Professional Triathlete Darby Thomas has joined Team Checkmylevel.
Hi Darby, Please tell us little bit about yourself?
I come originally from the US but I have called Finland home for the past 8 years and don't plan on leaving anytime soon! I have been an endurance athlete since I was a kid, first with cycling and the past few years with triathlon. Sport has always been a big part of my life and now it is firmly mixed with family life as I have two wonderful children. I have been lucky to call triathlon my 'job' the past couple years.
You used to be a National level road cyclist in your junior years. Tell us more about that time.
I was talented enough as a young cyclist to make my way onto the US National U-23 team and spent 4 years getting a 'tough education' in the reality of professional cycling. I lived in Belgium for most of that time racing in U-23 events and lower level pro races. Success came occasionally but not as much as I had hoped for while the rest of the time I spent getting pretty well beat up. That is one tough sport... racing 50-70 days a year, traveling all the time, crappy weather, lots of crashes, etc. The happy moments are often few and far between.
Was it hard to stop something that you had been doing professionally for so many years?
Yes and no. Of course when you dream of and commit to a big challenge like trying to make a career as a professional cyclist, then deciding to stop much earlier than you expected, it feels like a failure. However, when I got to the point where I decided I wanted to stop, I knew it was the right decision for me. I loved the sport but I didn't believe in my ability to enjoy the sport for a full career. I knew that i first had to enjoy what i was doing if I were to be successful and the happiness was fading quickly into stress and frustration. The same time I was deciding my future in cycling, I also met my soon to be wife and realized how important a 'normal' life was to me. A life that i was not living out of a hotel most of the year.
Then how did you find triathlon?
Triathlon became a hobby of mine when i moved to Finland to go to school and live with my wife. I needed something physical to do as I have always been doing sports since I was little. I also needed a social connection place to meet new friends in my new home. Triathlon in Turku (where I lived when I first moved to Finland) is well organized and offered great group training activities where everyone was really welcoming. I immediately enjoyed the experience and got really involved with the local club. I had no ambitions other than perhaps a few local races so it was just a hobby to enjoy.
How would you compare being a pro in triathlon versus road cycling?
Triathlon and cycling may be similar as they are both endurance sports but thats pretty much where the similarities end. Training is very different. In cycling you are racing so much you really only have the pre-season to train and perhaps smaller pieces of time between races but those are limited. You go from race to race and are mostly just recovering between. Triathlon on the other hand is mostly a training sport where you spend long periods of time training to prepare for an event where you peak. The racing schedule is much more spread out giving good opportunities to train properly between.
The racing style of cycling is very aggressive and in reality is a team sport where tactics determine who wins more than who is the strongest. Basically the person with the strongest AND smartest team will have the best change to win but nothing is guaranteed. In triathlon it is purely an individual sport and results are achieved mainly by how high your fitness level is on race day. Yes, there are tactics which are important in achieving results, but at the end of the day, its usually the guy with the best fitness who wins. I really enjoy triathlon for the reason I get back in results, what I put in with training and preparation.
What are your next competitions and targets?
This season has been my first focusing on full-distance triathlon and by all measures has been a success with consistent top 7 results in all 4 events. However, I still have a hunger to achieve one level higher to be top 3. I took a short break part way through the summer to get rested up for the fall season and now I have two move events I am very motivated for. At the end of October i race Challenge Forte Village in Italy, which is a 1/2 distance event. This should be a good test of how my preparation has been going but my real focus is Ironman Cozumel in Mexico at the end of November. Thats where I hope the past three months of work will come out to shine.
Final question - What is your ultimate dream as a triathlete?
Ironman Hawaii has been the gold standard for long-distance triathlon for over 30 years. I am currently building toward that goal where I hope to make my mark on that race. I know I have the physical talent needed but in that race, you need far more than talent to get a result. It takes years to build up the endurance, power, and more importantly mental strength needed to not just survive in the exceptional condition (very hot, humid and windy) but thrive against your competitors. I do believe in my long term ability to make it to that level but I am a realist and understand this doesn't happen over night. I expect nothing less than years of slow progress to eventually arrive at the point where I can achieve the goal of fighting for a top placing in Hawaii.
Darby's personal website can be found here: http://www.triathlete.darbythomas.com/