TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I recently had the pleasure of talking triathlon with TCSD member Andy Thacher. Andy has done more races than any person I know. This interview will be published just after Andy represents Team USA at the Aquathlon World Championships in Denmark. Andy has had a very impressive racing career and I know you’ll enjoy getting to know him.
Craig: What sports did you do as a kid?
Andy: As a kid, I grew up in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah. I liked sports and had the desire and the work ethic to succeed but lacked the natural talent especially in those sports that required hand-eye coordination and was a little overweight. My athletic journey began in the spring of my 2nd grade year as a runner. Our class was given the opportunity to run laps at lunchtime around a quarter-mile loop around a set of four telephone poles. We could earn rewards based on achieving certain mileage goals. Me and my friends started running during our lunch hour after we ate lunch. As time went on, the time it took to eat lunch got shorter and shorter and the amount of running got longer and longer. I ended up finishing the school year with the second highest cumulative total mileage – 125 miles.
In 3rd through 6th grade, I played Little League baseball as an outfielder and a 2nd baseman. I wasn’t very good at baseball but had fun. In 7th grade, I played on a junior tennis league team. I had the opportunity to play at a lot of real nice indoor tennis courts. I had some success and won a few matches against similarly seeded players from other teams. I had fun, but knew it wasn’t really my sport.
In 8th and 9th grade, I switched sports and became an age group swimmer. I competed in a variety of events, but breaststroke was by far my best stroke. My younger brother and I started age group swimming together. Our parents would take us to swim meets all over the state. I wasn’t a very fast swimmer, but as I worked at it I saw improvement.
In high school, I was the back-up goalie for the water polo team and competed in the breast stroke and individual medley for the swim team. Our water polo team took 2nd in state my sophomore year and won state my junior and senior year. As the #2 goalie, I got a lot of playing time in practice scrimmages, junior varsity games, and varsity games when we had a comfortable lead. My high school’s swim team won state all three years. During swim season, we were swimming 8,000 to 10,000 yards a day. Although I was one of the slowest swimmers on my high school’s swim team, I managed to letter in water polo and swimming my junior and senior years.
At the end of my junior year of high school, in May of 1980, I ran my first road race, the Farmington 5000 in 21:21. My dad and my two brothers also ran in the race. I ended up finishing ahead of my dad and two brothers. After the race, I realized I had some talent as a runner and might have a future in the sport.
I ran the mile and 2-mile in track my senior year. I was the top distance runner for my high school’s mediocre track team. My best times in high school were 5:15 for the mile and 11:15 for the 2-mile.
Craig: What was your first triathlon like?
Andy: My first triathlon was the Big Bear Triathlon in July of 1988. The triathlon consisted of a ½ mile swim, an 18-mile bike, and a 4-mile run. The water was cold and I didn’t have a wetsuit so I swam in a speedo. I had a slow swim – 21:41. I had a bike split of 51:26 on my Centurion LeMans bike with clip on aero bars and pedals with cages. My run split was 24:43. I finished 237th overall & 69th in my age group.
Craig: What did you like most about this new sport of triathlon?
Andy: The thing I liked most about the new sport of triathlon was the challenge and variety learning to master the 3 different sports that make up a triathlon. Especially, back in the early days of triathlon, there were a lot of single-sport specialists trying out the sport. As a result, there were lots of position changes during the races. Also, the variety allowed me to supplement my run mileage with lower injury risk.
Craig: You have done more races than anyone I know. How many races have you done?
Andy: Through June 2018, I have done approximately 2043 races. I have done 173 triathlons (including 2 half-ironman distance triathlons, 72 duathlons, 111 aquathlons, 35 swim races, 4 aquabike races and 1648 running races (including 18 marathons & 105 half marathons).
Craig: At your peak, what would be the most races you have done in a calendar year?
Andy: The most races I have done in a calendar year is 112 in 2013. This consisted of 79 running races (including 5 half-marathons), 12 triathlons, 4 duathlons, 7 aquathlons, and 10 swim races. Since 2007, I have been consistently doing around 80-90 races a year. The number of races per year grew steadily from 79 in 2007 to 105 in 2012 and reached a peak in 2013 of 112. From 2014 to 2016, the number of races per year was in the mid-80’s to low 90’s range. In 2017, I decided to cut back a little on the racing due to cost constraints and the rest of life getting busier. In 2017, I did 66 races and am on pace to do about the same number in 2018. It was never my goal to hit a certain number of races in a year, I just did races that looked interesting to me and that were reasonably priced or were part of a series I was doing. Entry fees alone for the races during the peak years ranged from $3,500 to $4,000 per year.
Craig: What are your favorite parts about race day that you can’t get on an ordinary training day?
Andy: Through most of my athletic career, I’ve done the bulk of my training alone in the early morning hours. My favorite parts of race day are (1) the opportunity to catch up with friends who share similar interests, who I’ve met at previous races, (2) the chance to make new friends who you already have something in common with, (3) races enable me to push myself harder and dig deeper than I can in training, (4) the opportunity to swim, bike, or run with other people around your same speed, and (5) the perks you get from races – t-shirts. food, and drawings.
Craig: What are some of your favorite destination races?
Andy: My favorite destination races are the following:
The Sand Hollow Triathlon – it’s a sprint triathlon in the Southern Utah town of Hurricane. The race is very scenic and well organized. The swim is in a reservoir surrounded by sandstone mountains, the bike is rolling hills around the perimeter of the reservoir, and the run is an out-and-back rolling hill course. The race takes place in late May and the weather conditions are usually ideal.
Ogden Triathlon – the triathlon started at a lake in the mountains east of Ogden, Utah. The triathlon consisted of a 1-mile lake swim, a 37.5 mile bike that went around the lake, down a canyon, and finished at a high school in Ogden, the run was a 10K on a loop course around the city of Ogden. The race took place in late July.
St. George Marathon – the marathon starts in the mountains east of St. George in Southern Utah. The first 20 miles of the race are a scenic rolling downhill course coming down the mountain while the last 10K are mostly level through the City of St. George. The marathon takes place in early October and can be a little cold and rainy at the start.
Deseret News Marathon – the marathon starts in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, crosses over between two canyons, runs through the University of Utah campus, runs along the parade route in downtown Salt Lake City where the crowds are lined up for the parade, and finishes at a park in downtown Salt Lake City. The race takes place on July 24th, which is a state holiday in Utah, and can get a little warm, but has an early start time.
Craig: You have an impressive streak of racing every Aquathlon World Championships since Edmonton 2014. These include Chicago 2015, Cozumel 2016, Penticton 2017 and you are on your way to Denmark this year. What have been your favorite parts of these experiences?
Andy: I have gone to Aquathlon Worlds for the past 4 years as part of Team USA and will be racing Aquathlon Worlds in Denmark this year. My favorite parts of these experiences are (1) the honor of representing your country at a major sporting event where you are competing against athletes from all over the world. Ever since I watched the 1972 Summer Olympics, I had always dreamed of making it to the Olympics. I figure for me, competing at worlds is the closest I’ll ever get to the Olympic experience. (2) The level of competition at worlds is a level above most of the other races. The main difference at worlds is that you have people in your age group around you throughout the whole race, whereas in most races at some point there is separation from most of the people in my age group. (3) The opportunity to see new places that I don’t know if I’d make it to otherwise.
Craig: What are some of the dumbest things you have done during your endurance sport career?
Andy: The dumbest things I have done as a multisport athlete are (1) at the Southern Nevada Road Runners Club Half Ironman in May of 1990 (my 2nd triathlon). The swim was at Lake Mead and water temperature was in the high 50’s. I didn’t have a wetsuit, so I did the swim in a speedo. I got mild hypothermia during the swim, so when I got to the swim-to-bike transition my legs didn’t work and I couldn’t get on my bike. Fortunately, it was a warm day in Las Vegas so after my body warmed up, I was finally able to get on my bike. My transition time was around 8 minutes. After this race, I bought my first wetsuit. (2) In July of 1991, I misread the race information and read that the bike portion was a 37.5K and didn’t find out until around 18 miles into the bike that the distance wasn’t 37.5K, and the race would finish at a high school in Ogden. The bike course went around the perimeter of the mountain lake, and I thought that the triathlon would all take place near the lake. Once I found out that we were finishing at the high school in Ogden, I had no idea how long the bike actually was. After we did the loop around the perimeter of the lake, the bike course headed down a canyon into Ogden and finished at the high school. It turned out the bike portion was actually 37.5 miles. (3) In August of 1991, at the Mike & Rob’s Most Excellent Half Ironman Triathlon around 40 miles into the bike leg, I hit a patch of rough road and my bike frame pump came loose. I caught the pump before it hit the ground. I carried the pump in my left hand during the remainder of the bike leg and my hand cramped up.
Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?
Andy: My favorite benefits of membership in TCSD are the club races, especially the Aquathlons. The club races are a lot of fun, have good competition, and always have good food. Also, I like the club meetings and hearing from the pros. Most of all, I appreciate the friends I have made since joining TCSD and who share a love for the sport.
Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you change?
Andy: The main thing I would change in the sport of triathlon is the swim/bike/run ratios of the standard distance triathlons to make it more balanced. Most triathlons are bike heavy and short-change the swim. I would shorten the bike leg and lengthen the swim to make it more balanced. To figure out the appropriate distances, I would use a mathematical formula based on world record times or Olympic qualifying standards for the standard distances of the current Olympic distance triathlon (1500 meter swim, 40K bike, and 10K run) to get the 3 legs more equal in terms of time to complete.
Craig: Who have been the most influential people in your life?
Andy: The most influential people in my life that helped shape my athletic career were (1) my younger brother, Dan. My brother Dan and I started age group swimming at the same time. I had the drive and the work ethic, but my brother had the talent. I would drag my brother to swim practice, and we both improved over time, but my brother was always faster than me. Friendly, brotherly rivalry kept me motivated to improve and try to get faster. (2) My dad & mom, Jim & Pauline, were very supportive of us pursuing sports growing up. They would take me to practice and competitions all over the state. (3) Coach Killpack, my high school swim coach. Although, I was one of the slowest swimmers on the team my coach didn’t give up on me. As a result, I improved over time and learned how to train as a swimmer.
Craig: What have been the most important events of your life?
Andy: The most important events in my life have been (1) graduating valedictorian of my high school class in 1981, (2) finishing college at the University of Texas at Austin with a Master’s degree in Accounting in 1985, (3) getting married to Julie in 1986 (4) moving to San Diego and getting my first real job in accounting in 1986, (5) the birth of my daughter Melissa in 1987 & my son Timothy in 1990, (6) my divorce in 1993, and (7) my marriage to my wife Kim in 2017.
Craig: What are your future athletic goals?
Andy: My future athletic goals are to become a USAT All-American. I figure I have the best chance in Aquathlon if there is enough growth in the sport. Also, my goal is to improve my run times. My short-term goal is to get my 5K time back to under 22 minutes, and eventually back under 21 minutes. And my goal is to get faster on the bike so that I can be more competitive in my age group.
Craig: Andy, thank you so much for sharing your story. I have wanted to interview you for a few years now. It was well worth the wait. Good luck with your next 2043 races!
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.