Monday, September 22, 2014

Triple Threat Profile: Joleen White - Alaska

Triathlon in Alaska?? You better believe it. Joleen White of Anchorage is the newest member of our national team, and a fantastic addition at that. "Mainlanders" in her AG be warned: she's physically tough, mentally ripped, highly motivated, and just may be traveling to a race near you!

What's your background and how did you get into triathlon?

I joined the swim team at age 6. I was terrified at swim lessons but just wanted to swim with my brother on the team. Swimming was my primary sport, but my mom had me in everything: gymnastics, dance, xc running, soccer, etc.

My swim coach pointed out my ability at age 10 when invited to represent Alaska at zones, and suggested maybe I stop hurting myself in gymnastics and focus on swimming. Since my goal was to be the first in my family to graduate from college, I chose to put swimming aside after high school. I have a Bachelors in Physical Education and a Masters in Education Counseling. 

My co-worker kept telling me I should join this local women's tri club, so finally in 2006 I decided what the heck. The coach helped me find my love for swimming again, and I stayed on with them for three years. Since then I'm coachless, but swim with the local masters team and run with a local group as well.

For those of us ignorant mainlanders, educate us on some of the basics about Alaska. How cold does it really get, how long/short are the days in terms of sunlight, what are the summers like, etc?

The hardest part of living here to me are the extremes. You will go days without seeing the sun. You leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark... it will be a beautiful sunshine day and you walk outside to -20 degrees - then run right back in! But the most beautiful part of living here is when minutes of sunshine turn into hours and the next thing you know the sun won't go down! Amazingly all that snow goes away and it's time to get outside and play!!

For you stats people I tried to break it down:

Our annual average high (total year) is 44 °F, with a low of 30 °F. Anchorage usually has seven months of wintery weather followed by five months of mild temperatures and long days. We get some "warm" days, ~85 days a year of 60 °F maximum or above, but ~188 days at 32 °F minimum or below.

The hottest day of the last 12 months was July 4 (78°F). The coldest day was December 17, (-9°F).

The shortest days of the year in mid December have 5 hours and 27 minutes of daylight. The year's longest days in mid June last 19:22 from sunrise to sunset.

In your application you wrote "it is very challenging to spend most of your training indoors, however it does not take away my love for the challenge." Is winter training for you 100% indoors or can you bundle up and run outside?

I don't mind biking in my little pain igloo - Netflix is a godsend! But I have not yet really embraced the treadmill. Running in general is a love hate relationship, but I have come to realize that that needs to change. When the snow flies you can find me out on the beautifully groomed xc ski trails. I absolutely love classic and skate skiing. Xc skiing is a sport that I did as a kid with my grandpa and uncles for fun, and through coaching I've found a new love for it. I can see how skiing helps me stay strong, but my lack of running in the winter is starting to show. I have made a pact with myself to get my running mileage up and keep it there all winter... this means my treadmill and I need to learn to love each other!

Running outside is definitely possible in the winter. I put drywall screws in my trail shoes, wear many layers, and hand warmers are definitely my friend! Also, I cannot run without a buff around my neck - typically I pull it over my mouth to keep the air temp I'm breathing in warm. One thing you don’t want to do is wear mascara, as your eyelashes tend to freeze and when they melt you will be a mess!

I have always swam indoors so getting the chance to swim in an outdoor pool is just heaven to me! Wetsuits are a must in June when we all go to Little Campbell Lake to swim - some crazies tough it out but not me! I wear 2 caps and ear plugs to lessen the numbness. My first non-wetsuit legal race was Ironman 70.3 Kansas, and although I am a swimmer, I was terrified! I had never swam that far in open water without a wetsuit.

On that note, what's your indoor training situation like in Anchorage and the White household "pain igloo?"

As I mentioned, my treadmill and I are working on our relationship. Anchorage has the largest indoor track in North America, called The Dome. Typically I go there once a week with my running group from November to May. I tried a long run there and thought I would die of boredom after 8 miles. This year some people ran for 100+ miles at The Dome - wowza! There is not enough money in the world to get me to do that!

My current set up is put together nicely with a music stand which I use for my iPad to watch anything on Netflix that can distract me from the pain! I loved House of Cards, 24, and Breaking Bad, and just started The Killing... kinda hooked. A few Triple Threat teammates have shared some tricks of the trade to riding indoors, and I'm super excited to set some clear training goals this winter.

Joleen's helmet post crash
How would you sum up your 2014 season, and what was the highlight/lowlight?

My season was supposed to begin with a friendly time trial in May, but while warming up I had a freak accident and flew over my handlebars. I wound up in the hospital with a concussion, stitches, and road rash. This was tough for me as it was my first bike wreck; a very humbling start. Training slowed for a couple of weeks and I missed out on some of my favorite races. Thankfully I was able to come back and bike my first century in honor of a family friend, and our team raised over $90,000!

At the end of May I was able to put everything together and race in the annual Women’s Gold Nugget Triathlon sprint. There were no PR’s for me that day, but I would say my time was where it should have been considering where I was only a few weeks before.

In June I traveled with a group of students to Costa Rica so my training was not ideal, but I loved trying to run in the heat and humidity with the sounds of the jungle! When I got back, I had a couple of weeks to get things in gear before my husband and I went on a month long road trip to LA, Oregon, Montana, and Canada, where I competed in Ironman 70.3 Calgary
. I was worried my swimming would suffer, as it was difficult to find places to train while on the road. I managed to get a few swims in which was great. The biking was amazing; I rode in California near the beach, got lost in Oregon and saw the most amazing fields, and rode in Montana near the most beautiful streams. I was able to run almost everyday, but it was too little too late for me. I had planned on doing Lake Stevens 70.3 in Washington in August, but honestly I had had enough of rental cars, hotels, and packing my bike, so I stayed in Alaska.

Overall, I'm very happy with Calgary 70.3. I PR’d my swim by 2 min and my bike by 9 min. I do believe the course was short one mile but 9 min is a lot. I suffered on the run, but surprisingly didn’t beat myself up because I knew I didn’t do the work... Calgary definitely helped me realize my potential and has helped me dream big for the future.

I think it's very cool that you plan a summer trip each year around a big race. What has been your favorite race/venue?

It has been a lot of fun, and I've met some amazing people! Considering the weather and elevation here in Alaska, I would have to say my favorite out of state race is the Lake Stevens 70.3. I definitely suffer in the heat so I have had more luck racing in the state of Washington. I do realize it can get hot there from time to time, but I have been lucky so far. I do have to say that I have never met a nicer crew then I did this year at Calgary
70.3. The volunteers there MADE the race - I have never had such kind people approach me and wish me luck, or help me with questions, etc. Hands down the best!

Your job as a teacher and coach sounds very cool, can you share some details? Are most local kids pretty active in the great outdoors?

I started coaching high school swimming when I began teaching, and my kids were the best. But I have to admit, standing on the deck killed me. I had to do something else. I started coaching cross country running about ten years ago and am still loving it. The previous high school that I taught/coached at had 120+ athletes on average! I began coaching cross country skiing three years ago. The season goes from November to March, and it is exhausting. We go from hoping we get snow soon to hoping the weather is not -10 degrees Fahrenheit or we will have to stay inside. I've also coached other sports such as track and volleyball.

The kids here are very active. We have school sports as well as local club teams ranging from swimming, hockey, volleyball, baseball, wrestling, xc skiing, biathlon, etc. Most teams travel out of state for larger competitions. Even one of our local football teams travels out of state each year to play other schools.

In your team profile you mention the goal of qualifying for 70.3 Worlds. Will that be a big focus in 2015? What other goals are on your radar for the next few years?

I'm very disappointed that I didn’t spend more time running this past year. I was on track for a PR at Calgary, and qualifying for 70.3 Worlds was within reach. This has lit a fire in me with regards to my goals and attitude towards training. My focus in 2015 is to get my running dialed in, meaning both mileage and racing. I'd like to get my 70.3 time down to the 5:10 - 5:15 range, after my swim/bike in Calgary I think I can do it... so long as I stay on track with running.

I'm planning on adding more 5k’s to build speed for my “A” races at Boise 70.3 (June) and Lake Stevens (Aug). I also plan to be more consistent with biking on the trainer, in addition to more local time trial races at the beginning of the season. Because I transferred to middle school this year I'm able to stay for my entire swim practice, something I have never been able to do. I'm averaging about 4,000 more yards per week and am consistently hitting sub 1:10/100yd in my sprint sets.

One day I would love to be dedicated enough to do a full Ironman - I hate saying “I only did half of an Ironman”.... This means I need to make friends with marathon training, haha! Who knows, maybe one day I will get the chance to race in Kona!

As a rock star swimmer, if you had to give two pieces of advice/tips, what would they be?

Haha! Well, first I will say don’t put swimming on the back burner, even if it is your strength. Getting on the bike relaxed is a benefit from swimming, so swim! Second, swim mechanics will help you save energy. Get a coach or an instructor and work on the basics. Swimming slow is fine - getting it right before you add speed will make it more enjoyable and make you faster. Oh, and don’t forget to relax; the harder you try to swim the slower you will go!

What are the most popular sports and professional teams in Alaska? You've mentioned some local sprints... has the triathlon community been growing in Anchorage?

Hockey of course! I met my husband in college, and he played hockey for the University of Alaska, Anchorage. We moved to Bakersfield for 1 year when he played semi-pro. Everyone I know plays hockey, and yes I even gave it a shot for a year. The best part for me was the beer! In addition to the UAA college team, we're proud of our minor league champion Alaska Aces

The triathlon community has definitely been growing, but most people seem to race out of state. Unfortunately there were a couple races cancelled this year due to permit issues. I don’t believe the city of Anchorage has embraced the triathlon community, nor the biking community for that matter. Since we have so much snow throughout the year, biking is not as popular a method of commuting as in other states. Fat tire bikes are a big hit here though, so more and more people are biking throughout the year no matter what the weather. Unfortunately cyclists on the road are not well liked... I have had some unpleasant encounters myself. The cycling community is working hard to include bike to work days through the summer, and trying to get bike friendly lanes built on some of our roads. It is a work in progress, but I believe we will get there.

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