Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Skye's the Limit! Interview with Skye Moench

I interviewed Skye for the national site last fall, but thought I'd share here as well. She's since formally gone pro, placing 10th in a stacked field at St. George 70.3 in May... we'll definitely get her back for a follow-up interview sometime soon!

Skye Moench (formerly Murphy) has been turning heads on both the local and national tri scene this season, including a dominant, overall win at Ironman 70.3 Boise in June. If all goes to plan, she will seal the deal on her pro card at Silverman 70.3 in Vegas next month. Among other things, here Skye talks about her breakout 2015 season, some bad luck (despite stellar performances) at USAT Nationals, and the excitement level of tax accounting vs. triathlon.

What's your athletic background and how did you get into triathlon?

My athletic background is running. I started running because my dad was into running and got my sister and I into it in elementary school. I stayed involved with track and cross country teams from junior high through high school, ran my first (and only) marathon at age 16, and I’ve just been hooked and kept up on running since. The last few years I really got into half marathons and trying to push my PR lower and lower. I LOVE that distance. As far as the other triathlon sports go - I grew up knowing how to swim, but was never part of a team. My mom had my sisters and I in lessons at a young age, but that was pretty much it. Biking I picked up in the summer of 2010 when I was able to buy myself a road bike, and I’ve been hooked on that ever since! I’ve been able to make a lot of good cycling friends who have pushed me up all the canyons here in Utah. I’ve put in a ton of miles (and elevation gain) in the last few years on my bike, so it’s definitely not foreign to me.

Skye's triathlon debut
How did I get into triathlon? It’s funny, because I wrote a huge paper in high school all about doing a triathlon. Apparently I really wanted to do one back then, or at least thought it would be cool, but I obviously didn’t do much about that. I “officially” got into triathlon when I was at BYU and I had a good friend who had caught the triathlon bug. He knew I was really into running, and thought I’d make a great triathlete, so that’s when the seed was really planted. There was a “Cougar Tri” at BYU (a baby sprint) my friend told me I should do, and he offered for me to use his TT bike so I could do it. I bought some bike shoes so I could clip into his pedals, learned how to clip in a few days before the race, and I was good to go! That’s how I got into triathlon!

Like many triathletes, I enjoy analyzing results... I did some digging, and going back to when I moved here (2011 season), I haven't seen your name too often since you exploded on the scene this year. Were you in hiding over the past few years, racing a lot and I somehow missed you, or has 2015 just been a huge breakout year for you?

Haha! Great question! I haven’t been in complete hiding, and I’m definitely not new to a race startline, but this year has been different than years past. My first tri was in 2009, and I probably did two triathlons a year after that, except in 2014 I didn’t do a single triathlon. Along with a couple tris, I would typically do 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, bicycle hill climbs, and other relay/race events. I would usually do pretty well in any of these races - almost always top 3 overall, so I wasn’t just hanging out in the back, either :). In 2014 I was really into the half marathon and pushing my PR, so that’s pretty much all I raced.

With that said, 2015 has been a big breakout year for me in triathlon! It’s been a really fun ride! I decided in February that I was kind of over the desk-job life and that I really wanted to follow my passion for triathlon. Despite not being a total triathlon junkie the last several years, I really did love triathlon and thought it was the sport that I could be the most successful in if I really gave it my full attention. Long story short, I went part-time at my job and hired a coach after the April 15 tax deadline with the full intention of seeing if I had what it would take to race professionally in triathlon.

BAM swept the women's podium at Toughman
One race where I did see your name was the Utah Half in 2013. Comparing to this year's race, the newly branded Toughman Utah Half (Aug 22), you improved your swim 13 min to 26:38, bike 9 min to 2:21, run 10 min to 1:27, and overall time ~33 min from 4:49 to 4:16. You finished 3rd overall, behind a guy from Idaho (who I learned got 6th overall at Boise 70.3) and only a minute back of a local, legendary beast named Rory Duckworth. 4:49 is already a stellar time, but to what do you attribute this huge improvement?

I attribute this huge improvement to a few things: I got a coach (Wes Johnson of Balanced Art Multisport), I went part-time at work, and I have made my training and triathlon a top priority. If I had to pick one of those, it’d be that I got a coach. While I trained a lot before, it wasn’t really that intentional. It was just like “Oh, I’ll run 8 miles this morning, then go climb Big Mountain after work. Maybe I’ll go to the pool later this week.” Having a coach makes it so all my training has a purpose, and I’m pushing myself and recovering the way I need to in order to get better, plus I train specifically for the big races on my schedule. I swim almost every day now, train around 20 hours a week, and since I’m not working full-time, I’m able to still have somewhat of a life and get the recovery/sleep that I need.

When I met you minutes before the start at Boise 70.3, you mentioned you would be going for your pro card for 2016. At what moment did you make that decision and have the inner belief that you could do it?

I made the decision to try and go pro back in February when I asked my boss if I could go part-time, and when I called Jen Johnson (my coach’s wife) to talk about joining their training group. At first I think I told people I just wanted to “see how good I could get,” but that was my way of saying “I’m going to try to go pro” without sounding crazy.

on her way to a 1:27 half marathon split
I quickly just started owning that I wanted to go pro - it’s easy to own it when you have a coach and people around you who think you can do it too. I would say that I had the inner belief that I could go pro when I made the decision to change my work and training situation. But even before then, I would watch the pros at Kona, I would read interviews with the pros, and I felt inside like if I wanted to be a pro, I could. I would just have to really go for it, and that’s sort of what I’ve done this year.

So it sounds like that's still the plan! What's the process/gameplan for becoming pro?

That’s still the plan! The actual process to qualify is pretty simple - just certain criteria for certain races that you have to meet. I would have had my pro-card after Age Group Nationals (you qualify if you place top five overall at the Olympic distance), but I got a couple biking penalties that bumped me from third place. It was never THE plan for me to get my pro card at nationals, but it would have been nice to take that pressure off. So the plan is to qualify at Silverman 70.3 on October 4 - I’ll have to place top three overall amateur female, and finish within 8% of the women’s pro field.

It was a non-pro race this year, but you went out that day in Boise and were the first female finisher overall... by over 11 minutes!! No two race days are identical, but comparing to the pro women at the same race in 2014, your 31:40 swim would've been 5th among pros, 2:36:32 bike 7th, 1:30:10 run 4th, and 4:42:05 5th place overall. How much confidence did that give you that you can go out and compete at the highest level?

Boise was a great confidence builder! My coach told me he thought I would take the overall female win. I thought that was a bit ambitious at first, but then I realized I had to think that I could do it if I really wanted to win it. Leading up to the race I was nervous, but then just told myself that I was ready for this and I decided that I was just going to go for the win. Boise was my first BIG race with a coach, and really first big triathlon at all. I’d only raced local up until that point, so it was fun to think that I’d be exposed to some new talent at an Ironman branded race out of town.

1st overall female by 11+ minutes!
As far as comparing times, it’s definitely fun to compare and see that I’d probably be able to hang with the pros - makes me feel good about transitioning to the pro field. To be honest though, I was really wanting to race Boise faster than I did, so it only motivated me to get back to work and get faster. The glory of winning lasts about a day, and then it’s onto the next and trying to improve even more. But no doubt, I gained some confidence in my abilities that day.

What was your experience like at USAT Nationals in Milwaukee, and what distance of racing do you feel most suits you?

MIlwaukee was a lot of fun, but it was also a big roller coaster for me! My coach pitched the race to me as something that would be fun, and something I wouldn’t be able to do once I went pro, so I should just come do it. Though we were planning on me racing, I didn’t register or book my ticket until about 10 days out! A couple weeks before the race, my coach brought up how I could get my pro card there if I went top five. I thought that was a little ambitious cause this was going to be a big race - a National Championship! I had never raced at a race that big, but again, I realized I had to think it and believe it for it to really happen, so the week before the race I just decided I was going to go for top five and get that pro card thing over with!

I raced the Olympic distance on Saturday - my first EVER Olympic distance triathlon. Before the race I wanted to cry because I felt super grateful to be there racing, and I felt so nervous because I wanted to do really well. I let that feeling last about 20 seconds and then switched my brain to race mode. The Olympic race went great! I swam well, biked really well, and ran my way to third overall and first in my age group! I was ECSTATIC when I crossed the line. It was surreal - I was at a national championship and I just went top three. Later in the day, my mom texted me and said “there are penalties showing up on your time now! I am freaking out! What’s happening?!” Enter sick feeling in my stomach! We checked the results, and sure enough SIX minutes of penalties were added to my bike time.

I went to the penalty tent to talk about it and they told me I had two position penalties, which means I was staying on the left too long after passing. I felt sick. I wanted so badly to just go back in time and not stay on the left! I had no idea that was a rule (lesson learned - read the rules!), and I was so worried about a drafting penalty that I figured it would be smart to look like I was always passing (which I pretty much was!). I cried. It moved me down to 21st overall, so goodbye pro card, goodbye podium. My coach reassured me that the penalties didn’t change my actual performance. It definitely helped me that my coach took it well, and I quickly got over it and told myself I would just get my pro card at Silverman. Plus, I was racing the Sprint distance the next day and I really couldn’t afford the mental or emotional stress, so I just let it go.

Sunday came - I couldn’t believe I was racing AGAIN. Back to back felt crazy! But I was excited to go out and race hard again, and hopefully not get any penalties! I had no idea how I would do on the sprint, but decided to go for top five. The only worry in my mind was my feet! I TORE my feet up racing in the Olympic the day before - no socks didn’t go so well for me. I taped my feet up like crazy, and I must have looked so ghetto - literally had electrical tape around both my feet hoping it would keep the bandaging on during the swim. The electrical tape worked great, just in case anyone is wondering.

My goal for the Sprint was to split my Olympic time in half, which pre-penalty was 2:07. I didn’t quite make that goal (1:05 was my time), but I did end up finishing second overall female! The highlight of the sprint was running my fastest 5K time ever, even being off the bike and having raced the day before. I ran an 18:48 with my taped up feet, and my pace was faster than my 10K off the bike the day before, so that was awesome! Of course I was pumped about the second place overall finish - it definitely made the bike penalties a little less painful for me :). I thought several times how cool it would have been to ACTUALLY be top three both days, but what can you do. I knew in a few days that I wouldn’t even be thinking about nationals, and I would be focused on my next race.

Needless to say, I learned a lot that weekend. Learned some new race rules, learned some tips for traveling for races, learned what racing back to back feels like, and learned that I was one of the fastest age groupers in the nation. It was a successful weekend, and I’m glad I decided to go!

What distance best suits me? In the age-group world, I think I can go out and do really well at any distance. In the professional world, it’s a totally different story. The professional short course racers are incredible swimmers, and I just don’t have that background. I do love the Sprint and Olympic distances, but professionally I think I’m best suited for the 70.3 distance right now - a good combination of speed and endurance. That’s what I’ll be focusing on next year, and I’m really excited to see what I can do in that distance!

Do you have anything already scheduled for 2016 and what are your goals for your first year of professional racing?

Nothing is officially scheduled yet because I’m not officially pro, but I’ve talked with my coach about doing Oceanside 70.3 in March. It’s a big, competitive race for the pro field, so it would be good to see how I stack up racing other pros. I want to do St. George 70.3 in May if I can - it would be fun to race in my home state!

Everyone knows triathlon is not the most lucrative sport in terms of $ (although some would argue it is more exciting than accounting) Do you plan on keeping your day job at Ernst & Young, taking a leave of absence, resigning, etc?

Haha! DEFINITELY more exciting than accounting. Right now the plan is to stay working part-time at EY. I am on a 65% flexible work arrangement where I work three days a week at home, and two days a week in the office, and it works out to be about 5 hours a day. Being able to work from home is key - I don’t have to spend the time or energy getting ready and driving into work, and I can go to workouts in the middle of the day or take a nap if I really need it. I am able to support myself and my triathlon passion doing what I’m doing, so for now it’s working out well. Some days I still feel really overwhelmed by the demands of my job, or I’ll stress about making it through a busy season being part-time, but I just have to tell myself to chill out and enjoy each day. I feel really grateful and lucky to have a boss who is supportive of me keeping my professional tax career going while I try to seriously pursue professional triathlon. I definitely don’t take this opportunity for granted. Hopefully I can pick up some solid sponsors and win some prize money in the future to help supplement, but for now I will keep doing what I’m doing!

What motivates you to put in the hard work you do?

I don’t like losing!! I just like being really good at whatever I do. Call it perfectionism, over-achiever, whatever you want. I just call it passion and being driven to be the best at what I do. When I’m in, I’m ALL in and I do it right. When I start racing pro, I know I’m not going to be the fastest pro, but then I have something new to chase. This year it’s been chasing that pro-card, so next year I’ll be chasing the other pros, quite literally!

Thanks for the time, Skye, and best of luck at Silverman and beyond!!

Of course this interview reminded me of Notorious BIG's 90's classic Sky's The Limit. Chorus above, full song (radio edit, this is a family site :) here. Keep on pressin on, Skye!

Follow Skye's journey to the professional ranks & beyond @missskyemoench

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