About carolinebikes

10 x IRONMAN guide for visually impaired athletes. 2 x Race Across America team finisher.

Ironman Maryland 2021

Randi and I signed up for Ironman Maryland TWO YEARS AGO.

It feels weird to type that. My daughter, Jessie, was 6 months old when we registered. I remember feeling totally lost in May of 2020, trying to juggle caring for Jessie and working during the pandemic (along with my amazing partner, James), wondering if I should start actually training for our September race. Thankfully, Randi and I made the decision early enough that we wouldn’t race in 2020, even if IMMD were held. It didn’t seem safe enough. We couldn’t even get into our pools to swim!

Fast forward a year later. I now have a 2.5 year old, I’ve changed jobs, the pandemic is still raging, but things have been normal enough that I was able to train effectively this summer.

To prepare for the race, Randi visited me twice this summer. Randi lives in Minneapolis and I live in Charlotte, so we don’t get to train together often. She and I are super comfortable racing/training together, because we’ve already raced a marathon, half ironman, and full ironman together. She’s also one of my closest friends, and I trust her to be honest if she needs me to change anything about how I’m guiding. During both visits, James was awesome. He handled all of the childcare while we were training. The best part of Randi’s visits was just getting to spend time with her.

This Ironman felt different for me. I had raced 10 full distance triathlons (9 as a guide for blind/vi athletes) before, but this would be my first Ironman since becoming a mom.

Because delta is still raging (and because 2.5 year olds are unreasonable and unpredictable), we decided that James and Jessie shouldn’t come.

So, I headed to Maryland solo to race with Randi.

I picked Randi up on Thursday morning in Baltimore and we drove to packet pickup. Ironman logistics are actually pretty complicated. You have morning clothes bags, bike bags, run bags, special needs bags. You have to drop your bike and run bag in transition the night before the race, BUT you can access them in the morning. You’ll get your bike and run bags after the race, but you WON’T get your special needs bags back, so don’t accidentally put something important in special needs! Anyway, it’s just a lot.

Photo of me and Randi standing in front of the Ironman Village banner, after picking up our packets. Randi is in jeans and a Dare2Tri shirt. She is holding her white cane. I’m wearing shorts and white RAAM t-shirt. Our entire bodies are visible, as the photographer was standing at least 15 feet away from us.

We spent Thursday getting Randi’s tandem dialed in. Every time I guide, for the most part,  I have to spend some time adjusting saddle height, saddle position and bar height, to ensure that I’m comfortable during the ride. As you might imagine, being comfortable during an ironman is essential. Thankfully, Randi’s new Hawthorn tandem was pretty close to perfect.

We did a quick test ride and then headed to dinner.

Throughout the weeks leading up to IMMD, we read dozens of posts on an Ironman Maryland facebook group about jellyfish. When I guided the race in 2015, there were no jellyfish at all, because it was so cold. But apparently, in 2019, there were MANY. Initially, I was inclined to hope for the best, and assume that things would cool down enough for the jellyfish to go away.

Unfortunately, it was in the 80s and 90s every day leading up to the race. I started seeing posts about people with pretty intense rashes, talking about how uncomfortable it was. So, Randi and I decided that we should do a test swim on Friday. We thought it would be important to know how our bodies would react to the stings.

Practice Swim

As we walked to the practice swim area on Friday morning, Randi and I encountered a guy that had just finished a swim. I asked him, “How was it?” He responded, “lot of jellies.”

I asked, “but how was it?”

He responded, “lot of jellies.”

That pretty much tells you everything you need to know. The jellyfish were EVERYWHERE.

Photo taken from another competitor. Picture of the water from above. The water looks cloudy due to what could be hundreds of jellyfish. You can see tons of white blobs in the water.

Randi and I put on our full sleeved wetsuits and covered ourselves with a layer of sea safe (anti-jellyfish cream) and vaseline. Then, we entered the water.

My ankle was stung almost immediately. Some people described the stings as worse than a mosquito bite, but better than a bee sting. It felt like a burning/itching sensation at the point of contact. And we were supposed to keep going deeper into the water???

Finally, we got up the courage to start swimming. There were so many jellyfish, I could feel them with every stroke. It felt like swimming through grass, except the grass was actually tentacles. Randi and I made it about 15 minutes before we headed to shore. As we exited the swim, I was encouraged because I thought we were out of the worst of it. Boy was I wrong. The reaction I had AFTER the swim was far worse than during.

The skin on my wrist between my watch and wetsuit started to swell up. The itching/burning continued throughout the morning. I’m not going to lie, I was getting worried. How was I supposed to bike 112 miles with stings all over my ankles, neck, and wrists? Randi’s stings felt bad as well.

Caption + alt text: Photo of my left wrist after the practice swim. I’m holding my watch. You can see that the skin on the inside of my arm is red and swelling a bit.

We walked back to our Air BNB and Randi was like, “you’re quiet. You’re never quiet.” She could tell how upset I was, and how little I wanted to get back in that water!

Instead of attending an early race briefing, we drove 20 minutes to get a bunch of supplies for T2. Many people told us that lidocain spray could help, as could claritin, so we wanted to load up. Randi and I got Aleve spray, lidocain gel, claritin, and claritin face wipes.

I’ve never been nervous before an Ironman swim, but I spent most of Friday worrying about how my body would react to swimming in Jellyfish for close to 2 hours, given that I felt so awful after 15 minutes.

Finally, after giving myself a bit of a pep talk, I came around to the idea that the actual swimming part wasn’t so bad. And even if there was a lot of stinging and itching after the swim, at least it couldn’t get any worse. Though I know Randi was nervous too, she didn’t complain at all!

Thankfully, the race director decided to make the race wetsuit legal, even though the water was technically too warm for people to swim in wetsuits. I’m glad that the need to protect athletes from the jellyfish outweighed the risk of people overheating!

Race Day

Randi and I were lucky enough to connect with Zack Goodman, another amazing triathlon guide (and soon to be ironman guide!) and his partner, B, who were able to give us a ride to transition in the morning.

Because we were in Cambridge alone, had Zack not offered to help, we would have had to walk 0.7 miles carrying bags with all of our food and water bottles. We’re eternally grateful to Zack for adopting us! B was attempting to qualify for Kona, so it was an incredibly important day for her, as well.

We arrived early enough to set up Randi’s bike, drop additional food in our bike and run bags, and use the rest room. My coach, Brad Williams, gave us an awesome tip. Because it was going to be so hot, he suggested that we stuff ice in our wetsuits to make sure we didn’t overheat before the swim.

Before we got to transition, I asked Randi if she was nervous. She said that she felt like she might throw up, which is exactly how you should feel before a big event! Race morning nerves are the real deal.

The final thing to do before wading into jellyfish invested waters was donning our wetsuits and applying a shit ton (that’s an actual unit of measurement) of vaseline and sea safe. I wanted every inch of exposed skin to be covered in two coats of goo.

I didn’t care how it looked – I just didn’t want to get stung.

Photo credit: Zack Goodman. Picture of me and Randi after donning our wetsuits. We’re wearing orang swim caps. We look like we have white paste all over our faces. I’m putting my watch on after applying Vaseline. There’s a light centered behind us. it’s still very dark out. People are blurry in the background.


Finally, Randi and I walked towards the starting chute. As in most ironman events, physically challenged athletes got to start first. We moved through dozens of people to get to the front of the swim start line. At this point, I started focusing more on the actual race, rather than worrying about the jellyfish. I’d been looking forward to doing this race with Randi for two years. I remember feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for the ability to even start the race.

When we got to the swim start, the announcer let us know that they were delaying the start by 5 minutes because it was too dark out. I was glad to have a little extra time before diving into jellyfish infested waters.

Randi and I said hi to a couple of the fast swimmers around us, and let them know that we’d be tethered together. Most of the athletes seemed to be familiar with the concept of blind athletes/guides, which was phenomenal!

After the national anthem, the official let us know that it was time to start. Randi and I waded into the water with the other blind athlete/guide team (Kathy and Jenny). We were strictly focused on our own race, especially because we knew that Kathy would swim much faster  than Randi. In the weeks leading up to the race, Randi indicated that she was most nervous about the swim. Pools had been closed for months, and it cost Randi $20 round trip in an Uber to get to the gym, so understandably, her training had been spotty. Then throw jellyfish into the mix!

The anticipation of a race start is always worse than the start itself. Once we were given the all-clear, we began to walk into the muddy water. It remained shallow for a while, so we walked until we were at least waist deep. For anyone who’s worried about panicking in a swim, my advice is always to take it as easy as possible at the beginning. Keep your heart rate low, and swim like you’re taking a casual stroll. Once you’ve warmed up and proven to yourself that you won’t have a panic attack, you can pick up the pace.

That was Randi’s plan. Start slow, and then speed up. And she totally nailed it. Zero panicking, even with the anticipation of getting stung by jellyfish. Once Randi started swimming, she didn’t stop! It was amazing.

There was one small problem on my end. I’d done a terrible job getting vaseline off my hands, and my goggles were essentially opaque. I couldn’t see ANY of the buoys ahead of us. But my goal was to make sure I didn’t slow Randi down, or disrupt her at all, so I tried to problem solve on the fly. I ended up just taking my goggles off every few minutes to make sure we were on the right course. I was able to do it fast enough that I don’t think I disrupted Randi at any point.

Back to the jellyfish… They came out in force. Thankfully, they weren’t as relentless as they were in the practice swim. We got stung every 15 strokes instead of every stroke. At least that’s how it felt. I got stung on my ears, my lips, my ankles. One wrapped itself around my wrist. By some miracle, I didn’t find myself too distracted. They were just another obstacle in an already challenging race.

Randi finished the first loop of the two loop course in a great time! I let her know that she would break two hours in the swim, if she kept it up. The other swimmers were generally pretty respectful of us. I only had to grab a few people by the wetsuit to keep them from swimming between us. For anyone who’s not aware, when I’m guiding the swim, Randi and I are tethered by a bungee cord, so I try my hardest to keep people from getting clotheslined on the tether. At one point, I remember grabbing a woman and shouting “NO!” as she tried to go between us.

Just after the second to last turn, Randi seemed to be struggling. She popped her head out of the water and said, “my legs are cramping. both of them.” Leg cramps are the WORST. They can stop you dead in your tracks. I tried rubbing her legs while treading water, but it wasn’t helping. A kayaker came over so Randi could grab on while she stretched her legs against me. Nothing was helping! Eventually, a medical boat drove over to take her number. I asked if she wanted to call it a day, knowing what her answer would be.

Randi couldn’t kick at all. I said, “You’ve got plenty of time to finish this swim, but we have to keep moving. You need to dead leg the rest of this swim.” Randi is such a badass. She really is one of the toughest people I know. Because she had basically no other option, she just swam the last 1000+ yards without using her legs!

As we neared the finish chute, I noticed a guy standing on the pier using a net to fish jellyfish out of the water. I don’t know if it helped at all, but I certainly appreciated his efforts!

Randi was head down, just moving forward as fast as she could. I swam heads up and walked part of the last 10 yards, to make sure I was ready to keep her steady after she stopped swimming. After almost two hours in the water, it can be really hard to walk without getting dizzy.

I was so emotional after we finished the swim. Randi had set a PR in her swim leg, while facing leg cramps, too-warm water, and jellyfish. I was incredibly proud. I cried as we walked past the volunteers helping at swim exit. I actually looked forward to the rest of the race after that point!

Photo of me and Randi coming out of the water. I am on the left, Randi is in the center, and a volunteer in khaki shorts and a blue t-shirt is on the right. I have a huge smile on my face. My goggles are on top of my head. Randi and I both have dirt on our faces. You can see our bright tether connecting us at the thigh.

The water was dirty and disgusting, so I guided Randi to a hose and we washed our faces. Then I grabbed our T1 bags and headed to get ready for the bike.

Our first transition was long because we needed to spend extra time wiping off the vaseline and applying lidocaine/aleve spray to our stings. There were even volunteers at the swim exit with spray bottles of lidocain, to give you an idea of how bad the jellyfish were expected to be.

Randi and I shoved as much food into our jerseys as we could and ran to get her tandem.

We passed by Cheyenne, who was in town supporting Kathy and Jenny. Kathy is deaf/blind and Cheyenne knows sign language, so her presence was essential. She also graciously offered to help support me and Randi. It was amazing to see her cheering, given that we didn’t have any spectators at the race!


The bike is always my favorite part of the ironman. As a guide, it’s the part where my fitness matters most. I also bike raced for many years and have done several long bike races, so I feel most confident in my abilities as a cyclist. Also, Randi purchased a new custom tandem after our last Ironman, and it was amazing to ride.

I had stuffed the Aleve spray in the front of my jersey so that I could spray my jellyfish stings as often as needed. Randi seemed okay after T1, but I think I sprayed myself at least 10 times on the bike. I barely noticed my skin’s reaction after using it! I was thrilled!

Tandem pic from early on in the bike. Randi’s face is hidden as she tucks in behind me. I’m on the hoods as we ride through a neighborhood section. You can see the top of the Aleve spray sticking out of my jersey. Randi’s tandem is red and we’re wearing grey skin suits. We are each wearing white aero helmets. I’m smiling.

The first 10 miles or so were fairly slow. We had to wind through some neighborhoods and the roads were congested. There was an out and back section before we headed to looped part of the course. As we headed out towards the turnaround, I saw Kathy and Jenny on their tandem heading back the other way. Randi and I weren’t setting out to beat the other tandem team, but it was nice to have something to focus on. I figured that they were at least 30 minutes ahead of us, based on Kathy’s projected swim time. We had to make up some serious ground.

Around 25 miles in, we got to the two loop section. I checked in with Randi, who indicted that she was experiencing some GI distress. Even though she wasn’t feeling amazing, I didn’t notice any decrease in her power. We just needed to find a restroom at the next aid station. We stopped for a few minutes at mile 30 and then headed on our way. The Ironman Maryland bike course is FLAT. Randi and I specifically chose this race because it’s such a tandem friendly course. We also chose it because I expected it to be cool (boy was I wrong), but more on that later.  The bike fit felt awesome, thank goodness. It’s always hard to tell how a tandem fit will hold up over a 6+ hour ride. There was no coasting on this course due to the lack of hills. Just straight pedaling for 112 miles. Randi’s bike has SRAM etap components and I usually ride shimano, so I joked with Randi that I’d figure out the shifting by half way through the ride.

Randi’s bike split when she did Ironman Texas was 6:24 on a slightly short course. We didn’t set a time goal because again, training had been difficult this year. But in the back of my head, I wondered if we could set a personal best for Randi.

The bike flew by. Literally and figuratively. Randi was cranking on the pedals. We both ate and drank consistently, and all of a sudden, we were on the second loop! I talked less than I normally do during the bike, just because we had such good momentum. I tried to stay in the aero position as much as possible because I knew we’d benefit from being as streamlined as possible. After we passed the half way mark, I was surprised that we hadn’t seen the other tandem yet, but that gave us another reason to keep working hard.

Photo of Randi and me on the tandem. Our left side is visible. Legs are mostly extended down. The sun is out and the photo is vibrant. I am smiling and sitting in the aero bars. Randi looks confident.

Randi still wasn’t feeling awesome, so when she asked if I’d broken into my Slim Jims, I felt terrible that she had to smell my pungent snack. Yes, I eat Slim Jims during Ironman bike rides. I’ve done it in at least 7 Ironmans. They work for me.

When we got to mile 70, I looked for another aid station for Randi. We really only needed to stop for bathroom breaks, because we carried all of our food with us, and we were able to grab bottles on the fly from volunteers. One of my proudest moments was in Ironman Texas when I grabbed four bottles (passing two back to Randi) during one aid station.

I tried doing some math to figure out what our bike finish time might be, but my brain wasn’t cooperating. I remember telling Randi, “we might PR, but we might not. It’s a possibility!” Super helpful for her, I’m sure.

All of a sudden, we were 90 miles in. I couldn’t believe it. I checked in with Randi. It sounded like she was fading a little bit. Totally understandable to feel like you’re fading, 90 miles into a bike ride! I also knew that even though she wasn’t feeling phenomenal, she was still riding really well. I can always tell when a stoker’s power drops off, and Randi’s output never fell.

I decided to play a game to help pass the time and keep us focused on moving forward, so I started (quietly) counting the people we passed. I would say the number out loud as we passed people, because I figured Randi probably couldn’t tell exactly when we were passing riders. 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 15, 20… We were flying.

Between mile 90 and 100 we passed FORTY PEOPLE. I couldn’t believe it. We probably rode a little harder than we should have, but damn, it was fun.

After mile 100, we felt like we were on the home stretch. It was starting to get hot and we were both tired, but I kept counting. Between mile 90 and mile 112, we passed 69 cyclists. It was one of the coolest finishes of an ironman ride that I can remember. I was elated as we rolled into transition. I expected to see Kathy’s bike on the rack, because I thought we hadn’t passed them, but it wasn’t there. I figured we must have caught them at an aid station and not noticed.

I looked at my watch and realized that Randi had set a personal record on her bike split! 6:21 for 112 miles. Truly unbelievable!!

We racked the bike and headed to grab our run bags.


It was hot out. It’s easy to ignore heat when you’re riding, but once we got off the bike, I realized how bad it was. I think it was at least 85 degrees out, with 98% humidity. The conditions were NOT ideal for the marathon portion of our race. I knew Randi was in the pain cave. She said she wanted to walk for a while.

I was just fucking stoked about how the bike had gone. At this point, I knew we would finish the race. The question was, would Randi set a PR. I didn’t care one bit if she did. The only thing I wanted was for Randi to be proud of her effort and her race.

The Ironman Maryland run course is a flat, 3+ loop course, with little shade. The amazing thing is that spectators are all over the course. It’s wonderful to feel so supported during the run portion. Shortly after we exited T2 we saw Zack Goodman again. He let us know that B was doing really well! Man, it felt good to see a familiar face.

Photo credit: Zack Goodman. Picture of the moment I saw him on the course. I look very excited and have a huge smile on my face. Randi is on my right. You can see the tether around our wrists. We’re both wearing hats and sunglasses. I have a hydration vest on.

At the beginning of any ironman run, it basically feels like the race will never actually end. Remember, we had already been exercising for over 8 hours at this point.

To be clear, basically everyone looked awful on the run. It was incredibly hot. At least half of the people were walking as we passed. I tried to relay as much of that information as possible so that Randi knew she wasn’t alone.

Originally, Randi and I planned to employ a 4 minute run, 2 minute walk strategy. Early on, it was clear that we had to create a new plan due to the heat. About 3 miles into the run, we saw Kathy and Jenny running on the other side of the course. They looked really strong, so I was pretty sure they’d catch up to us soon.

One of the coolest parts of the early part of the run was encountering people who were signing at us. Several deaf people were out cheering Kathy on, and must have assumed that Randi was deaf/blind. It was wonderful to see so many people supporting Kathy!

Around mile 6, Randi seemed pretty unhappy. She asked me, “Is it normal to spontaneously cry during an Ironman?” I was like, “100% normal.” It basically means you’re doing it right!

Shortly after that, we passed a woman running on the opposite side of the road who was actually crying! She told a supporter that she was just throwing herself a pity party. Talk about validation!

Tons of houses on the course had signs in their yards in support of ironman athletes. Some kind families were out on the course with hoses and sprinklers to spray down overheating athletes. Randi wanted to run through sprinklers whenever we encountered them. I was hot, but I was feeling good, so I didn’t want to get my shoes wet if I could avoid it. We’d run towards someone with a sprinkler attachment and I’d shout, “can you get her wet, but not me!?” Everyone obliged.

At one point, we heard an athlete shout at a guy with a hose, “SPRAY ME LIKE YOU MEAN IT!!” Since I have the sense of humor of a 12 year old boy, I said to Randi, “That’s what she said.” That became an ongoing joke for the rest of the race.

Randi’s stomach started acting up again on the second loop. The pain was so bad, she was having trouble staying upright. Her strength and grit was astounding. We barely slowed down, though we weren’t able to run much.

Photo credit: Janice Maketa Orlik. Picture of me and Randi during a run interval. Likely on lap one of the run.

Each loop, we passed by our air bnb (what a tease!) and we’d see Cheyenne who would scream her head off for us! It was such a gift to see her each lap. We also saw Zack and his family several times. I forgot how important it is to have a support crew at an Ironman! At one point, Cheyenne even facetimed my husband and daughter so I could see them briefly during the run!!

Late in the second lap, we saw Jenny and Kathy again. They were about a mile behind us. I figured we would see them pass us at any moment.

To get through the rest of the run, we chatted with people on the course and made as many friends as possible. Randi’s stomach began to feel a bit better, but it didn’t cool down enough for us to pick up the pace meaningfully. I kept checking my watch to figure out what our finish time might be. It was still unclear as to whether Randi would beat her time from Texas.

On lap 3, Randi’s stomach started to feel a little better. It was getting dark, which was helpful. In Texas, Randi pretty much decided to walk the run, especially after she knew she would finish the race. In Maryland, I felt like it might make sense to push the pace, even if it just meant walking faster. Every few minutes, I would ask Randi if she wanted to run. There’s a fine line between motivating and badgering someone. I certainly didn’t want to impose my own expectations on her.

Amazingly, despite the heat, her stomach issues, and the fatigue of having been racing for 14 hours, Randi was able to maintain short run intervals almost the entire final lap. On the final lap, we passed by the part of the course where we’d seen Jenny and Kathy on the prior two loops. It looked like we’d widened the gap. Randi said over and over that she didn’t care who finished first, but it was just a point of reference for us.  Randi was maintaining an incredibly consistent pace!

She hit her final wall with about 2 miles to go. Randi said she had absolutely nothing left – she wanted to save her final run for the finish chute.

I realized that she was actually going to beat her Texas finish time!!! How was that even possible? Randi had limited training partners throughout the pandemic, she’d had a really tough summer, and this race was unbearably hot.

We rounded the final turn and headed into the brick paved straightaway towards the finish. Spectators still lined the course and people were cheering. I told Randi that I’d give her the all clear to run when we got onto the finishing carpet.

There’s absolutely nothing like finishing an Ironman. This was my 10th finish as a guide, but the excitement was just as great as the first race I’d ever done.

We ran across the line with a finish time of 15 hours, 43 minutes. Randi had beaten her best time by four minutes! It was an amazing achievement, but again, I would have been impressed by any finish, given how tough the day was.

Picture of me and Randi just after we crossed the finish line. I’ve reached over to touch her hand with my left hand. I’m looking at her and smiling. Randi has a huge smile on her face. There’s a red and black Ironman carpet beneath us. The clock behind us says 15:38 because we started 5 minutes ahead of the rest of the competitors.

I was overcome with emotion after we crossed the line. Randi and I embraced and I just lost it. I started bawling and couldn’t let her go. I was proud of us both. We each gave as much as we could on the race course, and in the months leading up to the race. It was the culmination of a two year journey with one of my favorite people on earth. I enjoy Randi’s company so much, I could have turned right around and done the race again. Just kidding. I was pretty wrecked after that finish!

Photo of me embracing Randi after our finish. Randi’s face is not towards the camera. You can see that my eyes are closed. I’m holding Randi tightly. My right hand is behind her head. It looks like I won’t let go any time soon.

A note to Randi: Randi, you are so strong. You are such a phenomenal athlete. It was a joy to spend 5 days with you in Maryland and I’m honored that you choose to race with me. I’m in awe of your grit. Thank you for your friendship and your counsel. I love you more than I can put into words. Congratulations on finishing your second Ironman! I can’t wait for the next one.

Randi’s perspective:

Randi and I wrote our race reports separately, without checking in with one another. In case you want to read about the race from Randi’s point of view, I’ve copied her account below!

2021 Ironman Maryland Race Report

I signed up for this race with Caroline as my guide in 2019, and like most things it was canceled and we were deferred to 2021. A couple of months before the race I was dealing with some stressful life stuff and didn’t even know if I wanted to keep training, but in talking to Caroline she said she didn’t care if I trained perfectly or was under trained but that we should show up to the start line anyway. It meant the world to me to have her support and understanding. To be honest, it felt like the race snuck up on me. We had been anticipating it for two years, and all of a sudden I was packing my stuff and on a plane to Baltimore. I was able to spend Wednesday night with my dear friend Karen, who I hadn’t seen in person in over two years. It was a perfect and relaxing start to race week. Caroline managed to get us a perfectly located place to stay, just off of the run course and just 0.7 miles from the start line and an even sweeter 0.3 miles from the finish line. It was so nice to walk to swim practice and to get our bike, and did I mention the very short trip back after the race?

Just a few highlights prior to race day because I don’t want this to be too long. We debated about doing a practice swim because of all the chatter in the Ironman Maryland Facebook page around the jellyfish we decided it probably would be a good idea. Walking up to the practice swim it was all people were talking about, how many jellyfish there were. I had no idea what to expect so we lathered up with Sea Safe and Vaseline to supposedly create a barrier on our skin for the stings… spoiler alert, it did nothing. Swimming through these sea nettles was like swimming through grass, though it wasn’t long blades of grass you drug your hands through each stroke it was tentacles. The feel of them didn’t bother me, but the stings were not comfortable, particularly the ones on my face. They kind of felt like little tingles of electricity or bigger jolts when on my nose and lips. I’m glad we did the practice swim but I really didn’t want to get back in the next day. I am also glad we did the swim because in my last couple of open water sessions I had tended to panic a bit at the beginning. My heart rate rises and I can’t control my breathing. I hoped getting the practice out of the way would clear this for race day.

The rest of Friday included a trip to the pharmacy for sting relief options and hanging out with Zack and Beril for lunch. Zack is also a guide for blind athletes and a great triathlete himself and Beril is also super-fast, she raced her way to a Kona slot in this race and she’s a delightful human. It was so great to get to spend some time with them and to get to know them better. We then went and checked in our bike and dropped gear bags and came back to spend some time with Kathleen, a deaf-blind athlete racing and her guide Jenny, as well as Cheyenne who came as race support. It’s always awesome to share the race course with other blind athletes and their guides, and I love the supportive community we have in this sport. After some pasta and checking bags for the 27th time it was time to attempt sleep before race day.

Race morning it was so nice to be close to the start line, Zack picked us up and we made the quick drive over to the transition area. After a few last-minute details we headed down toward the swim start. Even though the effectiveness of our “jellyfish barriers” were questionable we lathered up any exposed skin with Sea Safe and Vaseline. The race officials had made the call to increase the temperature for wetsuit legal racing to 78 degrees instead of the usual 76.1 due to the jellyfish numbers. I think everyone was thankful for that. As usual the PC athletes started first which is great as we don’t have to hurry into the water, we were able to take our time and start slow and I was happy to have a smooth start without any issues. The first loop of the two-loop swim was pretty uneventful, other than the occasional person trying to swim between Caroline and me. It always makes me laugh a bit to think about those poor souls and the hand or foot to the face they must be getting from Caroline. As we started the second loop of the swim I noticed my legs starting to cramp a bit. I was able to really relax my legs and hold them off until around the halfway point of the second loop. Then both calves started cramping, I stopped Caroline and floated in the water trying to relax, but if I flexed my foot one way my calf would cramp, and flexing it the other way caused my shins to cramp. I started to freak out a bit and asked for a kayak. I had Caroline try to rub out my legs as I held on to the boat, it felt like we were there forever with no relief. They had a medical boat come over and check on me, but the cramps started to ease a bit so I said I’d try swimming again. I figured if it came to it, we would just find another boat. I was able to finish the swim by just dragging my legs behind and trying to relax them and not move. My swim training had not been great so I was so happy to have made it with plenty of time to spare, even with the stopping.

Transition was uneventful, but long trying to get all of the Vaseline off of our faces, but we headed out on the bike with no issues. I really enjoyed this bike course. The first 25 miles included an out and back section and then you got onto a 40 mile loop that we completed twice. I thought the two loops made the ride go by very quickly. I tried to stay on top of nutrition the whole time and thought it went well, though I was dealing with stomach issues almost immediately. My stomach would bother me throughout the day, and later I learned that stomach issues can be a side effect of jellyfish stings, and I learned after the race that many folks in the Facebook group were also dealing with similar issues. Mile 80 on the bike is always a huge mental hurdle for me, and we hit 80 in good time. In contrast, getting from mile 85 to 90 felt like it took 3 hours, so at mile 90 Caroline started counting the other cyclists as we passed them to distract me. We picked up the pace a bit and ended up passing 40 athletes between miles 90 and 100. We then kept the tally going and passed an additional 29 cyclists between mile 100 and the end of the bike at 112.

It started to feel hot on the second loop of the bike course, and the humidity had been in the 97 to 99% range while we were there so I was a bit concerned how I would handle that on the run course. We made it through transition and on to the run, but I was still dealing with stomach pain so we walked the first 3 miles of the course. I think around mile 2.5 I asked Caroline if it was normal to want to spontaneously cry. I was not in a good place physically or mentally. Her answer was a matter-of-fact, “yes, you’re doing an Ironman.” With her persistence we tried a run walk strategy, and even though we weren’t running much, when we did it certainly made time go by more quickly. Nobody on the run course looked comfortable in those conditions, even the leaders looked uncomfortable. Ironman is a humbling and wonderful sport. We saw so many folks walking the course. I can get down on myself, thinking it’s just me, but we ran into plenty of people who had great training coming into the race who were having a tough go of it as well. I don’t think we talked to anyone on the run course who said they were having a great day. Thankfully as the sun went down it got cooler. We continued to run some and walk a lot. I really love the community feel of the back half of the run course late in the evening. Would I rather be running, sure, but we did meet some fun people as usual. We kept seeing a guy named Aaron, and we would cheer for each other on the course. We walked and talked with Harrison who runs a non-profit for veterans, and Ross a CrossFit athlete who got into running over the pandemic and decided to do an Ironman, he also had a great mustache. Little interactions like that keep me going.

The volunteers and spectators on the run course were next level all night as well. The town of Cambridge is so supportive of this event and it’s really fun to see. We also kept seeing Kathleen and Jenny on the course which was great. A huge thank you to Zack and Cheyenne for some awesome run course photos and videos as well. The run course was three loops. Making it to the last loop is always a great feeling, you know that you never have to pass markers on the course again. Caroline continued to encourage bits of running which I appreciate, even if not in the moment. I was done the last 3 or 4 miles of the course, and here is where racing with a guide is great, she is a constant support on the course and I can’t express how much I appreciate that. I was definitely losing it a bit at the end and she motivated me to keep going. For a good portion of the run course you can hear the finish line, and finally it was our turn to run the red carpet. I was so glad to be done, and also very proud of a hard fought day. Finish line hugs are the best hugs, and I feel so lucky that I have a great friend who loves to suffer through these races with me!! I ended up with a PR on the day, and was faster in all three disciplines in Maryland than in Texas in 2018. I dug as deep as I could in this one both physically and mentally. I’m proud of pushing through the jellyfish and cramps on the swim, and for continuing forward momentum throughout the run in very tough conditions. Time to relax for a few weeks and start training for the next one. Ironman Alaska 2022.

***I am not guiding Randi in Alaska, but I know we’ll do another race together soon!

Posed photo in front of an Ironman banner, after the finish. Randi and I are smiling. We’re well lit by the flash. My left hand is on my hip. Randi is holding the red tether. Randi is wearing a Dare2Tri hat and I’m wearing a Catapult hat.

We Did It!

What a rollercoaster. The highest highs and the lowest lows.

Team Sea to See crossed the Race Across America finish line after 7 days, 15 hours, and 3 minutes of riding. Our average pace including stops was 16.77mph and our average moving speed was 19.1mph, which I think sounds totally insane. I had no idea we would ride so fast.

Our team was the first four-tandem team to complete RAAM with blind stokers. I am so proud of what we accomplished. But we couldn’t have done anything without our crew. More thank yous to come.

I haven’t had time to write up anything significant, but Pamela Ferguson (another pilot on Team Sea to See) and I shared some of our thoughts the day after the race. Watch below if you’re interested.

If the embedded video doesn’t work- here is a link to the YouTube version.

Thank you to everyone who cheered, supported, and tracked our team. I’m overwhelmed by your love and positive energy. It’s hard to feel deserving of such kind words and praise.

RAAM 2018- Saturday through Monday

We left Oceanside at 12:18PM on Saturday, June 16th. Right now, it is 4:48PM on Monday, June 19th. Team Sea to See has crossed through California, Arizona, and part of Utah. We’re now riding though Colorado.

Last I checked, we had covered 850 miles. However, I just woke up from a nap in the RV, so it’s probably closer to 900 miles at this point.

I included a link to the tracker in my last post, but I neglected to say that I am posting my rides on Strava. Feel free to follow along there!

The first few shifts I rode were relatively uneventful. Jack and I are matched well, though he’s never spent a ton of time riding outside on a tandem. When I was obviously tired and cranky on a couple of pulls (after waking up in the middle of the night to ride), Jack told me stories about how he met his wife, and how he taught himself to swim before becoming a triathlete. We also talked about faith- mainly our differing opinions on what constitutes a sin. Talking makes the time pass much faster.

Last night Pamela Ferguson (pilot) and Tina Ament (stoker- whom I’ve guided in multiple Ironmans) and Jack and I began a stretch of climbing in AZ. Jack was pretty fatigued and the hills were steeper than we expected, so our 6 hour stretch turned into 8 hours. I took 10 shorter pulls over that time. By the end of our shift, I was mentally exhausted and suffered my first RAAM meltdown.

Thankfully, our other two tandems took a longer shift and I was able to sleep for a solid 7 hours. I felt like a new person this morning.

Not happy after realizing how long our shift was going to take.

Today, we got to ride through Monument National Park in Utah, which is one of the most beautiful parts of RAAM.

It’s crazy to think that we’re only 3 days in. Each riding shift feels like a day in and of itself. It’s easy to lose track of time. It will be interesting to see how some of the mountain passes go. Climbing on a tandem is NOT EASY.

So far, my favorite part of the race was descending the glass elevator towards Borrego Springs on my first shift. Jack and I hit 58.4 mph. It was terrifying with the crosswinds.

Another amazing part was jumping into a pool in Congress, AZ and earning a rubber ducky (it’s the little things, right?).

I’m posting a ton of Facebook live videos, which are public. Feel free to search for Team Sea to See’s page or mine. You should be able to watch even if you don’t have an account.

I’ll try to post some shorter, more frequent updates. It’s been challenging to find the time to write longer posts, since I’m trying to prioritize rest.

I’m about to get kitted up to ride some more! If you’d like me to cover any of the RAAM logistics, please leave a comment.

Our Adventure Begins Tomorrow

Tomorrow, at 12:18PM PST, Team Sea to See will cross the Race Across America start line in Oceanside, CA. We ride in relay format (see my last post for details), 24/7 until we reach the finish line in Annapolis, MD. Together, we will cover 3080 miles and more than 175k feet of climbing.

Our team began arriving in Oceanside earlier this week. In addition to our 8 cyclists, we will be traveling across the country with 20 crew members and an entire film crew. We have two RVs for riders and crew, plus two follow vans that will drive behind our riders as they ride in shifts across the U.S.

Our film crew also has a van and an RV for sleeping. People have asked me how much it costs to do Race Across America. To give you an idea, our gas cost alone will be $12,000.

If you were to put together a bare bones team, with limited crew and fewer vehicles, you might be able to race for under $30 or $40k. Cost is the biggest barrier to entry for a race like this. If you want to read a breakdown of a RAAM budget, check out this link.

You may ask why we wanted to take on a challenge like this. Is it worth the time, money, and energy? Why did we even decide to assemble a team of four tandems with blind stokers? Our mission is much bigger than a cross country bike race.

Team Sea to See is committed to proving that people who are blind can succeed in any field. We believe that demonstrating this capacity to succeed is critical to empowering others in the blind community and changing society’s perceptions of the blind.

We believe that lack of exposure to and understanding of blindness plays a major role in keeping employment rates so low for the blind community. Employers aren’t intrinsically hostile to the blind; they just don’t understand how people who are blind can, through ingenuity and adaptive technology, enjoy the same success as their sighted colleagues. We’re taking on the high-profile challenge of the Race Across America to show what blind success looks like, on and off the bike.

On a personal note, anyone who knows me is aware of my passion for racing as a guide for blind and visually impaired people. But it’s not just about guiding. Many of the men and women I’ve had the pleasure of training and racing with are now some of my closest friends. I live in a bubble. And in my bubble, it’s totally normal to be surrounded by accomplished, talented, successful blind/vi people, both in their professional and personal lives. But when I tell people what we’re doing and I tell them about the careers of the men and women on our team, I’m often met with surprise. This week alone, I’ve heard three people tell me that they didn’t know that blind people can be lawyers (!!!).

We want to change people’s misconceptions about the blind/VI community. We also hope to become the first team of tandems with blind stokers to complete the hardest endurance race on the planet.

This is a photo of me and my stoker, Jack Chen. Jack is a Harvard grad, an attorney at Google, and a loving husband and father.

If you want to track our progress, you can do so on the live RAAM tracker. I’ll be posting updates along the way.

Thank you so much for following our journey!

Race Across America – A Breakdown

Photo credit: Christopher Joyce. Here’s a photo of me riding through the desert in 2012

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about Race Across America (which I will refer to as RAAM for the rest of this post) over the past week and I realized that I haven’t fully explained what this race actually is. Many people I know have spent a month or two riding across the U.S. These people are usually riding self supported (no motorized vehicles following along), and they will plan a route that passes through areas of the country they’ve wanted to visit.

RAAM is very different. It is billed as the “world’s toughest endurance race.” Cyclists begin riding in Oceanside, California and must follow a very specific route, passing through checkpoints along the way. Each solo rider or team of riders must reach the finish line in Annapolis, Maryland within a specific amount of time. This is anything but a pleasure ride.

I’m going to focus on the logistics involved with racing on a four bike team, because I have completed RAAM as a member of a four-bike team and, as a member of Team Sea to See, I am attempting to complete this race as a member of a four bike team again. You can enter RAAM as a solo competitor, or as a member of a two, four, or eight bike team.

The reason I’m saying “four bike” instead of “four person” is because my team is comprised of four blind/visually impaired stokers and four sighted pilots. We are attempting to become the first four tandem team with all blind stokers to complete this event.

If you’re not competing solo, RAAM is a relay. Think Ragnar on bikes, only much, much, much longer.

There are many ways to break up riding- you’re allowed to use whatever strategy you’d like. But generally, people tend to break four-bike teams into pairs. Two bikes will alternate riding for a set distance or time, and then they will rest while the other pair of bikes alternates riding.

When I raced with Team RWB in 2012, we used this strategy. My “partner” and I would ride for 4-6 hours, each person taking an hour long pull at a time. Then we would go into the RV and sleep for a similar amount of time.

Here is a photo of my team from 2012. I was the only civilian member of the team. My teammates were (are) absolutely badass. What’s interesting is that my 2012 team was a 4-bike team with 6 working legs – two of our members were wounded in combat and either didn’t have a leg, or had a non functional leg. This year, I’m on a four-bike team with 16 working legs. However, if you think that riding a tandem is easier than riding a bike solo, you are mistaken.

During RAAM, we will cross two mountain ranges and climb 170,000 feet. Tandems don’t like to go uphill very fast!

On Team Sea to See, each pull will last approximately 30 minutes. We are planning to shoot for four hour riding blocks, though that may vary, depending on where our follow cars can safely pull over for exchanges.

So, imagine that we have four tandems. Let’s call them A, B, C, and D.

For a four hour block, bikes A and B will ride 30 minutes at a time. We’re riding at time trial effort. While bike A is riding, bike B is sitting in the follow vehicle.

During this time, our C and D riders are sleeping and eating in their RV.

After four hours, our teams switch. After they’re done riding, Teams A and B will try to clean up and eat as fast as possible, to maximize sleep time.

Because Team Sea to See has 8 cyclists, in addition to our crew of 20-ish people, we will have two RVs for sleeping and eating, as well as follow cars that drive behind whoever is riding.

During the day, the follow car will leapfrog ahead so that the team that’s on deck can get ready to ride as soon as their wheel overlaps with the bike that’s finishing a shift. This is called a rolling exchange. At night, the follow car will always be behind the tandem that’s on the road. This means that both bikes must come to a complete stop before the on deck team begins to ride. This is called a stationary exchange.

The logistics of this race give me a headache. If you want to give yourself a headache, check out the 61 page rule book for this year’s RAAM. Thankfully, my job is just to ride. We have crew members that are in charge of navigating, cooking, working on bikes, and driving each of the vehicles. We’re traveling with medical professionals and massage therapists. When I describe it like that, RAAM sounds kind of cushy for the riders.

It’s not.

Here is a photo of me from 2012. We rode in hatchbacks, so our riders could lie down. Half of the time, I was covered in gear and trash.

The hardest part about RAAM (in my experience), is not the riding. It’s the sleep deprivation. To go back to solo riders for one second, I have to say that I have no earthly idea how they do it. Solo riders get 12 days to ride 3000+ miles. Can you imagine sleeping 1-2 hours a day (max) for close two weeks? I can’t. Read this article from top American RAAM finisher Brian Toone’s teammate if you want to learn more about what it’s like for solo racers.

Four bike teams have nine days to complete the race. Team Sea to See is shooting for 7. But that still means that for seven straight days, our cyclists aren’t sleeping for much more than four hours at a time. Our crew members operate on even less sleep!

In 2012, I remember falling asleep on my bike, somewhere in the Midwest. I also remember having extra energy when one of my teammates was exhausted, which meant that I had to ride while he slept. RAAM is all about problem-solving and adapting. My stoker, Jack Chen, recently said that the life of a blind/visually impaired person is all about problem-solving and adapting. I couldn’t agree more (based on what I know about my visually impaired friends’ lives).

Jack Chen and I post for a photo with his new co-motion tandem.

When I raced in 2012, our team hoped to finish in seven days. Unfortunately, we faced a number of issues that slowed us down. The biggest one was when our follow vehicle caught on fire in Arizona.

Learn from our mistake- never park a car on dry grass in the Arizona desert! The catalytic will catch on fire and you will lose your vehicle.

Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Gade (retired) poses in front of our burning vehicle.

As I’ve been writing this post, I have looked back through photos and posts of RAAM 2012, I still can’t even believe that I was part of such an incredible journey.

People have asked me when we will finish. I’ve already stated that we hope to finish in seven days. However, we don’t actually have any idea when Team Sea to See will cross the finish line. I’ll post a live tracker later this week, if you want to follow our progress. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@teamseatosee) where we’ll be posting photos and videos. I plan to use my blog, that I rarely update, as a way to keep my friends who aren’t on social media informed.

Team RWB 4-man A crosses the finish line in Annapolis around 3AM. Our finish time was 8 days, 12 hours, 16 minutes

I tried to answer some of the basic questions I’ve been asked, regarding how we break up the riding. If you want me to expand on any other details of the race, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer everything. Also, please forgive any typos or errors! Since I plan to post frequently over our trip, I’m going to spend less time worrying about copy-editing my own work.

Thanks for reading!

Ironman Texas 2018 – Guiding Randi Strunk

Randi asked me to guide her through Ironman Texas shortly after we completed 70.3 Texas together last April. I’m always so surprised, flattered, and grateful when a visually impaired athlete asks me to guide them in a race – especially when it’s a race as important as an Ironman. I know it sounds strange to say that I feel surprised when someone asks me to guide an Ironman, given how many I’ve completed as a guide, but that’s just how my brain works. I never take it for granted that someone like Randi would willingly tie herself to me for 140.6 miles.


One of my favorite cycling photos of all-time. Scott Flathouse captured this picture of me and Randi during 70.3 Texas 2017.

I should note that Randi and I decided to race Ironman Texas before I had any idea that I would be guiding Kona, as well. So, instead of having a year to train for one Ironman, I had six months to prepare for Kona and then six months to rest, mentally recover from the Ironman World Championship, and prepare for Ironman Texas.

Often, I meet blind/visually impaired athletes through social media or through friends of friends. The story behind how I met Randi is a little bit different.

In early 2014, I was going through a rough time. I had moved to Texas from NYC six months earlier, and I hadn’t really figured out what I was going to do with my life. I had also taken a long break from training when I moved to Texas, which is completely unlike me. So, I was desperately searching for some motivation, when I started emailing local groups that supported the blind/visually impaired community. Guiding has been the one constant in my life since 2008, even when every other area of my life seemed to be falling apart.

I sent a message to the Austin chapter of the National Federation for the Blind, asking if any of their members might want me to guide them for a run. Kimberly Aguillard wrote back quickly. She was the president of the local chapter and had never run with a guide!

Kimberly and I went on a couple of runs together in Austin. I really enjoyed getting to know her. She was such an accomplished and driven person! I was sad when I learned that her move from Austin to Houston was imminent. I credit her with reigniting my desire to train!

kimberly with me.jpg

I took this selfie of me and Kimberly after our first run together, on March 25th, 2014. Kimberly is smiling and looking slightly down. I am smiling and looking at the camera.

Back to the point of the story – Randi and Kimberly have been best friends for many years. A year or so after Kimberly and I met, Randi had just begun training for her first triathlon and Kimberly suggested that she reach out to me! I encouraged Randi to attend the Dare2Tri Paratriathlon Camp in June of 2016, and in April of 2017, we did a half Ironman together.

Race Week: 

I flew to Minneapolis the Tuesday before our race, to give a couple of presentations for my job. Normally, I would avoid traveling the week of an Ironman, but I thought it might be fun to fly to Houston with Randi. Randi and I had dinner together the night before our flight. It did not feel like we were going to toe the line of an Ironman in a matter of days. I knew it would start to feel real when we got to Texas.

After landing in Houston, Randi and I drove straight to athlete registration. We both got athlete wrist bands, swim caps, and timing chips.

I wanted to make sure we got off our feet, so we didn’t stick around the expo for very long. After having lunch at a nearby restaurant, we drove to our home stay to clean up before dinner.

Ironman races are incredibly expensive, when you consider race entry fees (which guides do not have to pay), flights, rental cars, equipment costs, and lodging, so we were incredibly grateful to my good friend, Arnie Lachner, and his wife, Kelli, for opening their home to us. I was especially glad that they had three little dogs! I always miss Peanut and Cashew when I’m on the road.

Randi and I made it to the athlete dinner in time to hear Mike Reilly kick off the event. We sat with some good friends and Team RWB teammates.

Towards the end of the dinner, we got to see the Ironman Minute video that BCC Live filmed during our trip to Boulder in March. We spent several hours filming, so we had no idea what parts of our interview they would use. About a minute into the video, I saw that they had used some footage from Kona, that I’d never seen before. When I saw a clip of Helen’s Kona finish, it felt as if I had been sent right back to that moment. I found myself in tears. (Here is Triathlon Taren’s video of our finish, if you’re interested.)

Randi and I were both really happy with how the video turned out. Dave, Marcus, and Melina made sure to get the message we wanted across – Randi is an athlete and a professional, who just happens to be blind, as well.

After the dinner, we drove to pick my husband, James, up at the airport and headed to Arnie’s to sleep.


Randi and James (the love of my life) standing in transition the day before the race. James helped us every single step of the way over race weekend. He is one of the most generous, thoughtful people on this planet.

The morning before the race, Randi and I tested her bike out (briefly), and then drove to transition to drop the bike off as early as we could. We met up with Randi’s husband, Ryan, who had flown in that morning. Randi, James, Ryan, and I went out to lunch after dropping the tandem off.

Over lunch, I learned something that completely floored me. I knew that Randi had ridden a single bike when she was younger, but I assumed she was able to ride a bike because she has nerves of steel! Randi also grew up in Nebraska, so I figured that she had ridden in an open field or something. Randi has been visually impaired since she was born, but she had some usable vision until just 2 years ago. For some reason (she still does not know why), one day, she abruptly lost most of the rest of her vision. Randi went from being able to see lines on a cross walk, to not being able to see anything that would help her navigate.

What I found most impressive about how Randi handled her sudden vision loss is the way channeled her frustration into a new hobby. Randi started doing triathlons after her vision declined. As if I needed another reason to be in awe of this woman. Here is a Facebook post with some background information on Randi, if you want to learn more about why I think she’s so great.

Race Morning: 

James drove us to transition, where Randi and I fought our way through the crowd to get into the actual transition area. We needed to put water and bento boxes on the bike and put some additional food into our T1 and T2 bags. It was simply too jammed with athletes for me to take Randi to the area where bike and run transition bags were laid out. I left Randi with the bike and hurried to drop the essentials in our bags. Before I walked away, I was able to snap a shot of Randi with Mike Reilly (the ultimate Ironman announcer). I felt like that was a good omen for the day.

In transition, we also got to meet the owner of a beautiful green tandem bike. Marcos and his guide, Luis, were attempting their third Ironman together. Marcos and Luis are both from Mexico, and Marcos speaks limited English, so I stumbled through a conversation in Spanish with him. We had also hoped to say hello and good luck to our friend David Kuhn, and his guide, Bruce Hayes, but we didn’t bump into them in transition. David is an indefatigable endurance athlete. Many of my friends, as well as my husband, have had the pleasure of guiding him in various events. You always have a good time when you’re racing with David!

The last time I raced Texas (way back in 2013), I remember having to practically run to swim start with Rachel Weeks, because I completely underestimated how long the walk was going to take us. This time, we built in plenty of time to walk the mile + to North Shore Park.

On the walk to swim start, a few athletes recognized Randi from the Ironman Minute video. Randi isn’t one to seek out attention, but I think we were both happy to know that our fellow competitors were cheering her on!

James helped carry our special needs bags to the park. Randi’s husband, Ryan, also accompanied us. I was so glad that he could be there to see her off!

In the weeks before an ironman, I often find that I simultaneously feel like race day will never arrive and that it will arrive way too soon. That feeling never seems to leave until the gun goes off.


The night before the race, James made us a new swim tether out of bungee cord. I love that Randi feels the same way I do about swimming – it’s a necessary evil. She had no interest in going to the Texas practice swim, so our first time swimming with the tether was during the race.

Texas has changed from a mass swim start, to a wave start. I naively assumed that the swim would be more civilized, because racers would start over a period of 30 minutes.

The beginning of the swim was lovely. The three blind athlete/guide teams started right after the professional female athletes. We had ten minutes to get comfortable in the water before the age group athletes started.

Thankfully, James’s swim tether was perfect. The last time Randi and I raced together, her tether was a bit too short, for my liking. The tether length prevented me from taking a full stroke.

I hope Randi doesn’t mind when I share the next detail about our swim. Every other stroke, or so, Randi would punch me in the arm! At least, that’s what it felt like. She was veering slightly towards me, which resulted in a full contact experience. I am laughing as I write this, but I’m sure Randi knew it was happening, and was not pleased.

One of the best parts of the swim was the fact that we had our own personal paddleboard escort. Catapult team member Michelle, paddled behind us for the entire swim. I had no idea just how helpful she would be, until the age group athletes started swimming past us.

The wave start did virtually nothing to thin out the pack. Even with Michelle behind us, athletes were swimming on top of us and trying to swim between us. We had no desire to clothesline any age groupers. But my biggest fear when it comes to athletes trying to swim between us is the thought that someone will pull the tether off of us.

Like most other Ironman swims, this one was incredibly chaotic. I can’t recall exactly how many times I put my foot in someone’s face, but it was more than a few!

Randi is a strong swimmer, so we were not concerned about her ability to make the swim cut off time. I wasn’t worried, at least. Randi’s pace was very consistent throughout the swim. Unfortunately, she experienced some severe calf cramps which slowed her down a little bit. She had to stop three times to hold onto Michelle‘s paddle-board. I tried to give her a calf massage in the water to relieve the cramps. Unfortunately, my hands-on approach was only moderately effective. But Randi pressed on.

When we turned into the canal, I thought we were almost done. Clearly my memory did not serve me well, because the canal was much longer than I remembered. In the canal swimmers were packed together. It felt like I swam with my head out of the water for most of the last 500 meters because I had to remain so vigilant.

The best part of the swim was looking over and seeing James on the shore, along with Randi’s parents and husband. I felt so comforted to know that James was there.

At one point, I noticed that Randi‘s mother, Jan, was motioning to Michele. She seemed to think that Michele was paddling too close to us. She had an incredible look on her face. It was the look of a mother who is concerned that you’re going to hurt her child. I tried to thank Michelle loudly, so that Jan wouldn’t be concerned.  James got an unbelievable photo of us swimming while he stood on a bridge above the canal. Based on how close she is to me and Randi in this picture, I can absolutely understand why Jan thought that we were about to get mowed down by Michelle’s board. I’m still blown away by how much control Michelle had over the paddle board!

swim shot

My husband, James Spencer, took this photo of me and Randi during the swim. You can see us swimming just ahead of the paddle-board. We are wearing light blue swim caps. Swimmers in pink and green caps are on either side of us.

Finally, we turned left around the final buoy to head towards the metal steps that would lead us out of the water. I yelled to the volunteers to let them know that we needed two people to help us up, because Randi and I were tied together.

After just under two hours in the water, Randi and I finished the swim.

Transition 1: 

James was our official handler during the race, so he was able to wait for us at the top of the stairs that led us out of the water.

Our friend, Marcus Thomas, was also waiting at the swim exit. He was on site filming the race for BCC Live.

Finisherpix captured a really great picture of James standing in front of Randi, after she exited the water. Randi is holding onto James’ forearms and had a slight smile on her face. I’m standing next to Randi looking quite happy (I’m talking, as usual, and my hand is on her arm). In the photo, Marcus is standing behind us with a video camera.

swim exit with james

Swim exit photo. Described in paragraph above.

When Randi and I did 70.3 Texas last year, I somehow managed to run her into an athlete that was on the ground getting her wetsuit taken off by a volunteer, just after we exited the swim. Randi tripped over the athlete and fell to the ground. It was not my finest guiding moment! So in this race, I was very intentional about where we walked, as we approached the wetsuit strippers.

James grabbed both of our transition bags, so that I could focus on navigating Randi through the rows of bags and volunteers safely.

I grabbed the bags from James just before we entered the women’s changing tent.

As a guide, I think I am usually most nervous before the start of an Ironman bike, which is ironic, because the bike leg is the part of the race that I enjoy the most. I think my concerns lie in the fact that so many things can go wrong during a bike ride. Cycling is dangerous, no matter how cautious you are as a rider.


Randi and I made good time in transition. I stuffed an entire Smuckers Uncrustable in my mouth as we ran towards Randi‘s Tandem. I never seem to be able to consume enough calories while racing, despite the fact that I eat virtually nonstop. I wanted to refuel before we even began the ride, hence, the PB&J Sandwich.

When we picked up the bike two days before the race, we had a brief panic moment. I assumed that we could swap out the stem on Randi‘s bike to make the cockpit a little bit shorter for me. When I guided Randi and a half Ironman last fall, I was stretched out too much and had severe neck pain after the bike ride. I was nervous about whether or not her bike would even fit me if we couldn’t change the stem. Thankfully, Marcia and Rick at House of Tandems were able to perform a miracle. James took some additional measurements for my bike at home, and Rick was able to figure out a way to fit me to the bike. My position went from being one that would potentially leave me in a great deal of pain, to the most comfortable position I’ve ever ridden in during an Ironman. Thank you over and over again to House of Tandems!

We walked the bike out of transition and approached the bike mount a line. Marcus followed along with a camera as we mounted the bike and tried to keep up a we rode away. I couldn’t stop laughing as I watched him sprinting alongside our bike. What a champion!

bike exit.jpg

This is a photo of me waving to a spectator as Randi and I walk her tandem toward the bike mount line.

Beginning of an Ironman bike is normally quite crowded. Safety is always my primary concern, so we took it really easy for the first few miles of the bike.

I spotted the first crash of many that we would see along the bike route, before we even reached the Hardy Toll Road. A woman was standing on the side of the road with her bike across from an aid station. She appeared to have slipped on a patch of gravel.

I reminded myself to be exceptionally careful as we rode through aid stations.

Shortly after we got onto the Hardy Toll Road, we saw the pro men coming back from their first loop. They looked like they were flying! I was happy to see my friend, Andrew Starykowicz, in the lead. I described the scene to Randi, as well as I could. I tried hard not to turn my head too much when I spoke to her, as an aero helmet turned sideways is anything but aerodynamic!

The first loop of the bike was quite crowded. Every single athlete in the race was on the bike course during that first loop, so there people riding at vastly different speeds. Above all else, my priority while guiding is to keep my athlete (and myself) safe. Though the course got congested at times, there was plenty of room on the road, in general.

As I mentioned earlier, we saw the aftermath of crashes beginning well before we got onto the Hardy Tollway. At one point, I complained to Randi that athletes should have to pass a test before they’re allowed to ride in an Ironman.

Soon, we started seeing packs of riders forming on the other side of the road. The packs were mainly made up of competitive age group athletes. I wondered where all of the officials were. It was the most blatant drafting I’d ever seen in 18 years of racing. And of course, they were all drafting in their aerobars, which was a recipe for disaster. No wonder we’d seen so many casualties along the side of the road.

I am hyper vigilant when I’m piloting; this ride was no exception. Thankfully, Randi and I were able to avoid ugly situations.

Every time another pack would pass going the opposite direction, I would grumble to Randi. I wasn’t sure if she fully understand how egregious it was. When we were passed by a pack of cyclists on our return trip, we could feel the air whooshing by, and I knew that Randi completely understood what I had been talking about.

Blatant drafting and dangerous cyclists aside, Randi’s ride was going incredibly well! Our only goal for the day was to finish in under 17 hours, but I was curious to see how Randi would handle the 112 mile ride, given that she’d been training inside all winter.

Early on in the bike, we’d seen the tandem team from Mexico on the course. They weren’t too far ahead of us, so I secretly hoped that we would catch them, or at least close the gap.

We hadn’t seen David Kuhn and his guide, Bruce, since the beginning of the race, so we were both really pleased when they rode past us after the first turnaround. Randi and I wanted there to be three blind finishers at the end of the day!

Randi and I cheered for David and his guide and I made a joke to David about his fanny pack, though I don’t think he heard me. David had a huge bag dangling from his left side. I guess he packed even more food than I did! Randi and I kept going at our pace after they passed us, though we played leap frog with David and Bruce a couple of times.

I have mentioned a few of the negative aspects of the Texas bike course, but I think it’s important to share some of the awesome and hilarious things we saw while riding:

There were at least three guys riding fat bikes! Fat bikes are like mountain bikes, but the tires are at least double the width. I believe that their original purpose was for snow riding. Needless to stay, they are MUCH slower than road and tri bikes. What a challenge it must have been for the riders! Last year, one guy attempted to do the race on a fat bike, but didn’t make the time cutoff. We actually bumped into him, as well. The coolest thing was that the fat bike riders all seemed to be having so much fun.

My other favorite character was a guy riding an upright a hybrid bike, wearing a camo hydration backpack, a tank top and baggy shorts. He was wearing a commuter helmet and drank maple syrup straight out of the bottle. When we cheered for him as we passed, he squeezed the plastic dinosaur that was mounted on his flat handlebars, and it squeaked! (This guy did make the time cutoff on the bike, but he looked ROUGH on the run. I never did figure out if he finished the race!) I got so excited every time we saw him, because he was such an awesome departure from the stereotypical triathlete.

Finally, I have to give thanks to the volunteers. The bike course volunteers were amazing. They braved the sun and the heat for hours and hours. And they never seemed to lose energy! I’m sure they assisted with crashes, when they occurred near an aid station. Thank you, volunteers! These races wouldn’t exist without you!

Over the 112 mile ride, Randi and I stopped three times, which took a total of 9 minutes. Randi hustled through each stop, so it didn’t cost us much in terms of our average speed. I tried not to get too excited, but I was really stoked about how well Randi was riding. Our average speed was solidly above 17mph, which was was faster than my conservative estimates for our bike pace.

Scott Flathouse-K10A5465

We were lucky enough to do another race where Scott Flathouse was taking photos. Here is a shot of me and Randi on the bike during Ironman Texas. We are both wearing red Handlebar Mustache socks and grey Ownway Apparel kits.

I can’t recall piloting for a cyclist that nailed her pace so consistently during an Ironman bike. Randi maintained the exact same output (as far as I could tell) for the entire ride. Because Randi lives in Minneapolis, she did virtually all of her training on the Wahoo Kickr. The Wahoo really doesn’t let you cheat at all, especially when you’re riding in erg mode, so Randi must have figured out exactly what kind of effort she could maintain. And she did it! You can’t ask for anything more from an athlete competing in an Ironman.

It got really hot towards the end of the bike. There was no cloud coverage on the Hardy Toll Road, and of course, we were in Texas.

The fact that Randi didn’t completely collapse in the heat is astounding to me. She had 18 inches of snow in her back yard just 2 weeks before the race!

Over the last 30-40 miles of the bike, Randi seemed to be feeling a bit uncomfortable. She hadn’t ridden her tandem in months, so it’s not surprising that her fit wasn’t perfect. We coasted some of the downhills so that she could stretch. I also started grabbing extra water bottles at aid stations, so that we could douse ourselves in cold water.

My system was to grab a Gatorade (or water) and hand it right back to Randi. She would put that bottle in her bottle cage, and then I would grab two more bottles before the end of the aid station. I would put one in my bottle cage, and then we’d drink from the third water bottle, pour water on our backs, and toss it before trash zone ended. It took a bit of coordination, but we got it down!


I stole this screenshot from the post-race video. In this picture, I am taking a water bottle from a volunteer at an aid station.

As we neared the end of the Hardy Toll Road, I realized that we were somehow ahead of David and Bruce, as well as the tandem from Mexico. I wasn’t quite sure when we passed them, but I figured we’d see everyone again on the run.

I don’t remember much from the end of the bike, except that I wanted to maintain our speed, without making Randi blow up. It was incredible to think that we were more than 2/3 of the way through the race! Randi was on track to become an Ironman!!!

Transition 2: 

After witnessing so many crashes, I was glad to get off the bike. I was also thrilled by how well our ride had gone. Randi rode so fast, we’d built up a huge time cushion for our run.

After handing our bike to James (greatest handler of all-time), we ran through transition to the changing tent. We took off our bike shoes and helmets, changed into dry socks, and put on our running shoes. I had to pull handfuls of trash out of my pockets from all the food I’d eaten on the bike.

I don’t normally carry a ton of food with me during an Ironman run, because the aid stations are well-stocked, but I did make sure to bring my bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. I’d eaten Doritos during the half ironman Randi and I did in September of 2017, and they tasted amazing! They replaced my normal stash of salt and vinegar chips.

After a few minutes in the sticky changing tent, we were ready to begin our marathon.


It was hot when we started the run. I told Randi that it might make sense to walk for a bit so we could evaluate how she was feeling. We were both wearing hats, so I made sure to fill our hats with ice, whenever I could.

We both took a moment to think about the fact that we were actually on part three of her Ironman! Barring a crazy medical event, Randi wasn’t going to have any issues finishing this race in under 17 hours.

James got a photo of me and Randi coming out of T2. You can see the bag of Doritos in my left hand. Half of the run consisted of Randi trying to understand what I was saying as I shoved chips into my mouth.


Starting the run! Holding a bag of Doritos!

The Ironman Texas run is 3 loops. The benefit of a multi-loop course is that you’re rarely alone. It’s easier for spectators to get to different points on the course, when the loop is shorter. The Texas course runs along a canal in the Woodlands. It feels like a giant party during a few sections of the course. Texas spectators are outstanding – their energy was off the charts!!!

The day before the race, I posted a plea to anyone who planned to spectate. I wanted the people in costumes to describe themselves to Randi. I thought it would be fun for her to hear a guy describe himself as “the hottest guy in Texas” or something absurd like that.

We did encounter some really fun groups of spectators within the first couple of miles.


In this photo,  Randi Strunk and I have just encountered the Moxy folks on the course. There is a guy in some kind of mask. It’s hard to tell in the photo. he’s wearing a speedo and is holding a pinwheel in his hand. He’s clearly cheering for me and Randi. I look delighted and thrilled! Randi and I are running in this photo. Behind us, there’s another Moxy guy in a speedo. He’s got a police hat on and he’s holding a megaphone.

I told Randi to expect lots of loud music and attractive people in crazy costumes. I’m glad I didn’t mislead her!

After walking for a bit, we decided to try and implement a run/walk strategy. We would run for a few minutes or to a marker of my choosing, and then we would walk. Whenever there was an aid station, we would walk, in order to ensure that we both consumed enough food and drink to keep us sufficiently fueled.

We chatted with racers along the course and tried to keep our spirits up. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Though I do prefer multi-loop run courses, there are some drawbacks. When you’re on your first lap, people around you may be on their last! It’s impossible to not wish that you were farther along in the race. But, it’s still nice to encounter people that you wouldn’t normally see in a race with a one-loop course.

Not far into our first loop, Randi and I realized that our tether wasn’t working. Randi was running with a waist tether, that was connected to each of our race belts, but she wasn’t getting enough feedback from it.

zo mendoza photo

In this photo, Randi and I walk side by side along the canal. We are perfectly in synch. You can see that we are each holding one end of her yellow tether. Photo credit: Zo Mendoza

We decided to remove the tether from our race belts and hold the the bungee cord for the rest of the race. Originally, we intended to steal a shoelace from a friend along the course, but the bungee was quite effective, so we stuck with that.

I can only imagine how terrible it must have felt for Randi to be constantly going off course during the first few miles of the run.

We kept up our run/walk strategy for much of the first loop, but the heat wasn’t getting any better.

Randi’s stomach also started bothering her, so we decided to ditch running for the time being. The good thing was, we had built up such a cushion on the bike, Randi could have walked, or even crawled, part of the marathon and she still would have finished in under 17 hours.

One bright spot on the first loop included our first trip through Catapult Corner, where we saw our friends from Houston, including Catapult’s founder, Jarrett Hubert. Jarrett has guided blind/VI athletes through Ironman Texas two times! It was wonderful to see someone who knew exactly what Randi and I were going through.  The Catapult folks were having an awesome party – we wished we could have joined them!

The second thing that I remember clearly from our first trip around the run course was bumping into my awesome friend, John Flores, just after mile 8. John had taken the time to make personal signs for his friends that were racing. When I noticed my sign, I started bawling!!! To be fair, physical exertion can make me more emotional, but I would challenge anyone not to cry if they saw a photo like this.


John had stolen an adorable photo of Peanut and Cashew from Facebook. He laminated the photo and included text that read, “Go Mommy! There…Now hurry up & come home & feed us!” It was just too much for me to bear! Poor Randi must have thought I was nuts! If she did, she kept it to herself!

After the first loop, we didn’t run any more of the race until the very end. However, we kept walking at a really good clip! The second loop is always the hardest. There are points when it feels like the race will never end. We celebrated every mile marker we passed. Thankfully, I love to talk and Randi didn’t seem to mind the distraction, so we had an awesome conversation almost the entire way.

Randi has an outstanding sense of humor. She had two quotes in the race that made me die laughing (and still make me laugh when I think of them, even weeks after the race).

When I offered her some watermelon that was at an aid station, she replied, without skipping a beat, “melon is garbage fruit.” I now know that it’s a line from a show, but it’s still so funny to me. I will never offer Randi melon again.

The second line that almost killed me was what Randi said when I told her I wished I could get her to feel some of the spectators’ costumes (or lack thereof) along the course. She totally went along with my joke. She held her hand up, as if to touch an imaginary person, and said in a somewhat creepy voice, “Is this a tactile exhibit?” I think I almost fell over when she said that! Also, I did make her touch the costumes (and abs) of some of the more entertaining people along the course!

I picked up our special needs bag on the second loop, because I knew it was going to get dark. I had stashed two knuckle lights in special needs, that would come in handy when the course became pitch black.

Towards the end of the second lap, the tandem team from Mexico caught up to us. We walked with Luis and Marcos for a couple of miles, and got to know a bit more about their stories. Incredibly enough, Luis, Marcos’s guide, has completed over 150 Ironmans! Insanity!!!

Luis and Marcos seem to have a great relationship. I’m so glad that we got to know our competitors along the way. When we got close to special needs on the third lap, I realized that Luis and Marcos didn’t have a light, so I gave them one of my knuckle lights to use. I’m all about race karma. Put good energy out, and good things will come back to you.

The course got quiet on the third lap. Randi and I were both in pain, but we were still moving forward. We weren’t in danger of missing the time cutoff, but we were ready to be done with the race! I think Randi handled the run like a champion. She calculated exactly what she needed to do to finish, without risking having a total meltdown. I wish I approached things as practically as she does!


Bad dance moves include hand gestures. I’m glad Randi was able to laugh at me! Photo Credit: James Spencer

Every time we passed an aid station that was playing music, I got a little burst of energy, but those moments were few and far between.

James even witnessed my bad dance moves, when he spotted us running past the Redbull DJ.

The best part of the third lap was passing all of the mile markers that weren’t ours! Finally, when we passed the 18 mile marker, it meant that we were actually 18 miles into the run.

When we got to the final out and back section at the end of the third loop, I began to feel overwhelmed by emotion. I was so grateful that Randi asked me to share this experience with her. The more time I got to spend with her, the more I liked and respected her. We were already great friends before the Ironman, but this race had brought us even closer together.

My hips hurt pretty badly, but I felt really good, considering the fact that we were at the end of an Ironman. I was glad to feel in complete control. I know that I could have given Randi whatever she needed on that run, which is the only thing I hope for when I’m guiding. I just never want to slow anyone down, or have a negative impact on their race experience.

I thought about the fact that Randi had decided to become a triathlete after she lost the majority of her remaining vision. She said she never got depressed – she just got frustrated. But she obviously channeled her frustration into something positive. If only we could all respond to adversity the way Randi does.

Randi made it very clear that she planned to run the finish of the race, so we mentally prepared ourselves for that last bit of running before crossing Randi’s first Ironman finish line.

The last two tenths of a mile in Ironman Texas were mostly uphill, and there were two sharp u-turns in the middle. Ironman transformed the streets of the Woodlands into a red carpet affair. Spectators lined the finishing chute all day and night. Each person that crossed the finish line was treated like an international celebrity.

The easiest way for me to guide the finish line was to hold hands with Randi, so as we ran towards the bright lights of the finishing chute, I grabbed Randi’s left hand with my right, and we began to run.

It’s difficult to explain what it feels like to cross the finish line of an Ironman. It’s one of the greatest feelings of all time, in my opinion. If you’ve finished an Ironman before, imagine how amazing you felt, and then multiply that times 100. That’s how it feels to cross the finish line with a partner, friend, and teammate by your side.

Finish! Ironman Texas 2018

Finish line photo of me and Randi Strunk finishing Ironman Texas


As soon as we crossed the line, Randi and I embraced. She was finally (officially and IRONMAN!!! I was in tears, of course. Our friend, Marcus, was there to catch the entire finish on film. Check out the Ironman Texas 2018 race day video, for a few clips of our race. Our finish is towards the very end of the video.

James was waiting just after the line to greet us. James has been so invested in Randi’s race, since we agreed to compete together. He is the most amazing cheerleader and supporter. I was completely caught off guard when he broke down in tears. I’m trying not to cry as I write this, because it was such an emotional moment. Since James and I began dating, in the fall of 2015, he’s supported me as I guided three full Ironmans and a number of half IMs. James knew that Randi and I had executed this race perfectly. I stayed within my limits and I finished the race feeling good, which was all James wanted for me. He was crying because he was so glad that both Randi and I had achieved our goals. James, Randi, and I had a big group hug, to celebrate our finishing moment.


medal pic

Randi and I pose with our finisher’s medals in front of the Ironman Texas background, moments after finishing the race. We are both wearing Ironman Texas hats. We are holding our medals up for the camera. We are both smiling broadly, as you might expect. I am holding one water bottle under my arm and another in my left hand.

Ironman Texas 2018 was my 9th Ironman as a guide for a blind/vi athlete (my 10th if you count the full distance race I completed solo in 2005). I do keep track of the number of Ironmans I’ve done, but I hope all of my friends know that each race is just as important to me as the very first Ironman I guided. I can’t compare one Ironman to the next. The experience I had with Randi was unlike any other race I’ve done. Randi is unlike anyone I know! Randi is a friend that I will go to for advice, with whom I will share my successes and failures, and someone that I hope to know for years and years to come.

Thank you, Randi, for asking me to race with you. I am so grateful to have shared this experience with you and I cannot wait for our next adventure!



Scott Flathouse-K10A5886Scott Flathouse-K10A5895

IRONMAN World Championship 2017 – Guiding Helen Webb

Helen Caroline swim start_preview

Visually impaired athlete, Helen Webb, and me before entering the water at the Ironman World Championship. Photo credit: Val Reynolds

No Ironmans in 2017 

I wasn’t going to guide an Ironman this year. James and I spent most of 2016 traveling to race and guide. My work travel also quadrupled in 2016, so my intention was to have a more relaxed year in 2017 (relaxed meaning no 140.6 races).

Everything went according to plan, until I received a Facebook message from Helen Webb on May 26th.

I’ll never forget the feeling I got in my stomach when I received her note. I was in my bathroom getting ready for work when I saw the notification.

Helen and I had been chatting for at least a year. She reached out to me when she was beginning to train for her first Ironman in South Africa. I followed her story and offered assistance when I could. It was difficult to do much, given that she lived in South Africa! I offered to guide her if she ever decided to race in the U.S.

That seemed like a remote possibility.

When Ironman announced the winners of the Physically Challenged Lottery for entries into the Ironman World Championship, I saw that Helen had received a spot. I was so excited for her! Our conversation about having me guide her if she came to the U.S. never crossed my mind.

When I opened Helen’s message, my heart rate sped up.

“I have double checked with my South African guide and as I expected she will be unable to [guide in Kona]. So I really, really want you to do it if you can. Reading your posts about guiding was the only thing on the entire internet that made me feel like I would be able to do an Ironman as a visually impaired athlete. It would be such an honor to race with you. I will obviously cover costs.”

It’s incredible to think how much of an impact you can have on someone without even realizing it. Thankfully, my husband, James (we got married one year ago in a civil ceremony and haven’t had a wedding yet, so calling him my husband still gives me a bit of a rush!), encouraged me to say yes. We agreed that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It certainly might have been my only chance to race with Helen!

I told Helen that I was in. Next, we would have to figure out the details.

Do you get paid to guide?

Because my social media presence is primarily filled with images of me racing with visually impaired athletes, riding my bike, or photos of my two dogs, people have assumed on more than one occasion that I am essentially a full-time guide.

In the U.S., there is no such thing as a professional guide for visually impaired athletes. In other countries, guides who race with visually impaired athletes at the Paralympic level will receive some compensation, but the U.S. does not currently fund guides. In Ironman racing, there are no professional physically challenged athletes or guides.

I have a fantastic job as a Regional Director at Dimensional Fund Advisors, which is a large mutual fund company based out of Austin, TX. I travel frequently to visit clients and speak at events, so I have a limited amount of time to train. [I have so much respect for people with jobs AND children who find time to train for these races. By no means am I complaining about my schedule!]

*I also want to note just how proud I am to work for a company that truly cares about its clients and employees. I have never felt more supported in both my professional and personal life by an employer.

Though Helen offered to pay for my expenses, I never considered taking her up on her offer. I try to avoid asking VI athletes to cover my travel costs. Now that I am in a position to pay for my own travel, I am more than happy to do so. I also knew that Helen had used up much of her racing budget in preparation for Ironman South Africa, which she completed in April.

(I have raced with some athletes who have been comfortable enough financially to cover my flights. Thank you to those athletes!)

Because I have a large network in the U.S., I put together a Go Fund Me account to help cover Helen’s expenses. Thanks to the generosity of many of my friends and colleagues, as well as support from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Helen wouldn’t have to worry about money.

Through the magic of Facebook, we even secured a homestay for me, Helen, and James for the entire duration of our visits. Karen and Maverick Malech went above and beyond the call of duty as our hosts. I cannot say enough good things about the Malechs.

The last piece of the puzzle was Helen’s bike. In South Africa, Helen rides an absurdly heavy tandem. When I saw photos of the bike, I knew we needed something lighter and faster for Kona. My amazing friend, Tina Ament, who is an eight-time Ironman finisher and ultra-cyclist offered to lend Helen one of her tandems. Thank you over and over again to Tina!!!

So, do you train with the athlete you’re guiding?

Ideally, if you’re going to guide an athlete through an Ironman triathlon, you should spend some time training with the athlete before the race. This was not an option for me and Helen.

I have guided a dozen triathletes, none of whom have lived near me, so I wasn’t worried about my ability to race with Helen.

I did, however, decide that it made sense to enlist the help of a coach. I have worked with a number of coaches throughout my seventeen years of racing, but it had been two years since I followed a structured training plan. My main consideration when it came to choosing a coach was to find someone who could understand and work around the demands of my work travel.

The first person I thought of was Brad Williams. Brad is a pro triathlete, an Air Force veteran, and a new dad, who I’ve known for five years. He has also guided before, which was an added bonus. Brad is the only coach I know that seems to fly even more than I do, so he immediately appealed to me.

With Brad’s help, I trained more consistently than I have in as long as I can remember, throughout the four months leading up to Kona. I lost 10 pounds and increased my FTP by a good bit, and swam every week. Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely swim. In the weeks before heading to Kona, I felt totally prepared for the race. Of course, no matter how prepared you are before a race, there are so many things that are out of your control on race day.

The race! 

Race morning:

race morning

James, Helen, and me in the transition tent on race morning. Helen and I are putting on our XTERRA swim skins. You can see handcycles, wheelchairs, and volunteers all around us. Photo credit: Val Reynolds

Race morning always feels electric to me. I woke up at 4am and began getting ready. Helen met us at Karen and Maverick’s house and we drove down to transition. We walked past all of the fastest age group athletes in the world and were ushered through a special line for pros and physcially challenged athetes, where Helen would be body marked.

After bodymarking, we went through a tent where volunteers weighed each athlete. Finally, we arrived at the PC tent, expecting to find an expanded tent.

When we dropped off our bike the day before the race, the tent was completely full. Race officials must not have taken into account the number of hand cyclists that had qualified for the race. Volunteers had to rearrange bikes in the tent in order to make room for ours. Officials assured us that they would expand the tent overnight so that there would be room for everyone in the morning.

Unfortunately, the tent had not been expanded. All of the hand cycles and upright bikes were crammed into the tiny tent. There was barely room to walk to the porta pottie. Thankfully, the volunteers and handlers were incredible. Any time we needed anything people were there to help.

Helen and I had the best handler of all: James.

Ironman did a number of things wrong when it came to how they treated the para-athletes, but one thing they did right was allowing athletes to choose their own handlers and providing handlers access to every area of the race. James was able to help with our equipment, meet us in the water after our swim, and would have been allowed to enter the medical tent if we had needed him.

After we ensured that our transition bags were ready and that our fuel was on the bike, James, Helen, and I chatted with Dick Hoyt for a bit. He’s raced Kona with his son, Rick, FIVE TIMES. Today, Rick would be racing with their friend, Bryan. I told Dick that he could get a beer with James while we were all on the bike. They would have a looong time to wait (anxiously).

The pro men were in the water. Then, the pro women went off. Next, the age group men. Finally, it was time for the women age groupers and PC athletes to get in the water.

The swim: 

swim start

In this photo, I am describing how we will get to the start line to Helen. Age group women are in the background with pink swim caps. Another para athlete is swimming at the bottom of the photo in a green cap. Photo Credit: Val Reynolds

Fifteen months ago, Helen could barely swim 25 meters in the pool. Now, she can swim 2.4 miles with ease! We knew that it would take her the better part of two hours to complete the 2.4 mile swim, which was completely fine, because the cutoff time for the swim was 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Helen isn’t very comfortable treading water, so she asked me to have her swim out to the start as close to the actual start as we could, keeping in mind the fact that it would take her a good 2-3 minutes to get to the stating buoy.

We positioned ourselves at the back of the main group and to the left so that we could avoid getting run over by faster swimmers (and so that we wouldn’t impede anyone else’s progress). In every other Ironman I’ve guided, PC athletes start after the pro athletes, or first, if there is no pro field. I’m probably too accustomed to getting pummeled in the water.

The swim start in Kona was downright civilized, compared to what I’m used to.

For the record, Helen is not a slow swimmer! Athletes in Kona are the fastest in the world, so there were fewer back-of-the-pack racers around us. Helen has a smooth stroke, she swims straight, and she’s very consistent.

I knew that I just had to keep her on course and disrupt her as little as possible.

We only had one incident with an athlete swimming virtually on top of Helen, which shocked us both, considering that the course was NOT crowded at that point! Eventually, I pushed the woman on the shoulder and asked her to give Helen some space. She seemed to be having troubles with her goggles.

Helen made it to the turnaround in great time. When we got to the turn, Helen popper her head out of the water and exclaimed, “Is that a boat??” There was indeed, a massive boat on the course, at the turnaround. The people on the boat leaned over the side and shouted encouraging comments.

We also had what seemed like our own private paddle board escort. A woman began paddling alongside us towards the end of the first half of the swim and accompanied us the entire way back. It was very helpful! She even offered to let Helen hold onto her board when she had to pee, though Helen declined.

During the last third of the swim, my tether stopped cooperating, as did Helen’s.  At one point, Helen’s tether either broke or came untied. Before the race, we discussed what we would do if a tether broke, so Helen just stuck her head in the water, retied her tether, and off we went.

When my tether slipped down my thigh, I would just grab it and pull it back up, as quickly as I could.

Finally, I could see the massive inflated gatorade bottle that was positioned at the end of the pier. I focused on holding the shortest, straightest line that I could, as we moved towards the finish.

As we entered the finishing chute, which was maybe 200 meters from the actual finish, I could see James cheering and taking photos. I was overcome with emotion when I saw him and had to try as hard as I could not to cry as I swam.

Fifty meters from the finish, my tether fell off once more, so I decided to just hold it in my hand as we swam in. When I tapped Helen to let her know that we were done, she popped out of the water and danced towards the carpeted stairs that we would climb to get into transition!

James was waiting in the water for us to help us get to T1. It was absolutely incredible to have his help. In the photo I’ve included, you can see James holding Helen’s hand as we climb the steps. It’s impossible NOT to feel wobbly after a 2 hour swim.


Transition 1 (T1): 

The first transition was relatively uneventful. My only goal was to make sure I crammed as much food into my pockets as I could. I knew it was going to be a long ride.

The bike:

For the bike leg, my primary concern is always my athlete’s safety. But in a race as hot as Kona, I also needed to make sure that I didn’t overdo it. I didn’t want to blow myself up and hold Helen back on the run. As a guide, the bike is where I can make the most difference. However, I’m not big enough or strong enough to pull Helen’s legs around, so we are both responsible for putting out power.

Helen Caroline bike3

Leaving transition, heading out for our 112 mile run. Photo credit: Val Reynolds

I try to ride at a cadence that is comfortable for the athlete I’m racing with, which means I have to be able to ride at both a high or low cadence. When I’m guiding, it is not my race – I needed to ride in a gear that would make Helen feel as effective as possible.

The bike course began with a couple of decently long uphills. I suppose it was a sign of what was to come. When we pulled out of transition, there were a bunch of people cheering for athletes, but I knew that we might end up feeling pretty lonely later on in the course.

One of the first spectators I remember seeing is my neighbor, Chasse, whom James and I encounterd at the Slowtwitch party earlier in the week. We knew that Chasse was a doctor and a cyclist, but had no idea that she would be on the Big Island during race week! Chasse came out to attend a medical conference and to help at the finishers’ medical tent. Chasse said that she just didn’t even know that we did triathlons! Clearly, we weren’t facebook friends yet.

I remember hearing her shout, “Lombardy RULES!!!”

Lombardy is the area of Charlotte in which James, Chasse, and I live. I wish there was a photo of my massive smile after hearing that comment.

As we climbed the first hill, I watched for athletes decending on the other side of the road. I like to set mental goals during races, and one good way to stay focused is to find people to pass. When I mentioned this to Helen, she told me that she feels bad when she passes people, so she likes to say a kind word. All I could think was, I love this woman!  Helen and I sometimes seemed to share one brain during the race. Unless I’m unable to speak, I always try to offer encouragement to athletes I pass.

After a long climb and a quick descent, we headed up Palani and out onto the Queen K.

bike start smiles

All smiles at the beginning of the bike.

By this point, the race was already pretty spread out, so it was just Helen and me (and Tina’s incredible bike, Cicero). The first half of the bike didn’t feel bad at all. Helen and I had some awesome conversations. We talked about everything from apartheid and U.S. veterans to marriage and children. I’ve said on more than one occasion that there’s no faster way to get to know someone than to spend 100+ miles together on a tandem bike.

Everyone we spoke to before the race told us to prepare for the heat and the hills. Perhaps that’s why the first 50 miles felt manageable. We knew it wasn’t going to be fast.

Things got a little bit more exciting when the men’s and women’s pro athletes began riding past us on the other side of the road.

Before we turned onto the Akoni Pule Highway, we got a huge boost when we saw the first wheelchair athlete coming through! Jentz Platz is an absolute monster. He was handcycling with some of the top age group athletes!

50 miles into the race, we made a right turn to start the climb up to Hawi. The climb to Hawi is 6 miles of a steady, but not-too-steep incline. On the climb, Helen and I had the opportunity to pass three handcyclists (they’re doing the entire race with their arms!) and we got to chat for a minute. It was fantastic to be able to cheer them on.

The climb to Hawi is hard on a solo bike… on a tandem, it’s brutal. Helen did an amazing job keeping her pedal stroke smooth and remaining focused as we made the climb.

It felt incredible to reach the turnaround at Hawi. We made a brief stop to use the restroom and exchange bottles. It was during this stop that I noticed the heat rash that had spread all over the tops of my thighs.

Of course, there was nothing I could do about it, so I just reapplied sunscreen, and off we went.

Riding down from Hawi went smoothly. We caught a couple more people, including Dan St. Pierre, another para athlete that won an entry to Kona through the PC lottery.

Dan only completed his first Ironman a month before Kona – it’s pretty amazing that he wanted to do his second with such a short recovery!

During the decent, we started feeling the heat a bit more. It had been hot the entire day, but the lack of cloud cover certainly wasn’t helping. The sky was perfectly blue. During hot races, I fantasize about jumping back into whatever body of water I had swum in before the bike. During this ride, the ocean was taunting me every step of the way.

By the time we made the final climb back up to the Queen K, Helen was starting to suffer a bit. She began to sweat to the point where her head cover was no longer absorbing her sweat, and her eyes were stinging from the sunscreen that had dripped down her forehead.

We passed an Andrew Jammo, a handcyclist with whom we’d been playing cat and mouse, but forced him to re-pass us when we stopped at the top of the hill so that Helen could wipe her eyes. Andrew shouted at us, “These hills are fucked!” I couldn’t have agreed more.

In most other Ironmans I’ve guided, the hardest part of the bike comes between miles 65 and 85, when you’re not sure if you’ll ever be able to get off your bike.

The middle of the Kona ride was incredibly tough, but it was only going to get tougher towards the end.

Once we hit mile 92, I was hoping to get a second wind. Helen was handling the ride like a champion, especially considering the fact that she trained throughout the winter in South Africa and didn’t even have the benefit of heat training on the bike.

We began to joke that we were being punished for having had such great conversations on the ride out. We were being paid back for our relatively smooth first half of the ride. It felt like purgatory.

With 25 miles to go, I started noticing that Helen was really struggling. She had stopped talking completely and I could feel a difference in her pedal stroke; all of a sudden, it felt like her power output had been cut in half. The heat had finally become too much. I have overheated numerous times throughout my 17 years of racing, so I do everything I can to keep my body temperature down.

Before the meltdown

Helen and me near the last 40K of the bike, just before we had to stop to cool Helen down. That is not a smile on my face. I am grimacing.

I told Helen that we were going to go get ice at the next aid statin (assuming there was some!).

When we pulled up to the aid station, I told Helen to unclip on both sides and I shouted at a volunteer to help hold the bike while I ran to grab ice. One of the volunteers held open a massive bag filled with ice cubes, many of which were stuck together. (One of the reasons I like Ironman branded races is that the aid stations are generally well-stocked throughout the day. If there hadn’t  been ice at this stop, we might not have been able to continue on.)

I told Helen to pull out the front of her jersey and to brace herself for the ice. I shoved a bunch of ice in the front of her kit and then I put some more down her back. As soon as the ice hit her skin, Helen broke down crying. Not just tears, but legitimate sobs. I knew exactly how she was feeling.

Fortunately, as soon as her body temperature dropped a bit, Helen said she felt good enough to get back on the bike. She spent the next 15 minutes of the ride describing what that experience had been like for her. She said that she felt as though her brain had totally shut down.

Helen’s jaw had locked up. And apparently, the only thing she could think to do was to repeat a few phrases in her head that she would inevitably have to say to the medics:

“My name is Helen Webb. I am 37 years old. I live in South Africa.”

Thankfully, we didn’t need medics at that point.

The last 40K of the Kona bike course were the hardest 25 miles I’ve ever ridden. Helen had recovered just in time to ride up a seemingly endless hill, into the wind. The Hawi climb had nothing on this part of the course.

The most twisted part of Kona is that the winds get worse through the day. So, pros and fast age groupers might have a very different experience than the slower competitors.

It is way harder to ride a tandem bike on this course than a single bike. In other Ironmans people have joked that my athletes and I are cheating or that riding a tandem looks so fun. No one made those jokes on the Big Island.

When we hit the few slight downhill sections, it was a struggle to hit 16-18 mph, which is normally cruising speed on a tandem.

We both just wanted to get off the bike and start the run.

I also noticed that the rash on my legs has completely covered my legs. It looked like I was having an allergic reaction. I wasn’t sure whether heat rash would have an impact on our run. But worrying wouldn’t do us any good, so we focused on getting to the end of the bike.

Towards the very end of the ride, we passed part of the run course. It’s always a bit tough to see people racing that are so much farther along than you are. It’s not about whether people are beating us; for me, it’s just knowing how much longer we’ll have to be on the course.

But Helen told me when she first asked me to race with her that she just wanted to finish the race within 17 hours. My goal was to get her to the finish line safely.

7 hours, 41 minutes, 5000+ feet of climbing, and 112 miles after we started riding, we rolled into the finishing chute of the bike. Just before we turned the final corner, I heard my friend, Patrick Hight, screaming for us at the top of his lungs. Patrick is a huge advocate for para athletes and organized and ran the Team Red, White & Blue Triathlon Camp for the 5 years it existed. He was in Kona as a lead Moto driver. There’s something about seeing an old friend in a totally different context that really gets to me. I was in tears as we approached the dismount line.

Transition 2 (T2):

James was waiting to help us as we got off the bike. I wasn’t feeling great after the ride. I had ridden as conservatively as I could, fueled appropriately, and hydrated as well as I could, but the heat and the wind had definitely gotten to me.

I threw a bit of a fit when I tried to access the bathroom in our transition tent, only to discover that it was blocked by a chair. Ironman officials had assured us that there would be enough room for all of the athletes and their equipment, but that didn’t seem to be the case. It felt like we were a bit of an afterthought.

Helen and I put on our running shoes, hats, and race belts. We clipped the tether that James made for that morning onto our race belts, and headed out to begin the marathon.

The run: 

At the outset, Helen and I decided to walk the ascents on the run course. I will never forget watching a 63 year old woman pass me on the run course when I did 70.3 Hawaii in 2007 (as a 23 year old). This woman walked every hill and I still couldn’t catch her. Helen and I both agreed that it seemed like a reasonable strategy.

Helen Caroline run2.jpg

Walking up the first part of Palani before turning right to merge with other runners. This is my, “OMG, we have to run a marathon now?” face. See how chipper Helen looks? Photo credit: Val Reynolds.

I felt like I had done everything I could on the bike to remain “fresh” for the marathon, but on that course, on a tandem, it was virtually impossible.

When we first ran up Palani and turned right, the crowds were amazing. But we encountered runners who were nearing the finish line, as about half a mile on the course overlapped with people finishing. It was hard not to feel a bit jealous of the runners that only have a mile left in their race.

One challenge unique to guiding is that you have to deal with another person’s energy level for an entire race. Imagine if you’re feeling amazing and you’re just pumped to be on the course, but the person you’re running with is either cranky, hurting, or just not up to talking. Well, that happens in almost every long race I’ve guided. The interesting thing about Ironman races is that you’ll feel great and then terrible and then great and then terrible, all in one race.

At the beginning of this run, Helen was way more energetic than I. For a while, I tried to hide how I was feeling, because my biggest fear as a guide is that I will slow my athlete down. My only goal besides keeping Helen safe was to help her have her best race.

Helen is an incredibly perceptive person, so it wasn’t hard for her to notice that I wasn’t feeling great. She also had the wisdom to let me know that I could tell her if she was being too chipper. Most of the time, her energy didn’t bother me at all. But at one point, I asked her if she was ready to run a flat section and she said, “KEWL!” In the perkiest voice she’d used all day and I had to ask her to tone it down. That may make me sound like a jerk, but I’m sure that any fellow endurance athletes will understand how I felt in that moment.

Thankfully, despite how bad I felt, I was able to run the pace Helen wanted to run. It was a strange feeling because I didn’t feel impaired or sluggish, I just didn’t feel happy or energetic. I’ve never experienced a feeling like that in an Ironman before. Due to Helen’s limited vision and lack of depth perception, my job on the run was to let her know if there were obstacles on our path and to determine when we were on a hill, so that she would know to walk.

fake smile run

Here I am, pretending to feel good around mile 4 of the run.

Around mile 4, I saw a runner sitting by the side of the road, stretching. He shouted to tell us that we looked strong. When I turned to look at him, I realized that the runner was 6-time Ironman World Champion, Dave Scott.

I shouted back, “I met you at my first Ironman, 12 years ago!!!” I’m sure he had no idea what I was talking about, but I was able to recount the story to Helen: I met Dave before I attempted the Silverman full-distance triathlon in 2005 (non-Ironman branded). I chose the race because the weather was supposed to be nice – which it was. However, I neglected to look at the profile of the bike. There was over 6000 feet of climbing! So, when I met Dave, the first thing he said to me was that he thought that some people would have trouble making the bike cutoff. I’ll never forget how afraid I was when I heard those words. I felt an obligation to finish, just like when I’m guiding, because I was worried about letting people down. I had raised almost $5000 for a nonprofit for which I had volunteered during college. I did finish Silverman, and it’s still the only solo 140.6 I’ve ever attempted.

Hearing Dave cheering gave me a bit of a boost, but I still wasn’t feeling fantastic. The only other time I remember feeling energetic during the first 10 miles of the run was when we passed by the Gu house, where speakers were blasting 50 Cent. I can’t remember what song was playing, but I remember feeling like I had been sent back to my college rowing days.

I don’t bring a ton of nutrition onto the run because I try to get most of my calories on the bike. I’ll eat whatever I can stomach at the aid stations, which tends to be mostly Gatorade, coke, and orange slices. I’ll take salty food whenever I can get it. Most Ironman races serve chicken broth later on in the run course, which can be an absolute godsend towards the end of an Ironman. At Ironman Western Australia, I begged for leftover pizza from volunteers, but I didn’t expect that to be an option in Kona.

At one aid station, a volunteer offered us tortilla chips when I yelled to see if they had anything salty. The chips were exactly what I needed! She even offered us hummus, which I don’t think was part of the spread for athletes. We declined, but the offer was just fantastic. Ironman volunteers are truly amazing.

After the 10 mile out and back on Alii Drive, we saw James just before we headed back up Hualalai Road which would take us up Palani (again) and onto the Queen K. James snapped a photo of us, which I believe is the last photo that was taken while we were both still somewhat coherent!

Last coherent photo

Just before it got really dark. Photo Credit: James Spencer

At that point, it was already getting dark. Volunteers gave us glow in the dark necklaces at the turnaround at mile 5, but those only served to make us visible to other runners. They weren’t bright enough to illuminate the road.

For the first time in my Ironman guiding career, I had remembered to pack lights for the run. However, I left them in my run special needs bag so that I wouldn’t have to carry them for the entire marathon. What I didn’t realize is just how dark it would get before we reached the half way point of the run. I also didn’t realize that special needs was at mile EIGHTEEN of the run.  In most Ironman races, the special needs aid stations are at the half way point on both the bike and the run.

Because Helen has some vision, she relies heavily on the vision she does have, which made the darkness on the course even more challenging. Because we felt that it would be far worse to have Helen trip and fall than to walk the dark portions of the run course, we ended up walking a lot between mile 11 and mile 20.

We thought that one benefit to being on the course after dark would be a drop in the temperature. The temperature may have dropped, but heat was still radiating off of the asphalt on the Queen K. Helen and I were both dealing with pretty severe heat rash, so the heat coming up from the group was incredibly unpleasant. I felt like my legs were on fire for most of the run. Heat poisoning feels completely different from a sunburn (with which I am quite familiar). We both had hot, itchy bumps all over our legs. At one point, Helen’s legs felt so bad that she decided to try putting ice on her rash. The sound she emitted after rubbing ice on her sore skin made it quite clear that I should not do the same.

There was no relief on this course. We couldn’t even take Advil from a volunteer because that would be grounds for immediate disqualification.

Unfortunately for Helen, her energy level and mood had begun to match mine!

It felt like we would never reach the turnaround on the Queen K. When we finally did, it was a huge mental milestone for me. Just past the turnaround, we headed into the Energy Lab, the final out and back before heading towards town. However, I didn’t realize just how long run into the Energy Lab actually was. I probably should have been able to figure it out when we passed the 20 mile mark on the other side of the road, given that we had just passed mile 17. It’s hard to do simple math when your brain is fried!

The Energy Lab was fairly well lit, but Helen didn’t seem to be feeling fantastic, so we continued walking. We were conscious of the cutoff time, but weren’t too concerned about making it. We did, however, confirm that the women would have until 12:20 AM to complete the race. We started with the age group women, whose race began at 7:20. Apparently, there have been years when the women were still required to finish by midnight, which would only allow them 16:40 to complete the entire event. On a day like this, I was grateful for the extra time.

I knew that some of the men that were immediately behind us would be pulled from the course before too long.

When we reached special needs, which was right around mile 18 on the course, I grabbed both of the knuckle lights. I turned one on, and clipped the other one to my race belt. I didn’t need much from special needs bag, but I was looking forward to chewing some caffeinated Run Gum. It wouldn’t do much to help me physically, but I hoped that it would help me mentally.

At the turnaround, we crossed over a timing mat. Every time we crossed a timing mat, Helen and I celebrated the fact that the people who were tracking us would know that we were still on track.

I didn’t think it was possible, but after mile 18, I began to feel even worse. My stomach was killing me and my legs felt like lead. Thankfully, when Helen said that she wanted to try running, I was able to run. Slowing her down was not an option.

With 5 or 6 miles to go, James rode up on our tandem. It was such a relief to see him. I told him that I was feeling terrible. Poor James – there was absolutely nothing he could do for me, so telling him that I felt bad probably made him feel utterly helpless. He also seemed concerned about our ability to make it to the finish line before our cutoff. But Helen and I had been doing our best to calculate just how slowly we could go and still make it to the finish in under 17 hours, so we were still confident that we’d make it.

We reached an aid station where the volunteers were incredibly energetic. Each volunteer was yelling loudly to let runners know what was available. Unfortunately, they were yelling so loudly that they couldn’t hear me when I called for chicken broth and water. When I’m guiding, I sometimes need volunteers to put a cup directly into the hand of the athlete with whom I’m racing. Normally, this isn’t a problem, and I’m generally able to react quickly, if a volunteer isn’t responding, but I was in total meltdown mode. I almost started crying when I couldn’t get them to hear me! Of course, the volunteers were just doing their jobs. This situation was just an indication of how shitty I felt in that moment.

I could tell that James was alarmed, so I asked him to distract us. That was something he could do to help! I asked him to tell us who had won the race. The professional racers finished their entire race before we were even off the bike, so we had no idea how everyone had done.


Thankfully, the distraction worked! Helen and I began running more frequently. Suddenly, we were back at the turn onto Palani.  James helped us create a plan for how we would finish the race – when we would run and when we would walk. He encouraged us to walk down Palani because it was so steep. But Helen wanted to run, so run we did. The hill was steep enough, that running slowly was really hard. It felt like I was putting on the brakes. I asked Helen if we could pick it up a little and she said, “Of course!” She didn’t want to ask me to run fast, because she thought I felt terrible. And of course, I didn’t feel great, but I told her that she should have asked me! In that moment, I felt like I could fly down the hill. Throughout the race, I kept checking in with Helen to make sure that we were going as fast or as slow as she wanted.

After running the entire Palani downhill, we knew that we were around a mile from the finish line. I had begun to feel much better. Running even felt better than walking. Helen asked if we could walk a short stretch during the final mile, but after we turned onto Hualalai again, we ran the entire way to the finish.

The one consistent piece of advice I was given leading up to Kona was to ENJOY the finish of the race. So, as we approached the finishing chute that was lined with the flags of each nation that was represented, I tried to soak up the moment. The best part of finishing a race close to midnight is the fact that so many racers come back to the finish area to cheer for the final finishers. The finishing chute was lined with people who were screaming their heads off for us.

I noticed that one of the cameramen was following us towards the finish. They had followed us on and off throughout the day, which provided some entertainment (and a bit of motivation). I hope I get to see some professional quality footage of our finish at some point, because it was one of the most emotional moments of my life.


As we approached the finish, I began to cry. It’s not uncommon for me to cry at finish lines – especially at Ironman finish lines… but this was different. I was sobbing.

Before we got to Alii drive for the last time, I told Helen that I would step behind her when we got to the finish line, but she shut that idea down immediately. She said that she wanted me next to her at the finish, so I said that we should hold hands as we crossed the line. I find that holding hands is helpful when you’re sprinting to the finish, for a number of reasons.

16 hours, 27 minutes, and 25 seconds after we began, Helen and I crossed the finish line of the Ironman World Championship. Though I was nameless and numberless in the race, somehow, Mike Reilly even called my name as Helen’s guide.

Hearing Mike say, “Helen Webb, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” Was an indescribable moment. So much had gone into this race. Not just on race day, but everything leading up to it. The fact that Helen said that I had earned  this race, given how much I have guided, was just incredible. I was filled with relief, gratitude, and joy.

I just couldn’t stop crying.

I was able to step aside briefly before we embraced so that Helen could have a moment in the spotlight.

favorite finish photo

This is my favorite photo from the race. I think it sums everything up.

After a long, emotional hug, we walked towards two people wearing floral crowns. I had no idea who they were, but I figured that they were professional triathletes.

A small, thin guy put a necklace around my neck. A taller, attractive woman put one around Helen’s. Helen and the woman hugged and Helen appeared to be crying. I gave the man a quick hug and then stood looking at him, awkwardly.

I found out a few minutes later that my awkward moment was with Patrick Lange, the men’s champion. Now that I’ve watched a few interviews that he’s given, I’m a massive fan of his!

Helen was locked in an embrace with the legendary Daniela Ryf! Thankfully, Helen had recognized her voice and asked, “Are you Daniela?” So, they were able to have a moment together.

I don’t think I stopped crying for at least 30 minutes after the race. I knew that I wasn’t going to get a medal or finisher’s shirt, so I wasn’t focused on anything except getting to a place where I could lie down.

At some point, James or I must have told the volunteer that was walking with me that I wasn’t allowed to receive a finisher’s medal, though I don’t really remember. The next thing I knew, a volunteer at another station had snuck me a medal My crying only intensified after that.

crying with medal.jpg

I asked James to capture the moment after a volunteer handed me a medal. So many tears.

Somehow, after lying on the grass for a good 30 minutes, during which time my neighbor, Chasse, came over and diagnosed our rashes as heat rash, we made it up Palani one last time (walking very, very slowly), and got into the car to head back to Karen and Maverick’s.

It’s only been a week and I still haven’t been able to process all of my feelings about the Kona. This was different from any other event I’ve ever attempted. It was hands down the hardest Ironman I’ve ever guided. But it wasn’t just the difficulty. Kona is an incredibly special place. The island is gorgeous, the people are wonderful, and when thousands of the best triathletes descend upon the Big Island, it transforms into an even more magical place (for athletes, at least).

I am so grateful to Helen for inviting me to come race with her. I know that I’ve made a lifelong friend through this experience. I learned so much about myself through the process of training for the race while trying to balance my work travel and attempting to make time for James and our puppies. If I didn’t have a supportive spouse, this wouldn’t have been possible. Supportive doesn’t even cut it when it comes to James, but anyone who follows me on Facebook or Instagram knows how special he is.

james at finish 2

This is a terribly unflattering, but utterly perfect post-race photo. Thanks to Karen and Maverick for the champagne! James, I love you so much!

I am proud of Helen and she will kill me if I don’t say that I’m also proud of myself. I am proud of myself. I think that Helen and I preserved through incredibly challenging conditions. This was our first race together and we had only met 5 days prior, so the odds were stacked against us.

Races that come close to breaking me are the ones I love the most. Kona is now one of my all-time favorite races. I hope to return one day. But more than anything, I hope to race with Helen again in the future.











Ironman Wisconsin & Ironman Maryland 2015 – Race Report(s)

Last fall, Rachel Weeks and I decided to race Ironman Wisconsin together in 2015. Rachel and I hadn’t competed in a full IM together since 2013, when we raced Ironman Texas.
Since I guided my first ironman in 2010, I have averaged about one per year, but there was a 2.5 year gap between Texas and Maryland. Some people are under the impression that I do Ironmans all the time, which is simply not the case. I was excited to guide another Ironman, as Rachel and I had so much fun in Texas,  but I took a much-needed a break from long races after my move to Texas in July of 2013.
Shortly after Rachel and I decided to race Wisconsin, Tina Ament approached me about competing in an Ironman. She suggested Ironman Maryland, because the course seemed tandem-friendly (not very hilly) and the race was within 2 hours of her home in Alexandrai, VA. Tina was well aware that IMMD and IMWI were close together. We were both a little bit apprehensive about having me guide a second ironman within a month of the first. I wanted to make sure that Tina had the best race she could possibly have- I didn’t want to be impaired after my first IM. I talked to a number of experienced athletes and coaches to see if it was possible to complete two Ironmans in a month and do race them both well.
The general consensus was that I should do basically nothing between the two events. Brad Williams, who is a pro triathlete and the Team RWB Tri Director, said that I might even be stronger for the second race.
I enlisted the help of Jessica Jones Meyers, another incredible pro athlete (who just became a guide for soon to be paralympian, Patricia Walsh). Jessica is an amazing coach and I trusted that she could help me prepare for both races.
After four months of dedicated ironman training (I focused on training for bike races throughout the winter/spring before I switched to IM training), Wisconsin race week arrived. The month leading up to Wisconsin was intense. After a work trip to DC, I guided Rachel in a half IM in Michigan and Ashley Eisenmenger in the Chicago Triathlon.
I didn’t want to taper for too long, as I knew I would have a three week taper between the two races.
Ironman Wisconsin
I was so excited to meet up with Rachel in Chicago, to start our drive to Madison. Rachel is such a wonderful woman. She’s the mother of two young girls and is an advocate for vision/hearing impaired athletes. She has been living with Ushers Syndrome since the age of 19 and became the first vision/hearing impaired athlete to complete an IM in 2013.
IMMD Registration
Leading up to Texas in 2013, neither Rachel nor I were training as well as we should have been. The fact that we finished the race within the time limit was really incredible, given how rough our training had been and due to the oppressive heat. I think that both Rachel and I wanted to have a really strong race in Wisconsin. We both put the work in and we knew we could PR by a significant amount.
On race morning, I felt good. I had been surprised by my good friend Ashley, who got her dad to drive her up from Tolono, IL (I don’t know where it is, either). Danny Craven, a fellow Team RWB member and guide, helped coordinate the surprise. I have never been more excited the morning of a race!!!
Rachel and I got to start the swim 10 minutes ahead of the able bodied age-group athletes, which is pretty standard in Ironman races.
The 10 minute head start gives us an opportunity to find a rhythm, but it also means that we get passed by the majority of the field at some point in the race. When I’m guiding, I love those first 10 minutes, though it is a little nerve wracking to watch a wall of 2000 ironman athletes swimming towards us when after the age-group gun goes off. We had almost made it to the first buoy when the fastest swimmers caught up to us.
When we turned around the first buoy (Where everyone starts mooing. Because, Wisconsin), we were in the thick of it. Wisconsin had one of the most aggressive fields of athletes I’ve ever experienced. Rachel handled the swim like an absolute champ. She didn’t let the people elbowing her in the face distract her during the swim. In fact, on a couple of occasions, she popped her head out of the water and laughed out loud!
It wasn’t as fast of a swim as we thought it might be. Some swim courses are like that- no matter how strong you feel, you just don’t go as fast as you think you’re going.
We got out of the swim in under two hours and were all smiles.
IMMD Swim Exit
After running up the helix and doing a full change into Tri kits in transition, we were ready to hit the bike course.
Both Rachel and I love the bike. I knew that Madison had reputation for having the hardest/slowest ironman bike course, but I kept hoping that the athletes reviewing the race were exaggerating. I mean, every ironman is hard, right?
No one exaggerated. Wisconsin’s bike was brutal.
Rachel’s bike had some issues shifting into the easy ring at the beginning of the ride, so we had to stop for mechanical assistance a couple of times. I don’t think it cost us too much time, but it certainly was frustrating.
20 miles into the bike, we were averaging 14-15 miles an hour. I found out later that both Rachel and I were about to lose it. I’ve never wanted to drop out of an ironman bike course before, but the thought crossed my mind more than a few times in Wisconsin. The first 3/4 of the first loop felt like a terrible false flat. Any time there was a downhill, the course would turn sharply, so we couldn’t even enjoy the momentum advantage we get on a tandem.
The end of each loop of the bike includes three steep climbs, appropriately called “The Three Bitches.”

Ironman Wisconsin Bike 2015

Suffering on the “three bitches”.

The good thing about the climbs is that spectators line the course. It feels like a European bike race, or like crybaby hill (for those of you who have done Tulsa Tough). We saw Danny and Ashley on the third hill, which provided us with some much needed motivation. I’ve never felt Rachel push so hard. She was on a mission!!! It was incredible.
I felt better going into the second loop. I knew we would make the time cutoff for the bike, assuming nothing else went wrong.
Then, something went wrong. At mile 75 or so, our bike chain snapped. That was a mechanical issue I couldn’t fix myself. Thankfully, the chain that broke was of normal length, so the mechanics would at least have a chance to try and fix it.
Unfortunately, because it was getting later in the day, the mechanics were helping other people out on the course. We had a marshal radio for help and proceeded to wait for about 20 minutes for help. The mechanics in Wisconsin were awesome. They were helpful, fast, and friendly. As soon as they had a chance to get to us, they grabbed a brand new chain and put it on the bike.
We didn’t have to drop out!!! I was so relieved to be able to continue with the race, it didn’t even matter that my legs were absolutely trashed. I love Rachel’s attitude. She could have just thrown up her hands when the chain broke, but she was patient and focused. I knew she would become an ironman for the second time, at the end of the day.
We suffered through the rest of the ride. I’ve never been so happy to get off of a bike in my life. Rachel cried with relief when we finally got to transition.
When you get oIMMD Runff the bike in an ironman, the best feeling is knowing that your equipment can’t break any more. We knew our legs could get us through the marathon.
Rachel and I started out with a 4 min run/1 min walk strategy. We have found that it’s faster than trying to run the whole race and I like the fact that it makes time go by faster.
The Wisconsin run course was wonderful. We got to see tons of our friends out on the course. The energy of the spectators helped carry us through.
Rachel got stronger throughout the marathon. I felt so lucky to be a part of the experience.
We crossed the finish line in 16:35. I am so proud of how the race went. Going into the event, we both thought our time would be faster, but given how tough the course was (including mechanicals), I couldn’t be happier with how it went! The next day, I found myself dreaming about which Ironman we would conquer next.

IMMD Finish

At the finish of Ironman Wisconsin, with Ironman cheerleader-extraordinaires, Ashley and Danny.

Taper #2
But, I wasn’t done for the year. The day after the race, I flew home to Austin and packed for my next work trip to NYC. I took the entire week off of training, but I basically didn’t stop moving the whole time I was there.
So, when I got back to Austin, I focused on sleeping and resting.
There were 21 days between Wisconsin and Madison. I had a taper in place, thanks to Jessica. I felt ready to go.
When Maryland race week rolled around, we started hearing reports of hurricane Joaquin… There’s no way it would affect Maryland, right? Wrong.
The Wednesday before the race, the race director decided to cancel the event. They tentatively planned to hold an alternate race on 10/17 (two weeks after the original race), but there were no guarantees.
I immediately got on the phone with Tina. We started trying to figure out what our best course of action would be. Tina’s attitude was awesome. Tina is an incredibly accomplished ironman triathlete/endurance athlete. Last year, she became the first blind female to compete the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii and a month before Maryland, she crushed a 12 hour bike race. Tina makes me feel lazy!
We discussed possibly racing Florida or Arizona, but that would mean waiting another month to race. Ultimately, we decided to proceed as though the backup race were going to happen. The biggest challenge for me was figuring out how to un-taper and then re-taper for the race. I felt like I hadn’t done anything (except one ironman) for over a month. So, Jessica figured out a plan for me to ramp up training for a week and then taper again.

One unexpected bonus

_Kellys century

On the Congress Street Bridge, after Kelly hit the 100 mile mark. What a great day!

was getting to accompany my good friend, Kelly Krause, on her first century. I’m so glad that I was able to be a part of such an important day for Kelly! Riding with her and my friend, John Montesi, infused me with positive energy and helped power me through the rest of my training/taper until Ironman Maryland.

Ironman Maryland
Finally, race week (take 2) arrived. I’m really grateful to work for a company that understands and supports my racing schedule. A lot of people assume I don’t work, or that I get paid to guide. Neither of these things are true. I have a job in finance that I love and I have never made any money coaching or guiding athletes. I tend not to take actual vacations, because I spend so many vacation days racing, but that’s a decision I’m happy with. Some people want to sit on a beach and relax, I’d rather race an ironman as a guide.
I met Tina and Pamela Ferguson at Reagan International Airport in DC the Thursday before IMMD. Pamela is a super strong, Houston-based cyclist, who is perhaps the best cheerleader I’ve ever met. She welcomes everyone into the cycling and is beyond generous with her time and energy. I was so grateful that she was part of our race crew for the weekend. Also, Tina and Pamela are teaming up to race Ironman 70.3 Longhorn in Austin on November 8th. I absolutely cannot wait to cheer them on!
Tina and I met in 2010 and have raced together in a number of events, including 2 Ironmans. Tina is a true friend. She’s supported me through some really tough times in my life, without judgment or reservation. She’s the kind of person who will show up at the finish line of Race Across America at 2am to watch you finish. Yes, Tina showed up in Bethesda in 2012 and surprised me at the finish line of RAAM. I hope everyone who’s reading this has a friend like Tina.
The drive to Cambridge took a long time; there was no way to make it to packet pick up on Thursday. We settled into our home stay, grabbed some dinner and went to bed.
Friday was a whirlwind. We registered without any issues, but soon learned that Pamela’s bike had not arrived from Houston. Tri Bike Transport (TBT) does an amazing job transporting bikes to races, but with the confusion surrounding hurricane Joaquin, Pamela’s bike was lost in the shuffle. Thankfully, TBT offered to have an employee drive a sweet demo bike up from North Carolina. The only catch was that Pamela would not get to see, let alone ride, the new bike until race morning. Pamela was an absolute champ. Her attitude about the whole experience was amazing. She prepped as much of her stuff as she could and just went with the flow.

IMMD Transition

In transition with Tina and Pamela, after dropping off our gear bags.

Every time I race with an athlete, I have to adjust my position on the tandem bike to make sure it fits me. I always worry that I will mess up my bike fit and have to stop and change my saddle position during a race. Imagine how bad a poorly positioned saddle would feel after 4 hours of riding… I thought about how Pamela was riding a completely new bike in her race, and I stopped stressing out. I had no right to complain!Swim

The morning of the race was freeeeezing. I think I was most nervous about how I would stay warm on the bike. Since I moved to Texas, I have completely lost my ability to tolerate cold weather. I know, I know… I’ve gotten soft.

The wind was intense when we got to the swim start. The announcer indicated that the course might change, so we huddled together in our sweatshirts and waited to see what would happen. After announcing that the swim would be cut in half (this news was met with cheers from the crowd), the officials finally decided to shorten the course to 1.89 miles, rather than 1.2.
Tina and I lined up at the start and I tried to figure out what the new course looked like. I was still trying to get a handle on where I was supposed to go, when we were ushered into the water.
I’ve mentioned the fact that PC athletes normally get a 10 minute head start in Ironman races. It seemed like this time would be no different. I imagined that the time between our start and the start of the fastest men (Maryland had a self-seeded wave start) might be a little shorter than 10 minutes, due to the race’s delayed start time, but I was not prepared for what happened next.

Ironman Maryland Start 2015

Swim start on the boat ramp.

Tina and I hadn’t even made it past the boat launch, when the first wave of swimmers began their race. The effect was a bottleneck of swimmers all vying for the best position heading towardMaryland Swim Exits the first turn buoy. All of a sudden, we were surrounded by ridiculously strong athletes, trying desperately to get past us. I cannot imagine how that experience felt to Tina. But I was blown away by how well she handled the chaos. After a few minutes, we were able to figure out a good line to take and got into a good rhythm.
*I should note that the announcer found us after the race and apologized for what happened at the start. He was not expecting the age groupers to go off as soon as they did and said he was “so relieved” when he saw us exit the water. I thought it was very kind of him to apologize.
I’ve never had a better swim with Tina. She finished the course as strong as she was when she started. Pacing is a challenge for most athletes and it can be even harder to determine what speed to swim when you’re battling for position with a bunch of Kona-hopefuls. I couldn’t contain my excitement when we exited the water!
The transition area was a total madhouse. Normally, there are enough chairs for everyone to sit down. In Madison, transition was inside the convention center. It was downright civilized! We ran by the men’s tent and heard volunteers telling male athletes that there was no room and that they would have to change outside. I couldn’t stop laughing!
The women’s tent wasn’t much better. It’s absurdly difficult to change into cycling/triathlon kit when you’re wet. It’s even harder when you’re standing in the middle of a group of half naked women, all digging through their gear bags, trying to change clothes and get out of transition as quickly as possible.
Tina and I decided to wear jackets over our cycling clothes. I changed into full cycling kit, which I don’t normally do, because I was so concerned about the cold. We also wore toe warmers, arm warmers and gloves. The announcer joked the next day that the race director learned that you can hold an Ironman race in the winter! (Ha.)
Finally, we were out of T1 and onto the bike. I was grateful for a flat course. Tina is a wicked fast cyclist. In May, at Ironman 70.3 Texas, Tina and I posted a 2:28 bike for 56 miles (which translates to just under 23 mph). I didn’t even know that was possible on a tandem!
So, my goal for the ride was to break 6 hours. If conditions were perfect, we wanted to break 5:45, but the wind in Maryland can be intense and unpredictable. It turned out to be a very windy day.

_Maryland Bike out

Heading out on the bike at Ironman Maryland.

My Garmin didn’t start working until about 12 miles into the race, which wouldn’t be a huge issue, except that I wasn’t completely sure how much time had passed. I estimated how long we had been riding, by looking at the elapsed time on my watch, but I knew there was some room for error.
It’s hard to maintain intensity and focus during a 112 mile bike. Tina and I worked together to stay on track. I kept her posted on our current speed and tried to break up the race into segments, which can help make the distance more manageable. We were cruising for the first 40 miles or so and then the wind started to pick up.
Thankfully, we both dressed appropriately. I wasn’t cold at all during the ride, but I didn’t take off my arm warmers until our one bathroom break at mile 75 and kept my jacket on the entire ride.
We remained on track (at least, what I estimated was “on track”), for the entire ride, though I knew we didn’t have a ton of room for error. Tina was a blast to ride with. She works her ass off in training and it pays off. Tina really is a force to be reckoned with.
Because Tina has dealt with a number of injuries, she wasn’t confident that her run would be “competitive” (her words, not mine), so I put a lot of pressure on myself to help her get the bike split she wanted. I knew that she would be happy with the race, if we could meet our bike goal.
The course was beautiful, the road was flat, and my legs felt good. I could tell how much effort Tina was putting into the ride, which made me want to work even harder.
I only remember one female cyclist passing us; to our delight, it was Pamela! We passed hundreds of riders on the course and were both psyched about how the race was progressing. There was a strong headwind on the course, but we were able to power through, most of the time.
Towards the end of the ride, the wind kicked up to a degree I had never experienced. At certain points, were riding as hard as we could into the wind and were barely going 15 mph. I desperately begged Tina to give me more, knowing full well that she was going as hard as she could. I think we both wanted to cry at that point.
I kept calling out our speed and letting Tina know that we could still break 6 hours, but that it would be close. I needed every ounce of strength she had. I certainly left everything on the course.
Finally, we got to the bike dismount line. Again, I wasn’t exactly sure how much time had passed, but I was pretty sure that we had broken 6 hours. I took my feet out of my shoes and called for Tina to put her foot down, but I didn’t give as much time to prepare as I should have. Her cleats were stuck in the pedals! I was exhausted from the ride and was caught totally off guard, so I wasn’t able to stop the bike from tipping over when she couldn’t get unclipped.
A volunteer shouted, “What should I do!?” as stepped away from the bike (almost knocking the volunteer over). “I’ve got this!” I yelled, as I reached for Tina’s foot that was still clipped into the pedal. I grabbed her shoe and in one movement, I twisted HARD and heard the “crack” of her cleat breaking free from the pedal.
Within a moment, Tina was up off the ground and we began running towards the bike racks.I found out later that we broke 6 hours by ONE MINUTE. If we had wasted any more time getting unclipped, or taken a slightly longer bathroom break, we wouldn’t have met our goal. I am so proud of the work we did on that course. 
Tina and I were in good moods when we began the marathon. We were excited about how the bike felt and we had a huge time cushion; we could have slowly walked the marathon and still broken 17 hours.
The temperature began dropping pretty early on in the marathon. I changed into a dry triathlon kit and kept my arm warmers on. Again, I’ve never worn arm warmers in an ironman. I didn’t take my gloves off the entire run.

_Maryland run smile

All smiles all the time.

Tina kept a steady pace during most of the run. We went with the 4/1 method, like Rachel and I used. Running 26.2 miles is never easy, especially after you’ve already been swimming and biking for 8+ hours. But one major bonus of guiding is that you’re never alone. This can be a drawback, depending on whose company you’re in, but I had a blast racing with Tina.
We always try to cheer other athletes on as we run; it’s fun to make friends throughout the race.
After the sun set, it got even colder. At special needs, we both grabbed the long sleeved shirts we packed, though they didn’t help as much as we wanted.
_Maryland run sunset
I was excited to pass by the special needs station because David Trossman, one of the advisors I work with, decided to volunteer at the race after he heard that I was guiding it! I was really touched by the gesture. It was so fun to pass by his station a few times on the run. I always made sure to shout out his name so he wouldn’t miss us. The Ironman Maryland volunteers were absolute troopers. I was frozen during the run- I don’t know how volunteers stayed warm enough all night!
Tina began hurting when we got past the half way mark of the run, but every time I asked her to run, after an aid station or a walk interval, she responded. At one point in the race she turned and said, “You don’t take any shit!” I laughed so hard when she said that! “I thought you knew that already, Tina!,” I responded.
The final hour of the race was challenging. The course was pitch black. I hate running with a head lamp, so I never make it a priority to pack one in special needs. I have decent night vision, but I was certainly straining to see the road ahead of us.
We saw Pamela a couple of times during the run. I knew she wasn’t having her best day,  but she always had a huge smile on her face, which makes me love her even more.
Every time we passed Tina’s Team Z teammates, we got a boost of energy. I’ve never seen anything like Team Z’s energy at Ironman races. They are always out in force, until the very end. Thank you, Team Z, over and over again, for your motivation and support.
The last mile of the race was a challenge. Tina had trouble navigating a section of brick road on the course, so we had to walk most of it. It’s incredible how long one mile can feel, after you’ve already traveled close to 140 miles…
_Maryland finish
Finally, we could see the finish. Tina pushed through the pain and completely dominated Ironman Maryland!!!
We ran across the line holding hands and hugged each other.There is no better feeling than finishing an Ironman. We crossed the line in 14:15. It was Tina’s 3rd fastest Ironman to-date and the fastest Ironman I’ve guided.
The volunteers handed us some warming blankets and we shuffled to the finisher’s tent. The inside of the tent was an interesting site. All of the athletes put on as many articles of clothing as they could find. I had on a scarf that Patricia Walsh knitted for me, a fleece, and my full tri kit. Later, Pamela gave me some spare running tights to wear because I was certain that I wouldn’t be able to survive another minute outside with bare legs.
Obviously, my main priority when we finished the race was finding FOOD. Anyone who knows me, is well aware that I eat constantly. My normal state of being is “hungry.”
_Maryland Pizza
That pizza tasted even better than it looks…
My primary goal for Ironman Maryland was to make sure that Tina had an awesome race experience. When she emailed me after the event and said that she was proud of our performance, I was overjoyed. Tina is notoriously hard on herself, so to hear her say that she was proud of a race, surprised and delighted me. Though I know that I am not responsible for how any of my athletes feel about their performance, it can be hard not to feel responsible when a race doesn’t go they way they want.

Ironman Maryland Awards

Tina received an award for her performance in the para division.

Rachel and Tina became Ironman finishers this fall, once again. Finishing 140.6 miles of swimming, biking and running in one day is a massive achievement, no matter how many you’ve done before.
Thank you, Rachel, and thank you, Tina, trusting me to guide you in these challenging races; sharing these experiences with you adds tremendous meaning to my life. I am so glad that I can call both of you my close friends and cannot wait for our next races together!

Attached at the Hip – Gu Energy Labs

Screen-Shot-2015-09-16-at-9.14.29-AMIn March, GU Energy Labs came to Austin to film me and Rachel Weeks training together. In September, they released the completed video and I was completely blown away by how well it turned out. I hope that people will watch this clip and become interested in guiding. What could possibly be better than having enough able and willing guides to allow visually impaired athletes to compete in every race they want to sign up for?


Think about it- as an able-bodied athlete, you can enter whatever race you want, assuming that your budget allows for it and that the event fits into your schedule. Imagine if you were unable to enter events or get training runs/rides in simply because you couldn’t find someone to work out with you. If you are interested in guiding, be proactive! Sign up as a sighted guide at http://unitedinstride.com/, reach out to local organizations for the visually impaired and join the Running Eyes Facebook group (Full name: Running Eyes, Bringing Guides & Visually Impaired Runners/Joggers Together).

Remember that that many visually impaired people don’t even know that running with a guide is an option. Let’s all do our part to make physical activity accessible to everyone.