When racing disappeared, Linsey Corbin asked herself why triathlon mattered to her
Linsey Corbin was burnt out.
At the end of 2019, she had been racing Ironmans professionally for more than a decade. Corbin had made 13 trips to Kona, stood on 20 Ironman podiums and held an American Ironman record. Her life had long revolved around racing, but her intensive training wasn’t rewarding her like it used to, even though she was coming off another successful season. She asked herself, “why?”
“I’m definitely not done yet, but I think a big question I just asked myself is, ‘You only have a few years left in the sport, what do you want to accomplish?'” Corbin says. “‘What do you want those years to look like? How could you get the most out of yourself?'”
"I just asked myself is, 'You only have a few years left in the sport, what do you want to accomplish?'"
- Linsey Corbin
While Corbin was in the midst of existential quandary, the calendar flipped to 2020 and threw even more challenges at her. In March, she suffered a stress reaction in her femur that forced her to stop running for eight weeks. Around that same time, the harsh realities of the Covid-19 pandemic became more clear. Races were being canceled as she was fighting her way back to full strength. All of her season goals suddenly disappeared.
So much uncertainty, all at once, might have shattered any other athlete, especially one already struggling to reinvigorate their relationship with their sport. But Corbin — who, like a lot of triathletes, is meticulous in her training — leaned into the unknown.
“When I found out I was injured in March, I looked at the Covid situation that was building, and just decided, ‘You know what, maybe this is your body saying it’s time to take a step back and just chill out and heal,'” Corbin says. “I just woke up every day and did what I felt like. And some days I did nothing, and some days I would go ride my gravel bike. Some days I would do trail running.”
Corbin reframed her relationship with training. When she was in-season, she would typically strive for specific paces — say, a six-minute mile. For the first time in a while, she allowed herself to run for fun, and use exploring new areas or tackling difficult terrain as motivation. She no longer felt beholden to numbers.
A new coach helped her rediscover passion for training, too. Corbin had a fruitful relationship with her old coach, but found after eight years together that the routine was beginning to feel stale. Working with Jesse Moore, a cycling-focused performance coach based in Sacramento, she is excited by training again. She says Moore is very good at creating specificity for her, breaking down workouts minute-by-minute so that Corbin always feels engaged.
“It has actually created sort of a beginner’s mindset in me, which has made me come full circle back to the beginning of my career in that you’re adapting to a new style of training, and a new coach, and new communication and new workouts,” Corbin says. “I think that that’s what has reignited the fire in me. Like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a whole new sport again.'”
With Moore by her side, Corbin reset her 2020 plans: “I know that I probably have a few years left of racing and I want to go all in on those years, so let’s just capitalize on rest and rejuvenation and getting my head in the right place so that I am ready to race in 2021, ’22 and ’23.”
The decision to sit wasn’t made lightly. When Corbin had recovered enough from her injury to potentially race, she had to fight the urge to dive back into competition. The thought of racing events like Ironman Wisconsin had kept her motivated in the past. Suddenly, she needed new reasons to push herself.
“I had a hard time because a lot of people would be like, ‘Oh my gosh you had the most fun year last year.’ But I think mentally It was really tough for me to miss having those training cycles.” Corbin says. Eventually, she discovered that new challenges also scratched her competitive itch.
A lot of people would be like, 'Oh my gosh you had the most fun year last year.' But I think mentally It was really tough for me.
- Linsey Corbin
“It’s always just been about testing my personal limits, both physically and mentally. And so that was definitely an eye opener,” Corbin says. “You don’t need a race line to test your limits. Or maybe a race is not gonna look like a triathlon — it could be a gravel race, or it could be a ski race — but you’re still testing your limits in a different way.”
As Corbin gradually reoriented her training towards triathlons, she did so with a better understanding of why the sport is so meaningful to her. More than simply improving her numbers, she enjoyed pushing her body into unknown territory. Long endurance events require months of preparation, and bravery on race day to face down the possibility of failure.
“I just really missed the process of, here’s something we’re working towards, and here’s your checklist,” Corbin says. “I focus more on Ironman racing so those endurance events that have uncertainty of what you’re getting yourself into, I think there’s a certain adrenaline or endorphin high that comes with those.”
Corbin is keeping her 2021 goals measured. She wants to stay healthy and maintain consistency in her training. She’s keeping her eyes towards the Ironman World Championship in Kona, where she’ll race for a 14th time. She’d like to place in the top five again, and run a sub-three hour marathon off the bike.
In the mean time, she’ll try take on start lines of any variety. In March, she raced the Shasta Gravel Hugger 100-mile gravel race and finished eighth.
Longer term, she’d like to make a 15th trip to Kona, and continue pursuing new endurance activities, like trail running. At 40 years old, Corbin understands that she’s in the late stages of her athletic career. But if there’s anything that 2020 taught her — the one piece of advice she’d give anyone else who may be feeling like she did at the end of 2019, a little listless and confused — it’s that people should always “keep moving forward.”
“I think forward progress is a great thing,” Corbin says. “And I think people hear ‘keep moving forward’ and think it has to be something big and crazy, but just even something small, such as getting out the door, just starting something and not over analyzing it, is progress.
“I think progress leads to self satisfaction.”