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

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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!!!
Swim
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.
Bike
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.
Run
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.)
Bike
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. 
Run
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!
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Attached at the Hip – Gu Energy Labs

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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?

https://guenergy.com/attached-at-the-hip/

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

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

Link

http://video.foxnews.com/v/2535173965001/visually-impaired-athletes-overcome-obstacles/

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: http://youtu.be/5zFa8TQf2Fo

Pace Per Mile Interview 2: http://youtu.be/7tVP4kWwR5Y

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IRONMAN TEXAS 2013 RACE REPORT

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.

Swim

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.

Bike

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!

Run

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…

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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 caroline.gaynor@gmail.com.

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:
http://cdifferent.org/join

I also highly recommend adding yourself to this Facebook Group for VI athletes and guides:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/running.eyes/

The Blind Stokers Club in San Diego is another great resource:

http://blindstokersclub.org/

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…