I started racing in triathlons in September 1983 at the second running of the Mighty Hamptons Triathlon, the first in Sag Harbor, New York. At age 79, this season is my 34th, and I have done a total of 243 triathlons and duathlons. Starting at the end of last season I was already looking forward to this one. Depending upon how I felt and the weather (last year I lost two planned races to bad weather, plus one to car trouble) perhaps I could make it to 250 this year, while at the same time qualifying for USA Triathlon’s Duathlon Century Club. (Back in 2012, I was a very happy member of the inaugural group for the USA Triathlon Century Club. I also thought that perhaps I could get back to running instead of the fast walking that I have doing for the past several seasons due to back injuries.
Particularly with that last objective in mind, last fall I retained a trainer for the first time ever to help me work on strengthening my legs and core. At the beginning, it felt really good. But then things began to go wrong. I developed an iliotibial band syndrome on my right side, traceable to the weight training. Not that the trainer did anything wrong. But lifting enough weight to be of any benefit was something that my body simply could not handle. So, off to physical therapy for three months, plus a pain-related decrease in training.
Then, cold weather, which I simply don’t go out in on the bike anymore, limited me to riding indoors, until the end of last month. In addition, a couple of the early-season races that I had wanted to do, I did not, because of a combination of bad weather and injury-recovery requirements. And further, because of the injury, I got off to a late start in my swim training.
So it happened that my first race of the season was the Pawling, N.Y. triathlon, a sprint that I had done a number of times. I had hoped to get a duathlon or two under my belt before Pawling, for I had reservations about doing the swim in that race. Thus I made an arrangement with my good friend, Dan Honig, President of the New York Triathlon Club, to do just the bike and the run segments, should I not be inclined to do the swim. And I was not so inclined. And so, I went into the bike leg, slotted in among the racers coming out of the swim.
I got out on the bike, on a course I know well, and felt, well, terrible. A whole bunch of negative thoughts came creeping into my mind. “You’ve had a bad winter. You’re slower than ever. You are hardly in the best of shape. You’re 79 years old. You have nothing left to prove. You came from being a total non-athlete (except for downhill skiing, the one sport I’m reasonably good at), starting at age 47, to have lasted this far. Maybe you should just turn around call it a career.”
But then, I did know the course.
“OK, let’s do just that one hill before deciding to pack it all in.”
“But I’m working so hard out here.”
“That’s the whole point. Just see what happens next.”
And yes, that happened. One more hill, then the next, and the next, and then there is the turn-around. By the time I was on the way back, with more ups than there are going out, I was right back into it, and there it was.
“Renewal time! Yes, I can still do this. And I still want to do it. And I still have fun doing it.” Then, my usual slow transition and out on the run, which I walked, not because I was tired but because I just find it tough to run anymore. I was with the sweeper (been there, done that, many times) and I was right back into “Steve Jonas mode,” chatting and joking with him, with spectators, with volunteers.
Dan Honig, as he always does, kept the clock going until I crossed the finish line. Not an official finish, of course, but I finished the race I chose to do, happily and healthily (which has been my goal for every race I’ve done, since the very first one), and I got my splits. Much more than that, I got renewed. Everything I love about the sport is back. At the end of the month, I will be going to Bend, Oregon, which is where the USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships are being held. I will be telling you what I hope will be a very happy story about that one, next month.
This series of thoughts and recommendations about multisport racing by Dr. Steve Jonas is, over time, drawn in part from his book, "101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes" (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which text is used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
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 Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
His first book on multisport racing, "Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®" 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Dr. Jonas recently was featured in World Class Magazine. Click here to read the article.