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Swim, Bike, Run, Win, Repeat

By Lynne D Destefano

719 my storyThe guy in the cubicle next door might be a champion triathlete. Meet Bryce Phinney: a 35-year-old, unassuming, generous, engineer in Tucson, Arizona. Bryce is the kind of guy that gets hit by a FedEx truck on a training ride on Tuesday, then on Saturday he goes out for a century ride with the Scott Sports equipment rep because he happens to be in town.

His competitive spirit shifted into a new gear from front-of-the-pack finisher to podium finisher this season. Bryce got more serious about his racing this year when he hired a coach to tweak his training and nutrition regimen for the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships held in Madrid, Spain in April.

Before this year, Bryce had more soccer games than brick workouts in his plan and more beers than egg whites. The volume of his schedule also increased, with ITU being one of the six championship-level races (regional, U.S. or World) among the 15 competitions that make up a schedule of every distance and multiple formats.

He started his season like a tire shot with a CO2 cartridge with a first place overall win at the Desert Classic Duathlon in February. Some illness and aggressive race strategy deflated him a bit in April with a seventh place finish in his age group at the XTERRA West Championships in Las Vegas and a DNF at the ITU Cross World Championships in Madrid with a cut sidewall.

But the world championship environment boosted his morale as he became friendly with many pro triathletes who made him salivate for that elite caliber performance. XTERRA Pacific Championships in Santa Cruz, California led to a third place overall and first place age group finish on May 15 and at the Tucson Triathlon on May 22, the first in a triumvirate sprint series, he placed second overall and first in his age group. This triathlon competition is stiff despite its size, due to the large number of professional and elite athletes who call Tucson home.

Bryce was really coming in with a tail wind as he faced four very different races within the coming five weeks: a half-Iron, an XTERRA, an Ironman and a sprint. With wildfires burning in an adjacent forest, the first week of June came blazing in with the Deuces Wild Triathlon Festival in Show Low, AZ. The great thing about a triathlon festival is athletes can choose to compete in two of the Olympic, Half-Iron or XTERRA races offered over the weekend. For Bryce, that meant the first race would be the “Deuceman” Half-Iron distance on Saturday. Knowing he had another race the following day, he kept his overly-aggressive tendencies harnessed and finished strong.

719 my storyIn Sunday’s off-road triathlon, three pro women triathletes had the opportunity to start the swim with the amateur men (I think an entire lake-full of egos were threatened). With a minor blunder taking him down the wrong bike course, defending Women’s XTERRA World Champion Shonny Vanlandingham was able to pass Bryce and race him into transition. Bryce chased her down on the run course and kept a fast pace knowing she would be there to capitalize on any mistakes. Bryce pulled out an impressive second overall and first in his age group, and won a special award for the lowest combined Deuceman/XTERRA time.

There was barely enough time to scrape the mud off and do a load of laundry before it was time to pack for an Ironman. In November 2009, Bryce’s family travelled to watch him compete in Ironman Arizona. His brother, being inspired, had challenged Bryce to compete with him in the 2011 Ironman Coeur d’Alene triathlon. His brother dropped out, but with the entire family planning a vacation for the Idaho trip, Bryce zipped up his wetsuit on June 26 for the 140.6 mile smash-fiesta. Treating this as a C-race, he smiled his way through the course, thanked all the volunteers and dropped more than 45 minutes off his previous IM best to finish in 11:11:06.

He flew back to Tucson and competed in the second installment of the Tucson Triathlon Sprint Series, the Firecracker Triathlon, on July 3. For those scoring at home, this is seven days after his Ironman finish. Bryce stood atop another podium with first overall by only a six-second margin.

719 my storyThe days will hold more of the usual training: three-times-per-week at a U.S. Masters Swim practice, 5 a.m. track workouts and biking mountains of rocky trails as he closes in on the end of his season with the August 7 XTERRA Snow Valley race in California, the August 27 Barn Burner 104 co-ed mountain bike race with Pro Triathlete Suzie Snyder in Flagstaff, AZ, and XTERRA USA Championships held on September 24 in Ogden, Utah. Will the guy next door be on another podium on October 23 at XTERRA World Championships in Maui, Hawaii?

Bryce is just one example of the many ordinary, next-door types who are extraordinary triathletes but aren’t necessarily recognized outside of their community or their row of cubicles. These people have resilience and determination that leave us shaking our heads in disbelief. Are they crazy? What’s wrong with them? This guy must have a flaw. Well, Bryce could use a girlfriend.

Photos by Tom Boggan/ and Joseph Tames/