Wednesday Who Dat? - Whitney Garcia

This Wednesday's Who Dat is neo-pro Whitney Garcia. We wanted to feature Whitney because she embodies many professional and top end age group triathletes in that she excels in triathlon while juggling a career that demands over 40 hours of work from her each week. Whitney works full time as an Exercise Specialist at Frasier Meadows Retirement Community in Boulder. She also maintains a few other weekly gigs including cleaning houses.

In 2011 Whitney finished 3rd overall at Ironman Wisconsin and Kansas 70.3. She added another top 5 finish at Boulder 70.3 and a personal record 9:40 at Ironman Arizona.

How long have you been doing triathlon, and how often have you raced?
I started triathlon when I was in college at Cal Poly in 2002. They had a club team that was quite competitive. I had a swimming and running background, and I bought a bike at a garage sale! I raced Olympic distance with the collegiate team, and for a couple years afterwards on my own. In 2005 I did my first half IM and unexpectedly qualified for Kona by winning my age group. The following couple years I took a break and didn't race much, and got back to Ironman in 2008 and 2009 when I did the Vineman iron-distance. I only raced sparingly up until last year.

Triathlon has gotten to be more and more competitive. What have you had to sacrifice to race professionally while working a full time job and part time gigs as well?
Anything you want to see how well you can do - how big you can go, how fast, how far you can push - is going to require sacrifice. I think people first think of just how "hard" it is to push your body and do tough workouts, and that in itself is sacrifice - to sort of beat your body into submission. Then there are also the sacrifices of time, money, other activities, and even relationships. It doesn't mean you have to forfeit everything else, in fact, there is so much satisfaction in living a life that seeks elite accomplishment alongside some kind of balance.

I work full time at a Wellness Center within a retirement community in Boulder. It is a very people-oriented job, and simply going to work each day to work with and for others who are at another juncture of their life so unlike mine helps me maintain balance in that it's not all about me and my personal pursuits, every day. Fortunately my job has a good amount of flexibility in its schedule. And the people for whom I work have been very supportive of my triathlon endeavors. They are used to seeing me run in and out of work wearing my biking and running clothes, showing up with wet hair, and getting them started on their exercises while eating breakfast at the same time.

Many a Saturday, while I am riding, I have observed people, families, and couples doing fun weekend activities while I am yet again grinding away in an aero-position along some paved road I have ridden a million times. To be positive, I live in a beautiful area where honestly, the riding never gets old here, and the run routes and trails are practically limitless. But sometimes I'd just like to be one of those people sitting on their porch chatting, or working in their garden.

The sacrifice of relationship...well, that one can be complicated. I'll say this: it's important to have someone in your life who will support you, but who will also sharpen you (not just let you skate by on habits and routines), and who will be understanding. The goals of success, and the priorities of an elite athlete who is looking to be competitive are not always easy to live with. They can seem selfish, and it takes an understanding partner to put up with you, and also to celebrate with you when successes come.

Why did you decide to race professionally if you knew you were not going to give up your career?
I struggled with the decision to go pro, actually. I didn't want extra pressure - I wanted this crazy-serious hobby to stay fun. But I also wanted to see how much better I could get at this sport, and I felt like if I raced with professionals I would be able to step up my game and I could truly see where my potential lies. It made good financial sense, as well. Forking out thousands of dollars each year for this "hobby" could possibly be off-set by any winnings I might earn by placing well enough in races. I thought it was worth a shot, and last year (2011) I had enough success to feel really good about my decision and to continue on with my pro career for at least a couple more years.

How many hours a week do you train?
This varies with the season and the race(s) I'm working towards, but I train anywhere from 12 to 24 hours a week. The average would probably be about 16 or 17 hours a week.

This question is geared towards experienced triathletes. What was a key improvement you made to take your racing to the next level?

The first thing that comes to mind is that I got a great coach. This is my third year being coached by Curt Chesney. I had gotten input for my training schedules in the past, but to get to a "next level", it really makes sense to hire someone who knows how to train an athlete. I like being able to put my energies into doing the workouts and also living my life, and not having to figure out what to do when, how much, and when to push or when to back off the hours of training. You learn some of these things as you go, through experience, and you should always listen to your body. But having an expert in the field teach me, write my schedules, and give me feedback has been invaluable.

The second is what he has taught me about training and racing nutrition as well. That is something I never had a good handle on, and have found that it makes a HUGE difference in my ability to go harder and faster for longer periods of time. It has a great effect on recovery, as well.

Was on your schedule this year?
I will be racing Rev3 Knoxville in a couple weeks; Ironman Coeur d'Alene, Boulder 70.3, and Ironman Wisconsin. Then I'm going to take a vacation with my boyfriend to the Grand Canyon and we're going to run the Rim to Rim to Rim in October!

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