USA Triathlon News Blogs Ordinary Mortals® My First Race

My First Race

By Dr. Steve Jonas | Sept. 25, 2020, 7:55 p.m. (ET)



Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series, No. 61, My First Race. 2020/09 

Over the years since I did my first triathlon, on September 17, 1983, I have done many local races.  And at them, in the transition area before the race, I have often called out, “Is anyone here doing their first tri. (or du) today?”  Usually, a small group of first-timers would gather round.  One piece of advice that I always gave them was “remember today, for you never again will do your first tri- (or du-) athlon.”  As you will note below, since that day I have done 256 tri’s and du’s.  Surely, I do not specifically remember more than a handful of them.  But believe me, I do remember that first one, very well.

I had gotten into just working out for health reasons relatively late in life, starting running regularly at the age of 43 in the fall of 1980.  Except for downhill skiing, which I began at the relatively late age for that sport of 22 (and actually got to be pretty good at, becoming a certified ski instructor in my early 60s) I had never been athletic.  So, I didn’t think at all about racing (which I first regarded as “racing?!?!”) until with my local running club, I did a 5-miler (just to see if I could do it, of course), and then a 10k or two.  And then, in the   winter of 1983 my regular running partner in the club said that he was going to do the Long Island Marathon that Spring.  “Would I like to join him,” he asked.  “I’ve got a really easy training program by one Ardy Friedberg, called ‘How to do Your First Marathon’ ” [sadly now out-of-print].  “Do a Marathon?  That’s a sport for idiots.” 

Of course, two weeks later, I got the book and began training for the Long Island Half Marathon (which I finished, slowly and comfortably).  Then I did a 20-miler and since at that time I was doing some consulting in Texas on a regular basis and had a couple of good running buddies down there, I began looking at the Dallas White Rock Marathon, scheduled for December, 1983.  And then, in the meantime, I heard of something called the “Mighty Hamptons Triathlon.” 


The 2nd running of it was scheduled for Sag Harbor, on Long Island, N.Y., on September 17, 1983.  I knew about triathlon because by chance I had seen on television the “famous finish” of the February, 1982 Hawaii Ironman.  In it one Julie Moss, while leading in the women's division, collapsed a quarter of a mile before the finish line.  While she undertook to crawl towards and eventually across it, she was passed for first place by one Kathleen McCartney.  (Julie Moss is well-remembered.  Ms. McCartney [no relation, as far as I know], not so much.)  And so, I thought, “that might be fun.  But first, let me see if I can still swim [which I had not done since camp, about 35 years before].” 


So, I went to my University pool, discovered that I could, sent in my entry, got in, and then spent the summer doing some serious training for the first time in my life.  In fact, I developed my own training program based on Ardy Friedberg’s “doing a marathon on five hours a week,” one which I eventually published in Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals® and have been using for the Olympic distance races (and shorter tri’s and du’s) ever since.  If you don’t try to go too fast (for you), it works to get you across the finish line, as I like to say, “happily and healthily.”


And so there I was, at Sag Harbor, for that race.  What do I remember?  I remember the walk down the beach to get to the start of the point-to-point, 1 ½ mile swim.  I remember taking it easy in the swim so that I got out of the water comfortably, and then made my way to the changing tent(!) (Yes, in those early days, some of us actually changed outfits between each of the 3 legs, in changing tents.  Some of the younger folk actually stripped in the Transition Area.  By the next season, that practice was banned, at most races at least, by the sport’s first national organization, the Triathlon Federation/USA.  Most of us then, even before the “tri-suit,” quickly got into wearing one outfit or another for the whole race.)


I remember, after the swim, having trouble getting out one ear plug, being motioned over to the transition area fence by a man who offered to help --- and out it came.  He turned out to be Dave Hornung, one of the early pro’s, founder of the Liberty-to-Liberty tri-duathlon (which I started twice, a few years down the road) and founder of the great Escape from Alcatraz (with those icy-cold and strong tidal waters, not a race for me!)  Those kinds of amateur-pro connections didn’t last too long in the sport, as pro racing became PRO RACING.  I remember feeling good and comfortable after I got up the first modest hill on the bike coming out of Sag Harbor, then being on rolling hills for the bulk of the rest of the course, until hitting the long downhill coming back into transition.  That was nice!


I remember going into the changing tent again to get into my running stuff, seeing my kids --- Jacob 9 and Lillian 7 --- who had been brought out to the race by their Mom, Linda --- rushing over to say “hello” and having them say, “Daddy, daddy, don’t stop!  Get out there!”  And then I remember the 10-mile run, feeling pretty good the whole way until towards the end, when I heard footsteps behind me, just couldn’t pick it up, and got passed by a man whom I had passed myself, sometime back.  But boy, do I remember the thrill of finishing that first one, and then finding out later that I had finished an hour ahead of the last man, and he was younger than me.


Finally, I remember standing in Transition after the race, thinking about the three books that I had read about triathlon (that’s all there were at the time) which were all performance-oriented, and wondering if there might be room for a book aimed specifically at beginners.  And so, I wrote up a proposal, took it to my great Editor at W.W. Norton, Eric Swenson, and he liked it.  And so, Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals was born, right there in Transition.


Indeed, that was some, memorable, first race!


Steve began racing tri’s and du’s in 1983.  By the end of the 2018 season, his 36th in the sport, he had done a total of 256 races.  He did not race in 2019 because of personal illness (now fully recovered) and has not raced this year because of COVID-19 (and virtual racing is not for him).  He has remained in shape, and does hope to get back out there in 2021, especially because if he can manage it, he will have just aged up to the 85-89 age group [!].  But that’s for next year.  Right now, he is doing this series on his favorite races, this column being about his very first one.

As some of you know, he has also been a long-time writer on the sport.  His first book on multi-sport racing, actually the first one written specifically for beginners, Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®, 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006), which, as noted above, he first thought of in Transition after that Mighty Hamptons, can still be found at Amazon and Barnes and NobleHe also wrote several other books on the sport. 

He has written columns for various USA-T publications since 2006.  Since he began writing for the USAT Blog in 2013, (in his own section, this one, the “Ordinary Mortals© Blog,”) many of the columns have been drawn in part from his book, 101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which texts are used with permission. The book can available at, and

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 and