Dispatch: Project Penny (Challenge Penticton), Chapter One

  • By Holly Bennett
  • Published Jun 27, 2013
  • Updated Jul 24, 2013 at 12:29 PM UTC

One day last August, three close friends and colleagues at Triathlete magazine decided to tackle a Challenge together–the inaugural 2013 Challenge Penticton. One of them even gave the adventure an uber-cute name: Project Penny. This awesome promise among friends also led to the women becoming teammates on SOAS Racing’s ambassador team. The three chickadees were in for a fit, fun and fashionable 2013 season, for sure! Since August, the women’s lives flipped into fast-forward mode–and before they knew it they were in the thick of training. Here’s a little about each of their parts in Project Penny.

Name: Julia Polloreno
Title: Editor-in-Chief
Age: 35

Seven years ago I lined up for my first and only iron-distance race to date. I was working at a city magazine at the time, and an interview with paraplegic triathlete Jim McLaren inspired me to sign up for an Ironman and raise money for Jim’s cause. No matter that I’d only completed a handful of sprints. It would be a personal testing ground—did I have what it takes to swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 and run a marathon in succession? I approached the training—and the race itself—as a curious human experiment. Barely able to wrap my head around the task before me up through race day, I swam, bike and ran super conservatively, fearful of self-imploding or soiling myself or a number of any other dramatic melt-down scenarios I worked up in my head.

My plan worked because I did finish, 14-plus hours after I jumped into Tempe Town Lake, and felt that rush of endorphin-fueled gratification that keeps us coming back for more. Except my “more” has since consisted of sprints, Olympics and 70.3s—until now. I hear the call of the iron beast again, and signed up to race Challenge Penticton (formerly Ironman Canada, and what I call “Penny” because it sounds less fearsome) just a couple months from now. It’s been a vastly different process this time around, as I’ve been able look at the iron-distance through the lens of experience from actively racing these past seven years (and perhaps I’ve picked up a few pointers through my job of 3.5 years). I’m a different person today—more mentally than physically, which is what really matters in this sport. I’m a wife and mom to two now, and I view myself a lot differently as an athlete. I’m less timid, more ready to see my potential than limitations. This time, the goal will be to compete, not just complete.

The road to Penticton hasn’t been pothole-free. With a spouse and two kids in the equation now, triathlon training presents an exercise in balance. Sometimes I feel selfish, but mostly I know I’m chasing a productive goal and setting a solid example for my kids, who remain the ultimate priority. Some people “just don’t get it”—why I would choose hours of training over spending that same time with my kids. The way I see it: I haven’t adopted iron-distance training as a permanent lifestyle (and if you have, more power to you for making it work), I’ve been able to work in much of my training during the hours I spend apart from them anyhow, and having this goal—a competitive iron-distance experience—makes me a happier person and therefore a better mom. It also helps to not care what anyone else thinks.

And although I’m working with a really kick-ass coach, Jimmy Riccitello, who has made the process not only productive but fun, the training has been far from perfect, with best intentions periodically getting swallowed up by work commitments, flu bugs, my love of Cabernet and the snooze button. Still, it’s gratifying to be on this path, to build on the little bit of momentum that each day brings.

Eight weeks to go. I have some big training days still ahead, and am already getting excited just thinking about race day. One of the things I like most about triathlon is that during a race everything else in your life if stripped away and you’re forced to live in the moment. Things get real. Iron-distance racing represents the apex of that experience and affords a rare opportunity to endure, rejoice and grow. And that’s why I’m excited to meet Penny. I expect we’ll have a love-hate relationship, but that in the end, I’ll be better for knowing her. I already am.

RELATED – Dispatch: The Man Behind The Challenge

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