Continuing our series profiling each one of our age group team members racing in this year's Ironman World Championships, we are thrilled to chat with Debra Tuchner. Team SFQ'er Debra earned her Hawaii Ironman qualification by winning the 50-54 age group at Ironman Lake Placid in July.
You are a Kona veteran! Can you tell us a bit about how you got your start in triathlon and evolved into a perennial Kona qualifier?
I started my journey as a runner, having completed the New York Marathon once in my 30’s. Like many others, injuries sustained from running led me to cycling. Having swam competitively in high school, I decided to put all three together and entered a small triathlon in Bala in 2006 at the age of 39. I liked racing but really enjoyed the multi-disciplined training associated with all three sports. From there, I signed up for a few small races, including a 70.3 in Muskoka in 2009.
My first Ironman was in Mont-Tremblant in 2012, where I finished 28th in my AG. Kona was not a consideration at this time—all I knew was that I loved the training and believed I could continue to improve. The following year, I raced Mont-Tremblant again and finished 6th—besting my previous year’s time by nearly 40 minutes. I continued racing 70.3’s, improving in each one. It was at that time that I began to believe that Kona was a slim possibility. Austria was my next stop where my PB and 11:18 time placed me 4th in my AG. I missed qualifying by 2 spots but enjoyed my first post-race “rolldown” event!
In 2015, I got my break and qualified in Los Cabos, finishing 2nd. I had completed Ironman Muskoka earlier that year, finishing 6th, and had almost resigned myself to the reality that qualifying for Kona was likely never going to happen. My husband, who has been an amazing supporter and fan, suggested that we give it one more try in Cabo. It was an incredibly hot day and after the bike I was in fourth position. I found the run difficult, but somehow managed to negative split the back half of the marathon, running my way to 2nd, missing out on first by 1 minute. Kona 1.0!!
In 2017, I raced Ironman Brazil, winning it in a PB of 10:54:48–Kona 2.0!!
In 2018 we headed back down to Brazil to defend my title. Sadly, I flatted during the bike. Half way through the run I decided to pull out of the race, choosing to save my body for another race. We looked at the calendar and agreed that Lake Placid would be my last chance for 2018. I trained exceptionally hard for Placid. Without question, it was the toughest race I’ve ever competed in—winning was a bonus—Kona 3.0!!
The more I race, the more I realize that predicting victory is nearly impossible. The competition is tough and each race brings its own struggles. After this year’s race I will have completed 10 Ironmans and 17 70.3’s. I feel fortunate that my body has allowed me to pursue my passion and that my family has supported me throughout this 12 year journey.
What are the most significant lessons you’ve learned through your previous experiences at the Big Dance?
1) Try to stay focused on yourself and not get caught up in everyone else’s drama. No one knows what’s best for you more than you do!
2)Trust in your training —Your coach or training program have prepared you for the race ahead. Believe in the process!
3) Don’t alter ANYTHING pre-race—what you have practiced is tried and true. This is not the time to make changes!
4)Block out all negative thoughts during the race and focus on the positives. Be your own best cheer leader the entire day and try to push away any negative thoughts.
5) And most importantly, make sure you are all alone and smiling at the finish line. And take a moment to really appreciate where you are. It’s really incredible!
What keeps you striving to return to the island year after year?
This year is special to me because it’s the first year I’m racing Kona injury free. Last year I raced with a broken baby toe and the year before I had a terrible lung infection.
What keeps me striving to return is to see what is possible—how much can I get out of myself and can I continue to improve.
Finally, I love being with like minded athletes. There are no other sporting events where amateurs and professionals compete at a World Championship. I think the whole thing is pretty cool!
What are your goals for this year’s race?
My personal goals for Kona are to have a PB in addition to a top 10 finish!