I had the chance to talk Ironman recently with Dennis Villavicencio, a new Tri Club member who qualified for Ironman Hawaii with his 9:59:33 performance at Ironman USA which placed him 5th out of 366 men in the 35-39 age group. Please join me as I get better acquainted with this unique guy.
CZ: It’s great to have you in the Tri Club. What prompted you to join?
DV: A group of very cool TCSD members that I camped near, drank beers with, raced with and drank more beers with at one of my favorite races, the Auburn International Triathlon.
CZ: What was your athletic background prior to racing triathlons?
DV: I have played many sports over the years, including water skiing competitively (slalom, trick and jump) for SDSU in college and I have always ridden a bike everywhere I go. I also played soccer since I was about 8 years old and am fortunate in that I have always been able to run very fast.
CZ: What was your first triathlon like?
DV: Well, my brother Alan and another friend, David, and I wanted to do something more than just a regular triathlon, so we signed up for Escape from Alcatraz since it seemed like swimming from Alcatraz would be fun. At the pre-race meeting on Saturday, the officials said the currents were too strong, none of their "test" swimmers made it and the race would start at Pier 59 or something ridiculous like that. The three of us were very unhappy as we hadn’t paid a fat entry fee and packed all our gear up to San Fran to do Escape from Pier 59. So, after several beers and lunch, we hired a boat to take us out to Alcatraz, drop us off at the island and follow us back. At 6 pm we left the dock and the conditions were horrendous as the wind had been blowing all day, there were boats everywhere and the current was really strong. We all eventually made it and then did the triathlon the next morning, which was a piece of cake compared to the swim the night before.
CZ: What Ironman events have you done?
DV: The first was IM Utah in 2002, which was shortened to a duathlon due to a disastrous swim start which never should have been allowed by IM. I have no idea what my time was but I finished 45th overall. In May 2003, I raced IM Brazil and finished in 10:56. I was really sick before the race but I had flown all the way down to Brazil so I did it anyway and threw up 4 times on the swim (which took me 1 ½ hours). I redeemed myself a week later at the high altitude Steamboat Springs Marathon when I finished 13th overall. Then, three weeks later I did IM CDA. It was 100 degrees and my brother Alan and I raced each other, which is a dumb thing, and we completely blew each other up. I finished in 12:00 after a 5 ½ hour run/walk/sit/lay down/walk/run pain extravaganza. In March 2004, I did IM New Zealand and finished in 10:50 after my tire disintegrated with 10 miles left and I waited almost an hour for a repair truck. In June 2004, I finished IM CDA in 10:08. In October 2004, I finished Kona in 10:50. And this year, I finished IM USA Lake Placid in 9:59.
CZ: You’ve told me that you have a brother Alan who is 1 year younger than you and he also races triathlons. How did he edge you out of a qualifying spot for Kona?
DV: In IM Utah, I caught Alan on the run and I thought it would be cool to finish together. But, after losing to me at Alcatraz and another race, he was determined not to get beat by me again so coming into the finish, he took off and sprinted in. I didn’t think it was a big deal so I didn’t try to catch him. It turned out to be the last spot for Kona so he went to Kona and I did not. Subsequently, we have finished together at IM New Zealand and at Kona in 2004 and it is fun to run together because we wear race jerseys with Team V on the front and a Team V logo on the back and our family wears matching shirts and such.
CZ: What was your race like at IM USA?
DV: At IM USA, I swam 1:06:26 and amazingly finished 4 seconds ahead of Alan, although we did not start together and we don’t train together since he lives in Boulder, CO. I biked a 5:18:19, which I was happy with considering it is a hilly course and it was hot and windy. I ran a 3:28:08 and caught Alan on the run as usual wherein we agreed to finish together. However, he again sprinted the last few feet and beat me by one second. Luckily, we both qualified for Kona and we ended up 4th and 5th in the age group.
CZ: So Alan has edged you out in 2 big events including a race that cost you a trip to Kona. Does that give you extra motivation to beat him in Kona?
DV: Lets just say that I am finally going to upgrade from the bent, 9 year old Zipp 530 clinchers I bought used a few years ago. The fact is, I don’t focus on racing Alan or anyone else because it usually results in mutual meltdown. As a prediction, however, I don’t think that this year we will finish with the same time in Kona.
CZ: What are the key workouts that help you prepare for Ironman distance racing?
DV: For the swim, masters is key physically but mentally the key workout is the long, solo, open ocean swims from my house in Carlsbad near Tamarack up to the border of Oceanside and back. For the ride, it is my long weekend ride from Carlsbad up to or around Palomar Mountain to Santa Ysabel, Julian, Anza Borrego and such. The ride is at least 115 miles with 6,000 plus feet of climbing followed by an 8-10 mile run. My key runs are long trail runs in the mountains or deserts with as much climbing, heat, altitude and brutal conditions as possible.
CZ: You’ve told me that you are also racing the Xterra World Championships on Maui 1 week after Kona. What turns you on about Xterra?
DV: Well, I’ve never raced Xterra, but I love being out in nature and the challenge of running, biking, hiking or racing on trails, up mountains, or anywhere off pavement. I also work hard personally to preserve open space and our beautiful outdoor areas and Xterra looks to be more consistent with that. I signed up Alan and I a few months ago in the at large registration with the hope that we would both qualify for Kona so it will be our first Xterra races.
CZ: It sounds like you have done some pretty diverse and extreme events. What have been some of your favorites? And why?
DV: I have ridden from Badwater in Death Valley to Whitney Portal and then climbed Mt. Whitney several times. I love the tons of climbing, heat and winds. In January, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (the Western Breach route) with Alan and several friends. I also ran with a friend from the heat of Palm Springs to the top of San Jacinto in deep snow. I have raced Pike’s Peak Ascent and Marathon (the double). I have hiked, biked, backpacked, trekked, scuba dived, or wandered all over the United States and multiple continents and I just really love it. I ride my bike to work, to visit friends and family and to do almost everything. I have done a lot of trail runs and races and I just love to hike, run or climb mountains and desert terrain (usually solo) and I like to push myself to the mental and physical limit. The experiences from these events have also helped me to focus and stay cool and calm while trying difficult and complex securities fraud cases.
CZ: What are your future goals in the sport of triathlon and in other sports?
DV: Well, next week I am flying to Washington to climb Mt. Rainier and I would like to climb Denali and a host of other mountains around the world. As far as triathlon, I really want to race IM Lanzarote as the course and conditions are supposedly brutal. IM France is also supposed to have a tough bike course so I will probably do that as well. It is difficult to balance all of this with my securities fraud law practice, my girlfriend Stacie and my conservation work but I will always continue to do triathlons and other adventures in between trials and everything else as my schedule allows.
CZ: Dennis, thanks for sharing your story with me and the rest of the Tri Club. Good luck at Kona and with getting to the summit of all your other lofty goals.