USA Triathlon Age Group Sprint Distance National Championships

86 years young - Sister Madonna Buder and Winston Allen

86 years young – Sister Madonna Buder and Winston Allen

Craig with San Diego friends Steve Thunder and Denise Ingram

Craig with San Diego friends Steve Thunder and Denise Ingram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living the life…

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

USA Triathlon Age Group Olympic Distance National Championships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on this link to see my race pictures:

Living the life…    

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

TCSD Conversation: Reg Whatley – July 2016

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

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

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

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

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

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

Craig: What was your first triathlon like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: How did you get involved in officiating triathlons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals beyond Rio?

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

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

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

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


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Freedom Four

Karin and Kent Yohe and Craig

Karin and Kent Yohe and Craig

1st place men's 50-59.

1st place men’s 50-59.

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

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

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

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

Living the life…  

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

TCSD Conversation: Bob Babbitt – May 2016

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

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

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I realized I loved to write.

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

Craig: How did Competitor begin?

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

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

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

Craig: When did the radio show begin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

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

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

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

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Big Bear Triathlon

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

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


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

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

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

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

Living the life…

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Tri Rock San Diego Triathlon

Craig running at 5:59/mile pace.

Craig running at 5:59/mile pace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: Erin Hunter – April 2016

Erin Hunter on her way to a 5th place age group finish at the 2015 Ironman Coeur d'Alene.

Erin Hunter on her way to a 5th place age group finish at the 2015 Ironman Coeur d’Alene.


TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent 

I recently had the pleasure of talking triathlon with Erin Hunter, who has worn many hats for the Tri Club over the years from Potluck Coordinator to Head Swim Coach.  Please join me in getting to know one of our best volunteers.  And you will see that she is also a pretty accomplished athlete. 

Craig: What was your sports background prior to triathlon?    

Erin: I grew up in Placerville, California which is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s near South Lake Tahoe.  I grew up trying pretty much every sport there was to offer in my home town (soccer, softball, volleyball, swimming, basketball, track & field, cross-country); it took me a long time to decide which sport I wanted to put all my efforts into.  After a lot of heartache and indecision I finally decided during my senior year of high school that swimming was the sport for me.  I walked onto the UC Santa Cruz Women’s swim team in college and had the time of my life!  I worked really hard and managed to qualify for NCAA’s three of the four years; I received 7 All Americans in total at NCAA’s.  My best race was the 200 breaststroke my junior year; I managed to place 3rd overall!  Swimming has really taught me how to work hard and how dedication and persistence pays off; it also has given me some great stories and memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. 

Craig: How did you get started with triathlon?   

Erin: In college we had to fundraise money for the swim team and one of the main volunteer events we did was work the Santa Cruz Triathlon (Olympic distance) every year.  The only way you could (1) get out of volunteering both days (I know, terrible of me) (2) get to take it easy at our Saturday swim workout before the race was to actually participate in the triathlon.  Seemed like a sweet deal to me!  So the summer between my freshman and sophomore year I bought a road bike and raced!  I did that race every year until I graduated; to this day it is still my favorite race.  One of these years I will make it back to do it again! 

Craig: In 2015 you raced your first Ironman at Coeur d’Alene and finished 1 place away from qualifying for Kona.  Congratulations for such a great Ironman debut!  What was this experience like?   

Erin: My first Ironman race was actually supposed to be Challenge Roth in Germany but a few months before the race I realized that race wasn’t going to happen for me; Ironman Coeur d’Alene (IMCDA) was scheduled around the same time of year so I decided since I had already put so much time into training already that I would switch it up and make it work.  I am fortunate to have a lot of friends in San Diego that also train for triathlons so I was able to do a lot of my longer training workouts with great people who have a ton of experience and they really helped push me through the harder/longer training days.   

I honestly wasn’t convinced that IMCDA was going to happen; the weather was forecasted to be 107 degree Fahrenheit (holy hotness)!!  Everyone was talking about how they were going to cancel the race or make it a half (which would have been disappointing).  They decided to start the race at 0530 in the morning to try and help beat some of the heat, I woke up and asked my brother, Erik, if he would rather spend the day with me at the movies and he just looked at me, rolled his eyes and told me to suck it up.  Thanks Erik! 

Not surprising to anyone the swim went phenomenal, I was first female overall included the pros out of the water. Hopped on the bike and really enjoyed the first loop of the bike; by the time I was about a third of the way through the second loop it started to getting REALLY hot.  It felt like a blow dryer out there; the paramedics said that the heat permeating off the road was over 130 degrees!  I finished the bike still in first place but then I started to the run…… and knew it was going to be tough.  Immediately I decided all I need to do was run to each aid station and then walk the aid station shoving ice down my top and dumping water on my head.  That worked well but I really started cramping bad halfway through the run and had to walk a bunch.  I knew I was going to finish but thought there might be some crawling involved.  Even though I felt like I was in bad shape I was WAY better off than the majority of the people left on the course.  I would say 99% of the people were walking by the time I got into my second loop.  I was in position to qualify for Kona until 2 miles from the end when I got passed by two girls in my age group.  I tried to stay with them, my heart wanted it but my legs couldn’t run without cramping. 

Honestly, even though it would have been cool to qualify for Kona my two goals for the race were (1) to have fun and enjoy every moment no matter how trying the day may be and (2) to finish.  I can say with a smile on my face that I achieved that.  That feeling of running through the finish line and having Mike Reilly tell you that you are an IRONMAN and knowing all the hard work you put in is a feeling I can’t even describe with words but it is a feeling that makes you realize that it was all worth it. 

Craig: What suggestions do you have for those preparing for their first Ironman? 

Erin: To enjoy the process; to live the minute, or the mile you are in.  Don’t spend too much time thinking ahead or about the end of your workout or your race.  The reality of training for an Ironman is that 99% of the work is in the preparation so if you don’t enjoy your training days then you won’t have a successful race. 

What really got me through the longer training workouts was being creative with my workouts; don’t always do the same bike ride or the same run route.  Make a weekend vacation out of it and do a destination ride or run! 

Craig: What athletic accomplishment are you most proud of?   

Erin: In general I am most proud of my collegiate swimming career.  I am pretty sure everyone on the team thought I was crazy.  You kind of have to be if you swim competitively.  I would always be pushing the limit, getting up extra early to run up to campus, or do the extra/optional swim workouts.  I believed I could be great so I was going to do everything I could to achieve that. 

I squeaked into NCAA’s my sophomore year so I wasn’t expecting to make finals.  On the second day of the swim meet I competed in the 400 IM and had a great race! I was in the second to last heat so depending on the last heat there was a chance I could qualify for finals. I remember standing on the pool deck next to my swim coach; I didn’t think I breathed the entire four minutes.  When the results popped up I saw I had snagged the 8th spot and made finals! I think I jumped 10 feet in the air, screamed, did a little dance, I may have even kissed my coach (I can’t remember but seems like something I would do).  Even though I had more successful races after that day, that race and that day will always be my proudest.  

Craig: You have done a lot for the TCSD over the years – Pot Luck Coordinator and Head Swim Coach for 3 years, among many other things.  What have been the benefits for you of getting so involved? 

Erin: There are tons of benefits that come from volunteering for TCSD; you get to interact with professional athletes, you are provided opportunities to volunteer for really fun things that you normally wouldn’t, lots of yummy food, and you are surrounded by a wealth of knowledge of the sport so you learn a lot.  I would say the number one benefit is all the great people you meet, I have met some of my best friends through the club and I am very thankful for that! 

Craig: You obviously know a lot about swimming.  What are some of your most common swim tips for triathletes? 

Erin: Rotation! A lot of triathletes (especially new to swimming) spend a lot of time on their bellies. While swimming you should constantly be rotating side to side, using your core and hips to do so.  So I spend a lot of time when I coach technique working on rotation and core strength. 

Craig: What gives you the most joy as a swim coach? 

Erin: By being a swim coach for the club it has renewed and reinvigorated my passion for swimming.  I have been involved in swimming for such a long time I had forgotten what it took to get to the level I am at, I had taken for granted how easy swimming is for me. 

I have coached hundreds of people throughout the years; many of them came to TCSD not being able to swim a full length of the pool or being terrified of putting their faces in the water.  Working with people like that and helping them overcome their fear and finally being comfortable enough to compete in a triathlon (or any race) is a great feeling.  The excitement is palpable when they come back to tell you that they finished the race and actually enjoyed the swim (shocker!)!  That is one of best feelings in the world!  In a way I think I get more out volunteering for the TCSD swim program than the people I coach, I always leave the swim workouts with a smile on my face and feeling grateful.  

Craig: What are your favorite benefits about being a TCSD member? 

Erin: All the club races, especially the aquathlons.  It is so fun to have a small local race mid-week, on the beach, with pizza, and a guaranteed beautiful sunset. 

Craig: You have probably done some amazing things over the years with sports.  Do you have any particularly epic memories that stand out?   

Erin: Over the years I have had the opportunity do a lot of fun/crazy things through sports.  Last year I got to participate in the coast ride from San Francisco to Santa Barbara (375 miles in 3 days, insanity!); to date that is the hardest thing I have ever done on my bike, but I got to ride through some of the most gorgeous parts of California!   

I would have to say the most insane thing that I did (multiple times) was in college, every year we had two teams swim from Santa Cruz Harbor to Monterey Harbor (6 people, 20 to 30 minute legs, rotate through until you’re done), without wetsuits.  That swim is about 26 miles if you swim in a straight-line and the water temperature varies between 52 and 58 degrees (brrrrrrrr), with the threat of great whites being high we were always so happy to survive and not freeze to death.  There have been a few years where there were smacks of jellyfish that we tried to swim through (ouch!), we have seen sea lions mating, whales breeching!   The year after I graduated they had a 19 foot great white shark circle the group (everyone got out safely) so ever since then they haven’t done the relay across the bay.   

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

Erin: My family has hands down been the most influential people in my life.  My mom and dad have always been my number one fans and support system, even if I made decisions in my life (like quitting soccer, sorry dad!) they did not completely agree with.  They always trusted my decisions and were (and still are) always there to cheer or give a supportive hand.  I am so fortunate to have parents that I can rely on even as a grownup.  I also have to give a huge shout out to my brothers; I really don’t know what I would have done without them growing up and even now.  They are always there give me a kick in the butt when I need one (literally and figuratively). 

Also, my swim coaches throughout the years.  Coach Kenworthy for throwing me back in the pool when I had a hissy fit and kicked him in the shin; Terry Jones for seeing my potential in high school and all my UCSC college swim coaches Kim Musch, Joel Wilson, Larry Baeder, and James Cisneros who pushed me harder and farther than I thought I could ever go.    

Craig: What are your future goals with triathlon?  (This could be far reaching.  You might want to work in the industry, hold an office with the club, continue with swim coaching, or achieve some goal as an athlete.) 

Erin: I am always looking to try something new; there are so many deviations of the sport out there.  So my goal every year is to try a new type of triathlon or similar multisport race (xterra, short or long course, swim/run events, adventure races, etc.).  It keeps competing in triathlon fun!  This year I am participating in a swim/run race in Portland, Maine for the first time! I get to go somewhere I have never been before and complete in a new type of multisport race. 

Craig: Erin, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.  I have been wanting to interview you for a long time.  It was well worth the wait.  Good luck with your future goals.  The women in your age group don’t have a chance!

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

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Los Angeles Triathlon Series – May 7th

1st place men's 50-54 age group.

1st place men’s 50-54 age group.


On May 7th I raced the Los Angeles Triathlon Series Olympic distance race in San Dimas, CA.  I enjoy these kinds of events because they are smaller races with a family atmosphere.  The races are held at Bonelli Park which is only 90 miles from home so I can sleep at home and still arrive in time for the 8am race start.

Southern California had had rain the previous couple of days and I did drive thru some rain on race morning.  Thankfully the skies cleared up nicely at the race venue and we had dry roads.  My biggest problem during the 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was glare from the sun.  It was not a problem at all.  I was amazed and thrilled it was shaping up to be such a nice day.  I had the best swim as I led out of the water by 1:51 with a swim split of 24:06.  The fresh water lake is wonderful for swimming.

The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course is comprised of 3 laps of just over 8 miles/lap.  The course has plenty of ups and downs so it is challenging.  My bike fitness is not where it needs to be, but I managed to minimize my losses.  My bike split was 1:15:58 (19.1 mph) which was 3rd best, dropping me down to 2nd place.

The 10K (6.2 miles) run course is also hilly and challenging.  Much of it is on trails including a section the locals call “the jungle” so it is a lot of fun.  I had the best run split of the day by 5:22.  My run time was 38:52, giving me a finish time of 2:22:18.  I was very happy with my race as I placed 1st out of 24 men in the 50-54 age group and 14th out of 363 overall finishers.

My good luck continued after the race as I won a gift basket in the raffle.  The basket was a variety of swimming gear – goggles, snorkel, cap, USA towel, and 1 month complimentary masters at a pool 90 miles from my house.  The only thing I wanted was the Aqua Sphere goggles to give to my wife, Laurie, because that is her brand.  I was able to give away all the other stuff.  It’s always nice to be the lucky one and pay it forward.

While I was racing, Laurie was running the Revel Marathon in Las Vegas.  This was her 230th career marathon.  She ran 3:13 – she continues to amaze and inspire me.    

Living the life…

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120th Boston Marathon

Triathlon Club of San Diego friends fueling the day before.

Triathlon Club of San Diego friends fueling the day before.

Craig and Laurie just before the race.

Craig and Laurie just before the race.

Craig at 40K. 2K to go!

Craig at 40K. 2K to go!


On April 18th I ran the 120th Boston Marathon. Thankfully I keep pretty good records because there are days when it seems like I’ve done all 120. This year was my 14th Boston finish and Laurie’s 20th. This was also Laurie’s 229th overall marathon finish. She is really amazing!

Compared to 2015 when it was cold and rainy, we had a gorgeous day this year. The temperature was around 70 degrees at the start in Hopkinton and it dropped to the low 60’s by the time we got to Boston. The heat offered a bit of a challenge, but I thought the headwind was an even tougher opponent.

Laurie and I had a great time in Hopkinton hanging out before the race. The sunshine warmed us and we found a comfortable place to sit. We were both part of the 2nd wave of starters. Once the 1st wave athletes left the village we found 2 discarded inflatable rafts to lounge on. We were so comfortable that our biggest risk was falling asleep and missing our start at 10:25am. We were too excited so that was never going to happen. Not only were we both in the 2nd wave, but we were also in corral 3 so we got to start the race together. It was a real bonus for me to kiss my wife right before the start, instead of some stranger. Not that I would ever do that.

One of the race highlights every year are the women of Wellesley College at the half way point. You can hear the girls screaming well before you arrive at Wellesley and well after you leave. My favorite Wellesley sign this year was “Kiss me or I’ll vote for Trump!”

I was very pleased with my race as I finished in 3:17:09 (7:32/mile pace) which was 33 seconds faster than 2015. This was exactly what I had trained to do so I’m very thankful. I placed 221 out of 2,032 men age 50-54. I placed 3,751 out of 14,471 men. I placed 4,293 out of 26,639 overall finishers. Laurie really had a great race as she finished in 3:33:03 and placed 130th in her age group. I am so proud of her!

Upon getting to our hotel room after the race I flipped on the television for the local race coverage. The highlight of my race experience was unfolding. I was able to watch Patrick Downes finish the race. I had no idea who Patrick was until that moment. Patrick and his wife Jessica were both victims of the 2013 bombing. Patrick lost a leg in the bombing and Jessica’s injuries were even more severe. Jessica is a beautiful woman, but she still has additional surgeries scheduled. In 2015 Patrick completed the Boston Marathon on a handcycle. This year Patrick completed the Boston Marathon using a prosthetic leg. He has clearly made great progress on his road to recovery. Patrick finished at 2:49pm – the exact same time of day as the 2013 bomb blast. He has come full circle.

At first glance the 2013 attack represented so much bad. But after seeing Patrick’s emotional finish, it is apparent that so much good has come of the 2013 tragedy. I personally think more good than bad has come out of the 2013 race. The running and Boston communities have shown great resolve and solidarity in banding together.

Another interesting fact about the 2016 race involves Dave McGillivray. Dave has been the Boston Marathon Race Director since 1988. After putting on the race for 26,000+ of his closest friends, Dave went back to Hopkinton that night and ran his 44th consecutive Boston Marathon.

To see my race photos, please click on this link:

Living the life…

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