TCSD Conversation: December 2017 – 2017 World Championships

Andrew Shore at Ironman Hawaii revealing gender of their baby to wife, Dena.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

For this edition of TCSD Conversation I spoke to our members who raced World Championship events in 2017.  My hope is that more of our members will race the qualifying events.  This is a great way to see the world.

These are the members who answered my questions with their World Championship results.  Some of them raced more than 1 World Championship.

Holly Stroschine: ITU Draft Legal Sprint Triathlon – Rotterdam.  23rd place F40-44.

Raja Lahti McMahon:  ITU Draft Legal Sprint Triathlon – Rotterdam.  33rd place F40-44.

Melanie Willard: ITU Draft Legal Sprint Triathlon – Rotterdam.  30th place F30-34.  Xterra – Maui.  14th F30-34.

Scott Ehrlich: ITU Olympic Distance Triathlon – Rotterdam.  16th M65-69.

Rachel Hayes: Ironman 70.3 – Chattanooga.  112th F40-44.

Andrew Shore:  Ironman – Kona.  148th M35-39.

Al Tarkington: Ironman – Kona.  6th M75-79.

Julie Dunkle:  Ironman 70.3 – Chattanooga.  16th F50-54.  Ironman – Kona.  11th F50-54.

Mike Plumb: ITU Long Distance Aqua Bike – Penticton.  5th M55-59.

Al Torre: Ironman 70.3 – Chattanooga.  34th M55-59.  Ironman – Kona.  70th M55-59.

Scott Endsley: ITU Long Distance Aqua Bike – Penticton.  11th M60-64.

Wendy Endsley: ITU Draft Legal Sprint Duathlon – Penticton.  10th F50-54.  ITU Long Distance Triathlon – Penticton.  7th F50-54.

Niels Vande Casteele:  Ironman 70.3 – Chattanooga.  8th M30-34.

Judi Carbary: ITU Draft Legal Sprint Duathlon – Penticton.  3rd F65-69.

Craig Zelent: Ironman 70.3 – Chattanooga.  42nd M55-59.  ITU Olympic Distance Triathlon – Rotterdam.  41st M55-59.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to qualify for your World Championship race? 

Holly: My biggest challenge was CHILDCARE.  Flying the kids to another state for my dad to babysit, so I could compete at Nationals was just a small part of it.  Kids are wonderful, but on a daily basis, they create challenges, from finding time to exercise, to having someone watch them so you can train at your preferred pace.  With a husband gone a lot for work, and family far away, this makes for very creative parent/child workouts.  Thank goodness my kids like to be “Lifeguards” for me on a paddleboard when I swim, make sure I don’t pass out when running circles around them at the track, and aren’t bothered by the sound of my bike trainer interrupting “Family Movie Night.”

Raja: Usually my biggest obstacle is my swim. I’m not a fish by nature so the swim is a challenge for me. This time, however, in order to qualify for Worlds in 2017, you need to be in the top 8 in the age group at Nationals in 2016. Top 8 is not very many spots to begin with and I was recovering from a broken tail bone 4 weeks before Nationals. For 4 weeks prior to Nationals I couldn’t do anything, not even swim! A week before the race I was able to start running… and gingerly sit on a bike seat. So my fitness was not where I wanted it to be and I had no idea how I was going to race in that condition. I guess the pain of injury can be distracting from other race pains, and somehow I managed to podium at National Championships in 2016! Needless to say, I took the spot and did the happy dance.

Melanie: I think the biggest obstacle, for me, was financial.  After all, it sounds expensive…and it is! But that’s what credit cards are for, right?  You only live once, life is too short to pass up opportunities like this, and {insert additional cliches here}…I knew I had to commit and just figured out a way to make it happen. No regrets. Once the season ended, I committed to working 6 days to make up for it.  Again, worth it, 100%.

Scott Ehrlich: I got hit by a car in 2014 and broke 3 bones. In 2017, I had to take 3 months off from running during prime season (June-August) due to inflammation in my hip.  I managed to get running again only 4 weeks before Worlds.

Rachel: I wouldn’t say I had any challenges in qualifying for the race. As soon as I knew the race was on US soil for 2017, I was going to do what it took to qualify. I qualified early on at Super Frog in September 2016, but would have also earned a spot at Oceanside 70.3 and Santa Rosa 70.3. The biggest challenge for me was to stay healthy for the race once I did qualify.

Andrew: The biggest obstacle for me was having the near perfect race against the competition on race day.  I have been trying for Kona for nearly 8 years, and have been steadily improving in my chances each year.  Over the last 2 years, my focus was entirely on qualifying.  Last year, I had my first DNF due to non-mechanical reasons.  I had to re-evaluate my ambitions this year to ensure I enjoyed the race as well as qualifying.  This year I was able to overcome everything that came at me during the race and perform at my own high expectations.

Al Tarkington:  The biggest obstacle this year was my wife, Steve, suddenly losing her hearing four months before Ironman.  She has been my biggest supporter over the years, from assisting me with nutrition on long rides, doing all the driving on training days, changing her schedule to fit my training, going to strange places to qualify.

With her hearing loss, the tables were turned, and I spent a great deal of time doing the communicating for her, plus driving and attending numerous doctors and audiologist  appointments.  My training program was no longer of importance, became of second importance.  She qualified for a cochlear implant, however she could not fly after the operation.  So we scheduled the surgery for three days after we returned from Kona.

The best news isn’t that I completed Ironman in Kona.  The best news is not that I was the oldest athlete to finish in Kona this year.  The best news is that Steve now has a cochlear implant and she can hear again!

Julie: This was my 6th kona and it is not one big obstacle.  It is the consistency from January – October:

  1. Strength and mobility regularly.
  2. Eating a clean diet when I really want that glass of wine or to binge on cookies.
  3. Going to bed at 8-9pm regularly.
  4. Planning my social life around my training. Workouts come first.
  5. Doing the workouts I least want to do, but know they are the ones that count.

Mike: After qualifying for Team USA at the USAT Long Distance Nationals in Miami last November, during my annual year-end physical the doctor found a lump on my thyroid. After ultra sound and 5 biopsies they still could not discover whether the lump was benign or malignant. The decision was made finally to operate and remove it to find out for sure whether I had cancer or not. Surgery was finally scheduled for June 28th, 8 weeks before the World Championships. They removed the right half of my thyroid and then it was a long two weeks waiting for the results to come back. Luckily, the results came back clear, the tumor they removed was benign. Further testing also showed that my half thyroid was functioning perfectly and I wouldn’t need to go on any medication to help it function.  With that clearance I was finally able to really concentrate on the preparations for the World Championships.

Al Torre: The biggest obstacle was making the time to train between family and work obligations to get fast enough to qualify. It was a balancing act that I had to optimize to give me the best chance at succeeding. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without a very supporting wife that allows me to pursue the dream.

Scott Endsley: Wendy and I were both challenged with pre-race physical issues. Despite Wendy’s neck and shoulder traumas, which allowed only two total bike workouts for the year, she still had one of the fastest bike splits in her race. She is a monster on the bike, still doing 1hr 3min 40k bike splits at 50+!! Talk about gifted!  I was happy to average over 20 mph for the 75-mile hilly Canadian bike course with my rehabbed 2nd knee replacement.

Niels: Pulling the trigger and signing up after qualifying. IM70.3 WC races are often left aside with the goal set on Kona. However, it’s a fantastic race and you’re competing against the best in the world. Since the location rotates every year, each edition is unique and worth doing. If you can physically and financially: think 70.3 AND 140.6: I raced IM Louisville 5 weeks after which resulted in a 9:14 PR, 3rd in M30-34 and top 10 amateur overall.

Judi: My biggest obstacle to overcome were several injuries from an accidental knee sprain and 32 years of racing.

Craig: My neck has given me problems over the past 3 seasons, especially with my bike training.  After 30+ years of racing and nearly 300 triathlons, my body has a lot of miles in it.  My little pin head is too heavy to maintain the aero position for any length of time.

What was the best part of your World Championship experience? 

Holly: The best part of my experience was meeting so many kind, compassionate people.  Turns out, having your bike and luggage lost by the airlines is a great way to make friends.  You know someone’s going to be a friend for life when they give you a clean pair of socks, or let you borrow their wetsuit (which may or may not get peed in).  Sure enough, we keep in touch, and are thrilled for a reunion in 2018.

Raja: The Draft legal bike leg was a complete adrenaline rush. I had never done a draft legal race before, so not only was this race going to be my first experience doing a draft legal tri, but it was in Rotterdam, almost in the rain! I am not a strong swimmer, so I knew I was not going to Rotterdam with any grand expectation. In draft legal racing, if you can’t get out of the water with the top athletes, you don’t have a chance. I’m a strong cyclist, and a draft legal race allows weaker cyclists to ride with stronger packs. A strong cyclist has zero advantage in a draft-legal race. During the bike leg, I was able to connect with another American and a Brit, and the 3 of us worked together better than most road cyclists. I have done some velodrome and road racing, so riding in a pack is not foreign to me. The 3 of us hit that course in perfect rotation, each one of us thinking, “oh geez, I can barely stay on her wheel, damn she’s strong!” So my moment of honor was having the fastest American bike split in my age group and the 7th fastest bike split in the world in my age group.  

Melanie: For ITU, I’d say the travel made it all worth it. I never was able to travel much before triathlon, and I love seeing different parts of the world, especially Europe (this was Rotterdam). I soaked up (literally, it was raining) all training leading up to the race, and met some great people! In Maui, I was happy to survive the race itself. I’m not a strong swimmer and felt like I had a 3 out of 10 chance of finishing that race. It was only my 4th Xterra, less than a year from my first mountain bike ride, and a pretty challenging open water swim…yikes! I got creamed in the warmup swim…smashed by a wave so hard that it took both my swim caps, my goggles, AND my ponytail holder (I looked like a combo of Cousin It and the Swamp Monster staggering to the beach at that point).  But I lived, and figured I got the worst of it out of the way so it was all downhill from there.  Those who’ve raced Xterra know how deceiving that thought can be, but it got me through the swim (eventually).  I knew it would be very liberating if I was able to pull it off, and it was!

Scott Ehrlich:  What a great year of training and racing with all my tri buddies throughout 2017. I’m so grateful for all their support. Many thanks to Christopher W, Christopher H., Rachel H., Michele S., Kevin K., Doug S., Myles D., Travis R., Tim R.,  Darren O.   Oh, and I was seriously motivated by those cool Team USA uniforms.

Rachel: The best part of the race was how much I underestimated what it meant to be there and be a part of it all! This was my first WC and going in, I was thinking about it like any other race. As soon as I arrived in Chattanooga, I realized this was not like any other race…this was the best of the best competing. The whole athlete experience was amazing. Just the realization that I was competing at the WC level was enough for me. To put it in perspective, 171 of 264 women in my AG went sub-6 hours on a very tough course in Chattanooga compared to 31 of 190 in my AG that went sub-6 at Oceanside!

Andrew: During the race, my wife and I did our baby’s gender reveal.  We went to a local running shop a couple days before and purchased a blue or pink hat without us knowing the color.  I then gave the bag from the running shop to my handler in transition who put it in my T2 bag without me seeing it.  I ran the entire marathon with a smile on my face knowing I’d be having a baby girl next March.  It was the first time in my race career I thoroughly enjoyed the run and even stopped to kiss my wife!

Al Tarkington: This year, with all the distractions, my goal was simply to finish within 17 hours.  And, if I could run across the finish line (unlike last year when my leg cramped and I fell across the line), that would be a plus.  This year, my wife encouraged several of our friends to come to Kona and watch.  It put additional pressure for me to finish, but it was very special to see our friends who waited until late at the finish line.

Julie: The last 100 yards down the magical red carpet on Ali’i Drive in Kona.  I cry every time…it is magical, amazing and makes the entire day/year of pain and suffering worth it.   I have goose bumps even typing this.

Mike: The best parts of this World Championships experience were returning to Penticton to race again (home of the old Ironman Canada course), having one of my best ever long course races, and getting to share the whole experience with my wife, Jennifer, as it was her first trip to Penticton. Placing in the top 5 in my division at a World Championship was also a major highlight as well.

Al Torre: The best part of the Ironman World Championship was having my whole family in Kona for the race. They helped me tremendously with preparation and taking care of the little things that can easily overwhelm you when traveling to a race like Kona. Having them all at the finish line and getting my World Championship medal put around my neck by my wife was fantastic!

Scott Endsley: The best part of our World Championship was my wife’s courageous and go-for-the-gusto decision, two days after her top ten finish at duathlon Worlds, to register for and compete in the “open” class for the long course triathlon world championship held that same week in Penticton. To fully appreciate this decision, we triathletes must imagine the following true facts:

  1. Willingly, without provocation, signing up for a very expensive long course race, two days before it is held, with no anticipation or planning to do so, two days after competing at another world championship race.
  2. Needing to borrow someone’s opposite sex wetsuit for a 2 mile open water swim with less than 500 yards average swim week training for the last 50 weeks leading up to the race.
  3. Two times on any bike total for the year before the race (only spin classes were attended), and Wendy used a man’s bike for the race that she had not ever used before.
  4. And for the 19 mile run, she purchased new Hoka’s the day before the race, which would have worked well if she had not misunderstood my directions to dump water on her head to stay cool, but not in the shoes, on mile 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, etc. Her feet were so wet and soggy by race end, her feet were completely, and I mean completely, covered with blisters, heel to toe!

Thank goodness for some of us that our enthusiasm can be tempered with a pre-race plan from experienced coaches like Craig Zelent. Despite it all, Wendy not only finished her first long course race, but finished 7th!  Now that’s amazing!

Niels: Seeing my lovely wife Djohara at mile 10 into the run screaming that I’m in 12th place and that I should “Belgian the funk up” and catch at least three guys in front of me to finish in the top 10. Ouch!

Judi: The best part of my world championship experience was seeing my longtime Team USA friends and meeting new ones, as well as travelling to a new beautiful destination inaugural multisport world championship event.

Craig: For Chattanooga, it was seeing 2 of my old college friends who live in nearby Nashville.  And for Rotterdam, it was how God continues to shine on me.  It rained 90% of our time in Rotterdam leading up to my race, but on race day it was beautiful.  My prayers were answered!

Who has been the most influential person in your success as a triathlete? 

Holly: VERY tough question.  I have not had a coach, no family “Tris”, and I don’t personally know any pros…  Soooo, YOU Craig, have been a wonderful influence, racing at the World Championship level in Sprint and Olympic distances.  I know you do longer too, but that’s not my point.  With my bad knees from torn ACLs and meniscus, 5 surgeries and related arthritis, I have always been interested in doing longer races, but the knee problems make me stop at Olympic.  One time you told me something along the lines of “Good for you!  I envy those like you, who can race fast in the sprint.  Not everyone should go long.”  If you’d like a simple answer, I will say “I am inspired by sprint and Olympic distance athletes who strive to be faster, without succumbing to the pressure to go further.”

Raja: A number of people have had key influences for me.  Firstly, Michellie Jones. I haven’t done a lot of racing (or even training) since having my son in 2012. She is so down to earth, yet motivating. She said in her little Aussie accent, “I think you should try to qualify for Worlds”.  I looked at her like she was dreaming. “I don’t have time to train” I told her. “You think I can qualify off minimal training?” All she said was “Yes.” She helped me with short workouts I could cram in on the trainer, and even would take me running on occasion. I’m always impressed she can run like a normal person, not just a gazelle all the time. She had me doing cords to get some swim strength up, and always had words of encouragement and support. In Rotterdam she would meet me in the pouring rain to go ride the course, “you need to learn how your bike handles in the rain, on wet cobbles.” So off we’d go in the pouring rain. Not just an easy ride, she and I practiced riding hard, rotating and drafting and making note of sketchy turns, of which there were a lot! Without her help, I probably wouldn’t have found the extra gear and inspiration. She’s an amazing mentor.

Other people of importance are Sergio Borges, whom I trained with prior to having my son. He’s inspirational and I’m glad to see he’s back in San Diego coaching after his coaching position in Thailand.  He has always remained completely supportive, even after I stopped training. Lesley Paterson, aka “The Scottish Devil”, is also someone I admire and have had the privilege of training with in the past.  Whenever I”m in pain, I still imagine this little Scottish Devil sitting on my shoulder and telling my legs to go “shut it”.

Last by not least is my husband David McMahon. We qualified for Worlds together, so this was a special trip for us. He’s always been a long course guy and qualified for Kona in 2011. He’s been doing triathlon a lot longer than I had, but we met at a masters swim class, and had triathlon in common from the beginning. I finally convinced him to go for Nationals, and he qualified in the Olympic distance. Being able to race together after having our son has been a real treat.

Melanie: I’m very happy to have such great people around me to learn from and train with.  My coaches, Lesley Paterson and Simon Marshall, are such wonderful people and a plethora of knowledge in all things sport and psych related (cuz let’s face it, we can all be a little nuts at times).  They push me to achieve personal bests which I never would have thought were possible.  I’m getting mountain bike lessons from Tammy Tabeek, and she’s definitely kept me from killing myself with this new challenge.  Her skills are off the charts, and I would have never had the confidence to tackle the technical aspect of mountain biking without her.  Great training buddies are also a must!  Erynne and Sean Hill (Rehab United) are great people, and I’ve had a blast hanging with them and experiencing new trails with a fun group of peeps.

Scott Ehrlich: All my tri friends have motivated me with their perseverance, grit and determination.  Of course, my foundation is the support and love of my partner and husband of thirty years – Frank.

Rachel: My coach, Juliano Teruel. Doing the work to compete in triathlon is not the hard part. 2017 has been a tough year with injury, having had to take a divided 4 months off running for the year prior to the race.  It was the coaching beyond just the day to day training when I couldn’t run that he was instrumental with…keeping my head in the game and focusing on getting me to where I could actually finish the event.

Andrew: I have two major bosses in my life, my wife and my coach, in that order.  My wife, Dena, is amazing and allowed our entire schedule to revolve around my workouts while I tried to achieve this lifetime goal.  She encouraged me the entire time and pushed me out of bed when my motivation started to wane.  I could not have done this without her.  Secondly, my coach Michellie Jones made sure I was doing the right things and not overdoing anything.  In the three years I’ve worked with her, I’ve learned so much about myself and pushing through any limitations I thought I had.  Without her guidance, I don’t think I could have qualified for Kona, won a local race, or done any of it without ever being injured in the process!

Al Tarkington: This question goes back to the previous question.  My wife has been number one in my triathlon endeavors.  She has supported me in both success and in failure.  In scrapes and injuries.  She has lived with and sometimes suffered through my training schedule.   She has been with me and stuck by me in Ironman events around the world, Brazil, South Africa, China, New Zealand, and others.

Julie: My husband, John, for working around my crazy schedule and supporting me in every way!  My coach, Mike Ricci, for pushing me, challenging me and supporting me in every way.

Mike: While I have had many influences over the course of my 33 years in the sport, my biggest influence right now is my wife Jennifer. She motivates me and inspires me every day. We both live the triathlon lifestyle and push each other to not only train but to enjoy everything both inside and out of the sport.

Scott Endsley: Every triathlete I meet, with their own unique stories, challenges, and adventures, including my wife, motivates me to keep going, and racing, into my 40th year of being a triathlete, in 2018!  My parents and God, of course, who gave me the jeans, and the genes, influenced my triathlon success the most.

Niels: My coach Scott DeFilippis: local and professional triathlete. 

Judi: My longtime Team USA friends are my motivation for qualifying and doing world championships.

Craig: Lots of people over the years, but over the past 10+ years 1 person has really stood out.  My wife, Laurie, loves to train and race and she encourages me, by example, to get out the door and train every day.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or tricraigz@yahoo.com.

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