Today I was lucky enough to be featured on Fox & Friends with my good friend, Amy Dixon. Anna Kooiman did a piece on guiding visually impaired athletes in triathlon. She also featured Team RWB, which has provided many VI athletes with amazing, capable guides. I am thrilled with how this turned out!
Take a moment to read Amy Dixon’s account of her first triathlon! Amy is now officially a paratriathlete. This was her first major athletic accomplishment since losing her vision 5 years ago. I am honored that she chose me to guide her through her first tri!!!
Rachel Weeks and I were lucky enough to be asked to speak with Pace Per Mile before Ironman Texas. We were also asked back to discuss how the race went and to tell listeners about Team Red, White & Blue’s mission. Here are the links for both interviews. If you are interested in hearing our first hand account of how IMTX went or if you’d like to learn more about Team RWB, please take the time to listen!
Pace Per Mile Interview 1: http://youtu.be/5zFa8TQf2Fo
Pace Per Mile Interview 2: http://youtu.be/7tVP4kWwR5Y
On July 11th, 2012, my family brought the ashes of my grandfather, Brigadier General Ernest Paul Braucher, to West Point. It is the place he considered his home, where his life of service began. My grandfather was at his very best, and his most authentic self, in Army green doing what he considered to be truly important work.
Among his many citations and decorations were the Silver Star Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, and the Joint Service Commendation Medal. My grandfather wrote, “my review of the past fifty years confirms for me my great good fortune: for Brookes, my sweetheart, my wife, my best friend; for our beloved children; for our five grandchildren; for the priceless blessings of American citizenship; for the opportunity to serve our Nation; for the West Point experience and for the warm and lasting bonds of friendship with those who shared it with us.”
My grandfather was lucky enough to live a long, full life. His brother, who was KIA during my grandfather’s last year at West Point, was not. Today, we are still losing young service members in battle and it is absolutely essential that we honor their memory by taking care of our nation’s veterans.
I am proud to have a grandfather like mine and I am lucky to know as many brave servicemen and women as I do. The more I have become involved with Team RWB, the more I appreciate and understand the sacrifices that our military members make for our nation. On Memorial Day we honor those who have paid the ultimate price. Let us never forget the men and women who died bravely while fighting for our freedom.
On May 18, 2013 I guided Rachel weeks, a vision and hearing impaired athlete, in Ironman Texas. This is a recap of our race.
What many of you do not know is that Rachel Weeks is not only vision impaired, but also hearing impaired. Rachel has Usher Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder that causes her to lose both senses. Rachel is the first athlete with Usher Syndrome to complete an ironman.
I met Rachel last year at the Chicago Triathlon. We communicated via Facebook and twitter over the summer and I convinced her to do the race with me. From the moment I met Rachel, I knew I liked her. After an outstanding performance at the Chicago Tri, Rachel decided to sign up for an ironman. I have always hated hot races, so I swore I would never do Ironman Texas, but when Rachel told me which race she wanted to do, I didn’t hesitate to sign up.
Many people ask me whether we have to pay two entry fees for our races. The answer is no, we do not. Rachel pays for herself and I get a link to sign up as a participant- for liability and safety reasons. When I guide, I am, for all intents and purposes, a piece of equipment. I cannot stress this enough- this was Rachel’s race. When I guide, I act as the eyes for my athlete. I get a chip time, but all of my effort in the race goes toward helping my athlete run her best race.
Rachel and I do not train together during the year. In fact, I had not seen her since the Chicago triathlon when I met up with her at the Ironman Texas expo. As the case with all of my close friends, I felt like I had just seen her, even though it had been over 8 months.
I have been competing in triathlons since 2001 and guiding since 2008. I have guided athletes in 17 triathlons, including 3 (now 4) ironman races. No matter how many races you have guided, or completed solo, there is always a level of uncertainty going into a competition. You can never predict how you will feel on race day, which can be nerve wracking!!! Rachel and I are not the same pace. It is important to try and race with athletes whom you could (theoretically) beat in a race. As my friend m David Adame, director of the C Different Foundation, says, a guide should “have gas in the tank.” I have been in races where I totally blew up and had to slow down my athlete. It is the absolute worst feeling in the world. So, the way to reduce the odds of a situation like that occurring, the best thing to do is race with someone whom you are significantly faster than. That being said, chemistry is also incredibly important, especially in longer races. Keep in mind that Rachel was literally connected to me for an entire Ironman. Can you imagine how that would have felt if she and I weren’t also good friends?
Rachel and I flew in separately and met at the Ironman expo in The Woodlands on Thursday, May 16th. We walked through packet pick up together and then went shopping for race day nutrition and gear that we still needed to purchase. After putting my seat and pedals on the bike and making doing a quick eyeballed bike fit, we went back to our homestay before the mandatory athlete meeting/welcome dinner. Race prep began the next morning.
Ironman Texas offered athletes a two hour window during which they could practice swimming on the actual swim course the day before the race. We were told that the water would be warm- most likely wetsuit optional. If the water is above 78 degrees, athletes have the option to wear wetsuits, but they cannot qualify for Kona or other age group awards. If the water is 84 degrees or above, officials will not let athletes wear wetsuits because there is a risk of overheating. Having overheated in a number of races myself, I encouraged Rachel to make the call to not wear wetsuits. I think it’s worth having a slower swim time (wetsuits can cut significant time off of swim splits), if you can make it up elsewhere in the race because you haven’t overheated!
Rachel and I did a 20 minute practice swim on Friday morning. Rachel is a great swimmer, and we swim well together, so we mainly decided to practice because she wanted to get rid of her pre race jitters. When we hopped in the water, she had a couple of moments of anxiety, where she would stop in the water and almost laugh at herself. She wasn’t having a full blown panic attack, but I know she was trying to convince herself to start swimming again.
After a while, she overcame the open-water nerves and we headed to shore. Next, we went to Tri Bike Transport, so that I could fit the bike and we could go for a practice ride. After our ride, we dropped the bike off at transition… Saying goodbye to Rachel’s tandem for the night made everything seem real. The next time we would ride her bike would be after the swim on Saturday morning. I was nervous that I hadn’t tightened everything down or that my fit would be uncomfortable! A lot of things can start hurting over a 112 mile ride.
We relaxed at our homestay after dropping the bike off. The only thing we had left to do was put our race bags together.
Before bed, I laid all of my nutrition out on the floor and divided everything up between my bike, run and special needs bags. I made sure to freeze four bottles of perpetuem before bed so that we would have relatively cold drinks the next day. Tina Ament taught me the best ironman special needs trick- I bought a cooler for my bike special needs bag. If you stash a couple of bottles in a soft cooler, you can have extra bottles of liquid nutrition on the bike!
I felt like I was ready to race… so I headed off to bed.
We waded into the water that was teeming with what seemed like thousands of age group athletes. I imagined them bearig down on us, 10 short minutes after my race would begin. As a PC athlete, Rachel is allowed to start directly behind the pro wave, which would give us a 10 minute head start on the field. I can only imagine what we look like when we start swimming. The entire lake is watching the pros quickly pull away, while our little orange-capped heads bob slowly along in the water.
When the gun went off, I counted a beat and then told her to start swimming. Our race had begun.
A few strokes into the swim, Rachel began having a minor panick attack. When Rachel panicks, it has more to do with the fact that she can’t catch her breath than anything else. When this happened in the Chicago Triathlon, I had her tread water for a few seconds and then count to 10 strokes and tread again. We started swimming like that until Rachel heard the national anthem playing in the background. The age groupers were about to start swimming. We had about 10 minutes to swim alone before they would come up behind us. She was overcome with emotion when she heard our anthem. It was all I could do not to cry.
I knew that we couldn’t make 2.4 miles in 2 and a half hours if we stopped every 10 or 20 strokes, so I told Rachel to try breathing every stroke, instead of every three… It worked!!! I had seen Aaron Scheidies, one of the fastest triathletes I know, swim like that in the Chicago Triathlon, so I figured it wouldnt slow her down too much!
The course was easy to navigate, so we got into a good rhythm. I knew that any moment, thousands of aggro age groupers would be upon us. I must admit, tge thought scared me a little bit. as confident as I am in the water, and as confident as I was in Rachel’s swimming, I wasn’t looking forward to getting dunked by a bunch of hyper competitive dudes.
Rachel, it turned out, enjoyed battling the age groupers! The more we were in the middle of things, the more fun she seemed to be having! I did have to move us out of the center of the pack because it became too difficult to stop every few seconds to grab someone’s head and tell them not to swim through us because we were “tied together”.
The rest of the swim went relatively smoothly. I was really proud of how Rachel handled the crowds of athletes knocking into us. When she began to get a little tired (about an hour in), she started veering to the left a bit. I had to pull on our tether to rein her back in!
I felt really good during the swim. I was very happy with how things went. Because we chose not to wear wetsuits, I knew that our time wasn’t going to be insanely fast, but I was happy that everything went as smoothly as it did. When we got into the channel, I started getting really pumped. At one point I even thought to myself, “I am superwoman!” That’s a good way to feel during a race.
We got out of the swim in 1:46:16. I felt such a rush of adrenaline when we started running towards transition. I couldn’t wait to get on the bike! T1 took 11:50, which isn’t bad. I made sure that we had everything we needed in our jersey pockets. The last thing you want to do when you start an Ironman bike is forget your nutrition. Another thing that I like to do is bring a little spray bottle of sunscreen. If you’re as pale as I am, you need extra sunscreen for a ride that long.
As usual, riding with Rachel felt AWESOME! Rachel trusts me on the bike. I can tell that she trusts me because she never makes any sudden movements and she doesn’t tense her arms. When I’m piloting a tandem, I can feel almost every movement my stoker makes. If I’m riding with a nervous athlete, the front of the bike can start moving back and forth if the rider has a death grip on the bars. Sometimes I’ll ask an athlete to pretend that the bars aren’t there. I don’t have to give Rachel any tips. She is super comfortable on the bike. The only thing I will say is, “Focus on your pedal strokes. Don’t get lazy when you get tired.” But I’m saying that as much for myself as I am for her!
The first 40 miles were a breeze. It hadn’t gotten too hot yet, and the wind seemed to be at our backs. An official motorbike pulled up alongside us and interviewed Rachel, which was really exciting. It seemed like the ride was too good to be true…
Turns out, it was.
Our average pace for the first 30 miles was 17.48 mph. This pace felt incredibly easy for us, as it should feel at the beginning of an ironman. If you are fatigued 30 miles into the bike leg, you did something wrong. I used one of Tina’s tricks to help us focus on the bike. I dedicated every 10 miles to a different person or group of people. It helps to focus on the 10 miles you’re in and to not thing ahead to the ground you still have to cover.
We dedicated 10 mile to Richard Hunter, a visually impaired athlete who works tirelessly to get visually impaired individuals into athletics and Diane Berbarian, another VI athlete who coached Rachel for the Ironman. 10 miles were dedicated to Rachel’s daughters and to our mothers. 10 went to the victims of Boston and to our nation’s veterans.The hardest 10 miles were the ones we dedicated to the fallen members of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines. It seemed appropriate to suffer at that point. It was the kind of pain that makes you think about what REAL pain is… I knew that anything I was feeling wasn’t CLOSE to the amount of pain our grunts feel when they’re patrolling in Afghanistan. So we pushed on…
By the time we hit mile 50, it had started to get really hot. We knew that the heat index was supposed to be in the mid 90s, which meant that it would feel like it was over 100 on the dark asphalt. After mile 50, I began looking forward to Special Needs, which was at mile 56. We had been doing a great job with nutrition thus far. I made sure to remind Rachel to drink and take salt tabs. I would set hydration goals for each part of the race. For instance, I would make sure that we both finished at least one bottle of water and half a bottle of Powerbar Perform. Miles 50-56 seemed endless. We were riding into the wind, and the heat had started to take it’s toll. Finally, we arrived. I made baggies of salt and vinegar potato chips for both of us, which have gotten me through a few Ironmans before. When Rachel tasted them, she was elated. It was probably the best moment of the race so far. When you’re exercising for that long, it’s amazing what the body craves (and on the flip side, it can be amazing how much the body won’t tolerate when it comes to nutrition). `
The boost from our salt and vinegar chips didn’t last long. I felt like we were really dragging. Then I heard a high pitched squeaking noise… that’s never a good sign. I told Rachel I was going to pull over to check the brakes. As it turned out, both of our brakes were rubbing! We speculated that the heat had someting to do with it. The metal disc brakes could have shifted because of the extreme temperature. We could have been wrong, but it made sense at the time!
After fixing the brakes, we set off again. Throughout the ride, Rachel had been in good spirits. We talked throughout much of the early part of the ride because we were in a low endurance zone. But as we got further into the ride we becane much less chatty. When Rachel stopped responding with as much “energy”, I began to worry a bit. We saw dozens of athletes on the side of the road. One man had stopped at a spectator’s home and was lying on the side of the road holding an ice pack they had given him. I was feeling pretty good, but I have done a bunch of races in the heat. I learned from my mistakes in Panama (I did the 70.3 Panama in February) and was very conscious of hydration during the race. Rachel is a new triathlete. It’s impossible to predict how your body will react in extreme conditions and it’s even harder to predict when you don’t have a ton of racing experience.
I assumed that most of the aid stations had someone to administer first aid, so I told Rachel that we were going to stop at the next station and find her an ice pack. She didn’t protest. By some miracle, the next aid station actually had a kiddie pool filled wth ice. There was a woman sitting in the pool who looked as red as a beet. We took off our cycling shoes and helmets and got in the pool with her. It was so hot outside, the water didn’t even feel cold. I couldn’t believe it.
I don’t know exactly how long we stayed at the aid station, but I am convinced that the ice bath saved the race for us. When we began riding again, I could feel the difference in Rachel’s riding. She was pushing harder and seemed to have a lot more energy. I felt better for a while, but the heat started to get to me with about 30 miles to go. When you’ve already gone 80 miles, 32 shouldn’t seem like many, but it felt like an unconquerable distance.
I found myself getting very, very quiet. I hoped Rachel didn’t say anything. She was quiet too. I told her that I would do whatever I could to get us to 112. I knew that she was working as hard as she could, but we still had a marathon to go, so I didn’t want to risk pushing Rachel too hard. There were points in the race when I fantasize about quitting. I thought to myself, “It wouldn’t be so bad if Rachel wanted to stop right now.” But in the back of my head I knew that it would be worth it to keep going. Shortly before mile 90 pick up truck filled with bikes passed by. After racing for 13 years I’ve seen a lot of things, but I have never seen so many abandoned bikes.
The heat was dangerous. It was crippling even the fittest athletes. The aid station at mile 90 was sent to be seen. As we approached, I asked Rachel if there was a party going on. There appeared to be dozens of people just hanging out at the aid station. Rachel and I needed to use the porta potties, and when I was waiting for her to finish I noticed a group of very fit looking athletes sitting under a tent. It was obvious that they had all thrown in the towel. This might sound twisted, but seeing a bunch of in shape athletes who had decided to drop out somehow we had our job is to me. Maybe it was a case of schadenfreude. Either way, I was determined to get through the bike.
The last hour of the bike was pretty quiet. I had to stop and fix the brakes again. I think I had to fix them a total of three times during the ride. I don’t know how much the brakes rubbing slowed us down compared to the heat, but the combination of those two factors really did a number on us. When we finally got to the Woodlands, I was thrilled. It felt like we were home again! I realized that we had spent almost 8 hours on the bike, which is pretty astounding considering the pace we held for the first half of the bike.
I let Rachel know that we were approaching the bike dismount line. After so many hours in the saddle, I think there was a disconnect between her mind and her feet, because she was unable to clip out of her pedal as I stopped at the line. So of course, the only mishap we had, was in front of hundreds of spectators at the finish of the bike. Rachel was not hurt, so it was actually pretty funny. But I felt like a terrible guide!
I cannot describe how excited I felt when the volunteers took the bike from us. Rachel and I walked as quickly as we could to the changing tent to prepare for the run. We took just over 14 minutes in T2. We spent a little bit of time putting our compression socks on, but I maintain that it is worth the extra time. Rachel was still recovering from the ride, so we started out walking. The heat was so bad, it was almost impossible to run. After a few miles we started to job in the shade, but there was very little shade to be found. I just wanted to make it to aid station for, where I knew our RWB teammates would be waiting. One of the most exciting parts ofWas passing the RWB aid station with our tents and flags boasting the Team Red, Whire & Blue Eagle. Ironman volunteers are an incredibly tough bunch. Our volunteers began the day at 5 AM and did not quit until after midnight.
Both Rachel and I are talkative and friendly so we made a lot of friends during the run. One of the first friends we made was a Marine officer based at Camp Lejeune. As he passed us he asked me what exactly Team RWB was. I used the opportunity to try and recruit him. I hope he remembers to look us up. Talking to the officer motivated me because I dedicated my race to our active duty servicemembers and veterans.
Coming into our second lap, I did not think we were in any trouble as far as meeting the 17 hour time constraint. We were very conservative during the marathon, because I felt that being conservative was far better than pushing ourselves past what our bodies could handle and ending up like a countless people who were forced to leave the event and ambulances. All throughout the race heard sirens going off and we knew more and more people were forced to quit. We moved a lot quicker on our second lap than we did on the first, but we still were not able to run very quickly. I felt shockingly strong during the run, which made me very happy. My biggest fear is having to make my athlete slowdown because I cannot go any faster. It has happened to me two times, and both of those places are still painful to think about. When I racing, 100% of my focus is on the athlete with whom I am competing. I wanted nothing more than to allow Rachel to run the race SHE wanted to run. i still encouraged her to drink, taking calories, and consume salt tabs. Anything can happen during an Ironman marathon. You can never be too careful when it comes to nutrition.
However, the types of foods we ate during the marathon are pretty funny. The most exciting thing that I found at in a station on the course with pickles. My two favorite foods during the run at Ironman Texas were chicken broth and pickles. I choked down a Gu or two, but it was tough to eat anything at all. It was still blazing hot even after the sun went down. When I felt Rachel’s arm, she was hot to the touch.
Some people on the course remembered us from the bike and asked us if we had been on the tandem. Many people let us know how inspired they were by what Rachel was doing. On occasion, we got an, “Oh, how cute! You guys are tied together!” I suppose that if you did not know that Rachel is visually impaired you might think that we were using the tether as a gimmick. I used every opportunity I could to explain that she was a physically challenged athlete. I would love for it to be commonplace to see visually impaired athletes in triathlons, so I believe that spreading awareness is of the utmost importance.
As it got dark, I began to realize that Rachel probably never trained in the dark at home. I mean, why would she? I asked her if she had run in the dark before. She confirmed my suspicion, that this would be a first for her. So during the final 9 miles of the marathon, not only did Rachel have to battle extreme fatigue, but she would be forced to run in pitch darkness for the very first time. In addition, we began to realize that we would be cutting it very close to the 17 hour time limit.
I did some quick math, and noted that we would need to go about 15 minutes per mile on the last loop to make it to the finish line before 11:50 PM. Midnight is the cutoff for age groupers, but because we started with the pros we had 10 fewer minutes. Rachel was wearing a Garmin watch, but it was not reliable. We had to just run as much as possible and pray that we would make it.
We ran some of the last lap with a fellow RWB member, Boonsri. He would stay with us for a while, get tired and walk, and then catch back up a few minutes later. This race wrecked everyone in it. The Team RWB aid station fell just before mile 22 on the third lap. By this point, I was getting a little nervous. The race could have gone either way. As we passed by our team members, I saw Hailey Lanier, the four year old daughter of my good friend, Allison, whom I stayed with earlier in the week. Seeing Hailey pumped me up! I couldn’t believe she was still awake, and cheering!!! Next, my friend, Hailey, ran up beside me. She said, “I have Jared on the phone! He says he loves you and that you should kick it into the next gear!” Getting a message like that was the final push I needed…
I was in focus mode. Rachel and I speed walked the next two miles. At that point, running and speed walking were so close in pacing, we thought walking fast might be more efficient. Boonsri caught up to us and let Rachel hold his arm for a while. At that point, it was so dark that Rachel had to hold my arm at all times. We turned each mile to the session we did not have time to stop it, so I would call to the volunteers and ask them to hand us fluids as we walked by. If they didn’t react fast enough, we would keep walking and usually someone would run up to us with a cup of water.
As we approach the final 2 miles we passed by the home of two new friends whom I stayed with the Thursday before the race. John and Nancy walked with us for close to a mile. Boon and I chatted with them, but Rachel was dead silent; she was totally in the zone. Just before 2 miles to go, I reminded Rachel that her daughters were waiting at the finish line for her. It was time to fucking GO! Rachel started running and didn’t stop.
We were still cutting it incredibly close. Rachel kept a really good pace. I stayed silent and tried to match her stride. There was nothing else to say. We were pushing it to the end. We got close to the second to last aid station and I noticed a sign that said, “Mile 7, 16, and 24 here.” A few minutes before, I told Rachel that we were almost at mile 25. I couldn’t believe it! Had I just lied to Rachel? If we had been at mile 24, we wouldn’t have made it. Thankfully, the sign was wrong. About a quarter mile after that aid station, we hit mile 25. We had less than 15 minutes to go 1.2 miles. The last mile seems very very long. There was an out and back along the water that messed with my head. I just wanted to be at the finish line already! Heading into the home stretch, about a half mile before the end, Allison handed me her American flag. At the Chicago triathlon last August, the only other race I had done with Rachel, I ran five of the 6.2 miles carrying an American flag. When Allison handed me the flag I got goosebumps. I remembered why we love racing. This meant more than both of us. This Ironman was about overcoming obstacles that Rachel at one point believed were insurmountable.
I had not seen the finishing stretch, so I was unsure of all of the turns. I relied on volunteers to steer us towards the finish line. I did everything I could to hold the flag high. Rachel seems to be running better than she had the entire race. The energy of the crowd at an Ironman finish line the last few minutes before midnight is unparalleled. I’m glad I got to experience the energy of this group of people. I told Rachel to grab the flag with me and we ran across the line. We headed into the shoot and picked up speed with every step. I began crying before we even crossed the finish line. I was overcome with pride for Rachel and filled with a feeling of utter joy. I wrapped my arms around her in congratulations. We had finished 140.6 miles in 16:58:14. One minute, forty-six seconds to spare.
Rachel said the only thing I could possibly hope to hear after an Ironman. She told me, “I wouldn’t have changed one thing about that race.”
I’m already trying to convince her to do another…
Rachel Weeks is the first athlete with Usher Syndrome, a condition that has caused her to lose her vision and hearing, to finish an IRONMAN TRIATHLON. Check her out at 2:38 and 7:29 in the official Ironman Race Day video from Ironman Texas 2013.
IRONMAN TEXAS RACE DAY VIDEO 2013
A few friends wanted to know more about guiding visually impaired triathletes, so I decided to answer some of their questions in a Q & A form. If you would like to add any more questions to the list, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are the questions and my responses:
Do you query the athlete’s expectations before you agree to guide them, to ensure you are up to the challenge? For example, what if they want to go faster than you?
I definitely discuss an athletes expectations before agreeing to guide. If you are significantly faster than an athlete, you will reduce the chances of having a “bad” race and causing them to reduce their speed, but unfortunately, guides can have bad days too!
Do you swim side by side, or do you sort of take the lead and they swim off your hip?
Para triathlon rules dictate that I cannot swim ahead of my athlete. We can swim side by side, or she can swim slightly ahead of me. If she were to swim slightly behind me, this would be an unfair advantage, as she would get the benefit of my draft.
Before your very first race, did you do much training with an athlete? How did you learn how to do the bike?
Funny you should ask! Before my first triathlon as a guide, I had less than a week’s notice. I received a call the week of the New York City Triathlon from Matt Miller, founder of the C Different Foundation. Matt told me that he had an athlete coming in from Chicago to do the race and he wanted to know if I knew anyone who could guide. I was already registered for the race, so I agreed to race as a guide instead.
I met my athlete, Kim Borowicz, the day before the race. She took the train into the city from JFK and met me in midtown. I had ridden a tandem that morning, with Matt Miller as my stoker (a captain or pilot is the front person on a tandem, a stoker sits behind them). Matt and I rode one loop of Central Park and I almost lost my mind, I was so scared. He is significantly heavier than Kim, so his movements had a huge effect on the front of the bike. He was doing everything he could to throw me off. So, to answer the question, I really learned how to pilot a tandem on the fly! My first time riding with a visually impaired athlete was during the 2008 NYC Triathlon.
It seems to me that you take some of these races on short notice, is that accurate? If so, how are you able to get/stay in shape for it? Most people train for 6+ months for an Ironman, and you just “do” it?? Is this a youth thing or what?
I wouldn’t say it’s a youth thing… I tend to be the backup person a lot of the time. I like to be flexible, so it’s easy for me to jump in and race when I’m needed. I guess I have a lot of fitness “in the bank” because I have been racing for so long. I had plenty of notice for IM Texas, but the first Ironman I guided was on 5 weeks notice. I received an email from a friend who had heard about an athlete in Seattle who needed a guide for IMLP because her guide had broken her wrist during a training ride. I felt that I had enough fitness to race.
How much does your water polo experience help you in the water? I’m assuming by your comments that you don’t have any anxiety about the swim pre-race?
I think my water polo and life guarding experience help me a lot in the water (Thanks, Coach Lee!). When I started doing triathlons, I was already used to being rough in the water. When I started guiding, I had already been racing for 7 years, so I had a decent amount of experience under my belt.
I don’t usually have much anxiety before races… I think it’s because I tend to caretaker mode. When I fee like it is my job to control a situation, I shut off the part of my brain that makes me feel nervous.
Can you wear a wetsuit and your partner not (or vice versa)?
Depending on the race, wetsuits are absolutely legal. Rachel and I did not wear wetsuits at IMTX because the water was warm enough that I felt it was unsafe to wear a wetsuit.
Does guiding a race count towards national ranking?
Officially, I don’t think so. Lately, I have been guiding so much that I haven’t been nationally ranked. However, some of my guiding results show up under my own name. I haven’t checked to see whether they are separated out because I raced in the PC wave. I am sure that USAT would remove the results from my profile if I asked. Often, your name will not appear anywhere if you are guiding, but at Ironman events, guides get their own chips and bib numbers.
Because of the stakes, what are your thoughts on average age group swimmers becoming guides? I get very anxious pre-race, and a lot of it is due to the swim. I don’t know how much help I could be to my athlete if I’m wanting to throw up myself!
I think this is a personal choice. I would absolutely recommend practicing the swim with your athlete if you get nervous. If you are a competent swimmer, there is no reason why you can’t guide an athlete that you can (at the very least) keep up with. Just be honest with your athlete. Never claim to be able to go faster than you can. You’ll only be doing yourself and your athlete a disservice.
How do you handle potty breaks? I’m guessing that Rachael wouldn’t have liked it too much if you stood up on the bike and started peeing!
Unfortunately, when I’m on the front of a tandem, I lose the ability to pee while riding. Let’s call it a courtesy to my athlete. During Ironman events, I try to discuss pee breaks with my athlete.
“How long can you hold it?”
“Do you want to go at this aid station or the next?”
“I think the line is too long at this aid station. Let’s wait.”
In Ironman races, there are usually bike racks where athletes can leave their bikes while they use the faciities. Sometimes I’ll rack the tandem, and sometimes a nice volunteer will hold the bike while we go!
How would you recommend someone break into being a guide? Perhaps on run only events to figure it out, or maybe as a training partner?
I think that it is always best to train with an athlete before you race with them, if possible. Obviously, there have been many times when I have not been able to train with someone before I raced with her, but it’s still not an ideal situation. Running is certainly the easiest way to begin guiding. If you are set on guiding a triathlon, I would try and locate a tandem bike in your area and practice riding with a sighted person before you ride with a visually impaired individual.
Do you bring your own pedals to the races?
When I race, I bring my own pedals and seat.
Is it the athlete’s responsibility to get a bike for the race?
I suppose technically it is the athlete’s responsibilty to get a bike before a race, but there are many people that are willing and able to help. Some of the organizations that are particularly helpful are: Achilles International, Para Promotions, and the C Different Foundation.
If an athlete owns their own bike, they get it to races the same way you or I would. In fact, Tri Bike Transport has begun transporting tandem bikes (used by para-athletes) for free! Thanks, Tri Bike!!!
How do you get in contact with athletes that would lime a guide?
To get in contact with athletes, sign up as a guide on C Different’s website:
I also highly recommend adding yourself to this Facebook Group for VI athletes and guides:
The Blind Stokers Club in San Diego is another great resource:
Is it better to start with an Olympic distance, move to 70.3 then on to a full?
Paratriathlon is a new sport in the 2016 Paralympics. I actually recommend starting with sprint triathlons, as that is the official distance for international paratriathlon competitions.
I read some where I think that you have done other races with Rachel, do you stay with the same athlete for awhile?
If I get along well with an athlete, I usually want to do multiple races with them! I am not committed to racing with one particular athlete. None of the women I guide live near me, so I pretty much train on my own and meet up with visually impared athletes for races.
Did someone teach you how to guide?
Every athlete has different things that they expect from a guide, so I feel like I am constantly learning. But no, no one ever sat me down and taught me how to guide, as far as I can remember. I probably learned by watching my good friend, Aaron Scheidies, race.
Did Rachel have to learn how to be guided in a race atmosphere as opposed to in every day life?
You’ll have to ask her!
Did you do an Ironman solo before doing it as a guide?
I did one Ironman in 2005 solo. It was an iron-distance race called Silverman. I didn’t even consider doing another Ironman until I found out about an athlete that needed a guide for Ironman Lake Placid in 2010.
Regarding potty breaks, do you un-tether?
We definitely untether. Depending on the athletes level of vision, I will either wait to go, or go in a stall near them. Since stalls are dark, I usually tell the athlete which side the toilet paper is on.
Do you help them with their nutrition? For example if they want a gel every 20 minutes or x miles?
At Ironman Texas, I tried to help Rachel with her nutrition. It was more about reminding her (and myself) to drink, take salt tablets, and eat at regular intervals.
If the athlete can’t draft off of you on the swim, who drafts if you come up to someone’s feet (you of the athlete)?
I have never been in a situation where I was able to draft while guiding. Usually it’s more of a battle in the water than anything else. I try not to be too close to people because I don’t want to clothesline anyone 🙂
If you do a wetsuit swim you would lose the tether before stripping, then what (hold hands to T1 or what)?
Exactly! Sometimes my athlete will grab my arm instead. I carry both wetsuits, goggles and swim caps.
Have you ever done larger running events as a guide? In my experience they are bedlam and it could prove difficult to keep people from running between you.
I have done some NYRR races as a guide in New York. For larger events, it’s good to have a sweeper to get people to move out of your way when you’re trying to pass.
You’re in the final leg and your athlete wants to walk. How much do you push/encourage them vs. acquiescing?
That’s tricky. I like to coach/motivate, but it really depends on whom I’m racing with. I try to be conscious of how the athlete is feeling. It’s more of a “do you want to run now?” Situation than a, “come on, you can do it!” thing. I do tell athletes where we are in the race and talk race strategy with them. I try to plan out where to make moves in the race, if it’s appropriate.
Have you ever had an athlete get into distress on the run? How did/would you handle that? Might you talk about quitting? Might you quit yourself if they are bad enough?
I have had to stop a race because an athlete was severely dehydrated. It’s as disappointing as when I have a bad race solo. But safety is always the priority. I wouldn’t stop racing without the athlete making the decision unless I really felt their health was at risk.
Are you as chatty towards the end of the race or do you talk less as you get tired (please tell me you do get tired!)
Of course I get tired! Everyone gets tired. I think that’s what is so interesting about long course racing. Rachel and I discussed the fact that we might have high and low points in the race at opposite times. Sometimes you can get really annoyed at your athlete and they can get REALLY annoyed and frustrated with you. Imagine being tied to your best friend for 15 hours. Now add in 140.6 miles of exercise… Tensions can arise during a race!
Do you talk at all during a swim? I.e., left turn ahead? How do you handle turns?
I try to talk as little as possible during the swim, because I don’t want to slow my athlete down. Sometimes it is necessary to stop and reorient if it seems like we are getting too far off course. I have had to talk down a number of athletes during panick attacks. During those instances, I absolutely talk to my athlete!
Do you prefer your athletes on one side or the other? Do you alter your breathing so you can keep a better eye on them?
I try not to have a dominant side when it comes to positioning because I race with so many different athletes. I usually go on whichever side they prefer. When I’m swimming with a tether, more often than not, I will breathe every other stroke instead of every three so that I can keep an eye on my athlete. Sometimes I switch sides so my neck doesn’t start hurting.
Did I hear you say you watch for swimmers trying to come up between you? How do you do that?
In addition to sighting on the swim, if we are in a large group of swimmers, as is the case in Ironman events, I will occasionally look back at the field. For the most part, if I feel someone coming right behind me, I might look back. If the person doesn’t pick his or her head up, I have, in some instances, grabbed a person’s head and shouted, “You can’t swim between us! We’re tied together!” Other guides might have different tactics.
What would you do if your tether broke on the swim?
I have had at least one tether break before. It’s kind of a pain… you have to almost swim like you’re jumping rope! It gets tiring. If a tether broke in an ironman, I would try to re-tie it in the water.
I’m typically a bit fuzzy headed and wobbly at the end of the swim. Are you or your athlete? Does it require special attention/care?
I think everyone is wobbly after a swim. I just focus on moving towards transition and not causing my athlete to trip and fall!
I’m not sure how a tandem works. If I’m a stronger rider than my athlete am I able to carry 60% of the load, or if I push harder does that make them have to work harder.
On a tandem, you can push as hard as you want, and your athlete could just soft pedal, if he or she wanted to. Most tandems require that athletes ride with synchronized cadence. You will feel if one person is pushing harder than the other. You can’t force a stoker to put out more power by riding harder. You could cause them to speed up their cadence. I might be wrong about this one…
What do you think of when you hear the words Iron Man, Triathlon, Marathoner, Endurance Athlete?
What do you think of when you hear the word guide?
What do you think of when you hear these words- an Iron Man, Triathlon, Marathon, Endurance Athlete Guide-together? Well let me introduce you to an extraordinary athlete Caroline Gaynor a multifaceted athlete who not only excels on and off the race course but has also worked very hard to promote, mentor and connect Veterans and civilians through her work at Team Red, White and Blue.
Caroline Gaynor is Triathlon Director for Team Red, White & Blue. Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting veterans to their community through physical and social activity. Caroline is responsible for the development of the triathlon team, including recruiting new members and initiating and maintaining relationships with the team’s sponsors…
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Sidestepping threats and jeers, the Afghan women on the country’s national cycling team are risking their lives to compete and doing their part to help women’s rights race forward in the war-torn nation. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.
This video is both tragic and inspirational. The adversity these women must overcome would seem insurmountable to most people. I applaud these cyclists for their courage and tenacity. Please take 2 minutes and watch this clip. It’s absolutely worth watching.