Slowtwitch Interview (2009)
The East Coast Threat by Herbert Krabel
In the late 80’s Jeff Devlin was known as a duathlete, but he quickly added swimming to his repertoire. In 1991 and 1994 he managed 3rd place finishes in Kona and was a threat to win pretty much any race he entered. When he showed up at mountain bike races, he even managed to make a few pro mountain bikers cry uncle. Slowtwitch had a few words with him.
ST: Jeff, it has been a long time, where have you been?
Jeff: Yes, it has been a long time. Seems like a lifetime, maybe two. My wife, Maureen, and I have been living in Downingtown, Pennsylvania for almost 17 years. We have two children; our son is almost 15 and our daughter is now 10.
ST: Are you still in touch with your former teammates from Team Foxcatcher like Steve Fitch, Brooks Clark, Freddy Klevan and Ken Glah? Also, am I missing someone?
Jeff: We are still in touch with all of them, although I haven’t seen Steve in quite some time and we don’t see Ken as often as in the past. We see Freddy every summer and participate in his Iron Soldier’s Biathlon, and I still get out for a few runs with him now and then. We have kept closest contact with Brooks or as the kids call him, “Uncle Brooks”. Others? We haven’t heard from Joy Hansen for a long time, but we do stay in touch with Jody Schmidt.
ST: You finished 3rd in Hawaii in 1991 behind Mark Allen and Greg Welch 3rd again in 1994 this time behind Greg Welch and Dave Scott. Which of these results did you value the most and why?
Jeff: That’s a tough question to answer. I wasn’t particularly “happy” with either result at the time. In 1991, I had a my best swim, bike and run up to that point and about half way through the run I really felt that I was going to win the race. In that sense, finishing 3rd was a bit of a disappointment but looking back it was probably my best effort in Kona and for sure, it was the race that put me on the radar, at least in terms of sponsorship and making a living as a triathlete. In 1994, I had been battling a shoulder injury all year and my swimming never really got to where it was in the previous three years so my day started off – let’s just say, “not well” with my slowest time since my first Ironman. I was in great bike shape, however, and was able to put myself back in the race. I was ready to run in the 2:40’s for the run but I got too excited and went too fast (more like I was going to run in the 2:30’s) in the first few miles of the marathon and paid for it. By the time I got to 13, I was hurting. While, again, I was disappointed, I was also very happy to hang on for 3rd place.
ST: Was there any other result that ranked up there in terms of importance?
Jeff: Regarding exposure and sponsorship, probably not. Winning the Coors Light Biathlon Series in 1992 was pretty big. At least it enabled us to buy our house ;-) Any of the National Championship titles in both triathlon (1995 and 1996) and duathlon (1988, 1989 and 1991) and possibly winning St. Croix were all good days. Those duathlons and St. Croix, in particular, were days where I felt unbeatable – kind of like I could have gone a lot faster if I had to. Winning the Wilkes-Barre Triathlon in 1995 was important to me simply because it was relatively local and one of the first triathlons I ever raced thinking I might be competitive overall against the top guys (and I got my butt kicked!). Finally, the Zofingen Duathlon in Switzerland was always a favorite. We made some excellent friends with whom we remain in contact. Finishing 3rd and 2nd there was nice, too, but mostly, we always just liked being there.
ST: What was your athletic background and who or what inspired you to race duathlons and triathlons?
Jeff: I played a lot of sports as a kid – baseball, football, soccer, to name a few. By 12 yrs old, I was mostly focused on soccer, tennis but also loved skiing, skateboarding and surfing. Through high school it was mostly soccer (and skiing and surfing). While in college, because I wasn’t playing soccer, I started running and cycling to class to stay in shape, or burn off steam – take your pick. Cycling to class soon turned into riding 50-60 miles whenever I had a few hours of free time – a few times I ran into the university cycling club rides but they were always riding (at least what seemed to me at the time) too slow. I started swimming because I had a friend who swam to stay in shape. I thought, “I’m pretty fit, I know how to swim, I’ll go workout with him”. When I could barely swim 50 yds without stopping to catch my breath I was shocked. I signed up for a distance swimming class the very next semester to fulfill a gym requirement and was soon able to swim a mile without stopping. I heard about triathlons through a triathlete I met swimming at the University pool. I got talked into trying a triathlon at the end of my senior year. It was a ½ mile pool swim, 12 mile bike and 4 mile run. I think I was almost dead last getting out of the pool. I rode the bike wearing cut-off sweatpants, running shoes and a Bell V-1 helmet. When I got off the bike and started to run, I thought my calves were going to explode. I finished 2nd overall and was pretty much hooked. I started reading Triathlete magazine and bought “Dave Scott’s Triathlon Training”. My next race was the Liberty-to-Liberty Triathlon, which was a 1.5 mile swim, 100 mile bike and 5 mile run that following summer
ST: When did you retire from being a pro athlete?
Jeff: The last year I raced a full season was 1996. At that time I found I wasn’t enjoying traveling and competing as much as I once did. My son was 2 ½ and had been traveling all over the world with us. Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember much – he got to see some cool places! I had been coaching a few athletes off and on since as early as 1993 and thought, wouldn’t that be great if I could make a living doing that. In 1997, I “retired” from competing and I put most of my energy into coaching (I also made a half-hearted attempt at going back to school for my master’s degree in computer science and took some software consulting jobs through 1998). By 1999, however, I was coaching full-time, and I have been doing that ever since.
ST: If someone told you in 1996 that Ken Glah would still race today, would you have believed them?
Jeff: Ha! I’ve known Ken for over 20 years, and when I retired he told me he would still be racing 20 years from then, so, yes, absolutely. Old habits die hard. I’d be more surprised if he ever stops.
ST: Is it amazing for you to see how popular Ironman is now?
Jeff: Triathletes are a fairly driven bunch, and moderation is not often in their nature, so, amazed? Not really. Thankful? Absolutely.
ST: What are you doing now in terms of working out?
Jeff: I run just about every day. During the fall, I was coaching and running with the high school cross country team, so I was often running twice a day – mornings with my friends and clients and afternoons with the kids. I actually logged a few 90+ mile weeks. Right now, I run with the high school track team every afternoon, and early Saturday mornings. Most weeks I seem to be getting around 45-50 miles. I usually snowboard or ski on Sundays with my family. I just started riding the bike after probably the longest I’ve been off it since I started riding 25 years ago (about 3 months). I will ride at least 3-4 days per week and when there is no more snow, will start riding on Sunday mornings. I can’t seem to stay consistent swimming during the winter with more than 1 swim per week but I usually swim more and more as we get closer to summer. I like to think that I am always fit enough to get into really good shape if I focused on it for 3-4 months. I just don’t know when I will get those 3-4 months!
ST: Do you have any thoughts about the technology and gear today?
Jeff: I started using a heart rate monitor back in 1988 and a power meter (via my Schwinn Velodyne) back in 1992. I’ve been using a Power-Tap on my bike from the time they were first available. Given my background and education (i.e., being the nerd that I am) I’ve always embraced technology and tried to make the best use of it in my training and when coaching others. However, I do believe there can be a tendency, particularly with triathletes, towards “information overload.” Sometimes you just have to get out there and train and race by how you feel. In fact, more often than not, I will recommend leaving the heart rate monitor at home on race day. Currently, I use a heart rate monitor and Garmin GPS watch on a few select workouts that I do but most of the time I use neither. After 20 years, I’ve got a pretty good sense of how hard or how easy I’m going. Interestingly, my heart rates have not changed all that much from 15-20 years ago. I recently saw 206 bpm during a track workout with the high school kids which is only five beats off the highest I’ve ever seen.
ST: What kind of bike are you riding now?
Jeff: I currently ride an IF Ti Crown Jewel which I have had since 2001. It was one of their first Ti prototypes. I also have a carbon Giant TCR Advanced road bike, a K2 Team Zed mountain bike, and a Merlin Ti mountain bike with a rigid fork (my “beater bike”). Finally, I keep my very first road bike ever – a Club Fuji w/friction shifting – on my Velodyne (the only upgrade to it is a set of Powercranks).
ST: Do you enjoy coaching now and were you a coachable athlete then?
Jeff: I love coaching. I believe I am a far better coach than I was an athlete. I was always pretty competitive as an athlete, but I always enjoyed the training process much more. When I was playing soccer in high school, my coach voted me “most coachable, ” so I guess I would have to say, yes, I was a coachable athlete. The only real “coaches” I had as a triathlete, though, were swim coaches and, for sure, by placing my trust in and listening to them, I made big improvements in my swimming over the years. As far as running and cycling go, however, I was entirely self-coached, but I pretty much followed what I laid out for myself and almost always listened to what I said ;-)
ST: Do you follow any other sports?
Jeff: I mostly follow my kid’s sports. I have watched a lot of youth soccer, lacrosse, basketball games, gymnastics, track and cross country meets over the past several years. For the longest time, I followed cycling pretty closely and never missed watching The Tour. All of scandals and cheating got to be a bit much, though, so I don’t pay much attention anymore. I enjoy extreme sports competitions, basketball, and football – I just don’t seem to watch any of it that much. It’s hard for me to sit in front the TV without falling asleep!
ST: Talk about food likes and dislikes.
Jeff: Back in the day, I had something of a reputation as an “eating machine” – just ask Slowman! (I probably still do, not that I think about it). I still can eat a lot, but not nearly like I did when I was in my 20’s. My favorite dinner is grilled salmon, steamed broccoli, and pasta with olive oil and garlic. Throw a big salad in there, and I am pretty happy. Now, a pound of pasta will feed the whole family for two meals whereas back then it would have fed just me for one. I could eat that every night. We don’t – but I could. We are carnivores and have grilled chicken or steak, as well. Breakfast is probably my favorite meal. That almost always involves eggs in some way, shape, or form. My daughter loves poached; my son loves omelets, my wife loves “over easy.” I like them all. Dislikes? I’ve never liked mushy peas. I tend to avoid milk products. Not so much because I don’t like them but I always feel sluggish and congested for the next few days when I do have milk, cheese or ice cream.
ST: What music do you enjoy?
Jeff: I like a wide variety of music. It might be easier to list music I don’t enjoy, like disco or hip hop. I have a difficult time functioning without music playing in the background. My favorite artists/bands make up a very long list (there are currently 389 artists in my iTunes library) and include many genres – blues, rock, jazz, reggae, soul, r&b, classical and country. But, at the top would have to be Van Morrison, Neil Young, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ray Charles and Bob Marley. My son and daughter are both very talented musicians, so I’d have to include them on that list, as well! My son even got to play guitar on stage with Buddy Guy! The last few shows that I have been to include, The Derek Trucks Band, Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood and The Subdudes.
ST: What was the last book you read?
Jeff: The last book I read was “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah, which was rather disturbing and difficult to believe, but nonetheless, apparently non-fiction. The last book I read with my daughter was “Maniac Magee”. I am currently reading “Timeline” by Michael Crichton.
ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Jeff: Wow. Five years from now, my son will be in college (hopefully, not too far away!) and my daughter will be in high school. I plan to continue coaching triathletes, runners, and cyclist as long as there is a demand for it. I could see myself still involved in high school track and cross-country. If weren’t coaching, I could see myself teaching math. (I’ve had enough practice with my kids for the past ten years)
ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?
Jeff: Hmmm… I asked my family about this one. Here is what they said, in no particular order. “He never kills bugs and always catches them and places them outside. He is a very good artist and always gets asked to “face paint” at our elementary school seasonal festivities. He makes really good chocolate chip pancakes.”