Ask Jim Adams about his passion for racing and he’ll tell you it’s nothing special, he just shows up a lot. The veracity of that claim is debatable, though. It’s true he’s never won the Tour de France or an Olympic gold medal, but few people can claim the kind of numbers Jim can — he has competed in more than 150 loppets and 200 triathlons, including every Tupper Lake Tinman Triathlon.
This year is the 35th Tinman, so it’s also Jim’s 35th time doing it. The 70-year-old triathlon enthusiast considered staying home this time, but he wanted to go out in style.
“The only reason I’m doing the Tinman this year is I want to try to struggle through the run, and I didn’t want to end it at 34,” Jim said. “I thought 35 was a much nicer number.”
Jim said this is probably his last year doing full triathlons. Instead, he’ll just do the biking or swimming portions of races he enters.
The trouble began when Jim was in his 20s. He had knee surgery, and the surgeon warned him that he'd get osteoarthritis around the time he turned 50. Sure enough, it happened, and now Jim’s leg is curved like a bow. Instead of long practice runs he now jogs from one telephone pole to the next, then walks to the next one, then jogs, and so on.
“Running used to be my strong point, but now it’s totally reversed,” Jim said. “You just have to deal with the cards you’ve been dealt.”
About 40 years ago an overweight, cigarette-smoking man was driving along when he saw a guy running who looked to be in his 60s. The runner was wearing a T-shirt that said “Training for the Boston Marathon.” The man in the car was Jim Adams, and the Boston Marathon shirt got him thinking about his two young kids and whether or not he was on course to live long enough to see them grow up.
“I looked at that guy, then I looked at myself, and I was kind of ashamed,” Jim recalled. “So little by little I turned things around.”
Jim laced up his softball spikes and began running in the woods behind his house in the Albany area. Every night he crushed his cigarettes — he started smoking in eighth grade — and flushed them down the toilet, only to buy another pack the next day. He did that again and again until it stuck. And he kept running.
The 15-minute loop through the woods he couldn’t finish on his first runs became easier. A year or so later Jim learned about a 10K from a friend who was an avid runner. His friend encouraged him to sign up, so he did.
“I did it in 42 minutes, which is not too bad,” Jim said. “Cal came into work and commented that it took him 40-and-a-half. I was really encouraged at that point, so I just started running.”
The 10K led to a half marathon, which led to a full marathon. It was around 1980 and Jim, who was now hooked, thought adding biking and swimming to a race sounded exciting. He signed up for a March triathlon in Wilmington, Vermont, that included running, biking, and cross-country skiing.
Jim was become a regular competitor, but it never occurred to him that he could win awards. The first time it happened was in Hudson, New York, about 10 years after his first race. He was eating a bowl of post-race pasta when the announcer called his name.
“I thought I left my lights on or something,” Jim said with a laugh. “Then the announcer told me I finished third in my age group, and I said, ‘Well, how do you like that?’”
Jim grew up in the Hudson area, then he live outside of Albany for awhile. Now he lives in Altona; it’s just north of the Adirondacks and about an hour-and-a-half drive to Tupper Lake.
“I never started saying I was going to do Tinman every year, but because I was in the sport and it was relatively close, I just kept signing up every year,” Jim said. “Luckily, I’ve been able to finish every year.”
That’s not the case with every race he’s entered. He has 26 Lake Placid Loppet finishes and three non-finishes under his belt. In his mind that’s bad enough, but what really bothers him is the fact that he didn’t finish the first Lake Placid Ironman in 1999. Never mind that he went on the complete every Lake Placid Ironman afterward — we’re talking 18 here.
“When I woke up the next morning (after not finishing the Ironman) I felt horrible,” Jim said. “Not physically, mentally. I quit on myself. I don’t care if you’re a pro or some kind of elite athlete, you’re going to feel bad on the Ironman.”
Jim had a similar experience during a Tinman about 10 years ago. It was unbearably hot, somewhere in the 90s, and he started to fall apart on the second leg of the race, the biking section.
“I had a horrible time on the bike, a horrible time,” Jim said. “Every time one cramp went away on one leg I’d get it again on the other leg.”
In pain, Jim had to get off of his bike to massage his muscles several times. What was normally a three-hour ride took him more than four hours to complete. He thought about quitting, but his friend Patti had a different idea. Go in the water and cool off, she told him, then take your time with the run.
Jim followed Patti’s advice and finished the race slowly and steadily.
“If it wasn’t for her, I would have never had my 34-year streak going,” Jim said. “She talked me into it.”
Pain is becoming a regular racing companion for Jim, and Patti has said she doesn’t like seeing him struggle. Jim knows she’s right — it is a struggle — so he’s giving it one last go before he dials it back. If you go to the Tinman, he’ll be easy to spot. Just look for the guy with the 35 on his bib, the guy who’s in his element swimming, running, and biking.
“I never cared much for the medals or anything,” Jim said. “I have one displayed, it’s from my finish of the 2005 Ironman, and the rest are in a shoebox in the basement. My best reward is being able to stay in the sport.”
This week we're all: Wheels, wings, and other ADK things!