DC Triathlon Club

2019 Member Spotlight – Tuan Nguyen

November, 2019

How did you get involved in triathlons?
A marathoner friend of mine, who couldn’t swim a lick, was training for his first Ironman. I was like, I can’t swim a lick either, maybe I could do one. He kind of gave me the inspiration/nerve to jump to the dark side. From day one, before I even bought a bike or swam a stroke, my goal and focus were to do an Ironman. I signed up for one then I did a 50 mile bike ride. After the ride, everything, I mean everything, below the waist was numb. I could barely walk afterward. I was like, how the heck do you run a marathon after this? I went to the pool a few days later … stopped 3 times to hang onto the ropes before I could make to the other end of a 25 yard pool. Apparently, being in marathon shape just makes you sink even more.

How did you get into doing international races?
Back when I started, there weren’t as many Ironman races as there are now, especially in the U.S. Signing up for one was like a sport in itself. There were races, like Ironman Lake Placid, Ironman Florida, and Ironman Arizona that would literally sell out at the race site and never make it online. Folks would travel to these races to volunteer just to get a spot. That’s one of the reasons why I started looking overseas for races. They were easier to get in via online.

When I signed up for my first Ironman, Ironman Florida, they had sold out online 2 years prior and within 60 seconds of coming online the year after that. Al Gore hadn’t perfected the Internet back in those days. You’d get “page busy” when registration opened up. You’d just sit there and refresh the web browser constantly, praying that you would get in. And, most of us access the Internet via 56k dial up modems back in those days. If someone in your house decided to pick up the phone while you’re online, trying to register … well, you’d waterboard their ass for screwing up your Ironman plans for the upcoming year. Signing up was a very stressful endeavor. You’d want to put on a silk robe and smoke a cigarette afterwards.

To increase my chances, I had my sister and my mom on different computers while I was on another. We just hit the refresh button constantly in the minutes/seconds before it came online. Only my sister was able to get to the registration page. And, even after you get into the registration page, it was a race as to who could fill out the registration page the fastest. That year, it sold out within 90 seconds of coming online. If you were a rookie, you’d make the rookie mistake of taking your time to tell the Ironman your life story or think about what shirt size you want or who your emergency contact person was. By the time you told the Ironman your sad life story, registration would have closed. The veterans would “N/A” everything and randomly click on all the buttons just to get to the payment screen to get in. You’d sacrifice your first born afterward to thank the Gods for letting you in.

The second reason was price. Because there weren’t that many options available, hotels at certain venues would charge crack-like prices. I remember looking at cheap basic hotels for Lake Placid. They were charging $250 per night with a 5 nights minimum, that’s if you could one. I was like, for that price, even with the airline bike fees, airfare, and lodging, flying to Europe to race would basically cost me the same. I like to travel, so the decision to go abroad to race was a no brainer.

Nowadays, I do it because I love the overseas racing experience as well the language/culture experiences. Racing through small European towns along the bike and run course where folks are watching you while sipping coffee outside their apartment windows or in a sidewalk restaurant is a pretty cool experience. It’s not something you get racing in the U.S.

What international races have you’ve done?
Challenge Copenhagen 140.6, Challenge Amsterdam 140.6, Ironman Italy, Ironman Sweden, Ironman Germany (Frankfurt), Ironman Barcelona, and Ironman Korea. Signed up for Ironman Estonia for 2020.

What are some challenges of doing an international race?
In the U.S, everyone uses special needs bags. Overseas, very few athletes utilize them. Most of my overseas races, I don’t ever recall seeing them on the course. I remember not seeing special needs bags during packet pickup at my first overseas Ironman (Frankfurt). I went up to a volunteer to inquire about it since I thought that they forgot to put one in. They passed me along from one person to another until I got to the RD. He said that they don’t have one.

I have never raced an overseas Ironman with a 17 hour cutoff like they have here in America. All of them were in the 15-16 hours range. Ironman Korea was 16 hours, Frankfurt was 15. If you are on the slower end, do your research before signing up. I think due to the shorter cutoff times, you’ll tend you see the age groupers, as a group, to be faster than their American counterpart. I kid with people all the time about this. I tell folks that in America, you have people of all shapes and sizes racing Ironman. In Europe, it seems like they only come in one size.

Are there any differences between US and International races?
They don’t baby you overseas like they do here in the U.S. Don’t expect wetsuit strippers, volunteers racking or unracking your bike for you as you enter/exit transitions, or volunteers retrieving and putting away your transition bags for you once you are done. You do everything yourself.

Don’t be surprise if the changing tents are somewhat coed. They do have smaller off to the side areas where you can strip naked in total privacy, but it’s not like America where you have the separate male and female changing tents that were built with privacy in mind.

Do expect completely closed off roads. In America, the roads are well separated from cars, but they are not on 100% closed roads. For Ironman Frankfurt, they closed off a portion of the autobaun for racers. They completely closed down a major beach road in Barcelona for racers. For Korea, I think they shut down the entire town 🙂 A lot more spectators throughout the course in Europe than in America.

The registration fees for all of my overseas Ironmans were between $100-$300 cheaper than what I paid for here in America. That’s like getting a free voucher to bring your bike on the plane. Your flights to some of these European Ironman races can be on par with what you would pay to fly to IM Arizona or IM Santa Rosa.

What are some of your favorite races?
I love Challenge Copenhagen, now called Ironman Denmark. The city is awesome for you and your family to tourist around. The people are extremely friendly. The swim, bike, and run course are full of spectators. The course itself is fast and beautiful. Ironman Chattanooga is my favorite U.S race. Awesome venue for a race. Very fast swim and bike course. You’ll suffer a little bit on the run, but you always suffer on the run at an Ironman.

Any advice for someone that would like to do an international race?
Know the rules of the country that you are racing in. Depending on the country, like France, you’ll need a doctor’s note in order to race. If you walk up to packet pickup at Ironman Italy and expect to pay a one day Federation license racing fees on site (i.e., like USAT one day race fees), you’ll be in for a rude awakening. They’ll require you to produce a doctor’s medical examination document before they will sell you a one day racing license. And, it has to be from an Italian doctor, on an official form. You can get by this by showing proof that you are an active member of your country’s racing federation (i.e., show them proof that you are an active USAT member. If you are not an USAT member become one before leaving the country). Unlike American Ironman races, you don’t have to pay USAT type fees during registration as long as you can provide proof on site that you belong to it.

Everyone, if they can afford it, should race overseas at least once in their lifetime. It’s a totally different experience. There are greater mixtures of people from different countries in overseas races. Ironman Italy has something like 80+ countries represented. They had a parade of nations the day before the race. I think that just enhances the racing experience.

Any fun facts about yourself that you’d like to share?
I collect Coke cans from different countries. The only requirement in my collection is that it has to be from a country that I have visited. I think I have about 40 Coke cans from various countries around the planet. My greatest fear is that one day, some little 2 year old will see my collection and open and drink all of them.

I started a DCTri group bike ride (Sunday bike ride with the Vertical Swimmer), which is still ongoing. A few of us in that group bike ride decided to organize an impromptu swim, bike, run training day at Sandy Point. We recruited a bunch of other folks within DCTri to join in. We called it, PeasantMan, to kind of mock the Ironman. We were expecting about 15-20 people to show up. We got about 125. The success of that day lead to what is now, PeasantMan – Lake Anna. The rest is history.