I had the opportunity recently to talk triathlon with Brian Wrona. Brian and Ann Kelly have been the TCSD Race Directors since March 2008. Please join me as we get to know one of the key people who make the TCSD the best club in the world.
Craig: What was your sports background before triathlon?
Brian: First off Craig, I was really excited that you contacted me about an interview. I read every interview you do, so the chance to talk triathlon and TCSD with you is very exciting.
I didn’t quite have the background that most people had when you ask them about triathlon. Growing up and through high school, I played baseball and golf. I’m left handed, so my parents were convinced that I’d be pitching in Major League Baseball in no time. I didn’t have a single inkling of endurance activity, with the exception of attempting water polo my senior year of high school. In college was more of the same, except on a strictly recreational level. By the end of school I had learned that I was actually a great bowler and could throw a mean slow pitch softball. The joke was always that I was a bit stocky, so I was less runner, more running back.
Craig: What prompted you to "try" triathlon?
Brian: I got into triathlon on a spur of the moment, impulse, what did I get myself into decision. I was at Jamba Juice and saw a Competitor Magazine. I picked it up and took it to work with me. After skimming through it, I saw an ad for the 2008 SuperSeal in the back. Even to this day I couldn’t tell you what prompted me to sign up, but I looked over all the distances, told myself they were all doable, went on the Website and signed up. It was when I got the registration confirmation that I sat back and thought “holy crap, what have I signed up for?” Keep in mind, the extent of my endurance activities to this point was a half marathon in 2006, surfing, and riding my beach cruiser to the store during my college years.
Craig: Back in the summer of 2008 you upgraded your bike to a new Felt. How did you break in your new ride?
Brian: I broke in my shiny, brand new bike the way everyone should. I had just bought a new Felt S22 from Moment Cycle Sport, quite the upgrade from the Nishiki I was riding. I decided I was going to head out on the TCSD Saturday morning coast ride. I had noticed that I was younger than a lot of the people in the club and thought to myself “I did Superseal a couple months before, I’m in pretty good shape, I’ll go show this club how to ride a bike”. So Darrell Steele goes through his talk about the ride, proper safety and general tips for the day. I’m sitting at the front of the pack, ready to set the tone for this ride. Everyone clips in and we start the ride from the Starbucks in Del Mar. The very first light, not even 100ft from the start, I don’t know if I was thinking about something else or just not used to clip in pedals, but we all slow down and I start to tilt to the left. I try to take my foot off the pedal and can’t because I’m clipped in. I topple over 15 seconds into the ride. And this was not your overcast, off season, couple people out there Saturday ride. This was a mid May, getting ready for the summer races, 3 to 4 dozen people out there.
It was that moment that made me realize I had a lot to learn about everything in the sport and that I was going to be humbled at every workout I did. Oh, and in regards to how the ride went? Yeah, I was dropped by the time we got to Solana Beach.
Craig: Why did you take on the job of Race Director?
Brian: I had met the previous Race Directors Cory Osth and Karam Gill very early in my triathlon career. I played on a soccer team with Karam and had met Cory when I bought my bike. I learned from both of them that they each had different pursuits in life that were going to basically rule them out from race directing again. Karam was joining the Navy Seals and Cory and his wife Heather were expecting their first child. They had mentioned to me that no one had really come forward to take over the position, which was unfortunate since I had done a club race and absolutely loved it. I asked what all went into the Race Director position, and both of them talked to me as if they’d rehearsed it. I got “oh, it’s no big deal. You set a few cones, draw some chalk lines, tell people where to go and you’re good”. Little did I know there was slightly more to it…
Luckily, Karam had told me a lady named Ann Kelly was going to be doing the directing as well so we’d be able to split the duties. This benefits everyone because whereas I’m good at the permitting & setup, she is excellent at getting the volunteers organized and helping Dawn put together our insanely great breakfasts. Plus she is always on top of it when it comes to coffee, and with the hours triathletes keep I doubt we could survive without it.
Craig: You have taken the USA Triathlon Race Director clinic. What was that experience like to become a certified USAT Race Director?
Brian: So as of November 6, 2010, I am a USAT Certified Race Director. I think classes and certifications like this are great for people in my position, because it is almost solely focused on what race directors can do to create a better experience for participants. Whether it be a new course, fluid transition area or unique awards, having the ability to learn from people who do this for a living is a great way for me to further my knowledge of the job. I’m excited to try and incorporate what I learned into future club events.
Craig: What would you like people to know about the TCSD races that not enough people are aware of?
Brian: I think the biggest thing I want people to know about the races, and I may be giving my secrets away here, is that on the actual race day I do very little. I’m fortunate in that I basically give the course talk, fire off the start horn, and get to watch and enjoy the event. We say it at every race, but it is honestly all the great volunteers that come out to help. There are people there in the morning before I get there, ready to help with setup and registration. We have small armies of people helping Dawn set up for the breakfast. There are volunteers directing traffic, taking down finishers numbers, answering questions for participants and helping us clean up after. I hope everyone that participates in a club event remembers to thank every volunteer they see, because most of them would probably rather be racing but are instead dedicating their early morning hours on the weekend to make sure our event is a success.
Craig: What are your favorite races to put on and why is that?
Brian: As far as personal enjoyment, nothing tops the beginner races. The vibe for these is like nothing you see anywhere else. During the set up and course talk, we are looking around at these nervous faces of people who have either never done a race, or maybe done 1 or 2. Then the gun goes off and you basically get an outsider’s perspective as to all the mistakes that are made by newbies. Going out too hard on the swim, a really long T1, starting the run with your helmet on, trying to run with no socks. I can look at all these mistakes and smile because I managed to do them all in my first race.
But then you start to see people start finish. You see people come in and cross the finish line. You see people with family and friends down there to watch them do their first triathlon. You see people yelling and cheering there hearts out as the last finishers come in. We’ve seen everyone from a 7-year old to an 80-year old come in. People start asking you about where they can sign up for local races, what kind of bike they should buy, what are the best training activities that the club has. I hate to sound trite, but people honestly get this glimmer in their eye and you know they’re hooked on the sport. That feeling, knowing that I helped someone get engulfed into a sport that I’ve embraced so much, that feeling will never get old. Not in a million years.
Craig: How has the sport facilitated your ability to make friends?
Brian: I never realized how much triathlon is less a sport and more a community until I took over this role. Since I’ve started race directing, I’ve made great friends all over. I’ve met people from other tri clubs in Southern California, Northern California, Texas, Arizona, etc….They’ve come down to do one of our events, and I get the same response every time: “this is free to club members???” I tell them they are, and it’s quickly followed by “well, what are dues? $200 a year? $300?” I tell them its $60 a year and the look on their face is absolutely priceless. Not to mention the fact that aside from the events, they always tell me how they’re embraced by everyone in the club. We’re all competitive people, but it’s great to see how someone from out of town can come in and immediately feel like they’ve been a member for years.
Even earlier this year, I was contacted by a lady who lived in San Diego, but her husband was located in Mexico City. He was coincidentally going to be in San Diego the weekend of a club race, and asked if he could do it. We had room left in the race, so I told her absolutely. After the race, the lady, the husband and their daughter came up to me and said that they were in awe that this was such a common occurrence for us here and couldn’t believe we got to do this.
Craig: I heard a rumor that earlier this year you raced the Wildflower Half Ironman on Saturday, 5/1, and then the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon on Sunday, 5/2. Those are both epic races. What brought on the idea to do them both in the same year?
Brian: Ha, so the Wildflower Half / Escape from Alcatraz weekend was by no means planned. I was signed up for the Wildflower Half, and was offered a free entry into Alcatraz. I initially said I doubt I could do it since it would require A) doing a Half Ironman on Saturday and a modified Olympic on Sunday and B) One of them was in San Luis Obispo and one was in San Francisco.
After further thought, though, I realized that I had an entry into Alcatraz, one of the most coveted races to get into. This might be my only chance to do that race. So I looked at it logistically and figured out that if I could line up a late packet pickup for Alcatraz, I could finish Wildflower in early afternoon, hop in my car, get up to San Francisco and do Alcatraz the next day. When I told my mom what I was doing she said “well, looks like I’m going to get to watch you race two races”. I asked “why?” and she said “because the concept of you finishing a Half Ironman then driving 4 hours up to San Francisco is ridiculous so I’m going with you”.
If I had to do it again, I would not race them on back to back days. Neither race was a PR by any means, but if you have the chance to do either race, I would recommend it. Running through the campground at Wildflower is out of control, and turning your head to breathe during the swim at Alcatraz and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge is a memory I’ll never forget.
Craig: What is your favorite benefit of your TCSD membership?
Brian: Best benefit of a TCSD membership is the resources, by far. Where else can you go to coached masters swim workouts on Monday & Wednesday, get a lesson in proper running technique and killer track workout by an elite level coach on Tuesday, have a huge organized group for a swim at La Jolla Cove on Friday, then go do a famous bike ride on Saturday? That isn’t even taking into consideration the fact that in the last year we’ve basically had the “who’s who” of endurance sports come to our club meetings. We had Chris McCormack come speak to the club two weeks after he won Kona. Honestly??? It’s unreal.
Craig: What do you do for a living?
Brian: I work as a recruiter for a security software company. This is assuming they don’t catch me doing TCSD paperwork during the day!
Craig: What are your goals for 2011 and beyond?
Brian: The main goals for 2011 are USAT Olympic Distance Nationals and qualifying for Boston Marathon 2012. A friend of mine also told me about a unique race in North Carolina in the Fall. Apparently you do a super sprint on Friday, an olympic distance race Saturday morning, another Olympic Distance race that afternoon, then a half ironman on Sunday. I figure it’s a good way to “one up” the Wildflower/Escape from Alcatraz weekend as far as stupid physical endeavors are concerned. And to further hone my Beer Mile skills of course.