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How I Became a Triathlon Coach- My Story

I get this question all the time- how did you end up as a triathlon coach? What was your career path leading up to this point? Well, I’m going to tell you everything about my career up to this point and not leave anything out. I’m gonna spill so get ready. This might seem like a long endurance ride so make sure your bottles are full and you are ready to ride with me.

I’ve been a runner since 9th grade. In high school I couldn’t decide whether to go out for the tennis team as a sophomore or participate in cross country. I was already on the gymnastics team, but I felt like I needed a fall sport to stay conditioned for competition. I was an ok tennis player, but I felt that cross country would be better for building endurance. As it turned out, I could run really well (7 min miles) in practice but once I got to the meets I would get really nervous and kind of choke. I was not that great of a runner but I liked being on the team and being part of a motivated group of runners. For the remainder of high school, I decided long distance running wasn’t really my thing, but I was good at hurdles, high jump, and long jump so I stuck with track team after that.

During college I continued to run 3 or 4 miles in the neighborhood around St. Joseph University. It was my favorite workout, my stress relief, and I loved my regular routes around campus. I never really paid much attention to my run times and I just really enjoyed how running made me feel. I had worked myself up to 5 or 6 miles, participated in an occasional 5K or 10K, but I guess you could say I only ran for fitness and mental clarity, never to compete.

After college I continued running regularly, and as it turned out, I got a job right near the very neighborhood where I had logged so many miles in college. I expanded my routes and explored new neighborhoods, and I kept on running. I would run before work, after work, and on the weekends. I didn’t have any other sport that I enjoyed as much as running.

At age 24 I became engaged to my husband and because he was a Marine Corps Officer, he had to be in pretty good shape physically. Running and lifting weights was something we did together and we both enjoyed it. When I moved with him to Jacksonville Florida, although I still ran often, I became the queen of step aerobics. It was during the early 90’s when step was super popular and I loved it and how it made me feel. This was only a fad for me because it wasn’t long before I went back to running more mileage.

In 1996 we were living on Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base at the time. I decided that I would run the Marine Corps Marathon with my friend Angie. This was a huge goal for me and we trained hard running long on the golf course each weekend. There were a few times when I came home and threw up in the bathtub after running with Angie. She was a badass to say the least.

Race day arrived and we missed the start as we were in the port a potty line when the gun went off. There was chip timing, but not nearly as sophisticated as now. We started off fine and things were going smoothly until around mile 18 when I started to feel nausea coming on. I didn’t want to slow down my friend, so I told her to meet me at the finish line in the “T” tent as there were alphabetically organized tents for finishers. Can I just tell you that I felt like ABSOLUTE SHIT and I went back to the hotel and puked for several hours. I knew nothing about nutrition, and I took in a lot of Gatorade. I think I drank so much Gatorade that day that I was over hydrated, (I believe the term is hyponatremia) full of sugar, it’s no wonder I felt so sick. I didn’t think I would ever do another marathon after that.

Fast forward 4 years later when I was 34 years old. I had a brand new baby (actually 9 month old) and I had suffered badly from post-partum anxiety and depression. I wanted my mental health back and I needed a great big goal to help get me there. I was strong physically, but mentally and emotionally I was exhausted and pretty unhealthy. We had missed the deadline to register for the Marine Corps Marathon but saw in the base newspaper that there were a handful of spots available by lottery to anybody who wanted a chance to race. As it turned out Paul and I both got in and we hired a Marine Gunnery Sergeant who was also a rockstar triathlete to get us ready for the race. We did most of our training together and that was a lot of fun. Our son Kevin was still a baby so we would hire a babysitter on a Friday night and go run all over base from 8-11pm. It was intense but I really enjoyed having a mutual goal with Paul.

Race day arrived and I felt excellent for the entire race until mile 24 where I suddenly and unexpectedly became nauseous and dizzy. We had amazing support all throughout the race with Paul’s 2 DC sisters Ellen and Joan supporting us along the way. I was sweating intensely and I felt like I might throw up. I was at 3:20 when all of this happened and I REALLY wanted that sub 4 hour marathon.

I didn’t get it.

I ended up shuffling along and off and on throwing up for the last 1.5 miles. When I got to the finish I couldn’t think of anything else that I wanted to do more than cry. It was over. Done. I came in just over 4 hours to my disappointment.

That was the last marathon I ever did. From there I decided that my new favorite race was the Half Marathon. I became really good at that distance and I loved that it wasn’t a 3 or 4 hour ordeal. In my late 30’s I must have completed at least 15 half marathons and most of those were in the San Diego area as we were back at Camp Pendleton at that time. Kevin was a toddler and I was very on the fence about having another kid.

So, I ran the Camp Pendleton Half Marathon in September of 2002. I literally raced like a fucking rock star that day. I had been training with a Navy spouse who pushed me every single time we ran together. I had my all-time best half that day coming in at 1:32. I was blown away that I could hold that pace for 13 miles and wondered if I could ever hold it for 26 miles? I figured I had at least gotten first in my age group and I looked forward to being on the podium.

Until I wasn’t.

As it turned out, this race was VERY competitive and I was 6th in my age group. I was actually a little shocked given that I had just run 13 miles at a 7 min pace. WTF? We went to breakfast in downtown Carlsbad and I couldn’t even eat my blueberry muffin I was so disappointed. Yup I even cried.

Two months later I found out I was pregnant with Kelly Anne Timoney. And that Paul would be leaving for the Middle East (Iraq) indefinitely. Whaaaa?

Morning sickness settled in in a big way and I was losing weight like crazy. I was super-duper sick all the time and there were times when I thought to myself, “What have we done?” This was a time in my life where I was actually flat out scared for the future. The “what if’s’ were closing in on me and the thought of having this baby without my husband present started to become a reality. The Marine Expeditionary Force left shortly thereafter and I didn’t see Paul for about 7 months.

Fast forward to August 2003. Paul Timoney arrived home about one week before baby girl Kelly Anne was born at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton. I brought her home the next day and we only had about 5 days before we were moving to the East Coast.

Alexandria Virginia was beautiful suburban DC. And what a perfect place for the Marine Corps Marathon. As soon as we arrived in DC I put that race on my calendar and began logging the miles while my infant daughter and toddler son were still asleep. Things were going well for a while but then in early September I got a stress fracture in my second metatarsal and had to wear the boot for a few weeks until it healed. Super disappointing because I had to give up my 26.2 and defer until next year. Not the end of the world but still a bummer.

Onto the Broad Street run that May of 2004. I ran a 7 min pace the entire 10 miles and I felt like a rockstar. I wasn’t sore, not terribly tired, and I felt like I could have run forever. My career was progressing nicely.

Until I turned 40 and tore the shit out of my left hamstring. I clearly remember running on a beautiful shaded trail around Burke Lake in northern VA and I came home that night and felt a tightness in my butt (right at the insertion) like I had never known. This injury was relentless and every time I tried to run it seemed to come back even worse.

While I let it heal, I had to do something outside. So, I bought a road bike. A Specialized woman specific Dolce Elite to be exact. We were back on Parris Island at the time and I had found a way to be outside doing cardio without running (at least for now).

Now here’s the funny thing. While riding by myself one Sunday afternoon, I ran into a couple on triathlon bikes and it was instant friendship. Kristin was a Navy pediatrician and Kevin happened to be a triathlon coach. He was an experienced cyclist and a physical therapist as well. He started to put the bug in my ear about doing a triathlon but I kept on telling him that I just don’t swim.

Until that Monday morning when I started swimming at the YMCA. I made it official. I was going to do my first tri in March of 2007. Kevin trained me extremely well and I didn’t realize at the time how fortunate I was to have such a rockstar coach. He trained me so well that I won my category (novice) that day and went on to win the Parris Island Triathlon 5 or 6 more times after that. I travelled to Charleston to compete in a race series there that summer and ended up on the podium several times. At that same time I got certified as a Spinning Instructor and began teaching Cycling classes on the base gym, mainly to Drill Instructors and base personnel. The cycling classes were a compliment to my training on the bike.

I was hooked.

I went on to race many more times after that with a lot of hardware added to my collection. There were ups and downs along the way, but I knew I wanted to get to the top one day. I wasn’t sure when it was coming, but I was nowhere near done.

In 2016 I had an excellent racing year here in Texas. I won 4 or 5 age group titles and a few overall Masters Female titles which put me in the running for the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship. Wow what a fun race in Omaha NE. I was a little disappointed in my bike leg because usually for me that is always my strongest leg, but that day I did just ok. I was in 17th place. I was really hoping to qualify for ITU Triathlon World Championship, but it wasn’t looking good. There would have to be a few people dropping out in order for me to get there, but by Christmas I hadn’t heard anything so I figured it wasn’t a go.

In the meantime, I decided that I wanted to be a Certified Triathlon Coach. I flew up to Myrtle Beach and took the 3 day certification with my friend Anne. I was eager to coach but I didn’t even know where to begin.

So, I hired my own coach to coach me so that I could get to World Championships the following year. I began working with Raul in February and I had big plans for the 2017 season. I was teaching 9 classes a week at the gym and doing all the workouts Raul gave me. I didn’t want to admit to myself that this was way too fucking much.

Then on March 2, 2017 I received an official letter from the ITU inviting me to participate in the 2017 Triathlon World Championship in Rotterdam Netherlands. OMG! At first I thought there would be no way we could swing this with the kids in middle and high school. Financially it was very expensive with travel and hotel plus all the other stuff like transporting my bike, buying the Team USA Tri kit, gear, etc. That night Paul started checking on flights and hotels to Rotterdam and he was more convinced than me that we could make this happen. It was a super exciting time and I never expected to be invited.

And then I hurt my R foot in April. The intense classes and hard training were catching up with me. I had tibial tendonitis and an impingement in the R ankle. This wasn’t the first time I had this injury. My feet are super flat genetically and that kind of structure doesn’t serve a runner well. My hamstring was sore most of the time and I knew I was way overtraining. So I quit the gym and the years of teaching fitness to go all in on triathlon. Although I was heartbroken about no longer teaching, nothing was going to stop me from that World Championship.

I had one really important race on my calendar in May- the Capital of Texas Triathlon. I really felt I could win my age group in this race and it was a great big goal for me. Even though I had to be off running for a few weeks, Raul and I decided that I would go and do the race anyway. Kevin, my oldest, came home that week with a bad virus and was throwing up continuously for 2 days. Then I woke up super sick with nausea that Friday before Capital of Texas. I pretty much threw up all day and night. On Saturday I was still a little whoosey, but I told Paul to pack the car with my bike and that we would go to Austin. Walking around Austin was hot and sweaty and I really didn’t feel good. I had so much riding on this race and I didn’t want to disappoint myself or Raul. At dinner that night I could barely eat and I came home to the hotel and threw up for 2 hours. My bike was in transition already and now I couldn’t race. Such a bummer. I was totally dehydrated and still nauseous. But most of all I was just sick with disappointment.

In July that same year (2017) I redeemed myself with a good win at Tri Aggieland. I really felt like a triathlete again. This gave me a boost in confidence after having been injured and missed CapTex. My right foot was not perfect but enough to give me a 7:45 pace and put me at first place on the podium. Victory is sweet.

The left ankle/foot began to have tibial tendonitis in a big way. This was a common injury for me having super flat feet. My awesome doctor sent me to the Aggie Track athletic trainer to help me resolve this issue before World Championship. We were getting close and I couldn’t risk anything from keeping me from not going. We scraped the tendon, cupped, iced, dry needled, and ultra-sounded the injury for weeks just so I could get to Rotterdam. It was a stressful time because I wanted to go there and represent the US well and I was worried about the injury. We doctored it enough to get me to compete!

Rotterdam was an experience like no other. To wear our flag and represent this country was just the most amazing thing I ever did as an athlete. I knew after I had raced that day that I was in a lot of trouble with my feet.

I came home with a stress fracture on the tibia and from there I went on to have 6 surgeries (3 on each foot if you count the ones to take screws out) and many many weeks on crutches and scooter. Flat feet are very hard to fix and it takes a very special and experienced surgeon to get it just right. For us it was a few times of trial and error. The first go around worked for about a year and then both feet began to feel as if my arches were collapsing. And they were. Literally. My feet have been a HUGE cross for me to bear. It’s taken me a few years to get them back to normal. And normal feels like about 85%. Flat foot surgery is super invasive and you basically end up with a pully system to hold your arches up, several pieces of hardware, and about 3 big incisions. Did I mention weeks of physical therapy once you start walking again and several months of wearing the boot off and on? Oh and cute high heels are gone forever. Thank God for cowboy boots.

I am super thankful that I can still ride well and swim. Can I run? I get this question a lot. Physically I can run but chances are I probably won’t. I’ve been through too much shit with my feet to risk anything else, you get what I am saying? Cycling has been my thing anyway for the past several years and I guess you could say that this fills the void of not running. I am part of an AMAZING cycling group whom I have been with for the past 10 years.

So now what? How does a triathlete cope with not running and a burning desire to make a difference in this sport?

The answer is Coaching.

The best way to give back to a sport that has served me so well is to pay it forward and help someone else. Having been to the start of a race 60+ times, I am pretty sure I know a thing or two. During the time I was recovering from foot surgeries, I began coaching local triathletes at no cost so that I could learn the ropes of coaching. In 2018 I coached my first Ironman race and 2 of my athletes ended up becoming All World Athletes. Yes all this happened under MY WATCH! As a thank you gift my good friends Andy, Matthew, Kyle and Joe gave me a certification to be an Ironman University Coach as a gift for helping them along their ironman journey.

Since then, I have coached dozens of athletes, mostly iron distance. I have studied the sport of triathlon for many years now, and for me I really enjoy taking folks on a journey from start to finish. It’s a long and arduous road to ironman, but if you do it safely with a coach you will get to the finish line and hear the words, “You are an Ironman.” It is all about dedication, commitment, and a burning desire to do something bigger than yourself.

So that’s it in a nutshell- after 6 pages of a blog post. My intent is not to tell you how hard I have had it with my feet. It is rather the opposite. When one door closes another opens. Coaching for me has been a gift, a blessing, and a beautiful way to give back to the sport I love. I thank God every day for that.

Need a triathlon coach for your next race? Shoot me an email for a FREE 15 min call by clicking the button below!

Mary Timoney

Ironman University Certified Coach

ACSM Trainer

USA Cycling Coach


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