TCSD Conversation: Deborah Jones – February 2013

Deborah Jones and 2004 Olympic Marathon Silver Medalist Meb Keflezighi.

Deborah Jones and 2004 Olympic Marathon Silver Medalist Meb Keflezighi.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

Recently I talked triathlon with Tri Club member Deborah Jones. Since becoming a triathlete a few years ago Deborah has already contributed so much to our sport and this year will be no different. Please join me and get to know this very dedicated lady.

Craig: What was your athletic background before you got involved in triathlon?

Deborah: Not much actually. In high school I was picked for the basketball and volleyball teams because I’m tall but when they found out I can’t jump very high, seriously it’s like 6-8 inches off the ground, I spent most games on the bench. Which I didn’t mind really – all that running around made me tired. Hahahaha. With my family I spent a lot of time in the water, namely water skiing at the Colorado River. I love being in the water!

I didn’t start running or doing triathlons until recently. In fact this past Sunday at the San Dieguito run, I “celebrated” my 7 year anniversary. That’s when I started running, at the 5k in 2006. I did more walking than running but it was a first for me and I was so proud. Running or just getting some cardio in was part of my “get fit” campaign when I turned 40. That’s when I took a long hard look at myself and my lifestyle and realized I just can’t go on like this. I was unfit, overweight, smoking a lot and drinking even more. Yikes!

So, the San Dieguito 5k turned into more 5ks, then an 8k Race for Literacy and so on. My first ½ marathon was quite memorable too – especially how I even considered doing that kind of distance (yeah right, in my wildest dreams). Shortly after the 8k I received an email from Katie at InMotion Fit. I know it was just a mass email blast but it really “spoke” to me. It basically said – “if you can run an 8k, you can run a ½ marathon.” I thought, “I can? You mean you believe in me and that I really can run a half marathon?!?” Wow – it was so powerful. It was an advertisement for their AFC training program. I signed up with a friend and come August I had my first ½ marathon finisher’s medal. I was so darn proud and empowered. That’s when I fell in love with running!

Craig: How did you get introduced to triathlon?

Deborah: It’s kind of funny actually. A few years ago friends of ours invited us to visit and celebrate a milestone birthday of theirs at their home in Noosa, Australia that coming October. While the invitation was very inviting in and of itself, I’d been planning on running a marathon in October. I mentioned this to my friend and she said “There’s a marathon in Noosa in October!” Like a dream come true, the prospect of doing an international marathon with such perfect timing set the ball rolling… until, I found out that the Noosa marathon is actually in March. Their triathlon is in October. To my friend Jennie, a marathon and a triathlon are the same thing!!

Still, this whet my appetite. Doing a triathlon … in Australia. How cool is that? The more I read about the race, the more I wanted to do it. The Noosa Triathlon is Australia’s oldest and largest triathlon. It’s part of a multi-day, multi-sport festival that attracts over 8,000 athletes, swimming, biking, running, golfing and “tri-ing” in the beautiful town of Noosa (approx. 90 miles north of Brisbane). After talking about it with hubby Brian, we decided to go for it! We’d have 5 months to train for this Olympic distance race, if we could get in. It’s a very popular race that sells out in a matter of hours. June 1st Aussie time the registration opened. Luckily we got in!

This was the first triathlon we registered for but in our training did a few pre-race races. The Tri Club’s beginner races were our first and more formative. We’re so grateful to the club for enabling us to learn all there is to learn about triathlons AND practice for free putting it all together. Awesome! We also did the Tri Classic and Mission Bay, just for training. By the time the Noosa tri came along, we were ready!

Craig: How did the Noosa Triathlon go for you?

Deborah: It went well, but boy those Aussies are fast! It was pretty cool to be woken up by laughing Kookaburras birds and I loved the novelty of riding on the left side and saying “on your right” to pass. Riding around round-abouts was also new and novel. Speaking of the bike, that was also the most stressful. Not racing, but bike transport. Or, non-transport in our case as I just ended up renting road bikes instead of flying ours over. I did the math and it would have cost more to ship them than our bikes are worth. Luckily the bikes we rented were excellent quality and had a good fit.

I got a couple of shout-outs from fellow cyclists “hey San Diego” when they saw my Tri Club gear. That made me feel good! Would we do it again? While it was definitely one of the best races ever, it was quite a pricey venture. Naturally, if I was a sponsored elite athlete, it would be a different story. We’re just in it to have a good time and meet great people. We can do that right here at home!

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

Deborah: After hubby Brian and I signed up for the Noosa Triathlon, we went to the Club’s Newbie meeting at HiTech Bikes (great information from Jonathan Jefferson and Dean Sprague!) and to the Tri 101 meeting at B&L (Steve Tally answered all our questions and demystified the sport!). We joined shortly after and fell in love with the Club! From there we tried nearly every club workout, went to all the club meetings and raced two out of three beginner races. We felt so welcome and learned so much about the sport, both from the veteran members and fellow newbies. You know, it’s such a complex sport and it can be pretty intense, but what’s amazing to me is how forthcoming everyone is with how to race, what equipment to use, swim techniques, workout schedules, bike routes, etc. etc. I don’t know how to explain it – TCSD just gives off good vibrations and is a very positive environment. I’m constantly recruiting my friends and colleagues to join, volunteer and race! I think I must have recruited about twenty people by now. Speaking of friends, we’ve made so many new and lasting friendships through TCSD. It’s wonderful!

The other thing that has truly impressed me from day one, is the sheer number of members the club has and the incredible number of FREE events it puts on. All volunteer-run: AMAZING! My favorite has to be the Aquathlons. They are so fun! It’s such a thrill to see 200+ athletes competing after work at beautiful La Jolla Shores. Last year my dad came down from LA to watch one of them. He was really impressed and I think that’s when he really “got it”, and could see from his own eyes what Brian and I love about the sport and the club.

Craig: What volunteer jobs have you done on behalf of the TCSD?

Deborah: For the last two years I’ve been a regular swim buddy at the Thursday night beginner open water swims. The first year was with Bobbie Solomon and the second year with Ian Kelly. Both are fantastic workout leaders and are model volunteers. I’m so grateful to Bobbie and her team of volunteers who helped me. I wanted to pay it back. I picked this workout in particular to be a volunteer because it was instrumental for me when I first got into the sport getting comfortable in the water, in a wetsuit and swimming with others. I remember those first sessions very well and can empathize with the newbies coming on Thursdays to learn. I think that’s important, to feel what they feel and help them through perhaps a new technique, the fear-factor, or to simply share tips and tricks to make open water swimming fun and efficient. That’s the name of the game!

Another way I’ve volunteered for the club was at last year’s swap meet. I actually initiated it for two reasons, first because I had a lot of tri-gear that needed a new home and I thought other club members were probably in the same boat; and second, to make it a charity-fundraiser for TCSDCares. It was a real success, raising over $1,000. I’d like to do another one this year, but clearly when I have more time after ITU is over.

Like I said, I love the Club and am amazed at how all of its programs, services, workouts, races, etc are managed and staffed by volunteers, passionate volunteers at that. That’s the key for any volunteer program, to ignite the passion. The Club has done that for me. It’s also given me opportunities to meet more Tri Clubbers and make new friends.

Craig: How did you get selected for the 2013 ITU San Diego Triathlon Volunteer Director position?

Deborah: Ever since this race came to town, I’ve been immensely interested in doing whatever I could to make it a success. It is such an honor to have an ITU race here in our own backyard! So, last year I volunteered as a Packet-Pickup Captain. I have a lot of experience working with and leading volunteers from my non-profit work, and wanted to lend a hand in that capacity. Last year’s race was a success but it was also a learning experience for me and the event leadership. At a post-race lessons-learned meeting, my fellow Volunteer Captains and I passed on a lot of constructive feedback so that the next race, 2013 ITU, would be even better. I think it was at that point I got interested in possibly stepping up to a bigger volunteer role, if it became available.

Fast forward to this past November, I started talking with John Hill about volunteering to become this year’s ITU – SD Volunteer Director on behalf of the Club. It seemed a good fit and a commitment I could make. Shortly after that I started working with Franzi Petermann, Event Director and the TCSD board on the details. I was particularly interested in getting our expectations in line with one another; just to make sure I wasn’t biting off more than I could chew. I also wanted assurance that I’d have the resources and backing from the Club to do the job well. I also wanted to make sure that the feedback received last year from the Captains team was going to be addressed and certain benefits were going to be guaranteed. After a couple of weeks of negotiation, we were there and I got the job. It’s an honor to volunteer in this capacity and to represent the Club like this. I want to do everything I can to help make the ITU race a success!

Craig: How does the local community work with the Event Director to put on a successful internationally recognized event?

Deborah: Part of what intrigued me last year was watching all the moving parts and interested parties come together for the races. There were ITU officials, USAT event managers, contracted event-production staff, media, SD police and traffic control officers, and loads of volunteers. The other local races I’d participated in, either as an athlete or volunteer, seemed so small in comparison. Well, I came to find out the ITU race series is really run by a complex web of partnerships and event specialists. From my understanding, the ITU series itself includes 8-races in cities all over the world. The overall marketing rights and event management is done by Franzi’s company based in Hamburg Germany called La Lagardère Unlimited. For ITU races in the US (San Diego is the only one at the moment), Franzi’s company has a partnership with USAT who actually runs the event itself. It’s all kind of ‘behind the scenes’ stuff but for the Volunteer Captains, it matters especially on race day. For example, when I was Packet Pick-up Captain last year my on-site direction actually came from the USAT folks, whom I’d never met or worked with until that day. For the elite services volunteers, they got instructions, etc. from ITU officials and event production staff. During our volunteer planning, that was never spelled out. But in hind-sight it was important, from a big picture point of view. So learning from this, I’m making sure that all of the captains know the who-what-when and how of their jobs, including who is their line-manager on race-day. They are also getting a comprehensive job description and detailed listing of all the volunteers they need to recruit and what they all need to be doing during their shifts. This will be a significant improvement from last year. I’ve been working with Franzi to “institutionalize” or formalize this type of info so we have it for this year but also for years to come.

Craig: How can people volunteer for the ITU San Diego Triathlon?

Deborah: It’s easy. Anyone, not just TCSD members, can volunteer. Folks need to simply go to the ITU San Diego website and click on Volunteer. There is a link to “Volunteer Local” which is the online registration site. It lists all the shifts available and includes a small description of what the job they are volunteering for is all about. There is something for just about everyone.

Right now, the Event and Race Directors and I are looking at recruiting about 1,100 people. That’s about 400 less than last year due to changes in the bike course. The bulk of the volunteers will be needed on Saturday, April 20th, since that’s when the age group races are going on and the men’s elite race is being held. Friday will also be a busy volunteer day as age groupers pick up their packets and the women’s elite race is held in the late afternoon. Other volunteers are needed on the days, weeks and sometimes months leading up to race-days, including the fantastic team of Volunteer Captains I’ve recruited. There are over 30 captains that have stepped up to be volunteer leaders and are taking responsibility for their particular area. In the January 2013 newsletter, I listed them all in part to point out who’s doing what this year but mostly to recognize them for volunteering for such an important race and taking on such an important role.

We need lots of volunteers so if you or someone you know is interested, please sign up!

Craig: You had mentioned earlier that you were a smoker. How long did you smoke and how were you able to quit?

Deborah: Yes, that’s right. I smoked for 23 years. It’s embarrassing actually. I started when I was a teenager. I was just 17 and it was cool to smoke in my small circle of friends. As the years went on I continued to smoke but my “cool” friends parted as we all went off to college. Often times I was the only, lonely smoker after that. I should have just quit but it had a stranglehold on me. I called it my love-hate relationship. I loved it when I was smoking a cigarette, but would hate it afterwards – the smell, the taste, the sight of it, the cost, and I hated hiding out to smoke. Over the years, I tried quitting many, many times but it didn’t work. It was pretty pathetic actually.

As my fortieth birthday approached, I thought this is it! I’ve got to change my life around or I will never live another forty years. So, like I said I developed a “get-fit” plan that included a personal trainer, healthy eating (essentially cutting out Mexican food), and above all quitting smoking. The challenge was how to make the quitting part stick this time?!? Well, I tried hypnosis and it worked. After 23 years of smoking I quit in one-hour. I know it’s crazy and when I think about it, it doesn’t make sense but it’s the truth.

I found this ad in the Reader for a hypnotist specializing in smoking cessation, gave her a call and scheduled an appointment. She asked me a series of questions like how I got started, if I thought it was cool when I started to smoke and it would make me feel popular – you know those things you really worry about when you’re a teenager. She also asked me about when I smoke, and about triggers. That’s when I mentioned that I smoked when I drank alcohol and drank alcohol when I smoked, realizing how symbiotic they were as I described it to her. I think she picked up on that too.

Then the key question came, and I remember it very well: “Do you want to quit smoking”? My answer was the logical one I’d told myself all those years, “I know it’s bad for me. I’ve got to quit. I can’t go on like this. Etc., etc.” This is where she paused and asked me slowly, “do – you – want – to – quit – smoking?” She explained that I had to want it. It had to come from me, no one else. Then she said plainly that she wouldn’t even hypnotize me if I, Deborah Jones, didn’t want to quit.

That was one of the most powerful moments in my life. It made me think and dig deep inside. No lying, no tricks, no secret agendas … with myself. I needed to want to quit. I thought about it some more and told her I did. From there she hypnotized me, reaching my sub-conscious. I was aware and awake but don’t remember a lot of details other than a lot of repetition and a sort of chanting about how I was a non-smoker.

An hour later, she brought me back, told me to have some water when I got home and to make the check payable to …

That was that. No more smoking, no urges, no desire, and no regrets. It’s a permanent change too. I can tell. It’s hard to explain but smoking doesn’t even register in my head anymore. Whereas before, I’d see or smell smoke or have a stressful day in the office and my first thought was “Ah, I can’t wait to have a cigarette”. Now, when I’m around those same instances, they are a nothing – they don’t register, compute or trigger any type of thought or feeling whatsoever. It’s just not there anymore.

Whatever she did, it worked. It’s been about 7 years now; the end of January is my anniversary. Interestingly, I also stopped drinking cold-turkey too after this 1-hour session. I believe it was a consequence of the session. Since my smoking was so closely tied to my drinking and vice versa, when the smoking went so did the drinking. I haven’t had a drink in 7 years either. That’s equally as amazing to me.

Craig: Who do you most admire in the endurance sports community and why?

Deborah: I’d have to say Meb Keflezighi. He’s a hometown hero with a very inspiring story. I heard him talk a few years ago at the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon Expo. I didn’t realize he was from San Diego and went to San Diego High School. How cool is that? As he described running at Mission Bay, through Florida Canyon, at the track in sunny San Diego, I felt really close to him. I’ve run in those places too. How cool is that? But when I got his book and read about his family’s incredible journey from Eritrea, that’s when I could not relate. I could only admire how far he’d really come. I was and am still moved by the role Meb’s father played in helping him achieve his goals and to be one the world’s best runners. I watched him on TV during the summer Olympics and was so proud of him. This top American, and San Diegian, and former Olympic medal winner represented the US well with his fourth place finish. Way to go Meb!

I’m also in awe of the ITU Elite athletes. Remember me talking about the Noosa triathlon? Well that was one of the events where I saw for the first time elite athletes competing. The winner at that race, Courtney Atkinson, actually was here in San Diego last year competing in ITU. The winner of the women’s race was Caroline Steffen, who was second at this year’s Ironman Championships. How cool is that? My other exposure to ITU competitors and competitions has been through a magazine I subscribe to out of the UK, Triathlon Plus. They always feature ITU races and I’ve gotten to “know” various world competitors like the Brownlees for example, and Javier Gomez. To have Jonny Brownlee here last year and to see him win was a real highlight for me. I even got his autograph and got to talk to him for a bit at before the race!

Craig: What do you do for a living?

Deborah: I work at SANDAG, the regional planning agency, as a Project Manager doing marketing for the iCommute employer program. I like my job for many reasons but mostly because I help people and the environment. And I get to work in the field with companies of all sizes and from different industries all over San Diego County with their alternative commute programs. I’ve been at SANDAG for 6 ½ years and I really like it. I get to use my varied educational and work-experience background in unique ways. When I work with employers I get to use my business background (I have a BS in business from Long Beach State and a certificate in Marketing from UCSD Extension, and my 8+ years of experience working in the corporate world). When a company I work with is trying to go green, I can rely on my environmental quality background (I have a master’s in Geography with an emphasis in Environmental Quality from SDSU.) I also know what it’s like to work with limited resources, which a lot of companies have limited staff time and money to help their employees commute to work (from my 6+ years in non-profit management). The transportation industry is something new though; but I’ve found I am uniquely attracted to the concept of alternative commuting, in other words car-less commuting. When I lived and worked in Holland in the 90s, I didn’t have a car. I just had my bike, the tram and walking. Coming from the LA area where I grew up, that was quite a lifestyle change. But it worked and I loved it! I wish I could do it more here in SD but things are so spread out and I usually have so much stuff with me on a daily basis (triathletes have a lot of stuff!!), I can only manage to commute by train and bike a couple of days a week.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Deborah: Well, it’s not an Ironman. Hahahahaha. I love endurance sports and love to be out there training and racing for hours and hours but the thought of running a marathon after cycling for 112 miles and after being horizontal in the water for 90+ minutes sends my head spinning! It’s such a super human feat to do an ironman. My friend Betsy Mehlrose just did her first and I’m in awe of her fortitude and determination. For me, I’ll stick to half-iron distances.

It’s just a matter of finding the right course: Not too hot or humid, not to hilly on the run and water that’s not too cold or has a strong current. I know that’s a lot of conditions, but I know myself and my “melt-down” point. Hahahahaha. There aren’t a lot of races out there when you consider my specs. Last year I thought I found the perfect half distance race, the Rev3 race in Portland Oregon at the end of July. But wouldn’t you know it? They were having a major heat wave during race weekend and it was 90 degrees on the run. Ugh! I finished the race but it was a very, very long and hot day. You may have read my race report back in the August, 2012 Newsletter.

This year I plan on doing all of the Club’s Aquathlons and as many club races as possible. I’ll also do San Diego International and either the TriClassic or TriRock, plus Mission Bay. Those are becoming my tri-standards each year. As for longer distances, I may sign up for Orangeman and do the whole half-distance this time. Last year I did the Aquabike (which I “down-graded” to avoid another very hot run). I have my eye on another couple of half-distance races to consider, the Rev3 in Maryland and Miami 70.3. If I do a half-ironman this year, it’ll be one of those. It just depends on how much time I have to train. These puppies take a lot of training time, as you know. They are all at the end of the year though, so my ITU volunteer gig will be over by then and I should have more time to train.

Craig: Deborah, thank you so much for sharing your story. Overcoming an addiction like smoking is so impressive. You really are a special lady. With your gifts I am certain the ITU San Diego Triathlon is in very good hands. Good luck with all you do!

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

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