Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series, (No. 68, 2021/05)
In this column I am reminiscing about my first two triathlon age-group World Championships. World Championships, you say? Well in our sport if you stick with it for long enough you have a very good chance of getting to a Worlds, even if you are slow, like me. That is because at our Nationals there are (or at least used to be) 16 slots-for-the-Worlds for each five-year age group. On September 2, 2006 I crossed the finish line at the International Triathlon Union Age-Group World Championships at Lausanne, Switzerland, my first Worlds finish. Did it take me a long time, both on that day and over time? It surely did. I was the last finisher in my age group (male 70-74). And it was a long journey from the days of my youth when I was invariably the last to go in “choose-ups” for any sport. But I made it, 24 years after finishing my very first triathlon. So how did I get there?
At my 11th Mighty Hamptons Triathlon (in Sag Harbor, N.Y.) in 1998, I happened to finish 3rd (out of three) in my age group. And I happened to know that by so doing I had qualified for the USA-Triathlon Nationals to be held the next season at St. Joseph, MO. It was not something that I had thought about, but given the opportunity, I went. I didn’t come close to qualifying for the Worlds at that race (by finishing in the top 16 in my age-group, or getting a “pass-down”), but I caught the “World’s bug” and kept my eye on the schedule. It wasn’t until five years later that I noticed that the 2004 Worlds were scheduled for early in the year at Madeira Island, Port. I figured that because of scheduling and aging-up, the numbers game might work for me at the 2003 Shreveport, LA, Nationals, the Madeira qualifier. I was right. There were only 15 of us for the 16 spaces that are available for each five-year age group. I finished, and was on my way to my first Worlds.
I had already started getting seasick swimming the free-style in rough water, and to avoid that happening at Madeira I had to swim side-stroke, keeping my head out of the water. Thus, it happened that in the ocean water, protected, but nevertheless ocean, I was rather cold for a rather long time, resulting in mild hypothermia. I did get on the bike, but the course was very hilly, going out, mainly up. When I got to the turnaround, I got off the bike for a breather. An aide came over to ask how I was feeling and put her hand on my arm, which felt warm, but also sticky. “Would you like to take the bus back,” she said. While I was thinking about it, she said “you look green.” Despite the fact that it was of course mainly down going back, I wisely said “Where’s the bus?”
l have to note that with a stop in the medical tent, I got back to Transition very late. Everyone was gone. Just as I was wondering where I could find a cab to take me and my bike and my stuff back to the hotel, there came Tim Yount, who has been the heart and soul of the USA-T World Championship teams forever. “Hi, Steve. Of course we wouldn’t leave without you.” And back to the hotel I went, to my waiting wife Chezna, who Tim had earlier sent back to the hotel, telling her “don’t worry. I ‘ll find him and make sure that he gets back just fine.”
My next shot for a Worlds finish? When I would age-up to 70-74 in 2006. In those days at least, once you have made Team USA once, you are forever qualified for Nationals. And so, I went to Kansas City, MO and with four other gents, made the team for the 2006 Worlds to be held later that year at Lausanne, Switzerland. And there, in my 112th triathlon and 175th multi-sport race overall, I experienced the thrill of crossing the finish line at a Worlds for the first time. As for the course, the swim in Lake Geneva was made for me: calm, flat, and not cold. The bike was tough: several loops up and down fairly steep hills in Lausanne. In those days, I was still OK for the ups, but the downs were something else again. Fortunately, the streets were wide, for the younger guys were going down those hills at what I estimated to be 40 miles an hour. I stayed way over to the right side on those hills, so I could see them coming in my mirror(!) I was squeezing so hard on the brakes that I had intermittent shoulder pain for the better part of a year after that race. Fortunately, the run was flat, along the lake shore-line.
But it was the finish, my first at a Worlds, that was so special. For once again my dear Chezna was there and she did take the picture of my finish, a picture that says it all about a man in his 70s, who except for downhill skiing had never been an athlete, finishing a World Championship race at Lausanne, Switzerland, no less. That’s the picture that is at the head of this column.
The icing on the cake of that trip was by chance to have had the opportunity to meet and chat for a bit with Les McDonald, the Canadian who was the First President of the International Triathlon Union and a key personage in getting the sport into the Olympics. But Les was also key in giving the sport a characteristic that few other Olympic sports have: it has a heavy amateur presence, for people like me (and the fast amateurs too) all around the world. The international associations for track and field, swimming, and etc. don’t sponsor amateur events. But the ITU does. And in major part that is due to Les McDonald. It was so good to have had the chance to meet him, and to thank him personally for providing the structure such that an athlete like me could go to a Worlds!
This series of thoughts and recommendations about multi-sport 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 multi-sport racing, Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®, 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Steve has been racing tri’s and du’s since 1983. At the end of his 36th season in the sport, 2018, he had done a total of 256 races. He did not race in 2019 due to his own illness (from which he fully recovered), nor in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For obvious reasons, 2021 is a maybe.