When someone tells you they played water polo in college, just get out of their way while in the water. This elite age grouper's swimming platform was built on a water polo foundation.Â He has qualified and raced at Clearwater for the 70.3 World Championships and Kona for the Ironman World Championships. Ladies and Gentlemen: Kim McDonald
KK: Kim, please tell us a little about you. Where did you grow up?
KM: Maybe the question should be "when"...I've been around for awhile...as in old! So that may be of interest. I grew up in the dinosaur days of triathlon when every race I entered had a mass start swim and we wore wool cycling shorts on road bikes that had toe straps and no aerobars. What's been cool for me coming back to triathlon after so many years is seeing that the sport has evolved and become so much more sophisticated. That keeps it interesting because I'm learning new things, experimenting with new training techniques to get faster. At the same time, I'm having to battle some of the same talented athletes I raced in the old days, like Dean Harper-guys who've stayed very fit and not lost much over the years. So it's been a fun challenge. I'll have to say that what's refreshing about being an older athlete is that the competition isn't as cutthroat as in the younger age groups. Hey, we've got a lot of other things to worry about-like making it to the next age group. There's also a lot of camaraderie-like the old days of triathlon. I love showing up at races and swapping war stories with the other geezers in my age group. I just moved into the 55-59 AG, which many of your readers probably think of as another geological era. My advice to them when they see us yakking away in the transition area is what I tell my 12-year-old daughter: humor us, give us plenty of space, avoid terms like "living fossil," and most important don't get us talking about our prostates. You might regret it. Anyway, to answer your question, I was born and raised in Hawaii, specifically the island of Oahu, then moved to Berkeley, where I went to middle school, high school and later college.
KK: What was your athletic background as a youth and in college?
KM: My mom was a single parent who didn't own a car, so I walked, ran and biked everywhere. Most of the time, my friends and I went barefoot (a little fact I like to drop on my daughter every time she tries to hit me up for a new pair of Uggs). In the summers, my mom would send me over to Maui to live with my uncle Donald who took me spear fishing every day. One of my cousins on Oahu shaped a surfboard for me and taught me how to surf. Looking back, I don't think I could have designed a better childhood. In high school, I swam, played water polo and wrestled. And when I got to Cal-Berkeley I played on the water polo team, which won 3 NCAA championships in the four years I played there. None of those titles was due to anything I had done, mind you, but I played day in and day out with guys who eventually made the U.S. Olympic Team and found out how hard you needed to work, how much suffering it took to reach the top. I think that experience more than anything is what has helped me in triathlon.
KK: Tell us about your academic background.
KM: Not long after I graduated from Cal, I moved to the Chicago area to attend grad school in journalism at Northwestern, and then ended up working in the Washington, DC area for 20 years as a newspaper reporter and editor. I came back to California 10 years ago to take a job as the head science PR guy at UC San Diego and I teach an undergraduate science journalism course here. San Diego is where I'd always dreamed of living. It's like living in Hawaii without the drawbacks of having to live on an island. Given that I'm back at a UC campus, it's like my life has come back full circle.
KK: What was your first triathlon?
KM: After I graduated in 1976, a couple of us who swam and played water polo at Cal were looking for ways to keep fit. So we started running and entering open water swims and swim-run races. Dave Scott would come down from Davis to do some of them with us and that's when I first heard of triathlons and the Ironman. I really had no interest doing them at the time, but when I left the Bay Area my buddies would write (yes, we had to mail letters to each other in those days) and tell me about Dave's exploits and Ironman, so I tried a triathlon or two in 1981 or 82, then got sucked into doing more and more. All of them were on the East Coast, but guys like Dean Harper and Scott Molina would fly out to a few of the big ones, so I was able to race some of the top pros then. The problem was that I worked long hours and traveled a lot as a journalist. So I didn't have much time to train.
KK: Why did you get involved triathlon?
KM: When I started working at UCSD 10 years ago, I got back into swimming since we have such a great master's swimming program here. Once I got into swimming shape, I started running again. Then people at the pool and track, specifically Terry Martin-Duvel, who you featured earlier, asked me if I wanted to go riding on the weekends. It took about four or five years before I actually entered a triathlon again, but when I finally got back into it I loved it. I have more time to train now and the people I train with are, like me, complete maniacs.
KK: What distances do you enjoy racing?
KM: I like Olympic distance races the best; 70.3 distances next. The Ironman is something I've never quite figured out how to race properly. I don't seem to be able to get enough calories and can't keep them down when the race gets too long.
KK: What is the Zoot Sports Elite Triathlon Team?
KM: Zoot Ultra consists of 20 talented pros and amateurs across the country who represent Zoot Sports and other sponsors-Orbea, Suunto, GU, Zipp, Fuelbelt and ALCiS-at races around the world. Some of the amateurs, like Mark Harms and David Valencia, are unreal athletes; they could easily be top pros. So they're great brand ambassadors. Zoot also uses us to provide feedback and do R&D for new products. In return, we get to use their top of the line gear, which is pretty sweet. If you ever get a chance at one of the local races to talk to Brandt Furgerson, who's responsible for new product development at Zoot, or Aaron Azevedo, who designs the shoes, you'd be amazed. These guys are real innovators. I do ocean swims on Friday mornings with Brian Enge, the CEO of Zoot, and he'll occasionally bring a prototype shoe or wetsuit for us to check out. I always leave the beach thinking, I need to change my career; these guys have the coolest jobs in the world!
KK: Tell us about your experience at the Ironman World Championships in 2007.
KM: I did my first Ironman in 2007 and that was also the first year I qualified for Kona. At the risk of sounding like an ad, this was the part of the race that was the highlight for me: Kona in 2007 was where Zoot launched its UltraRace shoe, which as you know doesn't absorb water and is designed to be worn sockless to save weight. I got a pair right before the race and people were trying to talk me out of going without socks. This is your first World Championships, they warned. Don't risk it. You're going to be sorry. But I ended up doing it anyway and had a great marathon and not a single blister. I don't usually have a good finishing kick, but I remember flying down Palani Road that day and passing people all the way to Alii Drive. So the run and swim were good memories.
KM: The bike, not so good. The main problem I've had with Ironmans is on the bike; my stomach always seems to get bloated in a long race, then I start throwing up and I have to resort to drinking water, coke and gels to keep me going. It happens every time I do an IM. It's totally frustrating. I qualified again for Kona last year with the hope of finally overcoming that problem, but it happened again. So I'm taking a break from the Ironman at least for this year until I can work things out.
KK: Did you get the same exhilaration racing at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships as you did racing the Ironman World Championships?
KM: There's really no place with the Superbowl-like atmosphere of Kona. Everyone wants to go to Kona. It's the birthplace of triathlon. Plus, it's like going back home for me. My aunt and uncle live up the street from the first bike turnaround off the Kuakini Highway. And I have two sets of cousins who still live there. My uncle Morris was for many years the principal of the high school in Kona, so I always have him make the restaurant reservations. The day after the 2007 race, when Chris McCormick won, the woman taking reservations at the Kona Surf Sunday buffet happened to be a former school employee of my uncle's, so we had no wait, even though we had a big party, and got the table right on the water right next to Macca's family. I think it was the better one, actually. Being Ironman champion will get you a good table the first year. But in the islands, being a big shot local will get you a good table for life.
KK: Where are some of your favorite places to train?
KM: I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better place to live and train year round than San Diego. That's why so many of the top pros live here. You've got the ocean for open-water swims in the summer, the mountains to the east for long rides and a lot of great places to run. Plus, I've got no shortage of really good swimmers, runners and cyclists to train with.
KK: Do you take the same approach when going into a 70.3 event as you would go into an Ironman distance race?
KM: I'm rarely stressed going into a 70.3 race, but always stressed before an Ironman. Maybe that's my problem. Ironmans scare me, because no matter how easy I go, I can't seem to hold food down during the long races.
KK: What is your favorite race so far? Why?
KM: I would have to say the Macho Man last weekend. If you've never heard of this race, scroll down to the blog titled Encinitas Sprint Triathlon here http://zootultrateam.blogspot.com/ It reminded me of the old days of triathlon; a bunch of kooks taking on a challenge without any idea of what we were getting ourselves into, Â then laughing and patting our backs about surviving it after. Paul Huddle and Roch Frey are on to something. We need more races like this. If you'd seen the smack and trash talk among the competitors post-race about who was going down next time, you'd agree. During the race, I even had a flashback that I was back in the â€˜80s when Scott Tinley rolled up to me on his road bike with clip-on aerobars, training wheels and no aero helmet. He even took the time to point out the potholes on the turns. He lives in my neighborhood and we usually end up making smart-ass comments to each other whenever we run into one another. But he has my total respect after that race. As far as I'm concerned, ST is still the Man.
KK: Which races means the most you? Why?
KM: A few years back I did a race called the Escape from the Rock (Alcatraz) triathlon. I did it out of pure nostalgia, since I grew up in the Bay Area and the race director, Paul Horning, was a swimmer at Cal and one of the first triathletes I had known in the early days. Anyway, I had a great swim from Alcatraz and not long after the first transition found myself leading the race with two SF motorcycle police officers leading the way. I led through the entire bike and half of the run, up to the sand ladder, when this young pro from Germany, Sebastian Linke, caught and passed me. My wife and daughter were at the start, but when they took a cab to the Presidio, they discovered the Sports Basement, got caught up in shopping and missed the entire race. I ended up second and Sebastian later moved to the San Diego area and started a company called SLS, which makes compression socks and other gear. He has a fear of sharks and almost didn't jump off the boat, so whenever I run into him we laugh about it.
KK: Can you tell us about your 1st place finishes at the ITU Aquathlon World Championships?
KM: The first one I did was in 2005 at the Honolulu Worlds. It was a run-swim-run format and the swim was tough because we had a lot of surf that day. Because it was in Hawaii, a lot of Aussies and Kiwis were there, so the competition was good. The other race I won was the next year in Lausanne, Switzerland. It wasn't as competitive, had a swim-run format because had to use wetsuits. But being at the headquarters of the IOC, the way the Swiss ran the awards ceremony, it was like winning the Olympic Gold.
KK: What is about triathlon that you enjoy?
KM: I have a number of good training partners that make life fun for me.
KK: Do you prefer to train alone or in a group? Why?
KM: Definitely a group, but a small group. I usually don't follow an exact training plan and I like to be with people, especially those who make me laugh. I just train hard some weeks, then back off other weeks when work or family obligations get in the way. That seems to work well for me.Â I actually like being the guy people who have high-end coaches call the night before when everyone else has bailed and they need someone to ride with.
KK: What advice would you give to someone wanting to get started in the sport of triathlon?
KM: I would say to find people who are fun to ride, swim and run with and don't worry about the competitive aspects of the sport. If you're having fun, everything will fall into place naturally. If you just train alone and are focused only on competing, it'll feel like having another job. We spend enough of our time and energy at work. Who needs another job?
KK: What are some of your goals for 2009 and beyond?
KM: My goals for 2009 are to do well at the USAT National Championships in August and at the ITU World Championships Triathlon and Aquathlon in Australia in September. After that, I'd like to go back to Kona and take another shot at the Ironman.
Pre Race Food: Trader Joe's flame-broiled turkey meatballs with sticky rice, canned green beans and a good glass of Cabernet
Movie: Iron Man (loved the special effects)
Race Wheels: Zipp
Book: Lance Armstrong's War
Running Shoe: Zoot Ultra Race 2.0
Vacation Spot: Maui and Hood River, OR (I'm also a windsurfer)
Person you would like to meet: Obama. While he's been way more successful than I'll ever be, I think we could have a good discussion. We had a similar childhood growing up on Oahu and California and I know he likes local food. Plate lunch at L&L, perhaps?
Thank you Kim McDonald, we hope you reach all your goals.