Like all triathlete moms, Trista Mennen knows the importance of balance. There are two children to take care of, she is busy with PTA and “room mom” duties, her husband works in another state, and the family will soon be moving from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. Then there are all those swim, bike, and run workouts to fit into the narrow slices of time she calls her own.
What makes Mennen so unique (and so much fun) is that rather than pretend she has it all locked down, she will quickly tell you about the times she has lost her balance, even if it’s only to make you feel better about your own failed attempts.
“The week before my first XTERRA I broke my toe,” said Mennen. “Because our house is on the market, I’ve been hiding the dog crate because heaven forbid a potential buyer sees that a dog lives here. One night when the house was dark, I ran right into it. That hurt. I was limping around in pain, and when I finally turned on the light, my little toe was pointing in the wrong direction.”
Like all moms, Mennen’s first thought was about her children. Because her husband works in Pennsylvania during the week, she was alone in the house.
“My kids were asleep, and I wasn’t about to wake them up to go to the ER,” she said. “I know they can’t do anything for a broken toe anyway, so I just googled how to do it and reset it myself.”
Mennen admitted that resetting her own toe hurt so much she started sweating and thought she might get sick.
“Two days later I got an x-ray, and the doctor was surprised by how straight the toe was despite the severity of the break. When I told him I reset it myself, he said that most people are sedated for that procedure.”
Luckily, as an endurance athlete, Mennen is no stranger to pain. For years, Mennen trained and raced 70.3 and 140.6 triathlons on the roads, and for a while, she loved the challenge, the training, and competition. But slowly, the time commitment and daily grind began to feel more like work than like fun.
“I was so burned out on the roads,” Mennen admitted. “I was doing an indoor spin workout in a bike shop one day and kept looking at the mountain bikes on the wall. Finally, I was like, f*ck this. I’m buying a mountain bike.”
Her friend and training partner Brandy joined Mennen and together, they spent most of the winter on mountain bikes out on the dirt - or more accurately - the mud.
“We rode every day in January even though the weather was awful. There was ice and snow and a ton of mud, but we were out there anyway. And I was so happy. My bike was always filthy, and I was so proud because my road bike was never like that.”
Mennen also admits that the transition from road biking to mountain biking was not without a healthy dose of fear.
“It was absolutely terrifying to make the transition from road to mountain biking,” said Mennen. “No lie, when the bike shop let me take the loaner bike out, I wouldn’t even ride in the grass. I stayed on the pavement. The first time I went down a curb, I celebrated.”
While Mennen intended to sign up for a beginners’ mountain bike clinic, the timing didn’t work with her kids’ schedules, and because she had already signed up for XTERRA Fort Yargo on April 27th, she didn’t want to wait.
“We just jumped on the trails and started riding,” said Mennen. “Every day the weather would allow, we were out there, and we tried as many different routes as we could. We started slowly and walked when we didn’t feel comfortable. In fact, ‘When in doubt, walk it out,’ is my new mantra. With any new sport, there is a learning curve, but man, was this learning curve fun!”
Mennen also enlisted the help of XTERRA’s Marcus Barton, who specializes in bringing athletes off the road and into the XTERRA Tribe.
“I was racing XTERRA Fort Yargo alone and was worried about what wave I would start the swim in. Marcus told me that everyone starts together in XTERRA, and I found that relaxing. The atmosphere was so friendly, and it carried through for the entire race.
Everyone was so laid back and there was so much conversation in transition with people swapping advice about the bike course and giving tips to each other. I found it to be the antithesis of Ironman.”
Despite her broken toe, Mennen finished second in the 40-44 age group in her first-ever XTERRA, and like many converts to the dirt, she is hooked.
“My husband doesn’t do triathlons, but he’s very understanding,” said Mennen, who is already thinking about jumping into XTERRA Oak Mountain next weekend. “Even though it was a four-hour drive, he packed up the kids and they all came to cheer me on at Fort Yargo. I was so happy.”
Mennen’s son is nine and her daughter is five.
“They are so funny,” she said. “You know the participation medal you get when you cross the finish line? My kids see that and think I win every race.”
On a practical level, Mennen’s day revolves around her children’s school schedules.
“All moms are full-time moms,” said Mennen, “And none of us have a ton of flexibility. On Sunday, I sit down and check my Training Peaks and plan my week. Sometimes, depending on my kids’ weekend sports and activities and my husband’s travel schedule, I move things around. I also don’t think it’s good for our family if I’m gone all weekend training.”
She credits her ability to fit in most of her workouts to her training partners, who are also moms.
“You know those competitive moms who always want things to be perfect?” she asks. “Those girls are not my friends. Luckily, I’ve found training partners and friends who build me up and feed my passion.”
Mennen also loves that she is a role model for her children, especially her daughter.
“Every day when I drop my daughter at school, she asks where I’m going and if I’m going to run or bike or swim,” said Mennen. “My kids see me doing what I love and getting involved and I think that’s important. They know that I can get dirty on the trails and that it’s fun and tough and cool to go out and do hard things.”