Triathlete Nat Glackin just wants to have fun. • "After all, this is a hobby, not my job," said the 29-year-old St. Petersburg man. "The day I stop enjoying it is the day I stop racing." • But when thousands of competitors line up this month for the annual St. Anthony's Triathlon in St. Petersburg, he will be hot on the heels of the pros. • Glackin and a couple dozen other top amateur athletes are considered "elites" in the sport. They don't race for a living, but their times are not far off those of the professional triathletes who work at the sport 365 days a year. • "They let us start ahead of the age groupers," Glackin said of the rest of the pack, divided by age. "It's usually a pretty competitive field."
Elite male triathletes must have a qualifying time of 2 hours, 15 minutes or better, in which they swim 1.5 kilometers (nearly a mile), bike 40 kilometers (almost 25 miles) and run 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). For the women, the cutoff time is 2 hours, 30 minutes.
In comparison, the top professional men finish in the 1:40s while the women finish in the 1:50s.
But some elite amateur athletes do make the jump and go full time in the sport of swim, bike and run.
"We take it seriously," Glackin said. "But for me, it has to be fun."
The St. Anthony's Triathlon is one of the largest and most competitive events of its kind in the country. The race typically attracts some of the world's best multisport athletes, and this year's contest will undoubtedly include triathletes headed for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The course is flat and fast. And hometown heroes like Glackin often have an advantage over their out-of-town competitors because they can train where they race.
"I typically put in between 14 and 16 hours training a week," said Glackin, an athletic-equipment sales representative. "The time I spend doesn't really fluctuate but the intensity does."
Professional triathletes usually spend 20 to 30 hours a week training and usually have more tools at their disposal when it comes to recovery between workouts.
"The pros take the time to get massages, to ice, to really take care of their bodies," he explained. "That makes a huge difference, and in the end, makes you better prepared for race day."
Glackin grew up in Red Bank, N.J., where he ran for the Christian Brothers Academy track program. He continued running at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
"I was an 800-meter man by trade, but also ran the 400 hurdles, the mile and cross country in the fall," he said. "I got a bike my senior year to get to and from classes faster, as well as cross-train.
"I liked riding, but didn't do a ton of it due to track practice," he added. "When I graduated, I kept running competitively for a year or so, but integrated more and more cycling."
At 6-1 and 185 pounds, Glackin is built more like a defensive back than a distance athlete. "I am my father's son," he said. "He was a football player and I come from strong Midwestern stock."
Glackin admits that he looks big for a triathlete. "But if I lose too much weight, my body breaks down under the training," he said.
He says his size has helped him over the years. He did his first Olympic-distance triathlon in 2006 and his first Half-Ironman the following year. In November, he finished his first Ironman in Panama City.
"I'm looking forward to St. Anthony's," he said. "It's a good, fast race."
In a way, Glackin's entire life has aimed him toward these events.
"I'm competitive by nature,'' he said. "It's fun for me to compete.
"It's something that I have done since I was little. It paid for my education. After college, I still wanted to compete."
As an amateur athlete, Glackin has no "sponsors." But as a sales rep in the endurance sports industry, he does have bosses.
"I represent and use Saucony running shoes and apparel, FuelBelt hydration, Nuun electrolyte tabs, Bodyglide, KT Tape and Medi-Dyne recovery products," he said. "So when I tell them I am training and racing, they understand that's part of the job."
Glackin also has a close relationship with cyclists who ride for a local shop, St. Pete Bicycles. "I think it has been paramount in my success as an all-around athlete," he said. "They have some great swimmers on the team who regularly put the screws to me in the pool."
Glackin doesn't consider himself much of a swimmer. "I had no training whatsoever," he said. "When I did my first sprint tri the summer after I graduated, I didn't have any goggles and I couldn't swim a straight line to save my life . . . still can't, really."
Another challenge that he and other elite triathletes face is balancing work, working out and family life. Glackin is married, and though he and wife Jessica have no kids, his training schedule does crimp his social life.
"I don't go to as many concerts or happy hours on a Friday night because I don't want to miss a big Saturday morning workout. I prefer to be in bed early Friday night.''
What about Saturday night? "When I'm racing Sunday morning, Saturday nights can be a bit dull."
Still, he added, "If my wife has something that she really wants to do, I will put training on the back burner."
Despite the sacrifices, Glackin is having fun, and as far as he's concerned, that's what matters.
"People can take this sport too seriously," he said. "For me, it's a way to blow off stress, test my competitive spirit. The minute it starts to feel like work is the minute I find something else to do."
Terry Tomalin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.