Skip to content


May 17, 2013

My training and lead-up to Ironman Texas has been filled with days of cold, wind, and rain, days of trying to help out at work and more work, soccer games and carpool.  So far, that doesn’t say anything about training, riding the bike hard, or sweating it out on the run…because this has not happened.  Training for triathlon since Ironman Florida in November has been repeatedly pushed to the side over and over for family reasons.   There’s not really regret about that, that will come on Saturday as I start to ache, moan, and hurt.  For me, an MdotLife is a life that includes fitting in running, biking, and swimming when I can as life unfolds. There are days that it is put at the front as a priority and there are days it is not.  There are days I want it to be very important and days I don’t. As a long-term part of my life, it can’t be number 1 every day, especially with a husband and 3 kids and especially with the distance and time requirement of Ironman.   I appreciate what time I do get to train.  There are really only a couple of workouts that I can hang my hat on to say I’m even going to be able to finish this race.  One was a 100-mile solo ride done 4 weeks ago and one was a 26.2 mile run done 1 week later. Other than that, I did maybe one 15 mile run months ago and an 18-mile run I think about 2 months ago.  Then, there was an 80-mile ride in March, but not much else distance to speak of.  Swims were 1-2 a week. So, this Saturday, my second Ironman should be less than interesting. At the same time, I could argue that 7 months out from Ironman Florida I didn’t do an Ironman.  This might just be a mental pat on the back to make myself feel better about my lack of training.

ImageThis has added to some doubt before these 2 key workouts to whether I should even do IMTX or look onto Vegas instead. But, then there’s the brother factor.   He got so pumped up watching Mr. Mdot and I at IMFL that he bought a bike over the phone after our swim and signed up for Texas after realizing that he could squeeze in the training and race before his next deployment.  Then, he persuaded us to make it a family affair.  This is a guy that we only convinced to do his first race, a 5k, about 4 or 5 years ago. Before that, he ran 5-8 miles hard everyday but had no interest in a race. And his first 3 5k’s were 19 minute, 18 minute, and 17+minute, respectively- hence the reason we wanted him to race.  He did great at @EscapeAlcatraz and won his age group at @TryCharleston.  So, I want to be there to see his first Ironman.

And then, over and over, I come back to the thought of just being so thankful to be able toImage participate. After all, my first trip to Houston was 10 years ago to MD Anderson Cancer Center to see if doctors there could help me with the 2 large tumors in my liver.  They could, they did, but they wouldn’t venture to say how long I would be around for.  So far, the answer is ‘at least 10 years’. Then, there is the story of my softball teammate growing up, Leah Dickinson (bottom row in the middle – I’m standing farthest left), who told me via Facebook a few months ago that she had cancer 9 years ago and that we share the same surgery week, separated by a year, where I had 60% of my liver removed and she had a double mastectomy.  A side effect from the chemotherapy gave her heart failure.  That means that her heart doesn’t pump enough blood to support her body and activity as it should, her heart is weak.  She originally had an ejection fraction of 10%.  Normal is around 55-65%. She couldn’t exercise for years and has recently built up to 45 minutes on the treadmill and has an ejection fraction of 45-50%!  This is a triumph for her and sounds like she continues to work on it.  Her message to me last week about Ironman Texas was, “Think of me (and other survivors) that can’t physically do what you’re doing. Do it for us!”  Another said, “You’ll just have to kick ass for the both of us J”.  No problem, Leah!  I will do it for those who are sick today with cancer and don’t have the strength; her and I have been there and know that feeling.  I will do it for those in remission but left with side effects that leave them incapable at the present.  And I will do it because I can, I can try.  My body leaves me with the ability to try it.  So, although I expect no great performance from myself, I am looking forward to just being able to be out there knowing my brother is out there, my husband is out there, and we are fortunate enough to go out and do something we previously didn’t know we could.

I Don’t Think You Should Do An Ironman

February 25, 2013

“I don’t think you should do an Ironman in your first year of triathlon” – the most motivational statement said to me before Ironman Florida.  Ironically enough, these words came from a coach…not the coach I hired, but one that I interviewed.  She didn’t make my cut. I didn’t think she should be coaching me in my first year in triathlon with an attitude like that.  I had already told her what I was doing, that was not up for discussion, the only thing up for discussion was who was the right coach for me at the time.  I wasn’t questioning if I could do an Ironman, if I could finish an Ironman, I was questioning who was the person that would work best for me to get me where I wanted to be.  For me, as a runner who liked to coach herself, and being someone who didn’t believe in just getting a coach because it seemed to be the new fad, it was a big step for me to even get a coach.  But Ironman was different than marathons and there was a ton I didn’t know.  I was familiar with swimming and running, but knew basically nothing about cycling and triathlon racing.  All, I knew was that from watching women tackle this event during my husband’s first Ironman race, I knew I could do it, too.

It still steams me up that she said this too me.  Granted she didn’t know me and my determination.  But she didn’t listen to me, she didn’t hear my vision for me…she didn’t exemplify the spirit of Ironman.  I felt that feeling then before doing my first Ironman, but I feel it even more now.

Probably the main thing I learned through the process of doing an Ironman, the training and the races leading up to it, and the race itself, is that people can do more than they think they can; they are way more limited by their mind than their body, in most cases.  I went into my Ironman training with this thought because countless others, including my husband, had shown me what abilities we have that are just lying around on the couch ready to be transformed when we are willing.  But, I have truly come to believe this even more after having completed an Ironman.  What really bothers me to this day about that conversation is that I knew me and my abilities, my wants, and determination, but not all people do.  What if she speaks with a potential client that doesn’t have the same resolve and belief in themselves that I did?  What if the next potential Ironman believes her and therefore doesn’t sign up for their first Ironman as they had planned?  What if life gets in the way after that and that person never gets to experience an Ironman because they opted for a half their first year.  What if she had talked to me four months prior when I also believed that I couldn’t complete an Ironman…when I didn’t yet know that once my brain understood what the human body is capable of, that I would actually want to be an Ironman. How dare she squash someone’s Ironman dreams so quickly. From my perspective, if someone says they want to do an Ironman, it isn’t necessarily about the finishing time, it’s about finishing. With a 13 month training time-frame, which is what I gave her, most people can finish an Ironman.  The spirit of Ironman is that we can all do it with some hard work, we can all cross that finish line and hear those words, “You are an Ironman!”

I have been tempted in the last few months since Ironman Florida to send her a polite email explaining the power she potentially holds as a coach speaking with athletes/clients and they may actually believe her when she says she’s not sure they can do it.  So, this is my unsent letter to that anonymous coach who because of a title she has given herself and asks others to pay her to call her that, Be Careful With Your Words.

With my tongue stuck out in full toddler tantrum style, I say to you, I did it, I finished, I am an Ironman.  I crossed the line 11th in my age group.  I’m glad I didn’t stay home that day or choose just to spectate and I’m glad 1st through 10th in my age group didn’t stay home either. If ever there has been a sport that begs people to not stay home and get out and try and be proud of the outcome, to me, it’s Ironman.  Funny how this amateur knows that but that ex-pro triathlete and “coach” doesn’t.

2nd Part of Interview with Laura Sophiea

January 1, 2013

Marcus, Kelly, & LauraThis is the 2nd part of the interview with Laura Sophiea with the same introduction from the first interview in case you have not read the first one…

Following is an interview with my 2012 Ironman/triathlon coach, Laura Sophiea.  Just to be clear who Laura Sophiea is, Laura is probably one of the most successful Ironman athletes you could meet.  How is that?  She has competed in Kona 22 times, has won her age group 8 times and has 2 age group records.  She’s a little, blonde who looks younger than her age, but can hammer most people on a bike.  And, although she swam as a kid, she doesn’t talk about herself as if she was an athlete.  She was a cheerleader in high school, which she jokingly says that they are just interested in chasing boys. She is humble, but honest. She doesn’t brag, but ask her pointedly and she’ll tell you with pride how many times she has rocked the big island.  When I first met her in person, it was 2 days after the 2011 Kona championships and as she bounced down the hill to catch her ride, you never would have known she had just put herself through one of the toughest races around.

Speaking with Laura about Kona and Ironman races around the country is a history lesson as she has raced in a majority of all the races ever held in Kona and understands most of the courses in North America. So, on our way to Panama City, Florida for the 2012 Ironman Florida this year in a 2 vehicle caravan, I got a chance to ask Laura about her triathlon career…

Do you concentrate highly on biking for you?  Is that still your favorite?
Yeah I love to bike. This year I focused on run, and did with four 10K’s and 2 half’s [marathons] and got injured, so obviously I’m not going to do that next year and I still have it.  But, yeah, I love to bike…less since Amy got hurt. [Amy Gluck is an accomplished Ironman tri-athlete that Laura has coached for several years coaches.  She is a 5-time Kona qualifier, registered dietician and personal trainer with her own website.  She was hit by a semi in a bad accident this summer and is in rehab and recovering]

How is she doing?
It’s a long road, her brain is trying to make connections.  I think she is going to surprise the heck out of everybody.

So you went to France this year and rode, but that wasn’t your first time going was it?
No, I went in 2008 was the first year I went there.  I ride my bike in the Alps…there’s nothing as beautiful as riding there and it’s pretty safe, I’ve never felt unsafe as long as I know where I’m going.  And now I know the routes.  It’s not even about getting stronger because I don’t think you bike fast enough.  It’s hard as heck. One day I did 120 miles in almost 11 hours, that’s not very fast.  It’s not about training for the 2 weeks I’m there, it’s about the postcard views you just can’t see in the United States.  I’ve ridden in Colorado and it’s beautiful, but it’s not the same.

You moved to Georgia when?
I moved to Georgia 2009.

And you have clients in both Michigan and Georgia.
It’s really all over, I have a client in Canada, Australia, Maryland, Kentucky.  My goal was to build a base in Atlanta because you have a much better climate to train in. I like Atlanta for that, love Atlanta.  I like to ride my bike and not be looking like a Michelin snowman because it’s 25 degrees outside…love it.  

Beer or wine?

Coffee drinker?
Yes, for the last 4 years. I’ve never touched coffee before 4 years ago, ever.  It’s probably a good thing I waited.  

I can’t believe you used to train so early before school and not drink coffee.
Oh yeah, I used to train at 4:30 in the morning and I didn’t take anything…not even have water.  I used to just roll out of bed, put my clothes on, and meet my girlfriend to run.  

Do you have a sweet tooth?
Dark chocolate, yep…bad.  It’s a bad chocolate jones.

What’s in your downspout?
What does that mean?

Well you have water in the front bottle and Perpeteum in your other bottle.
Oh, my downtube.  Downspout, that’s like outside. (laughter) [I guess that’s a term I made up, but it sounded good to me.  I’m still new to the sport :)I race with all Hammer products, there awesome. I’ve raced with them since 2005 and I haven’t had a bad race since.  

Are you sponsored by them?
Yes, they give you product at a discount.  So they have been with me since 2005.  Since I won my age group and set the record [Kona].

Ocean or Mountain, sun or snow?
Sun. I didn’t learn to ski until I was 52 years old.

Did you like it?
I liked it…fine.  I learned to ski Wyoming…Jackson Hole.  From what I’ve learned now, it’s like one of the hardest places to learn to ski. But they have a great ski school and I spent many days at the school. I went 3 years or 2 years for like 10 days and I loved it. But I didn’t like trees, I didn’t like catwalks, I didn’t like going to the tram all the way to the top and trying to make my way down.  That was very nerve racking because I didn’t want to get hurt.

I love to snow shoe.  I love snowshoeing, I’m from Michigan so I learned to cross country ski and I still have all that equipment and when I’m in Michigan I still go snow shoeing if there is snow.  It is the best workout in the world because your heart rate is sky high since the moment you put them on because you have to lift your knees.  It might take me 12 minutes to run a mile in the snow.

What’s your favorite sports to watch on TV?
College basketball, college football, swimming, and Olympics.  That’s about it.

What’s a random fact about you?
I’ve probably done about 300 triathlons in 27 years.  I used to race 12 times a summer.  I love, love to race, I love to compete.  I really believe that’s the only way to get better and you learn about yourself and learn what you can put your body through.  And I’m not talking about Ironmans because my goal has always been to only do 1 a year.  There’s something different about sprinting and olympics [distance triathlons]. That I love to race, that I’m competitive.  

That’s not a secret.
Yeah, but I didn’t know that until I started doing triathlons.  I was a cheerleader.  Cheerleaders aren’t competitive.  They like boys.  I quit every sport I did in high school, which was track and swimming.  Two things that would play into my triathlon career later in life and I quit them both. So I am a testament that with consistent training, you can better because I came to the sport with nothing.  I didn’t run a step, I hated running, I didn’t want to bike, I used my husband’s road bike for my first triathlon, it was too big, I didn’t change gears, I didn’t know the first thing about gear, I wore tennis shoes.  It’s definitely different now if you are starting, there was no one to ask back then. So, over time I learned that about myself.  

Your first couple of years in Kona, did you bike in the same shoes you ran in?
No, because Speed Play pedals came out in the 80’s.  So my very first pair of pedals was Speed Play.  In my local races the very first year, I just used tennis shoes.  

So, Dave Scott and guys like that, in the 80’s and early 90’s were they real accessible?
I was pretty shy, so I would say no. I didn’t feel like I could go talk with him.  I just thought Dave Scott was so handsome.

Do you talk to him now? Do you know them?

Umm, yeah, I see him at races now and in Kona.  Last year at Kona both of his athlete’s won and I see him.  I would love to hire him as a coach, but he’s too expensive for me. 

You should do it…you should write him an email.

No, because I’m not changing what I do at this point because what I do works.  I have his stuff from the 80’s that I still follow. I’m already doing it.

If I had read more about you last year before emailing you, I wouldn’t have contacted you…I wouldn’t have thought you would have had time for me.

I actually love to coach people who don’t know what they are doing, they are more fun.  They are because they are like sponges.  Like the girl I met with last night, she did Augusta and doing her first Ironman next year and she wants to learn, that’s what I have from doing them…knowledge from years of training. 

Don’t you think he would  want to work with you and see if he could make you better after all this time of doing it on your own?

No because actually the I’m doing it is probably his way because I’ve been following it for years…his books, articles.  If I’ve been following anyone through out the years, it’s him.

You’re being hard-headed.  But that’s what so different about this sport and why I love it is because people like that who seem unreachable and yet, they respond. 
Well, I’m old enough that I’m not going to get any faster, I’m only going to go slower.  That is the reality of the sport. 

But you still have goals.

Yeah, break the record in 3 years, the goal is like 12 something and I’m like “I can beat that”.

What else should I know about you?

I have 3 great kids…they are successful women, strong, independent.  That was always my goal. They are all into sports…well, they swim…and that’s great. I never wanted them to get into triathlon because I didn’t want them to get on a bike.

Why, because they’ll get hurt?

Yeah, where they bike, live and bike is not good.  My oldest daughter talks about doing a sprint triathlon one day with her husband so they will and I’ll go watch that and that will be great.  I have great kids and 2 grandkids.

What would you say to someone wanting to get into the sport?
To get into the sport, talk to friends who have done races, find training partners because that makes it so much easier to do. You can hire a coach, and there’s plenty to choose from, that’s for sure.  But make sure it’s a good match because if it’s not, it’s not fun for either person. So, I started because the guy at pool said, “there’s a triathlon, why don’t we get a bunch of you ‘pool moms’ and let’s do this race.”  So my sister, and 3 other girlfriends and the head swim coach/ lifeguard did it and he won the old thing and it was fun. None of us placed, but it was fun. I ran with friends, I had never ridden a bike up a hill. Go to your local bike store and get a bike that fits you.  

Laura and I got off on a tangent about bike racks on cars and she mentioned that she doesn’t like to keep her bike outside so she always stuffs it in her car…

We used to travel to Florida every Easter with 3 kids and luggage and golf clubs, my husband was a golfer, and my bike in the car. 

What a fun interview this was, as it always is when I get a chance to sit and ask her questions about her triathlon career and what’s changed over the years.  Thank you, Laura!

Interview with Kona Wonder Woman Laura Sophiea

December 26, 2012

Interview with Laura Sophiea

Following is an interview with my 2012 IroIMG_2709nman/triathlon coach, Laura Sophiea.  Just to be clear who Laura Sophiea is, Laura is probably one of the most successful Ironman athletes you could meet.  How is that?  She has competed in Kona 22 times, has won her age group 8 times and has 2 age group records.  She’s a little, blonde who looks younger than her age, but can hammer most people on a bike.  And, although she swam as a kid, she doesn’t talk about herself as if she was an athlete.  She was a cheerleader in high school, which she jokingly says that they are just interested in chasing boys. She is humble, but honest. She doesn’t brag, but ask her pointedly and she’ll tell you with pride how many times she has rocked the big island.  When I first met her in person, it was 2 days after the 2011 Kona championships and as she bounced down the hill to catch her ride, you never would have known she had just put herself through one of the toughest races around.

Speaking with Laura about Kona and Ironman races around the country is a history lesson as she has raced in a majority of all the races ever held in Kona and understands most of the courses in North America. So, on our way to Panama City, Florida for the 2012 Ironman Florida this year in a 2 vehicle caravan, I got a chance to ask Laura about her triathlon career.

How old are you? 
57 yrs.  I started at 30 and did a sprint [triathlon].

From stories she has told me before, I knew that the first sprint was born from a challenge from the lifeguard at her pool where she hung out with her kids.  Her and some other moms completed the triathlon, with that being the only goal of the day.

After the sprint, what did you think?
After the sprint, I just liked the sport and I said I’m going to do another one and did another that summer and won my age group…there were only 3 women in my age group but it didn’t matter…I was hooked. That was in ’85, so in ’86, I did 2-3 sprints and an Olympic.  Then, in ’87 I did my first half-ironman.  I did Muncie [Indiana]. I finished 8th overall female and so it was the top 10 that got spots to Ironman [Kona], and I didn’t know what it was, didn’t know Ironman. I qualified in mid-August and had 6 weeks to get ready.  I had never ran over 13 miles or biked over 56 miles.  My husband was like, ‘yeah we can go’.  I did one 100 mile bike by myself and I did one 20 mile run. We flew in [to Kona] on Wednesday, registered Thursday, raced Saturday, and flew out Sunday. I did 11:45, I was quite happy, I had no expectations.  I think I had a hugely long bike ride of like 7 hours.  

Who advised you then about nutrition and training?
I just did whatever Dave Scott was doing. I read the magazines, there was no internet back then.  I ate Fig Newtons, peanut butter and jelly, and water. No salt tabs, no gels.  

And you were ok on that? 

Yeah, cause I wasn’t racing…totally different mindset.

Did you think it was hard, did you think, ‘I’ll never do that again’?
I thought it was hard but it was exciting. They used to give you a ton of stuff back then.  It was fun.

You must have done pretty well in your age group.
I was probably top 10 in my age group.

What did your husband think opening you all up to this new world of triathlon?
It wasn’t a big deal. It was like $95 to do the race, it wasn’t a big deal.  I don’t even know if there were 1000 people in the race back then.  I would have to go find my book.  Yeah, I was excited because I did an Ironman, but in the real world, no one knew what that was.  They would say, “Oh, you did it in 3 days? You swam one day, and biked on Saturday, and ran on Sunday?” Nope, did it all in one day, no one knew back then. Very small world. They had no idea.

What are some of the changes you have seen in the sport?
You used to get a lot more stuff when you crossed the finish line.  If you finished before 6 o’clock at night, you used to get a hat that said you were part of the Sunshine club.  So the next year, I went back and qualified again in Muncie in ’88 and went back and got 4th in my age group and first time I got up on the podium and that’s when I was really hooked.  You used to get a pair of day-glow shorts, lime-green and orange, a finisher’s shirt, medal, a hat. It was more of a family event, it was run by Valerie Silk and she was there to shake your hand. It was very homey. The big difference is it’s owned by a hedge fund now…it’s all about the money, all about the money.

In general, a lot of things have changed since then as far as technical, computrainers and nutrition.
Right, back then, we did what pros did and read what they did and just did what they did. You would get the reports like 2 months after the race. But I just ate peanut butter and jelly at the turn around. I had Fig Newtons on my ride. Nutrition is 100% different, training is 100% different. We didn’t do intervals, we just rode 100 miles.  I needed to get three 100 mile rides in in ’88, so I did that.  Did I know that I needed to be in zone 1, 2, or 3?  No, I didn’t even have a heart rate monitor, it wasn’t pertinent to me, not then. It’s changed dramatically, but it’s interesting because if you look at the times it’s not like there faster.  Craig Alexander just broke the record, but they haven’t gone under 8 hours.  Maybe other than women getting closer to men, but only difference.  And that’s in an endurance event that that happens. It’s more technical now.  I used to race in a jog bra and butt hugging shorts and burn my skin to a crisp.  You don’t do that anymore, no one races like that. I mean, men used to race in a Speedo. In the 80’s, men raced in Speedos.  

Do you like it how it is?  Or, appreciate it in a different way?
Appreciate it in a different way.  I’ll always love to race Ironman and especially the world championships because then I am racing the best in the sport, and that’s what I love.  When I go to a different Ironman, it is so different…the atmosphere, the people. So, I love Kona because you have to be on top of your game. You have to realize it’s all about getting their healthy; you can’t come to the starting line injured. It’ all the pieces that go into making it a good puzzle.  I really want to do it when I’m 80 and I want to break all the records on the way up...that’s my goal.

Did they have volunteers like they do now…as many helping at the transitions?
Oh, yeah, Kona has always come out for that.  They were wonderful, but back there, it was really more like a family.  And year after year, you saw those same volunteers year after year in the same positions.  And that may be true now, but I don’t notice it as much because there are so many.  It’s not so homespun.

When did people back home start realizing that that’s what you do, that thing out there in Hawaii is what it is?
Umm, it was on TV but still they didn’t watch it.  I don’t know.  I’m not one to talk about it.  I would go do it and people would ask how it was and I’d say “good”.  In the world that I inhabited, it was ‘just an athletic event’ .  And if you talk to people now, 3 out of 5 don’t know what an Ironman is.

Did you ever get a coach?
My brother-n-law helped me, he’s actually a triathlon coach as well.  But, really back then until there was internet…I didn’t know anyone who had a coach, I didn’t even know a coach, let alone be able to ask someone to do it.  Graham and I did it together until early 90’s and sort of pieced it together. You just knew from reading that if you did three 100-mile bike rides and three 20-mile runs, you’d be able to finish. I always rode with men and that’s how I got good. And for me, obviously, I have good genes to be able to bike like that, I’ve always cycled with men.  I just rode with road bike people, not even racers.  I loved to ride my bike and in the summer if my kids were in lessons, I could go out and ride for 2 hours.  I just loved to ride my bike.  That to me is a key to an Ironman…a good bike.

If you Google your name, an article comes up, The Top 10: Kona’s Greatest Age Groupers and it mentions your name amongst a few others in the opening paragraphs of those beyond the author’s top 10, stating how could you not talk about these other great Kona athletes, as well.  When did you realize that you were having an impact on Kona?
Probably in 2001 when I won my first age group title and I had dethroned Missy Lestrange who is 3 years older than I am and an icon in the sport.  She had done Kona since ’85 or ’86 and had won 14 titles straight, no one had ever beaten her.  And I think that year I was 25 minutes down off of the bike, and my husband said, ‘just run for second, just stay in second, hold your run and stay in there’. And I saw her, there were still 2 turn arounds and I saw her and I knew in energy lab that I was gaining on her and I knew coming out of the Energy Lab, I could see her.  I passed her at 24.5 miles at the top of Palani Road and it’s just a downhill sprint to home like a mile and a half and I beat her by a minute.  It was big news back then because no one had ever beaten her.  I was 46 yrs old and she was, must have been 49.  So, that was the first time. And after that, 2002 and 2003 I podiumed but I didn’t win. I didn’t do 2004.  And since 2005, I have been pretty consistently in the top 5, so since Missy.  And it wasn’t even a fast time.  The conditions were horrific that year, I think I had a 6.5-hour bike, just had horrible winds.  So I think that’s why when you ask that question, because I beat her.

*correction according to the article: Missy placed 2nd in her age group in her first Kona in 1983, then won again in 1988 & 1989, took a year off in 1990, then won for 10 straight years from 1991 to 2000.  Missy and Laura’s battle in 2001 is called “epic” by author Jeff Cuddeback.  In 2004, Missy won her 13th age group title, putting her 5 ahead of Paula Newby-Fraser, the “professional Queen of Kona”.

So for a number of years, you have just wanted to be able to keep going back to Kona as long as possible.
Yes, that’s always been my goal.  So since ’87, I had a baby 1 year [and didn’t go to Kona] and I didn’t qualify another year and I took years off when I was the oldest in my age group because back then, based on your age, it didn’t matter when your birthday was.  So for me to qualify when I was 44, I knew I needed to win my age group at Ironman Florida because my birthday was in late August and there were no Ironman qualifiers in August, so I realized in short order that I had to figure that all out. 

When did you start coaching?
In 2007

Was it a conscious decision that, “I want to start coaching” or was it that people kept asking if you would coach them.
In Michigan, I was doing speaking engagements at running clubs and triathlon was…it wasn’t until 2000 that more and more people were taking up the sport, and by that time I had done 15 Ironman so people would ask me to speak.  And then, “you should think about coaching, you should think about coaching.”  And one of the first girls I talked to was a girl named Julie and I still coach her.  So Julie was instrumental in me thinking about it and had to sit down and actual figure out how I could do a that and teach.  So I started very small.   

When did you retire from teaching?
Officially in 2009

So how many do you coach?
Right now, not very many because it’s the end of the season and I like to have a break.  So currently, I have about 10 and I’m about to lose 3 after this weekend’s Ironman.  I know my max is between 15-20.  One year I had 30 and I couldn’t do it.  All I did was that and it’s too time consuming…and it was too much.  Upwards of 20 is my high-end.  

But you also coach people in just running?
I do in the sprint for halfs [marathons] and marathons. And they come back in the summer for triathlons.  It’s a very cyclical business.  Most come back in the spring. Some will come back in January, February, those that have been with me longer.  And people will come back in April and May ask if I’m still coaching and yes I’m still coaching but I’m not taking anybody else…when I’m done, I’m done.

This is the first part of our interview, the second part of our interview to come…

Haley Chura Interview- Part Deux

November 18, 2012

Following is part deux of my coffee shop interview with @haleychura.  We talked so long, this is now a three part segment.
Part 1 was in an earlier post.

This is my 10 year old daughter’s question for you: Has it been hard to become a pro triathlete?

Yeah, when I was doing Macon I wasn’t thinking I would go pro, I was walking the half marathon. I was thinking, ‘I can’t wait to finish and lets go get some ice cream’. Everyone was saying, “Oh my gosh, your swim” but I should have been winning the swim, I just swam for the best college program in the country. If I didn’t win the swim, Jack Baurle [UGA swimming head coach] would have been like, “What are you doing? You are embarrassing the program,” and they would have taken away my diploma.  It takes a lot longer than you think to get better at cycling and for me to get my run to catch up.  Even though I think I have some run talent, I didn’t run for four years. I used to swim 20-25 hours with dryland for a 2 to 4 minute race. Of course my running and cycling aren’t going to be that good, I haven’t put in 20 hours into cycling, I haven’t put in 20 hours a week into running. I’ve had to be patient. It is a little hard to go from towards the top of one sport to the bottom of another one. But, I’ve enjoyed the challenge.  I was kind of at a point with my swimming career where I wasn’t getting any faster. And I switch to triathlon and the only way to go is up, I walk faster next time.  So, I think that made it really rewarding, too, because there’s so much room for improvement and I haven’t had that in swimming for a while.

To jump back to something else for a second to clarify, this time last year, did you and Matthew sit down and say ‘you know you could be a pro if you do these things, do you want to do that or no’?

Matthew said ‘I want you to do Ironman Florida next year, you decide if you want to do it as an amateur or as a pro’ and this is when we were thinking it was 4 weeks behind [Kona]. And I gave it some thought and I talked to parents and they said ‘What kind of question is that? Of course you go pro, why wouldn’t you?’.  And so I was like, ‘Why wouldn’t I’ and I was down there [IM FL] last year cheering on my friend and I could have registered but I didn’t, I said,‘ Nope, I’m not going to sign up, I am going to do it as a pro’.  So that’s kind of when I made the decision.  But like I said, there were definitely moments when I was like, nope, scratch that, no way.

I don’t know what it involves to go pro.  What elements did you know you had to accomplish or had accomplished to go pro?

There’s different criteria that USAT lays out. Usually you have to place top 3 amateurs in a Ironman or half-Ironman with a certain amount prize money, it’s like $20,000 prize money. Some of the Rev 3 races have enough, if you place top 3, you can go pro. So, it’s not necessarily that hard to qualify, you could probably cherry pick a race and get your pro card.  How I ended up qualifying was by winning USAT nationals, that’s what I used as my criteria.  I knew I could do it because I qualified at Eagleman, I was 3rd amateur and I think the year before that I was 3rd amateur at a Rev 3 race. I knew I could do it and I expected it.  If I couldn’t do it, I don’t deserve it and I’m not going pro.  Winning USAT nationals sealed the deal, that was an easy one because you have to print out the results and send it end, give them a credit card.

So for that one, you should have been like, ‘Y’all look it up, I won it’.

Yeah (laughing), it was your race, you have it.  But I had everything together before Hawaii. I didn’t get it processed, the other winkle was, I contacted USAT and WTC before just to make sure I had everything clear. I knew it was possible because I have seen girls do it [in a short amount of time] so it was literally like sending emails the Monday after Hawaii.  Just like frantically getting everything together to get into Arizona. Luckily, USAT and WTC are on it and got me in.  I’m thankful for them and their organization and working with me and understanding the urgency of the situation.

What changes for you at this point from Hawaii to Arizona as far as prep and thinking going into Arizona?

Matthew and I have talked a little bit. There’s probably a little more strategy involved with racing Arizona. I have nothing to lose, it’s going to be a learning experience for me and I’m prepared for that.  You get used to being in the top 3 of your age group and I realize that chances are I’m going to get taught a lot of lessons, even if I have my best day.  When your racing Leanda Cave and Linsey Corbin, but I want that, I want to race the best people and see how I stack up against THE best people, which is another thing that made Arizona really attractive.  I’m not kidding myself, I know I can get better and the only way to get better is to be around the best people.  I learned that at Georgia.  I went to UGA and I knew I wasn’t going to be the fastest person on that team when you have Olympians, it’s kind of the same thing….it’s scary, it’s so scary.  I was scared to go swim at Georgia and I’m scared to go pro, probably not as scared because I did the Georgia thing and I’ve been around people who are really good before.  And this is a choice I’ve made as an adult.   I’m not doing it for a scholarship.  I have a job still, I’m still working, my boss is very supportive. I have nothing to lose, I have a lot to gain, I can learn so much from racing these women and learning from them. It is very different, I don’t necessarily know everything I’m getting myself into…that can be a plus, too. Ignorance can be a good thing.

Do you have some sponsors? From your website, it looks like you do.

I’m kind of working on that, I’ve used a lot of Dynamo’s sponsors. Dynamo is sponsored by TYR, Blue, and Mizuno but working on getting my own. This is the time of year that a lot of sponsorships happen with budgets for 2013. I haven’t officially signed anything yet, but I’m working on it.  The swim is definitely my biggest asset.  People have been really supportive, so hopefully.  If not, I have Dynamo Mulitsport and myself.  I’m my own my biggest sponsor still…which I’m ok with.  It’s kind of nice to not have that worry.

Does it bring you comfort that the swim, the first leg of the race is your strongest, you’ve already beat all of them in Vegas, you beat all of them in Kona, you are the fastest woman triathlete swimmer there is!

At the longer distances, I think Sara Mcarty can get me at the shorter distance because she swam at Florida. Yeah, I don’t have to get nervous on the startline, that’s been one of the nice things about triathlon because I know I can do the swim, I know it, I know I belong at the front of that line.  I probably get more nervous to go run a local 5k because I don’t belong at the front, I need to go back 10-20 people, I get more intimidated there. But when I get on the starting line at a triathlon, I belong on the front, move over.  I’ve put in my time, I feel like I’ve earned that from just swimming since I was 5 years old and sticking with it and swimming at Georgia.  And I owe it to Georgia and all my teammates, I still have to represent for them.  But I do realize now more now that there is some strategy with swimming.  Winning the swim is not winning the race. So it gives me confidence and does help me fit in. But my bike and run need to get up to that level, too.  It is who crosses the finish line first and finish line is not after the swim.

So crossing over from amateur to pro, is there anything you will miss about being an amateur?  What are you most looking forward to as a pro

Yeah, definitely, I met a lot of friends through amateur ranks. And it’s probably much easier for me to qualify for Hawaii as an amateur than it is as a pro.  It’s going to be really extremely tough with the point system and being able to race that much. It’s gong to be really hard to qualify for the world championships. I’ve been to Hawaii the last 4 years and I realize that next year the odds are not in my favor for being there, so that’s hard, but I’ve come to terms with that, but I want this new challenge and it ‘s time, it’s time.  I needed to be challenged a little bit more and be the underdog, the bottom of the heap and just see what happens.

With your swimming background, the one [pro triathlete woman] that comes to mind as most similar is Kelly Williamson because she swam in college. Do you ever look at her stuff, her times and look at her progression through the sport?

I have definitely watched her progressed, I do look at her swim times. It’s so hard to judge because of different courses and even the same course, times mean nothing because one year they can put the buoy in a different spot or it’s super windy.  But when I do look at times, I do look at her stuff, she is one of the better swimmers and what would I be in comparison to her.  But when it comes to the run, I can’t even compare there, she is so far ahead, I wish I could run with her, maybe some day.

But what I notice, this is just the human body and what years of training will do. And you are one of these people because you have fours years now to look back on and it doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s time and training.  To sit here and think, ‘ok a year from now, I will have an Ironman that is maybe 30 minutes to an hour faster’, does that seem doable, does that seem crazy, does that seem logical?

It is almost logical, because it is consistency is key, and experience and getting the mental training.  That’s why I’m going pro because I expect to get faster.  And with the training I’ve done and the training I plan to do and the plan Matthew and I are putting together, and watching people like Kelly.  I may not have her run speed but I have watched her progress in the sport and other women who have come from the age group ranks and moved to the pro ranks and here’s what they did, and read their blogs and everyone is so transparent. 

Like you, like you letting me talk to you.  I love it.

After Kona 2009, my first one, 12 and half fours, I talked to Hillary Biscay at that point and she took the time to talk to me and explained everything to me.  Our trajectory was similar, she swam in college and she took that time when I was a 12.5 hour Ironman about what it takes to go pro.  She talked to me on the phone for about an hour and I just couldn’t believe it, this pro triathlete took her time and told me all the things she did: ‘save your money, get to the big races, get consistency’.  She told me about getting 300 miles a week on the bike, you don’t have to do it fast, you just need to get those miles in and how she did it.  And she’s always been a mentor/advocate since then, if I have a question. Even when I was nowhere near going pro. It meant a lot to me, and I think a lot of pro triathletes are like that with their blogs.  Like you said, they make themselves available.  I think the whole triathlon community.  People seem very inclusive, if you want to find someone to ride with, they are like, ‘come ride with us, come run with us, come swim with us’, and I try to carry that on. When I knew nothing, and people helped me get into the sport. I remember on a bike ride being on Columns Drive with Betty [Janelle], and her saying, ‘Haley, you really need to get some bike shorts’. I had so much help from people, so now that I have a little more experience, I want to be able to help people and that’s why it’s fun to talk to kids. It’s kind of like pay it forward. So many people helped me, and they still do, and now I get to help other people a little bit.  

What are your plans and goals for 2013?

I would love…major goal is probably to qualify for Kona.  I realize that’s a shoot for the stars goal.  I realize how hard it is with points and I would definitely have to improve on my performances, which I do think is possible. I would love to race Vegas, I would love to try do some shorter races, I’ve even thrown around maybe some ITU races. 

It’s not that far off with your Vermont win.

Vermont was a surprise because I never thought I had the run speed to do Olympic distance, I never thought I had that, and I have been working a lot on my run the last year.  But I did Vermont and I was training for Kona, I didn’t really taper, I didn’t do any speedwork, I wasn’t on the track, and I was able to pull that off.  So, maybe if I tried to train for this, and I’m at the older end of the age group for shorter distance stuff, but maybe I could.  And I think doing some big speedwork would help my long distance racing…I haven’t committed to that and don’t have a ITU draft legal bike.  Maybe I would do some 5150’s or try to qualify for Hyvee or something like that.  Maybe do some shorter races or even jump in a Rev 3 Knoxville olympic distance. Matthew and I haven’t really sat down yet and come up with my plans for next year.  We have to look at calendar, work schedule, points, it’s a puzzle you have to put together, but those are some ideas.  I love Hawaii, I love that race and if I don’t make it back next year, I will try the next year.

Do you have a manager?  Are you getting more sponsorship opportunities being thrown at you or free stuff?

(laughing) No, myself.  I don’t think anyone wants to take a cut off of my current earnings ‘cause it wouldn’t be much.  Matthew helped me out a lot. I do get a lot of help from people in the triathlon community.
Part 3 to come in another day or two…

Interview with Haley Chura

November 16, 2012

Just a few days after first meeting her as the guest speaker at my daughter’s triathlon practice, Haley Chura was gracious enough to give me a lot of her time to interview her on her recent decision to go pro.  She grew up as a competitive age group swimmer with some stents into high school cross-country when her swimming schedule would allow.  Successfully in-love with swimming, she swam for UGA for 4 years then graduated. Next, started her new journey into sports, triathlon specifically.  After 4 years in the sport and many accomplishments, she has decided to go pro with her first race as pro status this weekend at Ironman Arizona after competing in Kona a few weeks ago as an amateur.  Following is part 1 of the interview as we talked for so long, and because I am not a full-time blogger/interview, part 2 is to come soon.  We wish her much luck this weekend in her new endeavor into pro sports!!


How old are you? 27

After your swimming career was over at UGA, after you graduated, what did you see for yourself and athletics for the future?

I was planning to be done, I mean, Georgia swimming was awesome, it was like the coolest thing I’ve ever done and being a part of that team is still the coolest thing I’ve done athletically but it was intense.  Being in top collegiate program was intense, I was ready to go into accounting and be an auditor. And actually, my second week of work my boss challenged me to do a marathon.   He was worried I was going to get bored and I didn’t know you could say ‘no’ to your boss.  So he challenged me and we did the Memphis marathon and I ended up beating him by 1 minute and I was kind of too young and naïve to know you shouldn’t go beat your boss.  He did not expect it. Luckily, instead of firing me, he decided we should have a rematch. So the rematch was the Macon half-ironman. I was kind of thinking, ‘ok but swimming is my best sport, are you sure you want to do something that includes swimming?’  It was a really hot day.  I was first out of the water and then I watched everyone in the race pass me on the bike and the run was…I think I ran to the end of the parking lot and walked the rest of it.  I was hooked, I had so much fun at that race and I could see where ‘hey, if I trained for this, one, it wouldn’t hurt so bad, and two, I think I could do pretty well’.

So what was your time in Memphis?

3:40, so I qualified for Boston by a couple of seconds.  So that’s why I had to beat him because I kind of knew that in the back of my head what the Boston qualifying time was.  That was 2007.  Then, 2008 I did Macon and Boston. 

Did you have any background biking or running?

When I lived in Colorado, my Freshman and Sophomore year, I did run on the cross country team for the high school there, which was probably one of the coolest things I ever did. I probably ran with them once or twice a week.  I did it in addition to swimming just to get involved with high school.  I did alright, but our team was really strong.  When I moved to South Carolina, I did cross country there my junior year. And I didn’t run in college at all.  A lot of swimmers get hurt running, they twist ankles.  My friend and I at UGA would sometimes do 5k’s just to get the medals. I never biked at all.

So after Macon, you did your first Ironman sponsored half-Ironman and go first.

So after Macon, my friend Betty Janelle said we needed to really train for a half-Ironman.   She was signed up for Hawaii 70.3 and I was signed up for Gulf Coast.  And Matthew Rose was just beginning Dynamo Multi-sport and she told me he was coaching and we decided we were going do it right and train.  So she hired Matthew and was his first athlete and I was his third athlete. I went to Gulf Coast and did fine and Betty went to Hawaii and qualified to go to Kona and so Matthew said, “You need to go up to Rhode Island and try to qualify” because that year Rhode Island had slots.  So I went up there and did it and that’s how I ended up going to Hawaii that year.  I was actually signed up for Ironman Florida for that year but I ended up not doing Florida and doing Hawaii instead. 

Your first IM in Kona after amazingly doing only your 2nd half IM and getting 1st in your AG, thus qualifying you for Kona in 2009. I read that you got GI issues.

Yeah, it was a big learning experience.  The swim was great. I think it was a combination of swallowing a lot of salt water on the swim and being new to the thing and not knowing how to handle it. I probably took in too much salt so I was throwing up the whole day, which you just can’t do in an Ironman. I probably should have stopped in T2 and got some water in and some calories in and then go out in the run, but I didn’t know that.  I got about 10 miles into the run and ended up basically walking the last 16 miles in the dark on the Queen K…it was scary.  I just didn’t know what was wrong with me.  I had no idea, my body had never failed me before. I just was like ‘wow’.  But in my time, I never regretted being there and walking in the dark I knew that I would be back next year.  I thought, ‘I’m going to do another Ironman’.  It’s one of my favorite races still because I kept going.  And then, I’m having a pitty party and these guys are still going out…I’m going in and they are still going out [on the run].  Those 80-year old guys do the whole marathon in the dark!  Matthew came out when I had 4 miles to go and make sure I was ok and not laying on the side of the road and I really appreciate that, he didn’t have to do that. It was one of my lowest moments of my life. My parents haven’t come to Hawaii since, they haven’t come to an Ironman since then. My dad said, “Haley, I thought you were going to come in on an ambulance and my heart can’t take that”.  But they are going to Arizona.

You had already planned to do Louisville the next year?  When did you plan that?

Right after Hawaii, I signed up for Louisville because I needed to do another race, I needed to get back in there. Because of my work schedule I can’t do much in January, February, and March and because Ironman’s sell out so fast, Louisville was my only option.  And that year, a whole bunch of people from Dynamo ended up signing up for Louisville and that year I squeaked into Kona with fourth place and a roll down spot.  It was so hot, it was a death march.  I remember being like I don’t care if a pack of 25-29 year old girls passed me, I didn’t care I was just ‘get me to the finish’. 

So you did a 10:55?  So, from a 12:30 to a 10:55. That was good! Yeah, and then went to Hawaii and did a lot better, a 10:36 or something like that.  So that’s what I’m going off, with back to back Ironmans or a little bit of time, I can do better in the second one.  Fingers crossed for Arizona. 

From Louisville [2010] to Louisville [2011], 19 minutes on the run.  Did your run get better or your bike got better that allowed you to run better?

2010 was such a death march and I walked so much because it was so hot and the second year the weather was better. I was surprised that my bike was slower and Matthew asked if I stopped and ate a sandwich on the course because my bike had gotten better [throughout the year].  My run wasn’t that great. In 2011, I already had a Kona slot because I had qualified in Eagleman and so I think that kind of took away some of that urgency and I don’t want to say I didn’t try hard but it was like a long training day.  Someone asked me once, ‘how do you get faster between Louisville and Kona’- you go slower in Louisville. I don’t think that race was necessarily was up to my potential.

You qualify for Kona and go back. How did you do that time in Kona?

That year I was second. That year, the day before the race I went out for a run and was struggling. I was jogging on Ali’ and saw Laura [Sophiea] and she goes by and says, ‘Oh, Haley, I didn’t even recognize you’ and yeah it was because I was going so slow.  But it all came together on race day, so now I want to feel bad.  I was just going for it.  I probably went a little too hard on the bike and paid for it on the run.  This year I was a little smarter on the bike and might be why I had a better run. But, yeah, that was a big surprise [getting 2nd in age group] and very eye opening.  That had been a goal for a while was to podium and it let me know that I can compete with these girls. I was really excited about that.

What was your time that year in Kona?

I think it was a 10:17.

So that’s what you meant by your jump from Louisville to Kona?

Yeah, it was purely from my bike split. Louisville bike split was 5:40 something and Kona bike split was 5:22… and granted the Kona bike and the Louisville bike are not the equivalent. Louisville is short steep hills that wear on legs and Kona long gradual hills.  The weather conditions were not that bad that year.  It definitely made me reevaluate my goals and made me want to break the Louisville-Kona cycle.  So, I did Texas, and it was a little aggressive.  But, you’re not just working off of 5 months of training, I was working off of 3 years at that point.  I was a little tired going into that race.  The race is on Saturday and I didn’t fly out until Thursday and having to build my bike, it didn’t give me a lot of time but my sister lives out there and it was another reason I wanted to do that one.  It was really awesome. 

Getting into your thought process at that time, this time last year, December of last year, was there any talk of going pro? Premeditated?

This was premeditated.  I was going to do Florida [2012], actually, but after Matthew realized that Kona and Florida are only 3 weeks apart, we changed to Arizona…but very nearly derailed. That’s a big thing to spring on yourself to do another Ironman 6 weeks or 5 weeks after Kona and race it pro because it’s bigger.  It’s one thing to do Kona after Louisville, it’s an excitement/bonus thing.  But after Vegas I was reconsidering even though I had a good result in Vegas this year and even after Hawaii, I mean you aren’t necessarily thinking the clearest and you shouldn’t be making big decisions right after an Ironman.  And during the year, when life gets to be too much and you think ‘is this what I really want to be doing?’  I was thinking maybe I should wait another year.  When you step back and the sunburn goes away and you aren’t so sore then think ‘yes!’ It’s the perfect time for me to do this, not married, don’t have any kids… I mean, I love this sport. And, I went to Hawaii and met with some amazing friends that I met through blogging and Twitter and there in paradise having coffee with my friend Alyssa who I only know because of Ironman and triathlon and I wouldn’t even know her if it wasn’t for triathlon. And I think that’s what motivates me and keeps me in the sport.  If I can do all of this in four years, imagine what a couple more years. It gets cooler every year. I never thought I would be doing this now.  I thought I was done after college. You think you are done after college and realize you still have a competitive drive and you miss it.

Ironman Florida Race Recap

November 12, 2012

How do I recap Ironman Florida with so much that happened, all the emotion that went into it and the fun and people that were involved?  First of all, an Ironman weekend is a profound weekend no matter the race.  Plus,  it’s a mini-vacation. Whereever the destination, and especially the beach, it is a chance to pack-up, anticipate something great, and get-away from normal everyday life.  If you are lucky, and we were, it is a also when you get to meet up with those you have and haven’t seen recently gathered for a common mission of participating and enjoying the same event.  It is euphoric just in that sense alone.   Add in dinners with those people and running in to them around town, the adrenaline of the race beginning, the joy of seeing each other on the course, the relief of the race finishing, and the happiness of sharing it together. Then, there is the verbal recaps the following days over Bloody Mary’s, soaking in a hot tub, and at dinner, and you only have to have a decent, not a great, race to gain some more respect for an Ironman race and enjoy the whole experience.  So, the weekend on a whole, was wonderful, and the race had its ups and downs.

The morning of the race, Sherpa friend, Lissa, and Sherpa brother, Brock got up early with us and headed to transition. We gathered with our coach, Laura Sophiea, and cheer section Maria and Shiela, in another athlete’s room, Libby, that overlooked the swim start on the beach.  Libby is also coached by Laura and Libby’s hotel room was the perfect gathering spot for the day before swim and the morning of the race.  However, Marcus and I had only about 10-15 minutes by the time we dropped nutrition on the bikes, walked all the way to drop our special needs bags, and then back to Libby’s room.  It was enough time to say hi to everyone, use the bathroom, and put on our wetsuits. Then, down we marched to the ocean as the pro men started…then the pro women a few minutes later.

We walked onto the sand, ran into my athletic trainer from FSU and tried to figure out where to start.  Athletes were wading out in the water, so we followed, put on our goggles and waited for the cannon as the aggressive waves pushed us around and it became difficult to even stay close to each other standing in the water.  The cannon went off and we began.  The waves pushed us back and I ducked under and tried to dive through but got pushed around the first several minutes.  I had Libby in sight on the right for about 200 yards, which brought me comfort out in the sea of strangers.  I had wanted to stay close to her as long as possible knowing we were similar in swimming, but after losing sight of her, I just tried to swim a nice comfortable pace while sighting the first red buoy and trying to see if I could draft off someone…not much luck.  However, I eventually reached the red buoy, made the turn into the sun, then left at the next buoy.  Heading back towards shore it felt like it had taken a very long time to get to the first red buoy so I prepped myself to stand up at the end of the first loop and see not a great time on my watch. Florida’s IM race is different than most other Ironman races in that the swim is a 2-loop swim in the ocean with a 100 yard jog on the sand in between.  The swim back in was crowded with hands, legs, hits, shoves, and waves.  It felt like every swimmer was right around me and I intended to look up when I got out of the water to see if there was even anyone behind me or if we all were just bunched up together. The waves helped us in a bit and then we were floating onto shore.  Stand up, wave push forward, float a bit more, stand, try to run, walk, walk up to timing mat, look at watch – 31 min (good, better than expected for what it felt like), catch breath, jog through water station, heard personal cheering section, saw them, slapped their hands and those of some others, and back into water for lap 2. Dive in, stand, get beat up by waves, dive back in and go for another swim around the buoys.  It went along pretty well and I thought how I was already coming to the end of the first leg of the race- first piece of the puzzle about put in place.  Keep on steady and smooth, I thought, nothing crazy, nothing out of the box. Then, time to ride the wave in and stand while realizing I like ocean swims much better than lake swims where the water feels so stagnate and heavy and the ocean feels natural and energetic.

Out of the water, cap and goggles off (oops, I was supposed to wait until I had my wetsuit down first) then fumble for zipper and wetsuit strippers beckoning for a chance to help you.  I look for males who I think can get the suit off with no problem, so on the ground I fling myself, two guys helping, two yanks as its caught on my timing chip on my left ankle, off, up and to water sprinkler where some guys seemed to spend a lot of time rinsing off.  In hind sight, I had some sand on me all day that I could have spent 10 seconds trying to get off, but on through the hotel overpass to where rows of bags were laid out. My bag was one row over in the very back so even though a guy yelled, “What number?! What number?!”, I knew right where I was going and I ran straight at him. He jumped over the rows to get out of my way as a volunteer yelled my name over my shoulder.  It was Katie, a college student who has done 2 IM’s herself.  I don’t understand how she does this, as I was not that focused on anything in life when I was her age.  A friendly yell, smile and encouragement and I grabbed my bag to go onto the changing area.  All of this happened within 2 minutes and was loud and beautifully crazy, chaotic and orchestrated.  In the changing area, there were plenty of volunteers and not many athletes as I chose a chair dumped my bag onto the floor and the volunteer asked which socks I needed and we put me together for the bike. I left her with a mess to stuff to get back into my bag all scattered about.  Running to my bike I saw Libby running towards the building, great sign to see her, then to my bike where a volunteer was holding it waiting for me to grab it and go towards the mount line.  Off to the left I went down St. Thomas Drive and onto the bike route.

I had a great 70 miles where about 6-7 people passed me to my every 2-3 passing, a couple in my age group, I noted.  But I was on my race plan and so it didn’t bother me too much. I was staying within my heart rate zone, feeling nice and smooth and steady and clicking off around 20 mph, making me plenty happy.  I thought of how this race was interesting compared to marathons and other tris because the length of the race made it a good mix of predictability based on preparation and totally unpredictable based on things out of our control.  All the training won’t prepare us for every scenario that might crop up – I didn’t have my unplanned scenario yet. But I was very open to the reality that anything could happen to make this race go sour.

Pedaling on, I was trying to entertain myself with songs and thoughts while staying focused and controlled.  I was trying to remember where the time check points were and when I came to the first one I thought about how the people sitting at their computers would now know where I was and how I was doing.  I wanted to relate these checkpoints to something funny, but the only think I could think of was the silly guy on the radio from a few years ago that did “hot mom check-in”.  I really dislike that whole thing, but it’s all I had so I went with it and thought I would think of something better as I went on. Therefore, about mile 15, I crossed some wires in the road, therefore: “Hot Mom Check-In! What-what”.  Then, hour 1- right around 20 mph, more people passing, wires in the road, “Hot Mom Check-In! What-what”, hadn’t thought of anything else to substitute but got my thoughts to my 5 year old daughter singing the words to the book Pete the Cat where the cat appreciates the color of his shoes as they get dirty with different colors from brown mud, purple grapes, etc.  So I traded over to, “I love my bike shoes, I love my bike shoes, I love my bike shoes”, which I really don’t and I intend to get new ones next year.  I felt just great and watched cyclists go by and motorcycle officials drive up and flash cards at some people for drafting.  I became very cautious to avoid any sign of drafting on my part and dropped back when I needed to and passed quickly when I needed.

On and on I pedaled, then onto a bumpy road and the bike special needs area.  I kept expecting Marcus to pass me on the bike and it surprised me that he hadn’t yet, but being the first out and back portion of the bike where I had a really good chance of seeing him, my adrenaline got going and I wanted to get off the bumpy road so I may have pushed a little too hard through this area, plus I wanted to pass the clump of riders in front of me because I wanted to make sure I was riding the whole day alone.  Then, I saw Marcus and he was laughing and talking to someone so I yelled to get his attention. Then, another “Hot Mom Check-In”.  I was feeling so good and so pleased with how the day was shaping up through 60 miles/3 hours on the bike.  This went on through mile 70, when I began to feel little sluggish, nothing terrible but a little noted.  I made a decision to back off for a while and use that time as recoup time because there was still a marathon to be done after the bike. Through the rest of the bike, it got a little tough at times and when mile 90 came, I was ready for the bike to be over.  A new wind in the face slowing me down, didn’t help that situation. I felt like I needed to take a nap in transition whenever I was lucky enough to get off the bike. Trudging on towards home, a pack of 4-5 girls passed me (first pack of girls all day) about 3-4 miles from home.  I think 2 were in my age group. When they passed, or other girls on the bike I thought, ‘I’ve got something for you on the run’. Ha- even then, it was more of a prayer and positive thinking. Then, we passed our hotel and at the final turn, I saw my brother yelling!  That was great!!

Into transition, hand off my bike, hobble/walk to get my run bag and change.  I didn’t take a nap, and I didn’t take a whole minute to compose myself like I had already bargained but I did get ready, sit for about 5-10 sec, take a deep breath knowing it was the last time I got to sit down for the next 26 miles…off to the port a pot and then to the course.  My legs felt much better than I thought they were going to and I was nice and steady.  I saw my cheer section before the first mile marker and I yelled for their attention, yells and cheers, my fist pump in the air and on I went.  The first pro woman, Meredith Kessler, headed back towards me about to finish her first lap, then on down the road, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place females. My goal was smooth 8:20 splits and this was not a problem at first, realizing later I was a little ahead of this goal.  A chatty girl in an Australia kit starting talking to me asking me what my goal time was, telling me she was in my AG, that it was her first IM (all without me asking) and telling me her time was also to break 11 hours.  She had bad energy and a quicker, more confident cadence – I intended to catch her later. It was time for the first gu/first calories on the run.  I squeezed it in and immediately my stomach and taste buds spat it back out – UNPLANNED SCENARIO. Ok, calories in is going to be hard and I’m only at mile 3 or 4.  Time for plan B.  This was the exact type of thing I had opened my mind to happening- something unexpected that happens reportedly in almost all Ironman races.  So, time to devise plan B.  Thinking back to what Libby had said earlier, that she only takes salt tabs and water, I knew I had a handful of Enduralytes in my back pocket, I’ll use those plus water and start taking Coke now and keep going until my body revolts.  I popped 2 Enduralytes and water and keep moving on. I saw Marcus going out on the run course as I headed back in, quick low five as we passed. My times slipped up as I headed back towards the 13-mile turn around, but I talked myself into this being ok for now.  I was fine with my times up until then, but the turning point came a little after that around mile 15 or 16.  My stomach got very nauseous, the times were getting slower, I had to take several trips to the restroom where it was nice and peaceful and quiet.  I enjoyed the noise outside away from it all and contemplated staying in there from a while. I don’t really consider this a GI problem, more that I have a slightly shortened colon (colon cancer) and this might just be my fate with Ironman races.

I probably walked an aide station about that time and then kept walking past it for the first time.  Wow, that felt good! To walk felt heavenly, but it was too early for that. Shuffle, shuffle, keep moving, take sips of water, sips of coke, add in a bite of pretzel, lean over dry heave at times and shuffle, shuffle.  In hindsight, I’m guessing my stomach had shut down, not allowing me to consume any energy from food so I was trying to survive on the sips I swallowed or spit back out to trick my mind and stomach that I had something to help me.  My early update on the run from my brother at mile 2 of being in 8th or 9th was followed by an update by my coach around miles 16-18 of being in 11th place.  I just wanted to finish so I could be done because I wasn’t sure I could keep going the rest of the way.  When I ran, I tried to look strong and composed and my coach saw me at one of those points and said I looked strong, but then I would walk and dry heave.  My goal changed from wanting to have a good solid race (about 10:40-10:50), to wanting to finish with a marathon under 4 hours, but then to just crossing the line and hearing my name called and never doing this again – ever!  Then, came my first leg cramp in my calf, as in my first serious debilitating leg cramp in a race…ever.  Remembering my coach’s tip, I split open an Enduralyte on my tongue, leaned over the aide table, sipped water.  The volunteer asked me if I was ok, I shook my head ‘yes’, stayed propped up, another volunteer asked, I couldn’t speak, so ‘yes’ I nodded again, swig of coke, spit out, move legs one in front of the other. Walk, run, last turn around towards home with 6 miles to go and over an hour before 6 pm which was sundown and the 11 hour mark.  Soon, it became apparent that the 11 hour mark was slipping away. So refocus on just getting done. A girl in my AG shuffled past that had first passed me early on during the bike. We had leaped-frogged through out the bike course with her ending up in front.  We then leaped-frogged on the run with me passing her early on in the run. The fact that she passed me was not good, same as the guy I passed a few miles back that was heading back in on his last lap because I had passed him going out on his first lap when I was heading back in on my first lap.  He must have passed me during 1 of my many potty breaks. That’s the way it goes, good for him, his run was looking solid and keeping form.  I jogged passed the girl in my AG again around mile 21 or so and don’t think I saw her again.

‘Just make it to the next turn shuffling then you can walk’, became the bargaining.  ‘Now, just make it the whole mile from marker 23 to 24 with no walking, take a break, then on again’.  At 24, I could hear mumblings of the finishing announcer.  Back through the party that was happening about 1 mile from the finish with an Elvis impersonator, dancing girls, music, water guns, and lights coming out for the darkness.  I just moved forward however I could.  I was rounding the final turns when I heard a friendly voice from the crowd and looked up to see for the first time that day a bike mechanic from the bike shop I used to do fittings and assemble my bike.  It was great seeing him, he yelled congrats on an 11-hour first Ironman and I picked it up a little knowing I was so close.  The sun went down quickly and I rounded the last turn heading for the chute.  Two athletes waved me on past them for some reason, so on I went, hitting some high fives from the crowds.  I was starting to cry, but then almost choked so I had to compose myself as I heard my brother and Lissa yell out from the crowd.  I put my hands in the air running for the clock as the announcer called and mispronounced my name (with the wrong city and state) – 11:07.56, I was done.

I had expected to collapse and maybe need the medical tent since I could hardly drink fluids, but as I crossed the line, I just stopped and it was over.  The whole year I had trained for, the time I had put into thinking about that day and the race and how I would handle it.  It was completed.  The volunteers put a medal on me, another handed me a finisher’s shirt and hat and I moved onto the photo area.  My brother came around and yelled for my attention and I limped over to give him a hug.  He showed me the huge, scientific project size three-sided flip-out posters he had made that said, “Kelly Wiedower: Mom of 3, Cancer survivor, Ironman Finisher, My Big Sister, My Hero!”  And “Kelly and Marcus: U R an Ironman”.  I chatted with Brock and Lissa and sat down, dry heaved a few times and attempted to watch Marcus finish but each time I stood, I dry heaved.  I watched him on the jumbo-tron, had my picture taken with him, then, I went to the medical tent to see if I could get an IV.  They were not handing them out like tic-tacs, so I sipped some more chicken broth and Marcus got me a Sprite before heading home where we got Zaxby’s shakes that seemed to fix most of my stomach problems.  I was unable to stay awake after an ice bath and a shower, but Marcus went back down to the finish line for midnight to cheer in the last finishers.

As soon as I saw Brock, I told him that this was the one and only one I would do. I told him it was the most stupid, idiotic, thing I have ever done (this is the same quote I have used after almost every marathon or endurance event I have completed).  But, in the absence of my stomach issues, there is no reason my marathon should be anything less than a 3:40 in an IM…so, I have to try again.  I feel like I didn’t even get a chance to run the race because of my stomach, so although I finished, I feel I have unfinished business.

Looking back, I really enjoyed it, besides the last 10 miles of the run and the last 20 miles of the bike.  But, hopefully, that will get better with time.  Although probably not because as Marcus and I always quote me as saying, “any race, whether a 5K or a marathon, hurts if you do it properly”.  So, the plotting and planning has begun with many ideas being pushed around.

I do wish everyone could feel that feeling of finishing an Ironman and knowing they did it.  People at work this week have used the term super-human when I describe what an Ironman is.  But, there were 3000 average people out there from 18 to 78 years old who just put in some old-fashion training time and gradually built themselves up to do something abnormal.  It’s time consuming, but a worthy way of spending my time.

I have been told by doctors that I wouldn’t live and I spend my weekends taking care of sick people, some of who die and some of who will not walk again and most of the time it makes me come back to thinking about triathlon.  Working with these people has made me appreciate my training and my chance to participate in sports more than ever before.  Some people have given up and don’t try and countless people have forgotten to take care of themselves.  Triathlon isn’t just taking care of onesself, for me it is living. Whether I lose, win, or get beat down on the bike in training, it all makes me feel alive and the reason why when I swear I’ll never do that again because it was the hardest thing I have ever done, why my body and mind beg for more.   That strong, magnetic draw back to another one I have lovingly termed, “Ironman psychosis”, or maybe PTIM – Post-Traumatic Ironman Magnetism.  Hi, I am Kelly, and I have Ironman psychosis and I’m living with PTIM.




Ultrarunner and Ironman, Pam Reed was out the day after the race at 1:30 doing her 2nd 45 minute run of the day!

Oldest finisher at 78 years young in Ironman Florida with Libby the day after. He was there by himself and driving himself home the next day.  He got his bike out of transition by himself the night of the race (this was something I could not do at that point). He’s been to Kona 8 times and done IMFL 13 times!! And he loves the attention he gets from young ladies like Libby from doing Ironmans.

Married with kids learning the Ironman lifestyle

Married with kids learning the Ironman lifestyle

Haley Chura

Married with kids learning the Ironman lifestyle

Kelly Williamson | Professional Triathlete

Married with kids learning the Ironman lifestyle


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 586 other followers