Triathlon Magazine Canada - - DEPARTMENTS - KT: KT: KT: KT: KT: KT: SZ

Vic­to­ria-based pro Karen Thi­bodeau had a break­through race at Iron­man Brazil in May where she fin­ished eighth af­ter com­ing off a nag­ging in­jury. The for­mer Di­vi­sion I swim­mer and Olympic tri­als qual­i­fier is also a reg­is­tered nurse work­ing in men­tal health and ad­dic­tions out­reach.

Orig­i­nally from Bridge­wa­ter, N.S., Thi­bodeau grad­u­ated with an hon­ours de­gree in ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­ogy from the Univer­sity of Pittsburgh fol­lowed by a de­gree in nurs­ing from the Univer­sity of Toronto. Thi­bodeau turned pro in 2011 and was sec­ond at Iron­man Canada in 2012 and 2014. Thi­bodeau has been up­ping her game un­der the guid­ance of coach Clint Lien who co-runs the Mer­cury Ris­ing triathlon club with Cana­dian pro Sara Gross.

Fol­low­ing a strong per­for­mance in Brazil this spring you were third at the Great White North triathlon in July among some very strong ath­letes. How did those races un­fold? What is your main goal this year?

KAREN THI­BODEAU: At Iron­man Brazil, I ex­e­cuted my race plan which put me in the mix of a tal­ented pro women’s field and re­sulted in a per­sonal best Iron­man time of 9:15:08. Great White North is a wellor­ga­nized, fun and re­laxed race in Al­berta that I’ve done over the last few years as part of a train­ing block be­fore Iron­man Canada. It also gives me an ex­cuse to spend time train­ing in Canmore, where I used to live.

This year I’ve been work­ing on gain­ing more race ex­pe­ri­ence, es­tab­lish­ing con­sis­tency and im­prov­ing my run. Iron­man Brazil and Iron­man Canada were my two A races for this year. Next year, I hope to be in the run­ning to qual­ify for Kona and hope to win my first Iron­man.

How did you first get into the sport?

I de­cided to train for my first Iron­man when I was liv­ing in Girona, Spain in 2011. My boyfriend at the time was a pro­fes­sional cy­clist in Europe which pro­vided a crash course in cy­cling. I started rid­ing with some of the Canada Na­tional team women who were train­ing there. Once I be­came com­fort­able on a bike I thought, ‘I can swim, bike and have run a num­ber of marathons, so why not try an Iron­man?’ The own­ers of Girona Cy­cling en­cour­aged me to en­ter a lo­cal race and pro­vided me with coach­ing. I won the race and de­cided to ap­ply for my pro rac­ing li­cence.

With your back­ground in swimming, you’re of­ten right out front af­ter the swim. What does that do for you men­tally in terms of race strat­egy?

I started swimming at the age of 10 on a lo­cal team in Nova Sco­tia, and then swam for Re­gion of Waterloo in On­tario. I at­tended the Univer­sity of Pittsburgh on a swim schol­ar­ship. Swimming is my strength, which of­fers some ad­van­tages in triathlon. Although it’s hard to gain a lot of time over the small­est por­tion of the race, it does al­low you to be aware of ex­actly where you are and keep an eye on how the race is un­fold­ing.

In ad­di­tion to rac­ing pro­fes­sion­ally, you work as a men­tal health nurse. Is there an as­pect to your rac­ing and train­ing that gives you in­sight into your work as a nurse and vice versa?

Cur­rently I work ca­su­ally on var­i­ous men­tal health and ad­dic­tion out­reach teams in down­town Vic­to­ria. My work helps cre­ate bal­ance and per­spec­tive in my life, es­pe­cially in re­gards to triathlon train­ing and rac­ing. As a pro­fes­sional ath­lete it’s easy to be­come self-fo­cused, (and per­haps it is im­por­tant to be so). How­ever, I think it’s much eas­ier to let a bad train­ing day, or race, go af­ter spend­ing a day with in­di­vid­u­als ex­pe­ri­enc­ing hard­ships be­yond most peo­ple’s com­pre­hen­sion. It puts triathlon into per­spec­tive, keeps me from tak­ing my­self too se­ri­ously, and re­minds me how for­tu­nate I am.

Bal­anc­ing work and train­ing is al­ways a bit tricky. But there are lots of peo­ple out there do­ing it, who also have fam­i­lies to take care of on top of train­ing and work. It re­ally just comes down to or­ga­ni­za­tion, time man­age­ment and pri­or­i­tiz­ing. I’m lucky to have a job that makes it pos­si­ble to work ca­su­ally and only work 16 to 20 hours a week dur­ing hard train­ing blocks.

You train with Mer­cury Ris­ing in the pool. There’s a lot of tal­ent in that group – how im­por­tant to you is it to have a train­ing group to work with.

One of my rea­sons for mak­ing the move to Vic­to­ria this year was that I wanted to be in­volved in train­ing groups and be sur­rounded by like-minded peo­ple. MRT has one of the most solid triathlon swim pro­grams in the coun­try, and I feel for­tu­nate to be sur­rounded by, and able to train with, such tal­ented ath­letes ev­ery day.

How did you be­gin work­ing with Clint Lien as a coach?

I had met Clint in 2010, be­fore I started rac­ing triathlon as I would spend a few months each year in Vic­to­ria and would train with the MRT group. In 2012, af­ter fin­ish­ing my first Iron­man (Iron­man Canada, where I fin­ished sec­ond), I de­cided to take train­ing more se­ri­ously and find a lo­cal Cana­dian coach. I wanted to work with some­body I trusted and who I felt un­der­stood my needs and Clint was, and con­tin­ues to be, a good match.

What is it that ap­peals to you about long course rac­ing?

Long course rac­ing suits my abil­i­ties. I started rac­ing at 32 and there­fore missed the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop the speed re­quired for short course rac­ing. But hav­ing come from a swimming back­ground where 20-hour-plus train­ing weeks seemed nor­mal – the train­ing vol­ume for Iron­man was man­age­able. I love the phys­i­cal and men­tal test long course rac­ing pro­vides.–

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