ALAMO — Though now in their very early 60s, Rick and Suzanne Cordes have no plans to ease their grueling training sessions of 5K runs followed by steep uphill bicycle rides.
After all, their high-octane lifestyle was rewarded again when they recently nabbed the 2021 USA Duathlon National Championships in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
“We’ll go out to a nice dinner (after a competition) and have a few glasses of wine, or we’ll have a donut,” Rick Cordes said in an interview. Then it’s back to work.
The lifelong Bay Area residents have been competitively cycling for years, winning multiple times. At last month’s national duathlon (bicycling and running), 61-year-old Suzanne placed first in two races and 60-year-old Rick notched a pair of second-place finishes in their respective 60-65 age gender groups.
They will now compete as part of Team USA at a global event in Australia next year and would have headed to the Netherlands in the coming months had the coronavirus pandemic not forced that event’s cancellation.
For some, the stay-home health orders were an excuse to scale back exercise routines, but the couple kept up their regimen throughout the year, avoiding treats and regularly cycling to the top of Mount Diablo, near their home in Alamo.
“There’s no way I could stay in and not go out, knowing the benefits of sunshine and staying active,” Suzanne said in an interview.
The couple trains rigorously in the weeks leading up to major competitions. Suzanne, an exercise physiologist who once taught physical education at Diablo Valley College, creates 10- or 12-week training programs to optimize their performance — the high-intensity sessions can last up to nearly four hours.
“We do some intense running workouts on some days, bike workouts on other days,” said Rick, who works full-time in commercial real estate. “Once a week, we do what they call a brick workout: You run, then transition to bike, do an intense bike workout, get off the bike and then do an intense running workout.
“I have a built-in coach, which is a blessing,” he added, laughing.
Their diet is just as rigid: They avoid inflammatory fried foods, sugar and alcohol and stick entirely to organic fruits and vegetables, with some lean protein. They eat only simple carbs like brown rice.
The night before the duathlon began, they wolfed down some Alaskan salmon for the Omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce swelling and soreness.
Rick also stays away from red meat, but Suzanne says she occasionally needs the iron — one of her indulgences after the national championships was a filet steak.
“My teammates, who are all plant-based, would hate hearing that,” she said. Iron-rich foods like raisins, pumpkin seeds and molasses (eaten with oatmeal) help boost her energy levels between training sessions.
Although their parents were friends and they both attended Campolindo High School in Moraga at the same time, Suzanne and Rick didn’t truly get to know each other until after their college years, in a random encounter at the 1987 Devil Mountain Run in Danville.
It was a setting that befits their relationship: Suzanne, already a serious athlete at events around the country, trained with Rick and he soon began participating in competitions as well.
Wary of cycling on roads after a traffic accident, Suzanne now trains on an indoor electric bicycle system at their training facility in San Ramon. Rick trains there too, but still regularly cycles the 11-mile route up to the summit of Mount Diablo.
Friends and teammates also use the CompuTrainer indoor bicycles, which are hooked up to a movie screen displaying an outdoor route. The couple “race” the other cyclists, a way to train while avoiding traffic.
They run outside, though, and still take part in running events in the Bay Area.
Suzanne is a a private athletic coach who often works with seniors looking to make a lifestyle change.
Making a lifestyle change is doable at any age, Suzanne says, as long as one has a set goal in mind.
“It needs to be their own reason, and it can’t be someone else’s idea,” she said.
The couple was well-prepared for last month’s national championships, but because of the pandemic the duathlon was timed individually for each participant, meaning they could not see their fellow competitors.
It was an adjustment for Suzanne to not be competing with others around her, but Rick was there at the point in the competition where running turns to cycling to tell her how much of a lead she had — in one race it was nine minutes, in another two or three. That is the kind of collaboration the two have built as they have cheered each other on throughout the years.
When the races ended they ate a couple of donuts to celebrate.
“On the first bite, I thought, ‘Oh this is great,’ ” Suzanne recalled. “But then I could realize I could actually taste the saturated fat, and so after five or six bites, I was good.”