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Vancouver’s Josh Monda is virtually a triathlete champion

Pandemic has provided unique way to still compete

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
6 Photos
Joshua Monda demonstrates how he virtually rides his bike through London in the garage of his Vancouver home Wednesday afternoon, July 22, 2020.
Joshua Monda demonstrates how he virtually rides his bike through London in the garage of his Vancouver home Wednesday afternoon, July 22, 2020. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Joshua Monda is virtually the same triathlete he was 10 years ago.

And the 38-year-old Vancouver resident has discovered that in the most unusual way.

Since May, Monda has won a duathlon and two triathlons — all competed in the virtual world — as he reignited his fire for competitive triathlons after a lengthy hiatus.

“It’s been fun,” Monda said of the virtual events. “It’s a good way to take the fitness you’ve built up, put it on display and see how hard you can push yourself.”

Monda was a high-level competitive triathlete in his 20s, qualifying for the 2014 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii on his fourth attempt.

But then work and family life intervened, and Monda went on a seven-year competitive hiatus.

“It was just priorities,” he said.

Last summer, he decided to get back into training with the goal of competing again this summer.

“Of course, I got permission from the wife first,” he said.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, wiping out almost every event he had hoped to enter. When some of those canceled events went virtual, he decided to give them a shot.

He entered a virtual duathlon (running and cycling) in May, then a virtual Olympic-length triathlon (1.5-kilometer swim, 40K bike and 10K run) in June. He placed first overall in both events.

“That’s when I figured maybe there was something to this virtual racing,” he said.

In virtual events, competitors are given a window of time, ranging from a few days to a couple of weeks, to complete their race on their own. Competitors use phone apps or smart watches to track and report their times, and all three disciplines must be completed on the same day in as close of a sequence as possible.

“They understand that you may need to drive home after swimming in a lake,” Monda said. “But right after the biking portion, you needed to start your run within five minutes.”

Competing in the virtual world became a family affair for Monda, particularly for his father, Alan Monda.

“My dad is like my biggest fan,” Joshua Monda said. “Usually, he’ll go to my race and be freaking out all day because he only gets to see me for about 10 seconds at the end of each event. Then he has to wait hours to see how I did. But these virtual events have been really cool for him because he gets a front-row seat the entire way.”

Monda competed virtually in the Pacific Crest Endurance Festival triathlon on July 3. It’s a half-Ironman typically held each year in Sunriver, Ore.

He started with 1.2-mile swim in Fallen Leaf Lake in Camas. He wore a GPS watch with an open-water feature on it to track his time and distance.

“The lake is bigger than your eye makes it seem,” Monda said. “You can go a good 500 to 600 yards from one end to another, so it’s about four lengths to get in 1.2 miles.”

After the swim, Monda hopped into the car with his family — father Alan, wife Ashley and sons Mason and Max — and drove to his Orchards home to start the bike portion, which he completed on a stationary bike.

“In a real race, you’ll have police and volunteers there to close the roads down so you can just ride,” Monda said. “But doing these virtual races, I would have to deal with things like traffic and traffic lights. Also, if I’m racing I might not be as attentive as I might be on a training ride. So for safety reasons, they recommend you ride on a smart trainer that is connected to an app.”

The app allowed Monda to set his virtual course to replicate the elevation change that would occur during the Pacific Crest’s 58-mile cycling portion.

“I got on the smart trainer for 2 hours and 27 minutes of putting my head down and grinding away,” Monda said.

Nutrition and hydration are critical for Monda when competing in event that last several hours. While on his bike, he lined water bottles on a nearby table and also had snack bars at the ready to keep his energy up.

“The whole time, you’re checking on your water bottles, checking the clock for your nutrition,” Monda said. “Then Dad comes in to check on your progress. It goes by quicker than you’d think.”

Next came the 13.1-mile run, which could have been completed on a treadmill, but Monda chose to run in two 6.55-mile loops he mapped out around his neighborhood.

“What was fun about that was my dad, my wife and my two boys followed me around in the car for the entire run,” Monda said. “I set a (personal record) for the run by 90 seconds. My previous PR was set at the half-Ironman world championships in 2009. I beat that PR just out there on my own with my family along refilling my water bottles every couple of miles.”

Monda said he hopes to compete in the Ironman Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in September and then try to qualify for the world championships at the Ironman Arizona in November. But it is uncertain if any of those events will be held.

The pandemic, and the cancellations it has created, threw a monkey wrench into Monda’s plans to compete in 2020. But he doesn’t see that as a total negative.

“I think there are athletes like me who have used this extra time to get in better shape,” he said. “I’m going to train like there are going to be races, and if there are, I’m going to be fitter than I was before. For me, I kind of saw it as an opportunity, because working from home, I could squeeze in a couple of more hours of training.”

Monda said the hardest adjustment is not being able to race against other competitors in person.

“But the trade-off is getting to have the family being able to be involved, and seeing the community coming together to these virtual events,” he said. “It’s not been bad at all.”

And he’s found that in virtual events, which are like pure time trials, he’s been able to go faster and reach speeds that he was able to hit when he was in his 20s.

“I think a lot of that is because you don’t have all the other distractions around you,” Monda said. “Your mind is not wondering why is this guy faster than you on this day, or are you having a bad day. You’re just out there focusing on yourself, pushing yourself to the limit and seeing how far you can push yourself with no other distractions around me.”

Then he chuckled.

“Well, no distractions other than maybe my dad,” he said.

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