Dean Sprague

on . Posted in TCSD Conversation


I was able to get Dean Sprague, the TCSD Newsletter Editor, to slow down long enough to talk triathlon.  You have probably seen Dean at many TCSD events.  It is time we get to know this great guy who has done so much for the club over the years.



Craig:  What was your athletic background prior to triathlon?

Dean: Back in the day (5th or 6th grade??), I was involved in a cafeteria food fight which resulted in me not being able to eat in the lunch room, so I ran home for lunch and got my fill of Leave It To Beaver and the Three Stooges. I participated in middle school and junior high track, and continued during my freshman and sophomore years in high school… doing the half-mile, mile and 2 mile and some of the team relays and messed around with hurdles, pole vault and the distance relays. No speedster or anything.

No organized sports during college… to busy studying and working. During my years at Long Beach State, Los Angeles announced it was putting on a marathon and I wanted to be part of history, the 1st annual event. That was my first “real” running race, with a finish time just under 4 hours. I have since competed in 38 stand-alone marathons and 50k’s always wanting to improve. Self-coached, I managed to get my time down to a respectable 2:48 in a couple of races, Cape Town (South Africa) and Los Angeles.

Craig:  How did you get started racing triathlons?

Dean: 10 years later, marathons were becoming boring even though it gave me a chance to compete all over the world. I wanted to change things up, everyone was doing them. To me, marathons lost their “special-ness.” At the time I was living in Chicago and the Mrs. T’s Triathlon (the world’s largest triathlon) was being advertised, so I decided that would be my next challenge.

I never had a road bike, just commuting back and forth to work on a mountain bike. Mrs. T’s had (and still does) a mountain bike division, so it was perfect. I had never swam or biked competitively. Fortunately it was mid-summer and Lake Michigan was warm enough and close enough to be my training pool. And I figured the biking would not be much of a big deal.

I think I signed up a couple of weeks (back in the day, races did not sell out 1 year in advance) before the race and started training. I had no preconceptions of the outcome, but I knew I was a good runner and figured there would not be any “fast” people in the MTB division… and I was right. I was the overall winner of the 77 participants. I killed the field and would have placed in the top 10 (age group) in the regular division.

Racing on a mountain bike was great. I was competing against people with “real” bikes and kicking their ass. Of course, I learned I needed to “soop up” the bike; fast forward seat post, clip on aero bars, slick tires to maintain that magic number of 20mph. Yes, I eventually purchased a “real” bike because Ironman was my next challenge.

Actually, I was part of a triathlon relay team (the runner) and biathlon (swim /run) 9 years earlier but don’t remember much about them, so I don’t count that as how I got started as a triathlete.

Craig:  You accomplished a long time goal during 2009 of racing the Hawaiian Ironman. How did you qualify?

Dean: Through the years I have been very close to qualifying for the World Championship, but was never “good/fast” enough. Yes, I finally reach my goal last year, although I had no intention of it. I happened to be at the right race the right year. I chose to participate in the Hawaii 70.3 because I wanted to at least do a race in Hawaii/Kona area, since I had resigned qualifying for the World Championship and any more IM branded events (yah know, the entry fees are out of this world now!) I had a good race but nothing special. After the event, I was hanging out with a few different groups of people and had no place to go, so I decided to hang around for the awards ceremony and all the hoopla. Normally, I would have been long gone since I was not an age group winner. Well, time comes for the IM qualifying spots and roll down.  Usually it is the 1st or 2nd person in the age group who earns the coveted spot, done deal right? Well…  not this year. There were a couple of groups where it was rolling down 6, 10, and 13 deep. There was even a carry over spot that was added to my age group.  The 1st place guy took his spot, 2nd already had a spot so the 3rd place took the next spot. That means one more left, unheard of, so the announcer starts calling for number 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 all no shows. It ended up rolling down to me, in 9th position. I was totally caught off guard. It was not part of my 2009 plan. Payment is required that instant and I did not bring any extra cash with me. I hesitated for a moment but decided I had to take the spot and I said, YES! Then off to the atm to get the cash.

Craig:  How was the race in Kona for you?

Dean: I had to rearrange my season, cancel travel plans and races I already made. I was very excited and planned to have a great race in Kona. As the season progressed my left foot had a different idea. Plantar fasciitis has interrupted my life and affected much of my late season races and needed training. I self-treated for as long as I could with some PT and eventually hooked up with Dr. Martinez the Monday before heading to Kona for a “magic” shot of cortisone. I had never done anything like that before and did not know what to expect. I wanted to have a respectable race and that was my last option. As it turned out, I was able to function pretty much pain free during the run although at a much slower pace than I wished. I was happy to finally participate at the Big Dance, despite not in optimal condition.

Craig:  What Ironman races have you done in your racing career and how did you do?

Dean: Ever since I started racing Ironman, I have done 2 or 3 a year. I have chased my dream (qualifying for World’s) at IM Korea, Malaysia, 3 times at IM Wis, a few times in Lake Placid, Coeur d’Alene, etc; I think it is 22 iron distance races now. Why? you ask. It’s the rush, kicking some ass, the thrill of competition. But now with the outrageous entry fees (and the economy in question), I am cutting back and finding better races that offer the most miles for dollars spent. Official IM events will not be seeing much of my money any more.  I have yet to have my perfect race. I have improved in each discipline but not at the same event. My best overall time was my 3rd Ironman at IM FLA. I finished in 10:23:25, had a great bike split but a lousy marathon. I want to go back there this year and take off 25 minutes but $$s are short and I may have to set a PR at IM Arizona. Wanting to improve is addictive and keeps me motivated.

Craig: What other high profile races have you done and how did they go for you?

Dean: I have been fortunate to be a member of Team USA at a couple of ITU World Championship long course triathlons (which consists of a 4k swim, 120k bike and 18k run); in Säter, Sweden and Nice, France. A couple of years back I participated in the ITU World Championship Long Course Duathlon since it was “local”; Richmond VA. Representing the USA is pretty cool, there are only a handful of people who are able to participate at this level…  it’s kind of a mini Olympic feeling and very special. I may be fast, but at these events I usually finish in the top half. That’s fine with me, it’s just having the chance to compete at a different level and enjoy the different experience.

Craig: You have had a very diverse racing career.

Dean: As with running marathons, Ironman was losing it’s special appeal. I wanted something more exciting, less common. Xterra was the obvious choice. At the time I was living in Chicago, no hills, so I made my own off road training courses up and down the lake front. I am not a mountain biker but I know how to run, and that is why I was pretty successful at Xterra. One must always be aware and look ahead, ride within one’s comfort level or it could be dangerous… but it’s very thrilling and rewarding. Xterra has it’s Holy Grail race in Hawaii also, that event was never my goal or feasible. My goal was to qualify and compete at the USA Championship. The races at Lake Tahoe were a lot of fun and different conditions every year. I highly recommend changing thing up, just race within your own skill level and you’ll have a ball.

Craig: Which events have been among your favorites and why?

Dean: Having the fortunate opportunity to race and travel all over the world, it’s hard to select any single favorite event. Every event is special for it unique qualities; IM Malaysia was great for its “3rd world” atmosphere, yet well organized. I had one of my fastest bike splits there but a horrible run. Silverman is a great event for the toughness factor. I thought Lake Placid was a beautiful place until I raced in Coeur d’Alene now it’s Redmond/Bend, OR and the Pacific Crest festival up there. I do the half IM on Saturday and the Olympic distance on Sunday. The Chicago Triple Challenge is also great, 3 triathlons in 2 days. I like the multi event/day stuff now. It’s just the next level of challenging myself.

Craig: Speaking of favorites, what is your favorite part of being a TCSD member?

Dean: It has to be the value of the membership. For such a “cheap” entry fee the Club offers so much; food, friendship, racing, competition and rivalry.

Craig: You have seen the sport evolve in many ways over the years.  What has been the biggest change for the good that you have noticed?

Dean: Actually I missed out on the early years of triathlon. To me, the biggest change for the good is that the sport has grown so much and is accessible to everyone, any skill level, any age and physical ability. I love seeing the “old” timers out there; I hope to be out there in my time, just like them.

Craig:  How about for the bad?

Dean: Bad? Don’t know anything about that, when it can bring so much joy into one’s life.

Craig:  What is the funniest thing you have done as a triathlete?

Dean: Funniest? I usually don’t joke around. I call it having fun. The theme races the Club has, racing all out in a costume. I hope the club has more theme races, such as MTB/beach cruiser only race, Final 4… etc.

Craig:  What do you do for a living?

Dean: I am a freelance graphic designer (Sprague Design), apartment manager, bike fitter/coach for my own company (PedPowerPerform Lab), owner/manufacturer of a “hands-free” hydration system (Oasis One-Twelve).  I also am race director/promoter for the San Diego Indoor Triathlon Series. Being the boss, I am able to set my own work and play schedule.

Craig:  Do you have any sponsors?

Dean: I have had great opportunities to partner with great individual products and companies over the years. Each has allowed me to grow as an athlete and individual. For 2010 I will actually be part of a “real” team, Team Trakkers. Trakkers ( is a wearable gps device that allows all your family and friends to follow your progress along the WHOLE event in real time. It is also used to track vital statistics after training or racing. I’ll still have to prove my worthiness. Sponsorship is not just based on results, it’s about what one has done/can do in the community (sport and life), what and how one can make the partnership grow. There are great benefits; not paying full price for items, discounted or free team uniforms, discounted or free entry into races. As a matter of fact, being a member for Triathlon Club of San Diego is just like being sponsored!

Craig:  What are your future triathlon goals?

Dean: This year in particular it is to stay healthy/injury free, I will be keeping tabs on my foot issue. Without goals, participating in sports (and life) is kind of pointless. This year, my main goal is to set a PR at the iron distance, other than that, keep trying to improve upon previous times. No long-term goals.

I just want to say, it does not matter what level of equipment or fitness level you start with. It’s about the journey, having fun, setting and surpassing goals and encouraging others along the way.

Craig: Dean, thanks for sharing your story with us.  We are lucky to have you as the newsletter editor and even more lucky to enjoy your friendship.  Good luck as you continue to check off all of your goals.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .