Joe Bechtold oversees "Truck Stop Missouri" and finds time… (Travel Channel )
A massive truck stop in the middle of Missouri isn't where you'd expect to find a veteran triathlete, but this is where Joe Bechtold can be found most days. Bechtold, 44, is the general manager of Midway Truck Stop and Travel Plaza in Columbia and the star of the new show "Truck Stop Missouri" on the Travel Channel. When not overseeing the 12 businesses that make up Midway, Bechtold trains for triathlons, which he's been competing in since college.
Bechtold took over the family business in 2000 after living in Australia for eight years, where he also trained and competed in tris. Married with two boys ages 4 and 6, everyone in the family races, and he's inspired a few of his employees to take part in local events as well.
We caught up with Bechtold recently to find out what he loves about triathlons, and how he avoids eating truck stop food.
Q: How did you get into triathlons in the first place?
A: I was swimming competitively at the University of Missouri and a friend of mine on the team had done a tri. I thought, "how cool." This was back in the '80s and we rode steel bikes that didn't have toe clips.
Q: There have been a few innovations since then! Back then how did you train? Tris weren't as popular as they are now and I'm sure coaches were few and far between.
A: I was training with a woman who had placed second or third at (Ironman) Kona who was getting her PhD at Columbia, and there was a guy who worked in cardiac rehab who I trained with also, and I had some really good athletes around me. For the most part I did it stupidly -- you just went out and did it.
Q: What did you like about doing triathlons?
A: Having come from a swimming background, it was a nice change from following a black line on a pool for hours. I loved getting on a bike and doing 30 miles and going to a town I had never visited. The training was almost fun. The competitions satisfied my competitive instinct, but I also loved the camaraderie among the triathletes.
I'm not the kind of athlete who trains on his own diligently and furiously, but I don't have any trouble getting out of bed at 5 a.m. if I have a bunch of mates I'm training with. The best pieces of advice I give are to sign up for a race that's three or four months away, and get involved with a club.
Q: You moved to Australia in 1992 to work for a company that sold oak barrels to the wine industry. Did your training change once you got there?
A: This was the first time I ever trained properly for a triathlon. I joined a club that had about 70 people in it and about 12 weekly workouts, and they had a coach who was very knowledgeable. There were also some young whippersnappers who were borderline professional. It was awesome.
I did more running and speed work than I had ever done, especially on the bike. A couple of mornings a week we'd train with our bikes on a track for an hour and a half, and I had never done hard-core, intense work on the bike like that. My times started to get better, and I was pretty pleased.
Q: You did the Ironman Coeur d'Alene in 2006--how was that?
A: I went with a group of about 20 people from Columbia and we had a ball. But I learned a lesson that a lot of people before me have learned: It can be a long, painful day, and you've got to pace yourself. I think I went a little hard on the bike and started the running portion a little fast as well. I walked the second half of the marathon. It was painful, I cramped up. It was a hot day, and I didn't bring any salt tablets -- those would have helped. But I finished, although a little slower than I wanted, 10:52.
Q: What types of triathlons are you competing in these days?
A: Mostly sprint distances (a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike ride and a 5-kilometer run). It's hard to find the time now to do longer races. But I got into adventure racing about six years ago, and it's a fun challenge. I love getting out into the woods and canoeing and stuff.
Q: Since you still train and compete I imagine your diet is pretty healthful. Are you ever tempted by some of the offerings at Midway?
A: My weakness is Mountain Dew. If I'm not around it I don't drink it, but having it right here all the time is hard. I also eat here most days, so instead of getting the fried pork tenderloin and French fries, which we're renowned for, I'll have them grill it on an open flame and have a baked potato with it. I've tried to introduce a few healthy items, sometimes to some backlash, which you'll see on upcoming episodes.
Q: But you've influenced a few people to try triathlons, so that's something to be proud of.
A: I've also brought in some weights for people to use, so I'm trying. I think I've tried to lead by example more than anything else.