By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

As some of you know, I have been racing triathlons and duathlons since 1983. My first triathlon was on Sept. 17, 1983, at Sag Harbor, N.Y. — the second running of the Mighty Hamptons Triathlon.

My third race, as it happened, was likely the first duathlon (then called “biathlon”) ever held. It was organized by Dan Honig’s Big Apple Triathlon Club (which later became the New York Triathlon Club). It was held in the rain on a cold May day in 1984, at the old Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn, New York. By the end of my 35thseason, in 2017, I had finished a total of 255 triathlons and duathlons.

And man, I was really looking forward to my 36th season in 2018.

But it was not a good year, to say the least. For one reason or another, going into September of last year, I hadn’t been able to do any of the races I had on my schedule. As of mid-September, I was calling it my “lost season” —my first one ever.

What happened?

Strike One

On the day of the first event on my schedule, the New York Triathlon Club’s “March Madness” duathlon, it was cold, wet and windy. Alright, a no-go. Next was the 2018 USA Triathlon Non-Drafting Sprint Duathlon National Championships in Greenville, S.C. The night before I was supposed to fly down for the race, I was hit with an acute gastroenteritis, eventually diagnosed as a bacterial variety. Obviously, I didn’t make it to that one.

Next up, there was a flat duathlon on New York City’s Staten Island, “Patanella’s Flat as a Pancake,” in mid-June. I was ready, but it was canceled. Next was the New Jersey State Championships at Princeton, in July. I was really psyched, but for some reason I felt very weak when I woke up on race morning. Thinking it wouldn’t be wise to try my first race swim of the season in that condition, I decided not to toe the line. The New York Triathlon Club’s Central Park Triathlon, scheduled the next weekend, went by the wayside for a similar reason.

Strike Two

The next highlight of the season after the one I missed in Greenville was still ahead of me: the USA Triathlon Sprint Age-Group National Championships in Cleveland, Ohio. It featured mostly flat bike and run courses, and the swim was scheduled for a somewhat protected area of Lake Erie. A piece of cake, no? Well, no.

As it happens, since I was about 60 I’ve been getting seasick in swims that have any kind of motion in the water. I take what I like to call “my performance enhancing drug,” a prescription non-drowsy anti-nausea medication called Meclizine. It’s not on any restricted list, and it does enhance my performance in the water by helping me to not get seasick.

I went to the transition area to check-in the afternoon before the race, all ready to get going. But then I took look at the water. It looked pretty rough, but everyone was saying, “well, the wind dies down in the morning, so you ought to be fine.” Well, the problem would be that if the wind didn’t die down and I went down to the start and then decided not to race, I would have to wait around for about 4 hours to get my bike out of transition. So, another no go.

The irony was that the water was so rough the next morning that the U.S. Coast Guard (which, since they comprise an international navigable waterway, operates on the Great Lakes) asked USA Triathlon to convert the race to a duathlon. Of course, I had no way of knowing that in advance. So, another miss.

Strike Three…is he out?

The third highlight of the season was the International Triathlon Union Age-Group Sprint Triathlon Grand Final in Gold Coast, Australia. I had been looking forward to this race since I qualified for it in 2017 at in Omaha, Nebraska. But, I had a family member with a serious illness who was getting worse, so I decided at the last minute I really couldn’t be that far away for so long.

By that time, I was indeed looking at a totally lost season for one reason or another. It would be my first ever. Well, hopefully that was not to be. I was scheduled to do the Special Olympics of New Jersey’s One More Tri—racing the sprint duathlon—in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on September 16.

As August turned to September, I thought: if I don’t get injured between now and race day; if it doesn’t rain; and if my family illness situation doesn’t deteriorate further, I will be there. And if so, that would mean that my season would be very short, but not completely lost.

In my next column in this space, I’ll tell you what happened. I will also tell you how, in 2018, I already started planning for 2019 so that—barring any circumstances beyond my control—what happened in 2018 wouldn’t happen again.

** A version of this column originally appeared on the USA Triathlon blog, Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series, (No. 51, 2018/03), and is used with permission.

2018 marks Dr. Steve Jonas’ 36thseason of multisport racing. He began the season with a total of 255 dus and tris. He is a member of USA Triathlon’s Triathlon Century Club and is in the 90’s for duathlon. He has raced up to the Ironman distance, but now at 81, he is sticking to the sprints in both duathlon and triathlon.

Steve is a prolific author of books on multi-sport racing. His first (originally published in 1986) was The 2nd Ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006) is still in print. In 2012, he published a book exclusively devoted to duathlon: Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012). All of his books on multi-sport are available at and He is also long-time writer for various multisport periodicals, including the USA Triathlon Blog. He very happily joined Du It For You in 2016.