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Choice gear may give pros an edge, but above all, winning an Ironman requires mental discipline. A wandering mind can throw you off your game, allow negative thoughts to eat at your confidence, or cause race-ending errors—like failing to eat enough. The secret to success, Corbin says, is to develop "finite focus." Only one thing should be on a racer's mind, and that's the next immediate task in the race.
"If you think about the whole thing it's pretty overwhelming," Corbin says. "On the marathon, for sure, just think about one mile at a time. You can't think, 'I have to get off the bike and actually run 26 miles.' No way. I would just stop."
A great attitude can't prevent even the finest motor from breaking down occasionally. For two months this spring, a hamstring injury interrupted Corbin's training. Returning to competition for the Boise 70.3 on June 13, she had doubts about her racing condition. Triathlons are run at a variety of distances, and Corbin usually excels at the longer ones, including the 70.3, or Half-Ironman. Would she still race as well after the injury?
Corbin described her pre-race jitters in a June 16 blog entry. "Wednesday I packed for the race," she wrote. "Wednesday afternoon I UN-packed for the race as I was unsure about competing. By Thursday morning I was RE-packed and on my way to Boise to race."
And race she did. A strong second-place finish behind Canadian Magali Tisseyre—an athlete Corbin calls "world-class"—gave her plenty of incentive heading into summer.
Her competitive season culminates with three world championship events this fall: the Ford Ironman World Championships and the Xterra World Championships—both in Hawaii during October—then on to Clearwater, Fla., for the 70.3 World Championships on Nov. 14.
"At the Ironman distance, [Corbin is] definitely among the top five women in the world," says Triathlete editor Culp. " She's a contender to win just about every race she enters. The longer the race, the better her chances."
Corbin also has time on her side. She's relatively young by triathlete standards, and may not reach her peak for several years.
"I may not take a world title this year or next, but I think it is a possibility, and I am going to do my best to make it happen," she says. "I don't like to be beat, which is why I do this sport, because you keep going back again and again trying to improve."
Rookie pro Jennifer Luebke: No fragile flower
Jennifer Luebke won the women’s Olympic distance competition at the Wildflower Triathlon in California this spring, a high-profile victory that, like Corbin’s 2006 Wildflower performance, spurred her to turn pro. A soft-spoken Frenchtown native with a fresh-scrubbed face, Luebke has wide eyes and a shy smile that give her an air of sweetness and delicacy. But she’s tougher than she looks. Most people thought she wouldn’t return to Wildflower after she left the course on a stretcher last year.
The 2008 race had been going so well for Luebke that she neglected to eat or drink enough and bonked just a mile from the finish. “I ended up passing out while I was running,” she says, laughing. “They found me pretty much face down in the dirt.”
In her first professional race, the Boise 70.3 in June, Luebke brought home a 16th-place finish—a strong showing, though out of the money. But she’ll get plenty more chances. Gentle but determined and only 23 years old, she’s a mere babe by triathlon standards, with plenty of time to develop into a world beater.
In the meantime, she’ll pay her dues. Like many others in the sport, Luebke juggles a rigorous training schedule with a passel of part-time jobs: coaching eighth-grade swimmers, assisting at an interior design firm, working as a nanny for a 5-year-old, and “random tutoring” for high school students.
“I keeps me sane,” Luebke says of the sport. “No matter how busy I am I always make time to do something [active]. Otherwise I’m extremely cranky.”