Athletes race to say goodbye to 2020 with half-Ironman in Dover

Chris Neaves, 73, peddles on a spin bike as she competes in a half-Ironman at the Dover YMCA on Tuesday. Her coach Bruce Clayton checks her progress. Since her live event was canceled in October, Ms. Neaves decided to finish out 2020 by completing the race on her own. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled and postponed a wide range of events in 2020, but Chris Neaves and Chuck Connor were not about to let it put a stop to their year-end plans.

So the pair of triathletes met with their coach, Bruce Clayton, who is an instructor with the TriCoach training facility in Rehoboth Beach, and each completed a mostly indoor, 70.3-mile half-Ironman out of the Dover YMCA on Tuesday.

Both had been in training for an Ironman event in North Carolina in October, but, of course, that turned out to be just another race erased by COVID-19.

It turns out Ms. Neaves, a 73-year-old from Townsend, and Mr. Connor, 57, from Magnolia, did not let their training go to waste.

“We said, ‘Well, we have trained already. Why don’t we try to do (the half-Ironman) different and just do it indoors or whatever we need to do?’” Ms. Neaves said. “I decided to do it all indoors, and Chuck did the run outside, but I used the treadmill. We are part of the same team, which is the TriCoach team. We have known each other and bump into each other during events and things like that. We are friends.

“Some days, you just have to do it a little different and get it done — and it worked. Ultimately, it is always fun. It might hurt a little bit, too, in there, but it’s always a challenge, for sure.”

The duo each swam 1.2 miles — 40 laps up and down — in the indoor pool at the YMCA, before riding 56 miles on indoor spin bikes and running a half-marathon. Ms. Neaves did her 13.1 miles of running on a treadmill inside, while Mr. Connor headed outside for the final portion.

Ms. Neaves has competed in around 10 half-Ironmans but said Tuesday’s offered up some different challenges.

“The problem with spin bikes is they don’t let you coast,” she said. “It has to continue turning all the time. That was really challenging.”

Both of the athletes were pleased to have their instructor, Mr. Clayton, on hand to help guide them and provide advice during their grueling runs, even though they weren’t officially competing with other participants.

“Since we both train with TriCoach and what (Mr. Clayton) has been doing with his clients is, when a race is canceled — because we’ve all been training for half-Ironmans and Ironmans and things like that — what he’s been doing is just making up races and making up names for them, and we just train for it like we’re actually doing our real Ironman races,” Mr. Connor said, “and we just go on and do it, and that’s what we did (Tuesday).
“Honestly, by having Bruce doing that, it just kind of keeps you focused, and you keep trying to keep things as normal as you can,” he added.

Ms. Neaves completed her half-Ironman in seven hours and 50 minutes.

Mr. Connor wrapped up his part in less than five-and-a-half hours.

“I did an hour and 49 minutes on my run, just under three hours on my bike and about 39 minutes on my swim,” said Mr. Connor.

He said Ms. Neaves serves as an inspiration to himself and others.

“I’m 57 years old, and I think I started right around when I was 52 because my son has done two full Ironmans,” Mr. Connor said. “He was my inspiration for that, and I’ve been doing it, and I love it.

“But really, Chris is the amazing person. She’s won world championships, and she’s pretty cool. We’re a little bit on the older side but (Mr. Clayton has) trained clients who have qualified for the world championships and stuff like that.”

Ms. Neaves competed in her first half-Ironman at the 2013 Eagleman event in Cambridge, Maryland. She’s learned more than her share of lessons along the way.

“I’m definitely not doing anything (Tuesday afternoon), but (Wednesday), I’m going to go and swim for maybe a half an hour and make sure the body gets stretched, and I’m not going to push or anything until recovery sets in and helps the body out a little bit,” she said.

It was the thrill of racing the clock that brought the duo to the Dover YMCA to finish what has been a difficult and challenging year.

“It’s just for my own fun, I guess you would call it,” said Ms. Neaves. “Coach came up from Rehoboth to just be there and encourage us. He is the coach of TriCoach, and I would say he’s got a formidable group of athletes. He is very good and gives everybody their own schedule depending on what they are working on. My program is geared toward me, not toward the other 10 people or the other 20 people — he’s very specific to each athlete.”

Like everyone else, the pair of endurance athletes are looking forward to putting 2020 in the rearview mirror Thursday night.

“It’s kind of funny, we were looking at it (Tuesday), and everything is kind of pushing back a little bit there (for 2021) already,” Mr. Connor said. “There was supposed to be a race next April, but that got pushed back to November. The way I look at it is you kind of play the hand you get, and that’s it, you can’t do anything about it — so we just keep training.

“Hopefully, with the (COVID-19) vaccine and everything, that will get things back to normal. We’re hoping that by summertime, things will start coming back to normal, and then, we can start racing again. In the meantime, I’m sure we will just keep plugging away.”