Friday, September 28, 2018

Kona Profiles #5 - Greg "Papa Bear" Peterson

The Ironman World Championships ("Kona") will be here before we know it, taking place Oct. 13th. As you know, it's incredibly competitive to qualify and a major accomplishment to do so. As we've done the last 2 years, we'll be catching up with our local Cinderellas... getting to know them as a tri community and cheering them on as they get ready for the ball!

Name:  Greg Peterson

Age Group:  M5054 

Qualified:  Ironman Foundation

Standard question: What’s your athletic background and how did you get into triathlon?

I’m a lifetime athlete. I played football, basketball, and tennis in High School and then went on to BYU Idaho (formerly Ricks College) to play football for two years as a wide receiver. Later, after I got married and had kids, my boys and I started racing in the USRA and WORCS series desert/motocross racing. We raced for around seven years until I had a serious accident at the Tooele track during a race and was laid up for a few months. For the next couple of years I was fairly dormant and in a lot of pain from the surgeries on my shoulders, my right knee and my right ankle. At around the same time frame, we also suffered from the dotcom crash which caused a lot of financial pressures on our family. I gained nearly 75lbs as a result.

In 2006, I was on a cruise for our 20th wedding anniversary and met this guy from Nashville, TN during one of the nightly dinners. His name is David Watson. He told us about his finishing Ironman Brazil and how it changed everything for him. He and I hit it off immediately and I was really intrigued—I asked so many questions that it became annoying to him, I’m sure. But, we became very good friends and remain so today. That same year I finished my first sprint triathlon at the Ice Breaker at nearly 270lbs. I took last place (11th I believe) in the Clydesdale division and I was completely exhausted. I went home that day and slept for more than four hours. But, I was immediately hooked on the sport and committed to something athletic for the first time in years.

With the encouragement of David and my other friend Woody, I trained and completed my first IM 70.3 in 2008. Then, in 2009, having lost nearly 70 lbs I finished Ironman Florida in 12:58:15. Since that time, I’ve completed IM St. George (1X) and IM Florida (6X). I went to Kona in 2016 to watch David race (he's a 15x Ironman). One little side note is that the day of the race, I got up at 3am and ran the final 2 miles of the race on Alii Drive all the way through the finish line so I could visualize what it would be like some day if I could compete in Kona. David and his wife are traveling to Kona this year with us, such a great fitting to the journey that started nearly 12 years ago.

For people not in the know, can you explain the Ironman Foundation and how it works?

The Ironman Foundation was established in 2003 as a way for Ironman to leave a legacy behind in communities where Ironman events take place. The mission of the Ironman Foundation is: To leave the Ironman legacy through philanthropy, volunteerism and grant making by supporting various athletic, community, education, health, human services and public benefit organization around the world. I first learned about the foundation a few years ago through the Ironman XC program. Given that this is the 40th anniversary of Ironman, I applied to be part of the foundation's effort to raise money for local charities in Kona.

My personal commitment was to rally friends and others in the local triathlon community in Utah to contribute funds to the foundation. Through these efforts and the kindness of more than 80 people, $30,000 has been raised that will be granted to local charities in Kona. The benefits of these donations will be realized long after the race is over. Because we all pulled together and met this goal, I was selected to represent the IM Foundation at Kona this year. I’m really grateful for this opportunity because although there is a good chance I won’t podium (jk), I know that people who have suffered from the volcano eruptions and recent flooding will be appreciative of these efforts to help them.

What has been your game plan in gearing up for Kona? (for example, following your own plan? Help from your fast son Jake? Formal coach? Etc)

I didn’t know that I would be selected for an IM Foundation slot until the end of February so I didn’t start training until the first week of March. I immediately called Wes Johnson at BAM and asked him if he was still good on coaching me if I ever got into Kona. Quick little side note, when he and I were with Jake at the ITU World Championships in Rotterdam last year, I jokingly asked Wes if he would coach me if I ever got an invitation to Kona and he said yes. So, I was ecstatic and really humbled when he said yes because I’m an above average triathlete, but not at all in the category of athletes that Wes coaches on a regular basis.

I train six days per week. We didn’t do any vacations this year. It’s been really hard, but worth it. Wes has elevated my game to a level I’ve not achieved in more than 10 years of training—it’s pretty unbelievable that I’m at least 15-20 percent faster today across all three disciplines at the IM distance at 53 than I was at the age of 41. The foundational approach that Wes and his team takes with athletes at BAM is the key. They focus on the right training, not just putting time in—which is the biggest difference between the right coach and the wrong coach. I can’t say enough good about BAM, their approach to coaching, but also they are just good people—great friends.

What races have you done this year and how has your training gone?

I’ve competed a couple local races (Daybreak and Echo) this year as part of my Kona training, but mostly just to benchmark (B and C races) along the journey to Kona. I completed IM 70.3 Boulder in August. One thing I did differently in order to prep for Kona is changing the times of day when I train. Nearly 80 percent of all of my training this year has been in the hottest part of the day all summer. Having watched the race in 2016, I saw firsthand the winds and heat at Kona. So, regardless of speed, I wanted to be mentally prepared for the heat and the wind. It was hard at first because training in the summer heat at above 95F, my body can’t maintain the same pacing as training in the cool mornings. But, it helps you gain a better perspective into sweat rates and nutrition and all the other race day challenges. I’m hopeful that in Kona it will all pay off.

triathlon can be an awesome family affair

Are you feeling burnt out and ready to get’er done or still enjoying the process? Which of the 3 disciplines do you hate the most right now and which is most fun?

Such great questions. I’m fatigued and ready to get it done. Mostly, because I don’t think my wife will put up with one more week of training. She has been incredibly patient. One of the other great benefits of having a coach from BAM is that you track all of your training. One of the ways I stay motivated is I review my fitness levels in graphical form (training peaks) from where I was compared to where I am today. Sometimes we forget or don’t realize the progress we have made. This became a reality for me when I finished the IM 70.3 Boulder bike averaging well above 200 watts for the first time ever. Right now, I like/dislike all three disciplines equally…depends on the day.

The swim is a little bit of a slug right now because all of the work is done, it’s just about maintenance at this point…and there aren’t a lot of options for 50m pools in the fall. The 25Y pools drive me a little crazy. The bike is the most fun for me for a reason that most people wouldn’t state as their number one. My bike fits perfectly. When I first started doing full Ironmans, I had a fitting from a local bike shop, watched YouTube, and like so many others had to stand and stretch the back and neck in the last 20-30 miles of IM races. Then, I decided to go to a real professional, Jeff Sherrod at Precision Bike, to see if I could dial it in. I found out my aero-bars were too narrow by more than 4” among other things. I can’t say enough about what an improvement it was for me in terms of comfort and the ability to relax in the aero position. It’s changed everything for me on the bike. One other thing I love about the bike is seeing such great scenery. I never get bored on the bike.

What are you most looking forward to and most terrified about thinking ahead to the race?

I’m really looking forward to participating in the parade of nations (GO USA) and the celebrations leading up to the race. I really enjoy the camaraderie of the athletes—every one has a story of how they got to Kona. So inspiring. Most terrifying is having a mechanical breakdown or an illness that causes me to DNF. One year at Florida I got kicked in the head on the swim so hard that I had blood in my mouth and ended up with a concussion, then in the hospital. But, just like life, you have to take things as they come and go.

Jake hasn't done a full IM yet, but he’s one of the fastest dudes around… what advice have you gotten from him?

Jake is so chill. He knows how difficult and demanding the long courses can be. He wants me to not race Kona, but to just enjoy the experience and make it a celebration of all the yards/meters/miles that were required to get to the start line. He has been a great support. It would be awesome to return to Kona someday to watch Jake. Someone needs to honor the legacy that BJ is leaving at Kona this year.

Greg's son Jake is the 2x defending season
champ in the M2529 Age Group

What do you hope to take away from your Kona experience?

I recognize that I’m built very different than most triathletes. I’m really grateful that my body allows me to be among such great athletes. As cool as it is for me, I recognize that it’s really about everyone else. If I were to narrow it to one thing, it would be to inspire others to know they can do “hard things.” With the inspiration of my friend David, I was able to do hard things. I have many family members and friends who will be watching that haven’t swam, biked, or even walked fast in decades. I hope they find the inspiration to become lifetime athletes — triathletes.

On the local scene, what’s your podium for favorite races and why?

I haven’t podiumed enough times like Jake to know the feel of the blocks I’m standing But, in terms of back drops/scenery, I would say Echo, Daybreak, Lake Powell (no longer around), and Salem.

Anything else you want to share?

I really appreciate the opportunity to share my experience. The most important thing I have gained from the whole experience over the past 10+ years is the friendships and camaraderie within the triathlon community. I hope it continues. In today's hectic, contentious environment, we all need something wholesome and meaningful to enrich our lives.

Thank you for elevating the “tri" scene. I know we are all very grateful.

Related Posts

Kona Profiles #1: BJ Christenson Back for #10

Kona Profiles #2: Laura Yost "Host With the Most"

Kona Profiles #3: Lee Weatherhead - The Chattanooga Choo Choo

Kona Profiles #4: Brice Williams & the Ironman Itch!

Ironman Crusher: Interview with Brice Williams

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