This year, as many of you know, the USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships were held in St. Paul, Minn. (a lovely, civilized, city). Great credit to our USA Triathlon Chief Operating Officer Tim Yount, the heart and soul of our organization, National Events Senior Manager Brian D'Amico, who was also the race director, and their great staff for putting on a terrific event under difficult conditions because of then very recent flooding of the Mississippi River that runs through the city. The only thing missing, compared with all of the other National Championships I've been privileged to attend, was Tim's legendary fake race direction, sneak in when attention at the pre-race meeting might have started to drift off. Something along these lines: "For the second run, to get from the first part of the course to the second, there will have to be a short swim in the Mississippi, and sorry, no wet suits allowed." But Brian did the race instructions and so it was played straight.
At any rate, there I was, hoping for a slot to go to the International Triathlon Union Age Group Duathlon World Championships next year in Adelaide, Australia. As I am fond of saying, I started out slow in triathlon 32 years ago and have been gradually getting slower. And so for the last several years, having to fast-walk the runs because of chronic plantar fasciitis, I am always well toward the back-of-the-pack overall. At this race, as it turned out, I was way at the back of the pack, in last place almost from the start of the first run. And so, over the years, I have developed a series of back-of-the-pack thoughts, a few of which, tailored to my St. Paul experience, I would like to share with you in this column.
- It’s very easy to find your bike after the first run. Since everyone else has come and gone through the first transition by the time I got there, my bike looked as if it were getting quite lonesome on the rack. At the same time, there was no one to trip over or get in my way as I trotted toward the bike exit. This was a definite advantage.
- Given where I am in the race, aid-station volunteers often say, "good job" rather than "looking good." Now I have never viewed multi-sport racing as a job. In almost every one of the 240 races I have done, other than on the iron and half-iron races, for the most part I have had fun while I was doing them. But if that’s what the volunteers think I am doing, they are entitled to their opinion.
- It's really difficult to find a place to park your bike before you start the second run. This is of course the obverse of item No. 1. It is a really good idea to memorize where your bike rack spot is and have lots of patience dealing with the bikes from racers that came in earlier and threw their bikes onto the rack, right into your space.
- With much space between you and the next racer in front of you, the volunteers and course marshals are busy working on their tans, instead of watching you. It was a very pleasant overcast day, so this rule didn’t apply.
- The fast athletes have finished the race before you even start the second run. As I have gotten older and slower, I find it hard to remember when this did not happen.
So what happened to me at St. Paul? Well, I did finish last overall. Since there were way fewer than 18 men in my 75-79 age group (18 being the number of available slots for the World Championships for each five-year age group, men and women), all I had to do to qualify for Adelaide was make the overall race time cut-off. I did do that, by just under three minutes, but I made it. And so, I do plan on going to Adelaide next year. That should be great fun.
This column is based in part on a column in my series “ORDINARY MORTALS ®: Talking Triathlon with Steve Jonas,” Vol. 15, No. 3, of USAT Triathlon Magazine, “Thoughts from the Back-of-the-Pack.">
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 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 original book, Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®, 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble