Beth Walsh is a professional triathlete, based in Encinitas, California.
She only started training for triathlon in 2008, and her progress has been rapid.
She won her age group in the San Diego triathlon series in her first and second years in the sport, before moving up to Ironman the following year, when she ran the fastest amateur marathon split (3:10) at the Hawaii World Championships.
In 2011 she won Ironman Texas, Timberman 70.3, California 70.3, finished third in her age group at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, and was 15th amateur overall at the Ironman Hawaii World Championships.
2012 will be her first season racing as a professional.
Beth Walsh lives with her husband James (also a triathlete/cyclist) and works “almost full-time” as a school psychologist.
You’ve only been doing triathlon since 2008 and seem to have progressed very quickly. How far do you think you can progress in the sport and do you ever wish you’d got into it earlier?
I think that my late start in triathlon is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I feel lucky to have a “young” athletic age. Physically, I am fresh and I am not beaten down by decades of miles in my body. Mentally, I am extremely passionate about triathlon and still get almost too excited about everything from training camps to big races. I feel like a kid!
I see some of my friends who have been at this a long time, and they are less enchanted with the sport. So, I feel lucky to still be able to experience the “newness” of it all.
On the other hand, you better believe there are days in the pool and on the bike when I wish I had the fluidity and experience of those who grew up in the sport!
As far as how far I can progress, it’s tough to say. I realize that there is a whole different echelon of female professionals and I am definitely not there yet.
I see women going 9 hours or less in Ironman (like Leanda Cave, Linsey Corbin, & Meredith Kessler at Ironman AZ in 2011) and am completely in awe.
Although I’m a few steps behind, I love looking at where they started and realize that even now, at 32, I can’t attach limits to myself. I’m excited to see where the next few years take me and you can be sure I have dreams of podiums and making it back to Kona for the Ironman World Championships as a pro.
What is it that attracted you to the sport and what would you say to persuade someone into giving it a go?
I was attracted to triathlon because I saw so many adults reinventing themselves and redefining their limits through triathlon.
I was pretty sedentary for most of my 20s and was looking for a change.
At my first open water swim with the San Diego Triathlon club, there were 50+ grown-ups there having a great time together outdoors and getting in a good workout at the same time.
I realized that triathlon is as much about the lifestyle as it is about the training and racing.
When I meet people who are interested in giving triathlon a go, but are intimidated, I always encourage them to find a group workout and just give it a try. I tell them confidently, “you will not be the slowest one there.”
And I haven’t been wrong yet. I think people don’t realize how many others “just like them” are out there just trying to give it a shot. Triathletes are not all fast, fit, and serious. We all started somewhere. Also, by trying a group workout with a tri club, you realize that you are not alone and can start building a great support network.
What advice would you give to someone about to do their first Ironman?
I would advise people to “stay in the box” all day. “Staying in the box” in Ironman is all about compartmentalization. You can only control the piece of the race that is right around you and it doesn’t help to think ahead to that looming marathon or whatever else you are nervous about.
Just focus on the next buoy, your breathing pattern, the next aid station on the bike, the mile markers on the run. Stay in the box! Before you know it, you’ll be in the last 10k of the run. Then, toss the box & give it everything you have left!
Another piece of advice I give to others (and myself!) is that you should expect (at least!) three things to go wrong in Ironman.
Treat these things as you would each leg of the race. Just like checking off swim, bike, run. You must check off 3 problem situations. Then, when they arrive, they are expected and you can just go with the flow rather than getting caught up in the problem or what went wrong.
Solve the problem and be on your way. You drop your bottle of calories on the bike? Do some math in your head about the calories you need to compensate, gather some supplies at the next aid station, and check it off!
How do you juggle working “almost full-time” and training for triathlon, and would you ever want to be a full-time athlete?
As I made the jump from amateur to professional, I knew that I needed at least a little bit of wiggle room to make my dream a reality. By working 4 days per week, I can use my 5th “free” day to ride with our training crew on Wednesdays, leave on Friday at noon for a weekend race, or attend an event for my sponsors.
I’ve been working with Cannondale on projects where we hope to inspire women to jump into cycling and it's important to me to have time to devote to something I believe in so strongly.
Of course, being a full-time athlete would be a dream, but I also love my career.
I spent 4 years in graduate school to become a school psychologist and that was also one of my dreams. I find my job, my colleagues, and my students to be truly fulfilling and definitely wouldn’t consider leaving anytime soon.
As you probably know, it is incredibly challenging to make a living as a professional triathlete. For me, it would be quite stressful, possibly even more stressful than balancing 2 careers. I think I am able to enjoy myself more knowing that my sole income is not dependent on my triathlon performance.
The “juggling” is never easy and I’m constantly in a workout, work, workout, eat, sleep pattern, but I have an extremely supportive husband and just feel lucky to lead the life I have chosen. I try to remind myself that no one is “making” me train. We all have choices in life and I’m happy to have not chosen the path of least resistance.
With your first season as a pro coming up, what excites you most about racing as a pro?
I am most excited about racing with the best in the sport and being challenged to “step my game up”.
I’ve been fortunate to have partnered with some wonderful sponsors and thanks to Cannondale, Zoot , & SRAM, I have the best equipment around.
I’m really excited about racing knowing that my equipment and gear are top notch and will support me in my best performance.
Has your approach to the sport changed now that you are a pro?
I started working with a coach, Pete Coulson, who has trained and mentored Ironman World Champions and is currently working with rising star (and Zoot/Cannondale teammate) Heather Jackson. I have seen Heather’s progression and have full faith in Pete’s program and his training philosophy.
The biggest change in my approach this year is to trust in the “less is more” philosophy and to get the most out of myself in each session. I used to head into many training sessions pretty tired, and end up “just getting around “.
Now, my focus is on speed and I really try to push the limits of my comfort zone in almost every workout. Gone are the days of “easy” 5-6 hour rides- they’ve been replaced with “hang on for dear life” 3-hour rides. So far, it’s working!
You mention on your blog that you have ‘a very real fear of descending and anything that involves bike handling” – what have you been doing to work on this and improve your bike handling?
My bike handling skills are still a work in progress. Although I actually have decent skills, my hesitation in using them is what typically holds me back.
For practice, I have been riding with a small group of “roadies”.
I am getting really comfortable riding in our bunch and holding a
wheel. I also try to follow their lines on descents and most
importantly….RELAX (and lay off the brakes!)
Reading your race reports on your blog you seems to be able to push yourself to keep going in a race no matter how you’re feeling. You work as a school psychologist, do you use any specific psychology techniques to keep yourself going in a race?
For the first time this year, I am actually going to really focus on my mental game. In the past, I’ve been able to “turn off” the part of my brain that wants to quit or go easy, but as I improve in the sport, this is becoming harder and harder (probably because I’m racing harder and harder!).
As a psychologist, I enjoy doing research and reading scientific journals on endurance training and psychology. I’ve checked out the evidence that points to mental fatigue as an equal, if not greater cause of slowdown as physical fatigue.
When I hit a critical point of suffering in a race, I recall these articles and tell myself “It’s all mental, the physical pain is just your brain telling you to slow down, but your muscles CAN keep going.”
Another thing I like to do is to draw attention away from “what hurts”. I try to distract myself by focusing on pleasurable or interesting things in my environment.
This may be the song playing at the aid station, the colors and patterns in the landscape, the differences between homes in a neighborhood, and most often, the people around.
I like to keep my eye out for friends along the race course and draw energy from them. Even when I feel like I’m dying, I get a boost from waving to a friend on the sidelines or encouraging a training partner who is suffering as much as I am.
What is your ideal pre-race meal?
I like to keep it simple and usually gluten free. I’m not gluten intolerant, but my husband is and I have learned a lot about the potential inflammatory effects of foods containing gluten.I also tend to get migraines when eating a lot of bread.
For a few days pre-race, I try to avoid gluten as much as possible without being obsessive. I want to give my stomach optimal conditions to digest whatever I thrown in there on race day.
For dinner the night before a race, I like barbeque chicken or fish, baked sweet potato wedges and a salad or steamed veggies. I always finish off the meal with a few pieces of good dark chocolate.
What about post-race meal?!
After a big race, anything goes! My favorite has to be Mexican food- chips & guacamole, a couple of fish tacos and of course, a Margarita to replenish my salt stores. A couple hours later, you might find me at the frozen yogurt shop as well.
What are your favourite training sessions? What does an average training week consist of?
My training weeks vary greatly and there is no one “typical” week. I try to do a 3 to 4 hour group ride with my training squad on Wednesdays and Saturdays as my schedule allows.
I consider these key workouts and make it my sole intention to not get dropped. This makes for some great hill/interval workouts!
I typically swim prior to these rides and then do a short run off the bike after one or both of these sessions. The rest of the week is sorted out around these key days.
Right now, I’d say my typical week includes 5 masters swim sessions, 4 bike rides, 4 runs, 2 functional strength training sessions at Rehab United and maybe 1 cross training session like rowing on the ergometer. I’m not doing a ton of volume, but we’re working on making it count.
My favorite session is a 3.5 hour ride we do with our training crew. It starts with an easy, chatty hour of flat riding up the coast and inland on a bike path.
Then, the talking is over, but the ‘fun” begins. We turn it up a few notches for a dirt road climb and several more 10 minute climbs through orange groves. By the time we get close to home, I’m out of “matches” and can barely make it up the last hill! I always have that happy/delirious/exhausted feeling when I get home.
28th February 2012