RCTC Athlete Spotlight: Tiffany Nunnally at IRONMAN 70.3 Gulf Coast

“My racing accomplishments will never define who I AM, but simply something I can DO.  If I lost my legs tomorrow or could never race again my worth would not decrease and my identity would not be shaken because my worth comes from God alone. The character traits of perseverance, consistency, endurance, patience, hopefulness, and diligence are now rooted deep inside me because of the process of training and racing.  Courage and boldness have replaced fear and intimidation. I’m so thankful that I can draw from these experiences and apply these lessons to every area of my life.”

-Tiffany Nunnally

I have had the honor and privilege to train with Tiffany over the past several years. We have shared stories and laughter, joy and tears through many miles swam, biked, and run. We have stood side by side at several race starts and hugged through tears at race finishes. I am honored that she was willing to take the time to share her recent and perhaps last long race experience for little while.

In Tiff’s words….

I signed up for the IRONMAN Gulf Coast 70.3 for two reasons: It was my final “hoorah” (aka long distance race) before starting a full-time job next month and to overcome a fear of ocean swims that has developed as a result of bad experiences and dangerous weather.

I got to Panama City two days before race day in an effort to get adequate rest and get in a practice swim on the course. My practice swim took two attempts but I was able to swim half the course. The water was very choppy causing sizeable waves to get through which meant I drank plenty of salt water.

Storms rolled in late Friday afternoon and continued through the night. I woke up at 4:00 am race morning to find the rain had stopped but strong, gusting winds remained. After my typical race breakfast of sweet potato, avocado and banana I gathered up my bag and wetsuit and headed to body marking.  As I approached transition, I saw people turning around and walking their wetsuits back.  The swim portion had been canceled due to strong wind, waves, undertow and riptide currents. I could see how rough the ocean was in the morning light and was relieved the swim was canceled. My heart felt for the first-timers who would be completing 69.1 on the day of their first race.

With the swim canceled, the race began with a time-trial bike start. The out-and-back bike portion started with athletes lining up and leaving every four seconds in order of bib number; it was 26 minutes into race time before my start. The next 56 miles can be summed up with the following words: crosswinds, tailwinds, headwinds, and heat! I felt like I was either going faster than normal or crawling along at a snail’s pace. Three hours later, I found myself back in transition and it was HOT! I took a salt pill and applied sunscreen before heading out for the 3-loop half marathon course.

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Overall, I felt good on the run considering the heat and humidity were slowing me down. The frequent stops to the ladies room confirmed that I was indeed well hydrated. This was the first time in a long-distance race that I did not experience cramping or nausea! I walked through each water station and took advantage of the ice and cool water. I knew my whole family was waiting for me at the finish which was the highlight of my trip!

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In all my triathlon racing history, including four half-iron distance races and one full IRONMAN, this was the first one my kids have been able to attend.  I am so thankful they were able to see the magnitude of an IRONMAN race and watch racers of all ages and abilities race that day.  I crossed the finish line with hands in the air praising God that He had seen me through another race, been with me during all the training, and taught me new things in the midst of it as He always does.

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Of course I had a few extra questions for Tiff…

Question 1: You are seasoned endurance athlete, will you share your story about what led you to the sport of triathlon and maybe a little of your athletic background before triathlon.

I really never exercised at ALL until after the birth of my third child when I was 26 years old. I spent most of my time focused on motherhood and slowly began to work on myself. Gradually, I began taking classes at the YMCA, got certified to teach Zumba, and filled in teaching some yoga classes. About this time, a bad car accident left me with a torn meniscus and I could no longer do lateral movements. I began to search for new activities that wouldn’t aggravate my knee. Even though I was in good shape, I could barely run one mile. I decided the Rose City Run 10k would be my first race. I took six months to train for it and I ran it the year I turned 30. After that race, I looked for more ways to challenge myself including my first full marathon and a full IRONMAN within five years of starting down this road. The past eight years I have completed seven marathons, seven century rides, four half iron-distance triathlons, countless sprint and olympic distance triathlons, half marathons, and bike and road races of varying length.  

Question 2: What is your favorite part of triathlon?

Out of the three triathlon disciplines, running will always be my first love because of the sheer simplicity of it. No equipment needed, just shoes and your own body. You don’t need a pool, a gym, or any fancy gadgets. Walk out your door and go (well, mostly).

Question 3: Do you have any advice for someone considering their first 70.3 distance race?

I am someone who does all this for the enjoyment of the process and personal challenge. With that in mind, I would say don’t take yourself too serious. Coaches are great, gear and gadgets are great, and complicated specific workouts are fine. If you can afford it, enjoy it and have time for that go for it but none of it is necessary. I have never had a triathlon coach and have always kept my training plans fairly simple. There is a ton of information and chatter surrounding triathlons and that can get pretty overwhelming and intimidating so if you start to feel that way just ignore it and stay in your own training bubble. Remember that this is a HOBBY. I’m a firm believer that when a hobby takes over your life, family, and finances it’s probably gotten out of balance.

My approach to tackling a distance like 70.3 is always somewhat relaxed. I do what I can to get in all the workouts I’m supposed to each week but never at the expense of my personal relationships or overall peace. I’m always prepared to make adjustments and modify training sessions. My family never even knew I was doing most of my training because they were at a practice, a lesson, or likely still asleep.

You will get through the distance on race day. Remember, you only have to do the distance ONCE! It’s more important to stay injury-free and positive. Take care of yourself. Eat clean. Put your family first. And remember there are people of ALL shapes and sizes and ALL ages enjoying this sport. If they can do it you can too! Stop expecting perfection and enjoy the process!

4) You mentioned this is your last “hoorah” for longer distance racing. With that in mind, what’s next?

The next chapter in my life involves transitioning to a full-time job outside the home. By no means will I stop racing completely and I have the rest of my life to train and race but I only have my children at home for a short period of time. My oldest will be gone to college in a year and I am very aware of that each day. I’m blessed to begin working where they go to school and see them often during the day but I don’t want to use all my precious evenings and weekends on long training sessions. Over the next seven years, my children will have graduated and started lives of their own. Maybe I can train for an IRONMAN or an IM70.3 at that time, but in the meantime I plan to stay in shape, maybe get back into yoga and hopefully do shorter easily-manageable road races.

Thank you Tiff!

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