Joe Bonness, the ageless phenom

Every year in the late fall Joe Bonness from Naples, FL races more Iron distance events in one month than most people would consider in a couple years. In 2007 he won his age group at IM Hawaii on October 13th in 9:48, won the Great Floridian overall on October 20 in 9:38, won his age group at IM Florida on November 3rd in 9:23 and closed out the season on November 10 at the 70.3 World Championships in 4:17. We were curious to find out more about this amazing athlete.

ST: Joe, can you tell us about your 2007 season, and how you got ready for Kona?

Joe: 2007 was a little different for me. I did the 101 race in Bradenton in May. I had a heavy commitment at work this spring/summer so I did not commit to any races. Sue and I went to Valencia, Spain to see the America’s Cup finals in June. I kept my training up over the summer, with IM Wisconsin as my first test of fitness. I had a great race there.

ST: What is your athletic background?

Joe: I had no organized athletics in school. I tried out for football, but the coach said I had to cut my hair. I grew up crewing on my father's off shore sailboats. We raced out of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan and the Caribbean. In my 20's I restored and raced a 1925, 50 ft wooden sailboat called a "Q". After moving to Naples, Florida in 1982, I couldn't bring the boat with me, as it needed deeper water than available here. I now race a 33ft Soverel out of Naples.

In my teens I rode a bike to school year round, even in snow. I went to a private school that was 10 miles from home. I found I could beat the bus to school on the bike. I often rode a fixed gear track bike. I preferred a bike for transportation and didn’t get a driver's license until I turned 18.

ST: Joe, every year you do a ton of races, is there any race result you are specifically proud of?

Joe: I think the 2001 "Triple IM" was my best. I won the Age Group in Kona, followed up two weeks later with an Overall win at Great Floridian, then one week later was the top Age Grouper at IM Florida.

ST: You appear to always have had a very aggressive position on your bike. How were you fitted on your bike and has it changed over the years?

Joe: I was self fitted. It started from watching the LA Olympic Cycling team. Medal winner, Brent Emery lived in Milwaukee and was an early inspiration. When I first started doing tris, I copied the team on my first TT bike, a Nishiki Linear. It was a 24"/700. I did quite a few IM events on that bike. I remember taking it into bike transition at one of my early back to back Kona/GFT races. Another athlete looked at it and said "you can’t ride 112 miles in that position". I told him I had just done it last weekend. In the early 90s a friend made me a custom 24/700 bike called a "Hurricane". The seat tube was more erect and it was a longer bike. I was only able to use it a couple seasons on it before the welding broke. I went back to the Nishiki but I was having trouble getting equipment and tires for the 24 inch wheels. In 2001 David Greenfield, of Elite, built a custom fitted Razor with 650/700 geometry. That was not only easier to maintain, but it was also super fast and light. In 2004 I started on the Trek TTT through Trek and my local bike shop, Clint's. The Trek TTT is a 700/700 but I didn't really change position as I was able to drop the stem. When I moved to the TTX, I changed position as I was able to get more forward and stretched out.

ST: We would also like to know what typical training week look like for you.

Joe: This is my usual base week. I add from here for race season, build and peak.


Monday: 30 miles easy on the bike, recovery ride
Tuesday: 40 miles hard
Wednesday: 45 miles moderate
Thursday: mountain bike night ride
Friday: 45 miles moderate
Saturday: 40 miles hard
Sunday: 70 miles mod to hard

I run every other day either at noon or sunset depending on low tide around 8-13 miles.
All running is on the beach or trails and on Thursday AM I usually do a long run of 13 to 22 miles. I swim in the evenings 2-3 times per week on alternate days from running.
Plus I do ¼ mile cool down swim after runs.

ST: Can you tell our readers about your long course race nutrition and are you still learning as you go?

Joe: I try to have a meal of pasta and clams the night before a race. I have PB&J sandwiches 2 hours before the start. On the bike I carry 2000 calories of Infinit and drink it with Gatorade or whatever sports drink available. I usually take a bottle at every aid station. For the run, I carry Infinit gel. I take the gel every 3 miles. I wash it down with cola or sports drink. Water is for external use only. My use of salt depends on the race conditions and how I feel. I do NO solids during an IM.
At IM Florida this year I was close to beating my personal best but have I made the mistake to try something new and got in trouble for it. The same thing was true in Hawaii, but there I had a big lead.

ST: You are kidding, you still make rookie mistakes?

Joe: Yes I do, but I have learned to deal with damage control. Many folks when they run into problems they tend to magnify the issue versus doing simple damage control.

ST: What is your favorite race event anywhere and why?

Joe: I get asked this question frequently and never have an answer. I like a lot of races for different reasons. Kona, because it is the most competitive race, and Roth has the most fantastic spectator support. I really enjoyed my trip to Strongman Japan as the whole island is all about the race. The cultural experience, the massive support and the course, are all top notch. Great Floridian is a favorite, it was my first Iron distance and has a hometown feel. Lake Placid has a beautiful course. Wisconsin is another great spectator race.

ST: You apparently really don't have an off-season. Can you tell us about it and how you avoid getting burned out?

Joe: I have a lot of variety to my training. Off-season we have an off road mountain bike tri series on one of my properties. I start restoring it as soon as the Fall IM season is over. There is a lot of heavy clearing and building to get it ready and that serves as my weight training. Winter is also sailing season here. I never get tired of biking. One of the reasons I like the back-to-back races is I only have to peak once per year for IM.

ST: What is your favorite and least favorite food, and do you drink alcohol?

Joe: I don’t like Broccoli. I do have a NEVER to be eaten list. This includes anything with hydrogenated oils. My favorite food is braised short ribs. I do not eat it often though. I believe that eating a variety of foods gives you the best nutrition. I like to try exotic foods and enjoy most "ethnic" types, Sushi, Thai, Indian, Mexican, etc. I do drink alcohol, especially beer. ( I grew up in Milwaukee) During IM peak training I cut back on my intake. I will occasionally have a beer the night before a race to help me relax and sleep. Once a year I drink a bottle of Mescal.

ST: You are running a company, you also have a family and you train and race a lot. How do you find time for it all?

Joe: Schedule your workouts and try to work around it. I often bike to work and meetings. Some of my running is at work. I do my best to plan workouts and races around my work schedule. Sue is "retired" so she does not have many conflicts with my training. She is pretty busy with her own hobbies also. Before she became ill she was a nationally competitive dog obedience trainer. She enjoys the travel and comes to the races. My daughter is 29 and married. No grandkids yet.

ST: Sue and you have known each other since you were sweethearts in high school. Can you tell our readers about your relationship?

Joe: Coming out of high school we matched up really nicely even though we didn’t always go to the same events then. Sue was very involved with dog shows and dog training and horse shows and horse training and I was busy with triathlons, but she was always very supportive of my hobbies. Sometimes it feels a bit like a one way street but she really loves triathlon though and the people in it and likes meeting people. I also don't have the patience for the Internet so Sue checks out Slowtwitch. We don't match up in politics though, she is a Democrat and I am a Republican. ☺

ST: Do you have other interests and hobbies that have nothing to do with sports and/or endurance?

Joe: I like to restore and make things. I play geologist at work, and like to collect fossils.

ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Joe: In the next age group, 5% slower and racing the same people, just fewer of them.

ST: Do you have any special tips for other age group athletes?

Joe: Get out of it before it's too late! Seriously, do what you can and don't increase your intensity too quickly. Recover by staying active, use low intensity activity. You can't recover sitting on the sofa.

"Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible and suddenly you are doing the impossible." -- St. Francis of Assisi