Jon Iannaccone, a Kenai resident and triathlete, traveled to the Middle East in November to compete in the World Triathlon Championships in Abu Dhabi. He said he qualified for the race in the 50-54 age group with some doubts in his head, but years of preparation paid off in a strong performance.
The triathlon combines three events: swimming, biking and running, in that order. For the standard distance triathlon, in which Iannaccone participated in Abu Dhabi, athletes swim 750 meters, bike 20 kilometers, then run 5 kilometers.
The World Triathlon Championships have been in Iannaccone’s crosshairs for years. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the race and its qualifiers in 2020. Iannaccone said that in 2021, a race in Sebring, Florida, was selected as a qualifier, with the top three in each age group becoming the United States contestants in that year’s World Championship.
“I was partially quarantined and working from home. I really just upped my training quite a bit with hopes that I could have a shot,” Iannaccone said.
Training at home is no problem for Iannaccone, who said he has the equipment necessary to perform a full triathlon — a swim machine, exercise bike and treadmill.
“I just train like crazy and really hope to have the race of my life down in Florida,” he said. “And I did, I got the slot by 20 seconds.”
Iannaccone punched his ticket to the 2021 World Triathlon Championship with that third-place finish in the race — but then the championship was again canceled by the pandemic. His qualification remained good for this year’s event.
The uncertainty that Iannaccone said he put on his qualification was because the race in Florida was a special qualifier, instead of the traditional National Championship.
“I barely got in. I got in at a different race than normal, so there’s a little bit of an asterisk in at least my own head and my own mind,” he said.
Iannaccone said he entered the competition nervous that he wouldn’t be able to hang with the pack on the world stage. In the 12 weeks leading up to the starting line, Iannaccone said he trained even harder hoping to prove himself — if perhaps only to himself.
“I thought if I could come in the top 80%, I would show I belonged in the race,” he said.
In Abu Dhabi last month, Iannaccone did better than that, landing in the top 50% any way the competition sliced with a gun time of 2 hours, 21 minutes and 48 seconds in the standard distance triathlon. Overall, he finished 259 of 787. By gender, he was the 213th man of 502 to complete the race, and in his age group he took the 22nd spot of 50.
“Part of me thought the gun was gonna go off, and then 100 yards later I was gonna be by myself,” Iannaccone said. “Halfway through the swim, I looked around and I saw all the same color caps as me, so I knew I was right there in the pack.”
As he got out of the water, Iannaccone saw that he had passed some people who had started before him.
“I could tell by the way the race was going that I was doing better than I thought,” he said. “I knew I was able to race with these guys.”
His bike split time was a personal record at that distance by two minutes, then Iannaccone entered the run.
“I’m a really good runner.”
Iannaccone said that he often comes from behind on the run — which he conceded might just be a function of his bike and swim not being “as great as they should be” — but he spends a lot of his runs passing people. At that point his legs are pretty beat from the bike, he said, but he likened moving through the pack to seeing people and reeling them in like they’re on a fishing line.
“I like the feeling of passing people.”
Early in the run, Iannaccone climbed as high as 158th in the general pack, eighth in his age group. He maintained strong times, but he said toward the end the heat began to get to him, with temperatures running up to 98 degrees.
The temperature was something Iannaccone had prepared for, using special heaters to get his workout room to the conditions he faced in Abu Dhabi. Despite that, the heat still managed to wear him down — though he said he didn’t have as big of a meltdown as some of the competition.
Coming out of the Abu Dhabi race having done much better than he went in expecting, Iannaccone said he wants to compete in the World Triathlon Championships again. More importantly, he thinks he has the skill to do just that. Before that, Iannaccone has his 2023 schedule mostly locked in, with appearances in Alaska and national races in the spring and summer, before competing in August in the National Championships in Milwaukee for another shot at World Championship qualification.
Reach reporter Jake Dye at email@example.com.