TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with the TCSD’s very own Beth Walsh. Beth has had a great 1st year as a pro. She began her triathlon career with the TCSD. It’s pretty cool to see one of our friends progress from the very beginning to having huge success at some of the world’s most competitive triathlons.
Craig: What was your athletic background before you got involved in triathlon?
Beth: Prior to triathlon I spent 10 years doing a whole lot of nothing. I was a high school varsity field hockey and lacrosse player, but quickly traded my sporty ways for less active endeavors in college. In 2007 when I was 27 years old, a friend challenged me to run San Diego Rock ‘n Roll marathon and I began to hit the road. My longest run prior to the Rock ‘n Roll training was probably 5 miles. Unfortunately, my training was derailed by a hip stress fracture which turned into a blessing in disguise as it led me to triathlon.
Craig: What led you to start racing triathlons?
Beth: While I was on crutches for my hip, I began swimming and cycling. I was introduced to TCSD in July 2007 and attended my first ever open water swim (on crutches!) at La Jolla cove with TCSD. Just after my hip healed, while learning to ride my bike, I crashed and broke my arm. So 2007 was a wash. Over the winter, I got more involved with TCSD and did a few duathlons. Typically I would get passed by the entire field on the bike and then see how many people I could catch on the run. I started going out on the TCSD Staurday rides (and getting dropped) but I just kept at it. Luckily, I met a bunch of nice folks who were kind enough to wait for me and ended up meeting some great training partners. I ended up completing my first triathlon (Spring sprint) in April 2008 and I was hooked!
Craig: What did your injuries teach you about injury prevention and recovery?
Beth: I was absolutely a victim of “too much too soon” when I started running in 2007 and looking back, I am not at all surprised that I quickly ended up with a stress fracture. Even once my body told me to stop, I kept running and made the injury much worse earning me crutches for 5 months rather than a typical 6-8 weeks. I do feel lucky that I had that experience early on because I feel as though I more than learned my lesson. Since that injury, I err more on the “overly cautious” side. I eat healthier (and more!) and if I feel even an inkling of a “niggle”, I stop running completely and check in with my A.R.T. expert Dan Selstad & my strength trainer/physical therapist Bryan Hill from Rehab United. I’m also BIG on prevention. I attend functional strength classes at Rehab United 2x per week and have been going consistently for the past three years. I often forgo swim, bike, run workouts in order to stay consistent with my RU sessions, but it’s worth it.
Craig: What were some key moments that prompted you to race professionally?
Beth: From 2008 to 2011, I had a blast competing as an amateur. From day 1, when I completed my first miles on a real bike with clip-in pedals, I documented my “mishaps and musings” at californiatraining.blogspot.com and loved blogging about my adventures and this whole new world that was opening up to me. I worked hard and each year saw a lot of improvement which made it rewarding. I couldn’t believe the turns my life was taking as I was never someone who envisioned myself or defined myself as an “athlete” let alone a “professional athlete”. In 2011, I won the overall amateur title at Ironman Texas, California 70.3, and Timberman 70.3 . Although I knew it was still a big jump to hacking it in the pro field, I felt it was time to move on and give it a shot. But it’s funny, prior to 2008, I never would have considered myself even an “athlete” let alone dream of becoming a professional one.
Craig: What do you do for a living?
Beth: I am a school psychologist at an elementary school in Del Mar Union School District. A lot of what I do is the diagnosis and assessment of students with learning disabilities, autism, and attention problems. Then, I work with teachers and parents to design special education programs. Although it seems pretty opposite from triathlon, I think it’s interesting that I’m passionate about both as they both require a great deal of problem solving.
Craig: How do you balance your two careers?
Beth: Oh, the balancing! I am “the bag lady”. I leave the house at 5:30am each morning with bags packed for workout #1, work, workout #2 and sometimes even a third workout. I usually come home by 6 or 7 pm, unpack, and repack for the next day.
For me, the hardest part about putting my “all” into both jobs is that sometimes by the time work is over, I am mentally drained. After working with children and parents all day, it can be difficult to wrap my head around a set of 800s at the track even though I technically have plenty of “time” to accomplish the workout. But I always try to remind myself that there are plenty of people out there that have far more responsibilities than I do. For example, I always admire John Hill, former TCSD VP. John’s 2 kids attend the school I work at. I often think about how John is a father, has a full-time job, two kids AND he finds countless hours to volunteer with TCSD and he’s a highly involved volunteer at our school. For example, by the time I get to school in the morning, he is already out volunteering as a “valet” at the curb helping kids get to school on time. All that AND he just completed the Ironman World Championships this year. He’s my idol.
Craig: You and your Mom both raced the Timberman 70.3 in August. What was that experience like?
Beth: My mom was inspired, at age 60 to begin triathlon after following my blog and my adventures. Over the course of her first year, she lost 60 pounds and caught the triathlon bug big time. I think she is a bigger tri-geek than me and that’s tough to accomplish! We have competed in two Half Ironmans together. This year, at age 61, she finished 3rd in her age group at Timberman 70.3 and I got to give her her medal. I was 4th pro woman at the race, so it was a fun day to share our accomplishments together. Whenever someone tells me that they are too scared or too intimidated to try a triathlon, I always tell them about my mom.
Craig: You placed 2nd at Ironman Wisconsin this year. How did that race go for you?
Beth: Ironman Wisconsin was probably my favorite accomplishment this year because I put a great deal of training and focus into it and was able to execute what I had envisioned on race day. Here is how it played out:
Swim: 1:01 -2.4 miles. Well, I wanted to break an hour, but the swim went so poorly that I was actually relieved to see only 1:01 on the clock. I got a great start (usual), went out way too hard (usual), and then couldn’t stick on any of the feet that passed by me. Ended up swimming the vast majority alone. The swim course was one big loop and the long back 1,750 meter stretch seemed straight up current into some chop. Nothing else to say other than I’ve never been so excited for a swim to be over! I was 7th of 10 pro women but just a minute behind 3 of the girls.
T1 – 4:51. Did you know IM Wisconsin is worth it simply for the transitions? Holy moly! You run up “The Helix” which is just a fancy name for a corkscrew parking garage ramp (albeit designed by Frank Lloyd Wright). The Helix and most of the course for that matter is lined with screaming fans 4 deep. Tour De France style. So awesome. Both transitions are also really long and you run through buildings and conference rooms, so you can save time by keeping your foot on the gas. I T-1d well and passed a girl in transition.
Bike: 112 miles (5:30 – 20.35mph). Ok, the bike was hard! My SRM showed just shy of 4,000 feet of climbing (but I’ve heard others say it’s close to 6,000) and it’s all up and down rollercoaster for both loops of the “lollipop” shaped 2-loop course. On the longer climbs, again, the spectators are insane! Costumed up, drinking beers and hollering like hell. The spectators made me totally look forward to the hardest sections which was a bonus. I rode more or less alone for the whole ride. I made sure to keep it “rolling buffet” style and crammed in at least 300 calories an hour. I had predicted I would ride 5:30 and that’s exactly what I did. Actually had a solid ride (for me) just a couple minutes slower than some solid pro women. It was pretty windy that day and I’m told it was one of the windier years. Nothing scary, but long stretches of stiff headwind can do a number on your speed and mentality. I knew I was in 6th on the bike about 14 minutes back from first. A long way, but I forced myself to stay positive, knowing that I could eat into that lead a bit if I ran my race.
T2- 1:56…nailed it 😉
Run- 26.2 miles – 2:59:54 (6:51/mile pace). How the heck did that happen? I’m still not quite sure! I started out running and my Garmin was all fritzy, so I just spent the first two miles settling in (which was probably 6:20 pace oops!). Then on a short out and back, I saw that 5th, 4th, and 3rd place were just minutes ahead. I caught up to Charisa Wernick (also a TCSD member and training partner) and we began to run together clipping off the miles. The other girls were running well, but we were blazing. Our split for the first 6 miles was 6:31 average. We chatted with each other and were both feeling good. Neither of us was breathing hard, so we just went with it and told each other we could push ourselves up to the podium with some good team work. The splits coming back to us had us taking a couple of minutes out of first every few miles we passed. First I was 14 mintues back, then 9, then 6, then 4…Oh crap we were doing this! When I was weak, Charisa ran strong and I followed her heels keeping her in sight. When she struggled, I took the lead and kept us moving. We were charging. It was crazy. Not to mention, we had the same Zoot kit on and looked twinny so we got great support from the crowd as they noticed us with the 3rd place bike escort. Somehow (foggy here), mile 14ish, I got a little gap which extended, but we both continued to chase down and pass the woman who had been in 2nd place. We got word that the leader, Elizabeth Lyles, was running fast and seeing her in the opposite direction confirmed that. I had moved into 2nd and it took every ounce of suffering, mental, and physical toughness I had to not give up those last 8 miles. They were simply brutal. The first 18 miles, I had chatted, and smiled and soaked it all in. The last 8 miles was purely head down, in the zone, get it over with. I knew Charisa was just behind and had the power to close strong. I’ve never hurt so bad yet kept my head in the game so well. It kind of helps when you’re not off the back I think. I ran into the finish chute and absorbed the moment for once and happily finished my 6th Ironman race. I ended up with a new IM PR on a challenging course (9:38), 2nd place woman overall- my first IM podium, and a sub 3 hour IM marathon. This was the first time women have broken 3 hours on the course (I think) and Elizabeth Lyles, the champ, ran a 2:59 as well. Only 3 men broke 3 hours running that day, including Ben Hoffman who set a course record (8:32) and ran 2:56. Girl power!
Craig: What have been some of the best highlights of your triathlon racing career?
Beth: I’ve been really happy with how my rookie pro season has gone so far. My best results were probably Ironman Wisconsin (2nd, 9:38) and Hawaii 70.3 (3rd, 4:31). In both races I had to work my way up the field onto the podium from 6th or 7th place after the bike. This year it was also exciting to win some local races like Superfrog Half Ironman and the Orange County Triathlon. These are my triathlon results from this year:
Ironman Wisconsin – 2nd *2:59 run split
Superfrog Half Ironman – 1st
Hawaii 70.3 – 3rd
Timberman 70.3- 4th
Orange County Triathlon- 1st
Ironman France- 6th
Wildflower long course- 13th
Desert International Triathlon – 3rd
California 70.3 – 7th (1:20 run split)
Lake Stevens 70.3 – 6th
Xterra West Championships- 8th
Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?
Beth: TCSD is really the way I found my “home” in triathlon. From the very first cove swim I showed up to (on crutches by the way), people were welcoming and helpful. I vividly remember Jonathan Jefferson talking to me on the way into the water. I think he tried to swim with me, but I was way too slow! After that, I met so many new friends and great people at the club races, aquathlons, and Saturday Del Mar rides. I started to realize that triathlon was about so much more than just the racing. I realized that a 3 hour ride can be quality social time spent with friends, and happy hour can be a run after work with a training partner or 20. TCSD really encompasses what the whole triathlon lifestyle can be about.
Craig: Who are your sponsors and what are some of the unique things you have done with them?
Beth: This year, I’ve been lucky to be sponsored by Cannondale Women’s, Zoot, SRAM, Betty Designs, Rehab United, Studeo DNA, Race Day Wheels, MRM, ISM Saddles, Nytro, and Beaker Concepts. With the exception of Cannondale/SRAM, they are all local companies and I love to be able to work with and give back to our local community. Working with Zoot and Cannondale has been really amazing because they don’t just support me, we work together. I am one of the primary shoe testers for Zoot so I get all of the shoe prototypes and am able to test the fit and run in them. Then I work with the shoe designers directly and give feedback to improve the shoes. It’s really great to be able to get so close to the technology and feel as though I’m helping the company and consumers. I also work closely with Cannondale on reaching out to the women’s market and making triathlon and cycling sports more accessible to women. As someone who had never clipped into pedals before a few years ago, I understand how intimidating it can be. With Cannondale, I travel to events and press tours and talk with magazines and give interviews on things like “tips for beginners in triathlon” and “things to know for your first race”. I love being a part of something bigger than just myself and I hope I can get some women to give it a go. I also have a blog called “California Training” which you can click on at http://www.bethwalshracing.com . I started my blog in 2007 before I had ever done a triathlon and it documents everything from my first TCSD club race to going pro this year.
Craig: What are your future goals in triathlon?
Beth: My 2013 goals are to qualify for the Ironman World Championsips and 70.3 World Championships. Now that I’ve been 2nd in an Ironman (and lost by 3 minutes), winning one of those is also on the bucket list.
Craig: Beth, thank you for letting us get to know you. It is very refreshing to know that someone who is so fast can also be completely authentic as a person. You are the real deal! The TCSD is very proud of your accomplishments. We wish you the best of luck next year and beyond.
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.