I recently talked triathlon and Ironman with Carla Mason. Carla teaches 7th and 8th grade Mathematics at San Elijo School in San Marcos and she is aTri Club member who recently qualified for Ironman Hawaii with her 12:14:07 performance at Ironman Arizona.
CZ: How did you get started doing triathlons?
CM: Back in 1987 I had a break up that had me in the dumps and I said to myself ‘enough is enough, time to get off your butt and do something’ and I thought triathlon was a big enough challenge to keep me busy training. I did the Bud Light Triathlon Series Tri here in SD and the Carlsbad Triathlon that year and got hooked. I was always an athletic kid; I rode my bike everywhere growing up in Coronado. I started running in H.S. to help me get in shape to play H.S. softball and played adult league ball for years before getting into triathlon.
CZ: What Ironman races have you done?
CM: My first Ironman was last year at Coeur D’ Alene, Idaho with a finishing time of 12:26.
CZ: Tell us about your race at Ironman Arizona.
CM: I enjoyed racing an inaugural race; everyone is in the same boat, with no previous course knowledge. Most of the spectators hadn’t seen a triathlon of the Ironman magnitude, so they really seemed to come out in full force to cheer on the athletes. With a 3-loop bike course bringing us through the town of Tempe 3 times it really allowed the spectators some good cycling coverage while giving the athletes lots of support as well. I think the biggest challenge for me (and probably all the athletes) was the wind on race day; it was blowing 30 mph with even bigger occasional gusts. That definitely kept you alert on the bike and hanging on to your hat during the run.
CZ: What was different about your IM Arizona race and training that enabled you to qualify compared to your previous IM race?
CM: Since Arizona was my first sincere attempt at qualifying for Kona I didn’t change much from last year in Idaho, with the exception of calories and type of food during the race. My two biggest challenges were standard time and El Nino. Training for an Ironman on standard time was an interesting experience; early wake up calls to swim in order to be at work by 7AM, then squeaking in as much afternoon time to ride and/or run. Fortunately my Principal, Co-Chair of the Math Department, colleagues, students, and parents were all very supportive about my training time. I’d run at lunch, hitting the finish line at the bell, go right up to teach 3 more classes then hit the bike or a run again before dark at 5. The El Nino also put a huge kink in the training routine; it seemed as if it rained weekend after weekend, which most of us use for big workout days. Who knows, maybe in hindsight maybe not putting in the massive training miles kept me fresh for Arizona.
CZ: Who will be joining you for the trip to Kona?
CM: Well my Mom and sister are going and a few friends. My good friends, training and racing buddies, Mark and Tish Ford will be going too. We race together quite a bit and it is always a fun filled adventure traveling with them. Because they are both very experienced Ironman athletes, knowing they are close by makes things more relaxing for me.
CZ: What do you hope for with your race in Kona?
CM: I just want to go over there with friends and family and soak up the Kona Ironman experience. Of course I want to race well, but more importantly, I want to have fun, enjoy the other athletes, have a safe race AND FINISH.
CZ: What key advice would you offer beginning triathletes, particularly the women?
CM: Be patient. I think unless you are blessed with incredible raw talent this is a sport that can take years to get good in and see real results. There is so much to learn about how hard you can push your body so you have something left for the run. There’s also a lot to learn about training, diet, rest, and recovery. I was very fortunate to have Mark Ford really share with me his racing plans and philosophies; and doing the long training runs with your wife, Laurie, and Tish Ford were very helpful. My advice to the beginners (and the old timers) is to have fun racing, the training is done, enjoy the race and most importantly thank your family and loved ones who put up with our OCB in the quest to reach our goals.
CZ: That's great that some other athletes have been part of your success. Do you have any sponsors?
CM: Hi-Tech Bikes has sponsored me for the past few years. Hank has a great shop with awesome mechanics and sales staff; and last year I was picked up by a drinking water service, The Water Lady, which is on University in North Park.
CZ: What is your favorite triathlon moment and why?
CM: I spent 8 summers being a volunteer camp counselor at Camp Good Times, a camp for children suffering from cancer. I developed a great relationship/friendship with one of my campers, Michelle McWain. In 1986 at the age of 17 she relapsed, I was a newbie triathlete then and an international distance race was still a big challenge. A few days before the Carlsbad Triathlon, Michelle was put in the hospital in Long Beach. I went up to visit her, she was so sick, much more than I prepared myself for, but she kept waking up and talking about the triathlon. By the time I left the hospital I was so upset that I didn’t think I could get “up” for the race the next day, so as I left I turned around and told her ‘I’d finish this race this for her’. During the beginning of the run I got pretty bad calf cramps; back then I knew nothing about nutrition, hydration, race strategy, etc. I just was muscling my way through; don’t ask me how I finished, but I did (barely). The next day I went back up to Long Beach Hospital with a Carlsbad Triathlon T-shirt for Michelle. When I gave her the T-shirt the biggest smile came across her face and she told the nurse she wanted to wear it. The medical staff cut that shirt right up the middle and put it on Michelle. Two days later I got the call that Michelle had died still wearing her 1988 Carlsbad Triathlon T-shirt. I still have my t-shirt, holes and all; I wear it, and it puts a smile on my face every time I do. Michelle taught me to race with a purpose; whether it’s for yourself or someone else, make it count for something so that when you cross the finish line you feel you’ve achieved more than just a triathlon.
CZ: What are your future goals in triathlon?
CZ: As a school teacher, I’m sure you think role models are important. Who are some of your favorite role models of today that kids should follow?
CM: I like Lance Armstrong; he’s so darn tenacious and stubborn. He took something horrible in his life, came back, and uses it to motivate himself as well as others. He does great things with his charity that has a really positive affect on people.
Rudy Garcia-Tolleson and some of the other challenged young athletes have an incredible influence on kids even though they are kids themselves. I keep that Road Runner poster up in my classroom of Rudy and another challenged athlete running. Every year without fail, some student asks about “those kids” in that poster. It opens up a class long discussion on perseverance, athleticism, goal setting, etc. Some of them have even gone down to La Jolla to watch the San Diego Triathlon Challenge. Rudy and all those other athletes give many of my students the confidence to go out there and try for a faster mile time or even just finish the mile.
But by in large, I think the people that have the most influence with young people are the adults they are around every day, teachers, coaches, parents; we’re the ones who set the bar for them to follow.
CZ: Carla, thank you so much for sharing your story. Congrats on qualifying for Kona. We know you’ll make the Tri Club very proud!