We’ve all seen them for years, biking, running, or swimming laps at the Y. But unless we knew the athletic history of Shelley and Paul Bloom, we didn’t know that we were seeing two Island residents training for world-class ultrasport competition.
Right now the Blooms are completing a bike trip in Norway before traveling to Denmark to compete with more than 3,000 athletes in International Triathlon Union (ITU) events.
On Thursday, Shelley and Paul Bloom will compete in the 20th annual ITU Aquathlon World Championships.They will swim nearly three-quarters of a mile before taking on a 5K run in the 65-69 age group. Both athletes have impressive records of success in ultrasports, including triathlons, the ultimate ultrasport.
The Times interviewed Shelley Bloom by email from Norway this week:
What’s your experience in the ITU worlds?
I’ve won two golds and three bronzes at world’s in this event! I’m hoping for one more next week!
What’s the training regimen?
Given our ages, we try to train smart rather than long-distance. So one or two days a week we do short-distance speed intervals — whether it’s swimming, biking, or running. On the other days we might do hill repeats — for biking and running. For swimming we’ll work on drills, which are very helpful. In general we work out one to two hours a day, and throw in some core work and stretching. Paul also competes in longer-distance races such as the half-Ironman, so he will put in a couple of hours of running and biking at least once a week.
For our competition next week [in Odense, Denmark], I have been practicing swim-run “bricks.” Three times a week, I swim at the Y for about 45 minutes with the swim group at 7 am, then throw on my running shoes and run out the back door of the pool for a mile down the bike path. That first mile coming out of the water is the hardest. Since I have a chance for a medal this year (I’m in a new age group), I’ve been practicing this religiously for the past three weeks. We also practice swimming in our wetsuits at Bend in the Road Beach, getting our wetsuits off quickly, and then running down the bike path for a mile. Getting the wetsuit off quickly is the hardest part.
We are both competing in the triathlon World Championships in Australia this September, so we’ll gear up for that training as soon as we get back from Denmark. We do a long bike ride with a group on Sunday mornings, from the Y to Aquinnah and back. Other days we do one-mile speed intervals and a five-mile time trial at South Beach with a group led by Edgartown Cycles. Those workouts are crucial to our success.
How did you get into this high-level competitive life?
We were both runners initially, and decided that cross-training with swimming and biking would help prevent running injury. Paul had done 16 marathons, including five Bostons. We thought triathlon would be a great challenge and a lot of fun. We were both mediocre swimmers. I couldn’t even swim one lap in the pool without stopping, when I started training for triathlons. But with practice, we’ve both improved tremendously. To qualify for world’s, you must be in the top 18 in your age group at nationals.
I’ve done 10 triathlons, six aquathlons, and five duathlons (run-bike-run), and Paul has done 11 triathlons, two aquathlons, and seven duathlons since our first time at ITU in 2005. He won his age group in the North Carolina half-Ironman in 2017, and placed third in his group at nationals in 2013. [Completing a half-Ironman involves swimming 1.2 miles, biking 56 miles, and running 13.1 miles without a break.]
So what we’ve got here is the story of a couple of fitness-oriented, highly successful college professors (Duke, University of Maryland) who took up a sport that has taken them to world-stage competition.
They are in all other respects a normal couple who live here seasonally. They’ve been married for 23 years, and share Paul’s son, who lives in San Francisco.
Shelley Bloom, a professor of pharmacology at Duke University, is an Island summer kid and the daughter of an Island summer kid, going back to the 1940s. Paul Bloom is now also a certified triathlon coach, the coach of the Duke triathlon club, and author of a book on the subject: “Triathlon Disasters and How to Avoid Them,” available on Amazon and illustrated by Vineyard artist John Holladay.
They show us that life is a long race, and the trick is how you run it.