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Triathlon Magazine Canada - - DEPARTMENTS - BY HE­LEN POW­ERS

Bob Knuckey

Bob Knuckey raced his first triathlon – an Iron­man – at the age of 60. In the decade since, he’s wasted no time mak­ing his mark in the sport. Knuckey has claimed two 70.3 world cham­pi­onships and, last fall, he won the Iron­man 70 to 74 age group at the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship and broke the 12-hour bar­rier.

His coach, Bar­rie She­p­ley, says Knuckey is a leg­end. “In 35 years of coach­ing, Bob would be in the top one per cent of all the ath­letes I have ever worked with, in­clud­ing Olympic pros and Iron­man champs,” says She­p­ley. “If Bob was 45 years younger, do­ing the work he did for Kona 2018, he would be join­ing Tyler Mis­lawchuk on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Team.”

Knuckey didn’t swim un­til he was in his fifties, but be­gan run­ning at the age of 15 and never stopped. He loves run­ning so much that in 2003, he re­tired early from a teach­ing ca­reer to spend more time train­ing. “I like teach­ing, but I like train­ing bet­ter,” he says. Knuckey raced marathons and duathlons be­fore that first Iron­man in Wis­con­sin in 2007. He had been treated for prostate can­cer just two months be­fore and didn’t in­tend to com­plete the course, but did so in 13 and a half hours.

“I saw the medals be­fore the race started and de­cided that I wanted one of those,” he says. He planned to al­ter­nate run­ning with walk­ing, but it was too slow and he didn’t like get­ting passed by a 70-year-old.

Ac­cord­ing to She­p­ley, who runs the Cana­dian Cross Train­ing Club (C3) in Cale­don, Ont., be­ing passed is a bit of an is­sue with Knuckey.

“Bob re­ally only had one ma­jor flaw we were con­cerned about go­ing into Kona: his self-dis­ci­pline,” he ex­plains. “Bob is a racer and when he sees an­other near him, he doesn’t want to let them get past.”

To win Kona in 2018 and break 12 hours, there was a five-year plan with a fi­nal 12 months of very spe­cific train­ing. “We spent much of the last six months fo­cus­ing on pac­ing, so Bob could eat and not overex­tend him­self,” ex­plains She­p­ley. “We had a very ba­sic mantra: 155 watts on the bike and six-minute kilo­me­tre on the run. No faster, all day, and he would be the world cham­pion.”

Lead­ing up to the race, there were two weeks of train­ing in the heat of Ari­zona with 200-kilo­me­tre cy­cling ses­sions and 30-kilo­me­tre runs. While there, a mas­sage ther­a­pist saw Knuckey four times and com­mented that his mus­cles seem to be get­ting bet­ter with age. Knuckey’s reg­i­men in­cludes strength train­ing, yoga and phys­io­ther­apy to keep him in prime shape.

Knuckey ar­rived in Kona with a large sup­port group. On the big day, he came out of the wa­ter in third place and his bike time was 5:53, a full eight min­utes faster than his last Kona race in 2014. How­ever, he be­gan to tire in the run, and it didn’t help when a long-time com­peti­tor ap­peared, first 13 min­utes be­hind him and then down to 12 min­utes. Knuckey re­al­ized that his pace slowed ev­ery time he ate or drank, so he de­cided to stop eat­ing.

About a quar­ter mile from the fin­ish line, Knuckey’s body was ex­hausted and he started to lean. With 400 me­tres to go, Knuckey tum­bled to the ground and he be­gan bleed­ing where his glasses cut his fore­head. But once he found the glasses, he was up and off again. Knuckey cred­its his weekly yoga ses­sions for the quick re­cov­ery. “Af­ter I fin­ished my down­ward dog, I was ready to go,” he quips.

Af­ter walk­ing for 15 me­tres, Knuckey some­how found the en­ergy to run across the fin­ish line to wild ap­plause. Watch­ing the fin­ish left his sup­port group con­cerned about his state but they were re­lieved when he im­me­di­ately jabbed at his watch to stop the timer at 11:55:03. It was an amaz­ing race with a heart-stop­ping fin­ish, but, as Knuckey says, “My group said they wanted epic, so I gave them epic!”

Af­ter get­ting four stitches and flu­ids at the med­i­cal tent, Knuckey re­al­ized that an im­por­tant per­son was miss­ing. Strangers un­til that day, Jose Leal had run along­side Knuckey for about the last eight kilo­me­tres and pro­vided key sup­port for the win. Leal was soon tracked down to cel­e­brate with the group and, later, was flown to Canada with his wife as spe­cial guests for C3’s an­nual year-end club party.

Knuckey will travel to Italy this year and race a stan­dard-dis­tance event and, in 2020, out in Ed­mon­ton, he hopes to score a stan­dard-dis­tance world cham­pi­onship to add to his col­lec­tion. That year he will also re­turn to his run­ning roots at the Mas­ter Games in Toronto where, in 1985, when the games first took place there, Knuckey proudly scored a se­cond and two fourths.

Knuckey’s run­ning ca­reer has been quite a bit longer than his teach­ing ca­reer of 31 years, and he shows no sign of stop­ping or be­ing passed. “I will keep go­ing as long as I can,” he says. “I like to try to in­spire peo­ple and I’m very lucky that my body lets me do this.”

He­len Pow­ers is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Triathlon Mag­a­zine Canada. She lives in Dun­das, Ont.

Bob Knuckey rac­ing in Kona 2018

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