I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with TCSD member Sonja Doherty. Sonja qualified for Kona with her great 11:15:03 performance at Ironman Coeur d'Alene. Please join me as we get to know this TCSD superstar a bit better.
CZ: What was your sports background before triathlon?
SD: I played a lot of sports growing up and in high school I played varsity soccer, basketball and softball. I went on to play Div I soccer at the University of Vermont. In the off-season the coaches encouraged us to run and run some more, which I really started to enjoy. I ran my first half marathon my senior year in college. A knee injury caused about a one year hiatus from running. A few years later and a tough break up with a boyfriend, I started running again as means of therapy. It seemed to work - I ran 3 Boston Marathons (PR’d 3:17 in ‘00) and a whole lot of other races, got back together with that guy, and we eventually got married.
Just running was making me crazy so my husband encouraged me to try triathlons. I started with sprint, then Olympic distance and so on. I mostly race the long distances now, but every now and then I throw in a Sprint just to remind myself how much it hurts to go fast like that.
CZ: What was your first triathlon experience like?
SD: My very first race was the Fiesta del Sol in Solana Beach in 2000. I had bought a bike the summer before, but was still focusing on running and had just completed my 2nd Boston Marathon a few weeks before the triathlon. I was really nervous about the rough water swim so I asked the surf / swim coach at the high school where I was working if I could come out during surf PE class and practice and he could give me some tips. After 3 consecutive mornings, his comments were “you will do great when the race comes around … when is it again, a few weeks?” The race was in 2 days. The surf was huge on race day. I think I was second to last in my wave to get out of the water. But I managed to catch a few on the bike and even more girls on the run. I had one of the fastest run splits overall. Back in those days it took hours for results to be posted and I left pretty soon after the race. A few weeks later the results came in the mail, only to realize I had finished in 3rd place in my age group. Which didn’t matter, I was already hooked.
CZ: Which Ironman races have you done?
SD: My first was IM Canada in 2004, 11:34. My second was IM Arizona in 2006, 11:49. This year I did IM Coeur d’Alene in 11:15
CZ: What was your race like at Ironman CDA?
SD: My training plan for CDA was much like Canada and I felt really good going into it. IM AZ training was put together in haste and I realized I had not been as committed to my training as I needed to be. This year, I had a solid race at CA 70.3, a great race at Wildflower Long Course, PR’ing by 20 minutes on a tough windy day, and a really strong 22 mile training run in the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon a few weeks before the CDA, I was feeling pretty dialed in and healthy.
Race day turned out to be really windy – like white caps on the water and 1-2 foot swell windy and with cooler than average temperatures. I was counting on a good hour / hour five minute swim, but with the current conditions I was really nervous. The swim turned out to be horrendous. I just had to keep on fighting the chop and currents and get it over with. Nothing like starting an IM and seeing a time on the clock about 10 minutes slower than you expected upon getting out of the water. And I didn’t feel too well either. I was shivering during the second lap of the swim and just feeling way out of sorts, kind of sea sick and dizzy. I did the best I could to just get focused for the bike and get out of transition as quickly as possible. It wasn’t very busy in the transition tent and there were a lot of bikes on the racks so I knew I had a pretty good lead on the other women.
I think being cold in the start of the bike made me get off to a quick start whereas I might normally take the first 20 miles pretty easy. The new course is beautiful – before I knew it I was off the bike. I had a good plan for the run and I was able to stick to it both on pace and nutritionally, staying just under 9 minutes a mile, checking them off one by one. All was going to plan.
On loop 2, just past the turnaround, I saw my husband and he had been checking the current standings at ironmanlive.com with my Dad. They were going crazy. My husband said ‘I don’t want to freak you out or anything, but you are at least top five, maybe even in 2nd place’. A mile or two later I ran past some other friends and they confirmed what I had just been told, I was in 3rd place with about 10 miles to go. “WOW!” is all I could think. I was stoked … but it was time for an inventory. I was feeling really strong and with that news I felt an even greater surge of energy. Stick to the plan I told myself. On the back half of the run I was trying to keep track of the other girls. As I got closer and closer to the finish line it felt like my feet were not even hitting the ground. Of course Kona has always been a goal of mine, but not the “be all end all”. I sort of went to IM AZ last year feeling over confident, so going to IMCDA I think I put less pressure on myself and it all played out like fairy tail. I couldn’t be happier, it has been the best season of racing I have ever had ... no matter what happens in October.
CZ: What went through your mind when you knew 100% for sure that the Kona slot was yours?
SD: My husband and my parents met me at the finish line and everyone was so happy. My Dad threw his arms in the air and yelled “We’re going to Kona!!” I feel I have worked hard for this and I was in a way saying to myself ‘ya, you deserve this’. I couldn’t stop moving and you might have never guessed by looking at me I had just completed in Ironman, it was party time!
As the weeks went on, the reality of 10 more weeks of hard training set in and I honestly struggled to get my head around it and get excited. I had had a great crew of training partners for CDA, it was such a great support system. I was feeling like I had put everything I had mentally and physically into CDA … what more could I do, could I produce another great IM performance, did I have it in me? But now that I am a few weeks into my training (after a vacation and some down time) it is all coming back to me, and I am really looking forward to the whole experience. Nervous, anxious, excited, all that and more.
CZ: Who will join you in Kona and how do you think that race will play out for you?
SD: My parents will travel out from Boston – they have been to each of my IM’s, they are my biggest fans and love the sport. Deb Hoffman and one of my best friends from high school are all coming out to be with me as well as my new boss at Nytro and his wife. I will have a great cheering section both in Kona and on line. Unfortunately, my husband will be in Iraq working, but I know he will be with me every step of the way.
I have set some modest goals; I want to RUN down Alii Drive with all my facilities in tact and not have to suffer out there any more than necessary.
CZ: What is the funniest or most embarrassing thing to happen to you during your triathlon career?
SD: Most embarrassing … getting my Hawaii geography and airport codes confused and booking my flight to Maui! Thankfully my husband caught it in time (about 2 minutes after booking online) … Can you imagine if I showed up to the airport on October 9th only to arrive in Maui not Kona! I called the airline right away and was rebooked. The customer service rep kept asking ‘and then you want to go to Maui?’ … ‘No, no Maui, just Kona thank you’.
CZ: What is your job at Nytro?
SD: I am the Buyer at Nytro, I control all the inventory and order all the bikes, wheels, wetsuits, clothing, nutrition …everything we stock. It is challenging to keep such a small store stocked with everything we need for both the web and retail store business. We sell more bikes in comparison to everything else, so staying on top of the inventory is really important. It is fun to be able to preview all the products before they hit the market. I also run a lot of the triathlon clinics and product nights at the store, my only real time to work with the customers instead of the vendors. I work a pretty long day, usually 9 or 10 hours. It gets really hectic at times, but the energy is all positive and I work with some really great people. There are some great perks to the job – product samples, employee purchase deals, race entries, and getting wined and dined at Interbike. But you won’t get rich working in a bike shop; you definitely have to do it for your passion for the sport. I also do a little personal training on the side, only 3 hours a week, just a way of holding onto my background in athletic training and exercise science.
CZ: What can TCSD members expect from the new ownership at Nytro?
SD: The new owners – Skip and Kristie - want to invite anyone that hasn’t been to Nytro in the past 6 months to 5 years to stop in and check us out. We are making changes every day to improve the store layout, the service shop, the merchandising – the whole shopping experience. Skip and Kristie are committed 100% to making Nytro not just the leader in cutting edge products, but also to making Nytro a fun place to shop. My co-workers and I love what we do and we hope everyone that comes in will get to experience that. We also want to offer more to the community in the way of group rides and swims, clinics, guest speakers, special demo days and more. In the coming weeks we will have an Open House, I hope that many of you will consider stopping by.
CZ: What has been your favorite moment or experience with TCSD?
SD: From the beginning I have always loved the club races. And the track workouts. The social events make it all so normal too. I went to the very first Borrego Springs Camping Trip - there were about 10 of us. We all sat around one picnic table and played board games at night. I am glad to see that event carry on to become such a hit with the members.
CZ: If you had a magic wand and could waive it over the sport of triathlon, what would you change?
SD: How about actual women’s fit race t-shirts … aren’t there enough of us participating now to warrant a t-shirt that actually fits a woman? I have enough men’s medium beefy tees to wash the paint off my car. That and better racks in the transition area and earlier wave starts for women in age groups 30-34 and 35-39.
CZ: What are your future goals with triathlon?
SD: I haven’t planned out ‘08 yet … more of the same I suppose, but probably an IM in Europe somewhere.
CZ: I've frequently seen you at the Superfrog Triathlon. What turns you on so much about "The Frog"?
SD: For a few reasons. My husband Glen was in the SEAL Teams for 8 years and has done this race a bunch of times – long before my long course triathlon racing started. I lived in Coronado for 4 years too and it was sort of the ‘in my backyard’ race (that and the club races). I like it because it goes across the grain of most the big fancy, big to do races like 70.3 or Wildflower. It’s a hard race that keeps you honest. Here you just show up and race, the pros don’t even get a special rack. I have finished 2nd in my age group 3 times in the 3 years I have raced SF … so I guess a part of me will keep doing it until I can win it. I will be back out there again this year as a primer for Kona …
CZ: I have a feeling you will get that victory this year at “The Frog.” We wish you the best of luck there and in Kona and wherever your travels take you. Thanks for sharing your story!