Individual Competition, Team Effort – Gene Peters’ Story

Triathlon is a competition involving three activities, usually swimming, biking, and running. The three activities, or legs, are most often performed by an individual. However, reaching the finish line of a triathlon requires training and the support of others, including family and friends. This is Gene Peters’ triathlon story.

Gene Peters’ Path to Triathlon

Gene’s introduction to triathlon occurred in the early 1990s, in his late 40s, when his younger brother and his brother-in-law, both in their 30s, were doing triathlon.

“What’s wrong with these guys?” He thought, “This is crazy. These guys have missed their opportunity to be serious competitors in triathlon. Why bother?”

If the window to compete in triathlon had closed for these guys in their 30s, it definitely had closed for Gene, who was nine years older than his brother. That’s what he thought, at least.

While Gene was somewhat active while growing up in central California, he was not athletic. “As a kid, I was shy and not athletic. I was never among the first to be picked when teams were formed.”

However, he had stayed active during college until his late 30s, racing motorcycles off-road and riding ‘centuries’ (100 mile bike rides).

Volunteering at Wildflower Triathlon

A few years later, Gene’s brother asked him and his wife Kitty to help out as volunteers at the Wildflower Triathlon at Lake San Antonio in central California. Gene’s brother was responsible for feeding the race volunteers who came from a local college. He needed help with barbecuing at the end of the race. Since most of this work was done after the race, Gene and his wife were able to get up close to what happened during the race by volunteering at the sole transition area for this triathlon.

While sitting around the campfire later that day, Gene’s brother threw out a challenge. If Gene would compete in next year’s triathlon, his entry would be free.

“Anything my brother offered to participate in with me was perfect. The guy was an absolute joy to be with, He was fun.”

There were two challenges right from the start. The sprint triathlon involved mountain biking and Gene did not have a mountain bike. Second, the only swimming he had done was in group lessons he had taken when six or seven years old and when he water skiied later on. With water skiing, he wore a wetsuit. In other words, he was starting from the point of a near beginner swimmer.

Before the race, Gene developed his swimming first by swimming back and forth in the small round pool managed by the HOA (homeowners association) and later in a local community pool.

First Triathlon – Wildflower Off-Road Sprint

When Gene arrived for his first triathlon, he learned he needed a wetsuit for this race. The only one he had was for jet skiing, which was not appropriate for the triathlon swim. He ended up borrowing a Farmer John wetsuit from his brother-in-law. However, because the suit did not fit well, he said “I would have been better off not wearing a wetsuit”.

“Then on the mountain bike leg, I was chugging along when who should pull up beside me but Paula Newby-Fraser. She said ‘You’re not even breathing hard’.”

After finishing his first triathlon, he and his wife were talking about the race. Gene told Kitty, “You know, I think this could be fun.”

He told her that he would need a wetsuit and a bike. They walked over to the expo where vendors were selling triathlon related items.

After looking at the price tags on the triathlon wetsuits, Gene remembers thinking out loud, “How much use am I really going to get out of a wetsuit? I mean, how many triathlons will I do?”

Knowing something Gene had not yet realized, Kitty said, “Go ahead and get it.” Since then, he has worn out that wetsuit and two or three more wetsuits as he trained and raced in other triathlons, including eight or nine times in the Wildflower half Ironman.

Competing in Olympic and Half Ironman Triathlon

The next year, he went back to the Wildflower event, this time to complete the half Ironman distance. His goal for this race was to finish with a Kona-qualifying time. However, Gene learned how difficult it is to qualify for Kona.

For the next several years, during his late 40s and early 50s, Gene continued to compete in Olympic and half Ironman distance triathlons. He was not giving up on his goal to race in Hawaii.

Gene also realized he was a triathlete, something which had taken him a while to recognize. “For a long time, I thought I was playing, not a real triathlete.”

Related post: My First Triathlon – Is This How George Plimpton Felt? Plimpton was a journalist who competed as an amateur in different professional sporting events. He then wrote about the experience.

1996 – A Milestone Year

In 1996, Gene’s brother invited him and his wife to volunteer with him and his then girlfriend and later wife at the Ironman World Championships in October.

One month before traveling to Hawaii, Gene and his wife moved to Park City, Utah. While going for his first bike ride in his new home state, Gene was hit by a car. In the accident, his back was broken in two places.

Despite being in a back brace, he made the trip to Hawaii. While being stationed at T2 (bike to run transition area), he spent most of his time lying on the grass. However, at one point during the race, still under the influence of pain medication, he got up and walked over to where the bikers were coming in and runners going out, and proclaimed, “I gotta do this!”

He went back the next year, now fully recovered and without the influence of pain medication, to get a better picture of the race.

Related post: In this post Restarting to Bike After a Crash, you will read how Gene and other senior triathletes have recovered from a bike crash to start riding again.

First Ironman Triathlon for Gene Peters

In 2000, Gene completed two full (140.6) Ironman triathlons, including his first in Oceanside, California, near Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.

Soon after registering for the Oceanside triathlon, Gene’s friend contacted him to let him know the race director had opened 500 more race spots for Ironman Canada in Penticton, British Columbia. Gene and his friend stayed on the registration website overnight in order to secure spots in this race.

Gene qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii for the first time in 2004. Sadly, his younger brother, the one who had gotten him into triathlon, passed away in 2003.

All totaled, Gene has completed 35 Ironman triathlons. Included in these are three World Championships in Hawaii. He has already qualified for the 2024 World Championships in Hawaii.

Gene and Mary "Kitty" Peters at the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Gene and Mary “Kitty” Peters at the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

A Love for Triathlon Training

Gene ‘loves’ triathlon training and his association with the sport. He told me that it has taught him discipline, self-determination, and confidence.

“While I have always been relatively healthy, I have been in better shape in my 60s and 70s than I was in my 30s.”

Training/Preparing for Ironman Triathlons

Gene’s characterization of his Ironman triathlon training is straightforward: “I follow directions”.

Several years ago, Gene began using the TriDot® system, initially without a coach.

Since February 2017, he has been coached by Kurt Madden, a TriDot coach who is also one of the senior triathletes coaches. Of Kurt, Gene says that he “is excellent at adjusting to what my needs are and what my condition is.”

Kurt is Gene’s second TriDot coach. The first one, selected because Gene and he had graduated from the same college, was about half Gene’s age and focused on Olympic distance triathlon. The relationship lasted one year because of their differences in age and focus.

Before starting the relationship with Kurt, Gene spoke to a lady at TriDot about “needing a coach who could relate to the needs of the older triathlete and what we are going through. You need to have a program that recognizes that older triathletes don’t recover as fast, sometimes, as a person in their 30s.”

Gene attributes the TriDot system for impressive race results. “In the last ten years, I have podiumed in 100% of my races.”

Gene Peters’ Advice

Earlier in his racing career, Gene did triathlons and ran marathons. Today, however, he focuses on triathlon.

“I learned unless I warmed up with a nice long swim and bike, I pushed too hard on the run. I would hurt myself.

“Now, I do only half marathons. I stopped doing full marathons except as part of a full Ironman.”

Stay Consistent

Gene echoed what many have told me to be a key to success with triathlon – consistent training. Gene has thought about the time he has spent training for an Ironman triathlon, acknowledging it is not for everyone.

Operating his own accounting business enabled him to train consistently. On top of this, Gene had not only the support, but encouragement, of his wife to continue training and racing.

Tribute to Mary C. “Kitty” Peters

In October 2022, with 55 years of marriage to Gene, Kitty passed away. Gene was by her side.

Before she passed away, Kitty would help keep Gene stay on track, knowing how important and valuable the training was to him. She was known for telling her friends how proud she was of her husband.

Kitty also willingly volunteered at many triathlons, being known for the smile with which she greeted finishers. According to Gene, she volunteered at more Ironman races than he had done. As a registered nurse, she often provided medical help at triathlons.

In reflecting on our conversation, it is doubtful that Gene would have accomplished what he has throughout his triathlon career had he not had her never-ending support. She is and always will be missed.

Who’s Behind Your Triathlon Accomplishments?

Who do you credit for your triathlon achievements? In what way(s) have they supported you?

Give them the recognition they deserve in the Comments below.

Comments: Please note that I review all comments before they are posted. You will be notified by email when your comment is approved. Even if you do not submit a comment, you may subscribe to be notified when a comment is published.

My First Race Of Any Kind – Joe Simonetta’s Story

“The National Senior Games triathlon was the first race of any kind in which I competed in all my life,” wrote Joe Simonetta.

How This Post Came About

Earlier this year, I received an email from Joe Simonetta, from Sarasota, Florida. He was responding to the ‘welcome email’ sent to new subscribers of the Senior Triathletes Highlights newsletter. This email invites them to contact me if they would be interested in having their triathlon story published.

I later learned that Joe’s first triathlon was at the 2023 U.S. National Senior Games held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, July 18th.

How did Joe prepare for his first triathlon? What did he learn in his first race, a sprint triathlon?

No Stranger to Competitive Sports

Joe has led an active life and is an experienced competitor, despite completing his first triathlon a month ago.

“I’ve never stopped working out and playing sports. I have a comprehensive workout routine. And I have learned a lot about nutrition and have practiced a healthy lifestyle for many years.”

From his college days until today, Joe has a long list of accomplishments.

While attending Penn State, Joe lettered in soccer and tennis. He also competed in inter-fraternity football, basketball, wrestling, swimming, volleyball, and racquetball. He won the Penn State racquetball championship twice.

In the early 1970s, Joe was a USPTA (United States Professional Tennis Association) professional. During this time, he also quarterbacked a flag football team in Sarasota. The team won their league championship three consecutive years.

In 1979, Joe won the Colorado racquetball tournament for the 35 and over group while studying for a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Colorado.

After graduation, he continued to play racquet sports, swam, played volleyball, and lifted weights. During 2005 through 2014, Joe worked on a real estate project in the Andes Mountains in southern Ecuador.

During this time, he played Ecuadorian volleyball, aka Ecua-volley. This game is a variant of international volleyball that involves three players on each team, a higher net, and heavier ball.

Back in Sarasota, Joe continued with racquetball and swimming. However, in 2020, he gave up racquetball and returned to running; earlier, he had regularly run six miles a day.

Getting Ready For His First Race at the Senior Games Triathlon

During the fall of 2022, Joe started looking at the swim, bike, and run times for past triathlons on the National Senior Games Association (NSGA) website. He thought he could compete with others in his age group, men 80 to 84. With this in mind, he registered for the triathlon at the 2023 National Senior Games.

For reasons still not known, NSGA officials opened registration for triathlon to everyone. Competitors did not have to qualify for triathlon at one of the state games. In this way, Joe could compete in triathlon at the National Senior Games without ever having completed a triathlon.

By that time, Joe was running a 5k three to four times per week. He was also swimming regularly, though not as frequently as he was running.

In early December, after deciding to compete in the National Senior Games triathlon, Joe began bike training.

He started by dusting off a used Cannondale road bike he had purchased seven years earlier.

He then laid out a 3.1 mile course in the community where he, his wife, and their two children (a son, age 10, and a daughter 7) live. This course, complete with eight cul de sacs, became his training course for the bike and run legs of the triathlon. Training for the triathlon swim took place in the family’s 44 by 18 foot pool.

Joe supplemented the swim-bike-run training with lifting weights, jumping rope, and hitting a speed bag in his garage. In addition, upon awakening each morning, he did core, range of motion, and balancing exercises.

What Joe Learned During the Triathlon

“When I showed up on race day, I knew these guys had been doing triathlon for many years,” Joe told me.

“Most triathletes have expensive bikes and gear, including special clothes, bike shoes, wetsuits, watches, and so forth. I showed up in a pair of running shorts, inexpensive running shoes, and a rented bike I had picked up in downtown Pittsburgh. The other competitors laughed. in a friendly way, that I had a bike with a kickstand.”

Joe Simonetta with his rented bike for the 2023 National Senior Games triathlon.
Joe Simonetta used a rented bike, complete with kickstand, for the 2023 National Senior Games triathlon.

Here is what Joe said about his experience in his first triathlon.

“The one mistake I made was in the swim leg. Normally, the quarter of a mile swim—and far more—would be very easy for me. However, today, I tried to keep up with guys in my wave (age 65-84) who were much younger than me. Because I was going faster than my normal pace, I couldn’t breathe. I struggled and had a horrible time for the swim. I was one of the last to finish. It was a terrible rookie error that I could have avoided easily.

“At that point, I figured there was no way I was going to win the triathlon or even place.

“However, I came back strong on the bike and run. I overtook all the guys in my age group who were ahead of me and finished first to win the gold medal. You can see my times on the NSGA website.

“The guys in the triathlon, all very nice, were shocked that I won my first race.”

What Next?

From what he learned in his first race, Joe is confident he can do far better in his next triathlon.

Look for him at the City Island Triathlon in Sarasota on October 8, 2023.

Comments

I also did my first triathlon using a bike with a kickstand. It was also where I first saw a tri-bike.

Tell us about a ‘rookie mistake’ you made in your first triathlon. How about the most important lesson you learned in your first race?

Comments: Please note that I review all comments before they are posted. You will be notified by email when your comment is approved. Even if you do not submit a comment, you may subscribe to be notified when a comment is published.

America’s Marathon Man Leads Change For Senior Triathletes

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Jerry Dunn. In the message, he described his latest project, one benefiting senior triathletes.

What surprised me was seeing the place from which he had sent the message, Rapid City, South Dakota. Why? Because Joy and I had just returned from a short trip to Rapid City and Hot Springs, South Dakota, for a couple of days at the Angostura Reservoir with Joy’s cousin. You will read more about Angostura Reservoir later in this post.

Meet Jerry Dunn, America’s Marathon Man

According to his Wikipedia page, Jerry became hooked on running at age 29, after running along the beach near Sarasota, Florida with a lifeguard friend. He completed his first marathon in 1981. Over the next twelve years, he completed ever increasing goals for running distance and frequency.

In 1993, Los Angeles Times sports writer Jim Murray dubbed Jerry Dunn ‘America’s Marathon Man’. This came after Jerry set a world record by completing 104 marathons that year.

Then, at age 50, Jerry ran the official Boston Marathon course on 26 consecutive mornings.  The 26th morning was for ‘The Run of the Century’, the 100th running of The Boston Marathon.  He told one reporter that he ran these marathons to encourage others to “stay healthy and stay fit.”

“Don’t limit your challenges; challenge your limits.”

Jerry Dunn

Not stopping here, in the year 2000, Jerry completed 186 of an attempted 200 marathons, all on certified marathon courses. On his 60th birthday, he ran 60 miles. This was followed by running 65 miles on his 65th birthday. 

This year, to celebrate his 77th birthday, Jerry biked the full length of the Ecuadorian Pacific coast. He also rode across South Dakota during RASDAK.

Jerry as Endurance Event Organizer

Jerry’s love for running and his desire to see others lead healthy, active lives shows in other ways. In 2002, he created, promoted and directed the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon. This was followed in 2005, by the Lean Horse 100. Both races take place in the Black Hills of western South Dakota.

Through Jerry’s leadership, these races open the competition to a greater number of people seeking to stay active. Changes include a longer than normal cutoff time for walkers and slower runners. He also added age group categories for older competitors.

In addition to benefiting their participants, these races have raised money for causes, including Habitat for Humanity and Special Olympics.

Related post: How A Wisconsin Triathlon Benefits Kids In The Caribbean

Jerry Dunn, America’s Marathon Man, has left his mark on endurance racing by creating competitions that encourage older athletes to stay active.

Joining the Triathlon Community as a Senior Triathlete

In September 2022, Jerry joined friends Paulette and Bob as a relay team at the 25th Anniversary Southern Hills Triathlon at Angostura Reservoir outside Hot Springs, South Dakota.

After the race, Jerry said, “Paulette, Bob and I had agreed that we were just going to ‘have fun’. And, we did. However, we’re also all still somewhat competitive, just not against the youngsters whose combined ages were 100 to150”. The combined ages of Jerry’s team, called Team PBJ, was 221.

Jerry contacted Brendan Murphy, race director for the Southern Hills Triathlon. He suggested a never-before-heard-of age category for the Olympic distance team relay, the 200 and over age group.

With Jerry’s success as the creator and race director of the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon, Brendan agreed. The 2023 Southern Hills Triathlon will be the first to include a 200+ age group for the Olympic Relay competition.

Go here for more infomation about or to register for the 2023 Southern Hills Triathlon.

Comments

Leave your questions or comments for Jerry Dunn below.

Comments: Please note that I review all comments before they are posted. You will be notified by email when your comment is approved. Even if you do not submit a comment, you may subscribe to be notified when a comment is published.

Feeling Young In My 70s – Gary Vicari’s Story

Most people in their 70s, 80s, and beyond who continue to compete in triathlon feel younger physically and mentally compared to their peers. Gary Vicari’s goal is to keep pushing himself to higher levels, balancing his needs as an older athlete with the belief that “you’re only as old as you feel”,

Who is Gary Vicari?

Gary describes himself as “a stubborn, gracefully aging warrior, fighting all the challenges of a family man trying to maintain his health while managing his large, family-owned business.”

His family includes Amy, his wife of 35 years, three children, and a five-month-old grandchild. The family business is Arlington Toyota in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

“At 70 years old, I am gratified and blessed to be able to fully participate in all areas which I spend my time – family, business, and training for and competing in age group races. Owning a successful business that runs smoothly affords me the ability to devote some of my energies toward activities that promote a lifestyle I hope will allow me to perform and enjoy well in to the future.”

Riding with sons helps Gary to feel young through triathlon and other endurance sports
Gary Vicari (center) with his two sons, Alex and Jason, at the Evanston 25 mile Bike Race.

Active in Sports as a Youth and in College

During his high school years, Gary competed on the football, swimming (in diving) and track (in pole vaulting) teams. A diving accident during his sophomore year, and a physically abusive track coach that “sucker-punched me in the solar plexus at an invitational track meet” caused him to leave both teams and these sports.

A fractured neck from a spear tackle during Gary’s junior year in high school ended his participation in football.

“l tried to walk-on for the University of Colorado track and field team. However, I was outclassed by those with scholarships, the best recruits from high school. I left the team, content to continue with intermural athletic activities, which included the quirky fraternity broomball league.

“During my senior year, I had my first experience related to triathlon. In 1976, the University of Colorado hosted SUPERSTAR II. The contest involved athletes choosing to compete in eight of ten events. Choices included a 60 yard dash, field goal kicking, softball throw, a half mile run, a 50 yard swim, basketball free throw, bench press, ice skating an obstacle course, and bowling.

“I entered the ‘decathlon’ on a lark, and won the Open Division. My first place finish in swimming was combined with second and third places in the other seven of my events. When all points were totaled, I was happy to learn that being good at many events was better than being outstanding in one event but mediocre or weak in others.

“Ironically, that characteristic of multi-sport competition sparked my interest in multi-sport endurance events.”

Gary Vicari exiting the swim at the 2021 Pleasant Prairie Sprint Triathlon. Gary’s strength as a swimmer drew him to triathlon.

Gary Vicari’s Early Triathlon Career

“My first foray into triathlon was on a three-man team comprised of business associates. The event, a triathlon with a one mile swim, 50 mile bike, and 12 mile run, was held in Baja California (Mexico) on October 16, 1982. This was the first time they held this race, which was riding the upstart popularity of triathlons in Hawaii and San Diego.

“I took the one mile swim leg. This turned out to be the longest open water swim for me to date. The swim seemed even longer, in part because of a pre-race joke about there being sharks in the water made by at least one swimmer. Our team finished 9th. I was just satisfied we all made it home alive.”

First Solo Triathlon

“Then, on June 26, 1983, I did my first solo triathlon. This involved a one mile swim, 28 mile bike, and 8 mile run on Coronado Island in San Diego, California.

“Mark Allen and Mark Montgomery, two of the world’s top triathletes, battled it out for first and second place in a grossly mismanaged race. The Running News headline for coverage of this race read ‘They Were Running With No End In Sight!’

“I missed the turnaround, as did many athletes, and hit the wall at around mile seven. The next three unexpected miles were pure torture, as running was my weakest event. Runners over twice my age passed me as I walked back to the finish line, with only a dozen stragglers behind me. This was quite the humbling and embarrassing experience. It would haunt me for many years, as I quite consistently finished triathlons in the bottom half of the field.”

Except for the New York City biathlons in 1986 and 1987, Gary finished in the middle of the pack, unacceptable for him.

Between his late 20s until his 60s, Gary chose to focus on his family and career. Competitive athletics were a low priority. He put his triathlon career on hold, temporarily.

Resuming Triathlon

Gary did not pursue triathlons again until 2008, even though the sport was always in the back of his mind.

“Triathlons allowed me to resume my interest in swimming, not diving, and track that had been cut short in high school.”

In August, 2008, Gary entered the Bangs Lake aquabike race. The event consisted of a 1.5 km (0.93 mile) swim followed by a 23.5 mile (37,8 km) bike ride. Much to his displeasure, he placed 18th out of 20.

Four years later, at age 55, he entered a mini-sprint triathlon. “From that race, I realized my aerobic conditioning was terrible.”

Despite the disappointing results, he stuck with it. Gary entered one or two triathlons a year. With consistent training, his performance gradually improved to place around the middle of the pack.

“Although my performance wasn’t award winning, the excitement of triathlons, the competition, and the hope that I would improve motivated me to continue.”

In 2012, Gary earned an invitation from USA Triathlon to the National Age Group Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“Although I placed 44th of 51 in my age category (M60-64), the enormity and grandeur of the event was inspiring. It prompted me to sign on with a coach to help me improve beyond the middle or back of the pack.

“I entered the Lifetime Tri Sprint held in Chicago on August 25, 2013. With the help of my first coach, I finished 624th of 2286 overall and 10th out of 49 in the M60-64 age group. Wow! Never knew I had it in me!”

“The Triathlon I Will Always Remember”

“The triathlons in which I have won or made it to the podium in my age group bring fond memories. However, the one that I will never forget was the TriRock in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin on September 13, 2014. Though physically prepared, I didn’t properly assess the weather conditions, an air temperature of 40 degrees with rain.

“I was out of the water 3rd in my age group. I went racing off with only my tri suit on. Other, smarter racers donned long sleeves, cycling leggings and other protective clothing. I naively thought that by going fast, my body would warm up and take me to T2 and on to the run. Nope!

“While on the bike, I slowly approached hypothermia. Upon entering transition, I went into full hypothermic freeze. A coveted spot in the medical tent where I was encased in a thermal body bag with heaters blowing hot air through hoses to raise my body temperature became the third event in my triathlon. About 15 minutes later, I recovered, and they discharged me from the medical tent.

“The valuable lesson I learned from ‘the triathlon I will always remember’ is that triathlon has many, constantly changing variables. Ignoring or dismissing any of the warning signs during a race or training can have disastrous consequences.

“From that race to today, whether I am training or on a race course, I remind myself to assess the risks and adjust accordingly.”

Related Post: In 101 Triathlons – John Dean’s Story, John described his experience with hypothermia during a triathlon.

Experience of Training With and Without a Coach

From 1983 until 2013, Gary said “I was either untrained or self-trained and not very competitive. Finishing in the middle of the pack was my aspiration. I thought others who took the time to get serious about competing or were just plain genetically superior took all the glory and medals.”

In 2013, Chris Wiatr, a 20 year old college student and accomplished triathlete, came to work at Gary’s business.

“I learned that Chris was very successful at local triathlons, his father was a respected European cyclist, and he was interested in coaching me. For two years, he wrote workout plans and gave me tips for improvement. He got me on the right track.

“Though Chris was not a certified or trained coach, he opened up a new way for me to look at my triathlon performance. Coaching definitely helped.

“When I returned to self-training using local triathlon (YMCA Y-Tri), swimming, cycling, and running clubs, the results were, in hindsight, predictable. I went back to a middle of the pack finisher or worse.”

A New Coach

“My goal was to feel the exhilaration that came with winning or at least getting on the podium in races with others in my age group. So, I signed up with coach Jennifer Harrison to regain some above average performance.

“Within months, I saw improvements from her structure, accountability, encouragement, and the verbal and video assessments of my form. For two years, Jennifer coached me. I was able to win, place, or show in my age group at local races some of the time.

“After being invited to the USA Triathlon Nationals, I was hooked on competitive amateur triathlons.

“Thinking that I could achieve results for less money than with an in-person coach, I signed up for a remote triathlon coach through Training Peaks. I had some success, but it was less than I had had with Jennifer’s in-person coaching.

“Injuries and surgeries sidelined me in late 2016 through 2017. I returned to amateur competition in pretty questionable shape.

“This year, I began coaching with Matt Peterson at The Fitness Pursuit in Grayslake, Illinois. Matt is a certified coach with a degree in sports physiology. He is also an accomplished, ranked USA Triathlon competitor.

“As before, the structure, accountability, and accessibility of a personal coach is producing results. The only hindrance to steady progress is the occasional injury.

“What I have learned is that a coach brings out the best in me. I must often train by myself because of my schedule. My coach acts as the little birdie on my shoulder, constantly reminding me what I need to do.”

running for triathlon
Gary Vicari crossing the finish line at the 2021 Crystal Lake Aquathon. This event includes swimming and running.

Training Throughout the Year

For Gary, each calendar year begins with building a base of fitness. This continues until sometime in May, after which the intensity of workouts increases.

Once the racing season in Illinois and Wisconsin begins, his training schedule depends on the date of his next race.

On weekdays before a Sprint or Olympic distance race, Gary reduces the intensity of his training. For a Sunday race, training on Thursday and Friday involves progressively lower stress. Training on Saturday is “very easy with either a short swim at the race venue to get acclimated to the course, or rest”.

“As a senior athlete, I require more time to recover from workouts. Hammering it the entire week before an event would likely deplete my reserves, causing a sub-par performance on race day.”

Typical Week’s Schedule

Gary’s coach provides the detailed training plan from information from his Garmin watch and his qualitative feedback. However, in general, training during a typical week is:

  • Monday – Rest
  • Tuesday: Swim and Run; full body strength workout and stretching
  • Wednesday: Cycle
  • Thursday: Swim and Run
  • Friday: Cycle and Weights
  • Saturday: Long Run
  • Sunday: Long Cycle

Cross-Training

Gary supplements the activities listed above with strength training using stretch bands and TRX, an occasional yoga class, and “plenty of walking to keep moving and calm the soul”.

Other forms of cross-training are unnecessary. Alternating swimming, cycling, and running is enough to give relief when one muscle area needs more rest.

Lessons From One Who Uses Triathlon To Feel Young

What are the most important lessons Gary has learned while training for and competing in triathlon?

About Training

Gary says “A formal, progressively more intense seasonal training regime has produced the best results for me. However, this must include flexibility to substitute planned workouts with others when ‘life happens’. Some flexibility is key to maintaining a positive mental attitude and avoiding getting discouraged or feeling guilty about missing a workout.

“Triathlon is an endurance sport. To persevere and enjoy the journey is just as important to me now as are the results. Avoiding setbacks, such as injuries, is another reason that I give myself some leeway from a strict regime, though I do my best to adhere to the training plans set forth by my coach.

Gary has also learned that working to improve a skill or ability can change one’s perspective on it.

“For decades, I dreaded the run and favored the swim. Now cycling is my favorite leg of the triathlon. Since concentrating on improving my run, it’s no longer my least favorite leg. Ironically, while I enjoy swimming immensely outside of competition, the swim during a triathlon is my least favorite leg. Swimming in a competition can quickly aggravate old injuries.”

Training with a group or club is a low cost way to get support and create accountability during training.

About Nutrition

“My current coach is urging me to improve my choices in nutrition, minimizing breakfast cereals and other simple carbohydrates, sugar and other empty calories. He wants me to replace these with more vegetables and protein, including 30 or more grams of protein at each meal.”

About Rest & Recovery

“Rest and recovery are a necessary part of training. As much as I dislike a pause in training or competing, trying to ‘tough through’ has prolonged the agony and done way more harm than good. Rest and the resulting recovery of this senior athlete is just as important as training.”

About Racing

“I consider racing an extension of my training regime. By entering races, I set self-imposed timelines and deadlines for accomplishing levels of conditioning and readiness. Races are as much a means to an end as they are a destination. Racing confirms my efforts in a comparative way, against the same in my age group. It also brings me back to fond memories of high school swim or track and field meets.”

Even before the 2023 season began, Gary had already identified twelve (12) races in which he would compete. These included a mix of Olympic and sprint triathlons, running, and bike races. He has left open the possibility for an Ironman 70.3, as well.

Advice for Those Thinking About Their First Triathlon

“When I first started in the sport, triathlon gave me a chance to resume the interests in swimming and track that were cut short in high school. As I have continued, the greatest benefits of triathlon are in a two-way tie. There is the feeling of living a healthy lifestyle. Right along with this is the feeling I get when I see quantifiable improvements in my physical and mental well being.

Approached correctly, triathlon can benefit many others who are considering doing their first triathlon.

“Triathlon is a very inviting and forgiving sport to enter at any age, given the person goes at it in a sensible, progressively more intense way. Charging full speed ahead can lead to hitting the wall, getting discouraged, and dropping out due to injury or mental fatigue.

“A person over 50 who just wants to enjoy the triathlon experience without preparing for serious competition can enter super sprints or sprints to ‘dip his or her feet in the water’. It may lead to more, or not.

“Athletes with prior competitive experience will find that triathlon can test their upper limits at all distances. And I know plenty of wannabes who caught the triathlon fever. Even with little prior experience in any of the three disciplines, they could train to a level at which they became comfortable and confident with their performance.”

The Future of Training and Racing for Gary Vicari

At present, Gary’s top goal is to make it through the 2023 season injury free. A second, slightly longer term goal is to complete a half Ironman triathlon (IM70.3). As we saw earlier, this is a possibility for 2023.

Once he has reached these goals, he is considering ‘raising the bar’ to a full Ironman.

Why? “Because I want to keep challenging myself to reach for my limits, without pushing myself to the breaking point.”

What are the Main Challenges?

Gary has obviously thought about what it will take to reach these new goals.

First, is time for training. “To go for the longer endurance event distances requires training times that are tough for me to balance while operating a large business and sustaining a happy family life.”

Second, Gary has developed plans for treating health issues if and when they arise.

“I’ve assembled a good network of coaches, doctors, a sports performance chiropractor, and a massage therapist. I believe I can rely on them to be there as needed to restore me to competitive condition.

“As I age, there are more issues that surprise me. The challenge is to address them and then continue.”

Finally, Gary recognizes that most of his peers, friends and relatives have already abandoned active, competitive sports.

“As a 70+ multisport athlete, it can be lonely at get togethers. I have different interests than most others my age. To combat the tendency to go with the flow, I concentrate on being active in groups that are active. That usually means being with younger, sometimes much younger, amateur athletes. I like to rely on my experience and judgement to integrate with the youngsters.”

“Being with various ages of people reminds me that “you’re only as old as you feel.”

Does Triathlon Help You Feel Young?

What are triathlon’s greatest benefit for you? Or, if not yet involved, what would you like to get from triathlon or other multi-sport endurance training and racing?

Please share your thoughts and any questions for Gary in the Comments section below.

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