Airman joins Team USA in duathlon championship
Meade Soldier set to compete in Switzerland in September
Story and photo by Brandon Bieltz
But after crossing the finish line in a little more than four hours, Perez is now preparing to head to Europe to compete in his second duathlon -- the International Triathlon Union Long Course Duathlon World Championship.
Perez of U.S. Cyber Command will join 18 other Americans representing their country for the event that consists of a 10K run, 150K bike ride and another 30K run through the hills of Zofingen, Switzerland. More than 1,500 athletes from around the world are expected to compete in the endurance event on Sept. 2.
"It's going to be awesome," the 31-year-old Meuse Forest resident said. "I'm very excited for it. It's a huge honor. It's very humbling."
A veteran endurance athlete with experience in marathons, ultra marathons and century bike rides, Perez tested his skills in his first duathlon at Blackwater.
But Perez was unaware that the event served as the National Long Course Championship and qualifier for the world championships.
According to Team USA's official website, the top 18 athletes in each age group qualified for a spot on the team in Switzerland. The event consisted of a 10K run followed by a 70K bike ride, and finished with a 10K run, covering a total area of 55.89 miles on a flat course.
Unaware of the race's magnitude, Perez went into his first duathlon with aspirations of just trying to hit his goal of five hours. He said he wasn't trying to beat anybody and was purposefully checking his watch throughout the race to keep his tempo on track.
Perez finished at 4:09.36.
Shortly after the race, Perez left without waiting for the awards or results to be announced -- still unaware the Blackwater was more than an average race.
"I don't think it would have made any difference, but mentally, for a lot of people, it probably would have," Perez said of not knowing the event was a world championship qualifier. "I felt good that day."
It wasn't until later in the week when a team coordinator from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., asked Perez if he wanted to join Team USA that Perez found out he qualified.
He joined without hesitation, he said. Then the training started.
The world championship is a much longer course than the Blackwater, totaling 118 miles through the rugged terrain of the Northern Switzerland town and home of an ancient monastic settlement.
According to the event's website, the first run consists of two 5K laps: "The course is demanding -- one half is on asphalt streets and the other half on paths through the forest."
Following the run, competitors will transition to cycling for three laps of a 50K course through the hilly town. Athletes will then complete one final run on a 30K "hilly running course," according to the website.
The hills and altitude are what Perez is most focused on.
"That's one of the biggest things I'm concerned about," he said "Normally, I would be in Colorado Springs, which would simulate the high altitude and the amount of inclines I'm going to encounter."
While the rest of Team USA is training together in Colorado Spring, Perez is training on his own at Fort Meade and in surrounding areas.
"I am the Lone Ranger," he said.
Perez trains during any spare time that he can find. But between his duties at U.S. Cyber Command and his career as a professional mixed martial artist, free time is hard to come by.
"Training has been very difficult," he said.
Six days a week, Perez works out with Team Warfighter, a team of amateur mixed martial artists, while preparing for upcoming fights in October.
To find time, he has resorted to early morning runs and weekend training -- helped by having Fridays off to work out.
"I'm the guy out here at 3:30, 4 o'clock in the morning running the base over and over and over again trying to find as many little hills as I can," he said.
On an average work day, Perez runs six to eight miles. On weekends, he logs nearly 50 miles on his bike and 10 miles running.
"I enjoy biking, I legitimately enjoy it," he said. "I hate running, I run because it's what I need to do. It's good for me."
Perez equates his dislike for running to fear and uses endurance races and long periods of running as a way of facing that fear.
"I think every individual has the ability to do what I do. I'm not special," he said. "I think it just comes down to heart and the mental attitude. I believe in myself. If I set my mind to it, I know I have enough heart to get through it. ... It's courage, having the courage to face your fears."
Perez will arrive in Switzerland about two days before the world championship to acclimate himself to the climate and altitude -- as well as meet his team for the first time.
Having worn an American flag patch for the past 11 years as an Airman, Perez looks forward to competing with "USA" written on his uniform.
"It's not just about me," he said. "It's about everything that Team USA stands for and that flag, and representing my country with all the other countries out there. It will be amazing."
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