Last week Sarah Thomas got up at 5am and drove the 25 miles from her home to the swimming pool in Lakewood, Colorado, as she does most mornings. There she completed her 6,000-yard workout before heading to work as a healthcare recruiter. She was untroubled by autograph hunters; no TV crews stopped her to seek an interview.
And yet Thomas is, according to Steven Munatones, founder of the World Open Water Swimming Association, “an outlier, a once-in-a-generation athlete, and a motivator who is showing others how far they can push themselves”. In August she completed what must rank as one of 2017’s greatest achievements in endurance sport, swimming further than anyone — man or woman — has swum before without the assistance of currents: a scarcely believable 104 miles, nonstop, in three days and nights in the water.
“The record wasn’t really the big incentive for me,” Thomas tells me from her home in Denver. “It was about finding and pushing my personal limits.” What could be a weary trope coming from many athletes rings true from Thomas. She swims without sponsorship — fitting her training around her full-time job. Her achievements have received little media attention; her record-breaking swim has not, to date, even been mentioned in a national newspaper.
“Sarah herself doesn’t seek out publicity,” Ken Classen, her coach and training partner, tells me. “If it wasn’t for her friends and mother-in-law she’d probably have no publicity and quite frankly I don’t think she’d care either way.”
Last year Thomas swam a record 82 miles nonstop in Lake Powell but felt she could go further — the 100-mile barrier beckoned. In choosing the current-free Lake Champlain for her swim, Thomas was attempting something no one of either gender had previously done. “A few people have swum over 100 miles before,” explains Evan Morrison, co-founder of the Marathon Swimming Federation, that adjudicated Thomas’ swim, but only with the assistance of strong, predictable currents.
These include a 139.8-mile effort by the late Croatian swimmer, Veljko Rogosic, in the Adriatic. “His swim was very impressive, but it belongs in a separate category,” explains Morrison. According to his records, only three athletes active today have finished “current-neutral” swims of 63 miles or more — all three of them women.
Beat Knechtle, a Swiss doctor and endurance athlete who has studied female performance in open-water swimming, offers two possible explanations for this dominance. “Women have an advantage due to their higher body fat, which provides insulation against the cold and better buoyancy.” As wetsuits may not be worn for official open-water swims, this could be an important advantage. Then there is the mental side. “In open-water swimming women have learnt that they are able to beat men and therefore expect to compete at a higher level,” says Knechtle.
Thomas agrees. “Women have a long history of swimming: it’s been socially acceptable for us to be athletes in the pool and open water for much longer than in other sports. I think having that strong foundation has really helped women to compete and train at a high level.”
If you’re like me, you’ve watched the movie Legally Blonde close to a million times (and counting!) and can quote most of it by heart. There’s a scene in which Elle Woods hands over her resume to Emmett, her professor’s junior partner at Harvard law. As she walks away he sniffs the pink colored perfumed paper he says “Do you think she just woke up one day and said… “I’m going to go to law school?!”” This is how I feel about my intro to trail running and I’m assuming what most of you might be thinking, “Did she just wake up one day and decide to trail run?!” Well yes, yes I did!
It’s crazy what can happen in a year. I started this journey with the intent to get myself healthy. Have you ever looked in the mirror and completely hated the person staring back at you, someone you no longer knew? Well, that’s where I was. I had a disappointing running season last year, but had made new friends, joined a club and community that gave me new meaning to life. But, you never know when life is going to throw you a curve ball. Late last summer my dog was viciously murdered, my fiancé and I decided to part ways after 9 years, AND my work was closing its doors after I had been there for a little over 6 years! When it rains it truly pours!!!
Starting over is never an easy thing to go through. Devastated, I picked up what pieces remained, tucked my little turtle tail between my legs and retreated home for a bit. I knew this year was going to be about trying to focus on me, which was something I’d never done before (aka hard!) and proving to myself that I could do this trail running thing. It was the only thing that provided therapy and relief for me and still connected me to Boulder and my friends. But I also found myself even more lost, so much change had left me confused on who I really was! (So I apologize if I have appeared like a basket case to any of you! It’s been a whirlwind and I know I haven’t been the best of a friend. Thank you for still being there!)
I decided to go back this time and get my revenge on my racing season. There was method to my madness! I signed up for my 100 miler first, then went back and signed up for the distances I didn’t finish at last year… so a 32 miler (out of 50) and a 50 miler (out of a 100). Coincidentally or not, each race corresponded to something meaningful in my life. Therefore each race had some sort of message or mantra that I boldly wrote on my arm to remind me what I was doing. Last year I was obsessed with cutoffs times, this year I decided to put away that part of my brain that was always worried about time, and use my determination to propel me. Which, mind you, is way easier said than done when you’re mid race!!
At Dirty Thirty, I wanted that finish because I had never actually done a 50K. Apparently I skipped that last season in favor for a 50 miler! Go figure! On a friend’s fridge was a quote to “remember who you wanted to be” I found this very fitting for me at the time, as I had lost sight of what I was trying to become, why I had even started this journey in the first place. This became my mantra. I also ran for my dog, whose death anniversary was the same weekend of the race. I know that sounds weird but I ran a disappointing Leadville Marathon last season because I had lost her that week, and I wanted some sort of vindication this go around. Also, if a six pound dog who was literally ripped apart by two big dogs can still be alive even for the briefest of ten minutes, I sure as hell can survive some pain. I ate an Oreo in her honor at the top of the last peak, screamed some profanities, shed my first tear of the race and finished my first official ultra!
Next was Leadville Silver Rush 50M. Good gracious my oh my, don’t even get me started on Leadville!!! I love it, I hate it, it’s easy, it’s “runnable”… but it’s hard!!! I had it out for this place. Vendetta. We were at war and I was going to finish as redemption for the 100 last year. It was solely that motivation that got me to the finish. I went out feeling great and I made the turn around in what was a great time for my turtleness! But around mile 40 I lost my marbles… and my shot of whiskey I had been saving (which really works p.s.!) I walked it to the finish, but I learned some valuable lessons. Tape your feet and lube ‘em up, no one likes blisters! Saltine crackers at 10,000 feet are gross! Shoe insoles, duh! Tip from a pro, fill one of your bottles up with Coke-A-Cola… why didn’t I think of that?! Oh, and everybody hurts (another pro tip)!
So, I hit a bit of a lull after the fifty miler. I found myself depressed, after race blues are a real thing I’m finding out! This was my first time driving to work in 8 years, usually I bike, which is extra fitness if you’re training for things! I had lost that and was honestly putting more miles on my car than my body. I was also stressed trying to balance work, dog sitting, running, relationships that I completely sucked at having, and trying to maintain some sort of a social life… that I broke said car. (Another life lesson learned: OIL, you need to put oil in your car. Oops!) I would have quit the 100 miler, it was counting down quickly to race time. But someone so graciously made a post about my adventures and I knew I couldn’t quit ( p.s. thank you for that!) I knew I had to keep running, but it was so darn hard to find the motivation or drive. I was thankful for everyone’s support, but I also wasn’t taking their advice for running strategies. “You need to run 30 miles back to back!” “You need to do speedwork!” “You need to run A LOT more than you are now!” Woof, I liked my bed and wallowing in self-pity more. Truthfully my work schedule didn’t allow me to run back to back without going to work like a complete zombie, and I’m sure I had already stressed them out enough with my race schedule and crying over my life bouts! It took a couple weeks but I got moving again, thanks to friends getting me up and out. I made the turn around in my brain and the last four weeks I got the job done. And I’m so glad I got out on those last few big runs, some of my best memories of summer!
I went in to Run Rabbit Run 100 comparing myself to last year. I felt like last time I had run more and was lighter and leaner! However, this year I had run much longer quality distance runs, and I’d like to think weighing more meant I had more muscle, I wasn’t sure which version was better! I’m also not good with the whole planning out your race or pace chart thing… aka spreadsheets. Like I said, I get so consumed with the cutoff times that it can royally mind screw me. So, I never really looked at them or had them memorized. I said: Screw it!!!! You’ve done everything you could have done, you’re as fit as can be, and you’ve done the work, just know the basics and keep moving! Obviously my crew had the info and could figure out where we needed to be and when. But I didn’t want to know and I told them to lie to me about it, and everything else! Tell me I look great, even though I’m 99% sure I didn’t for 99% of that race!
There’s a lot that happens in a 100 miles. It’s hard to describe in words even. I feel like I blacked out for most of it. I can tell you that it’s really, really, REALLY far and there comes a point where even another darn mile seems like eternity… “another three miles to the next aid station?! but that’s so far!!!” I don’t think our brains can fully fathom that distance, even though I’ve done it, I can’t explain how far it is. You also go into this awful self-loathing period of time, no one tells you about it, or when it will strike or how long it will take for you to work yourself out of it. It can happen repeatedly too! (Joy!) It is literally the epitome of darkness. I won’t even say what I told myself for hours upon end in those moments, because no one should say those things to another. And that’s why my motto or mantra for the race was to “Have courage, and be kind and all will be well” It’s a Cinderella quote, judge all you want!!! But it’s in these dark spaces of spaces to find the courage and strength and to be kind to yourself and to others around you that keeps you going. Also, whiskey at mile 65 and 82, messages from friends and pancakes help.
I left my crew a note that they read after I had already started the race. I thanked them all for taking the time to come and help me and how much it mean to me to have them there. I said how I knew I wasn’t the fastest, fittest, strongest person out there but I KNEW I could do it, and needed them to believe in me too. I said how I wasn’t doing this to “prove” I could run a 100 miles, which is awesome and all. But more so I wanted to prove that it all had been worth it. All the loss, the pain, the staying up at night not knowing what the hell I was doing with my life at 30 years old! I wanted to show myself I could do it. That all the hard work mentally, emotionally, physically had paid off. That I was strong and was determined to show what I could do!
Although it helped I was physically capable to do such a thing, I probably could have trained harder upon closer look, and it’s most likely recommend to do so. But at the end of the day, I am a firm believer that you can do anything you put your mind to. Yeah, that cheesy life quote we’ve all heard before! It’s the truth! Yeah it takes works, sometimes lots of work. With determination anything is possible. And that’s why I finished my races this year. I am incredibly proud, most days it still hasn’t sunk in even! I’m so glad I’ve overcome what I have. I am constantly learning and as always am never perfect!! Now that the dust has settled, I’m feeling more like the person I’ve longed to become!
Some call us crazy for doing what we do. And it truthfully is! I think that’s what we like about it. To see what your body can do and overcome is truly one of the most amazing experiences I’ll never forget, even if it hurt. It’s empowering what your mind can do, from the depths of the dark to the moments of joy and peace. It’s this great community of runners and friends, who build each other up, even when you fail or falter, and is always there for you! I’m not sure if you’ve looked around you but Colorado is a pretty rad place and being able to explore miles of untapped beauty on your own two feet is another thing you can’t describe till you’re in it! SO call me crazy, I don’t “love” to run but I do love what it’s brought me. Determination, discipline, adventure, patience, slowly but surely confidence and the strength to ask for help when I need it. There’s also the friends, new places, and new lease on life that I have… that maybe even one day I’ll make my very own turtle spreadsheet.
Three years ago, barely a year into recovery from the scariest and most devastating day of my life, I stood volunteering for the San Diego Triathlon Challenge. Surrounded by people with all different disAbilities, I said to Sam, “You know what? I’m going to be back but I’m going to be on the starting line.” He said, “Yes you will.”
Three years later, I stood getting ready to race. Even though the swim was cancelled (the waves were HUGE), I was ready to start the 44 mile bike. I inched slowly closer to the start. I didn’t start with most of the challenged athletes because I was chatting it up with April, my shadower for the bike. We started up the first hill. We thought it was kind of tricky but we were glad it was done. I knew there was a bigger hill coming but honestly, without riding it, I didn’t really know… 1 ½ miles later, we started up Mt. La Jolla Shores Drive (I heard someone call it that and thought it was very appropriate…) I was getting a little cranky, so I started doing math problems as I went up that mean ol’ mountain. 2 plus 2 is 4… 4 plus 4 is 8… and so on aaalllll the way up that hill. I saw multiple people walking. That’s how I knew this thing was no joke. But I finally made it!
A few miles of pedaling later, April and I suddenly heard whooping and crazy yelling coming from the side of the road… that’s right, there was my husband, my sister, my mom, and some of our friends all shouting from the side of the road. I looked at April, said “That’s my family right there!” We kept on going and came upon THE DOWNHILL. I started my adding trick again. I swear, we went 2 miles downhill. Somehow we got down that thing still on the bike.
From there on out I kind of blocked the hills from my mind because the whole ride was hills. The course was kind of a lollipop shape, and we got back to the stick part of the lollipop, which was at the bottom of THE DOWNHILL. So I changed its name to THE UPHILL. It took a solid 10 minutes of going. Constant. Going. I even passed some other racers! Finally I made it to the top. Such a glorious feeling! We stopper for water and Electrolytes at the aid station up there. By then it was HOT and my tummy wasn’t much of a fan of anything else.
Next, we came to the descent of Mt. La Jolla Shores Drive. It was steep. I had to whip out the ol’ math problems. But finally I made it! I rode each hill up and down WITHOUT having to walk my bike.
Finally, after one more super steep hill I made it back to transition!
I knew I couldn’t run much, but I said I would run, so I had to a little bit. I climbed up that last steep hill made it to the top and I was going to turn around right there, but one of the crossing guards encouraged me to make it to the corner. So I did. I turned around a bit after that. I knew it was time. If I had gone further, I seriously thought I was risking injury. So I swallowed my pride, and turned around and finished that crazy event UNINJURED.
Fat, Drunk, and Out of Shape is No Way to Go Through Life
That’s the line that’s been going through my head almost daily for the past four weeks, ever since my off-season got extended well beyond what I’d intended. (And yes, it’s an Animal House reference.)
I’ll back up by saying that I am a strong believer in the importance of an off-season, on having some time when your focus isn’t on training: When fitting in your workout isn’t the driving force behind how you organize every day. When you have the option to go for a hike or take a yoga class instead of a swim/bike/run workout. When you ease back on the miles and give your muscles and your joints some time to recover.
And that’s why I extended my off-season from the originally planned four weeks to a solid, plenty-of-time-to-get-antsy, eight weeks. I was really enjoying the hiking and the yoga and totally blowing off masters swim and drinking margaritas at lunch. Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much, I think, is because I knew (or rather believed, incorrectly) that it was pretty finite. And then on September 9th I developed a stress reaction in my foot. (How I managed to do that on reduced mileage is a story of total idiocy that I won’t include here. Just chalk it up to my being a moron.)
Suddenly my off-season was extended to … twelve weeks? sixteen? I thought I handled the news pretty well, but looking back on it I was hilariously, quietly, unknowingly, losing my marbles. I figured I was really taking things in stride because I wasn’t making a big deal of the stress reaction. Sure, I couldn’t run for 4-6 weeks, but I could swim and bike and I wasn’t training for anything so really it wasn’t a big deal. People would ask me what was new, and I wouldn’t even tell them about the stress reaction. I mean, when a triathlete doesn’t talk about an injury you know that shit has gotten weird.
So, I can’t run. I am just working out aimlessly, with no goals and no plan and no purpose. Fall is crazy, crazy quiet when you’re a triathlon coach because most of your athletes are in their off-season, so I don’t have much work to do. And since I don’t have a lot of work, and don’t have to be feeling good to tackle some tough workout the next day, I am consuming a glass (or two or three) of wine every night. But if I average out the whole year including my big training weeks where I didn’t drink at all, it’s really totally fine.
Fat, Drunk, and Out of Shape is No Way to Go Through Life.
Clearly it’s time to pull it together: I find a plan on TrainerRoad and start burying myself in some sweet spot bike workouts. I hatch plans for multiple projects: I’m going to write a blog! (Evidence of this effort is obvious.) I’m going to finally organize all my coaching systems and notes into a Filemaker database! (That’s what happens when you were once a management consultant.) I’m at least keeping myself occupied … but something’s still off.
It took me another week to put my finger on it, but then it hit me: I am filling my weeks with coffees and lunches and have absolutely nothing to say during any of them. I don’t even know who I am when I’m not training for something.
Does that statement make me sound totally unhinged? Or at least massively addicted to training? Sure, I’ll own that. But batshit crazy or not, this is where I am. So my off-season now has an official expiration date of Oct 31st. It’s time to pick an Ironman for 2018 and start setting some goals for next year. And then maybe I’ll start to feel normal again.
I am sure many of you have become aware of the resurgence of the hashtag #MeToo trending on social media in the wake of the numerous sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. My feed was full of #MeToo hashtags–hundreds of people sharing, maybe for the first time, that they too have been a victim of sexual assault and harassment. And then there are all those individuals who don’t feel safe coming forward, or perhaps are not ready to share their victimization with the world. The number of hashtags in your social media feeds is just a small percentage of the number of those affected by sexual harassment and assault. Just this Sunday night, Anthony Rapp came forward to BuzzFeed about a sexual assault he experienced when 14 perpetrated by a 24 year old Kevin Spacey. Given the ubiquity of sexual assault accusations emerging in Hollywood of late, it is easy to think this is a behavior isolated to the rich and famous. But it isn’t. It is pervasive across all facets of our society.
So what does this have to do with triathlon? Well, actually, a lot. Why? Because sexual abuse is particularly pervasive in sport. Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a retired Olympic swimmer and advocate for women and girls in sport, wrote for ESPN that the #MeToo campaign “has once again brought to light the constant objectification of women in sports. Coaches and reporters tweeted about being groped or flashed, and athletes tweeted repeatedly about the entitlement of their male peer athletes and, in particular, about powerful, sexually demanding coaches.” This reality is just as true in triathlon as it is in gymnastics, swimming, running, sailing, or cycling.
We know women triathletes still receive smaller prize purses than men in many races, we also know women triathletes don’t receive the same coverage as their male counterparts. And while it is easy to dismiss these two examples as not relevant to sexual abuse, it is important to understand these behaviors exist on a continuum and in a system that values men, and men in sport, over women. Women athletes are often objectified by commentators and the media–their weight or attractiveness discussed and dissected while their athletic accomplishments are left to the side. Lizzie Armistead, a British cyclist, and former world race champion, spoke about the harassment she experienced as a cyclist in her book. Guardian columnist Barbara Allen describes one experience when Armistead was 19 years old. The night before her world champion win, she was requested to play Nintendo Wii in front of her male teammates while they watched. She was “subtly toyed with, [and] slyly objectified, simply because she’s female.” Sarah True, Olympic triathlete, has also spoken of her experiences with sexism in triathlon. Once married, she became the the wife of an accomplished triathlete, versus a two-time Olympic qualifying triathlete herself.
It is easy to condemn sexual abuse, but it is not so easy to condemn the attitudes and behaviors that support its existence, like those described above. Wherever a behavior falls on the continuum of sexism, each behavior connects to support a cultural system where sexual abuse is tacitly permitted and excused.
Alarmingly, according to Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who is also an attorney, there are limited, if any, legal consequences for club coaches who perpetrate sexual abuse: “Few legal protections [apply] to the U.S. Olympic Committee and its National Governing Bodies (NGBs). Because athletes in club or Olympic sports aren’t competing for a school, Title IX’s student protections aren’t available; athletes are also not employees, meaning Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, [doesn’t] apply either.” If you were surprised by how many of your friends, triathletes or otherwise, hashtagged #MeToo, it is important to remember, whether or not we hear about sexual abuse in sport, it is happening. Based on the sheer magnitude of #MeToo hashtags, we would be naive to dismiss them as isolated incidents–each individual hashtag combines to paint a larger picture of the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment. It’s an epidemic and we must do better.
So what can our community do about it? Most importantly, we can believe and support our friends who come forward and share experiences with us. Whatever level of triathlon you participate in–a local club or the national team–we can all do a better job of creating a climate where sexual objectification is unacceptable. We can demand equitable treatment and equal coverage for women triathletes. We can vet coaches and call out problematic and sexist behavior when we see it–even when it’s uncomfortable for us. And in doing these things, we can work to create safe, non-objectifying spaces for girls and women triathletes. Women and girls have the right to participate in triathlon and any sport without fear a coach or fellow athlete will sexually objectify, harass, or assault them.
If you have experienced sexual assault and want to talk confidentially with someone about it, there are resources in Denver to assist you. Call The Blue Bench, a 24 hour hotline: 303-322-7273. You can also visit the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault for a comprehensive list of statewide resources.
Sarah Thomas was born to swim. She picked up the sport at age seven and has been swimming pretty much ever since. This past July, she broke her own world record, swimming 104 miles in Lake Champlain, from Rouses Point, New York, to Vermont and back again. Her solo swim was unassisted, non-wetsuit, and current neutral. The water was also full of lampreys. I wasn’t sure what a lamprey was, so I looked them up. Yeah, they are the stuff of nightmares. I recently wrote about my fears of swimming in open water without a wetsuit because of the perils of lake or ocean creatures; Sarah clearly does not have those same concerns.
As I was swimming laps this morning, I was mentally tracking how long I would have to be in the pool to cover 104 miles. The answer? A really long time. It took Sarah 67 hours, 16 minutes, and 12 seconds. Five hours faster than she expected. Three nights, two sunrises. Not only was this a phenomenal physical feat, it was also a mental one. While Sarah has a crew on her long, nay, mammoth swim challenges, she is swimming alone. The mental resilience needed to conquer the mind games that occur is mighty.
Her epic 104 mile swim sits on the shoulders of the many other awe-inspiring open water marathon swim challenges she has completed over her thirty-five years. After her first marathon open water swim in Horsetooth Reservoir (a 10K), her swimming world expanded. She met some Catalina Channel swimmers and decided she would give that race a try in 2010. Catalina is an island off the coast of Los Angeles and the channel from the island to the mainland is about 21 miles. Although she finished the swim, she reflected on what a tough experience it was for her. The swim began around midnight, and she hadn’t done a good job of prepping, and then executing, her nutrition plan leading to her ‘crashing’ in the last four hours. There was a significant cross wind and she just couldn’t find her rhythm. Sarah finished the race in just over nine hours, which is still a pretty fast pace. She described to me the aftermath with a chuckle. It included an inability to lift her arms over her head for a week, a swollen tongue from all the salt water, and chafing in places she didn’t even know you could chafe. And so she decreed: “This is it, I’m done.” Famous last words.
For any non-endurance athletes reading this, what usually happens is we routinely declare that we are one and done on these mammoth athletic exploits. And then the amnesia sets in. Sometimes it takes a few days, or perhaps a couple of weeks. But before long, the narrative changes and the race that was so horrific morphs into something not so bad. This softening of our feelings towards an endurance event inevitably leads us to sign up for another one. And that is what Sarah did. She signed up to swim across the English Channel.
In preparation for her English Channel swim, Sarah completed a 28.5 mile swim around Manhattan Island (2nd woman/5th overall) and the Tampa Bay Marathon swim (she won this race, although swimmers were pulled early because of a storm). Then, on a clear, sunny day in 2012, Sarah swam from England to France in just over 11 hours. “I swam with joy the entire way,” she said. When she got to the shore in France, the clientele from a local restaurant had come to the beach to cheer her on. The restaurateur handed her a glass of champagne as she walked from the water. It was a “magical moment” she reminisces. On finishing the English Channel swim, Sarah was now a proud member of the Triple Crown club — swimmers who’ve successfully completed the English Channel, Catalina Channel, and Manhattan Island swims.
Sarah’s other open water accomplishments include swimming the length of Loch Ness in Scotland (no monster sightings, I am afraid), an out and back across Lake Tahoe (she was the first swimmer and woman to do this) and swimming across Lake Memphremagog in Newport, VT. Originally, this was a 25 mile race but the race director called her to see if she wanted to do 50 miles–an out and back. “I’m never one to back down from a challenge” she declared confidently. This was her first 50 mile swim, and a tough one mentally: “I had to really dig deep.” And, her resilience paid off; she was the first ever swimmer to complete the 50 mile swim. Sarah has accrued an impressive litany of firsts. And her next challenge, because yes, you can top a 104 mile world record breaking swim, could be another. In September 2019, she will attempt to swim the English Channel crossing four times—England-France-England-France-England. Swimmers have tried, but no one yet has been triumphant.
Sarah Thomas is a formidable force in open water marathon swimming and one of the top competitors in the country from right here in land-locked Colorado. One of the insights she shared, and one that has stuck with me since we met, is that in every race, experience, or adventure, there is always something to learn. So often we close our minds, and doom ourselves to repeat the same missteps over and over. We have to allow for those moments to teach us. Humility is how we become better at what we do.
If you’d like to learn more, you can follow Sarah’s swimming adventures and progress on her official Facebook page.
This week, Facebook popped up a picture of me crossing the finish line of my very first triathlon. The slightly blurred, yet triumphant photo brought a whole host of memories flooding back to me. Six years ago, I embarked on a journey that has ebbed and flowed, curved and carved in ways I could never have predicted. I distinctly remember saying to a friend that I would NEVER do a 70.3 distance triathlon, because why would anyone want to do that? Well, with a few of those now under my belt, I blush at my then rigid response to the prospect of trying the long course distance.
Crossing the finish line at the 2011 Denver Triathlon
In preparation for my first triathlon, I scoured the internet for how-to videos on transitions, swim nerves management, and race strategy. I had zero idea about wetsuits, and ordered an ill-fitting “shortie” online and cycled a few preparation miles on my trusty Rock Hopper mountain bike. I did practice swimming in open water (thankfully), but even with a few swim lessons under my belt, I still breaststroked most of the swim. Putting my face in the water for a solid fifteen minutes did not seem appealing to me at the time. I came out of the swim to T1, ecstatic that I had conquered a swim in Sloan’s Lake without a flotation device. I took off my shortie, dried off, put on bike shorts, bike gloves, ate and drank something, and then meandered out of T1 about 5 minutes later. I hopped on my mountain bike ready for the ride around Denver and down to Mile High Stadium, where T2 was located.
A short time later, I rolled into T2, racked my bike and headed out on the run – in my bike shorts. Yes, I forgot to take off my bike shorts and only realized this about a half mile into the run. The run – at that point my “strongest” discipline, largely because it is the one I had done the most – went fairly well despite the extra padding on my rear. The course was short and had me finishing the 5K in 23 minutes or something ridiculous like that, which is a time at that point, I had never run before. And there we have it. My first triathlon, six years ago this week.
In the years that followed, I discovered brick workouts, chamois cream, tri suits, stretchy laces, and the benefits of using a road bike over a mountain bike. I joined an all women’s triathlon team, hired a coach, took more swimming lessons, swam more in open water, got a better wetsuit, and saved my pennies for a road bike. I even made a few age group podiums. All in six years. One blink and it’s 2017. For those six years of learning, mistakes, hilarity, and achievement, the one thing I didn’t do nearly enough is reflect on my journey.
Looking at the picture of my first finish six years ago, reminds me that I haven’t really taken stock of how far I have come. I therefore recommend that we all take the time to reflect on what we have done more often than we probably do. Don’t wait for Facebook or some other social media platform to prompt you. We infrequently take the time to pause and review our journeys, whatever they may be. This means we never fully appreciate all the gains we have made, or challenges we have overcome. We just go, go, go without so much as a quick glance over our shoulder. We blink and everything changes. Wherever you are in your triathlon quest, don’t miss the actual journey to your goals because you are so busy focusing on what’s next. I blinked, and now, six years later, I am a triathlon coach myself and headed to my fifth 70.3 and I am not quite sure how that happened.
Boulder 70.3 2015 – Finishing a long course triathlon I said I would never do…
I remember the feeling I had when I crossed the finish line for the first time six years ago. My heart swelled with pride in my ability to race a triathlon. I felt so badass. Do you remember the feeling you had when crossed your first finish line? Dig down into your memories and pull the feeling back to the surface. That feeling fades the more races we do. Our increased level of comfort with triathlon shouldn’t decrease our feelings of awe and satisfaction on finishing every race or workout, but it does. Hang on to your first finish feeling tightly, because it will help you remember where you have been, as well as where you have the capability and power to go.
Lisa Ingarfield, PhD is a runner, triathlete, USAT and RRCA certified coach. She owns Tri to Defi Coaching and Consulting and provides organizational communication consulting services. She is a freelance writer specializing in issues affecting women in sport and in life. She is also a member of Vixxen Racing’s 2017 women’s triathlon team.
Denver – July 24, 2017 – The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) today announced that Janette Heung will serve as the new deputy director for the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC), effective Aug. 10, 2017.
“Janette is joining us at an exciting time with record growth for our outdoor recreation industry, and she’s just the person to help take us to the next level,” said Luis Benitez, OREC director. “We are thrilled to have her experience and knowledge on our team.”
In her new role as the deputy director, Heung will support economic development within the industry, work to build a dynamic workforce, advance conservation and stewardship, and encourage the intersection with public health and wellness in the sector. She will also develop new initiatives to further Colorado’s outdoor recreation growth. The position manages day-to-day operations of the office and serves as a liaison in the community.
“Colorado is rapidly becoming the epicenter of the outdoor recreation industry,” Heung said. “I’m tremendously excited for the opportunities that lie ahead”.
Heung was born in the US, but grew up in the concrete jungles of Hong Kong. Returning to study as an adult, she soon became mesmerized by the wildness of the North American continent. She experienced her first winters in New England during school, and eventually followed the call of winter to Alaska, the Alps, and the Andes. When she discovered Colorado and its outdoor recreation community, she immediately relocated here and started adventuring at an extraordinarily high level.
Many classic alpine mountaineering routes in the US and Canadian Rockies followed, and she has managed to complete first ascents in New Zealand and Bolivia, including on the south face of Mount Aspiring in New Zealand.
“Janette’s love for the outdoors directly feeds into her zeal for protecting it-when she’s not exploring outside, she is working on a range of environmental policy, public health and business challenges,” said Benitez. “She is a real asset to our office and the State of Colorado.”
Before accepting the deputy director role she was a consultant who specialized in strategic planning and program management with a focus on conservation and health. Throughout her career, she has consulted for public, private, and non-profit sector clients, including Fortune 500 companies, the City and County of Denver, and The Nature Conservancy. Previously, she was a senior management consultant at Deloitte Consulting in the greater Washington DC area.
Heung is the also co-founder of Unleashed, a winter climbing community event that features storytelling by community champions with the proceeds supping outdoor education non-profits. Heung holds bachelor degrees in physics and biomedical engineering from Tufts University and a master’s degree in Environmental Health from Harvard University.
Outdoor Recreation is a booming industry in Colorado with $34 billion in consumer spending and $994 million in state and local tax revenue. The industry provides 350k jobs with earnings of more than $4 million. Over 80% of Coloradans participate in trail-related activities on a regular basis according to the 2014 Scope Report.
Governor John Hickenlooper launched the OREC office in 2015. OREC is one of only three offices in the nation that provides a central point of contact, advocacy, resources and support at the state level for the diverse constituents, businesses, communities and groups that rely on the continued health of the outdoor recreation industry.
The OREC office is a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
These events go back to the summer of 2014 when we had the 1st “Pro’s vs “Amos” contest (“amos” is just a rhyming abbreviation for “amateurs”). There was achocolate chip cookie bake-off followed by adodge ball tournament. There was laughter and tears. *It was mostly the laughing and the cookies that inspired us to keep this “challenge” going.
Since then we’ve invited many strong, fun women to join in on the shenanigans. While the cast of women is ever changing (life happens), the spirit of this event never will. This will always be a somewhat silly celebration of the pure joy we all have for our sport.
Pros & Amos: Tri-Style
In a digital-cyber-y version of 303’s famous Pros v. Amos challenges, we pit famous local “Amo” Katie Macarelli opposite a couple “Pro” athletes you may have heard of… Olympic World Champion Gwen Jorgensen & Professional Triathlete Alicia Kaye! And we’re talking about how Pros live their athletic lives and learn their lessons, compared to Amos… What it’s like as a female role model, mistakes they’ve made, and how they’ve overcome obstacles along the path to stardom… Read on to find out who’s a brainiac with multiple degrees… who hurdles barbed wire fences with ease… and who’s favorite prize ever was 20 pounds of steak.
Here’s some background:
GWEN JORGENSEN Gwen Jorgensen is a professional triathlete from St Paul, MN. Gwen is a 2x Olympian, 2x World Champion (2014, 2015), and 17x ITU World Triathlon Series race winner. She also likes to read, try new foods, and hang out with friends and family.
2016 Olympic Champion
2015 World Champion
2014 World Champion
2012 U.S. Olympic Team Member
2013 USA Triathlon’s Triathlete of the Year
2014 USA Triathlon’s Triathlete of the Year
2015 USA Elite National Champion
2014 USA Elite National Champion
2013 USAT Elite National Champion (Sprint and Olympic Distance)
First USA Woman to win a World Triathlon Series race
15-time ITU World Triathlon Series Winner
2010 USAT Rookie of the Year
2010 USAT Elite Duathlete of the Year
ALICIA KAYE Alicia grew up in Canada and began participating in triathlon when she was 11 years old; she became a professional triathlete at the age of 14. Alicia spent her teen years racing triathlon while juggling her academic studies. While completing her undergraduate degree in Sport Psychology she met fellow triathlete and now husband, Jarrod Shoemaker. Since meeting Jarrod she has began racing for the United States and also completed her masters degree in Athletic Counseling. Some of Alicia’s proudest moments include winning Canadian Junior National Championships in 2001, and winning the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in 2013. In her spare time Alicia works as a mental trainer and runs a skincare company with her husband Jarrod, called Endurance Shield.
And our “Amo,” KATIE MACARELLI Katie is a Colorado native who grew up on a dairy farm on the Eastern Plains. She got her start in the Colorado cycling scene competing in triathlons for about five years until she realized that running is the worst. She’s a mom of two teenage girls, a year-round bike commuter who hates driving but loves cyclocross. She is currently the marketing manager for Feedback Sports.
Here we go! 1. Have you ever googled yourself? Any oft-repeated MISconceptions out there that you’d like to clear up? Any rumor or tall tale that just keeps popping up on Wikipedia? Here’s your chance to set the record straight. And if not, give us your best pretend fake fact.
GJ: I’ve googled my husband, Patrick Lemieux, but don’t google myself. I think one thing people may assume is that I come from a running background, however I actually come from a swimming background and didn’t start running until I was a junior in college.
AK: Yes, I’ve googled myself. It almost always just to find an image or to find articles written about a recent race. Maybe once every few years I’ll look to see if anyone is saying something mean or false, but I’ve never found anything truly negative.
KM: I work in the digital marketing realm, so of COURSE I have. The only misconception I’ve ever found was an article that listed me as living in Portland. I’ve never actually been to Portland, but it sounds lovely. *I generally disregard everything past page 5 on google, because it’s like reading the comments on Pinkbike. It will just make you mad and/or confused.
2. How has your rise to fame affected your performances? Has there ever been a time when the spotlight really helped you? Or worked against you?
GJ: I am an introvert, so it took some time to get used to the media attention and fans walking up to me. I now enjoy being able to share my experiences, but still need my alone time to recharge.
In 2012, after I qualified for the Olympics I had a bunch of media engagements lined up for the week of a WTS race in San Diego. I did an all day photo shoot along with other media the week leading into the race and I believe this contributed to my poor performance. I think I almost finished dead last.
AK: I had my breakout year in 2013 winning the Lifetime Series and Toyota Triple Crown. I thought it would be this ultra grand moment where everything would change. But life went on as normal, the money and/ or result didn’t change any of my relationships- we were just able to make a big fat mortgage payment instead;) What was interesting was in 2014 I really struggled to find purpose and meaning after achieving all my goals in 2013, trying to replicate them again in 2014 was an entirely different experience.
KM: I’m not famous, but I do find it hard to get to the start line to any race because I often stop to hug, heckle and/or say hello to friends. As it turns out, missing the start of a race directly impacts your performance.
3. Please provide five single-word adjectives that best describe you and what makes you tick.
KM: Enthusiastic. Loud. Empathetic. Droll. Indefatigable. (You said single-word, so I didn’t think I could use “over-caffeinated”)
4. Have you experienced being asked media questions different from your male counterparts that you attribute to gender? What’s your best example?
GJ: Can’t think of one off the top of my head, but I also try not to read into questions too much. I also have a poor memory so may have been asked something but have forgotten. I do believe there should be equal prize money for men and women (which there is in ITU which I love).
AK: This is a great question, I think our sport is pretty good about equality but the biggest gender difference I notice is that it’s ALWAYS the male winners picture in a newspaper article. Media outlets within our sport tend to include pictures of the women’s winner and why is the men’s race always written about first?
KM: No, because the media isn’t interested in me. However, I’ve been in many eye-rolling situations as a female working in a male dominated industry. I feel our industry (and society in general) is getting better about this but I still got called “Hon” only a few months ago by a guy my age who was visiting our office. I can assure you that I’m not his “Hon.”
5. What is the best PRIZE you’ve ever won, in your entire life of racing (maybe it was that 2nd grade field day ribbon…)?
GJ: Any prize that involves food! In 2015 I won a gravel road race and won 20lbs of steak.
AK: I won a race down in Tobago a LONG time ago, back in 2005 I think. The trophy was a beautiful wooden carved sea turtle, it’s still hanging on my wall at home.
KM: I won a pair of Tough Girl socks and a pint glass for 3rd place in my first ever Cx race (I raced it on my full suspension Yeti 575). I was instantly in love with cyclocross and bought a Cx bike about 4 months later
6. Race Day prep – name three best practices you always adhere to the night before a race… and three things you always avoid. What is your best example of a time you didn’t follow your own rules, and things fell apart?
GJ: Don’t try anything new (once I ate out in Japan and tried a dish I’d never had before and got food poisoning)
-Relax/put my feet up
-Avoid: unnecessary stress, being on your feet all day, and new foods.
AK: I don’t go to bed until I feel sleepy, I eat the same thing (chicken and rice) and I prepare everything the night before leaving race morning to be fairly stress free. Three things I always avoid the night before a race are any foods that contain caffeine, any foods high in fiber, anything my body isn’t used to.
KM: Hahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Race prep. That’s funny. Here are my “3 best practices”:
-Start looking for my wetsuit at about 10 pm. and run a load of laundry.
-Eat a bowl of Peanut Butter Panda Puffs and pack my bag in the dark so I don’t wake my family.
-Get a good, solid 4 hours of sleep.
Three things I avoid (due to life in general plus an incessant desire to self-sabotage):
-Consistent, focused athletic training.
-Having enough ______________ to make success an option (fill in the blank with any of the following: sleep, water, food, peace of mind, clean clothes, gas in the car etc)
Best example of things falling apart:
An example where things went wrong: Pretty much every race I’ve done since I turned 35. Recently, I had to hop a barbed-wire fence and run through a ditch to find the start-line. Good thing I grew up on a farm.
7. If you’re a Pro, do you ever find yourself wishing you were an Amateur? And if you’re an Amateur, every wish you were a Pro? Why?
GJ: I love what I do and am thrilled to be able to also make it my living. I do hate training when the body is tired and it is pouring rain outside.
AK: I went pro at such an early age that I almost can’t remember what it’s like to race as an amateur. Triathlon has been my life since I was 14 years old, and I began participating in them at 11. I think what I’ll miss when I don’t race as a pro someday is a clear course!
KM: Nope. Waaaaay too much pressure. I race because it helps me conquer my fears, which is a good example for my daughters and other women. Oh, and also: its good preparation should things go south and we find ourselves in a post-Apocalyptic scenario. If I had to do that as a job, I’d undoubtedly get fired.