A San Diego age grouper — and world-class sprint triathlete — ruefully remembers his race and training missteps.
by Don Norcross
Brian Wrona, a 29-year-old San Diego-based recruiter, considers himself a classic IRONMAN athlete. A classic case of how to make every rookie mistake in the book, that is.
“I would be the model of how not to initially progress in the sport,” says a smiling Wrona, a strong 70.3 age group competitor who is headed to IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene this year and will represent the United States at the Sprint Triathlon World Championship in London in September.
A well-rounded casual athlete who played water polo, baseball and golf in high school, Wrona wasn’t doing much more than hitting the gym, lifting weights and jogging a couple times a week in his early ’20s. But everything changed five years ago when he picked up an endurance sport magazine while waiting in line for a smoothie.
He saw an ad for a short-distance triathlon and figured he’d try it. Not long afterwards, he was completing a 1,500-meter swim, 25-mile bike and 10K run. Seven months later, it was on to a 70.3 and a year after that he completed his first full distance race.
But, while he was used to sports coming easily, triathlon was a whole different story. He was tackling progressively harder races, but with a certain amount of frustration.
“It was the first sport that was out of my comfort zone,” he says. “I wasn’t good at it.”
Wrona’s “aha” moment came when he realized he wasn’t putting in the training volume needed to meet his expectations at the distance. (He set his personal best at the full-distance race at the Vineman triathlon of 12:56.) So he decided not to be obsessed with the IRONMAN distance and adopted a quality over quantity philosophy instead. He also became a student of the sport, starting from scratch, essentially, and working with a coach to learn how to be faster in each discipline.
He set a personal best last year at the half-distance (5 hours, 2 minutes) and its safe to say he’s addicted to the sport. “Coming down the finish chute of your first IRONMAN … I have yet to find anything in life that rivals that feeling,” he says.
So what lessons paved Wrona’s bumpy road to being an IRONMAN? We asked him to share his top total-beginner mistakes:
1. Going all-out at the starting line
After just 50 meters at his first race, Wrona left the other triathletes in his wake. “Then I was dying for air,” he says.
2. Dawdling at transitions
“[At first,] I was just taking my time, sitting down, putting on my shoes,” he remembers.
3. Skipping a bike fitting
“I was on a bike I saw on Craigslist,” says Wrona. “I wasn’t fit for it. I’m sure it was too big or too small.”
4. Racetime “firsts”
“In training, I didn’t do a single run after the bike,” says Wrona, “I remember trudging through thinking, ‘this is the longest six miles of my life.’”
5. Looking forward in the swim
“Once you see yourself on video, you realize a lot of people are looking forward,” he says. “That throws your body position out of whack. and your hips and legs drop deeper in the water.”
6. Underestimating bike mileage
“You have all those aerodynamic factors, but getting mileage in is the biggest beneficial thing you can do,” he says.
7. Skipping track and hill workouts
“Mileage makes you more durable, but track workouts let you work on speed and leg turnover,” says Wrona, “and hill repeats build power for your stride.”