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Linsey Corbin’s first Ironman World Championship was especially painful, and not just because she ran a marathon after biking 112 miles in swirling island winds and swimming 2.4 miles in the ocean.
Six weeks before the 2006 world championship in Kona, Hawaii, while out on a training ride, Corbin was hit from behind by a car. She went through the vehicle’s windshield and in the process shattered her collarbone.
Less than two months later — with four fractures in her clavicle — Corbin posted a top-25 finish in the women’s pro division at the iconic triathlon.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever go back to Hawaii or the world championships,” says Corbin, a 1999 graduate of Bend’s Mountain View High School, rationalizing the decision to compete after the accident. “We (she and her husband, Chris) were treating it more like a vacation. I didn’t know I’d be back seven more times.”
Now 33, and with eight Kona appearances under her belt — including three top-10 finishes — the former Linsey Pickell is back in Central Oregon, where she grew up running and skiing. She had spent the previous 13 years in Missoula, Mont., where she and Chris went to college, before moving back to Bend last month.
She is still “Montana Made,” the slogan/personal brand she has popularized in triathlon circles. “That’s where I learned how to swim, where I learned about triathlon,” Corbin says about the Treasure State. “My work ethic and competitiveness, that all happened there.” As a nod to Montana, she finishes every race with a cowgirl hat on.
But now she will incorporate a little “Oregon inspiration” into her life.
“The last two years we’ve come back here for part of August and all of September getting ready for worlds in October,” says Corbin, who mentions Bend’s milder winters and greater access to swimming facilities among her reasons for moving back to Central Oregon.
“We just really enjoyed ourselves here,” she adds. “There’s a good support network here and definitely a few more elite athletes to train with. … We travel all the time (to compete), and Bend was the only place we kept coming back to where we could see ourselves living.”
Corbin was a solid runner during her days at Mountain View High, and she was a competitive youth skier with the Mount Bachelor Sports Education Foundation. Out of high school, she went to the University of California, Davis, where she planned to walk on to the cross-country and track teams before realizing that running “wasn’t that much fun anymore.”
She transferred to the University of Montana after a year and joined the club triathlon team. She stayed fit through school by running shorter triathlons, but she never really immersed herself in the sport until some friends persuaded her to sign up for Ironman Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho in 2006.
“It was peer pressure,” Corbin jokes. “All my friends were doing it. That was the first time I really applied myself to training in a long time. All of a sudden I got really fast and had some great success in races leading up to (Ironman) Coeur d’Alene.”
She got so fast, in fact, that she decided to enter the Idaho Ironman event as a professional — despite never competing in an Ironman before. Corbin finished the race in just over 10 hours, lost 10 pounds (and eight toenails), qualified for Kona, and suddenly had a whole new career option.
Corbin’s triathlon career quickly took off following her breakout performance at the 2006 worlds, broken bones be damned. She won two of the six — SIX! — half Ironmans she entered in 2007 and placed fifth at Ironman Lake Placid in New York. Despite having to recover from a hip injury that forced her to withdraw from the 2007 world championships during the run leg, Corbin enjoyed an even better season the following year, as she took fifth at the 2008 Ironman World Championships and was the top American female finisher at the race.
Corbin continued to have success in 2009 — she finished 11th at Kona that year — but her 35- and 40-hours-a-week training routine started to become counterproductive. She began to have trouble sleeping and was later found to be fairly close to developing chronic fatigue syndrome.
“I was pretty one-dimensional early in my career,” says Corbin, who, with the help of her trainer at time, started to focus on training aspects beyond just working out. “It was just swim, bike, run. Swim, bike, run. There’s so many other pieces of the puzzle — nutrition, rest and recovery, strength training. I started incorporating more of those other pieces and placed a bigger focus on being a better overall athlete.”
Stronger, healthier, faster, Corbin emerged from the verge of burnout better equipped to tackle her ultimate goal of winning an Ironman World Championship. To date she has finished 16 Ironman races, competed in eight world championships, and won three full Ironman races and four Ironman 70.3 (half Ironman) events.
“(Restorative techniques) are something we will continue to develop,” says Jesse Kropelnicki, Corbin’s Boston-based coach. “This many times certainly is the toughest thing for athletes to understand, embrace and develop.”
Following back-to-back top-10 finishes at the past two world championships — she was 10th in 2013 and eighth in 2012 — Corbin is eyeing a top-five finish at Kona this October. At 33 she is just now entering her endurance prime and hopes the change in scenery from Big Sky Country to the Oregon High Desert might be just the spark she has been looking for.
“The ultimate goal is to win a world title,” says Corbin, who joins an impressive community of elite triathletes and other accomplished endurance-sports types in Central Oregon. “I’ve been in the top 10 the past few years, but I want to do better than that. I looked back at the end of the (race) year (in 2013) and thought maybe changing towns, moving from Montana, would be a catalyst for that.
“Hopefully, I’m hitting my prime and moving to Bend is a good segue into that,” Corbin adds. “I’m looking for a change as I’m hitting those peak years.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0305; firstname.lastname@example.org.