If Tim Hola was the kind of guy who would do everything to defend his 2016 Men’s Masters title at the USA Triathlon Olympic Distance Age Group Nationals, he certainly would not have teed it up at the Ironman 70.3 Boulder one week before. But Tim Hola is not that kind of guy. He is the kind of guy who would not pass up a fun race, a nice race on a nice course, a race with a challenging field just to ensure he could bag a second straight national title.
Still, it would have been easier if his short course race would have preceded the long course race in back-to-back succession one week apart. But Tim Hola is the kind of guy who embraces a challenge. Better yet, two challenges in a row.
On Saturday, August 5, 42-year-old Tim Hola swam 25:49, finished the 56-mile bike course in 2:11:10, and ran two laps around the Boulder Reservoir in 1:30:09 to finish in 4:10:17 with a 1 minute deficit to Men’s 40-44 winner Steve Johnson. Hola was 27th male and 28th overall and had a short drive back to his home in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
“Honestly, I was not sure how my body was going to go at Omaha one week after Boulder,” said Hola. “The Boulder race is a different animal. Especially at that distance and altitude. So I took it really easy the week before USAT Nationals. Did not run at all. Swam and biked easy."
And it worked. Hola experienced his Omaha race as “a nice surprise. The swim felt really good. Clear water. Cool water. Did not hurt. The swim is one of my strong points. My swim split [20:23] was 7th overall in the field.” While he did not know it yet, that swim gave him a 3:02 lead over the man who would be his closest pursuer in the men’s 40-44 category and for the Master’s overall title. Jim Hallberg of Longmont, Colorado made up 2 and a half minutes on the bike and Hola began the run with a 35 seconds lead at T2.
“My swim to bike transition was smooth,” said Hola. “I rarely race this distance, so I was thinking ‘Just go go go!’ Give it whatever ya got. Felt good all the way through the bike. When I finished, I was wondering how my legs would respond on the run. That is where you start putting money in the bank. Especially for a race like this, with a very fast two loop run.”
At 1.5 miles into the run, Hallberg surged and caught Hola and that is where the fun began. “I was battling it out with a guy in my age group through the next 3 miles,” said Hola. “It was Hallberg. So we were going blow for blow there for a while.”
Hola said he is not the type to calculate his moves. “I was racing by feel,” he said. “It wasn’t that I was surging to stop somebody. I felt good and I went when I felt it. Typically, if somebody comes up on you, they finish you off with a pass. I just decided this wasn’t going to happen today. I'm going to fight right until the end. Give it everything I had. Luckily it was enough and I pulled away at the end. I was very proud of my preparation for that. It was a well-done, well-executed race on my part.”
Hallberg had not made it easy, but Hola prevailed, finishing in 2:03:04 with a 21 seconds margin of victory over Hallberg to win his second straight 40-44 and overall Masters title.
So what did this mean to Hola, who works as a territory manager for Medi, the parent company for CEP Compression (“It’s all about increasing blood flow in your veins!” says Hola)
“Whenever I do a race at Masters level and I do well, I think it means you are as old as you think you are and age is not a deterrent for speed. If you make the right decisions and train right and you enjoy your sport and you have passion for what you do, you are on the right path.”
Hola adds, “They say with age comes wisdom. Sometimes with age comes a little more speed. It is also about making the right choices. All that family stuff that age groupers go through every day with kids. [The Holas are raising twin 10-year-old boys, Connor and Spencer] family and work. You have to work on it and try to balance it all the right way. I think we should all do our best.”
The balance shows when Hola exhibits as much joy at the finishes of his wife Nicole – 2:39:39 and 33rd in F40-44 – and his father Ken – 3:10:54 and 17th in M70-74.
You can also say that family was the reason that Tim Hola started in the sport. “In 1984 when my dad and mom did their first triathlon in Iowa, I was only 10,” he said. “I just wondered, ‘What is this all about?’ When I was 20, my dad asked me to do my first triathlon - the Big Creek Triathlon in Des Moines, Iowa. Seeing my mom and dad do it really helped get me started. I thought, ‘I'm gonna do it because my dad asked me.’ And I went from there.”
Hola’s emphasis on family shone through when asked to recall a highlight of his triathlon career. “At Ironman Florida last year, an age group only race, I led from the gun to Mile 24.5 of the run. That's when Jack McAfee passed me and there was nothing I could do.” McAfee overcame a 9:40 deficit after the bike leg with a 2:57:02 marathon, edging Hola for the overall win.
“I lost by 42 fateful seconds,” said Hola. “That really stung. But that same day I got to race with my dad in his first Ironman. That was very emotional for all of us. He got 8th in his age 70-74 group in 15:47:37. I was very proud of him. That day was very, very special.”
How has Hola lasted so long at the peak of his ability?
“I am very conservative with my training,” he said. “These days, I don’t want to be sidelined. I think for a triathlete it is very hard to step back. I listen to my body a lot and I have never regretted a recovery day one bit.”
Hola agrees with the proposition that recovery days do not subtract from your days on earth. In fact they increase them. “I think so. Because when people don’t take the time to recover, that is when the injuries happen.”