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After overcoming the disappointment of narrowly missing a Kona spot, American TJ Tollakson shifted his focus and made Ironman Arizona his new goal race. We caught up with Tollakson on the Friday before the race to talk about his season, balancing it all and the Ironman Arizona course.
Triathlete.com: Tell me about your season and just missing out on a Kona spot.
Tollakson: The season started out a little slow for me. I had wanted to jump-start the year and race in Panama early. I had some problems with a hip injury that had bothered me in the past so I had a little bit of a slower start. I got out of the gate in New Orleans, which was changed to a duathlon and then I was in a really tight race and finished fourth. And then after that I went to Eagleman and raced Craig Alexander and Greg Bennett and ended up finishing third. I went to Syracuse two weeks after that and had a terrible race. Then I really focused and put all of my eggs in the basket for Ironman New York City. Unfortunately I didn’t have a great race. I really struggled. I went from second to sixth in the last six miles of the run. I struggled with nutrition. There was no ice at the aid stations and I was just miserable. I finished that race and right away I started tallying points up. I had an opportunity. It was either I could go chase points in August to try to get into Kona or I could focus on having another quality Ironman race. It was disappointing. I had to readjust my goals for the season. I knew right away Ironman Arizona was the answer. It’s all about quality races for me.
Triathlete.com: Will it be a bit of relief to hopefully get some quality points from Arizona to take into next year?
Tollakson: Just having any points is nice. Last year I didn’t finish Kona so I had zero points to start the year. I got my first points at the end of April and that put me way behind. I was way off of the list until I finished New York. Even being in contention for a Kona spot will be nice. I’m still a little disappointed with how the system works. The one 4000-point race [Ironman Mont Tremblant on Aug. 18, 2013] in North America is after the July cutoff. Those are the trump card races where you can do one and get in… It’s unfortunate that the North American one is so late.
Triathlete.com: You’ve raced in Kona quite a few times. Was it at all refreshing to take a year away?
Tollakson: I think I needed it. I’ve raced in Kona five years in a row and this was my first year not racing. It’s mentally refreshing. The day of Kona I watched a bit of the coverage, but I had a big training day. It was fun to watch it from the outside. Kona is a tough race so I think taking a year off should help me be refreshed. Watching the race gave me a new perspective on how I would change what I’m doing in a race. I look to return next year and have a great performance.
Triathlete.com: You balance a lot. You travel between Des Moines and Tucson, you have engineering projects and a business (Rustersports.com), and you’re married with a baby on the way. How do you balance all of that, especially with a newborn on the way?
Tollakson: It’s tough. Life is always a balance. The more well-rounded we are the better we perform at everything. When I tend to focus on one aspect too much, my life is out of balance and I become obsessive in one area. My business, my wife, my son who will be arriving in February, it’s all exciting. It’s all about figuring out how much time you commit to each thing and make sure you’re successful at everything you do without being obsessive. Being a pro triathlete is no different than anyone else who has a successful career outside of triathlon and does this as a hobby and has a wife and kids. I’m just reversed in my roles. I have a business as a hobby and an athletic career. It’s nice to have other outlets to balance it out. It’s tricky at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Triathlete.com: A lot of the pros at the press conference talked about liking the fact that this course is three laps on the bike and the run. Do you like this kind of course?
Tollakson: No. I actually am adamantly opposed to courses that are three laps, especially on the bike. The run doesn’t really bother me. It’s very dangerous on the bike because of the number of times we have to lap people. I understand that logistically it’s easier for the race and management to put it on, but it’s also very dangerous, especially for the pro athletes. On the bike we’re riding at about 25 miles per hour, and there’s a handful of people riding at less than half that speed that we pass. It’s frightening to them because we approach so fast and it’s frightening to us as well. I would prefer we just kept going out on the Beeline just like Hawaii. It creates some safety issues, especially when you pack some 2,200 athletes on such a small course.
Triathlete.com: A lot of your fellow pros have said that they’re here as an effort to validate or get a few points before the end of the season. This is a big goal race for you. Does that give you any kind of mental edge?
Tollakson: Yes and no. You never know what to believe when people talk before a race. When the gun goes off they’re here to win. Every win is tough to come by. It takes a lot to win. I came here to win. I’m not here to validate or get points. Winning is the goal. I’ve finished second twice and this is my third race here and I’m number three, so I’m hoping third time’s the charm.
TJ is sponsored by TYR, Mizuno, PowerBar, Yurbuds, Maxxis, Profile Design, Zipp/SRAM, and SRM.