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!.

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…

For Blind Competitors, Partners Show the Way

I have copied the text from a New York Times article on guiding visually impaired triathletes that was published last July. I was honored to be interviewed for the piece, and I think the author did a wonderful job describing how rewarding it is to compete in a triathlon as a guide for a visually impaired triathlete. 

NY Times Photo Shoot in Central Park

For Blind Competitors, Partners Show the Way

By ZACH SCHONBRUN
Published: July 7, 2012
The toughest of the three legs of an Olympic triathlon, for a blind athlete, is generally the swim.

A plunge into cold water can drown one’s alternate sensory perception. Sudden, seizing panic attacks can follow, like waves of paralyzing disorientation. Shivering fits. It is at these rare nadirs when the blind may seek an encouraging tug.

Six completely blind athletes will swim the 0.93 miles, bike the 24.8 miles and run the 6.2 miles of the New York City Triathlon’s course through the West Side of Manhattan on Sunday. Making every step, spin and stroke along with them will be six volunteer guides, tethered to them.

“It’s a teamwork, a partnership, no question,” said Caroline Gaynor, who will be making her fifth guiding appearance. “I don’t necessarily like it when people say, ‘Oh, it’s so great you do that.’ I get as much out of it as they do.”

During the swim and the run, the pairs are connected by bungeelike cords, typically wrapped around each other’s waist (occasionally, they are attached by the wrist). For the bike portion, they ride a tandem — a specially modeled dual-seat cycle, sighted guide in front, legs pedaling in synchrony.

When guiding, the minutest of details must be tended to. The night before the race, shoelaces need tying, goggles need taping, tethers need adjusting to a manageable length. Too short, and rhythm can be disrupted. Too long, and the blind swimmer cannot feel the guide’s directional tugs.

The number of steps from the river to the road might be counted. Succinct communication calls, like a coach’s playbook, are critical for the swimming and cycling portions, when hearing can be difficult.

When the guide Sameh Mikhail met his athlete, Terry Gardner, for the first time in 2010, it took them nearly two hours of practice just to be able to balance on the tandem bike.

The runs involve near-continual dialogue: alerts about the next turn, dip, hill, curb and grate, along with the occasional pep talk. Mikhail said Gardner even liked him to keep a running count of every person they passed.

Understandably, the guides need to be in top triathlon shape to be able to race with the athlete and also adapt to conflicts that almost always arise.

The first time Steve Zink ever guided, their tandem bike’s rear derailleur broke halfway down the West Side Highway. Unable to fix it and unwilling to give up, Zink and his partner decided to run the rest of the way, carrying the bike a good 10 miles, in just their socks.

“He’s behind me holding onto the bike and I’m guiding him and guiding the bike,” Zink said. “We were coasting down hills. We developed a system on the spot to sort of skateboard along when it’s flat.

“It was improvisational,” he added. “A lot of these people are totally capable; they just need your help.”

Gaynor, 28, said she had raced in more than 50 triathlons individually since high school but preferred only guiding now. Her partners vary.

In May, Gaynor noticed a Facebook group for blind triathletes and posted a message inquiring if any needed a guide for the New York City Triathlon. Jan Ditchfield — the founder of an Ontario-based organization called Won With One, the only self-financed program for blind and visually impaired triathletes in Canada — responded.

Ditchfield connected Gaynor with Leona Emberson, whom she had never met before Friday, when Leona arrived and the two practiced a bit in Central Park. The crash-course training, Gaynor said, is part of the challenge.

“I think of myself as equipment,” Gaynor said. “These are competent, capable people, and they don’t want to have their hands held unless they need to. They wouldn’t be racing with me unless they needed to have a guide. So I want to respect the amount of independence that they want, but also give as much as help as they need.”

A few organizations, including Won With One, work with volunteer guides and pair them with athletes based on size, age and ability (most races enforce same-gender pairings). The athlete establishes the pace.

John Korff, the race’s owner, said the triathlon had averaged four to eight blind athletes each year since 2002. On Korff’s desk in his Midtown Manhattan office is a framed photograph of Gaynor finishing in 2008 with Kim Borowicz, who has tears streaming down her cheeks.

“The guide is giving that person the gift of the triathlon,” Korff said. “This is their sport, but they can’t do it alone.”

For 11 months of the year, Mikhail, 33, trains and races individually. But, after meeting Gardner, Mikhail said as long as Gardner still wanted to do it, he would never run the New York City Triathlon alone again.

“It’s Terry’s,” Mikhail said. “I feel like that’s his focus of the year. I would never be able to selfish enough to be like, ‘O.K., it’s about me now.’ There’s so much more to this now that running it by myself would feel essentially empty.”

If all goes well, six blind athletes will finish on Sunday, and their “eyes” will detach and walk away. The guides are not technically registered, nor are they recorded as finishers. The blind athletes receive most of the hugs and the handshakes.

The guides, those who steer, steady, tug, coach and motivate, only share in the internal reward.

“It’s their race,” Gaynor said. “If I can just help a person have their best possible race, so that they can cross the finish line feeling like they accomplished something, like the way I have felt when I’ve finished races, then that’s awesome.”

Here is a link to the original article:

Link to New York Times Article

Marine Corps Vet, Jared Rose – From Wounded Veteran to Ironman

Marine Corps veteran, Jared Rose, in his own words:
jhr image
“I joined the Marine Corps in November of 2006 and became a Machine Gunner. I felt as if I had found my mission in life. In May of 2009, 2/8 Marines deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Khanjari. We all knew this was going to be a completely different ball game. We had multiple briefs on the enemy situation. 2/8 would be the “tip of the spear” heading into uncharted territory in the Helmand River Valley. We saw combat nearly every day. It seemed so likely that we would strike an IED, that it we joked about it. On August 2nd, 2009, I got hit by my first IED. I suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and some bumps and bruises. I was knocked out for about 10 minutes.
6 weeks later, on September 29th,, my vehicle was hit by another IED. It cut our vehicle completely in half. The truck was thrown in a front flip motion and landed topside down about 20 feet from the blast. My gunner and dismount were severely wounded. My driver was trapped underneath the steering column, but luckily only suffered minor injuries. I was left with another TBI, some superficial shrapnel, and other minor injuries. My Battalion lost 14 Marines on that deployment, and many more were severely wounded. My life was forever changed.

I came home from deployment and was a different man. After being wounded and sent to wounded warrior battalion, I was on a pharmacy full of medications, I felt like a zombie. For the first time in my life I was out of shape. I joined the WAR (warrior athlete reconditioning) program and started cycling to get back in shape. As I started getting more fit, I started realizing that exercise was absolutely crushing many symptoms I was dealing with. My headaches retreated, I was able to sleep (better at least), my rage and anger were being put into the pedals or the weights…and my depression had retreated.

Then came my medical retirement from the Marine Corps: I spent less time exercising and lost the sense of community I had in the Corps. Invisible wounds such as depression, nightmares, and bouts of rage re-surfaced. I felt overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. I still feel incredibly guilty that I walked away with such minor injuries compared to the other brothers in my vehicle and those in my Battalion who fared worse than me.

After growing so isolated since leaving Active Duty, I found a new purpose in life when I joined Team Red, White & Blue. Team RWB has not taken away my problems, but it has given me a purpose, motivation, and the ability to serve as a leader right in my new community. I am now the Veteran Outreach Director for the NYC chapter. This role enables me to reach out to other veterans who I know are struggling, but may not be sure what to do. I’ve been down that road and know what to do: Join me on Team Red, White & Blue and turn to the power of community and exercise to fight through life’s challenges.”

Jared Rose completed the Ironman U.S. Championship on August 11th, 2012 in a time of 12:44. His is a story of sacrifice, resilience and determination. Semper Fi, Jared.

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Ford Ironman 70.3 Hawaii – Race Report 2007

After writing the report about my recent experience at Ironman 70.3  Panama, I revisited a race report I wrote after competing in Ironman 70.3 Hawaii in 2007. The contrast between my Panama and Hawaii  reports is interesting. When I competed in Hawaii I was 23 years old. I had never guided a visually impaired triathlete, and I had no experience working with veterans. When I raced, and I only focused on my own results. I wanted to set personal records and qualify for higher level races. Looking back, I realize that I raced like I had something to prove. I enjoyed competing; I always have enjoyed the sport of triathlon, and I always will.

With six more years of racing under my belt and experience racing with members of the para-triathlon community, competing in triathlons has a much greater significance. When I’m having a tough day, I think about the men and women serving in our military, suffering overseas. Even if they want to quit, they cannot. I think about the para-athletes who compete with immense physical challenges. The people I have been fortunate enough to meet through this sport over the past six years have enriched my life immeasurably. Since 2007, have learned many things. I now understand the adage, “racing is 90% mental and 10% physical.” I believe that no matter how much you prepare for a race, it is inevitable that an unforeseen variable will force you to alter your plan and you must take it in stride.  Most importantly, I have learned to appreciate racing. In racing, as in life, you should live in the moment, focus on getting from one mile to the next, and never worry about how much farther you have to go. With persistence, determination, and resilience, you will get to the finish line eventually.

In 2007, I called this writeup, “The Hardest Race of My Life.”

Thursday, May 31, 2007

I left work at 11am to catch a 2:35 flight out of JFK. I was petrified that my bike wouldn’t make the connection from LAX to Kona. I could barely sleep on the flights (I didn’t want to take a sleeping pill because I knew I had to be alert on Friday).

At LAX I started to get really lonely. I made a few phone calls while eating dinner, but I just felt even worse. I met my first racer before we boarded the flight to Kona. Though he warned me how incredibly tough the run was, I still felt more at ease knowing someone else was there with me. He told me he normally runs a 1:35 half marathon after a 56 mile bike (1:22 with no bike), and last year he ran 1:59 on the course.

We landed in Kona at 10:00 PM, which for me, felt like 4am. At this point, I had been awake since 6:00 AM Thursday. 22 hours and counting…

Thankfully, my bike and wheels landed with me – intact (or so I thought). I decided to rent a car to avoid having to take cabs from my hotel to the race hotel.

I was able to shuffle to the Hertz van with my bike box, wheel bag, race bag and carry-on bag in tow. I’m glad I’ve had so much practice getting my bike box in and out of cars… I had no trouble fitting the box into my tiny Ford Focus. I almost passed out on the way to my hotel. The only road in Kona is a straight, dark highway that literally circles the entire island. I was imagining a road with a strip of well-lit resorts, with easy-to-read signs displaying their names. I didn’t notice any hotels on my drive. I was lucky enough to spot the sign for the Hapuna Beach Prince. I don’t know if I could have made it another 5 minutes without falling asleep.

This hotel was, without a doubt, the nicest place I’d ever stayed. When I first stepped into my room, I was already bummed out that I couldn’t stay longer than the weekend. I was certainly relieved that after a day of traveling, I was finally in Hawaii.

Friday, June 1, 2007

I woke up early because I was absolutely famished. I NEVER pack enough food for my flights. I’m the freak on the airplane who always asks for two of everything…

A buffet brunch was included in the price of my hotel, so I stuffed my face full of potatoes, eggs and French toast, before I headed to my room to unpack my bike. I was planning to get my bike tuned up by the official bike shop, and had made a reservation at the store. However, when I called the shop, they informed me that they were located an hour from my hotel and that there was no way for me to get my bike checked out at the satellite store (at the race expo) because the list of people needing help was too long. I decided to put my bike together and take my chances at the expo… I wasn’t about to drive an hour for a tune up. I silently vowed that I wouldn’t stress out about details on this trip.

The drive to the race hotel (the Mauna Lani) was much farther than I thought. It was at least 5 miles away from my hotel. Thank goodness I decided to rent a car!!! I had to park in the event parking lot, which was essentially a huge lot of crushed lava rocks. I took the shuttle bus to the expo, and spoke to a guy in the Navy who normally races on a beach cruiser (they wouldn’t let him in this event) and a guy who does adventure races who is currently recovering from skin cancer. The doctors removed most of the skin from the bottom of his face. He said he’d be easy to spot because he had to race in a black mask to block out all of the UV rays (during the race I saw him three times on the course). He said that with this type of cancer, 1% of the people who get it have a chance of recurrence… he happened to be in that one percent. This guy was so hard core, he was even camping out near the race site. Everyone you meet at these races has some kind of cool story.

I got to the expo as soon as it opened, and approached the bike mechanics to see if they’d have a chance to look at my bike. The line was really long, so they asked me to ride my bike first to see if I had trouble shifting. First, I wandered around the expo and bought some CO2 and yet another pair of goggles – I have HUGE issues with goggles… every pair I own leaks. I think something is wrong with my face.

After dropping off my bike to run bag (there were two separate transition areas), I went back to the Hapuna Beach Prince to test out my bike. About 5 minutes into the ride, my lower gears started making a terrible noise. I also felt like the cleat on my right shoe was seriously out of whack. I was getting a little nervous about my chances of posting a good bike time. And I don’t even need to mention the heat. The lava rocks make the island feel like an oven. I was sweating my ass off after an easy spin on the bike – awesome.

I drove my bike back to the Mauna Lani to get help from the bike guys. I asked a mechanic to see if my front wheel needed to be trued… This is when I found out that my incredibly expensive Zipp racing wheel was cracked!!! Since I’ve never crashed on those wheels, it was most likely broken during the flight to Kona. Andy (the NYC mechanic) took some of the pressure off spokes near the cracks and told me I could race on the wheels for 56 miles, but that I probably wouldn’t want to go much farther. Thank goodness I promised myself I wouldn’t stress about the details. These things always seem to work out. I went into this trip knowing full well that something would go wrong—something always does. I get annoyed when people think I’m being negative when I prepare for the worst case scenario in every situation. To me, preparing for the worst is the most positive thing to do! If you are ready to handle even the worst outcome, you can tackle any problem. I definitely consider myself an optimist.

Dropped my bike at T1 and went for a quick swim to test out the water—and my new goggles. The beaches on Kona are absolutely beautiful. I didn’t want to leave the water.

After dinner, I went to a market to purchase some Red Bull, and I was finally able to go back to my hotel. The night before a race I like to decompress for at least an hour before going to bed. When I got to my room, I put all my race gear in a pile on the floor and wrote a list of what I needed for the morning. I set my alarm for 3:45 and went to bed.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

In the morning, I drank my quadruple shot of espresso that had been sitting in the fridge all night and attempted to organize all my crap for the race. I was able to walk to the swim start from my hotel, which definitely cut down on my stress level.

I got to T1 with plenty of time to spare. I ran into my bike mechanic friend, who wanted to take another look at my broken Zipp. He determined that the Zipp was fine, but then proceeded to break the valve extender on my rear wheel, which meant he had to deflate my tire to remove the extender from the tube. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find a replacement for the part and had to tape the extender back on the tube. I’ve never had so many things go wrong with my bike. The mechanic promised to take pictures of me during the bike if he could get back to his hotel to pick up his camera. I was really pumped to have someone to cheer for me on the course!

Ironman logo races are pretty cool because you get your number stamped to your arm. I was number 1136, so my number stretched all the way to my elbow. I did feel pretty badass with my speedsuit on and my number stamped to my arm—I would soon feel much less badass. I should have been more nervous, considering the fact that it was only 6:45 and I was already sweating.

Kona number

As we stood on the beach waiting for the start, a girl told me we’d tread water for a bit before the gun went off. My goggles weren’t on… I was just chilling out. Suddenly, everyone made a mad dash for the water!!! I guess someone jumped the gun, which prompted the whole field to start the race prematurely. I don’t think it would have been possible for the race directors to call everyone back… I guess they just started the clock when everyone started running. I sprinted towards the first buoy, watching people fall all over each other. I was just praying that my goggles wouldn’t leak—which, of course, they did.

The water was gorgeous, but it’s hard to enjoy a swim when you’re knocking elbows with 1000 other competitors (I can’t believe it was a one wave start!). Also, the leaky goggles issue didn’t help. I had to stop at least 4 times to fix them. And holy crap, I never realized how much water I swallow during races. In transition, a girl standing near me said, “I feel like the inside of my mouth is a salt lick!” If only the gross taste was the problem… my stomach started hurting a few minutes later.

I exited the swim at around 38 minutes, which isn’t terrible (for me), considering how many times I had to stop. I ran up through the showers and into transition… I was just happy to get started with my favorite part of the race.

The first mile of the bike was pretty much straight up hill. Because I’m an average to slow swimmer, there were TONS of people starting the bike at the same time I was. Within 2 minutes of my ride, I had already scratched my leg on the plastic tie that was holding my number on my bike. It was already incredibly hot out, and my Gatorade and Red Bull mixture (usually the thing I look forward to most during the bike leg) tasted like shit.

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Instead of putting my tubes and C02 in my bento box, like I’ve done in the past, I made the mistake of shoving them into one of the rear bottle holders on my bike. They seemed to be pretty secure when I was setting everything up in the morning, but about 15 minutes into the bike I hit a bump and everything went flying! One of my tubes almost got caught in my rear wheel. I watc20130213-040517.jpghed it hanging on my frame, inches from the spokes of my rear wheel. Had it gotten caught, I would have gone flying over the front of my handle bars. A woman who rode by me as I stopped to remove the tube shouted, “Boy, are you lucky!!!” Thankfully, I didn’t crash… but I did have to ride 53 more miles without any materials to change a flat tire.

My stomach started hurting pretty early on in the bike. I thought it would go away towards the end, but it actually got worse. I wish I had known to carry Pepto Bismol tablets with me.

The bike course was along the main highway on the island. The entire ride is part of the Ironman World Championship. The turnaround was at the top of a 5 mile climb at Havi. It was so hot outside; I couldn’t stomach any of the food I’d taken with me. During my entire 2 hour 55 minute bike ride I managed to choke down 2 Espresso Love GUs, 1 banana and 1 cookie. At the Devilman Half, I ate 4 GUs and an entire snickers marathon bar—at the start of the run in this race, I was already at a 700 calorie deficit.

Thankfully, the aid stations in Kona were well stocked. I grabbed cold waters at every station on the bike course and poured as much as I could on my head. This bike ride was incredibly painful. My stomach hurt too much to remain in the aero position for more than a few minutes at a time, and I was dizzy and nauseous most of the ride. I really couldn’t push myself as hard as I wanted to because I was so dizzy I was afraid of falling off my bike. I hoped for some wind to cool the course down, but whenever I felt a gust, it was almost hotter than the air temperature. The wind just circulated the heat from the black lava rocks. It felt like and oven!!!

I definitely made up some ground on the bike. Someone told me I was the 66th woman around mile 50. By the end of the bike, I was really starting to get worried about my chances of finishing the run.

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Head down, powering through the course.

I rolled into T2 and saw that there was one bike from my age group already in transition. I passed a bunch of girls. At this point, I wasn’t even thinking about qualifying for worlds. In fact, all I could think was, “I don’t ever want to do an Ironman on this island!”

The last time I did a really hot race was 2 years ago – the Tinman Half Iron distance race in Tupper Lake, NY. I walked more than half of the run… My overall time was 6:22 (30 minutes slower than my first Half). I knew I had to come to Hawaii because there was such a good chance that I would crash and burn. I’ve done really well this season in smaller east coast races. I just think it’s way too easy to get a big head when you choose races that aren’t very competitive and where you know the weather conditions will be in your favor. I’d rather race in pouring rain or 35 degree weather than in the heat. I’d rather do a race that’s entirely uphill than race when it’s super hot out.

The run course took place entirely within the Mauna Lani Resort. In order to fit 13 miles into such a small area, the course had multiple turns and loops. We ran on grass along the golf course, on sand, and on hot asphalt next to fields of lava rock.

My stomach actually felt better during the run, but the heat prevented me from running faster than a 10 min per mile pace. I tried to keep a steady, slow jog going (I didn’t want a repeat of Tupper Lake—I have nightmares of the part of that race when I was literally crawling on the ground—while crying, of course. The Kona race packet did say that running, walking and crawling were all acceptable forms of locomotion. But really, who wants to crawl?). I walked every aid station and shoved handfuls of ice into the front and back of my sports bra and into the back of my shorts. I’m sure I looked totally ridiculous, running with ice in the back of my pants. Also, because I was totally soaked from all the water I was dumping over my head, my shorts kept getting air pockets in them… just to add to the hilarity of the situation. It was pathetic: barely running… soaking wet…ice bouncing around in my uniform… with huge bubbles of air in my pants.

So there I was, shuffling around this painful 13.1 mile course. Sometimes I’d pass really fit looking men who looked like they were going to collapse. But other times, I’d watch as these old women motored past me… there was nothing I could do about it. For most of the run I battled it out with a 61 year old woman (Who, by the way, was so tan her skin looked like leather. That means she trains in the heat… which means it’s ok that she ended up beating me, right?). Her system was to walk the steep golf course hills and walk the aid stations. I tried to do the same, but couldn’t keep up with her pace—I’m laughing out loud as I write this.

A 24 year old Japanese chick passed me around mile 3 on the run. At that point, I was in the race to finish. I’m not saying that I’d given up on trying to place in my age group, but I knew that if I started focusing on other competitors, I would completely break down. I just kept thinking to myself, “It’s a long race… anything can happen.”

A little before mile 5, I ran past a woman with whom I’d played cat and mouse on the bike. She looked really strong on the bike, but I guess the heat on the run did her in. She had collapsed and was foaming at the mouth. I don’t think she was fully conscious. A volunteer was trying to revive her and was frantically calling for the paramedics. There was nothing I could do, so I shuffled on.

The run was interesting to me because it seemed like how well people did had very little to do with fitness. The people who were successful in Hawaii were just good at racing in the heat. I saw some really fit looking people getting their asses kicked. My friend in the face mask—who can run a 7 min pace for 95 miles…or so he says—was a couple of miles behind me on the run.

At mile 6 I remember looking at my watch, which read 5:12. I joked to a guy running past me that in my last race, I was done 7 minutes ago! The absurdity of that thought made me feel better for a while.

Racers looked TERRIBLE! I saw very few people who looked like they were running at a normal pace. Everyone was soaking wet, and you could hear peoples’ shoes squishing up and down the course. At mile 8, I saw the girl who had entered T2 before me. She looked about as bad as I did… For the rest of the race, I tried to catch up to her, but she remained a half mile ahead until the finish. As it turns out, she ran 2 seconds per mile slower than I did on the run.

At every aid station I would ask for ice, cola and orange slices. I was unable to eat anything except the oranges. The RC Cola they provided was probably the only thing that gave me enough energy to finish the race. I would get desperate if the aid stations weren’t located every mile. After my ice melted, I could feel a significant change in my body. Between miles 8-10, I couldn’t get enough ice, and I had to walk for a few minutes. It got harder and harder to talk… I probably sounded like I was grunting when I asked for things at the aid stations. My skin was so hot I actually had goosebumps.

By mile 10, the pain in my body was so extreme I was just trying not to stop moving forward. Several people referred to the last three miles of the race as the “death march.” The last section was on an asphalt road, without any shade whatsoever. Miles 11-12 were mainly uphill. When I hit mile 11, I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder if I can run these last two miles in under 25 minutes…” I needed go faster than 25 minutes to break 6 hours. Mile 12-13 was the best mile of my race. I grabbed as much ice as I could at the final aid station and shoved it wherever it would fit.

I was able to run most of mile 13 at a pretty decent pace. These long races are really interesting, because your body and mind will go through so many changes. Sometimes there would be a 10 minute stretch where I felt like I could actually run, but 5 minutes later I was ready to quit the race and go back to my hotel. At the end, the race just became a mental challenge. I told myself the pain was ok. I tried to convince myself that I enjoyed it. I had to focus on getting from one aid station to the next. It didn’t matter how slow I was moving. It didn’t matter that this race was going to take me close to an hour longer than the race I did a month ago. It didn’t matter if I placed well in my age group. I just needed to cross the finish line.

My finishing time was 5:54:10. Swim – 38:42; Bike – 2:54:29; Run – 2:13:43.

I won’t say my finish was anti-climactic, but it was a little sad that there was no one waiting to greet me at the end of the race. I hobbled around for a bit, picked up my finisher’s shirt, and realized that I had no way back to my hotel. The Prince was right next to the swim start, but the finish line was at the Mauna Lani… The race directors did not provide any shuttle vans from the Mauna Lani to the swim start.

As I was walking back to T2 to pick up my bike, I ran into Michellie Jones, who placed second in the race. I had actually met her before, when she made an appearance at an all women’s triathlon in Illinois a few years ago. It was the summer after my freshman year of college. I have a photo of us after the race. I was chubby, sweaty, and pasty white. She, of course, is tall, thin and tan… Anyway, she’s a very nice person. She claimed that she remembers meeting me, though I highly doubt it. She asked me how I had avoided getting sunburned during the race. Aha!!! That was the only thing I did right during this race. I brought a tiny bottle of spray on sunscreen and reapplied every half hour on the bike. There were countless people walking around the post-race party with their race numbers burned into their skin. I’m definitely proud that I avoided getting burned… I get the funkiest sunburns most of the time.

I went to collect my bike and transition bags from T2—I still didn’t have a ride home. I asked a bunch of people along the way but no one could help me. My toes hurt like someone had smashed them with a hammer. I took off my shoes, to find that my feet were shriveled like disgusting, white prunes. I guess that’s what happens when you run 13 miles in wet shoes. My transition bags were so gross. My bike shoes smelled worse than ever. Everything was all wet and all of my food had melted. It was difficult to walk my bike with the two plastic bags full of race crap. People told me I should ride back to my hotel, but I would rather have slept on the sidewalk than gotten back on that thing.

I ended up calling a cab at the Mauna Lani. While I was waiting for the cab, I talked to a 22 year old kid who I’d seen walking on the run course. He told me his Ironman PR was 10 hours. Talk about a bad day… his Half Ironman time was well over 6 hours. He complained about getting passed by an old woman. Yeah, that was a little hard for me to take too.

The races that don’t go the way you want are almost more important than the races that go really well. I knew I was going to have a sloooooow time. It was hard to accept that the course was kicking my ass. But it is way too easy to just pick the safe races. I admit it—I got my ass kicked by a 61 year old woman. I was 3rd in my age group. I might have been able to beat both of the other girls if it hadn’t been so hot. But you know what? I don’t KNOW if I could have beaten them. I lost this race. I’m done making excuses. It’s ok not to have a great race every time. And it’s also ok to have a great race and still get beaten by someone in your age group. These statements may seem obvious, but I spent too many years stressing out about all of this. I ruined so many great races by fixating on the fact that someone beat my run split. I felt like no matter how good my performance was, if someone beat me who I didn’t think should have, I no longer felt that my performance was acceptable.

After my conversation with the 22 year old guy, my cab driver pulled up. I explained that I had no cash, no phone, and no way to get to my hotel. I thanked him for coming to get me and asked if he’d mind waiting while I ran (hobbled) to my hotel room. This cab driver was really interesting… Turned out he was from Brooklyn, but never considered himself to have found his “home” until he moved to the Big Island. He moved to Hawaii after his brother passed away a few years ago. He just married the woman of his dreams, and seemed to be living the most blissful life. He also leads tours around the island, and gave me some random facts while we drove home. It was fascinating to see how his life could change so dramatically in such a short time.

I only had a few hours between the race and the after party, so I took a bath (while eating potato chips) and tried to recover a little. The party was back at the Mauna Lani. I sat with a group of Navy and Air Force servicemen, and spent most of the time playing with an adorable little girl named Sarah.

I got an award for placing third in my age group and got to go up on stage. The Japanese chick won the race entirely on the run. Somehow she managed an 8:23 pace for the half. I was about 4 minutes behind the second place girl, who got an entry to Kona. I thought the Japanese girl would get an international spot at the Ironman World Championship, but I guess they didn’t have any in our age group.  She took the only qualifying spot in our age group for 70.3 Worlds in Clearwater, Florida. Maybe I’ll qualify at Timberman.*

All in all, my weekend in Kona was incredible. I loved traveling alone because I learned a lot about myself—how I interact with people, how I handle stress and pressure, and how completely capable I am of taking care of myself.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

I woke up, went to brunch, and started packing my bike. I had three hours of actual vacation time before I had to leave… I felt empowered because I had to take care of all the details myself. I loaded my bike box into the car and drove to the airport. I was exhausted, but when there’s no one else to help you get everything taken care of, you just do it yourself. If I’d had friends with me, I probably would have asked them to take care of driving and carrying my bags! I had two minor meltdowns on the way back to NYC. I found myself crying in the Honolulu airport when I realized my flight was delayed (I had a 45 minute layover in Chicago, so I was going to miss my flight to NYC).

Monday, June 4, 2007

Though I missed my 6:00 flight, I was the last standby passenger to get on the 6:55 to LaGuardia. I had a middle seat at the very back of the aircraft. The doors shut as soon as I boarded. Unfortunately, there was very little room in the overhead compartments by the time I got on the plane. So, when I found my seat, an uppity male flight attendant was already starting to harass me about putting my backpack away so we could leave. He kept telling me to take my bag apart. At this point, I’d been traveling for 16 hours. I was dirty, hungry, tired and dehydrated. And this f*cking flight attendant asks me in front of the whole plane, “What don’t you understand about ‘start taking your bag apart?’” Needless to say, I completely broke down. I started bawling in the middle of the packed plane. A nice female flight attendant gave me a plastic bag to transfer some of my clothes.

While hyperventilating, I managed to say, “Please…tell…him…that…he…doesn’t…need…to…be…so…MEAN. He…just…shamed…me…in…front…of…the…whole…plane!!!”

And I cried my way to my seat. I sat with my award on my lap, because there was nowhere else to put it. I think the male flight attendant felt bad, because he avoided me for the rest of the trip. I just felt bad for the two guys I sat next to. I didn’t stop crying until after we took off.

Miraculously, my bike and wheels were waiting for me when we landed. It was 10:00AM and I’d been in-transit since noon the day before. I sped to my apartment in a cab, showered, changed, and was at my desk before 12.

I still can’t believe I made it through the weekend.

*Footnote: I did not qualify for 70.3 Worlds at Timberman. My finish time was 5:11:33 and I placed third in my age group. If a spot had rolled down, I was next in line to qualify.