How many World Triathlon Series races will Gwen Jorgensen win in her career?
The Beginning of a Triathlon Career
If you would have asked me one year ago what I thought I would be doing just a few months after graduating college, I would have told you, “Well, working a job that relates to my major in fashion merchandising and retail management”. If you had asked me six months ago the answer would have been the same. In fact, if you had asked me just a mere three months ago the answer would have been the same. It wasn’t until after graduating from the University of Wisconsin and securing a “real job” that triathlon came into my life.
Growing up, I swam competitively from the ages 6 through 18. I had always imagined myself swimming in college and even entertained the dream of swimming in the Olympics. My freshman year of high school the cross country coach “recruited” me into the sport of distance running with the promise that it would improve my swimming fitness. I jumped at any chance to get faster in the pool, someone could have told me that jumping off a cliff would make me a faster swimmer and I would have done it. And so, I began running cross country. After a summer of putting in decent mileage the secret was out- I was kind of good at running. Soon enough, swimming went to the backburner and thus began my career as a distance runner. I was recruited to run in college and had the opportunity to compete at the Division I level. I had success in college, but I never really believed that I would pursue a professional running career. Therefore I started the job hunt and was lucky enough to secure a good paying professional career in a new city with plans to start a new chapter in my life once I graduated.
During a travel trip in the outdoor track season, I had a conversation with my coach about former Badger Gwen Jorgensen’s journey to triathlon. He told me about the USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment program and encouraged me to look into it. I had already met the run standard with ease; however, I had some dust to brush off in my swim. My head was filled with thoughts of pursuing this new and exciting journey where I could train for and race an endurance sport- as a career?! It had been 5 years since I had done any significant swimming and I was pretty excited to get back in the pool. My first few attempts at the standard fell a little bit short but I finally hit the standard and became a bona-fide recruit. This feat was a major game-changer for my future!
I moved back home with family and got set up with Sean Edwards, a USAT coach in Indianapolis who was already coaching Justin Roeder, another Collegiate Recruitment Program member. My first workout with the team was a double brick workout bright and early on a Saturday morning (I had just found out what the term “brick” meant the day before). So I showed up for the workout ready to go- or at least I thought so. Dressed like a runner in my short spandex, tank top, no water bottle, no nutrition (who needs that?!), no sunglasses (sun, bugs, dirt, and wind in my eyes- no big deal), and good ol’ fashioned shoelaces I was ready to do this double brick workout.
On the bike warm-up I felt like I was working twice as hard as everyone else. I was riding a bike that was at least 15 years older than any of the bikes in our group, not to mention the chain squeaked louder than any potential conversation I attempted to make with my new teammates. If I wasn’t humbled on the warm-up then the actual workout definitely did the trick. My pride wouldn’t let me get totally whooped and so despite my jelly legs I sprinted to catch up to the group on the run only to be dropped again on the next bike portion of the workout. When the torture was over I climbed into my car and drove home with a glazed-over stare and a body heavy with fatigue. I reflected on the effort that I had just put forth and realized that I couldn’t wait to do it again!
After hashing out my training and racing plan with my coach, I was able to start moving forward in this new sport. It seemed apparent right away that my bike skills would need to improve to be competitive. The bike was so intimidating to me in the beginning. There was so much I didn’t know (and still don’t) about cycling. The lingo was like a foreign language to me, there was so much equipment, and the training time required on the bike was something I had never experienced (now I know why you need bike shorts). Sean had to convince me that my running mileage had to come down but my intensity would have to come up. This was a tough one to wrap my head around. How was I supposed to run fast without running 80+ mile weeks?! When it comes to mileage, my college coach would describe me as “obsessive”. In fact, I have yet to invest in a GPS watch because I am convinced that it would lead to the demise of my sanity, although I’m sure eventually I will need to join the 21st century. As usual, Sean was right and I was wrong. You can run fast off of less mileage and I quickly learned that I am too tired to run 80+ mile weeks because of all the additional hours of biking and swimming that I now do. He often has to remind me that I am now training for three sports, and not just one.
The body does have it’s limits though and unfortunately I was reminded of that in the week leading up the 2012 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. In my naiveté, I got a little too excited in my training leading up to Age Group Nationals and came down with a sinus infection and bronchitis. So I raced at less than 100% and as a result, I learned my lesson and now understand why the body really does need a taper (Coach Sean was right again).
Every day has been a learning experience and I absolutely love the multisport lifestyle. I have met so many like-minded athletes who enjoy pushing their bodies to the limit just to bask in the glory of accomplishment and unfathomable fatigue. I truly believe that Triathlon came into my life for a reason and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to pursue my dream of competing in the Olympics. I can’t wait to discover my potential in this sport and experience the journey along the way!