Member Spotlight: Karen Harbaugh

05 Apr 2019 5:37 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


            Looking for a challenge with her 40thbirthday approaching, Karen Harbaugh signed up for the TriGators Super Sprint Triathlon in 2008.  Little did she know then how much triathlon and endurance sports would become part of her life.

            Karen has no specific sports background. As a kid, she was always playing outside and riding her bike around the neighborhood.  She waterskiied, snorkeled, and generally played at the beach growing up.  At 16, she bought a 10-speed bike and would later ride it to all of her college classes.  Once in Gainesville, she discovered the High Intensity Interval Class, formerly known as Sports Conditioning, hosted by Andy Farina.  It was through the connections made here that she would first start in obstacle races and triathlons.  Impressively, Karen was the female overall winner of the Superhero Scramble, a Mud Run, in 2013 out of 708 women and finished 12thoverall out of 1,388 athletes.  That same year, Karen would take an age group victory in the Siesta Key Sprint Triathlon by out sprinting her nearest competitor, winning by a single second.

            Karen joined G3 in 2015 while training for Ironman Louisville. She wanted to meet other people in the sport and learn as much as she possibly could.  It would be meeting John Bongiovanni that put her mind at ease as he and the other members were so kind and welcoming.  Complicating that Ironman was the fact that she was diagnosed with a meniscus tear which made training in the final two months leading up the event quite challenging, especially given the high mileage needed with running.  She would go on to finish that Ironman, her first.  She had a big support crew of friends at that race which she will always cherish.  She will also never forget with Timothy Donovan caught up to her halfway through the marathon and they ran the rest of the way together.  She finished in 13:01:13.  Finishing that race taught her that anything is possible if you just believe in yourself.

           Karen feels that her best accomplishment in the sport of triathlon is qualifying for Team USA and lists competing for Team USA in the ITU Draft Legal Sprint World Finals in Gold Coast, Australia in September of 2018 as her favorite race.  She finished 30thin the world in her age group.  She qualified again for the 2019 World Championships, but sadly had to decline due to a knee injury.  She notes that it was an honor and privilege to represent the United States on this stage.

            Karen notes that her best ever race result, however, was in 2016 in Ironman Chattanooga.  On a sweltering hot day she clocked a 12:14:40, finishing 9thin her age group and 52ndamong all women.  A truly remarkable accomplishment given the 97°high and heat index of over 100°!  That morning, prior to the swim start surrounded by friends, Karen fondly remembers loudly singing “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors.  The song gives her goose bumps to this day.

            The following year, 2017, would be another big year for Karen.  She was the overall female masters champion in the Gate2Gate Ultramarathon 50K, clocking an impressive 6:03:59.  That same year, she was selected to be an ambassador for the Vibram shoe brand.

            As part of Karen’s pre race routine, she likes to eat dinner and go to bed early.  On the morning of the race, she likes to rise at least 2 hours prior to getting to the race venue.  She eats peanut butter and honey toast, Gatorade, water, and a cup of coffee. About an hour before the start time, she eats a banana and drinks additional water.  She likes to warm up in the water with a bit of swimming as it seems to calm her nerves and then she takes a GU about 10 minutes before her wave begins.

            For people thinking about becoming involved in the sport, Karen advises to “find your tribe.”  Having a fun, supportive, and encouraging group with which to share your triathlon journey makes all the difference in the world.  She also advises to not worry about keeping up with the Joneses by thinking you must buy fancy equipment.  If you decide to keep it as a part of your life, you can always upgrade equipment in the future depending upon your goals.

            As far as goals are concerned, Karen aims to remain consistent in her training and recovery and see improvements in all aspects of triathlon.  Primarily she wants to stay as strong and healthy for as long as possible. What she loves most is the connections she has made with friends and the positive impact that the sport has had in her life.

            There is more to Karen than just endurance sports.  She loves roller coasters and has even gone bungee jumping.  Additionally, she has donated over 7 gallons of blood in her lifetime and remains active on the bone marrow donor registry.  She had all three of her children’s cord blood donated for stem cells.

            Karen is now 50 years old.  She works as a full time Physician Assistant in Interventional Radiology at the VA.  She is also the mother to three children, ages 22, 20, and 15. Karen joined the board of G3 in 2016 and remains an active member of the board to this day.


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