Bethesda Magazine | November-December 2017

Training Days

A group of older athletes in Montgomery County are pushing their limits with a coach and teammates who live for triathlons

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Athletes work on running form at Tilden Middle School in Rockville. Photo by Skip Brown

Paul Huey-Burns of Gaithersburg met Dorrer two years ago at a Spin class she was teaching at Launch Sport Performance in Rockville. He was wearing a shirt from a recent marathon. “You’re a runner and a cyclist. Have you tried a triathlon?” she asked. 

Huey-Burns was never a swimmer. Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, his concept of swimming was a neighborhood dad taking a wrench to a fire hydrant to let out some water. “I did not consider myself an athlete when I was a kid. I usually was the last kid picked for teams in gym class.” 

This past summer, he made a final push in training for his first Ironman, which was held in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in September. “There was no way I could have done this when my kids were young and I was building a legal practice,” says Huey-Burns, 61, an attorney at Shulman Rogers. He cycled twice a week, typically 30 miles on Thursdays and 100 miles on Saturdays. He ran three times during the week, usually 7 to 8 miles on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 18 to 20 on Sundays. Then there were Dorrer’s swim practices, core exercises and stretching.

Through the hours of training, Huey-Burns met Howard Kra about a year and a half ago. They coincidentally share the same birthday, Nov. 1. “[Howard is] constantly texting me with words of encouragement,” Huey-Burns says. “I ran the New York City Marathon last year [for my 60th birthday], and Howard came to New York just so that he could cheer me on. He’s running it this year to celebrate his 60th, and I’m going to reciprocate.” 

In late May, the men were among 11 of Dorrer’s triathletes who participated in the Chattanooga half Ironman. They shared an Airbnb rental and joined in on the prerace feast. “[Coach Dorrer] kept asking, ‘Are you drinking?’ and she didn’t mean alcohol,” Kra says. “She was making sure we were all getting our electrolytes and fluids.” 

Dorrer’s taught clinics on racing strategy and nutrition. She’s seen athletes who don’t hydrate enough, or who don’t fuel up with energy gels during the bike portion and are unable to make it through the run.

She’d also told Kra, who has an affinity for swag, that he wasn’t allowed to purchase any Ironman gear until he completed the race. When Kra, who lives in Bethesda, finished the half Ironman in 6 hours and 42 minutes, the expo was about to close. “It was a literal sprint with credit card in hand after he crossed the finish line,” Dorrer says. All of the teammates finished—Kra in the top two-thirds of his age group, not bad for a first-timer, Dorrer says—and the team placed second in its size division, teams with fewer than 25 athletes.

“The high that you get from reaching your goals is amazing—and it is healthy, too,” Kra says with a laugh. “It’s better than anything you can buy in Colorado.”