Athlete of the Month, October 2013 - Joe Vrablik

Athlete wearing finisher medals
January 30, 2017

D3 Staff



Joe joined D3 over nine years ago, and has been coached by Aj Johnson during that time.  Joe has experienced numerous triathlon races (home and abroad), and has found himself signed up for three iron distance races in 2014.  Having achieved significant PRs this past season at Rattlesnake and Wisconsin, Joe has committed to racing IM New Zealand, Boulder and Wisconsin all in 2014!

What was your motivation to get started in triathlon? About 10 years ago, I was pushing 400 lbs. Honestly, I have no idea how much I weighed as I stopped stepping on the scale when I passed 350. It was simply time for me to get my act together and lose weight. So I started swimming. After a few months of that, I felt I had enough of a base to start running. I had a coworker who was training for IM Lake Placid. He was very supportive and encouraging early on for me. He thought I should try my hand at triathlon after I built a fitness base. So, a year later I signed up for my first sprint.

How did you progress to Ironmans? I guess I always had the goal of completing an Ironman from the get go. I just worked my way up to it. First season I raced sprints exclusively. Second season I started off with my first Olympic (St. Anthony's) and then finished with my first half (Harvest Moon). The following season I finished Wisconsin. Years later, I just find myself going back to Madison every September.

What is your main reason for doing 3 Ironmans in 2014 and what are your expectations? I had planned on doing two IM races next year. My ultimate goal is to race Kona at some point. I doubt I'll be able to qualify. While I find myself getting a bit faster each year, I'm never going to be THAT fast. So that leaves me with either a lottery or legacy slot. "Earning" my way there by racing 12 m-dot races just appeals to me on some level. So, that means I have 6 more races to finish. Which brings me to racing 3 of them next year. I had already planned to race IM New Zealand. It's an early season race (for us) and is in a country I've always wanted to visit. When IM Boulder was announced, family and friends assumed I was just going to race it and started making plans around it. (Naturally, this was before anyone even bothered to ask me if I actually was going to race it.) So I registered for that. I was waffling on registering again for Wisconsin next year. I've now finished it 5 years in a row. I love that race and truly look forward to it every year. (And it helps that you're guaranteed an entry to next year's race as a participant that year.) I wasn't sure about it given its only 5 weeks after Boulder, but after talking to AJ about it I went ahead and pulled the trigger. So the plan is to actually race New Zealand and Boulder while just going and finishing Wisconsin just for the fun of it.

Share any special strategies you've initiated to balance training and life. I'm lucky in that I work for CU in Boulder. The environment and position I have are very flexible. I'm able to fit a lot of my training in over lunch and after work. So I often have the gear for multiple workouts in my truck (bike, change of clothes, gym bag, etc.) Add to that the fact that it's just me right now and I have the freedom to fit in most of the workouts AJ throws at me. Thankfully, I actually do enjoy the training. It gives me a release from the stress of day-to-day life.

Tell us about the crash at IM Wisconsin (that race is your race!) Ah, yes, that. I was coming into the aid station in Verona for the second time. I had all of 15 miles left on the bike. I had grabbed a bottle of Gatorade from one of the volunteers when I hear a "Shit! Look out!" from behind me. Next thing I know, someone clipped my rear wheel and I know I'm going to go down. Thankfully, I was able to steer into the curb. Why thankfully? Well, when I went down, I landed on some nice, soft grass. The guy who hit me (he also went down, just on the asphalt instead of the grass) took off without seeing if I was okay. One of the volunteers comes running over to see if I'm okay. Amazingly enough, I'm fine. My rear wheel had been knocked off-kilter a bit and was rubbing, but I got it adjusted enough that I thought I could still finish. Some other volunteers came over as I got on the bike. "You don't even need a Band-Aid?" Nope, I was fine, just annoyed. "Yeh, that @$$ didn't even stop to make sure you were okay. Good luck! So I take off, make it a half mile or so before I stop to adjust the wheel: rubbing again. Repeat a few times, things are finally good. So I start hammering. At this point, I'm fuming. I was on track for another PR, with an optimistic goal of cracking 12 hours. I figured both of those are now out the window, so I decide (rather foolishly, I admit) to make it my mission in life to catch the bum who knocked me down. I don't think, no, I KNOW I've never made it back into Madison after the two Verona loops that fast before. About five miles outside of town, I see the guy about 500 yards ahead of me. I lay on some more speed. As I'm getting ready to pass him, I hear the telltale PING of a spoke on his front wheel getting thrown. (Ironically, or poetically, the wheel he clipped me with.) He pulls over right as I blow by him yelling "KARMA" After that, I get back to Madison without any drama. I still managed a PR on the bike, coming in @ 6:03:03. More shocking to me, I still pulled out a 14 minute PR @ 12:08:57 once it was all said and done.

Who is your coach at D3 and how has your coach helped you with your goals? I've worked with AJ now for over 9 years. At this point, AJ knows me better than I know myself. Just having someone like him who can seen when I'm pushing too hard or not enough and call me on it is invaluable. He also knows my strengths and weaknesses in the sport and tailors my workouts accordingly. Beyond that, AJ has become a friend over the years and has helped me come further in my racing than I ever dared to dream.

 Have you done races for which you've traveled? Most certainly. I travel for at least one race every year (Wisconsin most of the time). I've also raced in the Caribbean (St. Croix 70.3), Washington, D.C. (D.C. Triathlon) and St. Petersburg, FL (St. Anthony's). Next year it's back to Madison again and also to New Zealand.

Best triathlon moment? I have a hard time coming up with just one. One of the top is definitely my first race. Just that realization of "hey, I'm racing in a triathlon!" and the feeling of accomplishment when I crossed that finish line. Then there was my first IM. I'd have to say, though, it was crossing the finish line at Wisconsin this year. After the crash, to still have my PR and looking back on the last 2 seasons, there's no describing the joy I felt.

Share a training success story. I can't say that any one training experience sticks out to me. It is really the accumulation of all the training over the years. To consistently see improved performance in my training and racing year over year says it all.

Tell us something interesting about you. Me? I'm quite boring. (Or so I tend to think of myself.) I'm nothing more than a bit of a reformed geek working for a university. Friends would probably say it's my eclectic hobbies. I SCUBA dive as much as possible, volunteering at Denver Aquarium when time allows and am into photography. Although the last one has taken a bit of a back seat with everything else going on in life currently.

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