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 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, 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.


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!

Amy Dixon’s report from her first triathlon: I am a Para-Triathlete Officially!

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!!!

I am a Para-Triathlete Officially!.

Pace Per Mile Interviews

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:

Pace Per Mile Interview 2:




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?

Pre Race

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…



Q & A – Guiding Visually Impaired Triathletes

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

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…