Having both had our long training run the day before, Heather and I met for a short recovery run. Then, we debated the relative merits of running in a visor versus a hat, as well as the juggling the demands of motherhood and a career with a training schedule.
Heather first started running in 2010. She says, “After having kids, I gained a lot of weight.” She decided to start walking as a way to work the weight off, and a friend got her to try running for just a minute. “I was ready to die,” she says, but she immediately looked up the Couch to 5k plan, and started training for a 5k. She ran her first 5k in August 2010, and after several more 5k races, she ran a 10k, and then a half marathon. Despite running all these races, Heather struggled with the idea of calling herself a “runner” because she felt she was too slow to be a real runner. “It took me a long time to realize, ‘yeah, you are! Just because you’re not fast doesn’t mean you’re not a real runner.'”
In 2014, Heather ran the Philly Marathon, which she describes as “totally life changing.” After the marathon, she wasn’t sure where to go from there, and her Ironman friend, convinced her to try a tri. Heather wasn’t sure where to begin with training for a triathlon.Her friend told her, “Just sign up for your tri club. I’ve heard great things about the Mulllica Hill tri club, just do it.” So in 2015, Heather signed up on New Year’s day for the tri club, which is the very first day you can sign up. She got some private swim lessons at Gloucester County Institute of Technology, and then she went to the group swims at Riverwinds in West Deptford which are organized by the MHWTC.
Heather signed up for the club’s mentor program, which pairs a newer triathlete with a more seasoned vet for support, answers to questions, training guidance, and encouragement. Heather says she connected immediately with her mentor, Amanda Miles. Heather later learned that Sarah Zuba, who coordinates the mentor program, researches mentors and mentees on social media to learn about them and hand matches women who she thinks will click. It worked flawlessly for Heather who says she had an “instant connection” with her mentor, Amanda. “She was the reason I pushed myself and did a lot of things,” Heather says.
Last season was Heather’s first tri season, and she did three sprint distance races,Riverwinds, Queen of the Hill, and Tri AC. Near the end of last season, Heather went out for a swim that was a mile long swim in the bay near Brigantine. “I had a little bit of a freak out at the beginning, but I did it. I was one of the last people to finish,” she says, laughing.
Heather and Amanda won the MHWTC’s award for Mentor and Mentee of the Year in 2016, selected by other tri club members. Heather encourages any woman considering doing a triathlon to join the club and get involved. She has been amazed at how friendly all of the women are, and has formed a number of really great friendships.
This year, she is preparing for the half Ironman in AC in September. She is keeping her race schedule lean this season to focus on training for the half Iron. Right now, she is doing Broad Street, a Quarterman organized by D&Q, and she plans to look for maybe one additional race to prep for the half Iron.
Typically, Heather mostly makes up her training plan as she goes. She quickly realized that she needs more brick workouts to prep for the switch from the bike to the run. If you aren’t a triathlete, a brick workout is when you do two activities back to back. In particular, it is imortant for triathletes to do workouts where they bike and then run, to get your legs used to running right off of the bike. For cross training, Heather does a Body Flex class at Fuel Gym in Sicklerville. While training for her marathon, Heather had gotten a bit away from the strength and weight training. She feels that was a mistake, and she wants to make sure she keeps up with that training.
Heather is pretty excited about her new Garmin 920XT watch. “It was a Christmas present to myself,” she says. It is specifically for triathletes, so it will track swimming, as well as bike rides and running. If you’re a swimmer, you know the pain of trying to keep count of your laps and losing track, and Heather says it is great to have a watch that does it for her.
Heather works and has two sons, so I asked how she makes time for training. She also has travel sports with her kids, so her schedule is quite busy.”A lot of long workouts, it’s a lot of getting up a four or five in the morning, so I’m done by nine o’clock or so.” She says if you want to do it, you can make the time to do it; “It’s hard, though. It really is hard.” She says, through racing, “I’ve learned a lot about who I am as a person… I love being a mom, and it’s my best job ever, but through running and racing, I’ve discovered that I love to be challenged, and I’m an athlete. I never really thought of myself that way.”
Heather’s main focus is on preparing for the AC half Ironman, and she doesn’t have a time goal right now, “Just to finish.” She says she is afraid of getting swept off the course, but her mentor, Amanda, keeps reassuring her that she will be fine.She felt that her marathon training “took over my life” so she wants to avoid that and keep training “joyful and fun.” She wants to be “adequately prepared but not lose the fun and the challenge of it.”
Join me in wishing Heather the best in her first half Ironman. I hope she slays her goals this September!