Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Member Spotlight: Austin Whitman

by Heather Nicholson

I have seen Austin bike to a brunch with a frittata in a cast iron pan and heard him discuss making furniture and his trip to Africa with his fantastic wife. His name comes up in talk of intense long rides and speedy runners. One of the first conversations I heard at the pub run was “wait till Austin gets here, we won’t catch him.” It took me a few days to catch up with him this past week. He was flying all over the country, then finished the week at the Head of the Charles Regatta. He emailed me, “A bunch of Dartmouth Alumni are racing today” and failed to mention he’d be one of them. Typically humble! He’s a strong triathlete, who is good at a lot of things, but not very good at bragging about them. I tried to capture some of who Austin Whitman is with these questions.

Where are you from and what sports were you involved in growing up?

I was born in D.C. but grew up outside of Philadelphia where, over the years, I competed in soccer, sailing, tennis, wrestling, track, winter track, cross country, and rowing. I also went to a sports camp during the summer and rock climbed and mountain biked. But the truth is I didn’t always like sports because I sucked at most of them.

We have a number of BTT members that rowed, what do you think draws rowers to triathlons? On that note, who do you think had the better freshmen crew team Cornell in 1992 or Dartmouth in 1996?

The training for rowing and triathlon is about the same in terms of intensity, time commitment, and discipline. Some people find this hard to let go after they’ve ended a collegiate rowing career. (Others just bag it and get fat quickly.) Triathlon satisfies the same desire for training and being fit, but I think the racing is much more fulfilling because instead of training for 15 hours a week and racing for 6 minutes, you train for 15 hours a week and race for hours.

Unfortunately modern rowing archives don’t go back as far as 1992 or even 1996, so I can’t let the facts speak for themselves. But the Big Green frosh lights were undefeated in 1996, and beat Cornell with open water, rowing half pressure over the finish line. I can’t imagine a more successful season than that. Women loved us and men wanted to be us. The Big Red ’92 frosh may have also had speed, but historians widely agree they lacked a “je ne sais quoi”.

A rookie twice, why did you join BTT and subsequently return?

I was rejected from BTT in 2002 but applied again in 2003 because I thought Pete Cadwell, Mike Hollywood, Sean Luitjens, and Rob Sczupak were super studs and they and many others on the team were so much more accomplished than I was. Being on the team restored a community around training that I lost when I graduated from college. I left Boston for grad school in ’04 but returned to the team in ’07 because I look really, really good in blue and green.

Can you tell us about your first marathon experience?

Not really, because I slept through part of it. It was San Francisco, 2001. Let’s just say I ran the first mile in 6:04, the first half in 1:27 (6:38’s), the first 20 in 2:21 (7:00’s) and the full marathon in 3:42 (8:30’s). Yes, it took me 1 hour 20 minutes to run the last 6 miles. That’s what happens when you take a 30 minute nap at mile 22 and then hobble home. At least I didn’t require an ambulance and IV, as I tended to do during high school cross country races…

How do you keep yourself motivated through injuries and fatigue?

Copious amounts of self-pity, along with a constant reminder that I have done competitive sports for 21 years and my body has mostly been very good to me. This season was a bust because I couldn’t run, but the nice thing about triathlon is cross-training is part of the game, so I could do two out of three, and that ain’t bad. And I have to give a lot of credit to Victoria who carries a ridiculously optimistic outlook through her life, and leveled with me more than once to fix my attitude and help me refocus.

Motivation through fatigue? Well, I really dislike losing.

It seems you have ridden up a lot of mountains, long distances and in all kinds of weather. Which was your most challenging bike ride?

Without a doubt it was a 3,200 mile trip across country in 1996. I had never done much riding before and injured my knee halfway through the trip. Some days I had to ride with one leg. We ended up finishing in 29 days averaging 106 miles per day – no rest days. Some of those days were the most difficult rides of my life, and I hope it stays that way.

Challenge aside where is your favorite place to go for a bike ride?

That’s a tough one. Without getting on a plane, central and northern New Hampshire, interior Rhode Island, and western Mass. are fantastic. But Mont Ventoux is one of the most amazing rides I’ve ever done.

You seem at home in the kitchen during training weekends, do you have a favorite prerace and postrace meal you like to make?

I can’t focus on much before races, so usually someone else cooks. It’s hard to beat pasta with a little tomato sauce. For race food I usually favor quality and calories over flavor – in the words of Sgt. Pokress, go for a “clean burning” fuel. The rest of the time, though, I really like to cook good food. I just made and froze 2 quarts of pesto with homegrown basil and garlic.

You have some fantastic dance skills. Care to share your secret?

If you think I’m a good dancer, you need to get out more. When I dance at training weekend, think of it like “Dancing with the Stars” except Pat is both the dance pro and the celebrity. I’m just a foil.

Is there an athletic challenge you would like to achieve?

I have several: sub 3-hour marathon; sub 10-hour ironman; sub 1:20 half marathon. But this year has taught me that simply avoiding injury may be enough challenge and should be goal #1.

What are some of your favorite things about triathlons? Has it changed over the years?

Among many other things, triathlon – and especially the atmosphere at races – brings people together to challenge themselves and risk a lot in a very public and quantifiable way. In that sense it often ends up being humbling, and yet it’s purely voluntary. My appreciation of the sport hasn’t changed since my first race in 2000; it’s simply gotten more complete.

If you could do anything that doesn't include sports what would it be?

Be as well-traveled and as engaged with the world as my grandfather.

Describe yourself in one word.


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