Amateur performer no novice to success Lutherville's Jacobson finishes among the elite despite training 'part-time'


October 17, 1997|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Troy Jacobson's absence from the list of "professional" triathletes competing in tomorrow's 21st Ironman Triathlon World Championship is not an omission and Jacobson isn't waiting for any apologies.

A Lutherville native, he prefers his amateur status and as long as he continues to finish among the sport's elite, as he did last year in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Jacobson will continue to take the ultimate endurance test -- a 2.4-mile ocean swim, followed by a 112-mile bike race and a marathon.

"Sometimes I ask myself, 'Do you want to give everything else up to chase that dream of being the best in the world?' " said Jacobson, who finds time to train in between coaching and consulting athletes, and serving as director of fitness at Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center in Mount Washington. "Actually, I'm sort of satisfied having the balance of being a world-class athlete and having a business that is successful."

Jacobson had dreamed of playing "big-time college football," but quickly discovered that there was little demand for a 210-pound lineman at the Division I level. So, after graduating from Dulaney High School in 1987, he went to West Chester University where he played one year of Division II football for the Golden Rams.

It was around that time that a relative introduced him to multi-sport endurance athletics.

"My uncle told me about the Baltimore Bud Light Biathlon and I thought it sounded pretty cool so I bought a bike and started riding a couple of miles and jogging two or three miles a day. I liked how it felt," said Jacobson, who now weighs 165 pounds. "About eight months later, I got into my first race, a big national race in Columbia, and I took 10th overall in a field of about 700. That sort of just fueled me a little bit more."

The only thing holding Jacobson back from competing in triathlons was one problem -- he couldn't swim.

"I learned how to swim when I was 19," he says, proudly. "I taught myself."

Jacobson, 28, admits that swimming is still his weakest event but Murray Stephens, owner of Meadowbrook and coach of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, doesn't consider it an insurmountable weakness.

"Swimming is usually the shortest event, in terms of distance and time, in a triathlon so if you can swim moderately well, you won't lose much more than a couple of minutes during that leg of the race," Stephens said. "Troy swims reasonably well. I like to make fun of him because he keeps one arm straight and one arm bent when he swims."

No one was laughing last October in Hawaii when Jacobson emerged as Maryland's top finisher and the highest-finishing amateur. He completed the 140.6-mile journey on a mid-90-degree day in 9 hours, 1 minute. He placed 29th among the 1,288 finishers.

Jacobson broke the 9-hour mark in 1993, which he said was a "faster year" because the conditions were better, and finished 35th. His goals heading into this year's event, his fifth trip down Queen Kaahumanu Highway, include a sub-9-hour performance and a top-20 finish.

How far is Jacobson from making a serious run at the title?

Luc Van Lierde of Belgium won the event last year in a course record 8: 04: 08. The women's competition has been dominated by Paula Newby-Fraser of Encinitas, Calif. She has won the event eight times, and has set the women's standard at 8: 55: 28.

"The training volume for the guys who do this for a living is just phenomenal," said Jacobson, sporting a cycling outfit that makes him a rolling billboard for his various sponsors. "The sport is really big in Europe and some of the European professionals will ride their bike 600 miles a week, run 80-100 miles a week, swim 25,000 to 30,000 meters."

With much of his time consumed by training 15 other athletes from around the world for this week's race, Jacobson has adopted a lower-volume, higher-intensity approach to his work outs. Even so, his average week of training still includes 250 to 300 miles of bike work, 40 to 60 miles of running and 10,000 yards of swimming.

"In endurance athletics, it seems that athletes peak in their mid-30s so turning pro is something I could still do," Jacobson said.

"Working hard and putting in the time is important, but to be good at endurance athletics, there needs to be some genetic, natural ability," he said, climbing off his bike in front of his Lutherville townhouse. "I was more inclined to be an endurance athlete than I was to being a 250-pound football player."

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