Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series, (No.73, 2021/10)
By Dr. Steve Jonas
This column is about three “farewells” in our sport for me: from racing, from writing books about it, and from writing for USA-T, in this particular format, at any rate. Only this last one is taking place now. So, let’s deal with the first two first. For long-time followers of mine, very little here is new, but doing it here gives me a chance to think my life in triathlon and what the sport has done for me, in one place.
I was one of those kids who was not “athletic” in school or at summer camp, because, primarily due to poor hand-eye coordination I could not “do” most of the kids’ sports, baseball, basketball, tennis (and my school did not have soccer). It wasn’t until I was in medical school that I found the first sport I could actually do. That was downhill skiing: no balls, but good balance-sense (which I had) required. I fell in love with from the first day (even though much of my slope-time that day was spent on my bottom) and skied for 54 years, eventually becoming qualified at Level-I by the Professional Ski Instructors of America. (I taught “spring break” at the Breckenridge, CO ski area, of and on over 15 years or so from the mid-90s.) When my late wife decided to stop skiing on two artificial hips (!) in 2013, I hung them up too.
Next came sailing. Living by the 1970s on Long Island (NY) sailing was a good sport to take up. I did it for about ten years. I was regarded as a good seaman, and I loved the sport for all of the action on the water (and for “taking care of the boat” too) but I could never get the boats to go very fast. I did do some racing, but in the sport, even though I loved going around the courses, if you don’t finish first, second, or third, it really doesn’t count.
But then came triathlon, a racing sport in which, I quickly discovered, unless you were really fast, and competitive, where you finished really didn’t matter. As long as you were happy with your overall performance on a given day, it was finishing that counted (and for most of us it’s what still does). I had started running for exercise at age 43 in 1980, got into road racing in 1982 and by the winter of 1983 I was thinking about doing my first marathon (which indeed would be the Dallas White Rock in December of that year). But triathlon got in my way.
That spring, as I was gearing up for that first marathon, I heard about “triathlon,” in this case a race called the Mighty Hamptons, to be held on Long Island at Sag Harbor, in September of that year. Three sports, one race. Hmmm. Sounded like great fun. I had started biking a bit for exercise, and once I had shown myself that I could still swim (I had learned in camp but had not done any since), it was off to the races, literally. And again, where you finished didn’t really matter. It was finishing that did. And finish I did, in 254 races (plus two ironmen in which I ran out of time on the marathon) triathlons and duathlons, over a 36-year period.
My career ended with the one race that I did in 2018 (see my write-up about it in the previous column in this series). I had hoped to race in 2019, but I was having an intermittent cardiac arrhythmia, which eventually required surgery, so that put an end to that. Then came COVID-19 in 2020, plus I was really slowing down in the two sports I was still doing, fast-walking and cycling. So, I decided to call it a career, in a sport in which, along with skiing, enabled me to be something I had never been before: an athlete. And in a sport which, except at the top end, is not really competitive. We all root for each other. We all cheer for each other at the finish, wherever we come in. Camaraderie in a sport? Well, this is it. To borrow a phrase, no sport does it better.
And let me finish up by noting that becoming a triathlete gave me the opportunity to do something that I could not have dreamed of doing before I got to it: write about athletics. I trained as an academic and I was pointed in that direction not too long after I had graduated from medical school in 1962. By the time the 1980s rolled around, I had already published several books and bunches of scientific articles in my fields of public health, preventive medicine, and health care delivery systems analysis.
When I was training for my first Mighty Hamptons, I read the three books on triathlon that were out at the time. They all focused on performance (and why not?) But then that left the door wide open for me to do the first book for beginners in the sport, which is where Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals (TFOM) came from (1986).
In our sport, it was followed by The Essential Triathlete, New York: Lyons and Burford: 1996; the “Updated and Expanded” edition of TFOM, 1999; the 20th Anniversary 2nd edition of TFOM, 2006; 101 Ideas and Insights for Triathlon/Duathlon Training and Racing, Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning, 2011; and Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It, Guilford, CT: FalconGuides/Globe Pequot Press, March, 2012. I also did a number of books on regular exercise and weight management for both lay and professional audiences, which I likely never would have gotten to if it hadn’t had been for triathlon. Plus, I had the opportunity to write for a variety of USA-T periodicals (print and on-the-web) going back to 2006.
And so, it now comes the time to say “farewell” (at least for the time-being). It has been a great ride, and swim, and bike, with all of my readers, my fellow racers, and my special people in USA-T, beginning, of course, with its heart and soul over the years, Tim Yount. Stay well, stay safe, and stay in this great sport for as long as you can.
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.