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Robert Chalfant: A Triathlete Love Story

What do you get when you mix 30 fluffy pancakes with a complicated love affair for triathlon? You get Robert Chalfant of course. The exuberant Robby is swimming, biking, and running his way to greatness (and scarfing down pancakes for an eating competition in the process). The coaches at Paceline had the rare opportunity to catch him standing still long enough for an exclusive interview.

A quote from Robby’s favorite book, Warrior of the Light by Paulo Coehlo, states, “The Warrior of the Light is a believer. Because he believes in miracles, miracles begin to happen. Because he is sure that his thoughts can change his life, his life begins to change. Because he is certain that he will find love, love appears.”

Robby did not set out to fall in love, but as Paulo Coehlo says – love appears for those who believe. Robby now has 3 passionate love affairs: swimming, biking, and running. Like any steamy romance, there is always a story:

“I was 5 feet tall and 100 pounds,” recalls Robby about the summer he discovered running. Robby was an inspired 16 year old with an inability to perceive limits. Within one season this gangly teen ran his way into the top spot on his high school team. It was true running love. Robby was tempted to pull a ‘Forrest Gump’ and just keep running but in a moment of inspiration from an ex-navy, cigarette smoking sergeant (Robby’s coach), Robby introduced himself to a new sport – swimming. The love for swimming grew during that first winter but it could never fully replace running. The start of track season renewed the dormant run-romance and Robby’s passion drove him to complete the 2-mile race in a time of 9.18. The fire in his heart fueled Robby’s success during his high school career where he was able to break school records and smash the competition at state. The honeymoon phase can’t last forever though. “I got a running scholarship to Perdue but I kept running into injuries.” As any lover knows, relationships are often full of challenges and Robby had found his. Were injuries going to hold Robby back from running?

Feeling forced into cross training, Robby purchased his first bike which started a tumultuous love affair with cycling. Robby rallied despite lingering injuries and competed in a local sprint triathlon. “I had 6 months to train with no coach. I finished 6th and qualified for a national race.”  However 2 weeks later he was hit by a car during a lunchtime ride – not serious but emotionally damaging. Not willing to continue fighting through injuries and emotional trauma, Robby parted ways with his bicycle. The bike was moved to the basement where it stayed for 6 years – alone and unused.

Life continued on in normalcy for a decade. It seemed that a desk job and ‘success’ had dulled his competitive passions, but Robby was never able to forget the thrilling years of his youth. Robby knew that his heart was still aching for triathlon – his three great loves. The man who once knew no limits was unwilling to settle for a life confined to the box he found himself in and so, with trepidation, Robby dove back into training. Tentatively Robby repaired not only the broken pieces of his bike; he repaired the fragments of his broken life. He rekindled the flames that had originally ignited his athletic career. The flames returned hotter than ever. The walls of his box fell away and hope for the future was renewed. This is not the happy ending yet though.

Robby moved to Boulder, Colorado (the mecca of endurance sports training) on October 31st, 2015. He connected with the Brad Hudson group, “[The coach] asked what my pace was and when I told him, he said ‘you can run with the girls today’ and I’m not afraid to say they kicked my ass!” A nagging IT band issue was threatening to undo all the work Robby was putting in. Robby refused to give up and put himself through consistent cross training to strengthen his ‘glutes’. The pain slowly dissipated renewing Robby’s vow to remain true to his sports. “All those years of pain and nobody told me I just needed to do some squats!”

Unlike many upper level athletes, Robby wanted a more natural approach to his triathlon relationship. Rather than relying on power meters and technology, Robby spent 2 years training ‘by feel alone.’ Heart rate and a keen awareness of his body were his only metrics. “I wanted to know emotionally and physically how it would feel to push my limits. I wanted to grasp the ‘dig deep’ sensation.” This natural heart-felt view of training is paying off for Robby and he is more in love than ever.

This love story is far from over, but for now Robby has sworn allegiance to all three of his athletic pursuits (although he does admit to an occasional side-fling with pizza). Each morning brings renewed dedication to his dream of finding a place among the best triathletes in the world. Inspiration comes from other local athletes facing similar challenges and achieving amazing results. Robby gleans hope and determination from those around him.

So far it appears that Paulo Coehlo’s quote about Warriors of Light is correct. Robby believes in his love for triathlon and is now able to inspire others to believe as well. “It’s okay if no one else sees it or believes it. It is what I believe and create that will withstand the test of time.” Robby may face more trials during his career as a triathlete but his love is strong and he is a true believer.

Robby shared with us some training tips for new athletes:

Don’t ignore race day execution. It’s not about whoever is the most fit on race day. Success lies in the execution. You might be the most fit but if you don’t execute wisely (swim positioning, nutrient intake, proper hydration, etc) you won’t be among the greats. Race smart and know when to ‘burn your matches.’ Even if you are not the fittest, performance comes down to execution.

Remain patient. New athletes ramp up their mileage and training hours in all 3 disciplines too quickly. Pushing too hard, too soon, and too often results in a plateau and ultimately injuries. I turn 35 next month and I love challenging others with patience. There is plenty of time to build.

Emphasize your strength training and cross training in order to prevent injury and keep adapting. Consistent strength and mobility training enables you to stay injury free. In order to fire the correct muscles during riding/running (which creates efficient movement patterns) a good quality cross training program is essential. Calisthenics and Gymnastic strength training keeps joints stabilized within their full range of motion which is ideal for runners, cyclists and especially triathletes. Strength is a key element that is often overlooked and under trained.

Final message from Robert Chalfant:

“People should not ever give up. Times get tough. Big goals are rife with high highs and low lows. Every day is a decision to get up and be more awesome than the day before.”

We will see you on the podium, Robby.

Co-written and Co-edited by: Danielle Radden & Candice Schwartz

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