Elburn resident ‘Tri’s’ hard
Photo: Elburn resident Adam Zucco not only is an elite triathlete, but is also an active coach of the sport. He recently placed third out of 563 athletes in the annual Leon’s World’s Fastest Triathlon. Photo courtesy of Ali Engin
ELBURN—Adam Zucco joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1993, yet the Elburn resident soon discovered that the process of actually becoming one of the few, the proud, isn’t as quite glamorous as it’s depicted to be in television commercials.
Zucco, who weighed 240 pounds in college, had to lose what he described as “a ton of weight” to go to boot camp. What’s more, he couldn’t run a mile after he joined the Marines.
“I vowed that I would never be that unhealthy again,” he said.
Not only has Zucco kept that promise to himself, he’s become one of the country’s top triathletes in his age group. On Oct. 12, Zucco—26th in the U.S. among 35-39-year-old males in the Global 2103 Age Group Rankings—will be competing in what is billed as triathlon’s most iconic event: the 35th Ironman World Championship, held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
The Chicago Marathon, which is being held the next day, takes place on a 26.2-mile course. By comparison, Zucco and other competitors in Hawaii will have completed 2.4 miles of swimming 112 miles of biking before running the third portion of the Ironman, which is a marathon.
Zucco, who trains year-round and participates in 10 full or half triathlons each season (the season runs from December through October), is putting in between 30 and 35 hours of training per week leading up to the World Championship. The course at Kailua-Kona, located on Hawaii’s Big Island, consists of black lava rock, and Zucco also will be contending with a scorching sun, 90-plus degree temperatures as well as potential crosswinds that can reach 45 mph.
His weekly training regimen usually consists of 20,000 meters of swimming, 400 to 500 miles biking and 45 to 60 miles running. Next month will mark the seventh time Zucco has taken on the Ironman course in Hawaii. Zucco’s father, who got him interested in triathlons during the early 1990s, has competed in 17 Ironman races.
Contestants begin at 7 a.m. and have until midnight to complete the three stages of the triathlon. Zucco’s best time in a full Ironman competition is 9 hours, 16 minutes.
“The winners (of the triathlon) usually go close to eight hours,” said Zucco, who competes in triathlons all over the world and was the No. 1-ranked U.S. triathlete in his age group in 2011.
Asked how he feels after completing a full triathlon, Zucco replies, “I feel pretty good after the next day.”
But he emphasizes that’s because he’s had proper pacing, coaching and nutrition.
“I try to eat very clean,” said Zucco, who added that he limits foods that can spike his blood sugar, such as foods containing starch, whole grains and, of course, sugar.
“I eat a lot of things that either grow naturally, run, swim or fly,” he said with a laugh. “Fish, chicken, fruits, vegetables, leafy greens.”
Zucco said he’ll be taking part in another Ironman triathlon a few weeks after the event in Hawaii.
“I’ll usually start training the next day (after completing a triathlon),” he said. “If you’re well-trained, you should be able to resume a normal life the next day. That’s what baffles my wife (Lindsay). She does the same training and gets pretty sore, but it doesn’t make you a good or a bad athlete. It’s just how your body responds.”
For those who are just starting out in triathlons or are interested in getting started, Zucco offers this advice:
“The biggest thing I’d tell anyone is to choose a realistic goal,” he said. “Just be consistent with your training and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Have a plan; consistency trumps talent.”
Zucco is a world-class triathlete coach in his own right, as well. Both he and Lindsay are USAT Level II certified coaches, and in 2009, Zucco was named the USAT Developmental Coach of the Year. Zucco is an owner and partner in TrainingBible Coaching, along with Joe Friel—an elite triathlon and cycling coach who’s authored, “The Triathletes Training Bible” and “The Cyclists Training Bible.”
“I go all over the place (coaching athletes),” Zucco said.
Zucco also competes in triathlons closer to home. This summer, he finished third overall in the annual Leon’s World’s Fastest Triathlon, which is a quarter distance of a full ironman. Racers swim .9 miles, bike 24.8 miles and run 6.2 miles.
He completed the swim in 18 minutes, 24 seconds, the bike race in 57:44 and the run in 36:31. Kaneland High School junior Victoria Clinton, the defending Class 2A girls state cross country individual champion, also participated in Leon’s Triathlon, and was 44th overall. She recorded times of 20:38 swimming, 1:14.53 biking and 38:19 running.
“In terms of time,” Zucco notes, “the shorter (triathlon) distances are harder because you have to go much faster.”