I Gave up Bacon for This Sport

By Jeff Gill | Feb. 13, 2018, 11:06 a.m. (ET)

Jeff Gill

Jeff Gill raced his 400th triathlon on Dec. 10. It was 37 degrees and the water temperature was 54 degrees. After his 400th race, Gill reflects on how the sport has changed over the last 38 years and why he keeps swimming, biking and running.

How has the sport changed since your first one in 1980?

Training: When we first learned about bricks in the late 1980s, it was only recommended to do it a few times during the season. Then once a month in the 1990s. Now, I do a couple of bricks every week, either swim/ride or ride/run.

The season: It used to be 6 months long. Today, my last race was in December and my first one is in February. Plus we do several other events in the “off” season events — time trials, MS 150 charity bike ride, 5k/10k/marathons, masters swim races, cyclocross, yoga (we lie when we say we do yoga), off-road triathlons and weight lifting.

Team: In the early years, it was an individual sport. Then you would buy cycling jerseys from the teams racing the Tour de France. Now, your identity is very much tied to a team or a few teams. You always congregate in the team tent before and after a race. And give high-fives to your team members during a race. I learned that 23 colleges offer a varsity triathlon program.

Jeff Gill

Coach: We were on our own for the first few decades or borrowed the high school running and swimming coaches. Then professional triathletes started to retire and became coaches. Now there is a formal coaching certification process. Sometimes you see your coach several times a week and sometimes you never meet; only over the phone or through the internet/app.

Nutrition: Thank goodness marathoner Brian Maxwell invented the Power Bar in 1986. Until then it was pure hit and miss. The pros used to gobble down boxes of them because there was nothing else available. Now there are plenty of choices, tailor-made to your needs. For Sunday’s race, I had beet juice for breakfast and pickle juice in my water bottle.

Is triathlon a team sport?

Yes. It takes your entire family plus coaches, your soft tissue therapist, your orthopedic surgeon (I have had seven racing-related surgeries), your bike mechanic, etc. You really need to thank your family often because you are always telling them how healthy you will be when justifying 6-hour rides and 4-hour training runs every single weekend. Always shout out to the volunteers and race marshals.

Are there any jokes about the sport?

If I die, I hope my wife doesn’t sell my bike for what I told her I paid for it. … How many bikes do you need? N + 1. … You’ve been chick’d. That means a guy gets passed by a woman during the race. It didn’t happen too often in the ‘80s or ‘90s. Now all of the time. … I invented the term gray’d. That means a guy over 60 passes a guy in his 20s or 30s in a race.

You’ve been a part of the sport for nearly four decades. Why do you like it so much?

Because it is so hard. No one wants to get out of bed at 5:15 a.m. and hit the outdoor pool in February. On the other hand, it is so rewarding to help adults buy their first real bike. I also enjoy serving as a guide for blind athletes. In 2015, two other guides and I helped a blind triathlete run a 2-hour half marathon. I love training with Brandon Adame (pictured above) because all I have to do is serve as his eyes and help him race a safe race. He never complains and just wants to race faster. It is a little tricky clipping in and out of the pedals on the tandem that seems about 50 feet long.

Did you splurge on bacon after the race?

Nope. Went for a shakedown run later that afternoon.

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