It’s early Autumn, Steve Mudgett’s favorite time of year. “Going back to when I ran in high school. It was the middle of the cross-country season. The weather was crisp. And then as now, it’s the month for the ‘Big Dog’ race in Hawaii.”
Boy-ish good looks, youthful with blond curly hair, blue eyes, and a great build. When you meet Steve Mudgett, an account consultant for St Paul Travelers for three years (he’s been in the business for 20 years), one is struck by how he seems so Californian, as if he just stepped off a surfboard. His manner is as easy going as his smile. But don’t be fooled. He’s married to wife Marianne, and has four children (Forest 13, Hunter 12, Ashley 11 and Preston 9.) Line up next to him in a swim, bike, or run race and you’re in for a ride. Steve would sweat from his eye balls if he knew it would help.
One of Texas’ first (if not THE first) professional triathletes, Steve counts world champion triathlete Mark Allen among his friends (“I did some 20 mile runs on the Switzerland Trail outside of Bolder with him a number of times. He couldn’t get anyone else to do these hard runs with and no one other than me really had a good running background that could push or hang with him for that long.”), and hung out and rode with Olympic cyclist Marc Thompson. He’s run a 3:54 mile (’00) on the road, a 2:20 marathon (he’s finished 51st at the Boston Marathon), and he finished the Hawaiian Ironman seven consecutive times with his best at 9 hour, 15 minutes, in 1989. (His best placing at the prestigious event was ninth overall.)
He’s always been around, though he might be surprised if I said he keeps a low profile. Really, he doesn’t. He’s friendly. He’s around Dallas, and at White Rock Lake at least once a week on Friday mornings with an elite crowd (JEFF ROTH, TED LARSON, JOE HOWARD, WALLY MANAUGH, GREG FLOYD, ERNIE CHAVEZ; he “hooked-up with the run through Joe Howard,” who he knew through bike rides.) You just have to know where to look.
Steve’s dad was in Huntsville, AL in 1957 at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal where he was working on engineering the first rockets for manned space flights when Steve was born. Huntsville now is known as Rocket City and has a marathon that goes by that name. Prophetic?
He was the oldest of four (Two younger brothers and a younger sister. They are three, six and 12 years younger.) After the army, his dad went to MIT. The family lived in Boston until he was three, then moved to Pennsylvania until the first grade. Finally, Steve moved to the town he would grow up in: Northbrook, IL, a suburb of Chicago. Northbrook was the home of then future 1972 Olympic gold medalist, Anne Henning. Was this a sign of things to come? Years later, as an accomplished athlete, Steve would run by her then house next to Cherry Creek Reservoir, in Denver.
“When I was younger I was all about playing sports every day. There was a group of us neighborhood kids that just played games all the time. Wiffle ball, street hockey, touch football, kick the can, etc. Baseball was my favorite, followed by football and hockey. I got into speed skating and racing, which led to running cross-country and track my freshman year. I ended up not growing as much as most of my classmates. I was pretty fast in my first week in cross-country.”
But why running? “I thought it was to get in shape for hockey and baseball. And because I was too small to play football. But, as it ended up, I was good and kept running. I played hockey one more season when I was a nineth grader, but not baseball.”
But by his own admission, he had many personalities. “I was a ‘class clown’ in elementary school. Then a trouble-maker in junior high. Then a studious athlete in high school.”
For influence Steve had to go beyond his immediately family. But not too far. “I used to see this guy running all the time when I was in seventh and eighth grade. In the morning, at night, all over town; and he looked fast. I can still see him running in my mind on a hot summer night in just shorts and shoes. It looked cool and I thought I could do that. Running through the night seemed cool. As it ended up, I was soon faster then this guy who was a junior my freshman year. But he was always an inspiration in the beginning. None of my parents or siblings did sports so I was kind of on my own, just me and my friends.”
His first year in high school was also prophetic and normal for his running background. “My freshman year I was recruited to swim, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t pick up swimming again, until 1980.”
After high school at Glenbrook North High, Steve went to Miami University in Ohio, where he lettered in Cross Country and track. He also won the Mid-American Conference [Ball State, Bowling Green, Kent et al] title in cross-country and track his senior year, graduating in 1979. It was at college that one of his all-time favorite moments occurred while running. It was his sophomore year. “We did a ‘run’ on a Friday night where we did the last mile in 4:40. And our coach drove along side of us and he had on DAVID BOWIE singing ‘Changes.’”
This is when he got started cycling, having to cross-train during injuries. “I got a new Peugeot 10-speed bike for my high school graduation. But only rode it sparingly. I started to bike a little in college when I was hurt. In between my junior and senior year, I started to ride around a lot for fun and won the first rally I entered wearing cut offs and running shoes.” Another prophecy.
“I moved to Sherman, Texas after college. My dad lived there. I had planned on going back to grad school, but ended up not being motivated when the time came. So I got a job at the local Athlete’s Foot store in Sherman where I met MARC THOMPSON, a 1976 Olympic Cyclist. We ended up being roommates and training partners at the time focusing on qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. Marc and I had two great workouts. One was our morning 11-miler, “The C Loop,” and the other was an eight-mile loop that we would run alternating miles hard-recovery to get ready for the 1980 Boston
Marathon. We did the 11-mile run three times per week and the eight-miler once each week. Then we did a long run together on the weekends.” This is Steve’s second favorite moment in running. “What irks me today is Marc and I ran the Cowtown Marathon for training, as bandits in 2:30. We would have been second and third in the thing if we had entered. Oh Well. Of course today those times win most marathons.”
Injuries & Triathlons
“I was blessed in the fact that injuries got me into triathlons,” he says. He began swimming only after he broke his leg in 1981 and couldn’t run or ride. “After the nine month healing process, I never really had another injury until I pulled a hamstring in a Coors Light Biathlon [now called Duathlons] in Columbus, Ohio in 1990. I had plenty of aches and pains.”
His first triathlon was at Lake Lavon, 1982. (The following year this would become the famed President’s Triathlon.) “DAN KNIESLEY [a local well known runner] swam under me, over me, etc. He finished first and I never could catch him. I got second. I remember it being chaotic with different start times and in the transition areas.” (For trivia buffs, during this time Steve was the editor of the Cross Country Club of Dallas’ monthly newsletter, Start Lines.)
Steve’s favorite race? The Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon in Kona. “It is THE triathlon. Maybe not the first, but the one everyone knows. Like the Boston Marathon, the Tour de France, etc. I focused my whole year and program on that race. I did others, but never tapered for other races other than Hawaii. I did it seven years straight.” Steve also did two other Ironman races, at different locations. I have loved this race from before I even ran in it. The press releases of the race in the first years, the craziness of the length of the race, the heat, etc, gave it a mystique that may or may not still exist. So many people have undertaken the event. But back then, even before I trained for it, I knew it was for me. We used to go out all day on our bikes as kids and play all day long with just little breaks to eat. I thrived on pushing my mind and body to the limits of endurance. I knew I had limits in speed and quickness from being too little to play hockey, and football. But here size didn’t matter much. Even though I had run the Boston Marathon and did well there, I knew deep down I could keep going longer than most everyone else, and at a good pace. I had done several 24-hour relays. Most of the guys I did it with just could not hang after 12 hours or so. Their pace slipped into oblivion but I was able to keep going within 10% or so for much longer. Kona was, is special for the same reason Mark Allen stuck it out. I remember my first time there in 1984 and seeing how he went from first place off the bike with a huge lead to near death. It took him several years to win it, but it was the fact that he wanted to show himself that he could overcome his own hurdles and limits.”
His other favorite races include the Boston Marathon. “I loved Boston because that is the grand daddy. But my favorite races were cross-country in high school and college. No particular one; just the team aspect. Grass. Hills. Time of the year, etc., that made it special.”
All Grown Up
Steve’s life has changed since those days, having lived out the prophecy. Though, not his body or spirit. He hasn’t done any triathlons since 1991 (“My back ended up being the ultimate reason for giving it up in 1991, but I was ready to move on anyway.”), his last duathlon was in 1998, and he hasn’t raced bikes since 2001. “I still do an occasional running race. But it’s been over a year since my last one. I was gearing up for this year’s Turkey Trot, but instead I went to Denver for a hockey tourney with one of my kids. And that’s what I have been doing for competition the past four years. Wow the years keep flying by. I still get the same, albeit slower, emotional wellbeing from a good effort; a runners high. But I also enjoy the camaraderie from playing on a hockey team. I don’t quite get the same ‘feeling’ from the workout, but I still get the satisfaction feeling when I, we, play well in a game, whether we win or lose. But in hockey there is also the frustration level that comes from losing a game or play that I don’t get anymore in the tri sports because I don’t compete.”
The Fast Lane
It was a “heady” time. Steve was part of an elite group of triathletes, maybe the best in the world. Dave Scott, Scott Tinely, Mark Allen, Scott Molina. Steve Mudgett was known for his high altitude races, but always placed with the “Big Four” as they were known at the time, in the rankings.
“I started some of my rides from MARK ALLEN’s place in Boulder too. One time I was going to ride from his place in Boulder at about 5 PM and ride a 50 miler up to Carter Lake and back. I was a half hour out going down a hill about 35 mph on, what used to be, open roads. A dog came out of a cornfield and just nailed my front wheel! Fortunately I had on a helmet, that cracked, but I still got knocked out. When I came to, the dog was gone and I was just sitting on the side of the road stunned. I had a concussion that would come into play later in the week. I didn’t do the ride, but went back to Mark and Julie Moss’s place and then back to Denver. This was 1987, on a Tuesday in July. Later that week, I raced the World’s Toughest Triathlon in Tahoe (“The big-time race that thrived in the 80’s featured a 2-mile swim in frigid 60-degree water, a 100-mile bike ride in the Sierra Nevada mountains that featured three mountain passes exceeding 7,700 feet elevation, and finally an 18.6 mile trail run that included a 1,000’ climb in a single mile to a fire lookout. All the above took place at over 6,000 feet elevation, making the race indeed one of the most challenging in the world.” – pro triathlete BRAD KEARNS) and set the bike course record. But I lost when the concussion started to bother me on the run. I couldn’t focus on the trail and I got passed by Andre Bosel. He ended up first and I was second. He was a rival in the altitude races since he lived in Vail. Other rivals for a period of time were MIKE PIGG, KEN GLAH, PAUL HUDDLE, RAY BROWNING, and my roommate BRYAN MURCHISON. I knew DAVE SCOTT, SCOTT MOLINA, and SCOTT TINELY; I was sponsored by Tinley’s company for gear, and saw the other guys in Boulder and at races, but never really did anything with them.”
He claims his best years were from 1985 to 1990. “Each year I did well in the Ironman. If I had to nail down one year it would be 1989. I did my PR in Kona, raced 11 out of 13 weeks during the summer from Montreal to Coeur D’Alene and everywhere in between, and I met my [current] wife Marianne (who was dating MITCH BOGDANFEE at the time. That’s another story I can tell you sometime).” But that also meant a lot of travel. “Other than 1989 when I was on the road almost constantly, I would probably travel once every two months.”
Also during those years, Steve was married to KERRY KINNEY (now LITTLE, married to comedian DAVE LITTLE). She was also a nationally ranked triathlete and one of Texas’ first professional triathletes. It may have been nice at times to always have a training partner, but that wasn’t always a good thing. “It was good that she did the same things I did, but bad because that was all we really had. At first, it was fun and ‘heady’ as you say. But I was too intense and focused, selfish to the point it was a major factor for our divorce. Triathlon takes a lot of emotion to execute in the race. I didn’t pay attention to the warning signs, which at the time hurt. In the long run it worked out for the better. I always found people to hurt or share the pain with. Just like our Friday morning runs.”
While married to a triathlete celebrity here in Dallas, it was a good but confusing time. They were the “toasts of the town” in certain athletic circles. “Yeah she and I were on the cover of Lifestyle in the Morning news once and did a deal with Brad Sham once. We were pretty well known both here and in the Denver triathlon community [they lived there from 1986-1998.] But people here probably knew us better. I felt like the mayor when I was running at the lake. A lot like many of the [Friday morning] guys. Everyone would say ‘hi.’ Someone not familiar with that would think ‘What is this guy? The mayor or something?’ In Denver there were so many good athletes, it wasn’t a big deal like it was here.”
But through it all, even at his best, the athletic lifestyle was not Steve’s main source of income. He had a job, unlike most of the triathlon community he was associated with. “I actually did not make a living racing, as I worked full time, the entire time. I did win prize money and get sponsors for gear, equipment, massage and travel. I certainly couldn’t pay the bills with that. It was nice having complementary entry fees, bike repairs, weekly massages and free rooms. But that doesn’t pay the rent.” Being a professional triathlete was rough, but trying to explain what you were was even harder. “People were clueless and still are to some extent. It is such a hard existence to be at that level and to be any kind of pro athlete. You have to be so selfish and focused. But it was worth it. I’m sure our house had some gear laying around. Not as stinky as hockey gear though. We washed our tri clothes. Hockey gear never gets washed!”
With moments in the fast lane as an athlete in demand, there weren’t always chances for social graces. “I ran the lead-off legs on the winning Hood to Coast Masters team in 2000. After my three legs were done, I drove to the Portland airport for a 20-hour flight to Taiwan for work. No shower. Just a splash in the restroom. Then when we landed, I couldn’t use my legs to get down the stairs on the 747. I had to kind of crawl down using only my hands and arms on the railings. I did the typical marathon-shuffle along with jet lag the whole week there.”
Training & Schedule
“I tried to focus my year on Kona [The Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon] so everything was done to peak there. I generally would do some sprint or international races in the spring somewhere in April or May and work up to a half by summer time, mixed in with some short ones, running and bike races. But no tapers, really. I also did Texas Hill Country [Half Ironman] every year as a Kona tune-up about a month out.” His schedule is now a juggle between family, work, and types of fitness.
Monday: run with Joe Howard & Ted Larson; ice-hockey
Tuesday: bike 1 hour; weights, noon; coach my sons hockey team
Wednesday: run, 5 miles, 6 minute pace; ice-hockey, noon; coach
Thursday: weights and a short bike ride
Friday: run, with Joe, Jeff, Ted, etc; hockey, noon
Saturday: ice hockey; run or bike; weights; coach;
Sunday: bike; ice- hockey; coach
While training, Steve’s mind sometimes travels further than he has traveled. Other times, his thoughts are right here at home. “It really doesn’t matter if it is now or when I was competing. I have a twist that often gets overlooked by those that do not compete seriously: the mental preparation piece that goes on prior to workouts and competitions. For instance, I probably went over the Ironman race in my head many nights going to sleep so that when race day came I felt like I knew what to expect and was confident. If it is a hard effort or a race, I always focus on relaxation and how I am feeling. How do my legs feel, my breathing, relaxation of my face and arms is key. ‘Is the effort too hard for this early in the workout or race? Do I have it today to really push?’ Today since I don’t really race my Friday morning training partners, I don’t think about staying on anyone’s heels or try to get away on a hill or around a corner. But if I did, I would have a pre-made race strategy or develop one as the circumstances develop during the race. Other factors that may come up include the weather conditions, race course, who is in the race, how important is the race in my overall plan or goals for that year, that race. If it is a less important race or workout, I may tend to disassociate and think about work, what am I doing after the workout, and not really on the workout at hand. There were times when I was running my best workouts or races when I just zoned out and really had no concrete thoughts. I was on auto pilot and thought or felt nothing.”
When asked what other hobbies he might have, Steve was very plain. “ Besides hockey and kids, are you serious? The highlight of my week is Friday morning. I am serious! I’m sure you would agree with me that part of the fun is being involved with a team or group where we share the same interest in what we do. It’s the belonging part and respect we all have for one another along with the longevity of the ‘run’ that makes it worth looking forward to. Plus, I don’t even think about [going] anymore. The only times I would miss the run are when I am out of town, lightning like this morning, I am sick, or injured. It’s not really my accomplishment, but having 4 great kids is really what keeps me in shape now and inspires me to try and keep up with their energy and growth in everything that they do at school and in sports.”
He does follow the music of the times, going through Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, Aerosmith, Guns & Roses, Motley Crue, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice and Chains, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Emminem, “from past to current.”
For inspiration to keep going, Steve says “I don’t think about it much anymore. I don’t have any serious goals that motivate me like when I was racing, even though I keep some little pilot light going just to get me to do something everyday whether its aerobic, or not.”
Calling the future 50 years of age, he says he wants to be in a hockey league with his kids. “Of course they can already smoke me!” For career goals, Steve says he doesn’t know. “I just finished two stints as a national director for two different insurance companies. But both were acquired and I was displaced. Who knows?”
MUDGETT’S HAWAIIAN IRONMAN TRIATHLONS
Year Place Time
1984 30 10:30
1985 9 9:45
1986 15 9:35
1987 19 9:30
1988 25 9:25
1989 40 9:15
1990 150 10:30