Alexandria’s Triathletes Finish Strong in World Finals
By Mary Dempsey
This past October, two Alexandria residents attended the 2017 World Triathlon Grand Finals in Rotterdam, the Netherlands and finished in the top twenty of their age group category. Lawrence (Larry) McAndrews finished 10th and Francis (Mike) Schauer finished 17th. They were both competing in the Olympic-distance event for males ages 70-74.
For McAndrews, Rotterdam was his first-ever world championship event, whereas this was Schauer’s eighth time competing at that level.
McAndrews first became involved in the sport after his retirement from his long-time career as CEO of the National Association of Children’s Hospitals.
“It’s not that I had never exercised,” McAndrews said. “I had been running for 40 years. Exercise was my counterpoint to stress from work. But when you retire, your world changes and you start to look for other challenges.”
The transition from casual runner to triathlete was also prompted by an experience he had participating in the 2013 Tri to Beat Cancer in Athens, Ga., with his daughter. Even though he was doing the event for fun, he ended up placing in his age group.
“I came in third that year and I decided to do it again the next year. It was a shorter distance than what I am doing now, a sprint triathlon. I came in 2nd in 2014 and 1st in 2015, so I decided to do a longer race on my own.”
According to McAndrews’ daughter, Laura Little, her father’s interest in triathlon is not surprising. “He was a CEO and hospital executive for 40 years,” Little said. “He has a strong achievement drive and a strong need to fully invest in activities that help him learn and grown [ . . .] When he started doing triathlons, he redirected his time and energy into it.”
Schauer, on the other hand, says that his “story is the opposite.” He recalls developing a distaste for running during his time in the military.
“In basic training they make you run a mile in combat boots,” Schauer said. “They make you do it twice. I remember after I did it the second time, I said ‘I’m never going to run a mile again.’”
But by his mid-forties, Schauer found himself 35 lbs. heavier than he is now and looking for a way to get fit. He started running with a friend who had quit smoking and was also trying to improve his health. Soon, Schauer was looking for more ways to challenge himself.
“I have a place in Bethany and they have a triathlon,” Schauer said. “I went down there with some dilapidated bike and they said, ‘no you can’t do it with that bike.’ So I ended up getting a better bike and training for it. That was my first triathlon in 1989 after about five years of just running.”
Since that time, Schauer has participated in over 100 triathlons, including 13 National Championships and eight World Championships, placing 4th at both Worlds and Nationals in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
McAndrews and Schauer inevitably crossed paths, given that they compete in the same age bracket and both live in the same area.
“I ended up meeting Mike on the podium basically,” McAndrews said. “I knew he existed because I had Googled other triathletes in the Alexandria area.”
They eventually found themselves training with the same Washington-area triathlon team, Team Z, and going to the same gym, the Old Town Sport & Health, to crosstrain. They also began doing some long runs and rides together for the company and mutual motivation.
“It has been delightful to see Mike and Larry’s friendship develop through the love of a sport, an old one for Mike and a new one for Larry,” said Mary O’Donnell, Schauer’s wife. “They laugh about how they are evenly matched in the swim.”
Both athletes agree that they have different strengths and training together helps them push one another further.
“Mike is a superb cyclist,” McAndrews said. “I can keep up with him, but only if he lets me. I don’t even know how he gets to be so fast.”
“I might pass Larry on the bike, but when it comes to the run, he’ll catch up with me,” Schauer responded with a laugh.
Training for a triathlon requires a demanding schedule, especially for athletes competing at the international level.
“[Team Z] gives you a training plan depending on how experienced you are and what distance you are doing,” Schauer said. “It usually consists of about an hour swim on both Tuesdays and Thursdays, weekends with a long run of six miles to 18 miles, depending on where is it in the training cycle, and a long bike ride of three or four hours. Besides that, there’s usually a short run on Mondays, a track workout on Wednesdays and some kind of bike ride on the same days that you swim.”
“On top of all that, you’re supposed to do strength training three days a week,” said McAndrews, who also practices yoga five times a week.
In order to crosstrain effectively, both McAndrews and Schauer make use of the skilled instructors and personal trainers at the Old Town Alexandria Sport & Health location.
“It’s a wonderful facility with lots of equipment,” McAndrews said. “You have a community of people who you get to know and who encourage you. [Another] nice thing about Sport & Health for someone like myself is that they teach you proper technique.”
For all athletes, staying injury-free is a challenge, but it can be an even greater concern for athletes who are a bit older.
“For the aging client, I’m a huge advocate of keeping the extremities and core up to speed,” said Edouard Sooh, Schauer’s personal trainer at Sport & Health. “When you lose density in the forearms and calves, the heart won’t see any reason to work as hard to send blood so far away from itself. Balance, strength and bone density will reduce, while risk of falling increases.”
To remedy these risks, Sooh combines functional weight-training exercises such as farmer’s walks with yoga-inspired moves.
For McAndrews and Schauer alike, keeping on top of their cross-training regimen helps ensure that they continue to compete well into the coming years. Neither plans to give up the sport anytime soon.
“I’ve had more success the older I’ve gotten,” Schauer said, adding that he also values “the camaraderie of meeting people who do the same thing you’re doing.”
“I would be disappointed if I couldn’t do it anymore,” McAndrews said. “People are happiest when they are engaged in something they enjoy doing, when they have some success and they feel that they have some control over what is getting them to that success.”