“What would Gwen do?” That was the question I asked myself repeatedly after losing 200 pounds and committing to doing “whatever it takes” in hopes of performing well at the Triathlon World Championship.
Gwen Jorgensen is the 2016 Olympic Champion in Triathlon. She is also my hero. I totally respect her humble, yet hungry attitude, and her approach to reaching dreams. As a beginning triathlete, I knew I didn’t have Gwen’s athletic ability, but I could replicate Gwen’s attitude and work ethic. Whenever I wanted to make sure that I was making a sound decision, I asked myself, “What would Gwen do?”
I just finished reading Go, Gwen, Go written by Gwen’s sister, Elizabeth, and mother, Nancy. The book is about their family’s journey as Gwen progressed from high school athlete to triathlon newbie to Olympic champion. Elizabeth and Nancy take turns telling their story, which made me feel like I was sitting in the family’s living room, listening to a conversation between daughter and mother.
I couldn’t put the book down. It was fascinating to hear about Gwen’s family’s journey as they witnessed and supported Gwen’s early years as a high school athlete, her transition into a serious triathlete, her marriage to Patrick, and her rise to Olympic Champion.
I felt compassion as I learned about Nancy’s fears for her daughter’s safety when Gwen raced on the bike. I was touched by Elizabeth’s tears of joy when her sister’s daily work paid off in a desired outcome. I greatly enjoyed reading about Gwen’s family’s thoughts and feelings as they watched specific races that I had also watched. But, I especially loved reading segments of Gwen’s race reports. It was so interesting to learn what Gwen was thinking and feeling as she raced. I had always wondered what was going through her head as she talked with Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig (Olympic silver medalist) during the final lap of the Olympic run. Now I know.
I found myself wanting to read Go, Gwen, Go late into the night. But then, I had to ask myself, “What would Gwen do?” Knowing that Gwen would commit to her recovery sleep, I’d put the book down, eager to pick it up the following evening.
From my perspective, Go, Gwen, Go is a “must read” for anyone hoping to better understand how one progresses to greatness.
The U.S. News and World Report released its Best Diets 2020 List this morning. With so many people trying to lose holiday pounds and striving to meet new year resolutions, I thought I’d weigh in (pun intended).
Please note that I am not a weight-loss or nutrition expert. I am writing from the perspective of someone who failed a million diets, and then found one that worked – losing 200 pounds and keeping the weight off for almost four years. I’m hoping that my thoughts might be helpful to others.
BEST OVERALL DIETS: The US News and World Report list includes different categories including Best Diets Overall. These diets are “easy to follow, nutritious, safe, and effective for weight loss and productive against diabetes and heart disease.” The Mediterranean Diet is ranked #1 on this list. The DASH Diet and Flexitarian Diet are tied for second, while WW (Weight Watchers) is ranked #4.
What do these diets have in common? Basically, they’re simply healthy eating programs including a balance of proteins, fats, and carbs. And that’s my point. In my opinion, the best way to lose weight is to simply eat healthy over a period of time. But for some reason, we all love to say that we’re on “this diet” or “that diet.” It’s almost like we’ve joined a team or club and we’re totally loyal to that diet. If someone questions our chosen method for dieting, we’re quick to explain why our diet is the best diet. Matt Fitzgerald, author of over 20 best-selling books on fitness and nutrition calls popular diets “cults” in his book, Diet Cults.
There is no magic diet. Weight loss comes from simply eating healthy over a long period of time. The diets on the Best Overall Diets teach people how to eat healthy over a sustained period of time – like the rest of your life.
So which diet should you pick from those at the top of the list? The one you will follow. When I first began to successfully lose weight, the diet I followed not only taught me how to eat healthily, it included an accountability plan and a social component. That worked for me. Once I learned how to eat healthy and had been on track for quite a while, I found I no longer needed the high level of accountability. I’ve been able to follow that nutrition plan for years because with a healthy balance of all food groups, it was sustainable for me.
BEST WEIGHT-LOSS DIETS
Now let’s look at US News and World Report’s list of the Best Weight-Loss Diets which take into account, “short-term and long-term weight loss scores.” Weight Watchers is #1 on this list. The Vegan Diet and Volumetrics are tied for #2, while the Flexitarian Diet is #4. While these are the top weight-loss diets, only Weight Watchers and Flexitarian are also on the Best Overall List which takes nutrition, safety, ease of following, and productivity against diabetes and heart disease into account. For that reason, I usually point to Weight Watchers when someone asks me to recommend a weight loss program. I’m not as familiar with Flexitarian, but I suspect it’s a good program too.
BEST FAST WEIGHT-LOSS DIETS
US News and World report says that there’s a strong chance that you’ll drop significant weight within the first 12 months of starting the diets at the top of this list, but then goes on to explain that they are “different from the long-term weight loss programs that are more important for your health.” The top two diets on this list are the HMR Program and Optavia Diet. The Atkins Diet, Jenny Craig Diet, WW (Weight Watchers) Diet, and Keto Diet were all tied for #3.
IS FAST BEST?
CNN notes that the top two diets in the Fast Weight Loss category ranked “in the deep bottom” of other diet categories such Best Overall, Heart Healthy, and Diabetes Diets. CNN asks, “Why would diets that are considered good at helping drop weight quickly be ranked so badly overall?”
CNN then quotes David Katz, president of the True Health Initiative, “The ‘best’ way to lose weight fast is to do something very silly, unsustainable and arguably irresponsible. It’s not truly best – just fast. Many things that are truly bad for health can sustain short-term weight loss. The most effective diets for ‘fast’ weight loss impose severe restrictions that cannot be maintained and would not be compatible with health if they were.”
In the beginning of this blog, I wrote that I lost 200 pounds after multiple failed attempts at weight loss. I guess they weren’t really failed attempts because I did lose weight, but the diets weren’t sustainable, and each time, I gained back all the weight I had lost plus an additional ten pounds. I started believing that I was destined to be obese all of my life. But in reality, I had been following diets that weren’t healthy over a long period of time, and therefore weren’t sustainable since it would take me a long time to get to a healthy weight.
Success came when I did three things: 1) My “why” for losing weight changed. I talk about the impact of this mindset change in my book.* 2) I started a weight-loss plan that was based on sound nutrition, and therefore, sustainable over a long period of time. 3) I started thinking of what I was doing as a life-long nutrition plan, rather than a diet. Diets start and stop. Diets are things you go on and go off. I understood that my healthy nutrition plan would go on for the rest of my life. And it has!
Matt Fitzgerald is one of my heros. An endurance sports coach and prolific author, he has written 25 books about the training, nutrition, and mental aspects of endurance sports. My personal library is full of his books. When I was trying to determine the point at which I would stop losing weight, I turned to one of his books, Racing Weight, for insight. Then, when I was curious about how my excess skin impacted his formula for ideal rate weight, I wrote to Matt – and he wrote back with great advice. I have always found that the content in Matt’s books has been spot on.
So I was excited when I heard that he had a new book coming out. I figured I’d read new ideas about endurance training or nutrition. But instead, I found Matt’s latest book, Life is a Marathon, is a personal memorior. I thought I’d read about Matt’s relationship with endurance sports, and I did. But I didn’t expect to read about Matt’s personal relationship with his wife, Nataki, who struggles to manage severe bipolar disorder, or Nataki’s perspective on dealing with her personal challenges. That aspect of the book is raw, honest, and beautiful as Matt shares the most intimate parts of his life. In my opinion, Life is a Marathon is a love story.
I always know when a book is a home run when parts of it still impact me months after reading it. So many of Matt’s books have impacted my life in that way. 80 / 20 Running reminds me why low-intensity running is important. Diet Cults reminds me that losing weight isn’t about a fad diet – it’s simply about sound nutrition on a daily basis. How Bad Do You Want It reminds me how to have mental strength when my body screams at me to stop in the latter part of a race or during high-intensity intervals. Life is a Marathon also provides lessons that I know will be with me for a lifetime. Except this time, the lessons aren’t about endurance sports. They are lessons about perseverance in relationships and how we handle the personal (and seemingly unfair) challenges that God puts in front of us.
Life is a Marathon now sits on my bookshelf with all of my other Matt Fitzgerald books. I am grateful that Matt decided to share his life with all of us. As with all of Matt’s books, I feel that I am a better person for having read Life is a Marathon.
I am so saddened to learn that Karen Newman passed away this week. She was one of those people who had the ability to reach into folk’s souls and give them the confidence and courage they needed to move forward with their lives.
I met Karen by chance after competing in my first World Triathlon Championship in Mexico in 2016. At the time, I was thinking about writing a book about my journey, but I wasn’t sure that was God’s plan for me. When she introduced herself as Karen Newman, I thought: Oh my gosh! This is Karen Newman, author of Just Three Words! I had recently read about her book on USA Triathlon’s social media, but hadn’t read it yet. Karen was the first author that I had ever met, and I had tons of questions about writing a book. I told her about my physical and spiritual journeys, and shyly shared that people were encouraging me to write a book, but I wasn’t so sure. Somehow, the conversation turned to God’s will. She told me that she was sure God had brought us together for a reason, and that He meant for me to write a book. There was no hesitation in her conviction. She knew that God wanted me to write a book.
As we talked further, I was shocked to learn that she had competed at Worlds that morning with stage four breast cancer. I couldn’t imagine doing a triathlon amid cancer treatments. I also was puzzled by her attitude. Instead of being sad and depressed with her condition, she was upbeat, positive, and grateful for God’s blessings. In recent years, I’ve learned that kind of peace comes from trusting in God’s plan, whatever that plan might be. But at the time, Karen’s happiness and zeal for life was unimaginable for me. I wasn’t sure how to respond or what to even say to her.
Several weeks after Worlds, when I looked at photos of my race finish, I was surprised to see Karen in my finish photos! She was the woman against whom I had sprinted for the finish line! Unbelievable. She passed me toward the start of the finish chute. I passed her back. Then she passed me again! I couldn’t match her speed and she crossed the finish line in front of me. How could she have done that with stage four cancer? I still shake my head in wonder. What an amazing spirit. What an amazing competitor.
A few weeks ago, I felt moved to tell Karen about how she had inspired me. I wanted her to know that her kindness had a made a difference in my life, and that I had written the book that she encouraged me to write. As I searched for her email address online, I learned from Karen’s Facebook page that her cancer had taken a turn for the worse. I immediately sent an email thanking her for the confidence and courage that she had given me in our short conversation. I didn’t expect a response, and was surprised when Karen wrote back and showered me with even more encouraging words. The subject line said, “I am so PROUD of you!!!” That’s just the kind of person Karen was.
I probably spent less than an hour with Karen in total, but her kindness had a profound impact on my life. I feel blessed for the short time I was able to spend with her. Not only was Karen an amazing athlete, she was truly the face of God on earth.
I did it! My first Ironman 70.3 race. 1.2 mile of swimming, 56 miles on the bike, followed by a half-marathon run (13.1 miles). So pleased to have crossed both the start line and the finish line!
This was a milestone race for me. After losing 200 pounds, I had competed sprint-distance triathlons and progressed from dead-last in local races to sixth in the world at the Sprint World Championship. But I had no idea if I could go 70.3 miles. I was in uncharted territory, and was, once gain driven by an insane curiosity. Could I do it?
Walking into athlete check-in two days before the race, I felt the same giggly emotions I had felt at my very first sprint triathlon. I couldn’t believe I was checking in to an IRONMAN 70.3 race. For the umpteenth time since I started triathlon, I shook my head in wonder as I thought about how far I had come, and as I stood at the first station in check-in, my eyes misted a bit.
Since the World Sprint Triathlon Championship in Switzerland was my A race for the year, we didn’t train for the 70.3 or even think about that distance until after Worlds. So I only had six weeks to get my body ready. With all the training we did for Worlds, we felt like six weeks was enough time. I also only had six weeks to learn everything I needed to know about how to race for 70.3 miles and specifically, how to race on the course in North Carolina.
Racing for 70.3 miles presented challenges that I didn’t have in sprint racing. One of the biggest challenge was nutrition. The race would take more than six hours and I had to figure out how to take in 300 calories, 24 oz of water, and 600 mg of sodium each hour – without slowing down. During every long workout for the six weeks, we experimented with different nutrition strategies – both what to eat and how to carry it on my bike. I learned that while gels and Carbo Pro worked well for my sprint races, I hated their stickiness during the longer rides.
Nutrition: I ended up with two nutrition plans. For the first two hours on the bike, I’d carry two water bottles holding Tailwind (200 calories and sodium), and eat three Shot Bloks each hour for an additional 100 calories) For every hour after that, I’d grab water as I rode by aid stations on the course and then add a Nuun tablet (sodium). For calories, I’d eat three Shot Bloks every twenty minutes (300 calories). I experimented with how often to drink and how many swallows I needed to take each time equal 24 oz each hour. The plan that worked for me was three swallows every five minutes. I set an alarm on my bike computer to remind me to drink every five minutes.
Training: I totally underestimated how difficult racing for 70.3 miles would be. My coach told me that in longer races, people do an zone 2 or zone 3 effort, rather than the zone 5 effort that I did during sprint races. Since I only had six weeks to prepare, he decided that I would do a zone 2 effort. Basically, that was an “all day” pace that was easy enough that I could talk through the effort. In my sprint training, zone 2 was the easy effort that I did when resting between hard zone 5 intervals to bring my heart rate down from redline. How hard could it be to go 70.3 miles at such an easy pace?
I quickly discovered the answer to that question in one of my first longer bike rides in training. The workout was only 50 miles on the bike in zone 2 plus an easy two-mile run. Around 40 miles into the bike, my body was toast. I could barely hold zone 2 and kept slipping into zone 1. At that point, I knew doing zone 2 for 70.3 total miles would be no joke . . . and wondered if I had been too ambitious when I registered for the 70.3 race. While I had been confident about completing the 70.3 miles, I now started to have meltdowns. Could I go the distance? Could I finish before the race’s eight-and-one-half hour time limit? What would my body feel like at the end of the bike? At the end of the run? Would it hurt? If so, would I have enough grit to keep going?
I remembered what I had written my my book (The Athlete Inside) about my fears before competing in the open race at the World Triathlon Series in Chicago during my second tri season. Prior to the race, I was absolutely sure that I would crash and die during the bike portion of the race when the course went underground on Lower Wacker Drive. I said to myself, You know you’re not going to back out. So stop worrying and just go do it. Just like that Chicago race, I knew I was going to do the 70.3 even though I was scared of being in uncharted territory and worried that I might not be able to finish the 70.3 miles. There was no benefit to worrying about it. I just had to go do it.
To help with the pressure of doing well, I started to think of the 70.3 event as an adventure, rather than a competition. I remembered all the times as a 10-year-old that I’d find a far-away lake on the map, pack a lunch, and then ride my bike there. The 70.3 woule be like that. It was Sue’s Big Adventure – just like I did when I was 10 years old. No big deal.
DAY BEFORE THE RACE:
Transition Set-Up: Setting up transition the day before the race was challenging. This was a point-to-point-to-point race. That meant the swim start, T1, and T2 were in three different locations. They gave us plastic bags for our gear. They were labeled: Run Gear (T2), Bike Gear (T1), and Morning (T1). I put three rows of neon ducktape on both sides of my Run and Bike bags so I’d be able to easily find them among the 4,000 bags that would all look the same when I came into transition. The day before the race, we were to put to our bike in T1, and our Run Bag in T2. We would not be allowed in T2 on race morning.
Setting up transition was fun. We went to T2 first. I didn’t want to leave my run water bottle with Tailwind mixed in overnight in transition. I was afraid it would leak (and then I’d be missing 100 calories), or would draw ants. So I put the powered Tailwind into my water bottle without water. Then I put another bottle of pure water into my bag. I planned to pour the water into my run bottle as I ran out of transition and then toss the water bottle in the trash.
Next, we drove ten miles to T1. I practiced mounting and dismounting several times, and then hung my bike on the rack . . . right in front of a large mound of fire ants! They must have treated the mound, because no live ants were in sight. Phew. Then I walked down to the swim exit (half mile away), and checked out the surface we would be running on with our bare foot. Very rough cement. Since the run to T1 was so long (half mile), I decided I would be faster if I stopped to put on shoes so I planning to leave a pair of shoes at the swim exit. Finally, I studied the traffic flow through T1 and found landmarks for the rack that was holding my bike.
I started to worry that I had left something out of my Run Bag. We did a quick drive back to T2 and found that everything I needed for the run was in the bag.
Morning: On race morning, I woke at 2:50 am after going to bed at 7:00 the previous evening. I ate my normal pre-race breakfast: two slices of white bread, 3 tablespons of jam, a banana, and 12 oz of Gatorade Endurance. Then I started sipping on an additonal 12 oz of Gatorade and 24 oz of water that I hoped to get into my body before the start of the race.
My husband walked with me to the Ironman shuttle bus stop and threw me a good-luck kiss before I mounted the bus alone for T1. Normally, we would have driven to T1 together and he would have stayed to “crew” for me until I started the swim. But there was no parking at T1 and all athletes were encouraged to ride the athlete-only shuttles to T1. As I boarded the bus, I was carrying 1) a bike pump, 2) a backpack with wetsuit and empty morning bag, and 3) my loaded Bike Bag. After I put on my wetsuit, I’d put my morning cloths and my backpack into the Morning Bag and leave it at the swim start. I’d put the bike pump in the trash – which killed me but there was no option.
It was still pitch black when I left Transition 1 on a shuttle bus for the swim start, but I love this photo!
My headlamp must have fallen out of my pocket during the shuttle ride. I ended up setting up transition in the dark. Big thanks to everyone who shined their lights on my bike at various points so I could get things set up. Once my gear was good to go, I got into another long line to take a second shuttle bus to the swim start. Due to the length of that line, I didn’t have time to do my normal warm-up run in my wetsuit.
Swim Start: Waiting at the swim start was crazy. 4,000 triathletes stood in a parking lot that couldn’t have been more than 90 foot square. I had planned to do arm swings there, but there just wasn’t room. There also weren’t enough porta-pots, so people just peed in their wetsuits, making puddles of pee around their feet on the cement. Then other people walked through the pee in their bare feet. I’ve grown accustomed to triathletes peeing into their wetsuits while standing in grass, but this was a new one for me! However, I don’t know what else they could have done.
My coach instructed me to self-seed myself into the third wave, those who anticipated finishing the swim in the current-driven channel in 33 minutes. The weather was cloudy and the temperate was 49 degrees Fahrenheit at the start of the race. Even in my wetsuit and an old pair of running shoes (which I threw in the trash at the last minute so I wouldn’t get a penalty for littering), I shivered.
My group walked to the start and I was shocked by how quickly the line moved as we neared the water. I thought I’d have time to study the buoys while waiting. They hadn’t been out the day before and when I walked to the water’s edge prior to lining up in the holding area, it had been too dark to see them. I only had a few seconds to quickly eyeball the buoy’s positions.
When it was my turn, I ran down a narrow boat ramp saying “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” as each foot stepped on very, very rough concrete. And then I was swimming. I couldn’t believe it. I was swimming in my first 70.3. I was off on Sue’s Big Adventure.
I had studied the swim course and talked to several locals about the currents in the Inter-coastal Waterway and the best lines to take to the different turn buoys . Instead of swimming out from the shore to the first sight-buoy, I swam at an angle from shore straight toward the first red turn buoy that was 1,000 meters away.
From the water, I couldn’t see the turn buoy, but I estimated how much to angle toward the line of nine organge buoys that were in the water for sighting purposes. I knew there was a water tower at exactly 500 meters.
I was shocked when I reached the water tower so quickly. Evidently the current was moving me forward quickly. I was having a blast. I also found that in addition to being half way to the first turn, I was half way to the line of nine sight-buoys. My position seemed perfect to intersect with the red turn buoy at 1,000 meters.
I arrived at the turn buoy spot on. Perfect. Since most people swam to the sight buoys, I had a lot of open water in front of me. The water had looked calm so I was a little surprized when it was quite choppy, but no problem.
Swimmnig around the turn buoy was a little dicey. I knew the current would be strong at that point. I wanted to be right on the buoy when I turned left so I didn’t get pushed down-current and have to swim back upstream. With everyone trying to turn at the buoy, there were lots of feet and elbows everywhere.
I got knocked hard in the head a couple times, and someone punched me in the face which filled my right goggle with salt water. There wasn’t enough water to interfer with my vision, but the salt water stung my eye.
While it was congested, we were not so smashed togehter that people were swimming on top of each other like they had been at Sprint Worlds. So I was still able to take strokes to propel myself forward.
After the first turn, people spread out and the water was less choppy. I enjoyed the next 900 meters in the zig-zag course.
After rounding the last turn buoy, I saw a mob of swimmers climbing up the six-foot wooden ladders they had installed for the race. There were tons of ladders and most people were climbing up the middle ladders. Only a few were at the first ladder.
I remembered that a couple locals told me there was a strong current along the dock that would push me toward the exit, so I angled slighly toward the dock and found the current. It was amazing! I felt like I was body surfing. Mega fun. The current took me right to the first ladder, and no one was there, so I just climbed right out.
I had put day glow tape on the back of the running shoes I left at the swim exit so I could find them easily among the 100’s of shoes that racers had left there. I found them easily and it only took a few seconds to slip into them and I’m sure I easily made up the time as I ran the half mile to my bike. The run into transition was fun. Tons of spectators lined the way and cheered. In the 49’F temperature, however, I was freezing as I ran. I left on my wetsuit and swim cap for as long as possible to stay warm.
I took off the top half of my wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles as I ran down the long row of bikes toward my bike. We weren’t allowed to put towels on the ground to mark out location in T1 like we do in USAT races. I looked for the neon green handlebars on my bike as I ran down my row and found my bike easily. I put my swim cap and goggles into my Bike Bag under my bike (so glad I had marked it with neon tape), and tried to step out of the botton half of my wetsuit. However, even though I had put tons of Body Glide on my lower legs, and cut part of my wetsuit to make more room for my foot to come out, my heels got hung up and I had to bend over to pull the wetsuit over my heals. I quickly put body glide on a toe that had a blister. Next, socks, glasses, and helmet went on. Then I was running through the grass in my socks. I was afraid that morning dew would make my socks wet, but they stayed dry.
Mount: Normally, I run past the mount line and to the side away from people before doing a running mount onto my bike. But people were mounting bikes everywhere. I hoped no one would get squirrelly (including me), ran down the middle of the road, and jumped on my bike.
As I stepped on my bike, my left foot landed squarely on top of my left shoe (that was clipped into my pedal). I swung my right leg over the saddle as the bike rolled, found the opening of my right shoe and slipped in my foot. After pedaling for a while, I slipped my left foot into its shoe, and then reached down to velcro my shoes closed. I was nervous about doing these things in so much traffic, but I didn’t have a choice. With 4,000 competitors, there were bikes everywhere.
Winds: From Ron Steve, National Weather Service Meteorologiest and race participant: “Winds were from the NE at about 7 mph early on, then E-SE at 9-14 later (but still on the bike). Max sustained was 14 mph, peak gust 17, which tells me it was really consistent. Which always sucks when it’s late race headwind.”
Mile 0 – 10: The first part of the course was on the interstate through Wilmington, North Carolina. They split the southbound lane in half, with cars whizzing southbound in the inside lane and bikes going NORTHBOUND (yes, the wrong way) in the outside lane. Only traffic cones kept the bikes and cars from colliding head-on.
I thought about how my bike sometimes swerves when I don’t intend for it to do so, and I hoped no one would end up in front of one of the approaching cars. I wondered what it was like from the car’s perspective to see hundreds of bikes coming at you. I’m normally fearless on the bike during races, but this situation was a little strange.
The other noteworthy thing about this part of the course was that it was surprisingly hilly. The North Carolina 70.3 is known for having a flat bike course, but there several 4% climbs as the interstate when rose to cross a river or another interstate. There was also one hairpin turn as we exited from going the wrong way on the interstate to go the right way on an exit ramp.
Nevertheless, I loved this 10-mile part of the course. It was just fun to be out with so many people riding bikes. Some of the people I passed seemed to be pretty novice cyclists. I figured they had put themselves in the first wave to give themselves as much time as possible to complete the course.
I knew I would want to take off fast on the bike like I do in sprint races, so I checked constantly to make sure my watts were in z2.
The course crossed two draw bridges on this part of the course with metal grates. A fall on a metal grate would be like falling on a food grater. Not pretty. They told us in the Athlete Briefing that we would be disqualified if we were in aero bars or weren’t in single file on the bridges.
The first bridge wasn’t a problem. There was a special bike lane where the grate was close together. That was like riding on rough pavement. The second bridge had wider grates. The grate kind of directed my front tire, but not as much as cobblestone does. It reminded me of when I’m riding from one block of pavement to the next on a road and the crack between the pavement blocks catches my tire for a second and directs it. I just soft-pedaled and rode straight. No problems.
I didn’t wear anything over my sleeveless tri kit on the bike which was wet from the swim. My teeth chattered in the 49’F temperature for the first 20 miles, and the muscles in my upper back, right below my neck, hurt from being tense in the cold. But slowly, both the day and my body warmed up.
Mile 10 – 32: This section of the race was on State Road 421. The road was straight and relatively flat, and we had a nice tailwind. I thought I’d be by myself in this stretch and was surprized to see so many bikes. It made the course interesting. I told myself to settle in and keep my watts in z2.
With all the bikes on the course, it was impossible to stay out of the draft zone. IRONMAN rules say that as soon as someone’s front wheel passes my front wheel, it’s my responsibilty to put 39 feet between us by slowing down. In my USAT sprint races, I always fall back to move out of the draft zone. I even make sure I stop pedaling for a few seconds to show the officials that I am moving out of the draft zone. But in this race, there were so many bikes on the course and they were so close together, that it was impossible to put 39 feet between bikes. I finally decided to just ride my pace and not worry about dropping back.
I ran out of my Tailwind drink exactly one hour into the ride. Perfect. The time I spent figuring out how many swallows to take every five minutes to get in 24 oz in me within 1 hour paid off. I refilled my aero bottle using my second Tailwind drink bottle that I carred in a bottle cage.
Refueling is something that I never have to do during a sprint race. I was afraid that I’d drop the bottle, but everything went smoothly. In addition to drinking Tailwind, I added calories by eating Shot Bloks (3 every hour). I used Shot Bloks rather than gels because they are less messy. That gave me 24 oz water, 300 calories, and around 650 mg of sodium each hour.
At mile 32, I reached the second aid station. Per plan, I pulled the empty water bottle from its cage and tossed it on the ground in the trash zone. Then I grabbed a water bottle from a volunteer and put it into the empty cage. So far, so good.
But when I grabbed a second watter bottle from a volunteer – a young girl who was holding the bottle at her shoulder height, way below my height on the bike – I dropped it. Crum.
Luckily, there was one more volunteer about 5-feet farther down the road, a young boy. He quickly held up another water bottle and yelled for me to take it. I focused on that water bottle like crazy and was relieved when it was firmly in my hand. I appreciated all the time my husband spent with me in the parking lot at home handing me water bottles as I rode by over and over. Next time, I need to practice grabbing bottles from different heights!
The next challenge was getting the water into my aero bottle. I had opened the lid on my aero bottle before coming to the aid station in preparation. However, the squirt top on the bottle I had just received made emptying the water into my aero bottle painfully slow. I had to slowed down to get all the water in before the last trash zone where I would toss the empty bottle.
My final challenge was dropping 1 1/2 Nuun tablets in the water so I’d have sodium and other electrolytes. I had the tablets in a little baggie so they wouldn’t get wet. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t slide out into the water. But finally they dropped into the water and started to disolve.
During the time I was was squirting water and mixing in the electrolytes, I only had one hand on my handbars as people were whizzing past me. I ended up slowing down much more than I wanted. At the beginning of the aid station, my average speed for the 32 miles was 18.8 mph. At the end, my average speed was 18.6. Not good.
My calorie intake changed during the second half of the ride since the water I received on course didn’t have Tailwind’s 200 calories. I ate three Shot Bloks every 20 minutes to keep my calories in the 300 per hour range. I cut the Shot Blok packets in half so I could pull out half-packets with three blocks. It was easy to hold that packet and my aerobar at the same time. I could even brake while holding the packet. Each block slid easily out of the packet and into my mouth with no gooey mess. In sprint triathlons, I can’t eat Shot Bloks because when I’m just below redline, I’m breathing through my mouth so hard that I inhale partially chewed blocks. But in zone 2, I could breathe through my nose when chewing. It worked great.
Mile 32 – 58: The course was supposed to be 56 miles long, but in reality, it was 58 miles. The beginning of this section, the course looped around some country roads. The pavement was rougher, but nothing like the rough road that we have at home.
At one point, a large semi truck was stopped in the road, blocking the entire lane. About 20 bikes were stopped behind it. They couldn’t see around the truck to determine if a car were coming from the opposite direction. Finally, one cyclist went into the oncoming lane. When he didn’t get hit by an car, everyone went around the truck, including me. But that bunched people up quite a bit.
The next 20 miles on State Road 421 were uneventful except for the strong headwind and one squirrelly guy who kept passing me repeatedly and then immediately coasting to a crawl once he passed. I wondered if he had been drafting behind me, thinking that our pace felt easy so he passed, and then once in front, discovered that he didn’t have enough strength to push through the air.
A big sign that read “50 MILES” was at the side of the road. That was so cool. I felt great. My hamstrings hurt a little, but nothing like the pain I had felt in training. My lower back and the base of my neck, that had screamed in training, felt great. At 53 miles, I knew I only had five miles to go. I was going to finish the bike in good shape. My heart sung Woohoo! I said aloud, “Thank you God!”
Since were were bunched up from stopping or slowing for the stopped semi truck, we all hit the draw bridge at the same time as we came back into town. We were not single file. Thankfully, no one got squirrelry, but the gentleman in front of me slowed to a crawl and I thought he was going to stop. I had to do some quick thinking about whether or not to try to pass him on the grate. Luckily, he kept going.
As I approached the dismount line, I felt great. I slowed a little, stood and stretched, and then ran up my rpms to make sure my legs were ready to run. Then I slipped out of each shoe and made sure my left foot was squarely on top of my shoe. At the last minute, I stood, swung my right leg over the saddle, and then stepped off my bike running. In training, the first few steps had been difficult with my legs not wanting to open up. That was the case in this dismount too, but not as bad as it had been in practice. I pushed my bike out in front of me and ran.
Again, spectators were lining the way into transition. They all yelled good job to me and I grinned ear to ear as I ran with my bike.
As I ran through transition, I counted the rows out loud: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and then turned. With relief, I saw my plastic bag with neon stripes. Then I noted that it was laying under an empty bike rack. All the other women my age were still on their bikes. At first, I was excited. But then I remembered that with a rolling start, the winner of the race could cross the finish line behind me if she started the race later than I started.
I empied my bag and then took off my socks and shoved them along with my helmet into the empty bag. I slipped on fresh socks, grabbed my run bottle (filled with dry Tailwind power) and a water bottle. As I ran out of transition, I squirted water into my run bottle to mix with the Tailwind, and then threw the water bottle in the trash as I left transition.
I felt great coming out of T2. In sprint races when I’m running just under redline, I’m not able to smile at photographers. I don’t even see them. But in this race, where I was running in zone 2, I smiled at every single photographer.
With only six weeks to train for the 13.1 mile run (half marathon), my coach had me do a run-walk pacing strategy. I would run a steady zone 2 pace between aid stations (every 1 to 2 miles), and then walk for one minute at each aid stations. During the walk, I’d drink four big swallows of water (total 4 oz). At every other aid station, I’d eat a 100-calorie gel.
I watched my watts closely to make sure I stayed in zone 2 as my coach instructed. Having never done a 70.3 before, I didn’t have any history that would help me understand how my body should feel, so I couldn’t run by feel. I just tried to stay spot on the assigned watts.
At the first aid station, I hit my lap button to start the timer that would show me how long I had been walking. But I forgot my watch was in triathlon mode. My watch “thought” I had finished the 70.3 and started playing a cheerful celebration song. That caused a serious problem.
I restarted my watch in run mode, but I didn’t know how much of the 13.1 miles I had already run before having to restart my watch. So for the rest of the race, I didn’t know how far I had run. To make matters worse, the screen wasn’t showing lap time for some reason, so I couldn’t even time my walks. I tried to count to sixty as I walked the aid stations, but after the race, I discovered that my walks were all too short.
When practicing run-walk in training, I had always used the walks to really relax my body and get my heartrate down. But the aid stations were a madhouse and I was more tense coming out of them than I had been going in. And I found myself power-walking the aid stations, rather than doing a restful walk. I finally adopted this approach:
Shortly before aid station – Eat a gel (if eating)
Start of aid station: Drink water from cup
Put ice in bra
End of aid station: Drink water from cup
Put ice down back of kit
I had planned to put water into the run water bottle that I was carrying, but it just took too long at the first aid station, so I adjusted my plan in flight. I drank water from cups, and just used the water in my run bottle to wet my mouth when it was dry.
In Cozumel at Worlds, I learned to love ice in my clothing. It keeps my core wonderfully cool. I started thinking of the ice as my little reward for running each mile. At the first and second aid stations, the ice was in cups on the table and easy to grab. At the rest of the aid stations, the ice was in a big plastic bag laying on the ground. I had to stop and bend over to get that ice – probably something I wouldn’t normally do but because this was a “fun” race, I took the time.
One funny thing: I’ve never had this happen before. The ice in my bra would melt for a while, and then the mass of ice would slide down to my waist where it would be caught by my race belt. It would melt there for a little bit, and then, the ice mass would slide down to my crotch! I laughed histerically to myself as I thought about running down the road with a crotch full of ice. 🙂
After two miles of running on a straight road through town with lots of spectators lining the road, the course turned in to a park-like setting with a winding road through a fairly thick woods. Everyone loved that 3/4 of the course was in woods, but I didn’t like it at all. There were no visuals to run toward. I couldn’t see the aid stations, and every curve looked just like the other.
As I wound my way around curve after curve in the woods, I occassionally crossed timing mats, and heard the electronic sound that indicated the mat had registered my timing chip. I knew my husband and sons were monitoring my race on IRONMAN Tracker, and I envisioned their excitment as they saw me progress along the run. Mom’s at 2.3 miles! 4.3 miles! 6.8 miles! She’s more than half way through the run! 9.5 miles! Less than three miles to go! 11.4 miles! She’s going to make it! Go Mom! Imagining their cheers was as good as having them on the side of the road. I was filled with happiness. I wondered if my coach were monitoring too. If so, I knew he’d be pleased with the way I was keeping my pace steady. I imagined him saying, “Nailing it!” in the way he sometimes did in workouts. More happiness.
I was still feeling great at the turn-around in the park. Because the course jaunted out to the water at the start, the turn-around was past the half-way point. I figured I was at mile 7. A mile or so after that I started to feel a little fatigued.
I had guessed that mile 8, 9 and 10 would be the most difficult. Before the race, I told myself that I’d have to dig deep during those miles. I figured at mile 10, the excitment of being three miles from the finish line would carry me home.
Even though I had predicted it, the sudden fatique around mile 8 took me by surprize. Everything had been going better than my wildest dreams, and then suddenly, I was struggling a bit. I told myself calmly: Ok, one mile at a time. Just run to mile eight. But the sign announcing mile 8 never came. I looked at the lap-distance on my watch which indicated that I had run more than a mile. Did I forget to hit the lap button at the last aid station? Finally, I asked another runner where we were. He said 9.17. Evidently, I missed the 8 mile sign. But that meant I had also missed the 9 mile sign. I finally figured out that there were no (or few) mileage signs on the course.
For the next mile, I continued to do the targeted watts, but I was becoming more and more uncomfortable. By plan, I was supposed to increase my watts slighly at 10 miles and let the excitement of being so close to the finish give me the push I needed. I decided to postpone the push until mile 11. But I wasn’t really sure where I was – and where mile 11 was.
Right before the turn back onto Front Street (which I later learned was at mile 11.83), I changed my run strategy so I wouldn’t have to run up hills. Instead of running roughly a mile and then walking for 60 seconds, I decided to run for a half mile followed by 30 of running. That would give me the same run-to-walk ratio and wouldn’t slow me down. But having more frequent walks would allow me to use them to walk up the short hills in the last few miles of the course.
I was happy to turn back onto Front Street, the straight road that would take me to the finish line. In a sprint race, I study the course and know landmarks for every mile in case I have a watch malfunction. But with 13.1 miles, I didn’t do that because I didn’t think I could remember thirteen landmarks. I wracked my brain. Was that corner at Front Street at 9 miles? 10 miles? 11 miles? I didn’t have a clue. Everything hurt, including my organs. I could feel the impact of each step. I told myself that if I injured myself now, I’d have months to recover before having to run in a race next season, and kept running.
The long gradual climbs on Front Street were challenging. I’d look for the steepest section of each one and try to time my 30-second walk to correspond with each. Sometimes, that meant that I ran slightly shorter or longer than the planned half-mile. But I LOVED being able to see landmarks, unlike the miles I had just run on the winding road through the woods where every curve looked just like the last. I started telling myself. Run to the railroad tracks. Good! Now run to the next railroad tracks. Good! Now run to where that white line crosses the road. Good! Little by little, I made my way down the road toward the finish line.
After climbing several long hills, I saw a group of people at the top of a hill and I heard cheering. The finish line! I wanted to finish strong so I ran up that last hill with gusto. I knew my watts were above target, but that was ok. I just needed to make it to the top of the hill.
But when I arrived at the top, I heard someone say, “You’re almost there! Just one more mile!” Then someone corrected him, “It’s more like a half mile.” What? Evidently, the people were gathered at the last aid station, not the finish line.
During the push to the false finish line, I had burned every last match. I had to walk. My body had nothing left. I decided not to stop for water since I was just a half mile to the finish line. But I had to walk.
I walked for 27 seconds and then started running again. But I could only run for 37 seconds. I couldn’t believe it. My only goal for the day had been to follow my race plan perfectly, and I was off plan. I was so upset with myself for walking, and I demanded of myself: What are you doing? Where is your grit? You never give in to your body. What are you doing!?
I heard spectators yelling to me, “You’re so close. Keep going. Dig deep.” I found their tone to be so interesting. It wasn’t like the happy cheers I had heard all day. It was an urging for me to keep moving forward. I could tell they knew I was unraveling.
Everything had changed. At this point, with less than a half mile to go, my focus change from racing to survival. I remembered writing in my book about switching to “fall back” goals when you can’t hit your initial goals. I learned that from triathlon legion, Mark Allen. I figured that while I could no longer run for a half mile, I could still control the amount of time that I walked. My fall-back goal became to run as long as I could, and then not to walk more than 30 seconds.
So after 28 seconds of walking, I started running again. I deperately wanted to run to the finish line, but could only manage to run for 90 seconds. Then I was walking again.
This time, I walked for 31 seconds, then I ran again. I tried so hard to run, but could only manage 85 seconds. I kept thinking, Who walks in the last half mile? I just could not believe I was walking.
This time, I walked for 18 seconds. Then I ran. I could see a crowd of people standing across the road at the top of the hill a block away. Is that the finish line? I wasn’t sure. It looked like they were standing along a corner. That confused me. Do I have to turn left to get to the finish line?
I was so afraid of another false finsh line. I told myself: The finish line is six blocks past that crowd of people. Keep going.
After 60 seconds of running, I reached the top of the hill and started to walk again. But then I saw the finish arch over the people’s heads. The crowd of people was gathered around the opening to the finish chute. You’d think I’d be excited to see the finish arch, but I wasn’t. All I could think was: Oh no! I’m going to walk in the finish chute! Run! Run! Do not let all of these people see you walk with the finish chute in sight.
The finish chute was one minute ahead of me. I gave everything I had. Every muscle in each leg felt like it was tearing. But I ran.
As I entered the finish chute, a man stopped in front of me. He was the same man who slapped me on the back as he passed me around mile six and and about knocked me off my feet. He stood in the middle of the finish chute waving his arms in the air like football players do when they want to hear the crowd to cheer for them. Every eye was on the man as the crowd cheered. Then he turned to look at me as I approached. I ran by.
Finish Line: I crossed the finish line running as hard as I could. I didn’t smile. I didn’t raise my arms. My focus was on getting across the line as soon as possible so I could stop running. There were no thoughts in my head except GET ACROSS THAT LINE.
As soon as I crossed the line, volunteers asked if I wanted to go to the medical tent. I said, “No. I just need to walk.” I was afraid that if I stopped moving, my blood pressure would drop too quickly and I’d pass out.
Someone handed me a bottle of water and I dropped it. They asked me again if I wanted to go to medical. A volunteer told me they needed my timing chip so I stopped walking. I wasn’t sure I could bend over so I just stood there. Finallly, the volunteer leaned over and took it off my ankle. Then I looked at her with a big tired smile, and said, “I just finished my first 70.3!!!” It was the same thing I had said to the volunteer who handed me water after my first 5k.
I missed getting my finisher medal and the volunteer led me back to where little girls were passing out medals at the finish line. I did it!
One of my Dream Big teammates came to congratulate me, and we found my husband who wanted to hug me, but the idea of raising my arms was just too much and I told him I’d hug him later. My teammate and I posed for pictures to send to our coach. As I stood for photos, the exhaustion set in. In the first photos, I am standing upright. But after three or four clicks of the shutter, I’m starting to hunch over.
After my teammate left, I put my head down on the fence that stood between my husband and me, and sobbed. I don’t know why I cry after hard efforts. I’m not sad or feeling sorry for myself. I think that after fighting pain for so long, I just let out all the tension in sobs. Luckily, the tears only last for 10-20 seconds. Then they’re gone.
My adductor muscles were screaming and I wanted to sit down to rest, but the only place to sit was the dirty curb. Then I remembered passing two chairs outside the medical tent, and I told my husband that I was going to go sit there for a while. I was also hoping to ask the medics what to do about my screaming abductors. While I’ve ended up in medical on a couple occassions after pushing too early in sprint races and then weaving my way down the finish chute, this was the first time I had ever willingly gone to medical. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask medical questions without checking in to the clinic and I was too tired to fill out all the paperwork, so I never asked about my adductors. But I did find the two empty chairs. I think they were intended for the volunteers, but they were kind enough to let me use them. My rear end went in one chair while my feet went on the other. The volunteers kept checking to make sure I was ok. During the short time that I sat, two people passed out after crossing the finish line and were taken away on stretchers. Wow.
While I sat, I received a text from my coach. He wrote, “You did it!!!” I was too tired to text, so I just wrote, “I did it.” I wasn’t feeling excitement at that point. I was just too dang tired.
I knew I had a great swim and bike, and strong transitions. Until the last half mile, I had followed my race plan for the entire race. I also knew that if I had a good race, I had a chance for the podium. I was too tired to look up the results, so I texted my coach, “Do you know where I placed?” He told me I was second. Amazing.
I was even more amazed when I learned how close I had come to being first. The woman won finished just a minute and fifty seconds ahead of me. That’s a pretty close margin in a race that lasted almost six and a half hours. I was extremely pleased with my effort for the day and with the outcome that effort produced.
But at the same time, I kept asking myself: Who runs in the last half mile. I remembered all the times my coach had told me not to leave it on the course. Had I left it on the course? It wasn’t until I looked at the data after the race that I decided that I had not left anything on the course during that last half mile. Given how badly I wanted to run, I’m sure I would have run more than 60-90 seconds if I could have. I just had no extra gas until I was 100% sure that I was at the finish line and even then, I just had enough gas to rev the engine for one last push.
Awards Ceremony: The awards ceremony was outside and unfortunately, it was raining. Ironman decided to cancel the formal presentation so I didn’t get to stand on the podium. Instead, they handed out the awards under a small tent. I received a trophy for being second. After the awards were all handed out, they began announcing the qualifiers for the 2020 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in New Zealand.
In Ironman, the winner of each age group is offered a slot at the World Championship. If they don’t accept the slot, it rolls down to the next person. I was thrilled when the spot rolled down to me. But after talking to my coach, I decided to turn down the opportunity. Training for a 70.3 distance race is quite different than training for a sprint-distance race, and we felt I needed to focus my training on preparing for the 2020 ITU Draft-Legal Sprint Triathon World Championship. Still, qualifying for Worlds in two different triathlon distances was pretty exciting!
Swim – 13:09 Division Rank: 1
T1 – 8:13 Division Rank: 1
Bike – 3:06:21 Division Rank: 1
T2 – 4:01 Division Rank: 1
Run – 2:33:48 Division Rank: 2
OVERALL – 6:23:32 Division Rank: 2
As soon as we got back to the hotel, I put a 70.3 sticker on the back of our truck. 🙂
Worse for Wear: As I write this, it is two days post race. My adductors are better, but my quads are toast. I have trouble going down stairs or sitting down. I have a big blister underneath my big toe nail that is seeping clear fluid. I didn’t know that was possible! A pinky toenail is black. But other than that, my body handled the challenge of racing 70.3 miles over almost six and a half hours well. I know with time, these injuries will pass, but the joy of finishing my first IRONMAN 70.3 will stay with me for a lifetime.
Reflection: My coach, Brant Bahler from Dream Big Triathlon Coaching is a genious. I’ve come to trust that he will have me at the start line ready to go the distance. When I was nervous about racing for 70.3 miles, one of his comments from my beginning years of triathlon came back to me, “I wouldn’t let you race if I didn’t think you could go the distance.” Not only did he have me ready to go 70.3 miles, he wrote the perfect race plan. At the end of the day, I was the one who received the second place trophy, but it really belongs to both of us. We are a team. My coach’s job is to write the perfect plan. My job is to execute that plan perfectly. It’s wonderful to have a coach that you trust.
It’s also wonderful to have a family who supports your efforts. My husband is the best crew ever. One of my teammates described him as a saint – and he’s right. Brian puts up with me being in a vegetative state after hard workouts, carries all my gear when I’m racing, makes sure that I’m on time on race mornings, and serves as my videographer. I am truly blessed to be married to a man who so actively supports my dreams. My sons, who live in other states, also support my efforts. As I mentioned earlier, it’s wonderful to know they are tracking my progress as I step over each timing mat. Their love and support gives me extra energy as I ride or run down the road.
My purpose for doing this IRONMAN 70.3 race was two-fold: First, I wanted to see what a 70.3 race was like. I wondered how the training would differ from my sprint training. I wondered how the pain of doing zone 2 for six to seven hours would compare to the pain of doing just below zone 5 for an hour and a half. Second, I wanted to know if I had the capacity for not only sprinting, but also going the distance for 70.3 miles . . . and could I be competitive at that distance?
I learned that I can not only sprint, I can go the distance for 70.3 miles. And with proper preparation, I think I could be somewhat competitive. That knowledge further defines how I see myself as an athlete. I am no longer an obese, unfit woman. I am a competitive sprint triathlete, and now, I am also a 70.3 Ironwoman.
This blog first appeared on the USA Triathlon Ambassador Blog on Feb. 5, 2019. It’s about one of my favorite topics: How to set goals that drive you to do your best:
A few years ago, at 335 pounds, losing weight seemed hopeless. I had been trying one diet after another for most of my life. Each time, I’d lose weight – and then gain it all back again plus 10 more pounds. But this time, something was different. This time, I lost 200 pounds and have kept it off for almost three years. What made the difference? I had a new goal that gave purpose to my nutrition and exercise. I wanted to finish a triathlon.
It started out as a secret daydream. I had gotten to the point where I could walk for three miles, and I had survived a water aerobics class. I thought to myself, “Hmm. Maybe I can do a triathlon!” I never thought that I’d actually do a triathlon, but that secret daydream gave purpose to my weight loss and exercise – and enabled me to stay the course when facing a dozen peanut butter cookies! To my total surprise, I eventually lost enough weight and gained enough fitness to attempt a triathlon. I finished dead last, but in my mind, I was a winner! I was a triathlete!
Over the years, my goals have changed. In my first triathlon season, my goal was to have the courage to toe the start line – and somehow make it across the finish line. During my second season, my goal was to set personal bests. In my third season, I started wanting to be competitive. My coach and I talked about my goal for that season. We decided my goal would be to finish in the top eight in the sprint distance at USAT Nationals so I could qualify for Worlds. BIG mistake.
The more I thought about finishing in the top eight, the more pressure I felt. I knew my family and friends would love me no matter where I placed, but I was extremely worried about letting my coach down. He believed in me and had invested so much in training me. I did not want to disappoint him. The pressure was unbearable and much of the joy went out of triathlon as I thought about how sad he’d be if I didn’t finish in the top eight. My coach didn’t put that pressure on me. I put it on myself.
Then I remembered the words of wisdom that my brother, Tom, shared during my first season. He explained that you can’t control the outcome of a race. There are just too many things beyond your control. You can’t control the weather, who else shows up, how well they race, or whether or not you flat on the bike. The source of my stress was becoming evident. I was trying to deliver something that was dependent on things outside of my control.
My brother also explained that outcome goals have their place. They give direction to your training. But he added that the most important goals are process goals. Process goals relate to all the things you must do right every day, all year long, if you want to be in the best position of reaching your desired outcome. Those are goals like: never skip a workout, focus every moment when training, communicate well with your coach, pay attention to the details, maintain sound nutrition, get enough sleep.
I liked the idea process goals. They were things I could control. If I told my coach I would focus in every workout, I could deliver. If I pledged to lose more weight, I could make that happen. So, all my goals became process goals. I felt good when I nailed those process goals each day. I hoped those actions would lead me to the top eight at Nationals.
As I toed the start line at Nationals, I had that strange sense of calmness that comes when I know I have prepared well. The horn blasted. I followed my race plan perfectly. I left it all on the course. I hoped for eight. But when the results were posted, I saw eleventh. Strangely, I wasn’t disappointed. Instead, I felt a deep satisfaction that is hard to describe. I think it’s the feeling that comes when you know you did your absolute best in training and on the race course. That you left no stone unturned. I just felt so dang satisfied.
As you set your goals for the 2019 triathlon season, define your outcome goals – to cross a finish line, set a personal record, or finish in front of your competition. Those goals will give you direction. But set process goals too. Write down on paper what you have to do every day to reach your outcome goals. Then do those things – no whining, no excuses, whatever it takes. And as you meet your process goals each day, feel that deep satisfaction! The best feeling ever!
This week, I started my preparation for the 2018 Triathlon Season. I always love new beginnings. When I was a teacher, it was always so sad to see each school year end, but then when the new students arrived in August, I was filled with excitement and hope when I thought about all that we could accomplish in the coming year. New beginnings are filled with the magic of hope.
This is the first year that I’ve had a new beginning in triathlon. In the past, I’ve always had an “A” race in November so I never really had a true break between seasons. It was always “A” race → Thanksgiving →Christmas → start preparing for the new season. While I struggled with the time off this year (as explained in my last blog), I love the hope and energy I’m experiencing now as we begin to prepare for the next season.
During the last five weeks, the things I missed most about triathlon taught me about the things I love about triathlon. I missed being outside, working with my coach, and seeing others working on fitness at the YMCA. I even missed planning my nutrition around my training! But what I missed most was working toward a goal and seeing progress. My coach told me to enjoy all the things that I couldn’t do during the season because I was so busy training. But, truth be known, there is nothing I’d rather do than triathlon. Triathlon just brings joy to my world.
So, this week I’m back at it! Woohoo! By design, I’ve lost a lot of fitness during the last five weeks – but not all my fitness. I am ahead of where I was last year, and I am rested. That’s a good thing! When you give the body a rest and then rebuild, you can reach higher highs. It’s kind of exciting to consider the possibilities!
As I think about purposely losing fitness and then rebuilding, I keep seeing a pyramid in my mind. If you make that pyramid taller without increasing the width of the base, it will eventually become unstable and fall over. It’s the same with my body. If my coach keeps adding to the intensity of my training, without increasing my base fitness, my body will eventually break down.
Over the last five weeks, my coach gave my body a rest (increasing the potential for a wider base). Now, he is building the widest base possible through a period of lighter training. Later, during the build and peak phases, he will be able to push my body as he has never been able to push before. Oh my gosh! I’m just a little excited about this possibility! 😀
So, now I’m in base training. After receiving instructions to just “be active” over the past five weeks, I am now seeing intervals of various intensity! Woohoo! I relish the joy I experience in each workout as I strive to nail my coach’s assigned tasks. It doesn’t matter if the assigned intervals are slow. The challenge is to hit every one dead on. I love, love, love the sense of hope and excitement that comes from knowing we are building again.
I know I’ll have “off” days when I don’t hit my targets. That’s just part of it. You come. You do your best. You go home. Day after day after day.
I have two goals this year — the same two goals that I’ve had every year since deciding to be a competitive triathlete. 1) Do exactly what my coach tells me to do every day. In training, in nutrition, in recovery. No exceptions, no shortcuts, no whining. 2) To follow my coach’s race plan perfectly. To run a smart race and dig deep so I cross the finish line with absolutely nothing left in the tank. Both of my goals are process goals. If I accomplish my process goals, the outcome will take care of itself. It always has.
My “A” race for this year is the 2018 World Triathlon Championship in Gold Coast, Australia where I will be competing as a member of Team USA. If I nail the process throughout the year, and follow my race plan perfectly on race day, I will cross the finish line with the feeling of deep satisfaction that I have grown to love. I will know that left no stone un-turned, and gave everything I had to the challenge before me. Wherever I place, I will be a winner.
It’s three weeks post worlds, and I’m still high as a kite! I just can’t believe that I finished 6th in the world! Heck, I can’t even believe that I went to Worlds. I’m on top of the world, and feel so blessed!
But . . . my emotions are on my typical post-season roller coaster. Actually, it’s not really a roller coaster because I’m high and low at the same time! I’m happy to have done so well in a huge “A” race. I’m sad that the season is over. I miss training and all the excitement.
I am not alone. In fact, I decided to write this blog after a friend in her second year of triathlon, confided in me that she felt horribly sad at the end of her first season. I wanted to write this blog for her, and others, to help them understand that post-season funk is normal for a LOT of people. A Google search for post-race blues and post-Ironman blues produces over 3 million hits! There are articles about post-season blues for triathletes, marathon runners, swimmers, tennis players, and dog trainers! Post-season blues impact at all levels of athletes, from age-groupers to Olympians. While not everyone gets post-season blues, a lot of authors report that those who commit seriously to training are most likely to experience a post-season funk.
Luckily, I’ve discovered that post-season funk is temporary, and I’ve learned to wait patiently for it to go away. In the meantime, I just feel lost. I guess that makes sense. For an entire year, life has been on full throttle as I’ve focused on doing “whatever it takes” to race at my peak performance. Every day without exception, I spent multiple hours training, fueling my body, studying my data, planning, and caring for my equipment. Sleep even became part of my training, and it was measured and monitored. Almost everything I did, outside of work, for an entire year was focused on preparing for that one point in time when I would race at Worlds.
Then, race week was here, and it was mega exciting – traveling to another country, meeting other athletes, wearing a Team USA clothes, and dealing with things I couldn’t control (i.e. weather). My emotions were huge – fear, adrenaline, and pressure, lots of pressure.
Then it’s race day. The horn goes off. The world stops. I follow my race plan, and hope for the best. In the last half mile, I give every ounce that I have left after a year of preparation. I’m running on fumes, and I cross the finish line with the tank on empty.
Then, there are more huge emotions. I am just so dang satisfied. Every day for an entire year, I did what I needed to do, and on this day, I did the same. I followed my coach’s race plan, and held nothing back. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. I don’t even care where I placed. I am just so deeply satisfied. I call my family and coach, and I’m babbling like an idiot. I post on Facebook. I am so excited, so happy, so satisfied. The glow lasts for a few days, and then . . . it’s over.
I don’t know how other people feel about being in a little funk after the season is over, but I always feel silly. How could I be anything but wildly happy after I’ve just placed 6th in the world? It just doesn’t make sense.
But even more than feeling silly, I feel selfish. How could I be in a funk when there are so many bigger problems in the world? I have food to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over my head, and the freedom to pursue my dreams. I have friends and family who love me. I have my health when others have injuries, cancer, arthritis, and other chronic health conditions. In short, I am blessed. How could I be in a funk?
And, I know that my funk is not bringing glory to God. I am not being grateful for all of the blessings that I have been given.
According to some, the funk is not just in my head. Jim Taylor, Ph.D., and Terri Schnider in their book The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training, explain that athletes demand a lot from their body over a long period of time, both in training and racing. Once they’ve met their goal, their body shuts down to recuperate. Funk is the body’s way of shouting, “Give me a rest!” That, I understand. 🙂
So how do you get through the post-season funk? Here are some suggestions:
Be Patience: Remember, the post-season funk is temporary. Be patient. As your body rests and recovers, you’ll begin to come out of the funk. It’s just a matter of time.
Have a Thankful Heart: Remind yourself that triathlon problems are first-world problems. Compared to others, we have so many blessings. Be grateful.
Start the New Season: For me, when one season ends, and I’m not sure when the next season begins, I’m lost somewhere between seasons. Nothing has purpose. After my final “A” race, I like to sit down with my coach ASAP to set my upcoming race dates. As soon as I have the race dates, the new season has started, and everything has purpose.
Rest – Stay Mildly Active, But Take Some Time Off. My sports medicine doctor likes athletes, even age-groupers doing sprints, to take at least three weeks off. My coach feels the same. Instead of workouts, he has been assigning “Light Activity” each day.
Don’t Wear a Monitor. Sometimes, it is so hard to not train. This week, I wore my heart rate monitor and Garmin watch during my light activity which was a leisurely walk. Then I sent my data to my coach. My pace was 22:00 minutes per mile. Of course, that freaked me out. How could I be so slow? What if I never got faster than 22:00? I quickly learned not to monitor my light activities with data!
Sleep: This is often really hard for me. I just don’t want to let go of the day! But it’s mega important. Without sleep, your body can’t repair itself, and your funk will sustain. Give your body what it needs to heal.
Smell The Roses: Remember that weeks of long training are right around the corner. Your job right now is to rest, so you can bring a body to training that is ready for the hard workouts to come. Use this time to do things that you never have time to do. Last weekend, my husband and I went to an apple orchard. Today, we participated in a short family bike ride, and stopped at all the SAG stations! While I still longed to be training, I knew that not training now was money in the bank that would pay dividends when we got to serious training.
Tell Your Coach: If you have a coach, tell him or her how you feel. Given that post-season blues are common, your coach is likely to have seen it before. He or she will be able to guide you through the blues to sunny days!
Pray: I’m learning about prayer. God tells us to bring our needs to Him, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4: 6-7). This morning in church I was thinking about this post, and debating whether or not I should post a blog about funk – not a subject that is upbeat and/or positive. A few minutes later, the reader shared the scripture above. Yes. God hears. I came home from church, and added this paragraph about prayer.
Final thought? Funk is normal. It’s a great way for your body to tell you to slow down when you’ve been overdoing it. Listen to that funk. Rest. Rest conquers funk!
I started packing for Worlds three weeks in advance! There was so much to take with me – all my tri gear, back-up gear in case something broke, my food for the days prior to the race, training clothes, regular clothes, my bike, and of course, my Team USA uniform! We finally got everything into seven pieces of luggage including a bike bag.
Other than our first flight being late, the flight went smoothly. Unlike previous years, I did not have to ask for a seat belt extender! In fact,after I tightened the belt around my waist, I had a lot of belt left over! I tried to sleep on the long flight, but only got about two hours of sleep.
When we arrived in Amsterdam, the first thing I did was check my bike. Bad news. The handlebar was crooked and my left shifter was twisted. It was pitiful.
Luckily, I made an appointment for a tune-up at a local bike shop prior to leaving the states. I immediately called them. When I told them what had happened, the fellow on the phone said, “Oh, f*ck.” At least he understood how I felt. He agreed to see me right away. So, as soon as we got to the hotel, I was in a taxi with my bike on the way to Koers Bike Shop. They fixed everything immediately, and when my taxi driver couldn’t wait, they offered to drive me to my hotel. Super nice people!
There were a lot of things to do during race week in addition to light training:
Thursday – Registration / Swim Course Familiarization / Bike Course Familiarization / Team Photo / Opening Ceremony
Friday – USA Team Briefing / USA Team Social
Saturday – Transition Familiarization
Sunday – Set up Transition / Race
The Team USA Bike RIde on Thursday was crazy. It was cold, raining, and windy. The winds were sustained at 20 mph with huge gusts. We had to climb three suspension bridges. The last one was 13 stories tall. Due to normal bike traffic, we had to use the bike lane on the far right.
The only thing between me and a 13 story fall, was a pipe railing that came to my hip as I sat on my bike. The road itself just stopped in mid-air . . . NO CURB, NO SIDEWALK. When I looked down a few inches to the right of my bike, I could see water thirteen stories below, (see photo).
As the group climbed the bridge, I watched each person in front of me step off their bike at the same place on the bridge, near the observation tower. I quickly figured out that the structure of the bridge was channeling wind across a ten-foot section of the bridge. As each rider got to that point, the wind blew them over, and they stepped off their bike to keep from falling. I was having none of that. I dismounted, and walked my bike across that 10 foot section, but even that was difficult. The wind was fierce. Very, very scarey.
The other thing we needed to get used to was all the traffic on the Rotterdam bike paths. While in Rotterdam, we rode on the bike paths which were extremely congested. At any point, there may be two bikes coming toward you side-by-side on the narrow path, or worse yet, a bike and a moped. It just didn’t seem like there was enough room for everyone to pass, but somehow, we did. The intersections were another challenge. We quickly learned that in Rotterdam, there are three lanes of traffic on the roads. Lanes with cars, a bike lane, and a pedestrian lane. At intersections, each lane had it’s own traffic light, and they lights were not synced. The bike light would turn green, while the pedestrian light was still red. I never did figure out how it worked, but I learned to trust the lights. They were somehow timed, so I wouldn’t be hit by a car or a bike. But even so, we always looked around in 360 degrees for bikes before we ventured into an intersection!
In the middle of the week, I received a photo of Grandma’s Triathlon Cheer Crew. Love these little girls to the moon and back.
My race wasn’t until 3:20 pm. I planned to sleep until 8:00 am, but woke up at 6:30.
After rain and strong winds for the entire week, it was wonderful to see the sun. I ate a normal breakfast, and got ready to go. I packed everything the night before, so getting ready in the morning was pretty easy. I also had a morning checklist and timeline which I followed.
As always, I wrote the names of people who inspired me and supported me on my hand. I would think about them in the run when the going got tough.
One of the most difficult aspects of this race was the logistics of race morning. The swim start, T1, and T2 were in three different locations! I was so afraid that I’d leave my gear in the wrong area, and end up in T2 with no shoes! It took me four hours to set up my gear! Everyone said they were exhausted before the race even began.
T2 Set Up: When I left the hotel at 10:30 am, my first stop was at T2 (the transition between the bike and the run). That should have been a short set-up because I only needed to leave my run shoes and water bottle. But when I arrived, I found that my assigned spot was in the middle of a mud lake. I would be coming off my bike in bare feet, and was worried about filling my run shoes with slippery mud. While everyone sat around and complained, I started carrying armfuls of hay from a pile at the far end of transition to make a dry path to my spot in transition. Then, I made a little hay-island for my shoes and bottle. I was shocked when women started picking up armfuls of the hay I had just brought over. I tried to explain that they needed to go get their own hay, but they didn’t care. I finally figured I’d just have to run in the mud, and let it go. I also had a good laugh to myself. My coach and I always say that the “hay is in the barn,” after the last workout!
There were 50+ rows of empty racks waiting for bikes to be placed on them after the bike portion of the race. 4,000 pairs of running shoes sat under those racks! In the USA, athletes are allowed to place towels under their shoes to mark their place. My towel is bright orange so it’s easy to find. But in international triathlon, you are not allowed to mark your place in any manner. So, all those pairs of shoes were just sitting in the grass. I found a landmark to mark my row, and practiced finding my shoes.
T1 Set Up: Next, I traveled from T2 to T1 (the transition between the swim and the bike), which was on the other side of the Maas River – almost two miles away. I had planned to ride my bike, but they made everyone walk over the long suspension bridge, which took more time. Once on my bike, I had a hard time balancing with all my swim and bike gear on my back in the orange “FINISH” bag that we were given. Before the race, we had to put anything that we didn’t need for the race (like the clothes we were wearing) in the FINISH bag, which a volunteer would take to the finish line for us.
I found my position on the bike rack in T1, quickly ate my normal pre-race meal, and set up my bike. I also laid out the blue SWIM bag on the ground. After the swim, I was required to put my wetsuit, cap, and goggles into that bag before going out on the bike. After the race, volunteers would pick up all the blue SWIM bags and take them to the finish. I knew it would take valuable time to stuff my wetsuit into the bag during the race, and had practiced that skill before the race! Once again, I found a landmark, and practiced finding my bike among the 4,000 at the start. Before leaving for the race, I asked the bike shop to put bright green tape on the handlebars of my red bike. Pretty ugly, but it makes my bike easy to find. I also found the line that I had to run past before mounting my bike.
I put everything that I wasn’t going to need for the race in the orange FINISH bag, and then walked another half mile to the swim start. My coach decided that I would not do a warm-up in the water because it was so cold. Instead, I did a dynamic warm-up and a short run in sweats, plus arm circles prior to the start to keep everything warm and loose. I turned in my run orange FINISH bag, and kept a little bag with my swim cap, goggles, gel, and a water. I also kept a little pair of inexpensive slippers that I would put in a trash can at the last minute.
As I walked toward the holding corrals where we would wait for our start, I was SO excited. A photographer took our picture as we walked.
I discovered later that the photo on the right appeared in a Rotterdam newspaper!
I have no idea what the story says since it’s in Dutch!
The start of the race was well organized. At the designated time, we gathered in the first of three corral. Our swim caps were color coordinated by swim-start time, so the people in each corral were wearing caps of the same color. My cap was green, and it was nice seeing all the other green caps as an indication that I was in the right place at the right time. We moved from one corral to another, as our start time approached.
While we were waiting, a man led us in song and dance, while another too photos!
I figured dancing was a good way to stay warm and loose,so I joined women from all over the world in the motions as the song blasted over the PA system! At the same time, I wiggled my way to the front where I studied the swim buoys, and planned where to line up on the dock.
In the last corral, they started announcing the competitors’ names. My emotions soared when the announcer said, “From the United States of America, Sue Reynolds.” Then the last gate opened! I ran down the dock to claim the start position that I wanted. There were 18-inch boxes painted at the edge of the dock, and I put my rear end squarely into the box where I wanted to be.
I dangled my feet in the freezing water to let them get over the cold-water shock before the start. At the same time, I made swimming motions with my arms to keep my upper body warm and loose. One minute before the start, the official announced with lots of formality, “Ladies . . . , you may now enter the water!”
“Here we go!” I yelled with excitement, and jumped in. We were required to have one hand on the dock at the start. That was difficult because the dock was high, and waves were pushing the dock up and down. It was also quite noisy, as the waves banged on the metal pontoons under the dock. I tried to get one foot on the dock. My plan was to push off the dock with my foot, rather than let go of the dock and then swim. But getting my foot in place was difficult with the waves.
Suddenly, people were swimming! I did not hear the announcer say, “On your mark!” I also did not hear a horn blast. I thought maybe everyone had false started. Luckily, my foot was solid on the dock at the time, and I pushed off. I was the only one who did that, and it was a great plan. I lunged through all the other women and was out in front. Evidently, it was not a false start because no kayaks blocked my path.
The weather conditions at the start of my swim were ideal. 62 degrees (F), 6 mph winds, and 60% humidity. 146 women were in my swim wave which included several age groups – some younger, some older. Out in front, I was in a great position. The younger, stronger swimmers would have to swim past me, and I could catch their draft. There are two good positions for drafting – immediately behind another swimmer, and off their hip. A woman started to slide by me, and I grabbed her hip. Bingo. I was able to stay there for about a third of the swim. I also found another woman’s toes as she slid by me, and stayed there for a while. I found that I was swimming pretty straight, and swam without raising my head to site very often.
The course was three sides of a box. The swim exit was on the opposite side of the Maas River inlet where we were swimming. As we approached the first buoy, I realized that I didn’t turn my Garmin watch on. Crum. The watch tracks me in the water and tells me how quickly my arms turn over. I really like to see that data after the race. I thought about trying to quickly push the start button as I swam, but I was afraid that would slow me down too much, so I just let it go.
After going around the two buoys and heading to the exit, I noticed that we were extremely spread out – right to left. I was worried that maybe I was off course, but each time I raised my head to site, I seemed to be swimming straight for the exit, so I figured the other women were off course. There was also a current coming toward us as we swam toward the exit. I had been swimming “on the edge” for 750 meters (30 laps of the YMCA pool), and my arms were pooped, but I refused to let them slow down in cadence, and kept running through my form checklist to make sure I was spending my energy efficiently.
The swim exit was a metal staircase with only one step actually in the water. I knew getting out was going to be tricky. As I sited, I saw several women heading toward the middle of the stairs. I knew the volunteers in that area would be busy helping people out of the water, so I headed for the volunteer on the left. As started crawling up the stairs, he grabbed me by the armpits and lifted me out of the water. SO thankful! Then I pushed up my goggles and ran.
The run into T1 was a half mile long. Luckily, most of the road was carpeted. As I ran, I pulled my arms out of my wetsuit, and removed it to my waist. Then I started my Garmin watch, and clicked the button twice so I would progress through the swim to T1. As I turned down my row of bikes, several women passed me. I was determined to get out of T1 before they did. I was so glad that I had practiced putting my swim cap, goggles, and wetsuit into the cinch bag. Everything went in perfectly. Then, I quickly put on my bike glasses, race belt and bib, and helmet. In international triathlons, you must wear your bib on the bike. GO! As I ran out of T1 with my bike, the other women were still fumbling to get their wetsuits into their cinch bags. Bingo!
I ran barefoot with my bike past the mount line to a space on the road where I knew no one would crash into me, put my left foot on top of my shoe which was already attached to my pedal, and pushed off as I swung my right leg over the saddle. Perfect. I pedaled for a while with both feet on top of my shoes, and then started to put my shoes on. But as I tried to wiggle my left toes into my left shoe, the timing strap on my leg kept getting stuck to the Velcro on my shoe strap! Finally, I got my toes in and my shoe strapped. The right shoe went on without trouble. Task one complete!
Fly-by of Me Riding the Bike Course — All those turns!!!
The bike course was extremely technical. Usually a sprint course has 1-10 turns. The course at Worlds had 33 corners, 6 one-eighty (hairpin) turns, three suspension bridges, four tunnels, cobblestones, and one plywood ramp they built up a steep flight of stairs! To make matters worse, almost all the course was on a narrow bike trail with curbs.
In the United States, drafting is illegal in sprint triathlons. However, in international sprint triathlons, drafting is allowed. My goal was to find one or more women who were strong cyclists, and form a pack. Ideally, my front wheel would be four inches behind the rear wheel of the bike in front of me, and a little to the side. Then, we would take turns “pulling” in the front of the group. The person who was pulling would work hard for a short period of time. The people behind would “hide” from the wind behind the lead person, and not have to work as hard. When you’re in a pack, you’re on a team with each member trying to benefit the pack. I love draft-legal racing.
As we started the race, I think most people were cautious, but not me. I love the bike, and once I’m on it, I’m kind of fearless. I love how the bike feels under me, how it responds to the movements of my body. What an amazing machine. As we sped around corners and over small bridges at the start of the bike course, I screamed, “LEFT! LEFT! LEFT!” as I passed one person after another. I tried to reach each corner and the cobblestones before others so I wouldn’t get stuck behind them if they decided to slow down. I was having a blast.
The one section of the course that scared me was the steep plywood ramp that went up a flight of stairs. We weren’t able to try it prior to the race. A moderately tight, one-eighty curve led into the ramp. I was worried that I’d have trouble getting up the steep ramp and would fall over. I was also afraid that the person in front of me would have trouble getting up the ramp and would stop. At that point, I’d have nowhere to go, and if I couldn’t unclip quickly, I’d fall over and tumble off the ramp. Per my plan, I shifted into my easiest gear as I came around the curve.
Unfortunately, there was a woman in front of me and I decided not to pass her before the ramp. Already going slow, she slowed down even more right before the ramp. I jumped to her side, yelled LEFT, and started up the ramp. It was not hard. In fact, the gear I was in was too easy! Oh well. At the top of the ramp, we had to quickly turn to go around a statue. Then we rode across a plaza before making a hard right onto a bike path and over a drawbridge. Did I mention that this course was technical?
A little later, I yelled LEFT and slowly passed another bike. As I did so, the rider’s right pedal hit the curb on the side of the bike course. Thankfully, she did not fall. I asked if she were ok, and got an affirmative answer. She pulled in behind me and stayed on my wheel. Shortly after that, we inched our way up to a third bike that was also going our speed. Bingo. We had a little pack. A little while later, an Australian joined us. The four of us worked well together. For the most part, everyone took turns pulling, and everyone communicated well. It was a great group!
At the half-way point, we started the long climb up the thirteen-story suspension bridge. Since the road was closed to bike traffic, we were able to ride on the inside bike lane – much less scary than the practice ride, and the wind was relatively calm. I struggled to keep up on the climb, and fell behind the pack. At the top of the thirteen-story bridge, I decided to use the decline to catch them. I put the bike in a big gear, and floored it. I knew I had to be going fast, and I was – 33 mph. At the end of the suspension bridge, I would need to make a tight hairpin turn. I kept up my speed for as long as I could, and then braked hard right before the sharp turn. I caught the group, and started drafting with them again.
We then arrived at a series of S turns that I thought would be fun. About that time, we came to a pack of women from Mexico who were riding fast, but a little slower than we were riding. I was third in my pack, and as we passed the Mexican pack,, we hit a road bump that I didn’t see. I failed to absorb the impact with my legs, and suddenly, I was airborne. I was just in the air for a second, but the entire bike and I floated to the right. When I came down, I was way too close to the Mexican pack. A woman yelled, “Watch it!” Luckily, no one fell.
The next time I took a pull, I came to a Y in the course that wasn’t marked well. Leading the way, I wasn’t sure where to go, and there was no volunteer pointing the way. I yelled, “Where do I go?” Someone behind me yelled, “To the left.” The left turn took me off the bike trail, and onto a brick walkway along the river. I stayed in front through the long tunnel that followed, and then relinquished the pulling position.
We were getting close to the finish with just one more small bridge to cross. However, this bridge was not a regular bridge. None of us had ever seen it before. As we approached, a volunteer at the side was yelling for us to slow down. I soon saw why, and threw on the brakes. The 4-foot ramp leading up to the narrow crosswalk over the river was at a sharp incline. Instinctively, I brought my body mass backwards so I wouldn’t flip over the handlebars. Instinctively, I let go of the brakes right before impact, and let the bike hit the ramp. Thankfully, I was not airbourne. But as soon as I was up that ramp, I was facing a steep down ramp on the other side of the river, and immediately after that, I was facing a ninety degree turn to the left. Somehow, I managed to stay in control of my bike, and we made it through. Phew!
At this point, we were very close to the finish. We rode through a plaza that sloped downward toward the river, and then through an outside restaurant! Finally, we were in a little stretch of straight road where I planned to take my feet out of my shoes. My feet came out of my shoes nicely, and I pedaled with my bare feet on top of my shoes.
My “flying” dismount went perfectly. I came in fast, swung my right leg over the saddle, and then, right before the dismount line, stepped off my moving bike. I could see an official filming my feet as I came in! Usually, the first few steps off the bike are awkward, but my legs felt good from the very first step. I grabbed the saddle with one hand, and pushed the bike out in front of me as I ran.
The shape of the T2 transition area was a very, very long rectangle. My age group was racked at the extreme far end which meant we had to run a long way with our bikes. When I got to row 50, I turned in, and panicked. Nothing looked familiar! While we were out swimming and biking, volunteers had thrown a thick layer of hay over my entire row. The little hay trail that I made was gone. So was the hay island that my shoes had been sitting on.
For some reason, I didn’t think to just look for my bright yellow shoes. Instead, I started reading the little tags on the racks that listed each person’s bike number. Some of the tags from the opposite side had flipped over, so I was seeking numbers that weren’t even close to my number. More panic. Finally, I found my number, and saw my yellow shoes. My feet were covered with mud. I quickly brushed off the bigger clumps before shoving each foot into its shoe. Then I ran.
As I started the run, I could hear people cheering, “Go USA! Go Reynolds!” That spurred me on, and I started running faster. Around 0.25 miles, I looked at my pace and it was much faster than it was supposed to be at the start of the run. In fact, it was crazy fast. I figured the readings weren’t accurate since my heart rate was normal for that point in the run, but I also wondered if the rush to get out of transition quickly and the cheering had resulted in me running too fast. I made a mental note to not get carried away with the excitement.
I was not familiar with the run course. On two occasions, I tried to ride my bike on the course, but each time, I couldn’t figure out where the course was! All I knew was that it was in a park with winding roads and trails, some of the course would be on cinder, and there would be lots of little inclines and declines. During the run, I found that a LOT of the course was on cinder. I’ve not run on cinder before, and I found that my feet kept slipping as I pushed off the ground.
During the run, I am supposed to do different efforts for different parts of the run. I’m supposed to get up to speed in the first quarter mile, then hold a fast pace for most of the run, before increasing my pace slightly for the last half mile. If I run too fast, too early, I “bonk” before getting to the finish line. I’ve bonked twice in races, weaving my way down the finish chute clueless. When running, I judge my effort by monitoring my pace, heart rate, and feel.
According to my heart rate, my effort was perfect. My heart rate was exactly where we wanted it to be at each half mile. By “feel,” my effort also felt appropriate for the run. I was running right on the edge of being too fast. However, my pace was slower than we thought it would be. I thought about trying to speed up, but decided to stay where my heart rate told me to be. I feared that going faster would put me over the edge.
As I ran “on the edge,” my body screamed at me to please stop. Someone once told me that the pain of an Ironman was like being depressed for twelve hours, while the pain of doing a sprint triathlon was like slamming your thumb in a door over and over again for ninety minutes. The first time I wondered, “How much longer?” I had only been running for 0.75 miles. I remember telling myself that the whole thing would be over in less than twenty minutes, and that I could handle that pain for twenty minutes. I commanded my legs to maintain their cadence.
Since I wasn’t able to see the course before the race, I wasn’t able to visualize the halfway point. That was disconcerting. I could see my distance on my watch, but without being able to visualize the halfway point, I couldn’t say, “Ok, just make it to that tree,” or whatever landmark was at the halfway point.
At two miles, I was really hurting. I was having trouble keeping my heart rate out of the danger zone, and slowed my cadence slightly. I told myself that it would all be over in less than 10 minutes, and reminded myself of all the times in practice that I had withstood pain.
At two and a half miles, I was supposed to increase my effort. With less than five minutes to go, it was ok to let my heart rate go into the danger zone. I increased my effort, and disregarded my climbing heart rate. This is always a tough part of the race. I never know what’s going to pop into my head to keep me going. On this day, I thought about all the people who wished me good luck on Facebook, and felt their support. I ran for them. I thought about my granddaughters and how they were starting to run in their own races at ages 3 and 5. I ran for them.
As I approached the finish chute, I could hear someone yelling, “Sue! Sue! Over here! Get a flag! Here’s a flag!” I knew it was Tim Yount, COO of USA Triathlon. I really wanted to run across the finish line waving my country’s flag, but I also knew that would slow me down by a few seconds, so I just kept running.
And then, I was on the blue carpet. I was in the finish chute! I was running on fumes, but started sprinting. I pretended that a competitor was on my heals, and I just ran as fast as I could go.
To match the technicality of the bike course, the finish chute also had a one-eighty turn in the middle of it! I hoped my legs would support me around that curve.
After I switched directions, I could see the finish arch in front of me. I ran as fast as I could, hoping that my legs would make it to the arch. I could hear people yelling and clapping. I heard the announcer say over the PA system, “Sue Reynolds from the USA” as I approached the line. Hearing “from the USA” after my name was so cool.
After the finish line, I just wanted to collapse. A medical person ran over to see if I was ok, and someone opened a bottle of water for me. When I could breathe, I turned to the medical person, and said, “Do you know what I just did? I just did the World Triathlon Championship in Rotterdam!!!” Surreal!
After the race, there was a little area where the athletes could talk, drink water, and eat. The women who I drafted with were all there. We were all super excited about drafting, and started talking about various sections. That was so much fun. We took photos of us. More Americans joined us and we did some Team USA photos too. Those moments were the best!
My husband gave me his phone, and I called my coach. I was so excited that I talked a million miles an hour as I summarized the race. The results weren’t posted online yet, so we didn’t know how I did in terms of placing. But it didn’t matter. The most important thing was that I executed my race plan well, and I felt like I had hit a homerun. I felt deeply satisfied with my effort.
A short while later, the results appeared on my phone. I couldn’t believe it. 7th in the world? First American? I quickly showed my phone to my husband, and asked, “Am I seeing this right?! 7th? First American?” He confirmed what I was seeing. Amazing. I took a screenshot, and texted it to my coach. Then I texted my sons. So excited!
7TH to 6TH
Several days after the race, ITU disqualified the person who came in first for “not completing the course.” That moved me to 6th place!
What an amazing journey this has been. I still shake my head in wonder, and ask myself, “How did this happen?” Seriously, who goes from being completely non-athletic to competing at the international level in four years? Sometimes, the whole journey just doesn’t make sense to me.
But then, I remember that God’s plan doesn’t always make sense to us. I often pray for the ability to discern God’s plan, and the strength and courage to follow through on His plans for me. I hope that God’s plan is for me to use my journey to help other people begin their own journey. That would be so cool.
When I set my goals for this year, I only had two goals: 1) To do every workout, every day, with integrity, and 2) to execute my race plans perfectly. I figured that if I did those things, the rest would take care of itself. Even so, there are so many things that you can’t control in a triathlon. Sometimes, things go wrong. But sometimes things go right. And I have to admit, a lot of things went right for me in this triathlon that complimented the fitness and desire that I brought to the table. The weather was perfect for me – low temps, low humidity. The bike course played to my strengths. I was just one of those days when everything fell into place. I am truly blessed.
I am so grateful for the gifts that God has given me. I am so fortunate to live in a country where we have the means and the freedom to pursue hobbies. I have my health, and a family who loves me dearly. I also have a lot of people who have helped me lose weight, get fit, and pursue triathlon. Most notably, my uber-supportive husband who is my rock, and my amazingly talented coach who created the plan that brought me to where I am today. But there are many other people who have taught me, motivated me, encouraged me, inspired me, and supported me. My thank-you list is here.