I talked triathlon with Mark Ford recently. Mark is a Tri Club member who finished an amazing 4 Ironman races in 2004. Please join me as we get to know Mark.
CZ: Which Ironman races did you do in 2004 and what were your times?
MF: Last season I competed in Ironman Australia, Ironman USA Lake Placid, Vineman and Hawaii. The first three I clustered nicely, finishing in 10:14, 10:15, 10:23 respectively. It was somewhere in the Adirondack wilderness that my body talked my brain into the "I know I can do Hawaii if I qualify" thought process. I managed VIneman fairly well, but decided to take some extra time to enjoy the course this year in Kona. I finished in 11:23, glad to be done, and ready to retire (didn't he say that last season?).
CZ: What Ironman races had you done prior to 2004?
MF: My Ironman career celebrates its 11th birthday this season. Prior to 2004 I raced Vineman 5 times ('95-99), and it was here where I first qualified for Hawaii('95', '97-'00, '03, '04). My wife and I have traveled to New Zealand twice ('01, '03), Germany ('03), Wisconsin, and next door to Oceanside (the long swim year).
CZ: With having done so many Ironman races over the years, what was your best Ironman experience?
MF: That's a toughie Craig, since I find myself trying to forget the mental anguish and physical pain in order to ramp up and race again. If pressed, however, I would have to say that nothing can duplicate the feeling of knowing that you are going to actually finish a race that you've watched on television for years. Getting out of the water, finally stepping off of that bike, and ultimately that last right turn down Palani Road, marking 1 mile left in the run, escalate into the stereotypical flood of emotions associated with finishing that first Ironman in Kona. After watching hundreds of people run down Alii Drive, it's only natural to wonder, "what would I do if I was there?" Those of you talented enough to have qualified and finished know that it flies by in a blur, leaving you wondering - what just happened? The best thing about it is it's the same feeling whether it's your first Ironman finish or your 20th.
CZ: Have you had a “bad” Ironman experience?
MF: As I mentioned, as an endurance athlete, we try and block out the negatives and focus on the positives. Sounds good in theory, but we also know about the best laid plans ... Harken back to Ironman 2003, when the transition area was behind the King Kam Hotel. I always thought it looked a lot cooler to push your bike holding the seat instead of the handlebars. As I was "looking cool" and running my bike to the mount line, something happened. My front wheel turned, the bike stopped, my cleats slipped on the wet artificial turf, and I basically tackled my bike on top of the mount line. Two point take down for the dork on the ground. I lost all the fluid in my handlebar bottle, sustained two nice gashes in my leg - each autographed by my chain rings - and in general gummed up the entire area as an official attempted to extricate me from my predicament. Not wanting to attract attention to myself (little late for that), I jumped up as quickly as I could and skidaddled. Upon reflecting on the incident in the medical tent after the race (5 stitches, no IVs, thank you very much), I wondered if my antics would make the telecast of the race. Alas, it wasn't to be. Still have the scars though.
CZ: What advice would you pass along to a person who has entered their first Ironman race?
MF: Surround yourself with wine, women and song. Allow me to elucidate. I would tell this person that they will make it to the end of their Ironman. We all possess a certain level of confidence, or quickly find some shortly after launching a training regimen with Ironman as a goal. It is this belief, combined with a sound training plan and time to execute it, that see us through to all of our personal finish lines. The references I make refer to that which Iron rookies often omit from their lives. I've realized my oenological affections have sharpened the more racing I have done. Translation: don't give up your hobbies. If you need to, find one - 2 of my favorites are reading and wine-ing, not necessarily in that order). Next, my wife and I completely support each other in our triathlon pursuits. Try and include your significant others in as much as possible since you'll be selfishly embarking on ludicrously long bike rides and runs that may or may not include the people most important to you. Last, make sure you have fun along the way, whether during training or not. It is just a race, granted a very important race to you the racer. Bottom line: when you train, focus on training; when you're not training, don't focus on training.
CZ: I remember sitting with you, your parents and your wife Tish at the awards dinner in Kona 2003. What does it mean to you to share these experiences with loved ones?
MF: My mom and dad (now 83 and 94 respectively) have seen me race 6 times in Hawaii, and it's been great having them there. Picture my white-haired parents looking for a place to pee out at the kawaehai turn (pre-portapotty), and you'll see their commitment. A month or so after I met Tish (VIneman '97), I asked her to accompany me to Hawaii and watch the race. Obviously something worked, since we have been racing together and supporting each other ever since. I couldn't have impressed her that first year though, since she found herself holding a bowl into which I was hyponatremically puking my guts out long into the night. Is that love or what? Tish knows well the highs and lows of training and racing, and for that I am both thankful and grateful. We pick each other up when needed and have had a blast racing in and traveling to some beautiful places around the world. I couldn't ask for a better combination of wife, coach, fan, and numerous other roles she fills in my life.
CZ: Tell me one of your funniest triathlon stories that has happened to you over the years.
MF: A few years back at the 2002 San Diego International Tri, a woman on a bike continued to ride ahead of me, stop, wait til I ran by, then shortly thereafter she would reappear a bit farther along the run course. She kept doing this for the last 3 miles of the race. I was too concerned with catching my buddy Zach, who was a scant 10 seconds ahead of me, to worry about the mystery woman or her motive. It wasn't until after the race that I looked back to see who had been chasing me, and it was none other than you, Mr. Zelent, and the woman was Laurie, to whom you later proposed on a race course we shared in Wisconsin. Notice I didn't use the year prior to this when you kicked my butt at the same race. Second, at the National Championship of the resurrected USTS in Oceanside (did I mention National Championship?), I was in the wrong gear starting the bike, couldn't shift, and had to walk up a hill within 100 m of the transition area. To make matters worse, my cleats kept slipping on the pavement, so I could barely even walk up the hill. Laughing I was, again trying to make the quickest getaway possible.
CZ: That’s strange…I think I preferred the 2001 San Diego International over the 2002 event. What was your sports background prior to triathlon?
MF: Living near the beach, we would bodysurf whenever we could. This led to swimming and water polo at Vista High. I didn't run until I was in college in Davis, which, needless to say, is where I first dabbled in triathlon. It was also in Davis where I saw Ironman for the first time, purchased my first road bike and joined the largest masters swim club in the country. I was unknowingly surrounded by great tri-vibes, and attribute some of my success to those early days and what we had to figure out the hard way (don't go on a 50 mile ride and only make it 45 because you only had an apple for breakfast and bonked HARD on the way home. Also, that a calorically-satisfied post-bonk nap at 10 am is hard to beat).
CZ: What would be your dream job in the sport of triathlon?
MF: For years I have wanted, no Craig, I have literally yearned, to be the guy who samples and ultimately decides which wines to put on the tables at the awards dinner. My second job would be to bus the VIP/pro tables at these functions, since they invariably leave most of said wine untouched.
CZ: What are your future triathlon goals?
MF: 2005 looks to be a relatively light year. Tish and I will be racing the inaugural Ironman Arizona, then heading to Ironman Austria in July. I honestly don’t know what else I will do this season, and that thought excites me. At this printing, I haven't the gumption to commit to qualifying for and racing Hawaii again, but if any of you know me, you know how quickly that can change.
CZ: Mark, thank you for sharing your story and helping me re-live some good memories. I wish you the best this year and always!