Triple threat: A Mac student's triathlon adventure

By Daniel Kerwin

For some people, taking on a full college schedule isn’t enough to satisfy their urge to live life to the fullest. Riyaz Gayasaddin ’08 is one of them. Different people deal with this urge in different ways, but few have found a way to take on life as fully as Gayasaddin has. “I used to play tennis in high school, but I got burned out, and when I got to college I started running and lifting,” he said. “I was looking for something to do to stay competitive and started looking into, ‘What’s a triathlon?'”

His inspiration came from the Kona Ironman Triathlon, one of the foremost competitions in the sport. He did some research and started triathlon training at the start of his sophomore year. He found a fellow triathlete in former biology professor Kim Dickson, who steered him towards a St. Paul training team called Performance Power, run by Matt Haugen, Macalester’s cross country and track distance coach. Gayasaddin started training with the team in September of his junior year and has been going all-out ever since.

“I really enjoy the culture of the team, everyone is motivated,” Gayasaddin said. “It’s grown from around 15 to 30 core people since I’ve been on the team. Coach Matt Haugen has a distinguished achievement record, he’s great at helping out and motivating others.”

Performance Power, P2 for short, is the brainchild of Haugen, who started the team in 2003 as a way to gather people within the St. Paul community with an interest in endurance training.

“I used to coach at the Olympic level, but it’s great to come back to where I grew up,” Haugen said. “There’s nothing more fulfilling in anything I’ve done than coaching in the community, except coaching the Mac Pack. You watch people learn, light up and gain confidence. This culture pulls them in, and they add their own energy.”

The team’s training regimen is intense. They practice together as a team every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and some Wednesdays and train as individuals the rest of the week. This might seem like a lot of time when coupled with a full college schedule, but Gayasaddin is one of only three college students to have ever joined the team – most team members have full time jobs and still make the commitment.

As a result of this training, the team is very close knit.

“It’s kind of hidden, but in the Twin Cities there’s a ton of running clubs,” Gayasaddin said. “Ours is relatively small; coach wants it to be more personal. In the past five or six years it’s taken off. People are motivated to live a healthier life.”

Haugen has made sure that the team caters to a wide range of ages and abilities. The team has athletes on the lower end of the development scale as well as athletes who have qualified for the Kona. The age ranges from Gayasaddin, the youngest at 22, to a man who completed an Ironman on his 66th birthday.

“It’s positive, invigorating, contagious and addicting being in the presence of people like that,” Haugen said. “The best athletes develop in a team setting. It’s always about a group of people together – it’s a big high.”

Of the four types of Triathlon, Ironman competitions are by far the hardest. The other three, from shortest to longest, are the sprint, Olympic and Half-Ironman events. To give an idea of just how much variety there is in the world of triathlons, Olympic distance events combine a 1 mile swim, a 26.2 mile bike ride and a 6.2 mile run, whereas the Kona Ironman combines a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run. So far Gayasaddin is only training for sprint and Olympic distance events.

Gayasaddin completed three sprint events this past summer. He also completed two Olympic events, The Buffalo (Minn.) Triathlon and the Turtleman Triathlon. Competing in the 20-24 age group, he has found that there isn’t exactly cutthroat competition.

“Not everyone is competing for gold, silver and bronze,” Gayasaddin said. “Some people do triathlons to make it a checkmark in their list of things to do in life. It’s like everyone’s part of a team, pushing each other to the finish line. There are competitive people in the age group, but also people just trying to finish.”

Whereas Gayasaddin has only just begun checking off his list of achievements, Haugen has amassed a long resume over the years. He was an All-American in his college career at St. Olaf, has a personal best Ironman time of 8:41 and has placed second at the World’s Toughest Triathlon in Lake Tahoe. He also placed third last summer in the Pikes Peak Ascent & Marathon ‘double,’ a half-marathon and full marathon on back to back days, both races including an ascent from 6,300 feet to 14,100 feet.

“I’m there [at Performance Power] to guide and coach, yet I do Pikes Peak once a year,” Haugen said. “It’s an opportunity to chase a goal, suffer through and train just like the team members. It makes me a better coach to do that every once in a while.”

It remains to be seen if Gayasaddin will someday reach Haugen’s level. For now, he has no major triathlon events planned, saying only that he’d like to accomplish an Ironman by the time he’s 28. He will graduate this summer with a major in chemistry and is planning to teach for a couple of years before pursuing a career in health, sports and nutrition, public health or public medicine.

“Since my time with P2, I have learned how to be both physically and mentally strong,” Gayasaddin said. “But more importantly, I have seen how rewarding it is to continuously keep challenging myself.