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How many World Triathlon Series races will Gwen Jorgensen win in her career?
Relishing the Spirit
“Just a bit further. You're not going to throw up. Faster. Harder. Dig deeper. It won't kill you.” These are just a few of the thoughts running through my mind as I push myself to my absolute breaking point and beyond during sprint races. The pain threshold can be intolerable, devilish even, but I live for it, pain and all.
My first year competing in triathlons, I found myself following what I've observed as the standard trajectory for most age group triathletes. Get the feet wet with a sprint, take a crack at an Olympic-distance, then almost immediately want to make the jump to a 70.3 or Ironman race. Maybe it's the allure of the sheer accomplishment of just completing these long distance races… but I've seen it time and time again, myself included, during my triathlon infancy. After tackling two 70.3 events in my first year (including numerous sprints and a couple of Olympic-distance races) I found myself at a crossroads as I looked at what my second racing year should consist of.
As I reflected on what I enjoyed most about racing I came to the realization that I love to compete and be as competitive as possible in my age group. I was a newbie when it came to endurance sports, I never swam, biked, or ran growing up (I actually graduated high school as the "fat kid" weighing 255lbs at 5'10") and instead grew up wakeboarding, snowboarding, and playing roller hockey in my youth before my weight gain in high school.
While I had lost all my high school weight and became fit through finding CrossFit a few years prior to triathlon I still had no endurance base to build on. I wanted to be competitive and was tired of being smoked on the run by ex-track stars, so I set my sights squarely on the sprint distance. I wanted to get fast, really fast, so this distance made the most sense. Plus out of all my first year races, I had the most fun at sprint races so it was a win all around.
Lucky for me the ITU fully embraces the sprint distance and contests an Age-Group World Championship for it each year as part of their Grand Final event. I had a good friend from the local tri community compete in the 2010 event in Budapest who encouraged me to try to qualify for the 2012 event down in New Zealand. This meant qualifying at the 2011 USAT Sprint National Championship in Burlington, Vermont.
I planned my entire race season around qualifying at this event. My race didn't go to plan as I ended up crashing on the bike on a turn that I took way too fast at the bottom of a downhill early on the course. I dislocated my left shoulder on the crash but thankfully my bike wasn't damaged. I managed to pop my shoulder back into place and get back on my bike. I'm not sure if it was the adrenaline from the crash or the frustration of making the mistake, but I powered through the reminder of the bike determined to regain my lost time. Despite my crash I rode a top bike split for my age group – that adrenaline sure helped!
The run was a completely different story. by the time I hit the course my shoulder began swelling to try to heal itself which caused me to run with what I can best describe as a 'half tank' of blood. It was the slowest run I've ever done in a race to date and probably the toughest. The pain in my shoulder from tearing the labrum was excruciating, but the thought of dropping out never crossed my mind, I was determined to finish and qualify for New Zealand. Thankfully there were only 12 or 13 of us in my AG (25-29) due to the 500 athlete limit for the Sprint race last year, so all I had to do was finish to qualify. Those same thoughts kept me going on the run, 'It won't kill you. Just a bit further...' and somehow they were able to push me enough to get across the finish line. I had endured the pain and suffering on the day to qualify to represent Team USA at the 2012 Age Group Sprint Triathlon World Championship – I was ecstatic! I spent the remainder of the 2011 season rehabbing and focusing on coming back faster than ever for 2012.
Entering this current 2012 season I had two goals: (1) qualify for the 2013 Team USA which will compete in London at the Olympic race venue, and (2) get as fast as possible for the World Championships. To help me reach both goals I decided I needed to enlist my first coach. Living in San Diego as a triathlete has many perks, one of which being a plethora of pros living, racing, and coaching in town. I chose to work with Lesley Paterson, reigning Xterra World Champion. Lesley has been amazing to work with; she's pushed me harder than I ever thought I could go. I've been reluctant to train at times given the workload she gave me, but she knew that if I wanted to hit my goals I had to push it. Whenever I wanted to quit on a session I would envision representing the USA in New Zealand - wearing the Red, White, and Blue - which would give me the physical and mental strength to finish.
Lesley's new training program has worked better than I could have ever hoped for. Almost every month I set new PRs, gaining valuable confidence along the way. Going into Nationals this year I was once again ready but definitely nervous, it was a much stronger and deeper field compared to 2011. I ended up having the race of my life at Nationals, setting a PR for my run off the bike while feeling that I could have pushed it even faster once I finished. While I was still smoked by the top athletes in my AG, I was fast enough to qualify for the 2013 Team USA! This was the ultimate validation of the year's hard training and gave me a sense of vindication from the 2011 race - I finally felt worthy of my 2012 Team USA slot.
Since Nationals my sole focus has been on accomplishing my final goal for the season - being able to race harder and faster than ever before down in New Zealand and represent Team USA as best as I possibly can. In these last few weeks Lesley has turned up the dial (didn't know this was possible) and the results speak for themselves. I've further lowered my run PR off the bike, and also clocked my fastest mile of my life in 5:44 which happened to come in a brick session off the bike!
I'm ready for the World Championship. I'm ready to dig deeper. I'm ready to pull on my Red, White, and Blue custom TYR Team USA trisuit and represent the greatest country on earth. As one of my friends in the community always says, “You've done the work, now it's time to cash the check.”