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Slow, but you like getting a Medal? Hang in there. Hey, you never know

By Steve Jonas | Oct. 25, 2013, 9:45 a.m. (ET)

I am a very lucky man to have found triathlon.  I reached the age of 46 having been able to do only two sports reasonably well.  They were downhill skiing, which I got into during my first year of medical school at the age of 22, and sail-boating, which I got into in my 30s.  I fell in love with skiing on my very first day, even though I spent almost as much time down on the snow as I did actually standing up on my skis.  But not be good at any of the usual school sports I felt that I had finally discovered one I could do, if I took lessons and practiced.  Eventually I did it well enough to become a Level I Certified Ski Instructor.  As for sailing, I was a good seaman and a safe sailor and just loved the “sailing sensation.”  But I was never much at making my boat go fast in the club races which I regularly entered, and in sailboat racing if you’re not first, second, or third overall, fuhgeddaboudit (as we say in Noo Yawk).  But then came triathlon, at age 46.

My-oh-my!  Here was a racing sport which required only the ability to swim some distance, ride a bike, and then manage a run.  And I discovered in my very first race, the 1983 Mighty Hamptons Triathlon at Sag Harbor, NY, that unless you were fast, and competitive, it didn’t really matter where you finished, as long as you finished (and in my view, did that happily and healthily, a phrase I coined the very next morning, when I went out for a little unwinding trot).  For the first few years, that’s what it was in its entirety: racing for the sure fun of it.

But then, having started out fairly early in the sport, at what was back then already a relatively advanced age for getting into it, in my region (New York Metropolitan Area), my age-cohort started to shrink a bit when I turned 50.  And lo and behold, with the Mighty Hamptons back then giving age-group awards ten deep, I got my first, an 8th , in 1987.  I took my first age-group 3rd in 1991, and really started reeling them in when I entered the 60-64 age group in 1996.  Why?  Was I going any faster?  Why no.  As I have gotten older, not one for speed-training, I have gotten steadily slower.  But in this region, as my age-cohort still racing has continued to shrink while I have continued to race, approaching the age of 77 in November, 2013, having just completed my 31st year in the sport, with 239 multi-sport races under my belt, I am almost guaranteed a plaque if I cross the finish line. 

Would I still be racing if I weren’t getting plaques?  Because I love the sport so much, I’m sure that I would.  But I must admit that I do like getting them, since I view them, for me, as an award for staying with the sport for so long, especially since I am so slow, and now for the most part walking the run legs.  And then my shrinking age-group cohort, at the national level this time, brought me another benefit: being able to qualify for the International Triathlon Union Age-Group World Championships, which I first did when I entered the 65-69 age-group.  More on that down the road in this series.  But my message here is this: you enjoy multi-sport racing for its own?  Great!  But if are slow like me and you hang around long enough, you may end up with some plaques too!

No. 7, 2013, 10-23

This series of thoughts and recommendations for beginner and recreational triathletes and duathletes by Dr. Steve Jonas is drawn in part from his book, 101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), text used with permission. The book can be purchased at:” Steve’s most recent multisport book is Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals.” His original book, Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®, 2nd Ed, can be found at, and Barnes and