Your reason “why” doesn’t have to meet a code of ethics or even be inspirational.

One’s personal inspiration or reason to keep slogging on after fifteen hours of swimming, biking and running can be anything. Whatever it is, it could also be a reason to quit.  I didn’t finish my first attempt at a full distance Ironman because I let the unkind words of the Sour-faced whiny man I called my boyfriend at the time bother me.  The discord between us was like a virus.  When asked by me what was wrong the night before I flew out to Spokane, WA he gave me his list of grievances.  I took that garbage in my head with me on race day, and I just couldn’t get started on the second loop of the bike course.  On the flight home with him I sat in shame next to two IM CdA finishers in my seat row.  I had a broken record of a tune playing in my head, “I would have, I could have, I should have.”

The next May I flew out to Sydney to do Ironman Australia. My best friend Linda came along for support.  Sour-faced whiny man had ended our relationship a week after my first Ironman attempt the year before. The stakes were higher this time for a completion as it was my first international overseas trip, and it was very expensive.  The bike course is no joke for the untrained.  I used the still existing hurt from Jerk-boy, and I sailed up Matt Flinders both times. I got onto the run course knowing that I had a very tight time frame for success against the last cutoff.  My first loop was a simply happy to be there loop.  My third one was “I will show you Sour-faced whiny man that I will win.”  Quite a lot of anger, hurt, and sorrow bundled into a pretty good for me run pace.  I made it with fourteen minutes to spare.  When I crossed the finish line, something in my thinking shifted. I saw goodness in people, I had hope, and I knew that my experience was the outcome of something good.

This “why” item changes frequently for me, and I do not put a lot of thought into it. I let it be a reflection of the things currently happening in my life.  When I raced in Wiesbaden, I think that I went slower because the announcer man had this lovely accent and he was very attractive.  I just wanted to gawk at him for the whole run. I think I that I got two ‘ganders’ in before I crossed the finish line as the second to the last racer. I went all the way to Germany to beat a lady that lived twenty miles away from me here in Colorado.  I am not someone whom really finds the power in positive only inspiration.  Fear and anger will always get me more focused and faster on the bike and the run.  However, I have found that over the years, I cannot find things to be realistically angry enough for it to last over the course of a full distanced Ironman race.

On my third attempt at the Ironman Coeur D’Alene full distanced race, I finally made it to the run course with enough time to get it done.  I was whispering “Guardian angel be my light.”, over and over.  A reference to a dead uncle that had ran marathons, and a fourteen-year-old niece that died at St. Jude’s hospital in November of 2001. At mile twenty-one, I hear someone chasing after me while holding onto one of those mylar space blankets. I think to myself, “What the hell?  No one is racing now.  We are trying to survive and get our piece of tin.”. This woman says in heavily French accented English, “I am sick. Please can I run with you as it is dark?”. Oh no, no, no… Please don’t ask me for help.  I will help you. I will throw my race if I think you need help. “Shit.”. So I say, “If you can keep up, of course.”. I couldn’t stand the crinkling noise of the stupid blanket, and she was getting slower. Again, my third attempt and I was close.  At the next aid station, I ditched her.  Then as I was running from the aid station, I hear from someone driving in the road slowly, “Madame, my wife is sick. She is scared. Can she run with you?”.  Heavily French accented English words again filling my ears. Damn it.  Well, I had prayed and asked that God help me finish, and of course there was bargaining involved.  Long story drawn up short, I finished with eleven minutes to spare, and Agnes finished with eight seconds to spare.  I have since raced with her in Wanaka, New Zealand, Weymouth in the U.K., and I saw her on the run course here in Boulder when I was volunteering at the last aid station before the finish.

So, when you think about your “why”, remember that it can be from a positive or negative experience. Either can be equally effective. Be brave enough to pray and open to what can come your way because of it. Acknowledge that it is something, always something and embrace it.  Never quit, force them to take the chip from you.  In this case, you have peace of mind and the confidence that you really did give it everything you had.

Hard truths that I’ve learned about racing in long course distance triathlons.

I like to think that I am clever enough to figure what needed, required, or expected of me in a long course or ultra-distance triathlon.  I don’t however like to ask for help, read manuals, or attend athlete briefings if I can avoid it. Well Dear Racer, let me save you time, misery and perhaps utter shock by sharing my experiences and knowledge with you before the race. The following may be pure common sense. All that I can state now, is that I’ve either had to withdraw from a race or I lost a lot of time because I didn’t do certain things.  Assumption has been a punishment due to my folly.

Before the race:

  • Read the Athlete Guide and attend the mandatory racers meetings beforehand.  Don’t be a dingus and think “I already know everything there is to know.” Pay attention to the timing cutoffs for each leg of the race. Know where on the bike course you are to be single file or not over take. It could save you and others from a bike crash.
  • Be prepared by checking the weather forecast.  Do this before you leave for a destination race. You may need to pack some extra gear and clothing.    
  • Understand what being nervous and excited means to your digestive system.  I’m a regular in the Port-a-loo line in T1. 

During the race:

  • Be a minimalist with your stuff in transition. Don’t bring the balloon, water bucket, or foot stool.

Everyone must share the small amount of real estate here. Others will shove your stuff over if you are a space hog and there is not much room.

  • Check the air pressure in your bike tires and ensure that the skewers that hold the wheels in place are as they should be just before you exit T1 for the final time.  Nothing blows chunks more than coming in from the swim and finding that the bike tire is flat.  Or even more frightening seeing a bike skewer bolt fly off your back wheel at 32 miles per hour in a descent.
  • Volunteers are not meant to serve you. They most likely will not be able to answer questions about routes, race rules, or what time it is. Do not assume that any volunteer has had in-depth training, or knowledge about the race.  They are there to help for free. They are not obligated. Be kind and respectful.  To really get the point, volunteer at a race or two yourself.
  • Assistance on the bike course does not mean that they do everything. Know how to change a tire. Understand what it means to use a stem extender with an ordinary bike tube. Change a tire on a deep-dish carbon wheel to see how a stem extender might be needed and how to use one.  Don’t just stand on the side of the road thinking that you are invisible to the racers going by, but a flashing light to the bike mechanics.   First, move off the course.  Get out of the way. Take the wheel off, make sure you have a tube, and something to put air in the tire. It’s your race, you are responsible for your bike, and the clock is ticking.
  • Bring your own sunscreen.  There may not be a big jug of it available at the aid stations. Don’t assume that the volunteers have some just for you. Prevent melanoma and use waterproof sunblock for the swim.
  • Never grab things from the aid station that are foreign to your belly. I can attest that vegemite, liquids not described in English, and some forms of green colored bars are to be avoided.
  • Follow the rules. Others may not. Instead of saying something to someone, get their bib number and report it to a race official if you are so inclined.  Don’t engage them, there is no point to that. If you are slow, stay to the side so that others can pass you. Don’t ride with others side by side, it’s a race.  Don’t assume that it is acceptable behavior or proper riding etiquette.  You’re in the way if riding side by side with someone else. There will be people whom will definitely let you know this as they pass. Be safe and get to the finish line. Even more important, don’t create a situation that begs a negative encounter that will affect your mindset and focus.  The mental part of racing is a big part of your race.

Hopefully now Dear Racer, especially if you are new, you have some tips or explanations that will make your race day a joy.  Cheers to a happy race day, and I will perhaps see you at a finish line.