Michael Barbato

Tell us about yourself: I’m 33 years old and the proud father of an awesome little man, Anthony Lincoln, who just had his 2nd birthday at the end of March. I live on Syracuse’s North Side with my wife-to-be Theresa. I’ve managed a restaurant for the last 3+ years in the heart of North Syracuse, Utica Pizza Company.
 
How long have you been involved in triathlon and what made you take it up? My triathlon involvement/ participation began the first weekend of August 2012. Over a bet with my younger brother.
Who is your hero? I’m not sure I really have a  hero. There are many athletes I’ve followed throughout the years. If we’re speaking generally, Donnie Baseball/Don Mattingly immediately comes to mind. New York Yankees at heart. I am a huge open wheel follower and fan. Juan Montoya keeps me glued to the sport. I’ve followed him since 1999 through the European Formula One series, to NASCAR, and now to his home, where he belongs, Indy car. If we’re narrowing it down to athletes I admire in the sport of swimming, biking, running or triathlon, I can’t help to give honorable mention to Gwen Jorgensen. What she has accomplished in 2015 for the U.S. team’s prominence in the sport is compared to none. I find I spend most of my early mornings (late nights if recorded) watching any pro cycling events around the world. I have taken mystance with Peter Sagan. He isn’t a pure sprinter, not a man of the mountains, but an overall well-rounded gritty rider and if I could emulate my style after his, well, that’d be OK by me.
What is your athletic background? In junior high I joined the indoor track team after rummaging through some old black and white photos of my father running track at Manley Field House for Bishop Grimes. I saw them and said, “I want to do the same.” Throughout junior high and high school I was running cross country, and both indoor and outdoor track. I gravitated toward the distance events in track, albeit those being the 1 mile or 1500, if we are calling those distance events. Then I took a hiatus to pursue the typical early 20s, late night college debauchery that everyone probably regrets doing, but that offer some of the best stories. However, here I am, back at it.
What are your triathlon strengths and weaknesses? Weakness #1 will always be the swim. I feel I put myself at an automatic disadvantage finishing in the bottom one-third; that isn’t for the lack of trying. In my first triathlon I didn’t make it to the first buoy without flopping over on my back or going with the side stroke. I’ve since gotten better in the swim, with the help of a preseason triathlon swimming course offered at the YMCA. It all comes down to technique, which they’ve taught me, and taught me well. I can now get through the entire swim at a reasonable front crawl. But it is still a far cry from where I’d be happy. The only answer to that is more time in the water; which I am currently trying to improve. I feel the bike leg is just that: the bike. I can take it or leave it. I train the least on the bike. I’m not on the best equipment, also not the worst–a late model Trek Madone; it gets the job done. If I can hit cruise control at 19-20+ mph then I am satisfied. I would be a lot more satisfied if I was in the position to upgrade to a tri-specific bike, and had the time to put a good bit of miles of training in, and get my avg around 22-23, but such is life. My strength is, and always will be, the run. I can crank out sub-7 minute miles for as long as I need to. As with the bike, I feel I don’t train to the extent I should with running; it’s the only discipline that comes natural to me.
What was your first triathlon and what do you remember the most? August 2012, the Lyme Sprint Triathlon in Chaumont. As far as what I remember most I would easily say the beginning of the swim. I wasn’t halfway to my first buoy, looked over at my brother, and said, “I’m gonna sink to the bottom of this river any second!” I was genuinely scared. I feel like I should elaborate more: The first week of August 2012 my cousin was getting married at my camp/summer home on Chaumont Bay. Three days before the wedding, my younger brother Mark told me he signed up for a triathlon the morning after the wedding and said, “I bet you can’t beat me.” Up until that point I had no idea what a triathlon was. I will forever hate him and thank him for that challenge. Needless to say, race morning I was not, shall we say, “at my best.” I had no goggles. I brought and rode a Schwinn hybrid bike I bought at Target for $180. My brother, who has extensive swimming experience, beat me by only 12 minutes overall. It was a loss and a win at the same time. He got me but I finished. And I was hooked. He gave me a hug at the finish line, surprised I was still alive and finished the event, and I told him, “You’ll never beat me in one of these ever again.” (And he hasn’t!)
What is your favorite race and why? Sodus Point Triathlon. The swim is off the sandy beach adjacent to the lighthouse pier. The bike has a few rollers, just enough to make it a challenge but not too overbearing that I feel drained by crazy climbs. The run makes two loops through the beachfront neighborhood with plenty of spectators and fan fare cheering you along. I usually take a weeks vacation in Sodus, renting a beachfront house, the week prior or after the race. The town is just a fun place to be, with waterfront restaurants and live music on the weekends.
What was your worst race and why? I’m not sure I’ve really had a “worst race.” There have been plenty of races I’ve been unprepared for. I think it’s more fun to go somewhere new and just wing it. Arguably, my worst race was my first one because I had three days to prepare for it, and never experienced all three disciplines in succession. That was an eye-opener. Other than that I’ve had a few races that had a windy day and the swim was quite choppy. I think the most unprepared I was for an event was the first year I did Green Lakes. Up until that point I was riding on relatively flat roads and I was not ready for the big climbs.
What races are on your calendar for 2016? I started the season with a couple half-marathons. Triathlon-wise, my first will be at the Rochester YMCA, an indoor tri, just to get back in the swing of things. Late May I’m doing an Olympic in Indianapolis the day before the Indy 500. Locally, my itinerary will start at Green Lakes. I am doing the Syracuse 70.3. I am also doing the tris in Sodus Point, Henderson Harbor, Chaumount (if not the same day as Sodus), the River Rat in Clayton. I’d like to try the Caz Hillbender and Oswego’s Tour de Loop. I want to try a few cycle-specific events if time permits. If I have a weekend off and there’s a 3.1 within 30 miles and I don’t have a big race planned, I’ll be doing a 5K somewhere.
What are your goals for this year? Surpassing my best times in all my repeat events is a go-to-goal. I’ve lowered my times in succession in each event entered since I’ve started triathlon. 2016 will be my first HIM at the Syracuse 70.3. I don’t expect an award-winning performance, but I do expect personal success.
In five years I hope to: Finish my fourth Ironman in Lake Placid and maybe, just maybe, do well enough to go play in Kona. But in reality I am not looking five years down the road at the moment. This year my “A” race is the Syracuse 70.3 with, I hope, a jump to the full at Lake Placid for 2017.
Something most people don’t know about me: Gahh. This is a hard one! I’m pretty transparent and say what’s on my mind. That doesn’t always pan out well in the end. But no one will ever get the sugar-coated version of me.
What triathlon has taught you: There’s no such thing as climbing to the top of the mountain. You can always improve. You can always get better. In most cases there will always be someone better than you. The goal in triathlon isn’t to beat that person. It’s to better yourself and push yourself past the boundaries that you think are in place, but aren’t.

 


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