TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with TCSD member Tami Threet. Tami has been a great volunteer for TCSD over the years. This year she stepped up and served as Coordinator for our USA Triathlon National Challenge Competition (NCC) team. I know you’ll enjoy getting to know Tami.
Craig: What sports did you participate in as a kid?
Tami: I am a native San Diegan and grew up in East County. I did not do much running as a youth or other organized sports but did have a passion for horses. When I was about 10 years old, I spent a couple weeks visiting family on their farm in Illinois. I discovered my love of horses. I came home thinking it was the best thing in my entire life and I wanted to get one. When I was about 11, my parents took me to a barn for horseback riding lessons. So it began. I eventually convinced my parents to purchase a horse and I spent nearly everyday at the barn. I also bred the horse and she had a foal. Caring for both of them, it became obvious to me that I really liked the responsibility of being involved in their well being. That also led me to have an enjoyment of the outdoors, take risks, be patient, and fight fears. In addition, competing and bringing home the 1st place blue ribbon was very fun.
Craig: How did you get started running as a young adult?
Tami: My dad, Carl Johnson, has always been an incredible athlete and ran nearly everyday that I can remember growing up. I ran in some small races with my dad’s encouragement (or insistence) growing up. I insisted I was not competitive in running and refused to join him in the front where he always started. I started consistent running when I was 27 after having my son in 1997. It was a great escape to the outdoors and I felt sure my son enjoyed the buggy ride. By the time I had my daughter in 2000, I really enjoyed running and pushing a double stroller up and down the hills in my neighborhood. I began to enter local races. One of the first races I recall entering is the Mt. Baldy Run to the Top in 2002. It was the first time I spent actual time training for a race. I joined my dad and his friend Jerry Schad in the Cuyamaca Mountains in an effort to practice running with elevation. It was exciting to train and race with them and I became a little competitive in the process.
Craig: What was your Boston Marathon experience like?
Tami: In 2006 I ran my first marathon and finished with a time I later found out was very close to a Boston qualifier. My friend Michelle Barber Howell was part of the Track Club’s Rockn’ and Running program. She welcomed me in for many a run. It was there that I heard people talking about qualifying for Boston. Suddenly qualifying peaked my interest. I decided to see if I could qualify at the Rock n Roll marathon in San Diego (my 2nd marathon) in 2007. My dad has always encouraged me to meet my goals. I remember at mile 23 thinking how much I just wanted to trip on a railroad track so I could take a little rest. I refrained from doing that for many reasons, as I knew my dad would “encourage” me to just choose another marathon to qualify with since I had set that goal. My dad decided to qualify with another marathon that same year so we went off to Boston together in 2008. I had mixed feelings about packing up and leaving my family to travel just for a race. They were very excited for me, though, and encouraged me to go. The race was on my son’s 11th birthday. He was excited about that. It wasn’t until we got to Boston that I really realized what a huge marathon it was. My dad and I took the train around town and explored. We went to the expo at least 2 times. It was huge, we filled up on the many samples and called that lunch. People everywhere talked about what race they had qualified with to get there, I was proud to say San Diego Rock n Roll Marathon. Race day had near perfect weather, I knew to listen for screaming girls from Wellesley College and watch for the Citgo sign. I ran that day feeling grateful to be there and even more grateful that my dad was out on the course with me. There were very few thoughts what my finishing time would be. I just enjoyed the day.
Craig: What led you to become a triathlete?
Tami: Again, my dad’s example and encouragement was a huge influence. After a few years training for marathons, I began to have pain in my knees and thought I should try some other things. In 2009, I decided to do a Tri Club race with my dad. I was not a swimmer or a cyclist at all. I got in a pool to see if I could make it across but didn’t do much more. I remember asking my dad on the way to the race what order we would be doing things. I raced on an old mountain bike that I pulled out from under my deck shortly before the race. I completed the race and thought it was the most fun thing ever.
Craig: You raced the Ironman World Championships in Kona in 2015. What was that experience like for you?
Tami: In September 2014, My dad and I drove up to Lake Tahoe. He was competing in the Lake Tahoe 70.3 while I was doing the Full Ironman. Lake Tahoe was surrounded by fire at that time. There was much talk throughout Ironman Village about the fires, it was hard to ignore. We were breathing the smoke and felt like we were right in the middle of it. But we seemed to be ok, and the night before Ironman, we had the all clear. I woke up and did my usual pre-race rituals. As I was in the water waiting for the start the announcement came across: The race was cancelled due to fires. I was shattered at the news of this. I had been training for months for this race. It was surreal, I couldn’t believe that it was over just like that. As I came out of the water, they told me where I could go to pick up my finishers hat and medal. What do you do with that information? I didn’t want the hat and medal, I hadn’t completed the race. Just like that, we were back on the road to San Diego.
But my IM Tahoe had a much better unexpected ending that is almost as good as being able to compete in Ironman Lake Tahoe. There were still 50 Kona slots for IM Tahoe that were then allocated to a special lottery. I was a lucky winner for a spot to Kona in 2015. It was a mixed feeling of excitement beyond belief and slightly disappointed to be racing Kona having not qualified the traditional way.
I trained like I was going to Kona. I did the Great Western Loop clockwise then counterclockwise; rode out to Mexicali in August; long run in Palm Desert, and did hot yoga almost daily. It was also a thrill that my family traveled with me to Kona. Funny because there has always been little interest in going to other races, but going to Hawaii was quite appealing to the family. The town was overflowing with incredible fitness. Never had I seen such athletes everywhere I looked. I had more pre-race anxiety than I have ever had. I was calmed by the hug and race number body marking applied from TCSD member Crazy Tracy Cohen on race morning. The 95 % humidity, the 95 degree day and those headwinds made it the hardest race I have experienced. The swim was not as congested or crazy as I had envisioned and there was a lot of friendly chit chat as we waited for the cannon. It was 2.4 miles of swimming without a buoyant wetsuit. The clear warm water and all the fish made it manageable, but I was fatigued. It seemed like my bike was the only one in transition by the time I exited the swim. The men started in their own wave before the women so that contributed to my seemingly lone bike. Whenever I passed a man, I thought, “wow, he must be having a really bad day”. It was a long, difficult, and at times lonely bike ride. I could see and feel the heat coming off the blacktop as I rode. Those NBC drama shots of the steamy heat are no joke! I did my best to just embrace the day. I was doing the Kona Ironman! Once I finished the bike and started running, I felt surprisingly ok. It was fun to run by or with fellow competitors and feel good. I made a point to walk through just about every aid station, though, and hydrate. I loved seeing fellow TCSD members on the course and on the sidelines. I loved seeing my family out there when I ran by. They had positioned themselves in front of our hotel on an out and back portion. I loved seeing my dad in multiple places on an old used mountain bike he bought upon arrival. I loved entering the Energy Lab. It was pitch black; nothing like I had seen on TV when the pros go through. The finish line was full of energy. I could hear it from about 2 miles away making me “sprint” to it. I remember vividly that triumphant feeling when I crossed the finish line, realized where I was, and hearing that Mike Reilly had just said, “You are an Ironman”. I was initially very disappointed with my performance on the bike and wondered what happened and why it was so hard for me. I eventually concluded that it was the Kona Ironman, making the reasons obvious to me. Today, I look back on the experience and just smile. It was an amazing day and amazing journey leading to that day.
Craig: What has been your favorite destination race?
Tami: My favorite destination race was my first Ironman in Penticton, Canada in 2012. My dad and I talked a great deal before signing up. We wanted a gorgeous place to race and that’s just what it was. My dad drove from San Diego (transporting our bikes) and met me at the Spokane Airport, as I flew up. The scenery on the way to Penticton was gorgeous as was the town itself. The swim was a mass start in crystal clear water with visibility to the bottom and beyond. I thought about waving to the diver during the race who was positioned under one of the buoys. The bike ride was 1 giant loop through the most beautiful mountains and valleys. One of the many things my coach, Mike Plumb, described about this race were the peach orchards in the beautiful little town of Okanagan that I would ride through. I planned my peach purchase during the ride. The run was an amazing single scenic loop as well. The town was so welcoming and genuinely happy to have us there. Sadly, 2012 was the last year Ironman Canada would be held in Penticton. The local hotels were liquidating their welcome banners. I paid $25 for a 30 foot banner that I hung on the front of my house upon my return. My kids thought this was a ridiculous site so it did not hang long.
Craig: How has your perspective changed over the years regarding doing a race to win versus doing a race to have fun?
Tami: After winning the lottery spot to Kona, I decided I must do the race again but qualify conventionally. I strategized what race to do and chose IM Chattanooga thinking it suited me best. I worked with Coach Brian Maiorano and bought a power meter for my bike. I rode more than I had ever ridden and spent more time than seems possible training. I was fortunate to have my dad and/or my friend Sally Boettger meet me on most rides at various points. I had high hopes that I would actually qualify. The day did not go as I had hoped or trained for. I really was extremely disappointed that I did not have the race I thought I should and spent considerable time analyzing it. Soon after though, I remembered all the races that I had completed and did fairly well without that goal to win. I signed up for IM Louisville and definitely set a goal but did not spend a fraction of the energy thinking about it. I still strive to have the best race I can, without losing track of how much enjoyment I get from just a swim, bike, and a run.
Craig: What volunteer activities have you done for TCSD?
Tami: I have looked forward to participating in USAT NCC for the past few years. NCC is a great challenge that can help a person stay in shape in December, January and February. NCC also may challenge you to put in many more miles of training than you normally would during the winter months. TCSD enters a team that competes nationally with other clubs. We log all of our individual miles for these three months. The team with the highest average miles wins. TCSD won first place this year! TCSD has always had strong teams and the usual strong TCSD volunteers. This year I was a coordinator for our TCSD NCC team. There are so many opportunities to volunteer for TCSD and our local races. There is always a chance to jump in and help even if you haven’t officially signed up to volunteer. Volunteering is what keeps our club going. I don’t always officially volunteer, but I’ve been at different TCSD events and have been able to pitch in when needed. Another benefit of volunteering is it is also a great way to get to know people.
Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD?
Tami: I have felt fortunate to be a part of TCSD from day one. I thoroughly enjoy the club meetings, the pro triathletes we meet, the food we are fed, and the raffle prizes we win. The races are an incredible benefit and hard to believe they are free! There are so many amazing people in the Tri Club with so many different stories. It is a privilege to train with other members and to race with those same people.
Craig: What are some of the funniest things you have seen during your endurance sport career?
Tami: I do a lot of my training in very early hours of the morning before work and am fortunate to have good friends who do it with me. My friend, Deanne Ross and I had a good laugh the first time we finished a run to find Strava had titled it “Night Run”. That’s early!
Craig: How has sharing the sport of triathlon with your Dad enhanced your relationship with him?
Tami: I don’t know how someone would prepare for a race without having the encouragement from someone, like I have had from my parents. Since my Dad has taken part in races, and knows just what they are like, he has been the primary support for me. Since we live close, he is on many of my bike rides throughout my week. Being that we experience so many things together, he is like a good friend to me. He’s very laid back and offers advice only when I ask for it. His wisdom is something I appreciate and have come to treasure. My kids have witnessed my Dad’s never give up and encouraging attitude throughout their lives. I believe they each have those concepts embedded in them. 🙂
Craig: What are your future triathlon and endurance sport goals?
Tami: I am racing Ironman Arizona this year. It will be my 6th Ironman. I would like to see if I can qualify for the Boston Marathon using my run time from an Ironman race. Currently there are 2 races that allow that, Kona and Louisville. I was not successful in my first attempt at qualifying in Louisville last year, but would like to give it a go again. Maybe lucky #7 Ironman?
Craig: Tami, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It is great to see you sharing your passion for an active lifestyle with your Dad. You are both setting a great example for your kids and the rest of us. Good luck at Arizona and hopefully another Boston and Kona in 2019.
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.