Dispatch: Project Penny (Challenge Penticton), Chapter One

Three close friends and colleagues at Triathlete magazine decided to tackle a Challenge together–the inaugural 2013 Challenge Penticton.

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One day last August, three close friends and colleagues at Triathlete magazine decided to tackle a Challenge together–the inaugural 2013 Challenge Penticton. One of them even gave the adventure an uber-cute name: Project Penny. This awesome promise among friends also led to the women becoming teammates on SOAS Racing’s ambassador team. The three chickadees were in for a fit, fun and fashionable 2013 season, for sure! Since August, the women’s lives flipped into fast-forward mode–and before they knew it they were in the thick of training. Here’s a little about each of their parts in Project Penny.

Name: Julia Polloreno
Title: Editor-in-Chief
Age: 35

Seven years ago I lined up for my first and only iron-distance race to date. I was working at a city magazine at the time, and an interview with paraplegic triathlete Jim McLaren inspired me to sign up for an Ironman and raise money for Jim’s cause. No matter that I’d only completed a handful of sprints. It would be a personal testing ground—did I have what it takes to swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 and run a marathon in succession? I approached the training—and the race itself—as a curious human experiment. Barely able to wrap my head around the task before me up through race day, I swam, bike and ran super conservatively, fearful of self-imploding or soiling myself or a number of any other dramatic melt-down scenarios I worked up in my head.

My plan worked because I did finish, 14-plus hours after I jumped into Tempe Town Lake, and felt that rush of endorphin-fueled gratification that keeps us coming back for more. Except my “more” has since consisted of sprints, Olympics and 70.3s—until now. I hear the call of the iron beast again, and signed up to race Challenge Penticton (formerly Ironman Canada, and what I call “Penny” because it sounds less fearsome) just a couple months from now. It’s been a vastly different process this time around, as I’ve been able look at the iron-distance through the lens of experience from actively racing these past seven years (and perhaps I’ve picked up a few pointers through my job of 3.5 years). I’m a different person today—more mentally than physically, which is what really matters in this sport. I’m a wife and mom to two now, and I view myself a lot differently as an athlete. I’m less timid, more ready to see my potential than limitations. This time, the goal will be to compete, not just complete.

The road to Penticton hasn’t been pothole-free. With a spouse and two kids in the equation now, triathlon training presents an exercise in balance. Sometimes I feel selfish, but mostly I know I’m chasing a productive goal and setting a solid example for my kids, who remain the ultimate priority. Some people “just don’t get it”—why I would choose hours of training over spending that same time with my kids. The way I see it: I haven’t adopted iron-distance training as a permanent lifestyle (and if you have, more power to you for making it work), I’ve been able to work in much of my training during the hours I spend apart from them anyhow, and having this goal—a competitive iron-distance experience—makes me a happier person and therefore a better mom. It also helps to not care what anyone else thinks.

And although I’m working with a really kick-ass coach, Jimmy Riccitello, who has made the process not only productive but fun, the training has been far from perfect, with best intentions periodically getting swallowed up by work commitments, flu bugs, my love of Cabernet and the snooze button. Still, it’s gratifying to be on this path, to build on the little bit of momentum that each day brings.

Eight weeks to go. I have some big training days still ahead, and am already getting excited just thinking about race day. One of the things I like most about triathlon is that during a race everything else in your life if stripped away and you’re forced to live in the moment. Things get real. Iron-distance racing represents the apex of that experience and affords a rare opportunity to endure, rejoice and grow. And that’s why I’m excited to meet Penny. I expect we’ll have a love-hate relationship, but that in the end, I’ll be better for knowing her. I already am.

RELATED – Dispatch: The Man Behind The Challenge

Name: Jené Shaw
Title: Senior Editor
Age: 29

Wait, I have an iron-distance race in eight weeks?


My whole “aimlessly training for life” approach has worked pretty well so far this year, as I’ve surprised myself with top-five age-group finishes at March’s Escape From Alcatraz (MY GOD that swim), April’s Leadman Tempe and May’s Wildflower Olympic. But the time has come to get a little more focused on the task at hand: Challenge Penticton on August 25 (I just looked up the date—good sign).

The race-formerly-known-as-Ironman-Canada will be my fourth Ironman since starting in the sport in 2008. Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t it seem like the first time you tackle 140.6 miles, there’s a lot more fear-induced motivation that dissipates slightly with every subsequent sign-up? Now that I know I’m capable of completing the distance, my motivation stems from a place of loving the training lifestyle and essentially just wanting to race in a beautiful place with good friends. I’m a laid-back but dedicated triathlete. Type B+, as I say.

Deciding to sign up for Challenge Penticton was an easy choice. I’ve reported on a couple of Challenge races in person, and both times I was thoroughly impressed by the Challenge Family’s professionalism and warmth. As a result, I had been eagerly awaiting their first North American event and was psyched to have the opportunity to test it out first-hand.

I’ve also heard nothing but praise about Penticton as a beautiful race location. In my short long-course career, I’ve learned that while flat and fast is great, I don’t really want to spend a weekend in, say, the spring break airbrush t-shirt capital of the world (i.e. Panama City Beach/Ironman Florida). I much prefer pristine mountain lakes, a stunning foresty bike course and the happy vibe of a little triathlon mini village similar to Ironman Lake Placid. Put simply, I like doing races where you know if you rent a house nearby, it will likely be decorated with lots of bears. Fingers crossed for Penticton housing.

As far as training…

Over the winter, I focused on training for a marathon, my first standalone one in more than six years. I discovered that I had more potential than I thought, and PR’ed by 35+ minutes and qualified for Boston (as did my fantastic training partner, Julia). Woo!

After I got that out of the way, I decided that 2013 should be a big bike year. I’ve put in a good amount of miles and my vacations have all been ride-focused. I spent a week training in Tucson with the awesome crew at The Cycling House, three days riding the coast from San Francisco to Santa Barbara (my most mileage in one day, times three), and I just got back from my dream vacation—riding bikes, drinking Chianti and eating cheese/pasta/bread all around Tuscany. I’d say the only thing standing in the way of me confessing my undying love for my bicycle is all the mechanical BS I suck at dealing with. Maybe that’s 2014’s goal.

A few weeks ago I started working with coach Dave Sheanin of D3 Multisport out of Boulder, Colo. Dave came highly recommended from a coach I respect, Mike Ricci, and so I (annoyingly?) tasked him with plotting out a last-minute-ish plan for Penticton. He rose to the challenge and has made my life much easier, giving me workouts that are more strategic and inventive than I had the energy to create myself.

I look forward to seeing what Canada has in store for me, Julia and Holly this August. Thanks for following along!

RELATED: Challenge Penticton To Replace Ironman Canada

Name: Holly Bennett
Title: Editor-at-Large
Age: 45

I last raced the iron-distance at Ironman Canada in 2010. Since then, I’ve been either injured or sick too often to train for much of anything, much less anything that long. But when Challenge Penticton was announced as the Challenge Family’s first venture into North America–conveniently at the same time that I was getting back on track health-wise–I wanted on board immediately, to be part of the inaugural Challenge experience on the storied course and to share the inevitably good time with Julia and Jené.

Step one was to choose a coach, and I had my eye on Julie Dibens. I figured “Dibs” would be a perfect mentor for me for a number of reasons:

  • She’s a ridiculously strong athlete.
  • She’s an experienced coach.
  • She’s a caring friend.
  • She cracks me up.
  • She scares me just a little.

Dibs doesn’t actually scare me, but the idea of working with her badass biker self does. Who better to kick my butt out of my comfort zone and especially help me improve my cycling–an area where I seem to race all right, but never really push myself hard enough in training? I wanted to know how much harder I could go. More importantly, I wanted her help custom-crafting a program to accommodate the various race and travel commitments I intended to work into the 12-week training window in the lead up to Penticton. I do have experience training for iron-distance races–I’ve finished five thus far, two with the help of another amazing athlete, coach and friend, Michellie Jones. But this time my schedule was loaded with obstacles–and I was fully flummoxed as to how to proceed.

I met Dibs for coffee and handed her a stack of papers–a three-month calendar outlining my commitments over the next 12 weeks. For example, smack in the middle of those three months I would spend two weeks in Europe sans bike, racing the swim and marathon portions of a relay at Challenge Roth, followed by a few days in Belgium indulging in a frenzy of waffles, chocolate and beer. And I wanted that marathon to be a good one. Add to that two additional travel jaunts (one international), plus two sprints and a half-iron-distance race, and you have a picture of the chaotic summer within which I planned to train for Penticton. I also fessed up to the fact that until mid-May 2013 I hadn’t been on my bike since mid-October 2012. Dibs didn’t even flinch. She was excited to help me figure out how the heck to pull this off. Away she went to write my training plan with a start date of June 1st. And as I pen this (nearly four weeks in) I couldn’t be more pleased with my progress and the new ways I’m learning to push myself.

Beyond being a devotee of Dibs’ training, I also intend to focus equally on my mental powers during this particular race build. I’m normally a pretty optimistic person, but I plan to flex my positivity muscle more than ever. Because while I believe our bodies are capable of amazing things–things even beyond what we’ve actually prepared for on paper–I also believe these amazing things can only be realized when propelled by an intensely strong and positive spirit. I’m storing up the good (and doing a spin doctor routine on the bad) aspects of every tough training session and practice race. I’m obsessing on how other people I know navigate adverse conditions­–and gleaning all I can from their experiences. And I’m keeping stock of motivational morsels that come to me in messages from friends. At the moment, I’m especially enamored with two nuggets I’ve saved since I last raced in Canada.

One day during my 2010 training, I lounged in a deck chair contemplating the sunshine and the importance of that afternoon’s swim. I’d already logged a solid ride–did I really need to rally to the pool? I texted Michellie: Just how important is this swim?

Her response was simple: It’s a choice.

I swam, of course–churning out a session I’ll always remember because of how strong I felt, a rare moment for me in the pool.

Prior to the race, I received a good luck message from Linsey Corbin, who I first met earlier that year and whose friendship and immutably positive personality I’ve come to cherish since:

Think of race day as opening little presents you gave yourself in training. The hard workouts are presents that you’ve wrapped up–then on race day you get to open them all along the way, like gifts to yourself!

These are some of the thoughts that will fill my head as I continue on this training and racing adventure, choosing to head out the door earlier and earlier each morning and seeing what gifts I can wrap up each day. Because what is triathlon, what is this lifestyle we all adore and that has brought so much more into my own life than a collection of medals can convey, if not a choice–and the best gift ever?

RELATED: Athletes React To Challenge Penticton

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