GOTRIbal Ambassador and first woman to race and win the EPICMAN Challenge® , shares her take on racing and having her sisters as crewmates.
Kellie Smirnoff, 40, involves her whole family when she competes. Her twin, Carrie and other sister and coach, Heather, 33, are often on her crew staff, along with her father, who’s one of Kellie’s biggest supporters.
Kellie’s had a great ultra career. When she was invited to compete in the inaugural EPICMAN Challenge®
(Dec 29-31, 2011) in Hawaii, Kellie not only showed up to race, she won.The EPICMAN Challenge® is an ultra-triathlon (Triple IRON) consisting of a 7.2- mile swim, 336-mile bike ride and 78.6-mile run. The race, which takes place on Oahu, Hawaii is the perfect backdrop to run one of the world’s largest competitions. It is now the second and only other Triple IRON in the U.S.
“We invited Kellie into the inaugural EPICMAN Challenge because she exemplifies the true meaning of epic hero,” said Jason Lester, EPICMAN’s founder and race organizer.
“Kellie understands that using your gift as an athlete to help inspire others is an honor. She is a perfect ambassador for our sport and was chosen over many top ultra athletes that submitted their resume to compete. The EPICMAN Challenge® is proud to call her our 2011 Champion!
ERM: How old you were when you made that first step to go to ultra distances?
I participated in sports most of my life. I played soccer from the age of five through college and ran track throughout high school. When I got out of college and joined the workforce running was my outlet. I was 25 years old when I did my first marathon and in 2003, at the age of 32, I did my first ultra distance run, the Comrades Marathon (54 mile run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, South Africa). I moved to the triathlon at the age of 35 and did my first Ironman at 36. After three Iron distance races over 3 years I moved to the double IM distance and completed Ultraman Canada
with the support of my Dad and two sisters.
ERM: How did you happen upon the EPICMAN Challenge?
EPICMAN was an event that was very special to me in many ways. I had my sister Heather (owner of Jonesing 4 Fitness
) coaching me for 5 months leading up to the event and had 100% confidence that she would get me to the finish line. Both Heather and Carrie crewed for me during the event. They were my angels! They were up with me for over two days ensuring I was safe, keeping me well hydrated and monitoring my nutrition. I never imagined how many people this would touch. I still tear up thinking of all the support I had!
ERM: How did you train for EPICMAN?
Smirnoff: For EPICMAN training I would get up by 4:15 am and start working no later than 7:30 am. I enjoy the alone time and the solitude. It is a way to release the stresses of the work days and the stresses of everyday life.Much of my bike sessions were on the trainer. I got in a few six- and seven-hour rides and one eight-hour ride on the trainer to help with the mental training. I trained 100% in the pool even though I live two blocks from the ocean and only swam two times per week.
My training and builds were either over the weekend or over the holidays. I have to be on my toes at work so I never feel sleepy, and I make sure that when my friends want to have a girls night or dinner that I make time. They keep me grounded and smiling and also are a huge part of my inspiration and encouragement.
ERM: What is your work/life diversity like?
Smirnoff: I take pride in and define myself by my successes in corporate America as a woman. I have been working as a professional for over 18 years and work 50– to 60- hour work weeks. I transfer the disciplines I learn in my sport into my job such as organizational skills, ability to set a goal and have a plan to reach that goal and work hard to achieve it, and teamwork and camaraderie to get to the finish of a race or a large project. My job comes before my training, so if I need to skip a workout to travel for work I never beat myself up about it. If I have to rework my training week to fit my work schedule I work with my coach and ensure I don’t skip a beat in either my job or training. I also love to mentor women to reach their professional as well as athletic careers. What inspires me are hard working women that are moms and find ways to balance their work and life and still find time to train for endurance events. They make me realize anything is possible if you put your mind to it and persevere.
ERM: What kind of athlete are you?
Smirnoff: I have always been the type of person, in all aspects of my life, to see how much further I could push myself. As I started getting into longer distance events, women were approaching me and telling me that I was inspiring them to do their first 5K or join a gym to lose 10 pounds. I found that my sport was a way to pay it forward. To inspire women to set goals, persevere, be positive and achieve things that they never imagined possible. It was rewarding to see women and young girls fulfill their dreams and build confidence and independence. Also, many longer distance events are self-supported allowing me to enjoy the journey with my family. For me that is very important.ERM: Your sisters and father are a very big part of your training and racing life? Care to expound?Smirnoff: My dad is a HUGE supporter! He crewed me with my two sisters in Ultraman Canada and recently, he flew into Jacksonville, FL to crew Heather and I for a 110K run we ran to raise money for breast cancer. He loves to crew and take pictures. My sisters and I try to do at least one ultra run together each year. I can safely say we are each others biggest fans.Heather escorted Kellie during the swim.
ERM: I read your sister’s account about crewing for you.
Smirnoff: Here was Heather’s account on crewing for me at EPICMAN originally published by GOTRIBAL.
Heather escorted Kellie during the swim.
“I have crewed (along with Carrie) for Kellie during Ultraman Canada, but for me this was a very different experience. Unlike Ultraman Canada, we got the opportunity to paddle board next to her as she swam (usually we do not get to “be” with her until the run). So that was a really cool new experience. The bike, oh the bike, my least favorite part. The twists and turns of the roads, plus traffic, and crossing a four-lane highway made me a nervous wreck! By the time we hit the run, sleep deprivation was setting in, and sleep was not in our near future. However, before I knew it we were on the last 7 miles and I was pacing her to the finish. The only thing I could think at that moment was “please don’t let me fail her now.” To be honest, it took a few days for the reality of what happened during EPICMAN to set in. Even today I am still a little shocked that together we helped Kellie make athletic history! However, even above that, the most important thing I have learned out there is that the love that Kellie, Carrie and I have for each other runs much deeper than the bonds of sisterhood.”
ERM: What are the necessities you bring when you compete?
Smirnoff: It is very critical to stock the crew car with all the necessities from hydration, nutrition, medical needs, toilet paper, tubes, tires, etc. You LIVE in your crew car for the entire race so you need a change of clothes for each phase of the event and we even had toiletries so we could shower and brush our teeth before we headed out on the run. Sleeping took place in the car and was only about an hour for me but my sisters did try to get some naps in between pacing me on the run but not much! The bathroom on the bike was the bushes and the run you had parks with bathrooms to use. You have to be very self sufficient and think of everything. In an event like this the crew needs to be with you at all times and can’t head out to the grocery store.
ERM: How did you prepare mentally for EPICMAN?
Smirnoff: It takes a certain mental fortitude to do this sport. What drives you and keeps you sustained during competition? One thing I am very good at is disassociating myself from any fatigue or negative thoughts. I know how lucky I am to be 40 years old and have the ability to physically and mentally get through difficult events and much of that comes from the support and love I receive from my family and friends. I surround myself with people that believe in me more than I can ever believe in myself. I remove any negativity and focus on how I get to that next mile or take that next step and never put thoughts in my head that make me take a step backwards. I also am very smart about my pacing and the amount of hydration and nutrition I take in. Even in EPICMAN where I got 1 hour of sleep over 40 hours and 30 minutes I just kept my mind in a good place and focused on the journey that meand my sisters were taking together.
ERM: Financially, you may not want to get too detailed, but do you budget for your competitions each year?
Smirnoff: I budget between 8 to10% of my net
income or $8,000 to $10,000.
ERM: Anything injury-wise slowing you down?
Smirnoff: Due to a great training schedule which included hip and core work, I was injury free the entire journey through EPICMAN. I focused on the right recovery methods and always was alert to any slight aches or pains that I could nip in the bud right away.
Kellie’s Favorite Things….
- Lululemon running skirts
- Play Harder Double-Life shin/calf sleeves and Juggler Knickers
- Newton and Hoka OneOne running shoes
- Sweaty bands
- Louis Garneau women’s specific cycling short
- Sidi Genius 5 Pro Carbon road cycling shoe
- Recovery Food: Sunwarrior protein powder (vanilla)
- Training/Competition Equipment: Cervelo P3 and Zipp race wheels