News and Press

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently had the chance to talk triathlon with James Ismailoglu. James does a lot of heavy lifting for the TCSD as he is our Membership Director and one of our beginner coaches. If you are at a Tri Club event, then James is probably there, too. I know you will enjoy getting to know James.

Craig: What sports did you do before triathlon?

James: I used to play soccer during my high school years in Turkey many, many years ago. I was a terrible runner, couldn't even run a mile without stopping multiple times. Fast forward to the recent years… In 2008 I had a couple of 5Ks that I used to brag about, turkey trot and MCRD marine bootcamp 5K.

Craig: How did you get introduced to triathlon and the TCSD?

James: In May 2009, I was at a beach birthday party and was introduced to a triathlete. We talked for a while. I was asking him lots of questions trying to learn more about the sport. At that time a triathlete was a civilian version of a navy seal to me. I had big respect. On the same evening I started searching, learning, reading more about this triathlon thing. Honestly it was scary at first but I wanted to give it a shot.

Craig: How did Team Solana change your life?

James: When I started to search about Triathlon, TriClub San Diego was on the top of my search results. I found out about their Team Solana training team. This was the first year of the Team Solana. Entry fee was $350. It included membership to the club, race entry to Solana Beach Triathlon, 10 weeks of coached training, many clinics for injury prevention, nutrition, core and of course swim, bike and run. Great deal! Our beginner coaches were Steve Tally, Dean Rosenberg and Steve Koci.

In the following years I was a part of the Team Solana as a mentor, beginner coach as well as my other Team Solana friends the "ORIGINALS". We enjoyed helping the new comers to the sport, mentor them, coach them and train with them.

Craig: I have heard that you just did your 240th race. That is a lot of racing for a guy who started in the sport relatively recently. What do you love about racing?

James: After I got the Tri bug, my dream was to become an Ironman. I volunteered for Ironman Arizona in November 2009 (3 months after my first ever triathlon) and got an entry for 2010 Ironman Arizona.

Here are a couple of crazy things to mention on my Ironman training. I did a century ride in Fiesta Island, yes 101 miles in circles (22 loops). Another day 7 hours 20 minutes at the gym, yes. 6 hours on the stationary bike, one hour treadmill run.

I was going full speed, I raced two 70.3 triathlons in 2 weeks. Super Frog and Oceanside 70.3 (2010). I raced my first Ironman in November 2010. Nothing describes that feeling crossing the finish line after a rainy, windy 140.6 miles. And I did it again the following year. I guess this is little backward but I raced my first Olympic distance triathlon after my full Ironman 140.6. Go figure!

My crazy race life started in 2009 with 20 races and 35 in 2010. I competed in my 243rd race in February 2017. I enjoy racing, I love being on the start line and even more crossing the finish line, such a rush feeling. After these crazy distances I started enjoying shorter races more, going all out and finishing fast. This helped me to focus on the speed more than the endurance. Now they are my favorites, sprint triathlons and 5K run races. I started winning my Age group or getting podium finishes on short races. I won my age group at TriRock Triathlon and qualified for age group Nationals in Omaha, also started to have 5K podium finishes.

I am also honored to be accepted to Team Zoot triathlon team this year, which brings more competitive edge to my racing life.

Craig: What are a few of your favorite races?

James: Solana Beach Triathlon 2009 was my first official race and it will be always special. That's why I call Solana Beach my 2nd birth place. Here, I was re-born as healthier, slimmer, fitter and faster. I've started doing something different last year on this race, Duathlon and Triathlon combo back to back. Duathlon is the first race of the day. I finish the duathlon, go back to transition area to change and go down the beach to start my triathlon.

If you live in San Diego and are considering Ironman, Ironman Arizona is one of my favorites. I love this race, just pack up and drive, no need to worry about the bike transport or paying extra to airlines for your luggage. City is very nice, course is very spectator friendly. If you have family or friends with you, they will see you many times during the race. This usually is not the case for the long races. This race was my choice for both my Ironman races.

If you are into the short and fast races, nothing beats the Carlsbad 5000. It is called the fastest 5000. You can spend the entire day in this beautiful city. There are 5 races on the same day, you can do your own race, watch your family, friends race or sit down and watch the pros running the 5K in 13 minutes (scary). They also offer 5K all day, you can participate all five 5K races. I also like the expo, breakfast, restaurant options between races. Nice sporty day for the entire family, actually it became our tradition. Last year we had 9 runners from our family.

Craig: What was your experience like at the 2016 USA Triathlon National Championships in Omaha?

James: After winning my age group at TriRock I received an invitation letter from USAT to the 2016 USA Triathlon National Championships in Omaha. I was very excited to race with top age group athletes from around the country. I started working on the logistics as much as the athletic side. Out of town races require good planning. You need to make sure to start early, from hotel booking, bike transport, flight arrangements and you need to give some time to yourself after you arrive for meetings, expo and acclimatization. You have to have a very detailed check list not to forget anything. Nationals weekend had 2 races, Olympic on Saturday and Sprint on Sunday. Since I was already there and my bike and race gear was there, I decided to race both distances on back to back days like many of the other athletes did. This is a very well organized event. Don’t miss it if you get an invitation.

Craig: Congratulations on your qualification to run the 2017 Boston Marathon. What lessons did you learn with this process?

James: While I enjoy the short races, running the Boston marathon was on my radar. Since the triathlon is a seasonal sport, I stay active as a runner during off seasons. I started doing long runs to work on my run endurance, ran multiple local marathons. I qualified for Boston in 2016 twice. My first qualification was by 33 seconds. I knew this was not going to be enough to be accepted for the entry. I needed a larger cushion and got my 2nd qualification at Mt Charleston Marathon by about 4 minutes. I knew this was my ticket to Boston.

Every marathoner knows the mile 20 feeling. I was about to give up at mile 20. Keeping the same pace was going to be enough to qualify, but could I? When I thought about the Boston at that point of the race, it was only 6 miles away, if I needed to start all over again it was going to be 26 mile away, taking the 6 mile option was a no brainer. I am glad I pushed through those little voices in my ear.

Craig: What are some of the dumber things you have done as a triathlete? (This should be a funny answer so I hope you’ll interject some humor. You had mentioned the 2009 Superfrog which was your 1st Half Ironman and forgetting your wet suit on race morning. Tell that story – mention your checklist, how getting to the race so early actually saved you that day, and how your brother really saved you by driving back from Coronado to Solana Beach and back to Coronado to get your wet suit. And that you had time to spare – you had the wet suit in hand 30 minutes before the race. And tell the story of doing both the 2016 Solana Beach Duathlon and Triathlon on the same day.

James: When you are chatting with a triathlete, there is always a dumber things list, here are my two best ones:

It was my first 70.3 distance, Super Frog 2010. While I was getting ready at home, I checked my wetsuit off my check list of packed items. But the wetsuit felt it a little wet. I hung it back to dry. Well, race morning we (my brother and I) hit the road to Coronado Island and I was setting up my transition I realized I didn't have my wetsuit, oops. It always pays to be an early bird. My brother drove back to Solana Beach, picked up the wetsuit and flew back to Coronado just before the swim start. It was the wildest surf entry. I probably couldn't have survived the swim without my wetsuit.

2nd one; Last year when I raced the Duathlon and Triathlon combo in Solana Beach. I installed adapters on my pedals to convert them to platform pedals so that I could start and finish my duathlon with my running shoes. This was going to save time for me not to change shoes twice. This plan worked well for the duathlon, but I forgot to remove the adapters for the triathlon. Here I am running to the bike mount line with my bike shoes, then realized that the pedals still have the adapters installed. There was no way to click in. They are not easy to remove. You need some pointy metal (like a key) to pull them out. I borrowed a key from some spectator, removed the platforms and clicked in to start my ride and of course this was over a minute loss on my race time.

Comparing the bike times on the same day, same distance. I noticed that my bike times were identical with run and bike shoes almost a minute less spent in transition. From that day on, I started racing with platform pedals on short races using run shoes only. Here are the benefits. You only change shoes once, you run faster with your bike to the bike mount and on the way back from the dismount to your transition area. Works for me!

Craig: You do a lot for the TCSD. You are the Membership Director and one of the Beginner Coaches. What do you do for these roles?

James: I love to give back to the community that brought me where I am today. Currently I am the Membership Director of the TriClub. I help members with their membership questions, login, password reset etc. I also answer future member’s questions, send them the information they need, help them as a beginner coach/mentor. I organize beginner bike rides and brick runs. I volunteer at almost all race expo’s, meetings or any other club activities. The TriClub has changed my life to become healthier and fitter. I enjoy the camaraderie, friendship and having many resources to learn more and improve. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with others.

Craig: What are the best features of your TCSD membership?

James: I like to share my time with the same minded crowd. Here come the TriClub social events, beginner meetings, club meetings, introduction to TriClub meetings. These are always fun gatherings, information exchanges and sharing the knowledge. There is always something new to learn.

Craig: Who is one of your triathlon hero’s?

James: My triathlon hero is Craig Alexander. He was the number one during my first years. I asked him on Facebook what he would recommend to a first timer on his Ironman, he posted on my page “Enjoy it, remember we do this for fun, good luck”. That was priceless.

Craig: Who would you like to thank for the success you’ve had as a triathlete?

James: All these things wouldn't happen if you don't have the full support from your family. My wife and my daughter were always supportive on this crazy journey from couch to an Ironman and Boston. From time to time, they come race with me too, 5K runs for now, there is always hope to have more triathletes in the house I guess. And, of course, my brother who saved my butt on Super Frog 70.3.

Craig: What are your future goals in multi-sport? (I hope you’ll mention your short term 2017 goals – Boston, qualify for Team USA at Du Nationals, break 20 minutes for the 5K. But I also hope you’ll speak to goals beyond this year.)

James: I will go to Boston this April to enjoy the entire 26 miles with my phone, taking pictures all the way to the finish line. Qualifying for Boston was the hard part. Now it is time to enjoy it. My finish time is not the object this time.

On the list of goals; Making it to the Team USA for Triathlon or Duathlon, this will be like going to the Olympics after the age of 50 and another hard one on this list is running a sub 20 minutes 5K.

Craig: James, thank you so much for sharing your story. I’ve wanted to do this with you for a long time now. That 2009 beach party was a stroke of luck for the TCSD. Thank you for all you do. I look forward to running Boston with you this year. Good luck at Boston and beyond! Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or