Some 20 years after she excelled as a distance runner at Hoquiam High School, Tracy Stoken hasn’t lost her competitive fire.
Despite a busy lifestyle that includes operating Ace Logging with her husband, Josh, raising three children and teaching at the YMCA of Grays Harbor, the 38-year-old Stoken has channeled that competitiveness into a successful second career as a triathlete.
Only four years after she began competing in triathlons, she was recently named the top female athlete in her age group in the Tri-Northwest Series. She has also qualified for the USA Triathlon Olympic Distance Age Group National Championship next summer in Milwaukee, Wis.
“You just have the desire to do it,” Stoken asserted. “It takes all shapes and sizes.”
The outgoing Stoken doesn’t hesitate when asked the secret of her success.
“I’m very, very competitive,” she related with a smile. “I don’t care if we’re doing an indoor triathlon at the YMCA, I’m going to win it.”
“She’s very competitive, she doesn’t like to lose,” agreed Hoquiam resident Chrissie Erickson, her friend and fellow triathlete. “It’s 90 percent mental. When you’re involved in sports, it’s the nature of the beast.”
Triathlons are among the more grueling of athletic tests — so much so that half-triathlons that include an 800-yard swim, 13-mile bicycle race and 5-kilometer run are considered “sprints.”
Largely confining her competition to the West Coast, Stoken has alternated between sprints and Olympic-style triathlons. The latter is composed of a 1.2-mile swim, 26 miles on the bike and a 10-kilometer run.
In placing fourth in her age group in last September’s Portland Triathlon, a performance that qualified her for this year’s nationals, Stoken completed the Olympic-style event in 2 hours, 38 minutes and 33 seconds.
She has even competed in a 70.3-mile ironman triathlon that includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bicycle ride and 13.1-mile run.
To some extent, however, Stoken is an anomaly in a sport filled with athletes who specialize in solitary, long-distance workouts.
Although, as Tracy Noga, she won the district girls 3,200-meter track championship as a Hoquiam High freshman in 1990, running is her least favorite part of triathlons.
“I hate running,” she acknowledged. “I need to run more, but that’s the one part I don’t enjoy … I don’t put a lot of time in my running. I rely a lot on my talent. Once you get there and get caught up in the moment, it’s pretty easy to finish a half-marathon.”
Stoken candidly admits she is not addicted to extended workouts, particularly when it involves running or cycling. She often schedules her meets around family vacations.
“It’s almost easier to compete than train because you’re made to do it,” she said. “It’s pretty hard to train by yourself. It’s not fun to go 13 miles. It’s a lot more fun to compete.”
That philosophy is consistent with her personality.
“I tend to train by myself and she likes to train with others,” Erickson said. “She likes to interact with other athletes and I think that’s one of her strengths.”
While teaching a “spinning” (stationary bicycle training) class at the YMCA in 2008, Stoken learned that Erickson — one of her students — had recently completed the prestigious Seattle Danskin Women’s Triathlon.
“I said I want to learn how to do that,” Stoken recalled. “She was my mentor when I started out and she definitely inspired me to try triathlon.”
Erickson provided training and nutritional hints, but there was one significant obstacle Stoken had to clear. While already an accomplished runner and cyclist, her swimming skills fell far below the level necessary to compete in a triathlon.
Although the shortest of the three triathlon disciplines, Stoken considers swimming the most important.
“In triathlons, if you don’t get out of the water with the first pack, you’re chasing (everybody),” she observed.
Stoken began concentrating primarily on swimming, both at the YMCA pool and Wynooche Lake. She still hits the pool an average of three times per week.
“She’s a great bicyclist, but she still tends to focus on her swimming,” Erickson said. “That’s her baby.”
Stoken made a stunning competitive debut by finishing fourth in her age group at the 2009 Seattle Danskin meet.
“That just got me fired up that I could compete at that level and do that well,” she said.
Another career highlight was completing a 70.3-mile ironman triathlon for the first time in Oceanside, Calif. She said she shed tears of joy when she completed the event.
“The last mile was amazing,” Stoken recounted. “It was also my first experience with swimming in salt water. So the day started out challenging. It feels good to accomplish something you didn’t know you would be able to accomplish.”
Aberdeen resident Dick Shanks has been her primary coach.
“He helps with my technique,” Stoken said. “If I didn’t get the help from him, I wouldn’t be where I am. I would have given up.”
Recently, she has also been working with another Harborite, Ray Henderson of Boreas Coaching.
In many respects, however, experience has been the best teacher for Stoken.
“You learn something every time,” she said.
For example, “if you drop your water bottle when you’re on your bike, stop and get it. If you’re going 56 miles, you’re going to need it.”
Although battling a nagging foot injury, Stoken is continuing her preparation for the USA Triathlon Olympic Distance nationals.
One unrealized objective, however, is to compete in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas.
“That’s my ultimate goal,” she related. “I don’t care if I’m 80 or not, I’m going to do it.”
“Did I mention that I’m stubborn, too,” Stoken added with a laugh.