TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I just had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with TCSD Head Swim Coach Chris Costales. This was my first time really getting to know Chris and I quickly realized I should have done this a long time ago. Chris is a great example of using triathlon to lead a healthy life. I know you will enjoy getting to know Chris.
2009 One of the awesome TCSD races at Glorietta Bay!
Craig: What was your athletic background during your early days?
Chris: First, Craig I want to thank you for taking the time to interview me, it is an honor. Growing up I played a variety of sports ranging from soccer, roller and ice hockey (Go Kings Go!), track, but my main focus was club swimming. I have two older brothers that I idolized (that is until they learned the art of torture and tied my hands behind my back, hung me upside down, put peanut butter on my face and let my dogs lick me for about 15 minutes). I wanted to do everything they did, so when they joined our local swim club I decided it was time for me to hit the pool as well. By the time I turned four I was competing against kids twice my age. For 14 years I traveled all over the west coast competing against some of the fastest kids in the US. My claim to fame in high school was finishing no lower than 3rd place in any event for all four years.
Craig: Who was the most influential person in your life as you were growing up?
Chris: I have been lucky to have a lot of fantastic people in my life, but I would have to say my mom was most influential. I am not ashamed to say it, I was a “momma’s boy” growing up. My dad worked a lot, and my brothers were 5 and 7 years older than me, so mom took me to school, swim practice, and a lot of movie, TV, and commercials shoots. It is a very LA thing to do as a kid, and I see myself all the time on shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Quantum Leap, Kindergarten Cop and Defending Your Life. There was a good span from 1988-1990 where if you saw a super blond kid in the background of a school scene it was most likely me. Anyway, driving to all these places gave me a lot of quality time in the car with my mom, and during that time she taught me to never give up and do my best no matter what is thrown at you.
Craig: Unfortunately you lost both of your parents when you were at a young age. How did that alter your path over the next 5-10 years?
Chris: We have all known someone affected by cancer in some way or another; unfortunately it hit both of my parents at a young age. My mom passed away from breast cancer when I was only 14, and two years later my dad died from colon cancer. You can just imagine what that does to a teenage boy while in those difficult high school years. Luckily I had some amazing friends, and especially their parents, who were there to comfort and guide me the best they could. At the same time I tried to focus on school and sports as much as possible to drown out some of that pain and grief. But by the end of my senior year I decided my swimming career was over, I didn’t have that drive without the parental support, and decided to just enjoy college life. I attended the University of California Santa Barbara, fell in love with the beach life, and moved to San Diego months after I graduated in 2000. But not a day goes by where I wouldn’t give it all up to have my parents back in my life. In fact, in their memory when I competed in my first Ironman I created a charity event that would benefit the American Cancer Society. I called it the Ironman-a-thon, where friends, family and co-workers donated money per mile completed. We were able to raise $8,000!
Craig: What prompted you to become a triathlete?
Chris: My triathlon career started around 2005 when I went surfing at San Elijo beach and couldn’t make it up the staircase without stopping 5 times to catch my breath. I am 5’8” and weighed about 215 lbs at the time. I guess the mounds of pasta and beer were not a great recipe for a non active person. I vowed to myself that day I was going to lose weight and by the time I went to bed that night I was signed up for the UCSD masters swimming program and was registered for the Mission Bay Triathlon. We had a ratty gym at work but it had a stationary bike and treadmill, so I put together a 3 month training plan to get in “shape” to finish the race. On race day there was no aero helmet, tri bike, or wetsuit. I came fully prepared with a Speedo, a red tank top that said “I may be slow, but I am in front of you” on the back, an old women’s beach cruiser (for hydration I added a crate and six pack of beer, you could drink on Fiesta Island back then), and a pair of shoes. In fact, I didn’t have the mandatory helmet so I bought a 10-dollar non-ventilated piece of junk off of a neighbor the morning of the race. Although I was completely exhausted, and the race took almost 2 hours to complete, I was hooked. The next day I bought the lowest level Specialized Allez from a local bike shop and within 2 years was competing in an Ironman.
Craig: You have done 2 Ironman races. What were those events like?
Chris: My first Ironman took place in 2007 in Klagenfurt, Austria. I told my girlfriend Keli that I wanted to do something really stupid, 140 miles in one day, and if I was going to spend the next 9 months of my life training the race better be someplace cool. I checked out all the US sights and thought I could do better. When I saw Ironman Austria I was amazed. You swim in a crystal clear glacier fed lake where the final 1,000 meters is through a canal lined with approximately ten thousand rabid fans, the bike winds through tiny towns in the Alps where you feel like you are competing in the Tour de France, and the flat run where spectators offer you beer around every corner was the perfect setting. In fact there were only two downsides. First, I wanted to film my final steps to the finish line. Right before the finish chute I grabbed my camera from Keli and proudly clicked the record button. I slowly walked the 100 or so feet, screaming at the top of my lungs and thrusting my fist in the air. The crowd was going wild and the announcer was pumping me up, it was amazing, that is until I got to the finish line and realized I was on the camera setting and not video. That whole time, I managed to snap one picture, I felt so stupid. The second horror story occurred in the finishers area. I was tired and sore after an 11:47 finish and all I wanted to do was jump into one of the 5 hot tubs available to the participants. I was just about to hop in when I quickly realized all the guys were naked…no thanks. I got dressed and drowned my sorrows in a couple of ice cream cones.
My second race was the 2011 Ironman Arizona. After Austria I vowed I would never put myself through that torture again. I enjoyed the shorter distance races and was playing indoor soccer with fellow club member, vice president, and close friend Paula Munoz. But the Ironman distance is like a forbidden fruit. My breaking point was watching NBC’s coverage of the World Championships, later that night there was a $500 charge on my credit card and I was registered for AZ. But 2011 was a struggle. First, I badly injured my knee on the soccer field about 5 months prior to the race (later I found out I had a torn MCL and partially tore my ACL). Second there was a 70% chance the race would turn into a duathalon when the Tempe Town Lake dam broke about three months prior to race day (luckily it was repaired and filled just 3 weeks prior to our start time). Third, the weather was horrible. Between the 30 mph winds on the bike and the rain/hail on the run, I was completely wasted after 11:41 on the course. Once again I vowed to never do another Ironman…
Craig: You are the Tri Club’s Head Masters Swim Coach. When and where are the workouts held?
Chris: This year we moved our program to La Jolla High School, otherwise known as Coggan’s Family Aquatic Complex. The workouts take place on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 8-9pm. We welcome swimmers of all levels, and the new location is fantastic because parking is just feet from the entrance and we no longer have to change lane lines or cover the pool. So although the workouts are a half hour later than previous years, we actually leave the deck at approximately the same time. Also you won’t find a better bargain in town in terms of price. We have a tiered system so 1 swim is $5, 5 for $20 or 10 for $30.
Craig: What could a TCSD member expect to gain by doing these workouts?
Chris: SPEED!!! No joke, if you are new to the sport our fantastic coaches lead a technique group focused on drills and stroke efficiency. If you are more advanced you can expect a masters workout that is typically between 2,000 and 3,800 yards. I have always said, the only way you get faster in the water is to get in the water.
Craig: What swim specific advice would you give a beginner triathlete?
Chris: Slow down. Beginners typically have fast arms and kick way too hard. Something you will see at every race, no matter what the distance, are beginners towing the start line. When the gun goes off they sprint as fast as possible for 25 yards and the rest of the swim they are either getting run over or are doing backstroke trying to get air in their lungs. To combat this my favorite drill is the “2 Mississippi drill”. I have the swimmers glide for two seconds after every arm stroke to ensure a good breath, a full arm pull, and it allows the body and mind to relax in the water. My second piece of advice, move to the back of the pack at the start line. Those extra ten feet won’t negatively impact your race time. In fact, by avoiding the mad rush in front you are not getting punched/kicked in the face, the leaders essentially allow you to draft, and you get to go at your own pace.
Craig: What would you suggest to someone who has just joined TCSD to give them the best experience?
Chris: Honestly, I would say volunteering. It took me several years to truly understand this and in fact without Paula Munoz I probably still would be that guy sitting quietly in the corner at club meetings and races. Even though I introduced Paula to the sport and club, she quickly passed me in terms of participation. It wasn’t until about a year and a half ago when she said, “Hey, I want you to meet Erin Hunter the Head Swim Coach”. My response “…um, ok…” The next words out of her mouth, “You should be a masters coach.” I…I…I…guess… But it has been one of the best decisions I have made. The people I have met, the connections I have made are priceless. I highly encourage everyone to give back to this wonderful club. It can be as simple as setting/cleaning up at meetings, running a workout, manning our tent at local races, or being a board member. Most volunteer opportunities only take about 1 to 2 hours per month but the value to TCSD is immeasurable.
Craig: What does it mean to you be on the TCSD Ambassador Team?
Chris: It is an absolute honor. Being able to promote the club to fellow triathletes is so much fun. I have been to a ton of local races sporting my Tri Club gear, and when I hear a beginner asking questions like “How do I set up transition?” I provide my advice and let him know about all the advantages of the club. There is no better feeling than telling someone they can go to 12 club meetings with amazing FREE raffles and food, club triathlons, duathlons, aquathons, coached workouts, and crazy race/store discounts for only $75 a year. You will rarely see me on a bike or running around the bay without some sort of TCSD gear on, and if I see you on the road you will be sure to hear a “GO TRI CLUB!”
Craig: What athletic accomplishment has given you the most pride and joy?
Chris: I think my greatest athletic accomplishment is a bit different than other people. Winning a race, finishing an Ironman, getting a personal best on a course are all worthy of the top spot, but my greatest accomplishment might have been getting out touched at the wall in the 200 yard freestyle my freshman year in high school. With a 50 to go, I was 4 body lengths behind when I kicked it into overdrive. We were at the old Belmont Plaza in Long Beach where the place echoed when the crowd got into a race, and when I started to catch the leader I felt the crowd on my side. When we touched the wall I lost by a few hundredths of the second but I was so proud of myself for not giving up. But the most memorable part of the experience was watching the tape (yep, I said tape…I’m old) of the race the next day when my parents were going nuts in the background. I still have that moment on video and it is the only reason there is still a VCR in my house today.
Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?
Chris: My biggest goal is to qualify for Age Group Worlds. I have a long way to go, but I think if I can really focus on the bike and run anything is possible. The key is to train with people that are faster than me. So the Wednesday night UCSD track workouts, Saturday morning Del Mar bike workouts, and even the Tuesday and Thursday masters swims, are all great opportunities to improve my speed and technique. My plan is to really focus on the sprint and Olympic distances next year and push for the top ten spots at Nationals.
Craig: Chris, thank you so much for telling your story. You are a perfect fit for the TCSD Ambassador Team. I can’t think of a better guy to promote the Tri Club. Good luck qualifying for Team USA. You can do this!
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or email@example.com.