Moore Draws Upon Poignant Inspiration in Ironman Pursuit

(UPDATED SEPT. 1, 2015) Dan Moore will be competing at the 2015 Ironman World Championships on Oct. 10 in Kona, Hawi'i. Since the below feature about Moore was first featured in the RAA Newsletter on April 14th, he finished second at the Lake Placid Ironman Championship to earn an automatic qualifier and also took over as head coach of the Geneseo cross country program. 

By Brian Bennett

Each year, more than 80,000 athletes attempt to qualify for the Ironman Triathlon World Championships, with only about 2,000 actually making it to Hawaii, the site of the competition. On October 10, 2015, world-class triathlete Dan Moore ’06, who was recently named Geneseo’s men’s and women’s cross country head coach, expects to be one of those on the starting line.

“I missed qualifying for the 2013 Ironman World Championships by two minutes,” details Moore, who is also an assistant coach for the Knights’ indoor and outdoor track and field teams. “In 2014, I was unable to compete due to a bike accident in training—I cracked a rib, got a concussion, split my head open and had to get stitches. This year, I want to get to the World Championships. I have unfinished business and special inspiration to get me there.”

The Ironman Triathlon is considered by many to be the most challenging one-day sporting event in the world. Competitors must complete a 2.4-mile open-water swim, bike 112 miles and then finish with a 26.2-mile run. Top triathletes will finish in just over eight hours and to be an official finisher, one must complete the race in just under 17 hours. The brainchild of a Naval officer stationed in Hawaii, the inaugural competition was in 1978. His concept was to combine the three toughest endurance races contested on the island with the goal of finding out if swimmers, bikers or runners were the toughest athletes.

Moore’s entry into triathlon competition came in a somewhat roundabout manner. A four-year member of the Knights’ track & field and cross country teams during his time at Geneseo, and a high school and college coach after graduating, he found himself running the Rochester Marathon in September of 2011.

“I had never done a marathon before. It was on a whim, as a friend and former teammate asked me to run with him. I decided to enter two weeks before the actual competition so I really was not prepared for it, but ended up finishing in second place overall. I was surprised at how well I did and started training for triathlons shortly after that.”

Moore subsequently competed in a variety of triathlon formats over the next three-and-a-half years. A sprint triathlon includes a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike ride, and five-kilometer run. The distances for the Olympic triathlon are a 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike ride and 10-kilometer run. Along with the full Ironman is a half Ironman, a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run. Moore has typically competed in Olympic-distance events, as they are the most-typical format offered, although he feels himself to be best at the longer distances. He’s already finished two full-Ironman and three half-Ironman competitions and competed in the half-Ironman World Championship in 2013.

Preparing for a full Ironman is an intensive undertaking. Ironman’s official site suggests starting a specific training program at least six months prior to the race, and recommends a minimum of 15 hours of weekly training. Since Moore must first qualify to compete in the World Championships, his initial focus is on July 26, 2015, when he will take part in a full-Ironman competition in Lake Placid, N.Y. Moore estimates his current training at about 20 hours per week and expects to progress to about 25-30 hours. It’s not a simple task to find that time; with cross country and track & field athletes, his coaching duties have year-round responsibilities and expectations.

“Fitting everything in this year has been much tougher than I anticipated. Being a transition year, with the program having a new head track and field coach [Chris Popovici ’06], has made it more time consuming. The development of training plans for the athletes from scratch, attending practices and meets, and recruiting are just some of the priorities that come before my training. As far as personal life, training is my personal life. But it’s all been worth it—coming back to Geneseo has been wonderful for me.”

While this winter’s long and testing stretch of frigid weather has been frustrating for many, it has not negatively impacted Moore as much as one might expect.

“I swim in the Geneseo pool during open swim hours, so that has not been affected by the weather. I rack my bike on an indoor trainer so I can do all my biking indoors. I am up to four-and-a-half hours for my weekly long ride and that can become mind numbing. I do still run outside most of the time, as I’m not a fan of running on treadmills.”

The harsh winter conditions made some workouts more than challenging.

“One specific session sticks out in my mind: I got off my indoor bike trainer at 12:30 a.m. and headed outdoors to run. It was so brutally cold that my nose hurt within minutes, and my hands ached 15 minutes into the run, even with gloves. I turned around and headed home and when I checked the weather app on my phone, I found out the temperature was -31 with the wind chill. I rarely cut my training short but that was one exception. My motivation dwindles in the cold but I still drag myself outside.”

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of his training regimen is the hours. His day job doesn’t afford the necessary large chunks of time, so most of Moore’s workouts take place in the late hours.

“I stay pretty late in the office, making recruit phone calls and sending out emails to recruits. I will swim at night during the open swim hours in the Geneseo pool and then travel home. My bike and run training usually falls in the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m., sometimes until 4:00 a.m.”

While those hours typically make for a solo workout, there are other times during which he has company.

“I do swim with some of the athletes on the cross country and track and field team occasionally, if they are available during the open swim hours. I also ride with one of the athletes, Cohen Miles-Rath, as he has taken an interest in triathlon and is doing very well with the sport, having competed in the USA Triathlon National Championships last summer.”

Moore drew upon his own expertise in the development of his training plan. His current coaching credentials include USATF (United States of America Track and Field) Level 1 and Level 2 in Endurance Certifications, as well as USTFCCCA (United States Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association) Level 1 and Level 2 in the Combined Events Certification. Earning each of these involved schooling in such areas as exercise physiology, sports psychology, training theory, and biomechanics in human performance.

He also consulted with others, in particular QT2 Systems, a triathlon and marathon coaching/training group focused on Ironman events.

“The program I am following this year is much different than what I developed the past two years. I am a runner by trade, so I focused my training around that strength. QT2 trains around biking, so I am spending so much more time on the bike this year than I have the past three years combined. It means I am running far less, which is hard for me to do, but I trust the plan and I am sticking with it the best I can.”

While strong in the running and biking portions, Moore admits that the initial leg of the competition is the most difficult for him.

“The swim portion is by far my least favorite, as I do not have a swimming background. My swimming has improved over these past three-and-a-half years, thanks to the coaching I have received at the Victor Swim Club as well as some very helpful tips from Paul Dotterweich (head coach of Geneseo’s swimming and diving teams), but I still am a very poor swimmer relative to my bike and run times. I sink like a stone in the water and struggle to keep afloat. I continue to work at it and keep reminding myself that slow progress is still progress.”

Anytime Moore feels discouraged, he draws upon memories of his younger sister Molly, who provides the “special inspiration” he credits for his drive to qualify for the Ironman World Championships. Molly Moore Lawson died at age 27 on February 25, 2015 of brain cancer. Her seven-year struggle saw her suffer four reoccurrences of tumor growth and a steady diminishing of her physical and mental abilities.

“The right side of her body was paralyzed after her first surgery in 2008. The last few months of her life, she lost her ability to walk and was losing her eyesight, her ability to read, and to communicate with written and spoken language. She could never escape her hardships.”

Molly’s constant fight against the debilitating illness served, and continues to serve, as a powerful reminder for Moore of the true context of life’s obstacles and challenges.

“When I think of skipping a training session, cutting a training session short, or hitting the snooze button in the morning, I think of my sister. She could never walk away from what she was going through, especially when times were especially frustrating or hard. She was such a fighter through all her trials. She was so strong.”

This past February, as Molly’s physical and cognitive abilities deteriorated, her periods of responsiveness shortened, which made conversations mostly non-verbal and fleeting.

 “The last day she was with us, she was mostly in an unresponsive state. When I was telling her how much she inspired myself and others, she opened her eyes for a minute, and a tear rolled down her cheek. She heard what I was saying and her tear was her only way to communicate that she indeed heard me. I am so grateful that I had that moment before she passed.”

Among the strong mantras of Geneseo’s cross country and track teams is a sense of family, part of the core system of beliefs put in place by retiring coach Mike Woods ’69. Though Moore did not openly share his sister’s illness or his Ironman goals, the close-knit group of student-athletes he coaches couldn’t help but pick up on his efforts and emotions. Moore believes his personal pursuits make his coaching messages more relevant to his runners.

“I think most of them know of my training. Preparing for triathlon at a high level helps me relate to athletes that work so hard every day to achieve their best. I think it helps them to buy in to what I say day in and day out because I am living a similar lifestyle as the team members.”

While his efforts are focused on a specific goal, Moore feels that the process has affected not only how he approaches training, but how he looks at life. The lessons gained through the trials of his sister are also notably evident in how he describes the true benefits of his training.

“Training teaches that life is not really about results, but the journey. It is about dealing with and overcoming adversity. Things happen to us in life that we cannot ever anticipate and often this is when we want to give up. But what you become in the process is more important than the outcome. The character you have built and developed, the faith that you have manifested, is most important. Training tests you, and has improved my physical, mental and emotional self.”

At Lake Placid in July, and hopefully at Kailua-Kona in October, during the 140-mile physical and mental trial Moore will put himself through, he will not feel alone.

“A memorial card is taped on my bike in Molly’s honor so she can be with me for all my training sessions and she can ride with me during the competition. If I can be half as strong as she was, I have no doubt that I will qualify for the World Championship.”

Brian Bennett is director of design and publications and is part of the Athletic Communications and Media Relations staff.