In a couple weeks I will be competing in my fifth USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships. This journey started back in December of 2010. Actually it started back when I was 10 years old, watching the 1972 Summer Olympics and dreaming of being in the Olympics representing the USA — but since that never happened I saw an opportunity that gave me a chance to compete for Team USA on a world stage. I signed up for the 2011 Duathlon Nationals in Tucson, Arizona. It was a 5-kilometer run, 35-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run. I had competed in duathlons over the years and did pretty well locally, but I did it with the run. I biked OK, but never really trained on the bike, like I have running for so many years, and I knew to compete against the best in the USA, I had to get better on the bike. I put in four to five months of decent training, and saw improvements on the bike, but as I was going to find out in April at Nationals, it wasn’t enough. I ended up 29th in the 45- to 49-year-old age group. It was a very humbling experience, but also a learning experience.
I was very motivated for the rest of the 2011 season, and basically just did duathlons the rest of the season, with a few road races thrown in. My bike improved throughout the year, and in October I did Powerman Regional Championships in Muncie, Indiana. It’s a 10k run, 61k bike and 10k run. I ended up winning my age group and becoming the Mideast Age Group Regional Champion for 45-49, but what encouraged me the most was that I averaged the same speed on the bike as I did at Nationals, with a distance almost twice as long in very windy conditions.
I was more confident after Muncie, but I knew I needed to do more to compete with those guys this time. Even though I was moving up to the 50-54 age group, there were still several really good duathletes in that group. I decided to hire a coach, and we started working together at the beginning of December with the goal of getting to Worlds. There is a saying that “it’s the journey, not the destination,” and I found that to be very true during this training. I was having fun, I really enjoyed the workouts, and the work was paying off. I did some indoor tris and road races leading up to Nationals and I was running times a lot better than the previous year. My confidence was building.
The day before the race I went and rode the course. I did one lap of the two-lap course to get loose and get a feel for the course again. Comfortably I averaged a faster speed on that ride than I did at the race in 2011. I was ready to go.
It had been hot in Tucson the week before the race, temps in the triple digits, but race day arrived and it was only about 80, and no humidity out there, so it wasn’t bad. After my warm-up, I was at the start line and feeling good. The Chief Operating Officer of USA Triathlon Tim Yount is also the announcer at all the USA Triathlon major events and he brings such high energy to these events that it’s contagious. Tim announced that this was the deepest field in duathlon history, and the deepest field in 50-54 age group. He said it was so good, he predicted that one may even finish in the top 20 overall (he was right). This was both exciting and scary news.
The gun went off, and the 50-54 and 55-59 waves took off. I was in the top 10 on the run, with everybody in sight. It was a challenging course, the 5k finishes with a cruel, unrelenting 1/2-mile climb at the end of it. I was eighth in my age group after the run. On to the bike, this is where I had to go for it to hang with the best in my age. After the first loop, I was doing much better than the prior year, and felt like I could pick up the pace. I finished the bike in 59:09 (4 minutes faster than the year before). My goal was to be under an hour, so all was going well. On to the same 5k course, same cruel hill, but I passed a couple guys in my age group on the run.
I finished 6 minutes faster than the year before and I qualified for the World Championships. I’d get to compete for Team USA in France and be able to proudly wear the USA uniform. My dream had come true.