Friday, June 19, 2009

SF Tri Guy: Triathlon Family’s Foreign Talent

On the Triathlon Family forum, he is known as ‘SFTriGuy’. ALAN GERALDI is co-founder of the San Francisco Triathlon Club (now, one of the largest and strongest triathlon clubs in the USA). This busy lawyer has raced in several Ironman triathlons and numerous ultra-marathons (think multiples of 42km)! His highly insightful blog reads surreal, as it describes in detail his races, motivations, sensations, epiphanies, and observations. You can almost feel his pain, discomfort, joy and tears in the footprints of his writing. Alan has been featured on local television about executives who run to work – marathon-distance! Whether as a lawyer, parent or athlete he is every bit as committed to his purpose.

Alan’s shaven head, well-groomed, tough all-American look, belies his gentle confidence and competitiveness. TriFam co-founder, Teo Ser Luck describes him: Alan is someone I look up to. He is helpful and a real professional in his corporate work as a legal counsel. He looks mean on the outside (maybe due to his martial arts training) but a real gentleman on the inside. A friend that I am so glad to have.’

There is one word that aptly describes an amateur athlete who has beaten professional athletes to the finishing line in Ironman triathlons, and completed some of the most challenging ultra-marathons such as Badwater - Fierce!
Full name: Alan R. Geraldi
Age: 44
Status: Married
Children: 3 sons (11-year-old, Brandon and twins 5-year-old Aidan and Christopher) and 11-year-old stepson, Connor.
Profession: General Counsel & Senior Vice-President of Panalpina, Inc.
Years in profession: 20 years in transportation industry law
City of Residence: San Francisco, California
Years in triathlon: Did my first sprint triathlon in 1984; first half-Ironman 1985.
Pet peeves: Egos - they have no place in any sport.
Hobbies: Running, running, running and other endurance sports.

EV: Alan, how did you become associated with Triathlon Family? Who were the first few people you were acquainted with?
AG: I became associated with the Family through my good friend, Teo Ser Luck. He and I used to work together and have done some training (during company meetings) and a race (Desaru Long Distance Triathlon) together. He knew I was a co-founder of San Francisco Triathlon Club (now one of the largest and strongest tri-clubs in the U.S.A.) and we spoke often about his desire to help start a triathlon club in Singapore. I have had a chance to "meet" through e-mail and the forum, so many fantastic TriFam members. I still consider Ser Luck a close friend despite our inability to see each other in person for quite a few years.

EV: Walk us through your active lifestyle. You are a successful lawyer, and very active in ultra-marathons. How do you do it?
AG: It is all a balance - a balance based upon demands, priorities and rewards. Sometimes, my work demands more so my sport gets less. Sometimes, work is not as demanding so I can dedicate more to sport. I do most of my training during the week on my "lunch break". But since my workday is so busy, I may take my break at 09:30, 12:00, 2:15, 3:30 or 5:00. I need to be flexible. On weekends, I put in my longer workouts. When I travel, I always bring my running gear (can't pack a bike and hotel pools are the size of bathtubs). I always try to make sure my family does not get any less of my time no matter the demands of work or sport.

EV: You used to do Ironman triathlons. How many did you do, and your best performance?
AG: I have done Ironman Florida, Ironman Austria (still my best bike split at 5:30), Ironman USA Lake Placid (2 weeks after IM Austria) and Ironman Canada. My best was IM Canada, in 10:16:30.

EV: Boy, are you fast! So, did you come from a swim, riding or running background?
AG: I started running and moved into 10K's and then marathons.

EV: Why did you switch to marathons and ultra-marathons?
AG: I moved to ultra-marathons, recently, as my present work leaves me little time to train on the bike for Ironmans, and I had always heard of the first 100-mile (161 km) race in the USA called Western States 100. That is a few hours from where I grew up, so I decided to train and try that. I entered my first ultra, 2 years ago and ran a double-marathon in 8 hours 31 minutes.

EV: Other than running, what else do you do to keep active?
AG: I do some weight lifting, stretching and still try to get on the bike. I try to do some hiking, also. I am entered in another Ironman this year, so will be back in the pool and on the bike more unless work prevents it.

EV: Good for you, Alan! How did you get started on triathlons?
AG: I was running track and cross-country in college and I read an article about it in a magazine. I decided to train, and soon learned that my cross-country coach was also a triathlete. That was in the early 1980's.

EV: When taking on these physical challenges, how do you maintain your work/life/family balance? Jack Welch stated that it is work-life choice - your thoughts?
AG: As mentioned above - I think it is a balance of demands, priorities and rewards. If all I wanted was the sporting reward, I could ignore very important work and family demands. If all I wanted were the work-based rewards, I wouldn't run or see my kids. The reward I want the most is that my kids have a loving, supportive and complete life. I try to let them "participate” in my sport with me, and I have taken them running, swimming and cycling with me; and to some races whenever possible.

EV: How does an active physical lifestyle tie in to your work as a lawyer?
AG: Work is very demanding and, often, very stressful. Sport helps me balance that by giving me an outlet. In addition, my goal as a lawyer is to "succeed" - whether in contract negotiations, litigation or representing my employer before a government agency. This "theme" follows through in my sports. I hardly ever "win" a race outright, but I can succeed with my goals and best performance.

EV: Do you have any aspirations for Ironman World Championships in Kona? AG: Since 1984. I have come very close (a few spots at Half-Ironman Kona twice, and at Ironman Canada) - and I will continue trying until I do this race.

EV: Tell us more about your Ironman finishes.
AG: Ironman Florida was my first and I bonked at mile 80 on the bike. I bounced back and managed to come through at around 11:30. Ironman Austria was to be my personal record (PR) race - I had dreamed of going sub-10 hours. But I was on the road for work two weeks before the race and came down with a very bad head cold. My lungs and sinuses were congested at the starting line. But, I had a good swim and bike (fastest bike split) but died after the half-marathon. I still finished around 11 hours so it was good - but forced myself to cross that line. Crossing an IM finish line is an experience that never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

EV: Who are your biggest influences in your life, and why?
AG: My father is also a runner - he is over 70 and still does half-marathons. He and I used to train together and he gave me, through genetics, the stubborn streak I need to finish and the "Type A" streak where we always think we could have done better. He is also one of my best friends. My mother, of course, was very supportive of me and helped me get my first bike. My wife and children are what I think about and how I want to make them proud when I am racing. In the sport, Dave Scott was my biggest influence. In the early 1980's I read a story about him racing at Nice. It described his very tough training schedule and strict vegetarian diet. That day I said, "OK" and adopted it. That was 25 years ago and I still follow the same basic principles. In ultra-running, I like Dean Karnazes and Scott Jurek.

EV: What is your strategy for racing? Is it 'all or nothing', or 'one step at a time', or 'be the best'?
AG: Depends upon the race and my goals. I would say it is more like "Run your own race". I have pre-visioned my race and that is what I try to follow. I may have to adjust depending upon my body and race conditions but, overall, I try not to be influenced by someone else or to just go out and get a finish (unless that was my plan at the start). I always try to do my best.

EV: What mental skills/anchors do you use once you really start hurting (in a race) and the grizzly bear climbs on your back telling you to just walk or quit?
AG: I look at all the training, time, expense and I effort I had invested to get to the point and how it would be wasted. I then break the race down into smaller portions: "Just run 10 more miles before walking a bit." "Just ride hard to the top of the hill and then cruise and recover on the downhill." "Try and do a 7:30 minute mile here and then back off and go slower on the incline," etc.

EV: How do you stay motivated to repeat similar challenges once you have ticked the box, i.e. Badwater?
AG: I will admit that is tough. I rarely repeat events (I did Keys 100 for the second time this year - it was the only 100 miles I have repeated). I have no problem finding new challenges and attempting them - but once I have done one, I do admit my mind looks for the next new challenge. Each race is a different challenge - so once I did, say Tahoe Rim Trail 100, when I looked at Leadville 100 I was just as motivated - same distance, different race, different challenges. The same is true with my Ironmans - never repeated one...although I would like to give IM Canada another go!

EV: What lessons from triathlons and marathons have you brought into your profession as a lawyer and self-directed leader?
AG: That when I set a goal - I see it through. It is easy to come up with excuses or be sidetracked, but one owes oneself a duty to finish what one starts. Since 1984, in hundreds of events, to date I only have 2 DNF's - one in a 100-miler in Texas where my piriformis acted up at Mile 17 and slowed me to a limp and left me hardly able to lift my leg by Mile 40. I made it to Mile 80 before time cut-offs forced me out. The other was in a 100-miler called the Barkley. With over-750 starters in its history, it only had eight finishers! It is so I consider myself in good company. That one is the one I will try again, and is my main race for 2010.

EV: What was your proudest moment in triathlon/ultra-marathons? What have been your major achievements?
AG: IM Canada’s 10:30 is my proudest IM finish - it was a race where I beat some pros and everything clicked. In ultras, my first 100-mile finish at Tahoe Rim Trail was so memorable. But finishing Badwater 135 is one of my proudest. I am also quite proud of finishing two 100-miles (Leadville and Montblanc) 2 weeks apart where each race had less than 50% finishing rate.

EV: How has Ironman training and racing benefitted you, both personally and professionally?
AG: It helps me balance my life and gives me a stress release.

EV: What's next on the list of 'to do' or 'to conquer' list?
AG: I need to do Western States 100, Kona Ironman, and the Barkley.

EV: What is your philosophy towards life? The host of 'The Amazing race', Phil Koeghan wrote a book 'NOW - No Opportunity Wasted'. What is your take on that?
AG: I love the Amazing Race - wanted to try that and Survivor (I actually applied for Survivor once). I agree with the title as written. Many people do waste opportunities but that is just that - a waste. One should seize every opportunity to challenge oneself. That is what defines life.

EV: How do you maintain a healthy business/profession when trying to give 110% towards training?
AG: See "balance" above.

EV: What methods do you use to monitor the onset of fatigue/flat spells/de-motivation during training for such events that come down to you performing at your best on a single day?
AG: Proper hydration and nutrition are the keys. Of course, a solid training base is essential. I "listen" to my body. By now I know what to expect and if my body is not delivering, I react and "treat it".
Photograph Collection: Courtesy of Alan Geraldi