April 28, 2015

If You Can’t Handle The Heat, Stay Out Of The Kitchen.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way”, great quote, but only applicable if your body is fully functional. After this weekend I have had to face the sad reality that the effects from my heatstroke and seizures in Dallas last year truly are long term and are showing no sign of leaving. Because of this setback I am unable to compete at the majority of the high level ITU races, and am not capable of racing for my country at the 2016 Rio Olympics. It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing a semi-retirement from Triathlon.

After my recovery from Dallas, I had an awesome end to the season with a podium at every race, highlighted by finishing in 3rd place at ITU Tongyeong World Cup. With training and racing going so well, I truly believed that I was all better and I was back on track to complete my goals. Turns out this was not the case.

My base training was incredible this year. I had never been so consistent in training and had never seen such good run data in my whole career as a triathlete. I thought for sure this was my year to move up the ranks and represent the USA at the highest level. It was a huge shock when I raced my first race in Mooloolaba and I rode terribly, and ran even worse! I felt completely flat and my entire body was locked up and I could barely get my body to the finish. My heart rate was fine, but my muscles were on lock down. Because my training had been going so well, I immediately attributed this feeling to the long travel, and poor lead up to the race. Joel and I discussed a slight alteration of training for my race the next weekend in New Plymouth and we built into the race to try to gain back some of the lost fitness. I actually raced fairly well (this was a cold race) given the three weeks prior had brought my fitness level down to about 75%, but I was still nowhere near where I should have been. I got to our training base in New Zealand and had a fantastic build up for WTS Gold Coast. But same thing as Mooloolaba, about 8-10min in on the bike and my body completely locked up on me. I tried pushing through it as hard as I could and ended up straining my adductor during the ride and had to pull out of the race. I had no idea why my quad just locked up on me. It didn’t make sense, I had no answers. Still at this point I did not associate any of my poor race results with the heat, I just assumed they were frustrating one-off things.

After Gold Coast I flew to Clermont, FL to get in some hot training in preparation of our Continental champs in Monterrey, Mexico. The weekend before Monterrey I decided to race St. Anthony’s Triathlon since it was just a quick 2hr drive from Clermont, it had a pro prize purse, and it was a low key non draft race that would ideally help me find the love of the sport again after being overly disappointed with the start of my season. I borrowed a TT bike and was really excited to show off my fitness in a different environment, but once again, 8-10 minutes in on the bike I had absolutely nothing. I was riding 50 watts (15%) bellow my normal race power and it felt like death. I barely made it through the ride, but I was telling myself the run would be great, and I left T2 with a smile! About 2k into the run it was all I could do to not start walking. I felt like I was one giant piece of lead. After about 6k, I started to get the shivers and I got goosebumps (which when it’s hot is never good) and had to slow down a bit more to regain composure as I just continued my slog jog to the finish line.

After this race it was finally clear to me that it wasn’t travel, it wasn’t fatigue, it wasn’t the wrong taper, it was the heat that was taking its toll on me. All the races I performed well at last year were in colder climates, and because I was performing well I thought my body was fine. But it is extremely clear now that my body will never recover and will never be able to race in the heat again. It now has a protective mechanism ingrained in it that does not allow me to function when it feels the slightest bit of heat. 

I had done sauna training, acclimatization, ice vest, cooling my core, scrubbing my skin, hyper electrolyte hydration, everything in my power to ensure the best result – but sadly this preparation hasn’t changed the programming in my body. Post race I have NEVER felt so sore from head to toe. The physical and emotional pain that I felt during and after each of these races is more than I can explain. It is enough to make me give up a dream that I’ve had for the last 11 years (first with swimming, then with triathlon) and actually feel “comfortable” about it.

I’m calling this a semi-retirement because I’m still going to have some heat testing done, and I am going to continue to race cold weather races - but as of now my life is taking on a new path, with new goals.


  1. Hey Mr. Zafares,
    I've never met you, but as a fan of the sport for the last few years, I have excitedly followed the development of the current crop of American Olympic distance triathletes. It was really cool to see you start converting promise to success on the ITU circuit. While it sucks that you have to change your goals based on circumstances beyond your control, I'm glad to hear you aren't just giving up entirety on the sport. Best of luck in your future ventures.

  2. Hey Tommy, I have no doubt that there is beautiful new path for you to follow.

  3. I'm sure there will be lots of wonderful opportunities for a person with your skills and personality. Everything will work out.

  4. Be sure to watch for the door that is opening as this one closes. The best is yet to come, you will figure it out and you are brave to make this tough decision. Best wishes with whatever path you take.

  5. Yes, Tommy look at the door in front of you! Wishing the best for you and Katie!