Balancing the art of competing and keeping everyone engaged can be challenging at points. One of my goals as a mom, coach and athlete is to blend the training and racing with our family values. I believe that you can race, train, and reach goals without a great cost to your family. It requires a fair amount of dedication and planning.
One of the goals in heading over to the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in South Africa, was to challenge our kids and make it a learning experience. In the Spring of 2018, Aly had a service project she needed to complete. She came up with the idea to collect school supplies for the kids. We were looking at a couple of different organizations to work with, when I began chatting with some folks working for Ironman about the upcoming World Championships in South Africa.
One thing led to another, and we were connected with Sarah Hartmann from the Ironman Foundation. They happened to be doing some service projects while they were there and schools were one of the target areas. When we departed the US in August, we packed a 50lb bag with everything that Aly had collected. She was so excited to see the kids and give them the supplies. Lugging this baggage around all of Africa for a couple of weeks probably was not our best move but onward.
This experience was one of the most rewarding while we were over there. We traveled by bus to the area where Ironman had just built a small new preschool. It was not a safe area and we were warned to not leave the confines of the school. It was neat for the kids to see how proud they were of this school, it was much different that the ones here in the states. The kids were most surprised at the “playground” which consisted of a small swing set.
We delivered bags with crayons, coloring books, juice boxes and snacks. These kids were ecstatic over their new things. We were able to stay and play with them for a while. This was a great intersection of sports and life. I cannot speak enough great things about Sarah Hartmann and the Ironman Foundation for helping us get the school supplies where they needed to be. There are a ton of events that are held at many races throughout the year so I recommend checking them out.
To start, for anyone who does not know, an Ultraman distance race is a 3 day triathlon. Day one is a 6.2 mile swim and a 93 mile bike ride. Day two is a 171 mile bike ride. Day three is a double marathon, or 52.4 mile run. (This one was in metric which makes it sound even longer)
I wanted to write a bit about the experience from the perspective of a crew member. Jenny has included some thoughts about her experience as well.
Our journey to the Ultraman started last fall when Liz asked if Jenny and I would be her crew for the race. She was considering Florida but it takes place in February. The Canada event was in the summer while our kids would be out of school, this made traveling for a week more doable. We agreed to be the crew. She registered for the Ultra520kCanada. I appointed myself as crew chief. Some people like to call me bossy, I prefer “assertive and organized.”
In the months leading up to the race the crew started to research. We read all the manuals provided. Read every word on their website. Searched for race reports online from others who had done the race. I have been to the Okanagan Valley before having grown up next door in Alberta, and so I knew it was going to be very hot and very hilly. I mapped all the routes on Strava to get a good sense of where we were going and the elevation. (The race does provide maps and elevation charts but their elevation is NOT accurate).
We arrived in Penticton after 3 flights and a 3 am wake up out of Houston. Liz and her sister picked us up at the adorable airport in Penticton (so tiny!) and we got our rental minivan, which was to be command central for the race. (Thank you Sarah and Mark for the minivan!!!) An Ultraman distance race is completely self supported. Your vehicle is a traveling aid station and your crew is all your volunteer help. Pro tip: a minivan is the best vehicle to have. You can fold down the back seats and lay everything out. We were also able to fit a bike, a kayak, and all our gear and three people into it.
In the few days leading up we checked in for the race, organized all our gear and attended the welcome reception where we met some of the other athletes. (There were only 32). There were race briefings and kayak practice. The instructions for kayaking are “sight between two cracks in the mountains”. Seriously. There are no buoys until 5 miles in.
Talking to one of the other athletes and her crew at the welcome reception, Liz said, “Jen is more nervous than I am.” I said, “I’m not nervous. I just have a healthy appreciation for what is about to happen.”
By the end of the first day of racing I think everyone had an appreciation.
Race Day One: The Swim
4 AM wake up to eat breakfast and get ready. We headed down to the beach for the swim start. Steve, the race director, spoke briefly and we had a dedication from a local member of the First Nations. The athletes stood in a circle on the beach surrounded by a bigger circle of the crews. The Canadian national anthem was sung and it was time to start. Jenny was in the kayak as support for Liz to guide down the lake and carry her nutrition.
When they got started I had about 4 hours to get to swim exit, and get transition set up. I was talking to one of the other crew members (Hi Brian!!) and we went and grabbed a coffee at Tim Hortons and had a nice chat. Then I went to buy ice (one of the tips we got was to buy more ice than you think you will need). First gas station, no ice. Second gas station, no ice. Third store, closed. Finally went to Walmart and they had ice. I loaded up and drove to the exit. The transition area was tiny and kind of in a residential area. I had to park super far away and then make multiple trips to bring down her bike, gear, and nutrition.
I got to see all the swimmers come in while I waited which was really cool. A new record was set for the fastest female swim. (Go Suzy!) And a new record for the fastest transition time, 45 seconds!! (Arnaud! Superstar!) I saw some people taking off their shoes and getting in the water to pull their athlete out, I decided I would do that since Liz would likely be wobbly after such a long swim. After 4 hours 22 minutes our swimmer and kayak were in! I helped Liz up, gave her a hug and got her to her bike. We got her wetsuit off, bike gear on while she ate a sandwich. Our transition time was 8 and a half minutes. Pretty good I think!!
What It Was Like In the Boat – Thoughts From Jenny
When Liz asked me to be her kayak guide I was all in, but the closer to the race the more nervous I was. We had one practice together in the water a month before the race. Other than recreational kayaking and stand up paddle boarding I have zero experience on the water. Also after reading multiple race reports I learned that during the entire 10k swim there were only 2 buoys, the first one at 8k the second a turn buoy before the finish. I read that you should sight off a crack in a mountain, this gave me a huge amount of anxiety going into this. A few weeks prior to race I even asked Liz if she would rather hire a local guide to get her through the swim, she said no that she’d rather me guide her up the lake.
The day before the race we got to do a practice in Skaha Lake, the water was like glass, so nice & clear. Liz had a little panic moment when we first started because of all the grass she could see close to shore but once we got through that she was fine. We were both glad to get that panic moment out of the way before race day. The morning of the swim I was super nervous, I didn’t sleep most of the night. It’s a lot of pressure knowing you can make or break someone’s day by screwing up when they’re dependent on you. We got to the lake early so I could get the kayak ready. I taped Liz’s 8oz bottles to the inside of the kayak by my legs so they would be easily accessible. We got started about 5 secs after the initial start to let the faster swimmers get ahead of us. Liz had no panic moments as we got started as she did the day before!
We both set our watches for every 45 mins to alert us it was time for her to take in some nutrition. I would also call Jen every break to let her know how far out we were so she would know when to expect us. We did great, I would take one stroke with my paddle probably every 3 strokes Liz would take. She had a hard time seeing me as I stayed on her left side which meant the sun was directly in her eyes. She would fall behind or I would get ahead and I would try to adjust as quickly as possible to get us back on course. It started getting windy but it was a tailwind so it was actually helpful and not too rough. At one of our stops for nutrition we were both in tears celebrating how far she had gone and that we were over half way there. I knew the 8k buoy was close to a tree line down to the water and I knew we were getting closer. I had binoculars and was so happy to finally see the buoy in sight! The closer we got to the point the water got super choppy. At one point I could’ve easily gone over and Liz took in a good bit of water.
We finally maneuvered past the buoy to find the water very calm. It was very weird. It didn’t last long, when we got to the turn buoy to head to the finish we had a strong crosswind and current. We thought we were angled correctly but Jen called me to tell me to angle more north (which way is north?) so we don’t drift and miss swim finish. We adjusted but it felt like we were going nowhere. I was in tears the closer we got, and felt a huge sense of accomplishment for both Liz and myself. After looking at my stats on Strava I had a pretty straight line!
Onto The Bike
Liz headed out on the bike and Jenny and I packed up the kayak and all the swim gear and then set out after her about 25 minutes later.
The system used for support is the leap frog. You let your athlete get ahead and then come up behind, pass them and find a safe spot to pull over and you wait, ready with hydration and nutrition.
There is a lot of guesswork, trial and error and math involved. Calculate how fast they are going, how much time you have, and try and anticipate their needs. They can shout to you what they want, or say “next stop I want xyz” so you have it ready. We definitely had a few kinks to work out the first day. One of the race officials on a motorcycle, who we got to know real well that day, told us at the top of the first pass that we had let too much space between us and her. If she got into trouble we wouldn’t be there. And in fact it was at the top of that first pass that I think the “healthy appreciation” began for our athlete. She had blown up her heart rate and was not feeling good. She got off her bike and sat on the back of the van for quite a while to get her heart rate to recover so she could carry on.
It was at this point that I started to get worried about the day one cut off. Each day has 12 hours. Day one has 6 hours for the swim and then the remainder of the time to complete the 93 mile bike. I had not been concerned at all about day one until she started to struggle. She was stopping very frequently and that eats up time like crazy. I had an awesome spreadsheet (thank you Kenneth!) to track time, pace and distance as well as nutrition and the spreadsheet was telling me her over all time was dropping significantly. We just kept encouraging her to keep moving.
On the climb to Yellow Lake we came up from behind and she was pushing her bike up the hill. She said her quads were cramping. She did get back on and started to ride again but soon we saw her pushing her bike again. It was around this time that the race official came to talk to us and ask if we were aware of the cut offs and if our athlete was aware. We let him know that we all were and that we were confident she was going to make the cut off. After that last climb it was basically downhill. We got into Okanagan Falls with 53 minutes to spare, the final team of the day. Bike time: 6:45:04 Total time for day one: 11:07:56
Hit the finish line so the day is over, right? Not so much. Liz had to check in with medical, as they get weighed and vital signs taken every morning and night. She had dropped 15 pounds from the morning (to be fair it was probably more like 10 since the morning weigh in she had shoes, a wetsuit and a hoodie on) but that was still a lot. Her nutrition had not been on point. So a lot of work to do to rehydrate and refeed before the morning. She got in line for a massage which is provided for each athlete at the end of their day and Jenny and I packed up her bike and then went to get gas and buy more ice and water.
We collected Liz and headed to a restaurant, shout out to Craft Corner Cafe in Penticton, which was a super awesome and unique place. Apple poutine? Sounds weird but it was fantastic. However, Liz was still feeling unwell and couldn’t eat much. I tried to “encourage” her to eat as much as possible but it wasn’t happening. We got back to the hotel and I made her a sandwich and served it with some chips and Gatorade and she did eat some of that. It was an early bedtime for all.
Day 2. The Long Bike. 171 Miles.
Day two was our latest sleep in day, we were up at 5. We bought our breakfast at Timmies on the way to the bike start. Set up her bike, she checked in with medical and then the crews had to set out.
While I am a coach, I’m not Liz’s coach, but I had to put on my coach hat and told her she had to ride by heart rate today and not perceived effort or speed or she wouldn’t make it. (She doesn’t have power) Her heart rate needed to stay low so she would be able to take in her nutrition. She agreed to this strategy.
Bikes started in pairs based on the first day bike times. Liz was in the second to last group. We didn’t know exactly when they started, if it was staggered or not, but seeing the video later they rolled them all out continuously so she started at 7. (This was critical information for the spreadsheet!) The first 18 km were a no feed zone so we drove ahead and then pulled over with some other crews to let the bikes go by. We cheered the riders on as they passed.
One of the very best parts of the weekend was interacting with the other crews and talking to them at stops. If your athletes were around the same speed you would end up seeing the same people over and over again. We would cheer for each other’s athletes, chit chat and then move along to the next stop.
Day 2 we had the system mastered. We saw Liz about every five miles and she was taking hand ups or making her stops like a Nascar pit stop when she needed something. We all knew we were on the clock that day. Her nutrition was going perfect, one bottle of Infinit an hour and some food here and there. She took a short break before the No Feed Zone going up “The Wall” a super steep section of climbing. She had a snack, got loaded up and set out.
That was the opportunity for Jenny and I to grab some food and supplies for the rest of the day. We bought a ton of Gatorade since the Infinit was running low as well as ice and some snacks. If you are crewing for a race like this snacks are vital!!
Liz made it up The Wall and the day went on. The course is exceptionally beautiful. There are unfortunately several wildfires burning out of control, thankfully the smoke haze was not at all bad on the 3 race days but it was bad beforehand and got REALLY bad after the race.
There were many ups and downs (pun totally intended) throughout the day. We never knew which Liz we we’re going to get, happy, sad, frustrated, mad….but as a crew you just have to stay positive, keep encouraging them forward, and keep going. The very last part of the route that day was an out and back section which was really nice because we got to see a lot of people. The longer the day went the more the racers get spread out and less interaction you have. So seeing all the riders at the end was great.
And with almost an hour to spare we rolled into the finish line in Princeton. Day two bike time: 11:09:55
Liz checked into medical and Jenny and I loaded up the bike. She decided to skip the massage and we got her to the hotel ASAP. While she showered Jenny and I ordered pizza, filled up with gas, cleaned out the car, got ice, hit up the beer store and swung back to pick up the pizza. Best part was all these places were literally next door to each other. It was perfect. Liz managed to eat, which was fantastic and we got to bed by 8:30. (FYI you can never go wrong with pizza in a small Canadian town. It’s always awesome.)
We later heard a horror story from another crew who waited 2.5 hours for their food before being told it wasn’t coming. The husband of the athlete went back into the kitchen and stood over the chef until he made his wife a meal. That’s love.
Day 3. The Run. 52.4 Miles.
(It was actually 52.8 but who’s counting).
Oh lordy. Day 3. 4:30 am wake call to make it to a buffet breakfast being provided for the race. (Ironically from the restaurant mentioned above that didn’t serve anyone dinner the night before) The food was really good, and we all ate well. But man, by day 3 we are tired. Our athlete was exhausted, the crew was exhausted and we had another 12 hour day of racing ahead.
The start of the run is literally a random spot on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. The run goes from Princeton to Summerland on a mix of paved and gravel roads.
It was quite chilly, low 50’s at the start. And a breeze. The great part is your car is right there and you can stay in until 5 minutes before the start. We talked again about strategy for the day, run by heart rate. I told her to keep it under 140 for the first few hours while it was cool and then later not over 150 when it started to heat up.
The runners set out and Jenny and I walked the quarter mile to the porta potties before starting out on the chase. The pace was obviously going to be a lot slower today, very short hops ahead, and you can also see them coming and make hand ups very easily to a runner versus a biker. Liz started out running with a couple other girls and we were hopeful that would continue.
The first several miles went ok. She was running about 11 minute miles and walking the uphills, drinking her Gatorade. Jenny and I were in the meantime lamenting about our lack of coffee and snacks. When I say middle of nowhere I mean middle of nowhere. We quickly were out of cell service and wouldn’t get it back for 8 or 9 hours. There were zero stores, gas stations or any form of civilization on the run course We decided to be the party van and try and give the athletes a boost. We played up beat music really loud, cheered really loud for anyone who passed, I danced like an idiot, and we just tried to have fun.
The run course has 2 hard cut offs, 6 hours at the marathon mark and 9 hours at the ¾ mark. Liz was breaking it up mentally as 4 half marathons with 3 hours for each, but she wanted to bank time and get to half by 5 hours.
We got to the 13.1 and I was pretty excited, Steve King (the Voice of Ultraman) was there, calling out stats and info for each runner as they passed.
We saw Liz come and I thought she would be excited about this too but it was the opposite. She was almost crying. Her legs hurt, her stomach hurt, and I think the self doubt was high. She was sweating profusely and wanted a different shirt.
We had a selection of shirts for her at the next stop but she just kept running and said she would suck it up. I told her to just take the shirt off and run with no shirt. She didn’t want to. (17 miles later she took her shirt off….and said this is so much better I should have done it when you told me to.)
Jenny and I decided at this point that I needed to run with her for a while.
Now let me say here. I had agreed to be a run Pacer for this event. I was prepared to run at least 20 miles, maybe a marathon if needed. I’ve run 8 marathons, I knew I could do that. But that is the farthest I have ever run, and longest in time was 4:05.
So we ran. Walked up the hills, ran 11-12 minute miles the rest of the time. I would run ahead when I saw the car and tell Jenny what she needed or grab it and then run to catch up to her and hand it off so she could just keep going. At some point the pavement ended and the gravel started, for the next 36 km. (That’s well over 20 miles for anyone not fluent in metric) If you look at an elevation map for this race the first half is a net uphill and the second half is a net descent. This is incredibly deceiving though. The third quarter of this course is insane. There are massive climbs that are numerous and endless. (and before anyone decides to throw in the “you’re from Houston, it’s probably flat”) every single person I talked to who ran it, whether they were local Canadians or from Colorado or the mountains in France, said how hard the run course was.
We made it to the half in 5:30. We were expecting a sign, or some people since that was a cut off but there was nothing there. This was mentally very hard because we didn’t know exactly where their marker was and how long or short the course was going to be.
To say this run was a struggle for our athlete would be an understatement. She said multiple times she wanted to puke. Her stomach was hurting and she didn’t want to eat or drink. But then she would be dizzy and lightheaded and know she needed calories. We knew from reading other race reports how important it was to have a selection of food and drinks and we did. But nothing sounded good. Finally she said she wanted coke. Great! Crap …we were out of coke. We had gone through the six cans we had. Thankfully another crew was close by, overheard, and they had tons of coke. He gave us 3 cans. (Thank you Will Rogers!)
We kept running. 13 miles passed (for me) and I noticed I was finally starting to sweat. (it’s a dry heat up there. Eyeroll). I was drinking massive amounts of water, but I wasn’t sweating and didn’t feel hot, it was just so dry. (I think it was hot, over 90 that afternoon, but we thankfully had periods of shade, cloud cover and the occasional breeze)
I tried to be entertaining without being annoying, to tell a few stories here and there but not be so chatty that it would bother her. And to just keep encouraging. Stay positive. Tell her she could do it, that she was doing it! Just keep moving forward. When I hit 20 miles I looked at my time on my Garmin, hey! that was my longest run by 15 minutes. Then it was 26.6 miles…longest in distance…I started coming up with stupid Strava titles to try and make Liz laugh. Then it was 31 miles. She said to me 2 times if you need to take a break you can, and I said no, I’m fine. And I was. I felt at this point a personal responsibility to see it through to the very end. The last 20km (12 miles) of this race were so hard. The gravel road was awful, so dusty and rocky and endlessly hilly. I was walking ahead of Liz and said “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”
She says “Is there another hill?”
I said “yes”.
She says “Well, what’s the good news?”
I said “There isn’t any good news.”
We wanted to see the pavement so badly. Every time we thought we were to the top we would go around the corner and there would be another hill.
My legs started to hurt quite a bit around 30 miles but I knew if I was hurting she was in agony. She said to me at one point “if you weren’t running with me I would have quit or just have walked until they pulled me” and I said “I know. That’s why I’m still here”. There was no way I was leaving her, I’d drag her carcass across the finish line if I had to.
Different things motivate different people. Knowing what motivates someone to dig deep is important. And so I said “if you don’t finish, there are no kudos. You don’t get the finisher gear, you don’t get to say you did the race. Or you can say you did it BUT you forever have to add the disclaimer that you did not finish. You can’t get the tattoo. You get nothing really. Except pity. People feeling sorry for you. And that is the worst.”
We FINALLY got to the pavement. Hallelujah. And then the descents started. And OMG. These are 7-14% grade descents. My quads felt like knives. But the deal was we run down all the hills. So we did. And started to make some better time for a couple of miles. Now it’s under 6 miles to go. Liz is suffering. She would try to run but get dizzy and have to walk. I kept the walk pace quick, we were going to make the cutoff but only if we kept going and didn’t slow our pace any more. There were a lot of tears. We passed the “Crew Phone Finish Line” sign and I screamed with joy. I thought it was close but it was still another 5km. Under 2 km from the finish there were more tears, I said “You cannot break down 2 km from the end.”
She said “I just hurt so bad”.
We keep walking, then we can hear the finish! Cheers and Steve King’s voice, we go down a hill and around a corner and see Jenny. And the flags. And the three of us cross that final line together. Official finisher almost 20 minutes to spare!
Run time: 11:40:46
DAY 3 CREWING FROM THE VAN. (AKA THE DAY OF NO SNACKS). THOUGHTS FROM JENNY.
The day started off fun with Jen in the party van. After the first half marathon we knew Liz was going in a dark place so we agreed it was time for Jen to start running with her. As the miles went on athletes were more strung out in distance which meant I was only leapfrogging with a few athletes and crews. Every time I saw someone I would encourage them but at some point what else do you say? I’m sure they got tired of me saying “go____, or great job” I would’ve. I always made sure athletes were ok and would ask if they needed anything. I made stops every .50- .75 to check to see if Liz or Jen needed anything. I would meet them out away from the car then run back to get whatever Liz needed in an effort to keep her from stopping. I recorded my distance from the odometer at each stop to remember at what distance I stopped because as they day gets longer you can’t math or remember anything other than you know your athlete is in front or behind you. I sang “She’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes” a lot to myself. I was hoping at some point to be asked to run with Liz to give Jen a break and to break up the monotony of crewing from the car all day but I wasn’t which made for a very long day with one playlist on my phone. While we had plenty of stuff for Liz in the car as far as snacks go we neglected to get anything for ourselves. I did have a slice of leftover pizza from dinner the night before, cold pizza tastes good when you have nothing in the middle of nowhere but I never want to see another ketchup chip or jalapeño cheddar popcorn ever again. I was disappointed when there was nobody at the first cutoff at 26.2 miles, I was hoping to see someone but nope. As the miles went on and closer to finish we got I started to get notifications on my Garmin which meant I had cell service!! I was thrilled and decided to make a couple of videos to let the world know how Liz was doing as I knew everyone was dying to hear from us since we were out of touch for so long. I was jumping up and down when I finally saw the sign to call the finish line to let them know Liz was coming in. I thought the finish was closer as I headed in but had to stop once again because it was longer than I thought. I drove in and met Liz and Jen at the finish to run in together, we were all so glad to be done!!! (I will add here that Jenny made at least 67 stops through the day, we don’t know the exact number)
Day 4. The Celebration.
On day four there is a banquet for all the finishers and crew and race volunteers. At the welcome reception Steve, the race director, had talked about how this race was all about family. At that time it didn’t mean much, I mean, I didn’t know these people. By the end it had a whole new meaning. This race is a very small and very unique experience. Triathlon in general is small segment of the population, Ironman even smaller and Ultraman is tiny. Many of the athletes talked about what drew them to this race is the level of camaraderie and friendship. In Ironman you are just a number, here you are a person and a friend.
At the banquet each athlete is given a chance to talk about their race and given their award and finisher jacket Our athlete gave a very moving speech that had most of the room in tears and me doing the ugly cry. (It’s on Facebook if you want to watch it. Bring tissues) And we heard from every athlete, who thanked their crews for getting them to the finish line. (Except for one poor girl who talked about how her crew continuously got lost and she barely saw them. Thankfully other crews came to her rescue and gave her what she needed. Bless her heart.)
A quote from the race. “We come together as strangers. Compete as friends. And leave as family.”
This was truly an unforgettable experience. I want to thank Elizabeth Smith for inviting me to be a part of her race and putting trust and faith in me to help her make her dream come true.
And just a word about my crew partner Jenny. I would not have done this if we had not been together. Jenny is always rock solid and dependable. She never complains or whines or tries to get out of doing anything. She works hard, is smart and has an awesome sense of humour. We spent almost every minute together from 3 am August 1st to 9 am August 9th (including a red eye flight as part of our 18 hour trip home) and we are still friends.
So if you are ever considering doing a race like this, first of all, don’t. (kidding…sort of…) and second of all make sure you have a crew to back you that you can trust and depend on. (But not us. We are retired.)
Final Thoughts From Jenny on Crewing
When Liz initially asked me to crew of course I said yes, it was a trip to Canada with my friends, how hard could it be? After reading more and more race reports I was asking myself “Why am I an idiot?” and “why did I agree to go?” I knew this was going to be hard and questioned my kayak abilities and how we would pull this off. I have racing experience but not to this level. I do have experience being prepared and organized as a Mom and you have to be as a triathlete since there’s so much involved. Fortunately my crew mate is also an experienced triathlete and Mom of four and one of my best friends, so I knew not only would we be ok once we got things prepared and organized but also have fun together. I’ve been asked after this experience multiple times if I would sign up for this race, HELL NO! Would I crew again? Yes, I would crew again if there were more than two people on the crew. Crewing is fun but it is hard work and exhausting. Your job is not over until your athlete is resting and you’re prepared for the next day. Thank you Liz for this experience. I’m so happy we made it to the finish line all in one piece. I really enjoyed our adventure together in Lake Skaha, and meeting the other athletes and their crews.
Our 2018 Lake Placid Training Camp wrapped up last weekend, and we’re already looking forward to seeing a bunch of athletes ready to work hard and play hard next year. Although Lake Placid dished out everything it could weather-wise, we had an extremely successful camp. Here’s what happened:
Thursday was technically our optional arrival day, with camp not officially starting until late in the afternoon on Friday. We travelled from Keene with two athletes in tow. Our route took us through gorgeous backroads in Vermont, sparking the idea for a potential Keene, NY to Keene, NH running relay event. We arrived to find a large contingent from Pennsylvania already at our headquarters for the weekend, including Coach Stacey. As our tagline is #workhardplayhard, the PA crew rolled out for fire making materials and adult beverages while we set ourselves up in our rooms. We then progressed over to Lisa G’s, as a weekend at Lake Placid is not complete without one meal there. Following some discussion around the fire, we all hit the hay in preparation for Friday.
Friday was originally supposed to be a completely optional day of training. However, Lake Placid decided to throw a wrench into our plans, as a soaking weather system was scheduled to roll through Saturday morning through the remainder of the weekend. Given that, the early arrivals wanted to go out with the sun out. We headed down to Mirror Lake to enjoy a swim in the rapidly warming waters. Water temperature last weekend was in the low 70s; given the current heat wave in the northeast, it is entirely plausible we’ll have another wetsuit optional swim in a few weeks.
One of the big things we sought to do all weekend long was to give athlete’s options on what they wanted to do; after all, it’s really their camp. With that in mind, some athletes swam a full loop of the swim course. Others got about 750 to 1000 in before heading back in. We all then prepped ourselves for a warm day out on the bike. Again, it was all about options — Stacey and Ryan headed out with a group looking for either one or two full loops of the bike. Kelly, meanwhile, took athletes committed to #TeamHillNo to the flats of Upper Jay for some laps on there. This also provided an opportunity to park our sag vehicle, stocked to the brim with everything an endurance athlete could desire for food or drink, in a convenient spot about halfway through the loop.
As the group on their loop headed back out for more punishment, Kelly and the #HillNo brigade turned the parked sag vehicle into a roaming fuel stop. One of the best locations was at the top of the Bears – it avoided the congestion of downtown and let people get fuel in after the 15 mile trip from Wilmington. Ryan headed back to the house to begin the evening’s cooking, Stacey greeted our Friday arrivals, and Kelly continued manning the roaming aid station. We managed to get everyone back into town safely with athletes having ridden anywhere from 25 to 110+ miles. Ryan threw a bunch of vegetables and protein onto the grill and smoker, there were many things thrown into the fire, beer was consumed, and there was much rejoicing.
Saturday dawned gray and cool. Kelly and Stacey took a group down to Mirror Lake for another swim. Ryan stayed behind to work on his bike, which had given him some trouble the day before. Again, athlete’s were given options on distance based on what they felt like they needed to do on that particular day. After about 45 minutes at the beach, the crew rallied back to the house to begin preparation for another day’s worth of riding.
Saturday was originally scheduled as the long bike day of the weekend. As some athlete’s had done that on Friday, we had a few distinct groups on hand for Saturday’s ride: #TeamHillNo, athlete’s recovering from Friday, those who still needed a long ride, and coaches. Stacey and Ryan went out with the main group looking to ride at least one loop, whereas Kelly took #TeamHillNo back to the flats for riding and supplying the rolling aid station. We also had another roaming sag vehicle in the case of mechanical breakdown.
There were many mechanical breakdowns.
Within the first ten miles of the bike, two bikes had to head to Placid Planet for emergency repair (brakes are generally a good thing to have before attempting the Keene descent). Ryan continued the ride with the remainder of the group, which saw another bike breakdown following the Haselton Road out-and-back. One of the two bikes that had gotten repaired at Placid Planet suffered the same mechanical fate not 20 minutes after repair. Cool rain and sand on the roads are a cruel combination.
Given the conditions, we sent our athletes in need of more than 56 miles on the day back down the Bears to perform loops along River Road instead; this kept them closer to home in the event of more severe weather conditions as well as easier to support in the event of a breakdown. Athletes remained in high spirits despite the crummy weather and the crummier mechanical luck. In all, everyone kept the rubber side down and everyone managed to smile through the day. After a brief disaster during dinner prep, we recovered nicely with a whole lot of food, plenty of beer and wine, and more things to throw onto a fire. More rejoicing!
It was Sunday Runday! We awoke to discover that the humidity had done a number on our bagels, turning them into science experiments. Kelly, thinking on her feet, made everyone pancakes. Between that and coffee, spirits turned themselves around. The same, however, could not be said for the weather: gray, touch of cold wind, but still humid enough to make overheating a distinct possibility. It was near impossible to choose the right clothing for the day.
We packed up the house (check out time was early), and headed out for the run. Options for the day were to run around Mirror Lake, or to head out on the run course for some miles on River Road. We were split roughly 50-50 on the run options, so Kelly and Ryan took a mobile aid station out to River Road while Stacey stayed with the Mirror Lake folks. Runs were tailored to everyone’s needs, with the longest run being 14 miles.
We all met back up at the Lake Placid boathouse to get one last look at Mirror Lake before race weekend and to shower. With that, it was time to drive back home and get ready for the big weekend, now just a little under three weeks away.
We can’t wait for race day, and we can’t wait for another training weekend in the Adirondacks. It is truly a special place.
I signed up for Ironman Boulder a year ago after watching my friend do the race. I loved the controlled swim, almost guaranteed to be wetsuit legal, the beautiful bike course, the lovely shaded run course and the cool weather. Plus Boulder was a much smaller, less competitive race than Texas and I would have an excellent chance of making the podium. Last summer we traveled to Canada for most of the summer so I didn’t do much swimming or biking but the plan was to get back in the pool and back on the bike in August when the kids went back to school…and that’s what I did for one week. Then Hurricane Harvey came and pretty much wrecked everything. I didn’t swim or bike for months, I rebuilt my flooded house instead. I did train for a marathon and completed that successfully in January but it was basically February before I was back in the pool. I had about 4.5 months to get ready for my Ironman.
I started to swim, a lot. Built my yardage up to over 10, 000 yards a week quickly. Got back on the bike and built mileage there too. Things were going ok, and then I hurt myself pumping up my bike tires on my birthday in February. Dumb right? Stupid little movement and I tore a muscle in my rib cage. That meant no swimming and no running for about 2 weeks. Strike one. The injury healed and then I came down with a nasty sinus infection, I muddled my way through my workouts but it took about 2 weeks to heal up from that too. Strike two.
Now it’s April. I did the Galveston 70.3 relay bike one weekend, spectated at Ironman Texas another weekend, both events I wouldn’t have changed or missed for anything but there went a couple more opportunities for quality training time on the bike and the long ride. In early May I took a run coaching course which meant another lost weekend.
3 weeks out from IM Boulder was to be our final long ride, 120 miles, a confidence builder before starting taper. It was also the weekend of the Texas State Time Trial that I was racing. I woke up race morning not feeling great and just chalked it up to race nerves. Did the time trial, performed well but that afternoon I started running a low grade fever. Set out for the final long ride the next day and it was quite frankly a disaster. I had planned the route, on roads we had never been, and the majority of them were under construction. We rode about 40 miles on unpaved roads. It was exhausting. One of my ride partners got a flat and was just done with the whole business so we planned to get her back to the cars and then carry on. Well, we got back and my other ride partner was exhausted and I just felt like crap. We called it quits. That night I was running a fever and ended up with a fever for the next week and getting bronchitis. Strike 3.
Now it’s time to head to Colorado. I had planned to go up a week early to acclimate to the elevation and get some workouts in on the course. I left with a heavy heart. Things changed for me after the flood. I used to love travelling for races and seeing new places and doing new things. Since the flood I just want to stay home with my babies and be safe. I struggled through this training cycle with a lot of fear on my bike that I never had before. I was terrified every ride of being hit by a car, or crashing my bike going fast down a hill and getting taken out by a strong crosswind. I almost turned around and went home a couple times on the 15 hour drive there. I missed my family terribly. But on the ride up I listened to a book, about how a positive mind relates to successful racing. And I did my best to set my mind to embrace the experience and be thankful for it and to do my very best. I set my mantras “Be brave and be thankful”.
After arriving I did several runs, bikes on the course, and open water swims. It all went great. My friends and training partner from Katy arrived and so I didn’t feel so homesick. We did all the pre race things, check in, athlete dinner, bike and bag check and I felt more ready and confident every day. We checked out the finisher gear at the expo and I picked out a cute tank top I was going to buy the day after the race. The checkout clerk made a comment to the effect of “make sure you finish” and I was like “duh, of course, why wouldn’t I?”
Race morning I was nervous but probably more calm than I have ever been at a triathlon. I always fear the swim so much and just want to get through it. Not this time. I was ready for that swim. It was wetsuit legal which helps but I felt confident in swimming the distance because I had done it so many times. On my way down the chute I hugged Mike Reilly and said “see you later today” and he said “aww, you’re gonna make me cry”
I walked right in the water and got to swimming. I felt 100% in control the entire swim. Not a moment of panic. I was even passing people in the water! I had a few issues sighting the buoys because of the reflection of the sun on the water but I think I swam pretty straight. It’s a long way to swim but there came the end, I was strong to the finish. I got out of the water and looked at my watch, 1:22. I laughed to myself. My friend Liz had swam a 1:22 last year in Boulder in that exact same wetsuit, and had had a 17 minute PR on the swim, same as me. Her swim had earned the wetsuit the nickname of “Jenny’s Magic wetsuit” who we had both borrowed it from.
I booked it through T1, got on my bike and headed out. Thinking, what a beautiful day to ride a bike. The first 30 miles were great. My pace was awesome, I felt good. And then someone turned on the hair dryer. It got really hot, and really windy. I was running out of fluids quickly, I would take 2 bottles at an aid station and be out before I hit the next one 10 miles later. My lips were cracking, my eyes were blurry because my contacts were stuck to my eyeballs and there was no moisture in my eyes. I would dump water on myself and be dry in 2 minutes. The end of loop one was a long 12 mile stretch into the wind with no aid station. I started having this weird feeling of wanting to take a nap. Who wants to take a nap during a race?! Headed out on loop 2 and there was a twinge in my right leg, right above the knee. I noticed my power had dropped off, focused on pushing a little harder and that twinge got a little more pronounced. Backed off, well now I’m only pushing 100 watts and barely moving. But every time I tried to pick it up that pain in my leg increased. It was now very noticeable and I felt it with every pedal stroke. Tried to use my left leg more dominantly. I hit the aid station at mile 70 and got off my bike. Asked if they had medical there (not sure what medical could have done? Give me an advil? They’re probably not allowed to do that) there was no medical. I sat down for a minute beside a guy who was also having a bad day and the volunteers (bless their hearts) assumed I was over heated and piled cold cloths and ice on me. I kept saying, “I’m not hot” because I wasn’t. I was instantly freezing when they put all that stuff on. I spent a few minutes massaging my leg and told myself get back on your bike, you are not quitting! Just get up the hill. I still had the 3 big climbs left to go. Got back on my bike, hoping the little break would have fixed things but it was worse not better. I almost cried going up the climb it hurt so much. There was no way to one leg pedal it up, these are stand in your granny gears to get up the hill kind of climbs or get off your bike and push it up.
It was all downhill to the next aid station I decided to just try and get there. And I debated what to do. I was looking at 30+ miles to go, probably having to push my bike up the hills and then that long headwind stretch back. It was going to take me 2+ hours to finish the bike and then what shape would my leg be in? It continued to hurt more and more. Would I even be able to run after? Would I even be able to walk?? I was looking at over 8 hours to get to the finish line. In that moment, I chose not to suffer for the next 8 hours, but chose self preservation instead. Just stop and live to ride and run another day.
Since then I have thought about that moment repeatedly. Did I make the right decision? Would I do it differently if I had another chance? Is that what it means to be an Ironman? To suffer no matter the cost? And I saw plenty of suffering later that day, we went out on the run course and I saw people push through incredible amounts of pain to make it to that finish line. Does it say something about me that I wasn’t able to do that? Maybe it does. I do feel that I went into this race mentally unprepared. I think we all have a resiliency bucket and after all the events of the last year, mine was empty. I read an article recently how Ironman appeals to people with comfortable lives, it’s a way of forcing ourselves to suffer and do hard things in our otherwise “easy” lives. I was exhausted from just living over the last year, I didn’t need to make anything harder. Perhaps if any one of the factors of the day had been different there would have been a different outcome. If it had been windy but not hot, or hot and windy but a pain free ride, or having the pain but perfect weather….I don’t know. The combo of everything, the events of the day, the training leading up to the day, in that moment I was physically and mentally defeated. In the end the choice was made and can’t be unmade. As disappointing and difficult as that was I know that triathlon does not define me. It’s what I do, not who I am. My kids could care less that I didn’t finish a race. My friends don’t think less of me. My parents still love me. There will be other races, this isn’t the end.
Attending a tri training camp in preparation for your upcoming season or race has many benefits. While initially it may seem like an expensive trip of torture, there are huge benefits both mentally and physically.
What makes a camp worthwhile:
You get to escape from your “real” life. You leave behind your regular work and home life and get to focus purely on training for a short time. Zero distractions, last minute emergencies, or interruptions to distract you from training. Even a short training camp can have a huge positive effect on your season. Training in a new location can provide varied terrain, new training partners and the option to push yourself to a new level.
You get to train with others. The benefits of training with like minded individuals is amazing. You get to surround yourself with individuals who will challenge and support you in training. Some of the most long lasting friendships are forged through the hard work that you do together. While you may arrive as strangers, the chances are you will meet some individuals who share common goals. This often provides a renewed enthusiasm for the sport.
You get to see your coach. Additionally, most training camps provide some level of coaching or on location training. Both of these options are great for race performance. Seeing a variety of coaching styles and picking up helpful hints along the way to go a long way towards your long term improvement as an athlete.
You get to actually recover from workouts. Rest and Recovery are often neglected when training at home. At a training camp you are afforded the time to stretch, relax, and sleep properly so that your training can have themaximum benefit. Additionally, you get to learn from coaches and the other athletes attending how to recover the best from each session.
We are proud to be offering our own camp this year in Lake Placid. For more information, please follow this link: https://runsignup.com/Race/NY/LakePlacid/SonicEnduranceLakePlacidCamp
I recently made the decision to hire a new coach. Now I already had a coach, one I liked a lot and have had good success with. However, over time it can be a good idea to freshen things up. It can provide new motivation for the athlete, and for me as a new coach myself it is a great opportunity to learn from another professional how they run their business.
So: where to start? I didn’t actually know where to start. So I reached out to a few friends about it and asked for recommendations. Stacey, one of the awesome coaches at Sonic, sent me a great list of prospective questions that she uses when interviewing for a coach. And that’s really what it is. You are hiring someone, so it is an interview process. On her list she had several things that were “non-negotiables” and several of those checked my boxes as well. Number one for me as a mom of 4 was flexibility. Any parent knows you can get a call at anytime from the nurse to pick up your kid from school and the dreaded 24 hour rule usually means they are home for at least 2 days. Well, that can really mess up a training schedule and I needed someone who understood that. So finding a coach who was also a parent was important.
Another important consideration was meshing my goals with the coach’s experience. My goals are to make it to the World Championships at the 70.3 and 140.6 distance. Is it essential that your coach has “been there and done that”? No, it’s not. But does it help? Absolutely. There is so much that only experience can teach you and so having someone who understands exactly what it takes to succeed at that level was important to me. In the same way if your goals are to complete your first sprint with a smile on your face are you going to go out and hire someone who coaches at the pro level? Of course not.
Once I checked those boxes then what? There are a ton of qualified and experienced coaches who meet those qualifications. It then comes down to personality. Who can you relate to, feel comfortable talking to, and trust? This is where the interview really matters. Talk to someone face to face or on the phone and you will know within about 5 minutes how you feel about them. People either click or they don’t and that’s something best figured out not through email.
And that was about it. I talked to several people and pondered it for a day or two and went with my gut reaction to who I think will be the best fit for me. I have a renewed enthusiasm for training and am excited to see what the year has in store!!
Sonic Endurance is proud to announce that our very own Coach Kelly is the 2017 recipient of the Ron Smith Award! Named after Ron Smith, one of triathlon’s earliest pioneers and mentors, the award recognizes an individual who is a role model in the sport, positively promotes and influences the sport, and inspires the future path for triathlon. Previous winners of the award include big names like Bob Babbitt, Valerie Silk, Jordan Rapp, Julie Moss, and more.
If you know Kelly at all, you know that she’s incredibly passionate about triathlon. She is always trying to break down every barrier to get more people swimming, biking, and running. Whether that’s helping race directors follow best practices, coaching athletes to their first sprint triathlon, or helping someone else get the gear they need to get into the sport, Kelly is always there. It’s been a pleasure to watch her help grow Sonic Endurance, but also build a voice that is now recognized by some of the most important people in triathlon.
A quote from her nominating ballot says it all: Kelly Burns Gallagher does more impactful volunteer work on behalf of race and event directors, and of women than seems possible given all that’s on her plate. She’s a truth-telling powerhouse, a booster supporting the rights of women in endurance sport, and a coach and race director herself while holding down a full time job as an attorney.
For many runners, especially those who run marathons, Boston is the Holy Grail. It’s a milestone that can represent so much to so many in a running career. After I ran my very first marathon in 4:05, I thought, “I only need to drop 25 minutes off that time to qualify for Boston, that’s about one minute per mile. I could possibly do that”. And so qualifying for Boston became a goal.
Time went on and I ran more marathons and began to chip away at that time. A 3:52, and a 3:46, getting so close! I thought the 2017 Houston Marathon was going to be my year and my race, but due to weather being much less than ideal and some under-training, it didn’t happen. So the fall of 2017 was going to be my time to train and finally hit that goal at Houston in 2018.
And then Harvey came. That storm destroyed my home, my neighbor’s homes, my kid’s school and a huge section of my community.
The fall of 2017 suddenly became not at all about training goals but about rebuilding our home. I still ran through it all. I didn’t run very far or very fast, but I continued to run. When I first began running 5 years ago it was a way to escape the noise of a large busy family and just have a chance to think and to breathe. It has served as my therapy for many years. During the aftermath of Harvey I needed that more than ever. So I ran. From the homes of the friends who took us in and let us live with them, I got up early every morning and would run; before starting the day shift of dropping the kids at the bus, putting in a full day of manual labour at the house before picking everyone up and starting second shift of baths, homework, dinner and bedtime alone while my husband put in his second shift working at the house after a full day at his job.
Eventually the house started to look like a house again. We moved back in in October. We had no floors, working appliances, and it was a disaster but it was our home. We lived upstairs while the construction continued downstairs. And I continued to run. I remember the first time heading out in my neighborhood and seeing the deep ruts of truck tires through the grass where the high water vehicles had come in to make rescues. Fences were down everywhere. Massive piles of trash for miles in every direction. It was quiet. So quiet. No one was living here. Maybe one in 10 homes were occupied when we moved home.
By the time Thanksgiving came our home was fully functional, we even had guests for Thanksgiving. We started to settle into our new normal. The kids catch the bus now for their new school that is too far to walk to. I was able to return to a regular training schedule. During the last 3 months of 2017 I steadily increased my running mileage each month, and even managed to finish out 2017 with 2017 miles for the year which was a goal I didn’t think I would make. I only managed one 20 mile long run. I missed one due to being very ill after Thanksgiving and one I just had a terrible run and called it quits at 18.5. All this is to say that my confidence going into the race was not very high.
I can recall saying to friends before the race that all the stars would need to align for me to be able to hit my BQ goal on race day. Well, those stars aligned. The weather was absolutely perfect, it was very cold for Houston, which was ideal for racing. Throughout the race I just stayed present in the mile I was in. I knew my goal paces for each mile and that’s all I focused on. In the end I ran a 3:40:11, which gives me an almost 5 minute buffer for getting into the race.
All this is to say we as human beings are stronger than whatever circumstances are thrown our way. We have the choice to rise above, and be stronger than the storm. The lessons learned from Harvey are too many to count, but when it comes to running it’s going to take more than a hurricane to take me down.
On Saturday, I was three weeks post bike crash….in many ways it seems like a long time ago and then there is the daily reminders that life is just not quite the same. Recently, I have gotten back on the computer after being absent most of these past few weeks. The post concussion management really has been no joke and like a second job….so many things to remember and most of them I forgot.
Our routine settled in a different way after our arrival home from Oklahoma. Instead of a block filled with fun leisure running and coffee and doughnut rides the path was went in a different direction. One filled with concussion specialists, vestibular rehabilitation, eye therapy and post accident insurance paperwork.
In the first few weeks, I thought the recovery would be rather simple. Some rest and minor rehab and I would be on my way. As the time passed, it seemed more and more evident that the Post Concussion Syndrome effects were not easily remedied. There seems to be no real pattern to the onset of symptoms as we have tried to track according to sleep and activity. We had a great couple of days last week where it seemed that we had turned the corner on the vision loss and the headaches only to have everything come rearing back on Sunday.
The pool seems to be the most aggravating to the vision. I cannot see clearly under the water. The vision therapist believes that the therapy will help the brain reconnect with the eye…a process that can be long but successful. I am still swimming shorter distances in hopes that my head will figure out this is indeed where I belong.
In many ways, I remain grateful that I have been able to drive and get the kids to and from soccer, football, band, etc. The accident could have been so much worse. This week I slowly started to add back running into the mix…while I have been on the treadmill for most of the time, it was hard to miss the great outdoor fall weather. It was apparent quickly that the runs would be shorter and slower for the time being.
I don’t currently have a bike…and truthfully that is fine with me. We have begun conversations with Guys Bikes to build something for next season. Starting over from scratch has been eye opening and a little overwhelming…there are so many more options now. I decided this fall/winter to focus on a run block and some specific strength work…to address some of the limiters in my running. I am not in a hurry to jump back on a bike so in the meantime I will just run and swim.
Once again, we have been blessed with a great group of friends and family who are consistently checking in and seeing if I need anything. While this has required that we slow down a little it has also made us develop an appreciation for spending some quality time at home and together.
So last weekend was one of those weekends that was pretty damned special. It’s funny how sometimes you get so caught up in the minutia of day to day prep that sometimes you miss it. A little background.
I started racing triathlon in 2010. Something I took up on a dare and kept doing because it kept me from being fat, again, and it filled a competitive void I’d been missing. Somewhere along the way I became fascinated with the art and science of putting training plans together. So when my coach approached me about starting a business together I jumped at the chance. What I didn’t consider was how hard it is to start a coaching business from scratch, especially if you’re not the prototype elite athlete because Lord knows I don’t look the part. Add to that I had the least experience of the Sonic owners, I’m not super charismatic, I live in an area with a ton of talented coaches, and boom back up the struggle bus.
Over the past few years a lot of really talented, somewhat misfit athletes have decided to make Sonic their home in triathlon under my guidance. Those athletes who were early comers can probably tell you that my approach to coaching has kind of changed over the time they’ve been with me. Some of that can be contributed to the fact I’ve changed coaches a couple times over the past few years and I think it’s natural to take bits and pieces from each and incorporate it into your repertoire as a coach, and some of that comes with how I look at the sport. Initially I wanted to be an insanely good technical coach and that’s it. I was kind of cold, aloof, and only interested in the data that came into my email from Training Peaks. I always kind of just accepted the fact that triathlon is a lonely sport, and it is, but after a while I started to ask myself why? What can I do as a coach/owner to make this sport less lonely and more like the traditional team sports I grew up playing? Or at least a team locker room type of situation? Luckily there are social media and happy hours amongst other tools to help, and I’ve made a concerted effort to treat my athletes less like someone I want to do well because it moves the brand forward, and more like family. This has resulted, I think, with happier athletes and definitely resulted in a happier coach. Oh and with me being labeled “Dad” or “Coach Grumpy Cat.”
So fast forward to this past weekend. Sonic co-owner Stacey and myself were racing in OKC at ITU Long Distance Worlds, I had two athletes at the Kerrville Triathlon Festival, and another six at Augusta 70.3. Stacey and I had rough days in OKC, hers much worse than mine as she was hit by a car, and normally that would have made the weekend total shit for me. However the pics from the other locations of athletes having dinner together, doing shakeout workouts together, and just having a blast in the days leading up to racing kept rolling in. It made me insanely pleased/content/happy. These awesome people were out there making something I thought was just a pipe dream a reality.
So the beat will go on here at Sonic Endurance South headquarters as what little off season most of us have approaches. We haven’t quite made the mark in town that I’d like, but that’s coming. Zero doubts on that. In the meantime we’ll have dinner together on Saturday, tell stories about our races this past weekend, continue to train our asses off, and have a boatload of fun while doing it. Oh by the way there will be a dozen plus of us racing IMTX 2017. This will serve as a pre-emptive apology to The Woodlands for our shenanigans.