Although Keith Albright set a record for his age group in last year's Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, he never expected an encore in October.
The cost of traveling to Hawaii, and the exhausting training required, made the 62-year-old piano tuner from La Crescenta leery of another try.
But that was before Albright won a qualifying competition in Bakersfield and then had his name drawn from among other winners for a free trip to Hawaii from the sponsors, Bud Light.
The Hawaiian Triathlon World Championship is recognized as the most prestigious on the international triathlon circuit.
The 10-year-old televised event draws more than 12,000 applicants for the 1,250 race positions. To secure a position, entrants must either win a sanctioned qualifying competition or have their names drawn in the entry lottery. It includes participants from more than 40 countries. The grueling Ironman in Hawaii includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race, and a 26.2-mile run.
According to the Triathlon Federation/USA, which sanctions more than 500 triathlons a year, the Bud Light Ironman is considered to be the world championship.
The event starts at 7 a.m. and most competitors do not finish until well after dark. That is why the Ironman is held in October every year, when the moon is fullest over Hawaii and the competitors still on the course after dark won't get lost in the black lava fields where the running event is held. Competitors not finishing the course in 17 hours are disqualified.
In his short four-year triathlon career, Albright has entered 14 competitions, winning eight and coming in second in three others in his age category.
Most triathlons are divided into age classes at five-year intervals, Albright competes in the 60- to 64-year-old class. In his first competition, the Castaic Triathlon of 1983, Albright finished third, even though he was competing in the 40-year-old age class.
In last year's Hawaiian Light Ironman, Albright shaved 20 minutes off the previous record for the 60-to-64 age class, finishing the three events in 12 hours and 20 minutes, 44 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher.
Scott Tinley, 29, of San Diego, the open class winner, completed the event in a record 8 hours, 50 minutes and 54 seconds.
Last year there were 24 competitors in the 60-and-over age classes. Albright expects his most serious competition this year to come from a number of entrants who will be "graduating" from the 55-to-59 class.
The 6-foot-1, 160-pound Albright began competing as a runner 15 years ago after reading Ken Cooper's book, "Aerobics."
"He (Cooper) said all you had to do to stay in shape was to run one eight-minute mile a day," Albright said. "I figured that would be easy."
Soon, Albright was entering marathons and 10-kilometer races. He entered the Boston Marathon in 1980. "I didn't do very well," he said, "I think I placed 1,050th out of about 1,200 in my age class." His best time for a 10-kilometer event is 38 minutes, 2 seconds, although he doubts he could break 40 minutes today.
Albright turned to triathlons because he got bored with running. "It's more fun to do three things," he said.
"Swimming is always my worst," said Albright, "and running my strongest."
His training includes swimming a mile and a half three times a week at the Crescenta-Canada YMCA, and biking or running for at least an hour every day.
Albright also trains on his bike with other cyclists in informal weekly races around Griffith Park.
"I've seen him keep up with groups of cyclists under 23 and then pull away from them at the finish," said Larry Hoffman of the Pedal Shop in North Hollywood, who trains with Albright at Griffith Park.
Hoffman said he expects Albright to win this year's Ironman. "He is in tremendous shape," said Hoffman.
Of his training, Albright says, "It's not as much as you're supposed to do, but it worked last year."
Said Bill Bell, a 64-year-old triathlete from Los Angeles who finished third in the 60-to-64 age class in last year's Ironman, "Sure, he'll be the man to beat in Hawaii this year. He's a hell of a competitor. A good biker and a great runner. He sure beat me."
Before the Ironman competition Albright plans to enter a triathlon in Santa Barbara in September.
Albright also has been invited by Iron Gents Inc., a newly formed group of triathletes over 60, to take part in "60 and Over Across the USA." The plan is for six cyclists to race nonstop as a relay team from Santa Monica to New York.
Albright said it is the competition that keeps him going. "Without that I would probably ease up," he explained. "The more you go the easier it gets. I always want to make things easier."
Albright said he was not very athletic as a child, and he smoked until he was 40.
Despite his rigorous training and work schedule, he still finds time to spend with his wife and three sons, twins age 29 and the eldest 32. "I'm home every night and spend the weekends with my family," he said.