When you meet George Demetrulias, the first thing you’ll notice is his trim, athletic build and dark suntan. He grabs a cup of coffee, pulls up a stool and with a smile opens up about his philosophy on aging. “I’m 70, but I think I’m 35,” he starts.
Demetrulias is a lifelong competitor who believes in testing limits at any age. With 20 Ironman triathlons under his belt, Demetrulias knows how to push himself outside of his comfort zone.
“I believe you have to keep going at any age until you find your limit,” Demetrulias says. “The fact is I don’t know my limit yet. I’m still trying to find it,” he laughs. “And the very real feedback for the dedication is I feel good – really good.”
Demetrulias’ passion for athletics began in high school and progressed through college, competing in Olympic-style weightlifting events. The sport required a measure of stamina and endurance to lift barbells loaded with weight plates, and that’s where running came into play.
“You have to run to build up your endurance for the sport and to support the load of the weights,” Demetrulias explains “Running was a part of my training program back then and I never stopped.”
10K to Ultra Marathon
Out of college with a mechanical engineering degree and into a lifelong career in commercial construction, Demetrulias kept running to maintain his fitness. He eventually connected with a running group when he moved his family from Missouri to Arizona.
“I was training for 10Ks, and I would hear the other runners talking about marathons. And I thought, why not?” he recalls.
In the three decades since then, he has run dozens of marathons, continues to make weightlifting a cornerstone of his training regimen and remains injury-free. “I think strength training is a big reason I don’t get injured,” he says.
As you might imagine, for a man who excels outside his comfort zone, running the 26.2 miles of marathon wasn’t enough. So Demetrulias looked for a new path to explore his limits. He discovered the life of ultra marathon running and still competes in long-distances races as his training schedule allows.
From a Bet to Ironman Athlete
Demetrulias stumbled onto triathlons quite by accident. He met a group of triathletes at his local gym, and one day laid down a bet. If the triathletes would run a 50K ultra marathon (roughly 31 miles) with him, he would do an Olympic Distance triathlon. The bet was, of course, on.
And in 1988, George Demetrulias competed in his very first triathlon. “When I first started training, I couldn’t even swim back and forth the length of the pool. And this race was a mass start. I was so freaked out in the water,” he says, adding, “I couldn’t leave it like that. I am not going to let fear get the best of me.”
So a friend, a fellow triathlete, suggested the two enter a Half Ironman event in Ventura, California. With an ocean swim on the horizon, that set the bar high for Demetrulias. It wasn’t until 2000 that he completed his first Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, New York.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Eye on the Prize
You see Demetrulias knows the taste of winning. He has already competed in the Ironman World Championships at Kona twice. He won Ironman Louisville in 2014 in the 65-69 age group, which earned him a spot. And he also raced in the 2003 World Championships. “Just going to Kona to race is the opportunity of a lifetime,” he says. And he is determined to get there again and compete in his new age group division, men 70-74.
That means anywhere from 12 to 20 hours of weekly training in the months leading up to an Ironman race. “Due to the shape I try to stay in all year long, I can get ready for an Ironman in approximately 10 weeks,” Demetrulias says. “In those 10 weeks, the last three are taper weeks, so I really only have to bump up the training for seven weeks.”
What you might not expect to hear him say is that Ironman training is probably not optimal for long-term health and well-being. “I don’t think Ironman training is the healthiest thing you can do,” he says. “You’re overdoing it and getting obsessive-compulsive about everything. The training just really takes a lot out of you.”
Family, Health, Freedom
So what keeps a 70-year-old man motivated to continue as a competitor in ultra endurance events like the Ironman? Two things, really.
First is family. “I relish the ability to stay active with my grandkids, playing ball, running around, giving track workouts to them, skiing, snowball fighting,” he says. He and his wife, Janis, have raised two daughters. And he is ‘Papou’ – in keeping with his Greek heritage – to five beautiful grandkids.
Secondly, Demetrulias values healthy aging and the freedom that comes with it.
“The main reason I enter competitions is to set up a short-term goal and be committed to it,” he explains. “Race day is really the icing on the cake for all the preparation that went into getting there. But the real benefits to your health come from the daily training, not the race. I’m still playing when a lot of people can’t get off the couch.”
He continues, “There are not many events that I have to say I’m too old to do. I want to run back and forth across the Grand Canyon, and – time permitting – I’m willing to go for it. Age is not a deterrent, and I feel blessed.”