For a little change of pace, we thought it would be fun to highlight an athlete from a team besides our own. Tom Trauger of team Every Man Jack fits the bill perfectly. Tom is perennially among the best in the world in his age group, despite not discovering triathlon until his mid-40’s. Among other things, it was awesome to chat with him about past Kona pursuits (both highs and lows) and what motivates him to keep going strong.
Thanks for the time, Tom, and best of luck to you and Team EMJ this season!
Having gotten into triathlon later in your adult life, are you ever surprised by how far you’ve gone in the sport?
I’ve gone further in triathlon than I ever thought possible. In the past I’ve thought I was pretty good at some sports, but I’ve been better at triathlon than any other endeavors. In some ways age and maturity help as a triathlete… for long-distance triathlon you need to have the ability and willingness to suffer. I can out-suffer a lot of people… I’m pretty good at it!
I’ll start the season the second weekend of April with a local Olympic-distance race in Northern California and do another one the following weekend. Then it’s Ironman Texas on May 16, where hopefully I’ll earn my way back to Kona. Later in the season I’m planning on Escape from Alcatraz, Vineman 70.3 and maybe Lake Stevens 70.3. Since I’m not doing Austria (Ironman 70.3 World Championships), I’ll need a race to do that time of year… maybe one in New Hampshire as part of our family vacation, then hopefully Kona again in October.
Can you give us a little history on your experiences chasing Kona in prior years?
I first qualified for Kona in 2009. My hip was injured but I went to race anyway. On my second day in Kona in 2009 I crashed on Ali’i drive, separating my shoulder before the race. I had an operation on my hip in early 2010 and since I wasn’t sure I’d be able to race again, I didn’t sign up for any Ironman races in 2010. As 2011 rolled around I was totally focused on getting back to Kona. At Ironman St. George in 2011, I got a flat and missed by seconds. At Ironman Canada that same year I tripped coming out of T1 and, without knowing it, my front brake shifted and was rubbing on the wheel. I didn’t realize it until a guy half my size went flying by me on a downhill. That’s the only race I’ve ever mentally quit on. Afterwards I was more determined than ever, so I raced my 3rd Ironman of 2011 at Cozumel and won my AG by a lot (11 min), qualifying for Kona 2012. That was probably the best race of my life.
How frustrating was it to have that bad luck in your pursuit of Kona?
It wasn’t life and death, but I was very frustrated. I’m a very goal-driven guy and I work pretty hard to achieve my goals. I will say though that not getting what I wanted made me work even harder to make it happen.
How sweet was it then to have the result you did at Cozumel?
It was totally sweet. When you get that magic piece of paper in your hand confirming you’re going to Kona, it’s pretty amazing.
Since then it’s been relatively smooth sailing for you and Kona. How did last year’s race go, and what’s the competitive landscape like in your age group?
I was 5th in my AG last year (9:49). That’s my best result in terms of placing, but it wasn’t my fastest time.
If you look at the USAT standings for my AG, many of the top 10 are Californians, and mostly Northern CA… over the last 10 years probably, 7 of 10 of the top guys are from NorCal. So I know those guys. There were two Euros who beat me that I knew would be very tough going in, a German (Wolfgang Schmatz 9:32) and a Danish guy who won it (Bent Andersen 9:31). The latter seems to come every 5 years, when he’s in a new age group. He crushed the field at 45-49, then came back at 50. Wolfgang has also won the AG several times. I actually didn’t know the two Americans who beat me, which was kind of surprising (Richard Sweet 9:40 & Chris Montross 9:47, both also from CA)
How have conditions been at Kona the last few years, and how do you train for it?
It’s not like Vegas heat, not 100 degrees… but the combination of wind, humidity and heat makes it feel very hot. That said I’ve never been on the most miserable years. Last year the wind on the bike was ridiculous, but from a temperature standpoint it wasn’t bad. It was even a little overcast on the run. It’s definitely humid though, you’re gonna sweat a lot and need to take care of hydration needs.
I try to train for it by riding in places where I know there’s going to be a steady headwind. A regular place I ride is a false flat with steady winds where I do hill repeats into the wind. Last year at Kona at times I’d look down and see 7-8 mph, but I was still passing people in my granny gear.
I like to suffer. I view myself as a cyclist, and my bike as a weapon. When conditions are really, really hard my mentality is “I must be picking up time right now.” If I’m thinking “wow, this is really hard!” others must be ready to get off and walk.
You mentioned you’re not going to Austria, but have you raced 70.3 Worlds in the past?
Yeah, I raced at Mont-Tremblant this past year and was 3rd in my AG. At Vegas I previously have been 4th.
Mont-Tremblant is a beautiful place, and I had so many Every Man Jack teammates there. Race day weather was pretty much perfect and the crowd support was amazing. Having said all that, the bike course is unbelievable in Vegas. It’s a marginal swim venue, the water is not the greatest, and they could have done more with the run course to make it more scenic. Vegas unfortunately has never had good weather on race day, but both are great races. I’d have to give the nod to Mont-Tremblant though… that course and pristine water. I may consider going to Australia in 2016 in place of Kona (70.3 Worlds will rotate from Austria in 2015 to Australia in 2016). I’ve never been there before.
What can you tell us about team Every Man Jack?
The founder, Ritch Viola, formed the team in part with guys from a team sponsored by a San Francisco bike shop that was disbanding and originally there were just 12 of us. I’m the “old guy” on the team, and I love having young teammates to chase around who inspire me to stay at it. The motivation we get from each other is huge, knowing you better drag your butt out of bed and make it happen. I’ve definitely gotten better since being on the team… it’s a very cool thing.
Triple Threat Triathlon’s David Wild with an EMJ team member at HITS Napa
What are your goals for this season and looking forward?
What’s fun for me is trying to still get faster; having the mentality that I can’t slow down, and keeping “father time” at bay as long as I can. Racing with my teammates helps, but really it’s seeing how long I can go before I slow down. It’s fun still being somewhat relevant overall, not just in the geriatrics division. I’m kind of still at the pointy end of the overall field, so that’s what motivates me.
About Triple Threat Triathlon
TripleThreatTriathlon.com is a rapidly growing triathlon site centered around a US national team. Age group triathletes are selected as representatives of their individual states and local ambassadors of the sport, while contributing to the team’s collective, national goals. Learn more at: www.triplethreattriathlon.com