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NIEHS Program Administrator Competes in World Championship

By Eddy Ball
December 2007

Competing in a duathlon involves alternately running and cycling at full speed.
Competing in a duathlon involves alternately running and cycling at full speed. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
O'Fallon puts everything he has into the final stretch of an event held on the NIEHS campus
O'Fallon puts everything he has into the final stretch of an event held on the NIEHS campus. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
CHis fellow runners and cyclists are used to seeing O'Fallon finish at the top in local and regional races.
His fellow runners and cyclists are used to seeing O'Fallon finish at the top in local and regional races. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

People who think that even world-class athletes need a break after a tough competition haven't yet talked to NIEHS Program Administrator Liam O'Fallon. On October 21, only three weeks after competing at the National Long Course Duathlon Championships on the grueling Powerman Ohio course in Mansfield, Ohio, Liam found himself at the starting line of the Long Course Duathlon World Championship in Richmond, Va.

As he completed nearly four hours of running 15 kilometers, cycling 76 km. and running again 7.5 km. through downtown Richmond in the first Long Course Duathlon World Championship held in the US, the athlete's thoughts were not on cool beverages and much needed rest - but on the next challenge he plans to take on and how to convince his family that he hasn't lost his mind.

O'Fallon finished 16th in his 35 to 39 age group with a time of 3:53:22, putting in a better performance than two of the professional athletes in the Elite Men's competition. However, almost as soon as he crossed the finish line, he recalled, "I was left with a gnawing feeling down deep that I can do better, much better." He said that he was exhausted and felt like throwing up, but he was already thinking about how he could train better for the event next year in Vancouver, B.C. or in the Short Course World Duathlon in Rimini, Italy in 2008.

At NIEHS, O'Fallon is known as a sure bet in any race he enters. In fact, it was a Combined Federal Campaign fundraising run-bike competition between the US EPA and NIEHS that sparked Liam's interest in and passion for duathlons. He recalls finishing the race with such euphoria that he immediately began training for Powerman North Carolina. He is a veteran competitor who comes to his athletic trials armed with nutritional supplements, energy drinks, self-psyching mantras and the experience to anticipate problems he could face from dehydration, nausea and fatigue.

The duathlon is an athletic event involving two types of competition, running and cycling, rather than three, as in the better-known triathlon, which also includes swimming. Duathletes run, then bike and then run again. Governed by the same group, the International Triathlon Union, duathlons are just as demanding and their athletes are just as fiercely loyal and enthusiastic. However, because the triathlon has achieved Olympics recognition, duathlon is much less a part of the American vocabulary - and very often confused with "biathlon," a term purists reserve for describing the Winter Olympics competition featuring skiing and marksmanship.

Training for such an event requires a considerable amount of time. To minimize the impact on his family, O'Fallon can be found training for his events in the wee hours of the morning with a couple of his fellow NIEHS co-workers who challenge him to excel. He also finds that teaching indoor cycling Spinning classes twice a week at 5:45 a.m. helps prepare him for the cycling portion of the race. The competition in Richmond was his first world championship try, but if his finish there is any indication, it won't be his last. O'Fallon is not the kind of athlete to be satisfied with turning in anything but the best performance he is capable of giving.


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