Brian D'Ambrosio is a writer/editor living in Missoula.
When the mind is without clarity it cracks. When the mind lacks stability it quakes. When the mind lacks inspiration it sleeps.
In order for Missoula triathlete Linsey Corbin to succeed, her mind must shine like jade. It needs to elevate her on lowly days and inspire her when she is feeling alone, fatigued, or out-of-sync. If it’s corrupted by fear, self-doubt, or frets about steep terrain or stiff competition, she would stumble.
She hasn’t slipped yet.
In fact, mental tact has pushed Corbin into a top ten finish in more than ninety percent of her races.
“Being a triathlete is almost more of a mental event than a physical one,” says Corbin, who has competed in sixteen Ironman competitions. “Physically, we are all on an even playing field. But, mentally, you would be surprised by what you can do once you can set your mind to it. It helps me to be open to surprise and positive.”
As part of that mental preparedness, Corbin trains, or, well, un-trains, the thinking process. She puts herself in uncomfortable training situations and mentally equips herself to handle all the psychological distractions and discomforts she expects to encounter on race days.
Some of the more challenging items: a healthy dose of pre-race nerves; fickle or extreme
weather patterns; underestimated terrain; and concerns about calories, digestion, and the other competitors.
Her head, her nervous system, her eyes, her senses and her body – these do not encounter the external environment. They are the external environment.
“When I train, I try to focus on the things I can control, like breathing, cadence, hydration,” says Corbin. “I don’t focus on those things not in my control. I try to break (thoughts) down to simple things, and just get to the next mile. I find smaller components work for me. A lot of these lessons I find applicable to life.”
Corbin grew up in Bend, Oregon, with aspirations of winning Olympic Gold as a ski racer. Years ago, however, she realized that her body type and personality were better suited for cross country and track competitions. After hanging up her cleats, she landed at the University of Montana, studying nutrition and exercise physiology. A few years later, she ratcheted up the intensity, and became a professional athlete.
It seems only natural that Missoula has cultivated Corbin’s athleticism, for it provides uniquely natural training environments. From Pattee Canyon to Mount Sentinel, the city slickly balances mental fortitude with top physical fitness. And its 3,500-feet elevation and plethora of surrounding trails, canyons and ridges, are the stuff of great teaching opportunities and sharp regimens.
“I love training and living in Missoula,” says Corbin. “The thing about Missoula is that there is no pretentious limelight and a great balance. The city has a nice identity and no place compares to Missoula.
“From an athletic standpoint, there are lots of humble athletes here, ultra-distance runners and medalists. It has incredible bike riding, and once you leave, you can go one hundred miles and see only one stoplight.”
Corbin’s favorite bike rides take her along the Blackfoot River corridor to Ovando or Seeley Lake, or in the opposite direction to the Bitterroot, often to Lolo Pass. Her primary running trails are the Kim Williams Trail, which she runs at least five times weekly, or a long run in the Rattlesnake. “The landscape of Missoula makes me a better athlete,” says Corbin. “Whether it’s hail storms or a real rocky run, it can be a hardcore environment – missing from places such as Seattle or San Diego.”
Corbin works out physically, whether it’s swimming, biking, or running, between five and seven hours a day. Every workout has a purpose. Tuesdays and Thursdays require higher intensity, higher heart-rate exertion, and overall harder efforts. If there is no struggle in her life, then there is no sense of adventure.
Since it is hard for her to log the necessary miles in Missoula in the wintertime, Corbin trains in warmer climates for big chunks of the year. Her vision is to “transcend the boundaries of my sport” and “represent the importance of a sound mind, body, and diet in achieving dreams.”
Her most memorable experience as a professional, she says, is still her initial Ironman, which took place in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 2006. She was fraught with nervous anticipation and the natural anxiety of the unknown.
“My biggest issue before the race was being worried about pain and suffering,” says Corbin. “But I felt great afterwards and that was pleasantly surprising.”
During an Ironman event, Corbin consumes approximately 6,500 calories and generally eats about six meals a day. At the 2006 Ironman Hawaii she shed ten pounds. “The heat and humidity were rough,” says Corbin. “My Montana resiliency and stubbornness paid off.”
Indeed, Big Sky qualities are embedded in Corbin’s sense of identity: She picks up a cowboy hat near the end of each race and crosses the finish line wearing one.
“It is a bit of a tradition for me,” says Corbin. “The cowboy hat is symbolic for the fact that I’m having a lot of fun. When I’m not having fun, I’ll stop racing. As long as I enjoy competing, I’ll keep going.”
At 32, she is fully aware that the mid-30’s are the peak years for female athletes in endurance sports. When her mind and body are in harmony, Corbin is inspired. When inspiration flows, her legs and feet move swifter, her muscles strengthen, and her goals are met with a renewed sense of purpose.
“One of the biggest goals for me is to complete the Ironman in less than nine hours, which I’ve done once. Ultimately, I would like to be world champion at Ironman Hawaii (held October 12, 2013).”