TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
This month I had the pleasure of talking triathlon with Debbie Wittich, the TCSD Expo Coordinator. Debbie does a great job of helping the TCSD put its best foot forward at all the local expos. That initial contact is often the critical step in attracting new members. I’m certain you will enjoy getting to know this special lady.
Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon?
Debbie: Well for starters, I NEVER imagined I would get into triathlon when I was a runner! As for running, it started in grade school, my mom was a coach and it did not involve a ball. For those of you who know me, I am not the most coordinated individual. Running always appealed to me because it was just you and the road, track, or trail and it did not take a lot of expensive equipment either. I carried my enjoyment of running into high school where I focused mainly on mid-distance races (800-meter individual and relay). Around my junior year I called it quits – wanted to get a job and start saving for college since I knew a running scholarship wasn’t in my future. It was not until after college did I take the sport back up with a New Year’s resolution to run the 2009 San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon. After the marathon I was wrangled into an adventure relay (i.e.: RAGNAR) and the running bug has slowly made a comeback since.
Craig: How did you happen to become a triathlete?
Debbie: The journey to triathlon happened after my inaugural adventure relay when one of my teammates told me “that I was pretty strong” and should consider stepping it up a notch. That person was none other than Joe Taormino, TCSD’s Cove Potluck Coordinator. After Joe’s vouch of confidence, he was and is quite a strong and speedy individual himself; I began attending Jim Vance’s Wednesday night track workouts. When I saw that I really did have some speed as well as made some new TriClub friends I decided getting a TCSD membership was a good idea…. And forked over the money to Moment Cycle Sport to get a sweet new road bike (to this day the most expensive purchase I have made … and totally worth it, I LOVE my bike!) Once I had a bike and my running feet back I took advantage of TCSD’s beginner swim workouts at Glorietta Bay where Ian Kelly finally got that light bulb to go off in my head and swimming made a bit more sense. Then it was all peer pressure… to do the beginner Tri in June 2011… and I did, and officially became a fan of the recreational triathlon!!
Craig: What were your first triathlon experiences like?
Debbie: My first unofficial race was the TCSD Beginner Race in June 2011 and it was an amazing experience. Had it not gone so well, I don’t know if I would be here giving this interview today! The race was a true beginner event. The goal was to show us newbies a great time in a safe environment and TCSD nailed it. It was truly a fun day and the breakfast by Dawn after really blew my mind…. All of this awesomeness for one low yearly membership.
The Mission BayTriathlon, in October 2011, was a whole other story… It was my first “real” triathlon, I could not believe it was really happening and, of course, there was some friendly competition thrown in there to get the nerves going. I had to beat one of my friend’s new tri buddies, he was a guy too, so my pride and girl-power were on the line! The race was an in-water start which made for some very awkward floating poses and then the short swim seemed to last an eternity. However, once that race past the buoys was over it was game-time and very, very fun. While this race did not have the safety and comfort of the Beginner Race it still possessed the friendly and supportive atmosphere that I have found defines the triathlon community…. Oh, and did I mention I beat my male friend!
Craig: What makes the TCSD Beginner Races so cool?
Debbie: Ahh the beginner race! The TCSD Beginner Race is so cool because it is one of the only races that is solely focused on getting new folks excited about triathlon. A lot of sprints may tout that they are great for beginners and provide a short manageable distance, but they do not provide the genuine desire to share a beloved activity with you… and that’s what the TCSD beginner race volunteers do. The race was safe (lots of swim buddies and course volunteers), perfect beginner distance, lots of transition space, and loads of friendly faces. Oh, and I think I already mentioned this, but the breakfast was phenomenal!!
Craig: I heard you raced Superfrog last year for your first Half Ironman. How did that go for you?
Debbie: I did choose Superfrog to be my first ever 70.3! They had an awesome deal come out where you could register for $112, which is a steal for a race of that distance. More importantly the proceeds go to a great cause and having worked closely with the Navy for the last 5 years I believe in what they are doing with money from races like this. 2012 was a big race year for me; I managed to do some form of triathlon almost once a month in the heat of the season. The culmination was Superfrog. I spent a lot of time biking up and down the Strand with brick runs along the bike path by the golf course. I never went overboard with training and to be honest lacked a real plan… just get those three important activities in whenever I could during the week and never miss a long bike/run brick on Saturday morning. When race day came I was amped, I scored some free gear while working the expo the day before which to me, was a good omen haha. Additionally I was racing along some of my closet friends and knew the course intimately at this point. Despite a harried swim, I managed to finish in 5 hours and 12 minutes, accomplishing my goal of sub-6 hours. I finished 1st in my Age Group and couldn’t believe it. With this goal complete, it begged the question of what’s next? Therefore, I have taken a vow to accomplish a Full Ironman before or for my 30th birthday… I have a solid 2.5 years to train at this point, I think I can get a plan together… any takers for coaching?!
Craig: What is the craziest thing you have done in a race?
Debbie: I pride myself on not taking racing too seriously; it should be fun… after all why would I spend so much time doing this? I love taking the time to really experience an event… the sights, sounds, and people! This past May I had an awesome opportunity to partake in one of triathlons most iconic races… Wildflower! I chose to do the race as a relay so I could race with one of my first college friends Jenna Jay and my main man John Aspinall, who helps put together the TCSD Newsletter. Jenna was our swimmer and John rogered up to do the grueling bike course… which left me with the run! Long story short, I had one unbreakable rule from my teammates for completing my leg of the race… ensure I do the infamous beer bong. Well not only did I do a beer bong, I also enjoyed some fine salty bacon, high fives from some naked dudes, as well as fist pumping with a bunch of Cal-Poly’s finest. Hands down the most fun and wildest experience I had during a race to date…. It made every hot and hilly mile very worth it!
Craig: John is definitely a lucky man! What volunteer jobs have you done for the TCSD?
Debbie: It’s amazing to me that a club of this size is completely volunteer run, it’s truly impressive! Due to my firm belief in the greatness of this club I wanted to get involved myself! It started with simply getting to events early and helping set-up as well as staying a few minutes after and tearing some stuff down. Then I began attending expos and loved meeting new people and recruiting new club members! After some time getting to know people around the club I was offered a paid position with TriRock to be a Grassroots Marketing Ambassador. Working as an ambassador also gave me the opportunity to attend some Triathlon 101 meetings where I could share my war stories of what it was like getting into the sport. It also coincided with the Expo Coordinator stepping down and needing a back-fill… I knew I had found my TCSD volunteer niche!
Craig: What is the best part of your volunteer role for the TCSD?
Debbie: I mentioned at the beginning of this interview that I ran throughout high school. One of my biggest pet peeves was how competitive it was and how anti-social our coach was. I can’t tell you the number of times I was told “Deborah, this is a race, not a social event!” Well the main reason why I love my volunteer role with TCSD is that it is social! TCSD is a great network of people and the more people you get to know the more incredible things you learn. Working an Expo is a great way to interact with fellow club members, meet many new triathletes, find training partners, and meet great local race directors. No matter what you are into, volunteering at an event, any kind of event, will make your day! TCSD rocks and it feels good to know that you are, in your own way, lending a hand to make our club the best and biggest in the world!
Craig: What is your favorite benefit of TCSD membership?
Debbie: Besides epic food and aquathlons, my favorite benefit of membership has been the ability to meet people and build amazing friendships over the last few years. I really appreciate all the hard work and support the folks around here put into making you feel welcome and showing you the ropes… and they are pretty darn fun to go out and have a beer with. My non-TCSD friends often times think triathlon is a cult with how excited I would get talking about all the wacky stuff you get into during training and racing and post-race shenanigans, but then they come check it out… and inevitably jump on the bandwagon. So cheers to all of you, you know who you are, that made getting a club membership worth way more than $75.
Craig: How do you balance training for triathlons, coordinating the expos, leading a social life with triathletes and non-triathletes along with paying the bills?
Debbie: Now this, this is the stuff you can’t train for… no amount of yoga or rock climbing will give you the balance you need for this haha. However, there are a few ways… number one and two – being flexible and enjoying yourself. I am pretty lucky to work at a great company that has afforded me a flexible work schedule. Client Solution Architects recently made me an internal recruiter too, which I can thank my expo experience for! There is no sense in doing something you don’t love and I love the challenge of spending the night out with friends and then having to hammer out a run or a bike a few short hours later…. It sounds painful, but it really makes racing feel that much easier (and drinking a lot of water helps too) haha. To sum up the question, I have fun with it and I have a great network of TCSD volunteers that have made expos a breeze… This year has been very busy and without them, we, TCSD, would not be able to have a robust appearance at these events.
Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon and change one thing, what would that be?
Debbie: Well there would really be two things… #1 no swim would ever be more than a quarter mile. I feel like I can take on the world during the first quarter mile of a swim, the cove has taught me well… after that things slow down fast! #2 all bikes would be equipped with magic bike shoes that appear and disappear at the right time as you leave and approach transition. My knees will never be the same after all the failed attempts at barefoot transitions! I look like a little kid with the bumps, bruises and scars from eating it on the bike… totally worth it of course, and always makes for a good conversation starter. Did I mention my coordination issue?
Craig: Who has had the greatest impact on your life?
Debbie: Now this is an easy question… My Mom!! She has been a continuous source of inspiration and friendship. She never gave up when the rough got going when we were younger and from that I learned to always fight through the tough stuff, but do it with a smile and a laugh in your heart. My mom totally kicks butt!!
Craig: Debbie, thank you for sharing your story. You absolutely have the right approach to life as you seem to incorporate fun into all you do. I wonder if you’ll employ the same race day nutrition when you do your Ironman as you did at Wildflower.
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.