Grow after the race.

Craig with Mike Long on the podium.

On July 20th I raced the inaugural Legacy Triathlon in Long Beach, CA.  This venue is the proposed course for the 2028 Olympic Games so this race will only grow bigger over the coming years.  USA Triathlon produced the race and they poured a lot of resources into it.  The athletes were well taken care of and my experience was so good that I have already registered for 2020.

Triathlons often represent a reunion of old friends.  The night before the race I had dinner with my friend of 20 years – Wade Grow and his wife Mary and son Darwin.  The Grows drove in from Arizona to escape the heat.  Wade and I met at Nationals in 1999 at St. Joseph, Missouri.  They treated me to a wonderful dinner.

My accomodations were perfect.  I stayed in a seedy hotel 1 mile from the start so I was able to ride my bike to the venue on race morning.  It was awesome riding my bike past the stressed out athletes in cars looking for a parking spot.

The 750 meter (0.46 mile) swim was in a relatively protected cove so the ocean water was calm.  The course was pretty basic – an in-water start with 2 turns.  I had a good swim as I was 4th out of the water in 12:00 (1:37/100 meters).

The bike course was 2 laps covering 18.5K (11.5 miles) over a mostly flat route.  The only hills were some bridges and entrance ramps.  I was pleased with my effort on the bike as my split was 32:20 (21.5 mph).  That was 7th fastest and it dropped me down to 8th place.

The 5K (3.1 miles) run course was an out and back on the concrete ocean boardwalk.  I had the fastest run on the day – 19:13 (6:12/mile).  I caught Wade pretty early on the run.  He had a good race and finished 8th.  I knew the 2 fastest guys ahead were Jeremy Oury and Mike Long.  I have raced Jeremy many times over the years and, in fact, I go to church with his brother Dan.  But I had never raced Mike so I did not even know what he looked like.  At the run turnaround I was able to see that Jeremy was about 30 seconds ahead of me.  Somehow I managed to catch Jeremy with less than a half mile to go, but I could not catch Mike.  Mike was 1st, I was 18 seconds behind in 2nd and Jeremy was 17 seconds behind me in 3rd.  My finish time was 1:08:35 – 2nd/36 men age 55-59 and 15th/648 overall finishers.

Triathlons also represent an opportunity to make new friends.  I had a good time hanging out with Mike at the Awards Ceremony and I look forward to racing him in the future.

Click on this link to see my race photos.

Living the life…

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Glen Ellyn Freedom Four Mile Run

1st place men’s 50-59 age group.

Mom and Smokey.

On July 4th I went back to my hometown in Illinois to race the Glen Ellyn Freedom Four Mile Run.  This was the 17th time I have done the race.  I had fun as always on the hilly course.  They changed the course this year so it ended up closer to 3.75 miles.  I ran 23:32, placed 1st out of 71 men age 50-59 and 27th out of 912 overall finishers.

This trip really was not about running the race.  This trip was all about giving my 98 year old Mom some news that I was very anxious about.  In mid-June, after much prayer, my sisters and I decided that we needed to move Mom to a higher level of care at Beacon Hill and we were going to break that news to Mom on 7/4.  For the past 10 years Mom has been able to live independently at Beacon Hill.  But especially in the past year it has become apparent that she needs more care.  Mom chose Beacon Hill 10+ years ago because it offered such levels of care.  We were just hoping that she’d remember that and make it easy on us.  Mom took the news exceptionally well.  In retrospect, I think giving her the news was harder on us than it was on Mom.  I’m very thankful for that.

On 7/16 Mom moved into the Health Center at Beacon Hill.  The move went very well.  For the next 6-12 months Mom will probably have a roommate in the Health Center while she waits for a private room to become available.  She seems happy with her 1st roommate so we are very thankful.  She is getting more exercise and social interaction so that is also very good news.

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: June 2019 – Maggie Riley-Hagan

Maggie on a bike ride in Maui.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently had the good fortune of sitting down and talking triathlon with TCSD member Maggie Riley-Hagan.  Maggie is a real pioneer for the women athletes of today.  Maggie did the TCSD and USA proud by recently winning a Bronze medal at the ITU Aquabike World Championships in Spain.  I know you will enjoy getting to know Maggie.

Craig: What sports did you do through your college years?

Maggie: I grew up in Dallas, Texas in the 1950’s, when it was a relatively small city, with large, rural land areas close by.  My first love in the outdoors world was horses, as my grandfather’s hobby was raising quarter horses and appaloosas on a farm he rented.  I spent as much time as I could on the farm, riding bareback through ponds and fields by myself at age 8.  I was encouraged to enter some rodeos, where I participated in western horsemanship, as well as barrel racing (a timed event doing a cloverleaf pattern around 3 barrels) and pole bending (a timed event weaving in and out of poles). I won my first trophy at age 8 for the “flag race” (sprinting on horseback to the other end of the arena and grabbing a flag sticking up in a barrel, and racing back). Even today when I ride a bike, it reminds me of the feel and joy of horseback riding.

I loved running and all sports, but there were few opportunities for young women back then. At school I would always race the boys, and never lost a foot race until I was 12, I guess when puberty set in :)!!  I would beg to play baseball with the boys at recess, and finally one day they let me play, and I hit a home run. After that I was included in the baseball games at the playground.

My grandfather had to give up the horse hobby due to poor health, when I was 12. My parents helped me look for another way to spend my time. That summer I tried swimming, track and tennis.  I was on a swim team for a couple of months in which I participated in my first competitive swimming events.  I found a local track team, and won the state 440 yard race, and the running long jump.  I would have loved continuing all of the activities, but my parents asked me to choose one sport. We settled on tennis, as that was the only sport for girls in junior high and high school, and I could ride my bike to the local park courts.  We got my first racket with “green stamps”, which you collected back then when you bought enough groceries.

I played tennis throughout high school, and won the Texas State Tennis High School Championship.  In the summers from age 13-18, I played the national junior tennis circuit, which allowed me to travel throughout the US for tournaments, often by myself or with other players from Texas. I was a nationally ranked junior tennis player. Fortunately, Dallas had a very supportive tennis program, which helped sponsor me, as my family would not have been able to pay for these tournaments and trips.  It was such a wonderful experience, not only from the view of sports, but to be able to travel alone as a teenager, and gain confidence, and knowledge about other parts to the country.

My senior year in high school, there was finally a track team for girls.  The tryouts consisted of “who wants to run a race on the track team?”  I volunteered to run the 880, running in my tennis shoes, and tennis clothes, and won the district and regional meets.  After I qualified for the state meet, one of the coaches, offered me a pair of spike track shoes for the state meet.  With my new track shoes, but still running in my tennis clothes, I placed 5th in the state meet.

Craig: You played tennis in college at SMU in the early 1970’s.  How did your experience on the women’s team compare to the men’s team and how were you treated as a female athlete?

Maggie: After graduating from high school in Dallas in 1970, I attended Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.  My mother was employed at SMU, which allowed me to attend tuition free.  Fortunately, there was a women’s tennis team, but the experience was quite different than that of the men’s team. We had separate tennis facilities. We had concrete courts with metal fences that we shared with the students and recreational players.  The men had a state of the art facility with beautifully maintained courts and a stadium. One day in the middle of the hot Texas summer, all of the recreational courts were taken. It was probably 97 degrees and no one was on the men’s court.  I went there to practice my serve, and was told by the men’s coach that I should “go home and do my ironing”.  I did not respond, and just kept serving, and he quietly departed. Though no more words were spoken, I felt that I gained his respect.

At that time, there were no scholarships for women in sports.  We bought all our own equipment, rackets, balls, paid our own entry fees to tournaments, and drove ourselves to various tournaments, accompanied by our coach.  Our team finished as high as 5th in the nation one year at the NAIA Championships. My senior year, 1973-4, Title IX came in, which mandated scholarships, and equal facilities and equipment for women.  It was a big change for us, being able to travel to bigger tournaments, and practice at the better facility.

As I have gotten older, I see the pluses and minuses of our situation. While we did not receive scholarships nor equipment, we were able to focus on our studies as a first priority. As a science major, I was able to take courses with afternoon labs, miss a tennis practice here and there, and still be able to play #1 on our tennis team. We played because we loved the game.  It seems a lot of pressure now for those on scholarships to be able to be a good scholar as well. I think that a good balance is the answer.

Craig: You played professional tennis in Europe after college.  What was your lifestyle like in those years?

Maggie: My sophomore year in college, I attended a semester abroad in Spain. It was a fabulous experience, and while I was there, I sought every opportunity to play tennis as well.  I made many tennis friends, some of whom I still stay in touch with today. I also learned about the “Spanish Summer Tennis Circuit”, which is a series of tournaments that take place throughout Spain. So after I graduated college in May of 1974 (double major in Spanish and Biology, Phi Beta Kappa), I decided to pursue my dream of playing tennis full time by moving to Spain shortly thereafter.  It was a fabulous time of my life, as the tournaments usually took place at beautiful resort towns in Spain located on amazing beaches. After that summer, I decided to stay in Spain and teach at a tennis club. I played tournaments on the weekend to make some extra money.  I lived over a bar, close to the tennis club, and push started my old truck every day by running around the town square.

With the encouragement of my friends, I decided to expand my tournament experience into France. I landed a teaching job at a club outside of Marseilles, France, and despite not knowing any French, decided to move to Marseilles. I obtained a French textbook, and had informal lessons at noon every day with a 90 year old women, who still played at the club every day.  I lived in a farm house on the property, taught tennis, and played on the club team, while also playing weekend tournaments. My workouts often involved running along the “calanques”, the limestone cliffs found along the Mediterranean coast. Our team won the Team Championship of France, and we all received a medal from the City of Marseilles for our accomplishment, something I cherish to this day.

At that time, the professional women’s circuit in the US was just getting started, so playing in Europe was a great option.  While there was not much prize money, we were given travel expenses, housing, food, and extra money if we won. In addition to Spain and France, I played in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, The Netherlands, and England, as well as a 6 week circuit in Brazil.

Men and women played the same tournaments and we stayed in homes or lovely hotels. Besides the great tennis competition, there were many social events, great food, and we had a lot of fun, just visiting and getting to know people from all over the world. In addition, we were able to experience the rich history and art of the various places where we played. My goal was really just to have enough money to get to the next tournament.

Craig: How highly ranked were you and what were some of the big tournaments you played in?

Maggie: About 1978 I was invited to play on a club team (after winning their tournament) in Montrouge, France, just outside of Paris, which I accepted. There, I lived at an apartment on the premises, taught tennis, played on the club team, and traveled Europe to various tournaments. I also was able to attend school in Paris, and received a “Certificat en Francais” (a French language competency certificate) from the Institut Catholique in Paris. As part of our training, the tennis team ran in the “Cross de Figaro”,a cross country race for amateurs held in Paris every year. Again, my tennis shoes and clothes served me well, as I won the women’s race. As a tennis player, I was ranked #5 in France, which afforded me a lot of perks and opportunities to play in bigger tournaments in Europe as well as in Wimbledon, the French Open, and the US Open.  I believe that my best world ranking was around #95.

Craig: What are your favorite memories from those years?

Maggie: It is hard to say what would be my favorite memories from those years–so many!! Mostly, an overall gratitude for the experience of being able to pursue my passion of playing tennis and traveling–meeting so many interesting and wonderful people.  Also receiving such hospitality where ever I went.  I remember playing in Turkey, where representatives from the US Embassy came to watch us play.  There were players from USSR. I was shocked when they told me that this tournament was their first time to be allowed to play outside of their country.  It was also Ramadan during that tournament, and I was amazed at the dedication of some of the players to be able to play all day in the hot sun, and not eat or drink. Again the hospitality and warmth shown to us by the Turkish people were very touching.

I will never forget my travel experience after playing in the finals of the Team Championship in Bayonne, France, which is on the far Western coast of France. As soon as we finished playing our last match, I had quickly boarded a train to Paris, in order to catch an airplane to London, to play in my first Wimbledon the next day.  About halfway to Paris I remembered that I had left my passport with the team captain. I got off of the train in a remote town at the next stop, called the captain from a pay phone at the hotel in Bayonne (remember no cell phones back then), who then instructed me to wait at the small train station where I was located. She then went to the train station in Bayonne, handed my passport to a train conductor headed my way, who somehow found me waiting in the middle of the night at the small train station, and gave me my passport. I did make it to London on time to play, but probably not my best match. Again, the kindness of friends and strangers helped make my dreams come true, as playing in Wimbledon is the ultimate dream of any tennis player.

Craig: How did you meet your husband?

Maggie: After several years of living in France and traveling in Europe, I was also now frequently flying to the US as the US pro circuit ramped up. I began having a lot of back injuries. Although, I still enjoyed my life as a tennis player and coach, I knew that it was time to look ahead to another career.  I moved back to the US in 1979 to pursue a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science at the University of North Texas (UNT), in Denton, just outside of Dallas. I was able to work as a tennis pro at the local tennis club to pay my tuition and living expenses.  While working on my Master’s degree I met the love of my life, Raymond Donald Hagan (Don), who had a doctorate in Exercise Science. I had come to the Aerobics Center in Dallas (founded by Kenneth Cooper, the “father” of aerobics) to turn in a research paper. The prior evening, we were doing an experiment in Environmental Physiology, in which I, as the subject, would take my temperature and other vital signs before and after sitting in a hot tub.  The only problem was that everyone left and they forgot I was sitting in there. After about an hour I decided to get out, quite warm and dizzy,which led to me turning in my paper the next day.  When I was asking directions to my professor’s office the following day, Dr. Hagan ask me about my experiment. When I explained what had happened, he said, “What were you trying to do, beat the test?”  I thought WOW this guy already knows who I am!!!  We were married in 1981, and enjoyed an active life style together. Due to my back issues, we started doing master’s swimming together, and would run in local 5k and 10K races for fun.

Craig: How did you get your first bike and what did you learn through that experience?

Maggie: During this time, I also became interested in triathlons, but I had no bike to ride. There was a local bike race, with a bicycle as a prize for the first place man and woman. So I hopped on my husband’s then 15 year old Schwinn, two sizes too big, and of course in my tennis clothes and tennis shoes. I had no experience in bike racing, but was doing pretty well, fairly close to the front, when it began raining, and I slipped and fell. Just then some women in a pack of riders, dressed in spandex passed me; laughing at my old Schwinn, tennis clothes, tennis shoes, and lack of proper bike clothes and equipment.  I thought–that is NOT GOOD sportsmanship. My Dad had taught me to be a gracious winner and gracious loser. I got right back up, and off I went with determination. I passed them at the very end, motivated mostly to make a point that their behavior was unacceptable. I won the race and the bike, a steel Bianchi, which I rode for years, until I got my current bike in 2005. I can still see the shocked expression on their faces!!

Craig: What are your earliest memories of triathlon?

Maggie: I believe my first triathlon was at Texas A&M during the mid-1980’s, in which the course was swim (in a pool), run and then bike at the end. I also remember being at Lance Armstrong’s first triathlon in Texas, when he was a young teenager. At the end of my race, my husband was so excited that some young kid had crushed the field. It was good to be part of the beginning of triathlon.

Craig: How did you end up in medicine?

Maggie: While finishing up my Master’s in Exercise Science, my husband encouraged me to pursue a career in medicine.  I was accepted to medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School (UTSW) in Dallas, where I began my studies in 1984. I finished my Pediatric residency in 1991, also at UTSW in Dallas. During medical school and residency, we had 2 children. While I stayed active during this time, usually running at lunch, or swimming when I could, competition was sporadic, as my priority was my family and my studies. I am so grateful for having a husband who was so supportive and encouraging of everything that I wanted to do.

Shortly after finishing my residency in 1991, we moved to San Diego, where my husband had accepted a job in California with the Naval Health Research Center.  I started working as a pediatrician at a community clinic in Escondido and at Palomar Hospital. I also finished a residency in Sports Medicine through the family practice department at UCSD, and moonlighted at the Urgent Care for Rady Children’s Hospital. During this time we had 2 more children, so my workouts usually consisted of 30-45 minutes at lunch, just to stay in shape, and competition was not a priority. I occasionally did an event for fun.

Craig: You had a 3 year grant from the state of California focusing on childhood obesity.  What did you learn from that experience?

Maggie: In the early 2000’s I obtained a 3 year grant from the state of California focusing on childhood obesity. It was a great program, and we had psychologists, nutritionists, social workers, and nurses, as well has several pediatricians at the clinic participating. Our patient population consisted mostly of socially and economically disadvantaged families, who embraced the program with great enthusiasm. Information about a healthy lifestyle was provided to all overweight children and their families at our clinic, but only those really wanting to make changes and willing to invest the time were enrolled into the program. I was also able to get memberships at the local YMCA for our participants, and their families.

Our focus was on “healthy living”, and not weight loss per say. As young children will grow taller, and need time to develop life style changes, we do not promote large amounts of weight loss in a younger age group. For older adult-like teens, weight loss might be a focus.

Craig: What can we do as Americans to solve the childhood obesity problem?

Maggie: Many hours of education are needed to provide information about preparing healthy meals and to communicate the benefits of exercise. Many parents do not really know what constitutes a healthy meal and appropriate proportions.  We would have pot lucks in which the families would share healthy meals every week, based on their increasing knowledge of nutrition. The parents had to participate in the exercise program with their children.  We would have several sessions a week, some at the clinic and some at the YMCA.

Our program included pre- and post-testing of fats, lipids, and glucose, as well as markers for diabetes, and pre-diabetes. We did see encouraging improvement in the lab results as the children participated in the program. As the program grew, we also had volunteers, former participants and parents, who would help introduce newcomers to the program, encourage them and hold them accountable.

Our program was enormously successful, and I would say that most all of the children and families made great strides toward healthier living, and many lost weight.  Unfortunately after 3 years our grant money ended, and so did the program.

I am very concerned about the youth of today.  I believe more education and programs similar to the one that we had could be helpful.  Encouraging families to eat foods from the earth, instead of processed foods or fast food is a good beginning. It is really important that the whole family participate in all aspects of creating a healthier living environment for the children. Families cannot just point a finger at an overweight child, and say “don’t eat that”, and “go outside and play”. Walking even 15-30 minutes 3 times a week as a family can be a good start and very beneficial. My philosophy is that any healthy change that the family unit makes is great, no matter how small it seems. Also “decreasing inactivity” is essential, meaning limiting time on the phone, computer and video games.  Having children have a passion to pursue, whether it be sports, music, art, theatre, dance, animals, or the environment can help direct children toward a healthy lifestyle.

Craig: The mid-2000’s presented some major challenges for you.  What happened?

Maggie: In 2004, we moved back to Texas, the Houston area, when my husband took a job at NASA, heading up the Exercise Physiology program at NASA, and designing exercise programs and equipment for the International Space Station.  I took a year off from work to help get the children settled, and look for work.

As a way to meet people and work out, we joined the YMCA, where I met a fun group of people who encouraged me to get back into triathlons. I started participating again in triathlons that year, and was introduced to open water swimming in lakes (the triathlons I had done previously were in pools), which I really enjoyed. I took a job as a pediatric hospitalist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas in 2005.

My life was turned upside down on May 12, 2007, when my husband died suddenly of a heart attack, while driving our 10 year old son to his baseball game. My 92 year old mother had just moved in with us 2 weeks earlier. The day after he died was Mother’s Day, and my flowers that he had preordered arrived on Mother’s Day.  I keep that in my heart always to remind me what a thoughtful and loving husband he was, and how fortunate I was to have him in my life for 26 years. I was suddenly a widow, with one child in college, 3 minor children at home, as well as a 92 year old mother in my care.

I must say that without the help of my “nanny”, Consuelo, who has been with us for 30 years, I could not have cared for everyone.

I attended Don’s funeral on a Wednesday, and decided to do the triathlon that I had already signed up for the following Saturday. While I usually made the podium in local races, I just wanted to honor his memory, and finish, as I knew that he would have wanted me to.  It puts in perspective how meaningless those medals and trophies we receive can be. After no sleep for days, I did finish, no recollection of my time or finish. I just remember feeling stronger, and thinking “ok, that was something I did that sort of feels normal”, I can do this–I can raise 4 children, work, be a good mother, and take care of my own mother. As odd as it might sound, finishing the triathlon was the beginning of being able to rise up to the challenges that I faced.

We made a family decision in August of 2007, to move back to the San Diego area, where we would have more family support.  I began working part time, in order to have time with the children, for Kaiser Permanente and Rady Children’s Hospital of San Diego. I also decided to continue to pursue training for local sprint triathlons, as a way to stay fit, and stay mentally focused on caring for my family and working. I participated in events in and around San Diego, and at times in Northern California.  I got my first introduction to swimming in the ocean, as well as using clip in bike pedals. As my training knowledge increased I became competitive in local races, being lucky enough to score some podium spots in my age group.

Craig: In 2012 you broke your neck.  How did that happen and how has that changed your life?

Maggie: In  September 2012, while bike riding, I hit a big bump in the road, and suffered a fracture of 2 vertebra in my neck, requiring placement of a titanium plate and bone graft in my neck. I had to take 3 months off of work, and my only exercise during that time was walking and eventually stationary biking. I was not allowed to lift my arms above my head for one month, leading to some major upper body decrease in strength.

I slowly recovered, starting with a few swimming laps with a snorkel, and working my way back into shape. My first triathlon after that was in March of 2013 in San Diego.  I was so happy to compete, and just full of joy and exhilaration of being out there, that I had absolutely no expectations. To my surprise, I had a great race, and won my age group (60-64).

Craig: At about the same time you broke your neck, my wife Laurie crashed on her bike and suffered 4 pelvic fractures.  One of my all-time favorite stories was the one where you and Laurie showed up at 24 Hour Fitness to work out together – you with your neck brace and Laurie on crutches.  The reception person at that club must have thought you 2 women were nuts!

You started doing some of the more high profile triathlons in 2015.  You raced Sprint Nationals in Milwaukee that year.  What was that experience like for you?

Maggie: In 2015, I went to my first National Sprint Triathlon race, which took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I was quite intimidated by the competition, hoping just not to finish at the bottom of my age group. How could I, with no real competitive swimming background, a 10 year old $450 aluminum road bike, and running 10 miles a week to keep down the running injuries compete against these women? Many of the women had a long history of national and international competition as well as state of the art carbon fiber triathlon bikes. My philosophy however, is always just to do my own race, focusing on keeping a good pace in all of the disciplines.  By finishing 7th in my age group (60-64) I qualified to go to Mexico for the World Age Group Championships in 2016.  However, I fell off of my bike and broke my arm about 2 months before the race, so I was not able to participate that year.

As the children have grown into adulthood, I have been able to travel more, both for work and triathlons.  I have been fortunate enough to work the past 4 years for 3-5 months at a time in Maui, Hawaii.  In Maui, I really became comfortable with ocean swimming, after being embraced by a wonderful “pod” of experienced ocean swimmers.  Every Sunday was a magical experience, where we would swim about 2 miles, while enjoying the beautiful clear ocean scenery of Maui.

With encouragement from my friends, I decided to try to qualify again for the World Age Group Sprint Triathlon, which would take place in Australia in 2018.  Figuring out the qualifying process can be a bit daunting, as I had to go to Florida in November of 2017 to compete. It was about 95 degrees with 95% humidity. The swim (one of my stronger disciplines) was cancelled and the race became a duathlon with a run, bike, run. Although I had not trained for, nor competed in a duathlon in 15 years, I gave it my best shot, finished second, and qualified for Australia. I figured growing up in the Texas heat and humidity was my best advantage in that race!!

Going to Australia in 2018 was a fabulous experience.  One of my sons, Colin, now age 24, accompanied me.  I finished 5th in that race, again quite surprised, and also realized, that my strengths were the swim and bike.  Thus I decided to train for the Aquabike World Championships which were to be held in Spain in 2019. It was an opportunity to return to a country that I loved, with many great memories, and compete again.  Also being fluent in Spanish, I would be comfortable with the language.

Craig: Congratulations on placing 5th at the 2018 ITU Draft Legal Sprint Triathlon in Australia.  And even bigger congratulations on winning a Bronze Medal at the ITU Aquabike World Championships in Spain a few weeks ago.  What was the Spain experience like for you?

Maggie: The qualifying race was again in Florida, hot, humid and flat, a 1.2 mile (2000 meters) swim and a 56 mile (94 K) bike ride, a pretty big stretch for me, who usually did only the sprint triathlons. I discovered, to my surprise, while I was in Florida that if I were to qualify, that the race in Spain would be even further, a 3000 meter (1.8 miles) swim and a 112K (67.2 mile) bike with 6000 feet of climbing. That would really require an enormous increase in my training!! I finished 2nd in my age group in Miami, qualifying for a spot in Spain!

I was fortunate enough to again be working 4 days a week in Maui from January-March of 2019.  It was the perfect setting to train for the race in Spain, which took place early in the season in May. Swimming with my friends in the ocean every week, sometimes with huge waves and currents, and bike riding in Maui, which is VERY hilly, gave me confidence that I could feel strong in the Spanish race. Most of all, training in Maui was fun, and beautiful.

Going to Spain was the fulfillment of another dream, as I had always wanted to represent the US in an athletic contest. I was very proud to be on Team USA, and relished meeting athletes from all over the US, and other parts of the world.  It was also a reminder from my youth what a great experience it is to travel internationally as an athlete. Again, I was lucky enough to have my son, Colin, accompany me, his support and encouragement being invaluable—his father would have been very proud of him!

The swim was in a beautiful river in Spain, quite chilly about 58 degrees.  Due to current in the river, and the cold temperature, the swim was shortened to 1500 meters.  I was second out of the water, and then began the 3 loops of the gorgeous and hilly 67 mile bike course. Again, I just tried to do my own race, and finished 3rd in my age group (65-69), getting passed on the last downhill by a British woman, with incredible hill descending cycling skills. Standing on the podium that evening, with an American flag wrapped around me, and with other Americans as well, was a very emotional experience.  I also was reminded how fortunate I am to be able to compete, and also that it always helps to be at the younger end of your age group!! I can’t wait to be 69, so I can “age up” to compete in the 70-74 year old age group!

I must thank my “pod” of swimmers in Maui, Chris, my message therapist, Richard and Ben, my biking buddies, my friends Laurie and Craig, and all of my friends and coaches at the Carlsbad Masters for all of their encouragement as I was training.

I see being active as an extension of leading a healthy life style. For me competition is always about having fun, doing my best, and accepting the outcome.  As the saying goes in Desiderata– “If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself”. So I encourage everyone to get outside, have fun, and see where your own personal journey might take you.

Craig: Maggie, thank you very much for sharing your story.  I have wanted to interview you for a few years and it was well worth the wait.  Laurie and I are honored that you are our friend and TCSD is fortunate to have you as a member of our great club.  Good luck in your future races and everything else you do.

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

Posted in 2019, Running Race, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

TCSD Conversation: April 2019 – Danny Arnold

Danny at finish line of his “comeback race” – 2019 Ironman 70.3 Oceanside.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently had the pleasure of talking triathlon with Danny Arnold.  Danny is one of TCSD’s Co-Sponsorship Directors so he is playing an active role in shaping the future of our club.  In addition, Danny has built up an impressive resume of marathon and triathlon races over the last 10 years.  I am very confident you will enjoy getting to know this great guy!

Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon?

Danny: I grew up in Upstate New York in a town called Averill Park right outside the capital of the state, Albany, New York.  While I was growing up, I played Little League Baseball. I played both third base and fill in pitcher.  My large extended family, especially my father and uncles were really into sports, both baseball and football.  They had a local team called the Polecats and as a younger participant of the team, I was the official bat boy.  We also used to play pickup football every Sunday when my family would gather for our weekly Sunday outings.

Craig: How did your endurance sports career get off the ground?

Danny: That is a funny story.  While I was busy and preoccupied with building a very successful Information Technology in the Healthcare Industry Consulting Company, I suddenly realized that on the my 49th Birthday in September of 2006, that I needed to set a goal and get fit by my 50th Birthday.  So, I embarked on a regular training routine that included strength training and cardio weekly.  That sparked my interest in running so in January 1, 2007 as a New Year’s resolution, I decided to run a marathon before my 50th Birthday that year.  I found a local running group called Team in Training that supports The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  I joined the group, then fundraised and trained with them for 5 months and then ran my first marathon in San Diego that year in June 2007, the San Diego Rock’n’Roll Marathon.

Craig: What about Team in Training resonated with you to the point where you took on some leadership roles?

Danny: I was so impressed by everyone I met that was involved with Team in Training and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society while training with them that first year.  Their passion to make a difference in helping people that have been inflicted with a blood disorder was very inspiring for me.  I immediately returned home from the San Diego Marathon in 2007 and started fundraising and training for another marathon that year, the Marine Corps Marathon in October in Washington DC.  Soon after I became a Team in Training Run Coach and continued fundraising and racing for Team in Training right up until I moved to SoCal in 2016.  In 2010, I started participating in their cycling and triathlon teams as well.  I also became a board member for the Upstate New York and Vermont Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  Through the years, I helped fundraise close to $50,000 for the cause.

Craig: What inspired you to become a triathlete?

Danny:  I had been running marathons regularly for 3 years since I started in 2007.  My friends were always trying to convince me to try triathlons.  So finally, in 2009 they dragged me to Lake Placid where I signed up to be a volunteer at Ironman Lake Placid.  I was so inspired by the events during that weekend that I stayed until Monday after the race and signed up to train and race for the following year. I trained really hard and one year later, my first triathlon ever ended up to be Ironman Lake Placid 2010 which started the journey of participating in 12 Ironman races to qualify for the Ironman Kona Legacy Lottery.  I have done 8 Ironman Lake Placid, 2 Ironman Arizona, 1 Ironman Florida, 1 Ironman Texas.  To this day, Ironman Lake Placid has always been my favorite which is why my 12th Ironman finish occurred there in July 2018.

Craig: You have done over 40 marathons and over 50 triathlons over the years.  What have been some of your favorite destination races?

Danny: My favorite marathons have been, of course, my first San Diego Rock ‘Roll because everyone loves their first marathon.  I have run that race five times and coached it in 2010 as a Team In Training run coach.  Some of my other favorites have been Disney World Races in Orlando especially the Dopey Challenge which you run a 5k on Thursday, 10k on Friday, Half Marathon on Saturday and a Full Marathon on Sunday.  I have run Disney World races spanning more than six years.  I also love destination races like Dublin, Ireland, New York City, Big Sur, Chicago, Philadelphia, and the Marine Corps Marathon.

My favorite triathlons will always be Lake Placid as I have developed many relationships  in that town and a close second is Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant which I have done 3 times.  I just love the beauty of both those locations and courses.

Craig: What are some of the funniest things you have seen in endurance sports?

Danny: Some of the funniest things I have seen in this sport still make me laugh today.  They all have to do with wetsuits.  We have all been there when first learning how to put on your wetsuit for an open water swim.  I have seen people wearing them backwards, I have seen them wearing their wetsuit while biking as well.  I don’t know why, but to this day, those sightings make me laugh.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?

Danny: After relocating to San Diego in August 2016 with my partner Tim Booth, we immediately joined TCSD so I could continue in my journey to get to 12 Ironman finishes to qualify for my Ironman Kona Legacy slot.  It was amazing right from the start, the people I met, the camaraderie of the group, the opportunities that the club offers.  TCSD has also allowed me to develop so many lifelong friendships that I will cherish forever.  We are all so fortunate to be part of such a great triathlon club.  The monthly meetings, the weekly workouts, the TCSD races, the training and coaching, social events, and sponsorship discounts are invaluable assets to all of us.

Craig: What have you done to get involved as a TCSD member?

Danny:  In 2017 I was the Expo Coordinator for the tri club.  I try to make myself available based on my race schedule to volunteer whenever necessary.  This year, I’ve also taken on the role of Co-Director of Sponsorships with two other Co-Directors, Marc Sosnowski and Kevin Fayad.  We’ve created a great team.

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

Danny: The goals of the sponsorship director team is to continue to negotiate discounts from our sponsors to make available to our members. So please members, let us know if there is a company that you’d like for us to reach out to and we would be more than happy to make that happen.

Craig: You retired in 2012.  What did you do for a living?

Danny: I have been working in the Information Technology in Healthcare industry since graduating from college.  First for a hospital in Upstate New York and then moving into consulting soon afterwards.  I built healthcare vertical market consulting services for professional services firms until 2001.  In 2002, I co-founded my own Information Technology in Healthcare Consulting Services Company called Vitalize Consulting Solutions.  The business grew very quickly and 9 years later it had become the second largest privately owned Information Technology in Healthcare Consulting Company in the United States.  In 2011, Vitalize Consulting was acquired by SAIC/LEIDOS and today is part of Leidos Health.  I worked with SAIC/LEIDOS on the transition in 2011 and then retired in 2012.

Craig: You experienced a very severe cycling accident in October 2018.  What happened and what have you learned from this experience?

Danny: I was training for my 13th Ironman in Arizona last year when on October 13, 2018, the day of Ironman Kona, I was in a horrific bike accident while on a training ride.  I was rushed unconscious to Scripps Hospital Trauma Center with a cracked skull and hematoma of the brain.  I spent the first week in the ICU in an induced coma and then came out of it 6 days later.  I spent a total of two weeks going through rehab and then three months working with neurologists, cognitive therapists, and many other specialists. Basically, I had a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and after the first three months, and after doctors gave me the go ahead, I did my first Half Marathon in Carlsbad in January this year as my comeback race and I felt so blessed, grateful and thankful all at the same time.  I’m now almost 6 months post-accident, and I’m back to doing the things I love which is training and racing endurance sports again.  As I look back on this incident, I was amazed and very thankful for the outpouring of support that I felt from all my friends, family and this community. I‘ve realized now that I’m at peace with the struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength which was cultivating mindfulness to monitor my mental attitude.  I focused on things I was grateful for and didn’t dwell on the past as I forged ahead with my recovery.

Craig: Who have been the most influential people that have shaped you into the man you are today?

Danny:  I grew up with very loving parents, especially my mother. She has been the greatest influence throughout my life.  Her incredible loving support of anything I have done has been unwavering.  She taught me how to be the well-rounded loving, people pleasing human being that I am today.  The other two people in my life that I am incredibly blessed with and that have made me the person I am today are my two sons, Connor 27 and Nick 24. The proudest moment for me is telling others that they are my sons.

Craig: What are your future goals in endurance sports?

Danny: I am participating for the first time this year at the Boston Marathon which I qualified for in May 2018 at the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in Ventura. I am very excited to be racing one of my bucket list races this year as well, Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in June in San Francisco.  I was surprised and very pleased to be accepted after my first entry into their lottery process.   I’m also excited to be racing my 13th Ironman at Ironman Canada in Whistler this July 28th.  Most importantly, I have earned a Legacy spot at the Ironman World Championships in Kona for 10/10/2020.  IM Kona has been a goal I have been focused on since Ironman announce the Kona Legacy program in 2011.  WOOHOO!!!

Craig: Danny, thank you so much for sharing your story.  I knew it would be a winner!  Congrats on your successful return to triathlon at the Oceanside 70.3 and good luck at Kona and everywhere beyond!

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

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