Interview with a Triathlete

Even the elites of the sport come from humble beginnings. The best in sport can be faced with the same insecurities, nervousness, and excitement that faces novices as race day approaches. With the UBC TriDu just around the corner on March 11th, we caught up with a triathlete, ex-pro Ironman racer Randy Zabukovec, to share insights and experieces through his involvement in the sport for over the last 30 years, as a athlete and a coach.


Randy Zabukovec, former elite triathlete and coach of Ironstride Triathlon Club in Kingston Ontario. Competing at the 2011 Boston Marathon, on his way to a 3:00.01 finish.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background in triathlon. What got you first into the sport?
RZ: I became interested in triathlon in 1983 (when I was 13) after watching my older brother compete in a Swim/Run event in a lifeguard competition.  I was inspired watching my brother train for it and watching him compete.  After the competition my brother challenged me and a few of his lifeguard friends to try a triathlon the next summer.  I was the only one who took up the challenge and competed in the Brick Brewing Company triathlon in Waterloo, Ontario that consisted of a 1km swim/40km bike /10 km run.  Being 14 years old I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what the distance really meant but I finished the race – followed closely by an ambulance that trailed me as I entered the finish area, completely spent.
However, the challenge of the event and the excitement of completing the race stuck with me, and I became addicted to the physical training, mental challenge and emotional highs of the sport. These emotions are still strong even to this day.
From 1984 to 1998 I competed in hundreds of triathlons including World Championship events as an age grouper for the Canadian Age Group teams and in 1997 and 1998 as an elite in the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii. An injury in 1998 forced me to put an end to serious racing, and this turned me to formal coaching of athletes of all ages and ability levels.  I have had the pleasure of coaching some great triathletes and great people over these years which has lead to the development of my own club and team called Ironstride.
Q: What is the best part of the triathlon experience for you? Why do you like racing?
RZ: The best part of triathlon is the challenge of the race and consistently working on being better at something in the event.  Triathlon involves so many things – not just swimming, biking and running.  It requires balance and focus on nutrition, sleep/recovery, transitions, mental attitude, strength, endurance, efficiency and speed.  It seems no matter how good you get, or what your PB is, there is always something that you can work on and improve upon.  The physiological characteristics of the triathlon event require time and patience to really improve which makes it so exciting and motivating to train at it and attempt to excel at it.
Q: Provide an anecdote from your first (or an early) triathlon. Any race-day mishaps? What was the most difficult challenge to overcome on that day? What was your motivation for competing?
RZ: My first triathlon was a complete blur. I had no idea what I was getting into and what would happen. Being 14 and not having any idea of training or mentors at the time meant I went into the event with virtually no training. It was one long painful day that I thought would never end with me being alive. I do remember and have a picture somewhere of an ambulance following me in on the run – I must have looked pretty ugly. But in those days you maybe had 100 people in the race – most were prepared or coming from a running endurance background. I finished the race in 2 hours and thirty minutes but I think I was dead last.    However, the feeling of completion has never left me and struggling and overcoming adversity was something that this race taught me and has stayed with me to this day.
Q: What goes through your mind on the morning of a race? Do you have any specific preparations/routines/mantra?
RZ: Race morning is really a time of celebration of your commitment to training.  I really try to enjoy and embrace the excitement and energy from all the folks involved in the race. I like seeing competitors as teammates who are going to help push me to new levels of fitness and performance in the physical and mental capacity. I usually think of my preparation, training and commitment to training to help eliminate and settle any nervousness I may have.
As a coach I’ve developed a mantra with some of the elite triathletes that I was preparing in their first Ironman – No Doubts + No fears = No limits. If you believe in yourself – anything is possible!!!
Q: Any advice for a first time triathlete?

RZ: Enjoy the moment – don’t think about the whole event or distance needed to be covered.  Think of the next swim stroke, the next pedal stroke, the next run stride and the results will take care of themselves.
Q: What is the triathlon community like?
RZ: The triathlon community is tremendous.  Everyone is motivated, energized and positive. I especially enjoy the IronStride team in Kingston Ontario. Its made up of humble, honest and caring folks that keep me motivated to continue to be part of the sport and triathlon community.
Registration of the UBC Triathlon is still open until March 5th.

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