In this week's edition of the Smasafest Diaries, one of our most beloved TeamSFQ members, Robin Pelton, shares her remarkable story of enduring loss and gaining strength this past year through her connection to endurance sports and its unique and supportive community.
What first drew you to endurance sports?
Greg, of course. He came home one day from work and said he was going to do a sprint triathlon with the guys from work. He didn't even have a bike, he found an old bike in the trash, it must have weighed like 50 lbs, and he did the sprint. I had so much fun watching the race and the people were just so friendly and helpful. So unlike the road races we had been doing, then he decided to do an Ironman.
I was running at the time, but never thought of myself as a runner, I was like "I can do a Tri, I grew up swimming, like that's all there is to it." What a steep learning curve. So we bought a book, and bikes, and swam at the pool, and the rest as they say is history.
When did you decide to start coaching? And how has helping your athletes achieve their goals helped you achieve yours?
I sort of fell into coaching. This couple would come into the running store I work at and just ask millions of questions, then one day they came in and asked me to coach them, I'm like no, no, no I'm not a coach, I have my own coach, ask her. Then they said, but you do all these races, at the time I had done about 15x 70.3's, my first IM, run the Boston marathon, they said with your background you would be great, just give us some tips. Then after a couple weeks of "giving tips," I finally said, "Fine, I'll coach you." Then they said, we have a couple friends that need coaching, within a month I had 6 athletes.
My passion is working with beginners, people who have been told their entire lives they "can't" do something, watching them at their first race, finishing something they never thought they could do, just makes my heart happy and makes me want to show them that anything is possible! Challenge yourselves, think outside the box. They mostly think I'm crazy, but I see them thinking, if she can do it, why can't I?
Both you and your husband, Greg, were a staple in various endurance events, (ultra marathons, triathlons) as both participants, support, and volunteers for years, what is it about the endurance community that inspires you to devote so much valuable time and energy?
The people, hands down! So many people helped us when we started out, and we always wanted to be able to give back and to be there for the other first timers, people who don't have groups of friends to train with or tri clubs to help them. We had gradually moved away from Ironman and more toward Ultraman, Xterra, and the ultra running community, the smaller venues are way more laid back and more personal. We both loved Ultraman races and being part of a small Ohana. Plus, we had done IM races over and over, and I think a lot of it was the challenge of the distances themselves.
Since your incredible husband, Greg, (an outstanding endurance athlete in his own right) passed away suddenly last Summer, how did you find the strength to not only continue running, but be running faster than ever before by consistently knocking off personal records nearly every occasion you toe the line? In essence, what has been driving you to push yourself beyond previous limits on the race course?
When Greg first passed, it was all I could do to get through each day. There were just so many things to take care of, but being a 30 year Navy wife helped a lot. Hillary, (my coach), asked me if I wanted time off, but having a training schedule gave me something to focus on, it gave me a purpose when most everything else was chaos. I drew strength from the workouts, pushing myself. It's when Hillary coined the phrase "Powered by Greg" or PBG. My diet changed, I went back to a more plant based diet and found I was running farther, faster and recovering better than I had before. Greg was my strength, so now I race for him, challenging myself to do better each time, in his honor. I would like to think a bit of his speed passed on to me, and I know he's out there with me at every race, pushing me, telling me, " You can keep this pace, you can keep going." I just hope to make him proud at each race.
Have you ever felt encouraged and comforted by Greg's spirit during training runs and/or races?
On every single run! I feel the closest to Greg when I am out running. Running was his thing, and he's the one that first encouraged me to take up ultra running. Now I do it for him. I'm pretty sure it makes him happy, I see signs of him everywhere, and it makes me smile.
The race in Utah last year was a race Greg and I were supposed to do together, it took everything I had to go and do the race, but I knew He would want me to go. I was fortunate that several friends were doing the race as well, so I wouldn't be going alone. It was an incredible 3 days, so spiritual and so healing. Racing over the 3 days was a lot like Ultraman, you see the same people every day and share the same course. Plus, there was an added bonus of meeting up with 2 Ultraman ohana. On the 3rd day they did a tribute to Greg at the finish. That was completely unexpected, and WOW tough to hear, there were a lot of hugs and tears at that finish. I am so excited to go back this year with Smash teammates.
The resilience and grace you have shown since experiencing such a tragic loss has inspired your local community, and countless members of the endurance community at large, do you have any thoughts you'd like to share for someone else who is navigating through grief?
This is such a tough question because people deal with grief so differently. Accept help, that was one of the hardest things for me. I'm an only child, and like I said a 30 year Navy wife used to doing things on her own. There aren't really any words someone can say that help. So letting them help you also helps them as well, because they are dealing with their own grief. Don't let anyone tell you how to navigate your grief, or when to "move on." Sadly, I have lost friends over this. There is no "getting over" this, move forward at your own pace, and do things in your own time, and DO NOT feel guilty about it. If you know someone dealing with grief, sending messages, cards, offers of help, really do make a huge difference, because you really do feel like you are alone in the world. Don't be afraid to reach out to them, even months later. It means so much. I am also truly blessed to be surrounded by such amazing teammates. Hillary called or texted me every day, as did Michele, and Jessica Deree always seemed to know when I needed a quick message. Amy Hite sent me cat pics or called me every day. Julia Mairs Weisbecker and Shannon Gallivan Bol, the 3 of us share a special bond, and their messages helped me so much. My local friends here as well, there are no words to say how much they helped me, some were here every day, just checking in.
Fortunately, you have been able to compete in numerous running races near your home in Washington state and Utah during our current COVID times, but as the world continues to open up, do you have any races or other adventures in your sights for the rest of 2021, or 2022? Yes, I have been super lucky to be able to race as often as I have, because trail racing is the original socially distant sport, really. I have a sprint triathlon coming up in a couple weeks, then the new Salem 70.3, Alcatraz, Maple Valley, 70.3 then Oceanside. I'll probably throw in some more trail races if I can, too. I'm thinking of doing the Saguaro half in Tucson on February, 19th, and maybe something special in April. Also, I'm looking at a 70.3 in Maine in Sept. of 2022, because I have family nearby, so that would be fun. Plus, all the trail races up here. I do need a new "special challenge," last year it was running 100k on my birthday... Gotta figure something out. :)