Haley Chura had not done an Olympic distance race in the last two years, nor did she have plans to race Age Group Nationals. However as her coach implored and as USA Triathlon opened up the wait list, her entry was confirmed less than a month before the day of the race. Haley led the women’s swim by thirty seconds and took the female title with a similar margin. She discusses her race here.
Slowtwitch: When did you arrive in Burlington?
Haley Chura: I arrived in Burlington Thursday afternoon. I flew Southwest into Manchester, New Hampshire because I wanted to save a few bucks on bike fees. That meant I had a three hour drive across New Hampshire and Vermont to get to Burlington. But the drive was gorgeous and I got upgraded to a sweet Toyota Camry rental car with Bluetooth and everything! I listened to Taylor Swift on repeat the whole way. It was awesome.
ST: Did you scout the course beforehand?
Haley: I rode part of the bike course and looked at the water, which I decided looked way too cold for a pre-race swim. I talked to some people about the run course. Everyone told me about the huge hill coming out of transition, but I happen to like really big hills, so I wasn’t too worried.
ST: But on race day the water was actually quite warm.
Haley: Warm? That water was definitely NOT warm! I was freezing! I think the cooler air temps pre-race got to me. I should have packed more clothes! I actually did a non-wetsuit relay swim across Lake Tahoe with a few friends earlier this summer. Compared to that I guess Lake Champlain felt like a bathtub!
ST: What did you think of the town and race venue?
Haley: Burlington was a really great race venue. Lake Champlain is gorgeous and the downtown marketplace is full of cute shops and restaurants. It also seemed very bike friendly. I actually saw a road sign that read; Bikes May Use Whole Lane. I wish we had those in Atlanta!
ST: Did you have supporters with you?
Haley: I traveled solo (my music & dining selections are suspect, not to mention my driving ability) but once in Burlington I met up with a few of my awesome Dynamo Multisport teammates. And while my family may not have been physically in Vermont, they were definitely still there to support me. After all, my parents spent more than ten years driving me to swim practice. They like seeing their hard work pay off too!
ST: This race wasn’t even in your plans until a couple of weeks ago, right?
Haley: That’s right! My coach, Matthew Rose, thought it would be a great idea for me to race an Olympic Distance triathlon before I head to Vegas and Kona. I ran some 10ks earlier this year and they were sheer agony. I knew the fast pace of an Olympic Distance tri was going to be way out of my comfort zone. I thought I could pull a fast one on Coach and sign up for the Nationals wait list, thinking there was no way I’d get in. I just wanted a little credit for trying so I could continue on my merry long slow distance way. WRONG. I got in, the race turned out great. And I learned once again, that Coach is usually right.
ST: So earlier this year did you not consider yourself one of the top Olympic distance amateurs?
Haley: I’ve been somewhat competitive at Olympic distance races in past years. I placed 6th at Nationals in 2010. But more recently my focus has definitely been on putting in the miles needed for long course racing. I knew I had the endurance to get through an Olympic distance race, I just wasn’t sure I had the speed. Those ladies can run fast!
ST: Take me through your race
Haley: I have a swimming background (Go University of Georgia Bulldogs!) so I took the swim out pretty hard. The lake was surprisingly choppy, which I loved! There were plenty of buoys so sighting wasn’t an issue. I just tried to roll with the waves and avoid some of the seaweed. I didn’t want to come out looking like a swamp monster in my race day pics! Out on the bike I knew I needed to ride hard. I got a new Blue Triad a couple weeks ago and I am so in love with that bike. Every ride is a treat. It was windy and the wind kept blowing the Mountain Dew in my downtube bottle all over me. I was a sticky caffeinated mess by the time I got to T2. When I finally came face-to-face with the beast of a hill at the start of the run, I was pretty psyched. Small hills kill me, but giant hills are my kind of thing. They are all mental, and I think that’s where my Ironman training helped me. I just powered up the beast and enjoyed the downhill all the way to the finish chute.
ST: Your coach was selected as a random age grouper in December of ‘11. How has he helped you grow as an athlete?
Haley: I am a total coach snob. I grew up swimming for all different types of coaches and by now, I like to think I know how to spot a good one. When I first met Matthew I knew he had potential. And after LOTS of begging I think I convinced him I might have some potential too. In 2009 my goal was just to finish an Ironman. Matthew had different plans. Somehow he re-ignited my competitive spirit and 10 months later I was treading water in Kailua Bay gunning for the age group win at the Ironman World Championship. His ability to see past my self-imposed limitations is pretty amazing, rivaled only by his ability to create truly diabolical workouts, hence his nickname, El Diablo.
ST: And I heard he has a nickname for you as well.
Haley: Oh no! If it's on Slowtwich does that make it official? The nickname Mongoose came courtesy of Coach Diablo. You know how most supermodels have really long legs and short torsos? Yeah, that's not me. I'm the exact opposite. Short legs, long torso. Like a Mongoose. What I put up with for good coaching...
ST: Matthew reports you two have watery rivalry.
Haley: Rivalry?! Oh please, he WISHES he could keep up with me in the water. He probably led you on to believe the 2010 Hawaii swim was normal. It was the ONE race where I slipped up - literally, I slipped on the stairs coming out of the water. And while my poor innocent self was writhing in pain on the ground, my COACH ran past me, giggling like a school girl, throwing his hands in the air and CELEBRATING! And to make matters worse, the race picture practically went viral. Everyone from my clients to my mom thought it was the greatest thing they'd ever seen. It may take a while, but I'm determined to get the last laugh. Even if it's just from lapping him three times in a 45 minute training swim. I will eventually convince the world I am the faster swimmer!
ST: Matthew also says you've had the fastest female amateur swim split at Kona for several years now.
Haley: Yes, the past three years I've been the first amateur female swimmer out of the water in Kona. Thank you mom and dad for driving me to all those morning practices! My swim results are also a tribute to the University of Georgia and Dynamo Masters swim programs. I've had the honor to train with some of the greatest swimmers in the world and that has really kept me loving the sport and training post-college.
ST: Are you working full time?
Haley: Yes, I work for Bennett Thrasher, PC, a public accounting firm in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m an auditor. But don’t worry; I audit companies, not people. Your tax secrets are still safe with me.
ST: Accounting sounds like time consuming career. I thought only those who are college students or independently wealthy had the necessary time needed for proper triathlon training.
Haley: No way! I think everyone I train with has a full-time career. That’s what makes age-group triathletes so much fun to be around. My training buddies are not only crazy fast, they’re also super smart, successful, and all-around awesome people. I’m lucky to have such great role models.
ST: On Saturday you were a national champion. Was it back to life as usual on Monday?
Haley: Hah! Somewhat normal. I was back training in Atlanta on Sunday which means my apartment currently looks like a triathlon bomb went off in the living room. There are allen wrenches everywhere! Hopefully I can get my act together this weekend.
ST: Is your place of work supportive of your triathlon adventures?
Haley: I’m very lucky to have a super supportive employer. My firm’s Managing Partner actually convinced me to run my first marathon with him five years ago. I beat him by a minute. Luckily, instead of firing me he encouraged me to keep running and even take up triathlon. There are a lot of runners and triathletes in our office. We even have a track club.
ST: Will you be racing as a professional next year?
Haley: Right now I’m focused on Vegas and Hawaii. My race in Vermont gave me a lot of confidence, but I know there is still work to be done. I was an hour behind Mary Beth Ellis at Ironman Texas. The professional women in our sport keep raising the bar. It’s exciting, but I know that if I ever want to compete with them, I really need to step up my game.
ST: Do you prefer 70.3 or Ironman?
Haley: I love Iron distance races. I love the way they f with your mind. Ironman is such a mental battle and I haven’t even come close to figuring the race out. But with that being said, I enjoyed last weekend’s Olympic Distance race much more than expected, especially the run. I can’t believe how much fun I had running an all-out 10k off the bike. I like the idea of being able to compete at all distances.
ST: Would you like to give any shout outs to your family and friends?
Haley: I have to give a HUGE shout out to my Dynamo Multisport teammates, especially Betty Janelle, the 1996USAT National Champion, and her husband Ernie who not only helped me get started in the sport, they’ve continued to cheer me on through the years, and also to Maria Thrash, the coach of the Dynamo Masters Swim Team. I definitely owe my continued open water swim success to Maria’s workouts.
And even though I’m an amateur, I’ve still been fortunate to receive industry support from Blue Competition Cycles, TYR, All3Sports.com, Mizuno, Cycleops, and Albopads. Without their help, I would probably still be racing in baggy running shorts and shoes with laces that tie.
And finally, I need to call out my younger sister, Hannah. I just sold her my old bike and I have a feeling we might be seeing another Chura on a triathlon start line very soon! Watch out world!
Haley blogs at http://www.haleychura.com/