MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – “Age is just a number” is an age-old adage.
For one Army Reserve Soldier, training for and competing in duathlons helps keep “father time” at bay.
Army Reserve Col. Jerry A. Brown, the Congressional legislative liaison officer for the 63rd Readiness Division, has been turning back the clock for many years by racing and winning as an elite competitive duathlon athlete at age 58.
On Jun 19, 2021, Brown qualified for the USA Triathlon Multisport team as a duathlete in the 55-59-year-old age group by finishing 2nd in his age group and 7th overall out of 32 competitors at the Huntington Lake Triathlon’s Sprint Duathlon in Lakehouse, California.
“The feeling was proud,” Brown said, “that all the work I have put into the training has taken me to race in my age group for ‘TEAM USA Multisport.’”
“Racing with other high-level athletes is the best part about making the team,” Brown added, “knowing you are in the top 10 percent is amazing.”
A “standard” sprint duathlon starts with a 3-mile run, then transitions to a 14-18 mile bike ride before finishing with another 3-mile run.
According to Brown, the Huntington Lake Triathlon’s Sprint Duathlon Race was a 3.3-mile run, followed by a 10.5-mile bike ride, then a 3.3-mile run to the finish.
That day, he also finished far ahead of many younger competitors, just another notable accomplishment in his competitive duathlon racing career.
“I have been an athlete my entire life,” Brown said. “I come from a family that was big into sports.”
His high-finish qualified him to represent the USA Triathlon team as a duathlon competitor in the 55–59-year-old age group at the 2022 World Triathlon Multisport Championship in the sprint duathlon race, which was held, June 6-12, 2022, in Targu Mures, Romania.
This achievement of Brown’s years’ long goal was the result of his many dedicated hours, days, weeks, months, and years of following a disciplined duathlon training routine and maintaining a healthy eating plan.
Unfortunately, Brown’s 2022 competitive duathlon racing plans suffered a setback with surgery on his left foot prior to the 2022 WTMC duathlon race.
So, Brown was not able to compete as a member of the 2022 USAT team, but he plans to race competitively again in 2023 and attempt to requalify as a duathlon competitor on the 2024 USAT team.
Motivation to compete as a cyclist racer: “the Tour de France”
“Once I watch[ed] the Tour de France, in 2008, I was really hooked on bike riding, and in 2009, I started riding for a road racing team,” Brown said. “That was just fuel for the fire of racing.
“Then, I watch[ed] Kona Ironman Triathlon held in Kona, Hawaii, in October 2012, and I wanted to challenge myself to swim, bike, and run,” Brown said.
Brown said he races because “I think it is really just how I am wired.”
“So, in 2013, I started racing and winning [triathlon] age group races, not all of them, but enough,” he said. “I think winning the winner medal was,” a fantastic feeling, and having everyone looking at you as the winner in your age group is really fun.
Evolution from a triathlete to a duathlete
Brown evolved from a competitive triathlete (swim, bike, run) to a national-level duathlete (run, bike, run) over time.
“Swimming is not my favorite thing to do,” Brown said. “Plus, during the races, I would often have anxiety in the water, which would cause me to stop and re-group my mental mindset and start swimming, which would place me back from the main pack.
“This anxiety would place me so far back that it would require me to ride extra hard [on the bike portion of the race] that would bring me back into the top five,” Brown said.
Then, once, “I started my run it felt like I was carrying 500 pounds on my back,” Brown said. “My legs would be shot but somehow, I would always end up 1st, 2nd or 3rd in my age group.
“Then I was introduced to Duathlon,” Brown said. “No anxiety with this.”
Brown first completed a duathlon in June 2013, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
He quickly fell in love with the sport and was hooked on becoming a competitive duathlete.
“I took first in [my] age group, and now I am in my fifth season,” as exclusively an elite duathlon competitor, Brown said.
“Standard” sprint duathlons vs. long-distance duathlons
There are sprint duathlons and long-distance duathlons, both are run, bike and run, Brown added.
Brown qualified for the USAT team as a duathlete on a “standard” sprint or “short” duathlon course, which is normally comprised of a 3-mile run, 14-18 mile bike ride, and 3-mile run as of 2021.
A “standard” long-duathlon race in 2021 was a 6-mile-run, 20-mile bike ride, 3-mile-run.
“These are sprints races for the most part,” Brown said about competing in “sprint” duathlons.
His first run is usually a 1.5-mile run at a 6:30-7:00 minutes-per-mile pace with a bike-ride between 10-18 miles while averaging 20-25 mph, then back to running with a 3-mile run, Brown added.
“I try to create a sub-mile split off the first mile,” Brown said. “So, I need to be under [a] 7-minute mile and try to run,” a 6:30-minute mile pace.”
“If this all comes together,” then that is usually a winning pace for me,” Brown said.
To be able to race for Team USA in an age group multisport event like the duathlon means that you are in the top 10 percent of those that you race against in the nation, according to Brown.
Brown was ranked as high as 4th in California in 2019 and 33rd in the nation for duathletes in his age group, 55-59.
Brown isn’t just an elite competitive duathlete, he is also an Army Reserve Soldier currently serving on active-duty in the U.S. Army Reserve Active-Guard and Reserve program, with more than 35 years of combined military service.
Congressional legislative liaison; blending Army Reserve service with duathlon racing
In his role as the 63rd RD’s Congressional “LL,” Brown gives speeches and communicates directly with members of Congress and local area leaders.
He also participates in building dedication ceremonies and attends significant military holiday events including on Memorial Day, July 4th and Veterans’ Day as the 63rd RD commander’s representative.
Brown also liaisons with Army Reserve Ambassadors about selecting candidates for Army Reserve Minute-Man collegiate academic scholarships.
He also speaks with U.S. members of Congress that represent constituents in the 63rd RD’s seven southwestern state regional footprint while talking about and promoting the Army Reserve and Brown sits on service academy boards.
In addition, Brown responds to congressional inquiries from Army Reserve Soldiers and their families that relate to the unit.
One example of his “LL” duty was on November 9, 2021, when Brown was the keynote speaker during the John Adams Academy's annual Veterans' Day Tribute event, honoring all past and present servicemembers from all branches of the U.S. military in Roseville, California, just north of Sacramento, the State Capitol of California.
In another “LL” mission, he attended the opening of the new Google Bayview Campus at a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 20, 2022, just down the street from 63rd RD’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Brown balances his Army Reserve service while stoking his competitive athletic fire by competing at the elite national duathlete level with a detailed training plan, while also working with a specialized duathlete coach.
Benefits of a coach
“I have had the honor to coach Jerry since 2015 when he sought my support to race sprint triathlons,” which led to a longer-term relationship working to compete at the 2017 Duathlon Nationals, said Raeleigh Harris, Brown’s duathlon coach, who described her work with Brown via an email interview.
At the time he was also racing 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer running events and doing very well at those also, she added.
Harris has a degree in Human Movement from Ballarat University, Australia, and is a certified USA Triathlon and duathlon coach in the United States.
“I am a 70.3 [miles] distance world champion myself and have been coaching for most of my professional life - over 30 years,” she wrote.
In-person and a “virtual” coach
“Jerry and I have met in person many times over the years, but currently, as I live in,” Truckee, California., “and he lives in the South Bay, [California], we communicate via video calls every month,” she said.
Technology and its effectiveness in delivering precise information means that a coach and athlete don't need to live close to each other to be effective, she added.
“Jerry can send me videos of his running, for example, which enables me to do [an] analysis on his run gait and give him immediate feedback without the need to be in the same neighborhood,” she said.
Brown said he had never raced at the level that it takes to race for Team USA before working with Harris.
Now, having the assistance of a good coach makes all the difference in the world, Brown added.
“You could have natural ability that,” allows you to race at that level without a coach, he said. “But for the 95 percent of us athletes that have to work at it to get results, the coach makes the big difference.”
Also, the coach can help you in the physical and mental part of being an athlete, Brown added.
“They are the one person that you can bounce your ideas off and tell them when you are hurting and together make adjustments to the training or racing plan which you both create,” Brown said.
No “typical” day
There is no “typical” day for Brown’s training and nutrition as an elite national-level athlete, according to Harris and Brown.
“We look at Jerry's training schedule both on a micro and macro level,” Harris wrote. “We establish season goals early and work backwards from that.
“While his annual plan sets the direction for the year, no one training block is the same because” we can never be 100 percent sure of how well his body is going to adapt to his training dose, she added.
For a competitive duathlete, especially at Brown’s age, every refinement to their training regime can lead to improvements in their racing efficiency, which can make the difference in winning or just placing.
“As his racing season progresses and Jerry gets an opportunity to race, we also learn where some of the fine-tuning needs to happen,” Harris said. “Perhaps, for example, a transition needs refining.”
The transition area during a duathlon race is where duathletes change from running shoes into their biking gear, move out with their bicycle and vice-versa between the end of the bike ride and the second run of a duathlon.
“Or we can see greater potential realized than expected and this helps inform the training ongoing,” she added.
Rest and recovery are just as important as training to an elite competitive duathlete like Brown.
His “training is periodized,” Harris wrote, “it takes into consideration the importance of easy as well as hard training sessions, days and weeks. It incorporates adaptation weeks every 3-5 weeks to ensure his body is able to rest and realize the fitness gains he works so hard for.”
“Sometimes I have a run in the morning with a bike in the evening,” he added.
According to Brown, Mondays are usually his non-impact day with a 30-minute walk or a 30-minute swim.
Then, Tuesday thru Saturday it is either a run event or bike and run together, he added.
There are also days where Brown rides on his bike trainer at home while watching TV to get in his training for the day.
Eating with a purpose; a customized nutrition plan
Brown “eats a clean diet,” Harris wrote. “He watches for quality of nutrition (high nutritional value) and keeps a balance between healthy fats, carbohydrates, and protein.”
He orients his nutrition towards plant-based food products, according to Harris.
Brown has also overcome health challenges during his career as a duathlete, and improving his nutrition as a duathlete has helped.
“Two years ago, I found out that I have plaque on my heart,” Brown said. “So, I have gone to a plant based diet, and I have limited my sugar intake greatly.”
“I think it is important to note that just because you eat healthy or exercise often, it doesn’t mean that you are a healthy person,” Brown emphasized. “If it was not for my heart X-ray, I would have never known that I have plaque around my heart, otherwise known as coronary artery disease. Athletes at all levels can and do have issues with high cholesterol, or sugar issues.”
So, before you start thinking you are going to start training and competing in this kind of sporting event, like a duathlon, ensure that your body is ready for a challenge and get some medical testing completed, Brown suggested.
A plant-based diet augmented with fish and chicken
Brown’s focus on eating healthy foods, mostly plant-based, “has been beneficial not only for his sporting performance but also his overall health stats,” Harris added. “Being such a high-performing athlete, it isn't just about what breakfast, lunch, and dinner look like. Pre-workout snacks, hydration and nutrition for training, and post-workout meals are all part of his regime.”
Fish and chicken are his go-to food group with tons of veggies, he added.
“I will have my coffee still, and I try to drink 20 ounces of water during the day with hydration mix,” Brown said.
“To perform at that [elite racing] level, you have to fuel your body with the types of foods that will sustain you through the day and add to your workout program,” Brown said.
On “race day,” his racing hydration and nutrition are critical, Harris added.
“Race-day events I have oatmeal in the morning about two hours before the race and I use products like hydration fluids and energy gels, during the race to help me stay at my max heart rate,” this allows for the oxygen levels to support the muscles’ needed to finish my races in the top 1-3 percent in my 55-59 age group.
Brown puts all the pieces together by implementing them in his training, she said.
“We together, through trial and error, have established a diet for all occasions that is specific to Jerry's training and racing,” Harris said.
Brown’s diet and training plan enhance his training and help him achieve his athletic goals.
The results have been staggering for his competitive duathlon racing record.
However, he has not raced at all in 2022 because of his recent medical issues.
Temporary setback; present and future
The good news is that Brown, who turns 59 on Jan. 27, 2023, has already completed extensive post-surgery rehabilitation on his left foot and has started running and biking again while planning out his training and racing schedule for 2023.
Brown looks forward to racing again soon. His first competitive race will be the “Spring Fling” Duathlon, on March 5, 2023, in Fresno, California.
He will then race competitively throughout March and April 2023, in the run up to his attempt to requalify as a member of the USAT team as a duathlete for a second time, during the Apr. 24-28, 2023, USA Triathlon Multisport Age Group Championship in Irving, Texas.
If Brown qualifies during that week, he will then compete in the 60-64 age group as a member of the USAT Multiport team as a duathlete in the 2024 World Triathlon Multisport Championship, which will be held in Townsville, Australia.