LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, TEXAS —
James Bales is sitting across a conference room table, visibly exhausted.
He had just finished a 30-hour shift, and then proceeded to take a 12-mile bike ride, a 5-mile run and a mile swim.
"I'm pretty tired," said Bales. "After this, I'm going home and going to sleep for a long time."
This a fairly typical part of the Wilford Hall Medical Center resident's routine. Bales recently finished the Armed Forces Triathlon Championship held in Point Mugu, Calif. He finished first among Air Force participants and fourth overall with a time of 1:59:56.
He finished the swimming portion in 21:47, the biking portion in 58:06 and the running portion in 38:06. The men's Air Force team finished second overall, while the women's team finished first.
"That was the fifth time I've been out there to race," Bales said. "They always put on a good show and I always have a lot of fun doing it."
Bales' time earned him a spot on the Combined 2007 All Armed Forces Triathlon team, which will compete in the Military World Games in Mumbai, India, Oct. 19-22. Bales' event will be an Olympic-style triathlon, meaning that it will be comprised of three sections: a 1,500-meter swim, 40-km bike ride and a 10-km run. Bales' overall best time is 1:47.
"I've qualified for the World Games before, but haven't been able to do it in the past because of my residency requirements," Bales said.
Those residency requirements allowed Bales to only spend 18 hours in California. The day before the triathlon, he completed a 30-hour shift at Wilford Hall, and as soon as the race was over, he had to fly back to Lackland AFB to work another 30-hour shift the next day.
"This all started when I was in medical school and I didn't want to pay for parking, so I started biking everywhere," Bales said. "I pretty much don't drive anymore. I bike to and from work which is about 10 miles each way. So even when I work those 30-hour shifts, I still get my 20 miles on the bike."
Bales is one of five men who will represent the U.S. armed forces at the World Military Games. Like the Olympics, the Military World Games are held every four years, however, all participants in these events are either sponsored by or are members of their respective country's armed forces. This year the games will feature 82 countries competing in 16 different events. The U.S. armed forces have a unique obstacle to overcome. Most foreign country militaries sponsor their athletes to compete in competitions like the World Military Olympic Games.
"These guys don't have a job, but they are getting sponsored by the military so all they do is train. They sleep and eat right, while I eat chili dogs and work 30-hour shifts." Bales said.
According to Bales, the U.S. armed forces usually contends for a medal at the games.
The Air Force Academy graduate swam for the Falcons during his college career, and went to the Olympic Trials in 2000.
Bales raced pro in 2004 and qualified for the Olympic Trials the same year for the triathlon.
Since he started his residency, Bales has not been able to compete professionally but still participates in local races and races for a few teams.
Since 2001, when Bales first began competing in triathlons, he has competed in three iron-man triathlons, which consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. He has also completed at least six half-iron man triathlons and somewhere between 150-200 triathlons.
"I try to get up at 3:30 a.m. and train until I have to be at work at about 6 a.m. I end up training in the dark all the time," Bales said. "The best thing about the triathlon is that because you have the three disciplines, running, biking, and swimming, you don't ever have to take a day off."
According to Bales, the hardest part of the triathlon is the 10-K run, which is the last section of the competition.
"Your legs just feel like spaghetti because you are already an hour and a half into the race, and it just comes down to how much guts you've got," Bales said. "It's mentally and physically the toughest part."
While Bales feels that the run is the toughest component of a triathlon, the other two sections of the Armed Forces Triathlon provided a few interesting quirks.
"We swam in the Pacific in 54-degree temperatures, and the currents were so strong that when you first get into the water you feel like nails are getting pushed into your face," Bales said. "You feel like the wind is being knocked out of you, but after that you get settled in and everything goes numb."
The biking portion also provided a different element than some other triathlons.
"This race was draft legal, and that adds an extra gaming element," Bales said. "I have to keep asking myself, 'Are the people around me going to work with me or are they going to try to drop me?' So, if I'm surrounded by a bunch of Navy guys or Army guys, they are probably going to work hard to try to drop me."
Bales does not feel that the climate an India will complicate the race very much.
"The heat and humidity might be an issue, but there aren't too many rolling hills, so I'm not that worried really," Bales said.
Despite his hectic schedule, Bales is very thankful for the opportunities he has had during his time in the Air Force.
"I'd like to thank the Orthopedics Department at Wilford Hall Medical Center because they have been very good to me, and have supported me racing, especially my supervisors and commanders. Maj. Ky Kobayashi and Col. Mark Richardson," Bales said.