Sunday, August 24, 2008


Inspiration. I am not sure if this year could give more of it. Ok, the economy isn’t inspirational, neither is the weather…but I witnessed the one sunny day of recent days at Tri for a Cure on Saturday August 9th and the word, inspiration, was definitely the word of the day. For 12 weeks I have been coaching 30 women, 24 first time or novice triathletes, and 6 intermediate level (in experience only!) athletes.

And as I write this I am watching the 2008 Olympics - athlete perfection, pandas fighting extinction, and world records being broken by Michael Phelps. But, as I reflect on the last 4 months of my life, I realize I have been emotionally pummeled by 30 women who don’t necessarily consider themselves athletes, yet have accomplished something they never thought possible, completing their first triathlon, and/or placing in their age group! And even more incredible than that - participating in an event to honor themselves or loved ones, and raising money to help fight cancer.

We started our relationship sometime in April. One month later the core group formed. We met at the pool, at lectures, later at the lake, the ocean, the race course and finally the race itself.

If I could tell you how many emails I’ve received and answered, WOW! Luckily I’m my own boss or I might have been fired from my day job! I just have to share some of the first of the session: “Thank you Chess, Rob and Larissa, before today’s swim assessment I was thinking of dropping out of the race. I didn’t think I could do it. Your support and encouragement has made me believe that I can do it.” “Dear Chess, I can’t even walk a mile, do you think I can run 3 miles?” “Dear Chess, I did the workout you gave us today and it hurt, hurt, hurt. I hate running! Will it get better?” “Dear Chess, I just want to tell you that a fellow Tri-Chix pushed me today to run the entire Boulevard without walking, and I did it! She’s wonderful and made me do something I never thought I could do!” Dear Chess, I tried on a wetsuit today, how painful! But, I bought my first wetsuit and I love it!” “Dear Chess, I’ve lost 20 lbs and I’m ready for more! Last year I never thought I’d do this.” Dear Chess, I did the swim workout, and you’re right, I’m a swimmer!” Now, remember that during the day I receive these emails! I read them at the office and am totally emotional! I want to share the wonderful things that are happening with my office team as they are good friends of mine, but I can’t even read them out loud without tears in my eyes and a waiver in my voice.

So, the Tri-Chix group has worked hard, trained hard and concentrated on getting to race day. Some have friends, family and loved ones lost to cancer, some are cancer survivors, some just want to support this amazing event.

Race day dawns bright and clear. Tri-Chix are ready, they are early to race check-in and transition set up. Smiles and cheers abound! The race venue is gorgeous; set at Bug Light and Spring Point the area fills with women and volunteers. The energy rises with the sun. The pre-race ceremony includes honoring the survivors that are racing and the event itself, Maine’s first all women’s triathlon supporting cancer funding for the state of Maine. Some women wear t-shirts honoring loved ones, banners of loved ones, and badges of survivorship.

The women, one by one walk over the chip mat to the beach. The Bug Light jetty creates the edge for the swim course. Rhythm takes the athletes to the ocean’s edge and as each group enters the water, the race is on! As I watch my ‘girls’ I am so moved, proud and taken by their accomplishments. Time stands still as I watch the multicolored caps move through the water and I realize I need to get on the bike course!

I find myself at the best corner, runners heading to the finish, and riders heading to T-2. In my excitement at photographing my athletes I realize they are now waving to me as they pass! Yikes, I don’t want anyone to crash as they see me! The day ends with the ultimate high, a run down the finish shoot and hugs from everyone, a bouquet of flowers, or even a tiara if you place in your age group! I love a race where the top finishers get tiaras!

In the aftermath I receive one of the best messages and my reply garners even more. We have given to each other and in that have given to the universe. This is inspiration.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tucscon Tri-Chix

The best way to get through a Maine winter is to plan a little trip in early spring! Stay here for the late spring, summer and fall, our best seasons and longest days. You can survive through the holidays, especially if there is snow and you ski…but by March and April the indoor training classes are so old! The outdoor riding just isn’t quite fun, the group rides are just about to start…. but it doesn’t take too much effort to travel to warmer climates to push us through this in between time.

Mary Lou Lowrie called me with a great idea and though I usually can’t get away from work, I did! A 4 day cycling trip to Tucson, AZ. Mary Lou got on-line and emailed some friends and soon the outline of our trip started to take form. Kurt Perham, local triathlon coach had trained there and gave us some good tips. Mary Lou also contacted the local triathlon shop, and we solidified our plans. She had a Tucson cycling guide book overnighted and we were on our way. We packed our bikes, our nutrition and our clothes and headed southwest.

Monday was spent traveling and then getting settled. We put the bikes together, got unpacked and headed to to get our ride information in person. After spending some money (what Tri-Chix doesn’t like getting a few goodies at the store?) we rode back to our hotel. About 1 mile from the shop Mary Lou got a sheetrock screw in her tire. We could have patched it with a strong $20.00 bill but instead I rode back to Trisports for a new one, they had just closed, but luckily let me back in! We poured over the maps at dinner, planned our breakfast and tomorrow’s nutrition, water containers and sunscreen - we were now ready for our first big day of cycling in Arizona!

Tuesday: Ride #1: Gates Pass from our hotel – 77 miles. We were given a little scare when we were told the climb was a bit steep with a big drop off in one direction, so we planned to ride it so that we would climb that section rather than descending it. This route is in the Saguaro (Swaro) National Park – West. Saguaro are the classic cacti with arms. Mary Lou informed me that it takes 100 years for the cactus to grow to the point of growing arms, impressive! Every where you look, the view is simply incredible and the roads on the park were not very busy. We rode the McCain Loop and ran into 2 guys on a tandem. I hate to say it, you don’t usually see two dudes on a tandem…but these two weren’t your regular dudes…the guy in the back, the ‘stoker’ was blind and he and his partner were training for the Paralympics! They are competing in the Tandem Track Racing Division.. If you haven’t seen track racing, check it out, tandems, even crazier. The guy who was the ‘stoker’ had a genetic disease that lead to his blindness. He was a junior national champion before he lost his eyesight, he spent a few lost years and finally got himself pulled together to get back into a healthy lifestyle and even racing. Amazing. We stopped along the way for photo opportunities and sunscreen and finally we were at the ‘big climb’ and were rather undaunted! We’ve done some big hills at home, can you say “Mt. Washington”! But, this climb was beautiful and short, and since we liked it so much we went over the climb, took some photos, turned around at the edge of the Park and returned to do the climb from the other side! On the way home we stopped for some much appreciated ice cold Coke and found Epic Café where we had a great lunch and recovery. Then we went back to Trisports so Mary Lou could get a Camel Back. It’s imperative that you stay hydrated in the desert and we were a little close.

Wednesday: Ride #2: Group Ride from Starbucks across from Arizona University – 63 miles. There is a group ride every day that is loosely organized by Fairwheel Bikes. We heard that the ride could be 86 miles and since we didn’t know much about where we were, we packed our maps and brought our Camel Backs. We rode as a loose pack through the University as the morning sun shone was just bringing everything to light. Everyone on the ride was really nice and we soon realized that people would join or branch off as we headed out of town toward Old Spanish Trail and Pistol Hill. The 86 mile ride would have taken us to Mt. Lemmon but we were saving that for the next day. So, we stayed with everyone through Old Spanish Trail, gorgeous roads in great shape, and onto Pistol Hill. This Wednesday group ride was nice and mellow as the harder group ride had happened Tuesday and there had been a stage race the prior weekend. One woman was racing at Pistol Hill on Saturday, a 56 mile road race, 7 loops of the 8 mile Pistol Hill loop with a hill sprint finish, so she was riding it to get her beta for the weekend. As we rode through town we must have hit 20 traffic lights, the only drawback to the ride, and that caused some knee issues for MLou so at the junction of Pistol Hill we pulled off the ride to step back and take photos and take in the scenery. One tip, if you ride the Pistol Hill and enter Colossal Cave Mountain Park from the back entrance, you don’t have to pay the entrance fee to that park, that is what the cyclists do. We had planned to join the masters swim at Arizona University but decided we were on too much of a schedule and instead decided to eat lunch instead at the Casbah Teahouse. We then went to the University to visit the pool and the campus. We finished the day with a sunset drive to the Saguaro National Park-East ‘Visitor Center and Bicyclist Ramada’. This is an 8 mile loop, one way traffic, that is undulating and full of gorgeous scenery. We took photos and watched as the sun displayed its colors on the desert.

Thursday: Ride #3: Mount Lemmon – 74 miles – 26 miles of climbing, 26 miles of descending! This ride was the perfect finish to our trip. We rode it with the goal of riding a century that day so we parked the car between the beginning of Mt. Lemmon and Old Spanish Trail. I don’t know how to explain the magic of climbing over 3,000 of elevation and passing through 3 different environments. We rode from Saguaros at 85 degrees Farenheit to a ski mountain with snow, surrounded by pine trees. The grade is an average of 6-12 degrees, constant but not too difficult. The difficulty was not stopping every 10 minutes for a photo ops! We rode past Hoodoos, we smelled pine needles in the sun, we felt the cold air as we approached the snow, we climbed 1,000 feet toward the top only to descend back down 1,000 feet and then to the final summit after another 1,000 feet. The sun teased me into not bringing a jacket and we got very chilled at the top, so Tri-Chix had to get a fashionable garment at the ski shop for the descent! The descent was into the wind and we were somewhat appreciative of the way it slowed us down. Our average pace was 40 mph and almost as much work at the climb. When we finished we started toward the next segment of our ride to complete our century, but we soon realized we had to eat dinner, pack our bikes, and get up at 3:00 a.m. to return home…so we drove to the Saguaro National Park – East to ride our little 8 mile loop. It was as if we were doing a farewell lap to the desert. The sun was setting as it had the day before but the view was from the saddle instead of the windshield, even more beautiful.

The riding was fantastic! The roads in Tucson, gorgeous. However, do note that the roads in downtown Tucson change name mid section! It makes map reading difficult! We spent 2 evenings trying to find a particular Mexican restaurant to no avail! We found it the last night and apparently it is as good as they say, the wait was 1 hour, and we didn’t have the time, so as you should always leave something for the next time, we will come back in 2009 and eat at La Miniditos and do one missed ride, Kitts Peak! Apparently, the roads up Kitts are so smooth as the top is a big observatory and they need to be able to bring telescopes and equipment along this road! We’ll be back!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Western Australia Ironman

Often that which means the most to you is the hardest thing write about. It has been just over a year since I completed the Western Australia Ironman in December, 2007 and I’ve been trying to write the story ever since.

Remember Ironman New Zealand 2005? I was
never, ever going to do another Ironman… it appears that pain is easy to forget. Rob Smith, my now husband, former boyfriend, says that Ironman changes your life. He should know, he’s done 8 of them. But, I didn’t think I was like those people, obsessed, getting the tattoo, etc. I was just a normal human being who wasn’t that crazy about the first one, happy I’d finished and could check that off the list of things to do. Now here I was planning to do another one. The lure of Australia was certainly a factor. And, I have to say, I love training with Rob, I couldn’t just watch him train and then spectate at the race, I am not the type.

So, back to the training schedule, the work outs, the lack of socializing, but also fitness I’ve only felt once before, that I hoped to surpass. This race was in December, not March, much better training weather and daylight hours! And I had 2 more years of training and racing under my belt. Luckily, Rob is a pro at creating the workout programs, weeks of brick work outs, mostly cycling and running, but often swim to bike transitions as well. All of a sudden I had done 8 centuries and we began our favorite bike/run workout, 4 to 5/16 mile descending time bike loops with 1 mile runs in between, also in descending times. I admit, we were spoiled, we did these workouts right from our own home.

Two friends came with us, Jim Favreau and Todd Szczech. We survived the long flight from LA to Australia (We spent 2 days in LA to train and get a little break on the travel time.) and the 1.5 hours of driving from Perth to Busselton, (on the other side of the road)! Jim made arrangements for our housing, a gorgeous home on the beach minutes to the race venue. It was much nicer than the condo I owned in Portland!
We had discussed getting in the water upon arrival, just a chance to swim in the Indian Ocean with our wetsuits. We brought in the bags, the bike boxes, making sure everything was intact and we got on our wetsuits, just before sunset. It was beautiful, the sand and the blue water and sky, just waiting for us. We jump in, start swimming and I look down into the clear water to see a little crab with its pinchers pointed at me, then all of a sudden I feel little stinging all over my hands and my face. All I can imagine is that I’m getting some weird hives, blisters, boils all over my exposed skin that will somehow ruin my race. (It’s amazing how paranoid you get at this time about getting sick or injured.) I swim over Todd, swimming faster than I’ve done in awhile, to shore. Luckily nothing serious occurred, we were stung by ‘stingers’ little jelly fish almost invisible to the eye that apparently habitate the waters near our abode. I’ve decided the rest of my swim training will be in the pool that I saw on the way to town while I put aloe vera gel on my skin.

The next morning we travel to the race venue, get our race packets, and get psyched! The Aussies are incredibly friendly, and this small town at the beginning of the Margaret River Valley, Western Australia’s wine region, is wonderful. After a little grocery shopping, we return to our new home, get our bikes built, and do a little ride around the neighborhood, getting used to riding on the other side of the road, just a little déjà vu of New Zealand.

We are now just 5 days to race day. It’s a little surreal during this time. We eat, sleep, breathe Ironman. We discuss our nutrition plans, we ride the race course, we swim the race course (a mile out to sea around a jetty, no stingers, just watch out for the man-o-rays), we run part of the race course and visit the race venue taking it all in. We attend the pre-race events, the parade of nations, the pre-race dinner and all of a sudden, the race is the next day.

My lucky dinner from New Zealand, that didn’t upset my stomach is chicken, so we have that. Bikes have been dropped off at the transition area, transition bags are all in place, nutrition all set, water bottles all set, clothing, wetsuit, race belt, final check, over and over. We eat dinner almost in silence, each of us getting mentally ready for tomorrow. Australia hadn’t had a time change for a few years, but this year they reinstated it, setting the clocks back an hour, the night of our race. The locals weren’t even sure it was happening, but our race directors made sure we knew, so, instead of 4:00 a.m., we were getting up at 3:00 a.m. The good news was that we weren’t going to be sleeping much anyway, and that the race issue of the year prior, rough waters for the swim, were going to be lessened, and the heat of the day would be abated just a bit.

The alarm goes off, it’s dark, of course, and we get up. My stomach isn’t feeling very well. Butterflies are normal, but this seems worse. Rob had been a bit suspicious of the chicken but I had a second piece anyway. We drove to the race start as the sun was starting to rise. Music was playing, racers were arriving, and we were as ready as we could be. Seeing the calm water of the ocean made me incredibly happy, lessening my nerves immediately. My stomach, however, wasn’t quite as happy. We made our final arrangements at our bikes, dropped off our transition bags in the transition tent, got body marked, put on our race belts, our timing chips and put on our wetsuits, swim caps and goggles and went to the water’s edge. I used the port-a-potty 2 times, not a good sign. I told Rob I thought I had food poisoning and he said it was just pre-race nerves. I disagreed as I ran to the bathroom one last time, worried that I would miss the start.

The swim was really strange. We were seeded with people that shared our estimated swim time and this proved to be a tough swim as I was never able to shake any swimmers or get a good line. I didn’t realize that the salt water would be much more effervescent than fresh water and the kicking of those in front of me caused more water ingestion than I would have liked. I swam an outside line at the turn around, forgoing any draft to avoid the fray at the buoy. I swam much more outside than I wished as I had to swim inward to get inside the last buoy. I worried that my time would be slower than in New Zealand. The swim is really the shortest aspect of the race, but it does set the tone and this wasn’t how I wanted to begin. However, when I exited the water I saw 1:10 and was happy! We ran under the fresh water showers to rinse and peeled off our wetsuits. Make note, this is where I lost my timing chip in my wetsuit, without knowing it.

I jumped on my bike and rinsed my mouth with water. My stomach was really acting up. I couldn’t stay in the aero position and that was really tragic as this is the flattest course ever, and my bike fit was perfect after spending hours working on it this past year. I also couldn’t take in any calories. I kept remembering Rob’s words, “If your nutrition plan isn’t working, adjust.” I tried eating, but couldn’t keep down my food. My stomach caused me to get off the bike about 4 times. By the end of the first loop Coca Cola was being offered and finally I found something I wanted. It tasted fantastic! I filled my handle bar water bottle with it and kept riding, still unable to ride aero. At the end of the first lap we rode through town and I went over a timing mat, they make a specific sound when they read your chip, every other mat I had crossed, I must have crossed with other riders, because at this point, all I heard was cheering, no electronic signal. I looked down at my ankle and sure enough, my chip strap was missing. I didn’t know where I had lost it and a sharp sense of panic rose within. I would be ‘unofficial’ I could finish and be an Ironman, but my time wouldn’t be officially recorded. My friends at home following me on-line must have been wondering if I dropped out. I found an official at the start of the second lap and told them what had happened, they took my number and said, ‘don’t worry’. Mmmm. I saw Rob go by me and told him and he gave me a sympathetic look. I couldn’t believe this, along with all else, was happening. Knowing how I was feeling and that I had a marathon coming, I wondered if I could keep my motivation and cross the finish line. Somehow, I just decided that I had to finish, there wasn’t another option, official or not, I would cross the line and break that Ironman tape.

I got through the bike, finally. As I entered the transition tent I told the volunteers about my timing chip and someone took my name and number and again told me not to worry. I went out onto the run course, having only had Coke for the last 65 miles. I hoped to regain my stomach and started with my race belt, only to discard it within a mile as it only seemed to make me feel worse and the food in it didn’t have any appeal. I carried some gels and dropped them in a chair on the run course. Rob ran by me and cheered me on, I felt better than I had in New Zealand, believe it or not. I was in much better shape than the other race and on schedule to be much faster. While on the run course, a local hero went by me on his hand cycle, Bob. He is a paralyzed from the waist down. Seeing him gave me an instant boost of optimism and sense of renewed energy. I was, however, falling behind my watch. I dropped ice cubes in my bra, poured water over my head and started running the marathon shuffle. I just kept going, and going, seeing my two other friends and cheering them with a high five as we passed one another.

Finally, finally, I approach the last mile of the race and the grassy shoot to the finish. The cheering and the knowledge that I am going to finish my second Ironman and in almost less than one hour from the previous one, urges me forward. I enter the shoot, the sun is still in the sky and it seems the cheering is really loud. I feel a huge sense of emotion and raise my hands in the air thinking how much I love these people and how incredible I feel at this very moment. It is as if time stands still, all else disappears except the cheering and the finish line. I hear the race announcer say my name with his Australian accent, over the loudspeaker, pronouncing that I am an Ironman. I see Rob standing there and I start to feel the tears well in my eyes. He hugs me and congratulates me. Then a volunteer puts a towel over my shoulders and starts to walk me to the massage tent. Rob grabs me and says, ‘wait just a minute’. I look at him and wonder what he is up to. The announcer says something to him and another racer crosses the line. Again, the volunteer tries to get me out of the finish area and Rob stops him. The announcer hands Rob the microphone and he says, over the loudspeaker and looking into my eyes, “Chessell McGee will you marry me?” Already choked with emotion I sob, “Yes!” And the cheering continues. Pretty soon there is a photographer taking our photo and we kiss for the camera. I later find out that our engagement makes it to the official race DVD and while I had forgotten much of that moment, I apparently said to the camera, “Wow, I had to work hard for that!” While I was still racing Rob got an official to make sure my time was set and they had all my times recorded!

We stayed at the finish shoot until our other friends crossed the line, what a difference from IM New Zealand! Together we cheered until the last finisher crossed the line, a woman who had done over 20 Ironman competions! Now, onto the wine region, oh, and Tahiti on the way home!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Please see the newest article about my friend Mary Lou! She's off to British Columbia to get in some skiing miles now!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

My Friend Mary Lou, Champion at the 2007 Kona Ironman

Ok, she’s back and I finally got to sit and spend a few minutes with this incredible woman! Her tale of Kona is one that I can relate to as an Ironman finisher, and because I went to Kona to cheer Rob in 2004, I can visualize the race venue; but, this story is hers and hers alone.

First, let me say, that Mary Lou feels a bit like she didn’t race her race because she had to walk 17.5 miles of the marathon. Those of us who have been there can understand those feelings, but will instantly proclaim, ‘It doesn’t matter, she finished the hardest race ever!,’ and she may be the only woman from Maine to ever compete at Kona. For the first few days that Mary Lou was back she was trying to find a race that she could do, to take advantage of her incredible fitness. She wanted to jump on a plane to Florida to do the 70.3 race in Clearwater, but it was full and though the race directors thought her story was ok, they didn’t bend the rules. (Besides her bike hadn’t even arrived from Hawaii yet!) Then she told me she might go to Western Australia, I replied GREAT, thinking she meant next year in 2008 when a big group of us are planning on going, but no, she meant this December. She has had to listen to her peers and admirers and finally accept that she is a champion and that she has other races in her and that this race was a success.

I asked Mary Lou when she started preparing for Kona. She instantly tells me, September 10, 2006, the day she finished Wisconsin. If you remember from my previous story, that race was her qualifier for Kona. But, when I wrote that story, I didn’t know how she found out she had qualified! The day of that race produced some of the worst weather ever in its history, it poured rain and the temperatures were in the 50’s; the lake was white capping, the winds terrible. Mary Lou stumbled back to her hotel after the finish to get her hypothermic body warmed up in the shower. She had her personal best IM race, 13:08 +/-. While in the shower, a travel companion and fellow finisher, Kim Nestle, (then Kim White) ran into the room (she had finished a bit earlier and had recovered a bit more) exclaiming that Mary Lou had won her age group! Kim’s son, Will had been on line tracking them and called to tell them that Mary Lou had won her age group by over an hour, and set a course record by 15-20 minutes. By winning her age group she qualified for Kona. From that day onward, Mary Lou’s entire focus became the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. In fact, she couldn’t sleep that night worried that she might miss the wake up call to claim her slot the next morning!

Mary Lou has raced triathlon seasons and ski seasons for many seasons now. How she does it, I don’t know! After qualifying for Kona she went to Finland in February of 2007 and raced at the World Cup cross country ski championships! But, even there, all thoughts were Hawaii bound. She suffered some hamstring issues in January which lead to physical therapy as well as massage therapy. Through it all, she continued intensive training, including some triathlons and time trial events in the 2007 season. But, her intensive Ironman training didn’t begin until the end of August. Her coach, Rob Smith, told her to take a week off (she really didn’t, let me tell you!) because after that week, her life was going to be all Ironman training.

Mary Lou only missed one work out, and I don’t know if I can stress how amazing that is. These work outs include swimming every day, either in the lake, the ocean, or speed work in the pool. She did ‘brick’ workouts, bricks are workouts where you combine running and swimming, or cycling and running, generally, it’s about building up your brick, your cycling to run transition. Some of the most successful bricks that she did were some that we had done for Australia. These included 3-4 time trial loops of 15-25 miles, with 1 mi. runs in between. Each time trial loop and each 1 mi. was faster than the one preceding. This is highly effective Ironman training. Mary Lou also probably rode a dozen centuries in 2007 leading up to this race.

In between training, Mary Lou got herself prepared for her travels. She’d already had her bike repainted, green with pink hibiscus detail, and then she had pink hibiscus decals made for her wheels, and her helmet. She had secured her accommodations in Nov. of 2006 and her airline reservations that December, leaving nothing to chance. She later arranged for her 3 children (once she knew their various schedules) to join her. She created piles of things to bring: clothes, nutrition, accessories, etc. She would add or remove things as needed. Finally, after hours, and hours of training, often 20-30 per week, she arrived in Kona with her partner, Nat Steele. Nat is the ‘behind the scenes’ organizer of most of her races, he makes sure the details are all secure, and is an incredible mechanic and support person, excellent navigator, oh, and great cook! Although they had arrived, their luggage, including bikes, didn’t. Always prepared, Mary Lou had a carry on of swim and run clothing, so she could get her first work out in immediately!

Soon, Mary Lou’s family had all arrived, except her youngest, Andrew. He was due in the day before the race. Mary Lou visited the race venue, did some training and swam with her daughter every day at Digme Beach, the famous Ironman beach. I called her Thursday before the race to check in, only to find out that her knee had mysteriously swollen to the size of a cantaloupe that day and that she was worried about racing. She didn’t know what had happened. I suggested a bug bite but the doctors didn’t think that was it. (When I went to Hawaii with Rob in 2004 I got a bug bite on my eye the first day and my eye swelled up like I’d been in a fight!) She elevated and iced and heated her knee and did the best she could to get ready. She had dropped her bike off to the race start, had all of her transition bags ready, and had her race day planned out, including nutrition, etc. The night before the race Mary Lou was as ready as she could be, except that her son hadn’t arrived. Due to the airlines, he missed his flight and wouldn’t be in until race day. Mary Lou was on the phone until 9:00 p.m. trying to handle this dilemma until finally the family got her to calm down and let everyone else handle the airlines and get Andrew to Kona.

Race morning Mary Lou got up at 3:30 a.m. and put the very final preparations together. She put air in her tires, got her water bottles, finalized her transition bags and nutrition. Andrew was due in at 6:00 a.m. just before race start! Nat, always there in a pinch, picked up Andrew at the airport and got him to the race start just in time to see his mom, even though the roads were closed!

Earlier, in preparation, Mary Lou got to Digme Beach, got body marked and then sat under a tree to meditate and mentally prepare for the event ahead. All racers were gathered, the pros in the front at the water’s edge, drums and announcers were heard in the background. Mary Lou got to the beach just in time to hear the start cannon! She wasn’t quite seated in the pack of swimmers as she had hoped, but she had a great swim, she came out of the water at 1:25, when she came out of the water she saw her family all on the sea wall, including Andrew!

Running out of the water to T-1 she saw that only one other bike had been removed from its rack, she was in second position! On the bike she got into her rhythm. Remember what a great rider she is? Her memories include seeing her family, seeing the other racers and riding through town through the throngs of spectators cheering the racers onward. Finally onto the Queen K, the highway of loneliness, she knew she was on the Kona IM course. She passed the one woman who beat in the swim before the first climb and was assured that there weren’t any more women from her age group ahead of her. She rode through the headwind to the climb of Hawi but at the turn, after the special needs bags, she climbed at 33 mph as the headwind was transformed to a tailwind. She then entered the famous lava fields, no tailwind at the ‘airport’ but she was 10 miles from the finish. Her feet were burning, it felt like there was a blowtorch under the pedals; she moved them around in her shoes to no relief. Her legs were cramping, the lump remained over her knee and she felt the swelling, but her nutrition was good, and she was in the lead for her age group on the bike! Coming in around 6:24 to T-2, holding back in an effort to have reserves for the run, she was the first in her age group! As she came out onto the run course and past her condo, she saw her son
Andew on the run, he had cut his hair short, she rubbed his head with love and then he and his siblings ran with her for a bit. About 7-8 miles into the run onto the Queen K, the tendon behind her calf began popping with each step, which in turn caused her hamstring to tighten immensely. Fear caused Mary Lou to stop at a water station to assess her condition. Here is where she made her decision to walk the rest of the race. She had thought to herself, should she run and chance a crawl to the finish? Or walk to the finish line upright and without serious permanent damage. She knew she had plenty of time to walk and make the cut off time. The finish line was more important to her than an ambulance ride to the med tent and a DNF at Kona. So, she made the tough decision to stop running. We were on line following her and saw the 14 minute miles and knew something was up. Soon, the women she had passed on the swim and bike began to pass her. They gave her pats and words of encouragement, as well as compliments on her great bike ride, as she resigned herself to this plan. She power walked into darkness at the ‘Natural Energy Lab’ and after the 12th woman passed her she just kept walking. At 6 miles to the finish she saw Scott Rigsby heading toward her, a paraplegic in reflectors, she exclaimed to him, “This must be Scott!” He smiled and thanked her for recognizing him. At that moment she knew he’d finish the race as well. Finally, she walked toward town. At 1.5 miles to the finish she began to run, on Alii Drive. Nat and the kids ran toward her and they crossed the finish line together. Leave it to Mary Lou to wonder if the floral lei they would place around her neck at the finish were fake
plastic flowers, she was pleasantly surprised to be enveloped in the incredible smell of the hibiscusflowers she had worked so hard to capture.
Mary Lou with my friend Kim, her #1 fan, almost! Stormin' Normin' who didn't make it to the end......
Mary Lou's son partaking in some post race fun, jumping off the cliff wall at Southpoint, the southern most point in the US. The cliffs are 30' high. Yes, Mary Lou jumped too, Mary Lou miss out on the fun? Are you kidding!?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I have a story to tell about the 2007 Kona, Hawaii Ironman World Championship, but Mary Lou isn’t home from Hawaii yet…no, she didn’t win her age group, or make top 3; but she is a champion! She was the fastest in her age group on the bike, but walked most of the marathon due to a prior knee injury. She completed the hardest race I know. If you missed watching Mary Lou and the other racers at you can still catch the highlights. Mary Lou is an Ironwoman and when she gets home next week I get to interview her! So, in the meantime….I think I’ll revisit my initiation story so you can get the flavor for hers. You can also get a quick overview at

If you haven’t read my first post, read it before you read on so this will make more sense!
Well, either I'm the biggest sheep, or he's the greatest brainwasher… Rob had already signed up for an Ironman in New Zealand. The catch, his challenge, it was to take place in March, 2005. Training in the winter for an Ironman was an incredible feat - a way that someone who had already completed 6.75 of them would challenge themselves. Why did I sign up? Love. Yes, let me say it again, Zero to Ironman, Love. Remember, I have finished 2 sprints. I DNF'd at two Olympic races due to flats! Now, starting Nov. 1, 2004, I was training for an Ironman. Ok, a few things: I'd always wanted to go to New Zealand, I thought that I'd spent plenty of 12-14 hr. days with my ex-husband climbing, especially in the winter ice climbing; in my mind, this was a cake walk! Now, remember, I'm not a runner (I should have thought of that!). We trained through December. I survived the holidays, (I still ate pate like a of my favorite foods). We rode spin bikes, adding 2.0 hour classes to the weekend schedule. Our club members loved it. We had to add on, riding the trainer or going outside if the roads were clear...making 5 hrs in the saddle. We rode our bikes to the Cape Elizabeth pool from Portland, dressed like penguins, we swam and rode back in snow storms. Snow gathered in my brake calipers, my hair froze under my hat that was under my gortex covered helmet. I ran for 3 hours. I ran from Portland to the Cape Elizabeth pool to be met by Rob. I made it in the allotted time. He kissed me as I got inside, snot frozen on my cheek. We traveled to California to train, remember, he is a pilot, free airfare. We traveled to Los Angeles, training in the hills, it was great. We did long rides; we thought they were long enough. We ran, I thought we ran more than enough. I was tired most of the time. I got pneumonia, 2x. But, all of a sudden, I was in the best shape of my life. My 2004 New Year's Resolution had come true; I had vowed to get in the best shape of my life, to do something big before I turned 40.

On the plane to New Zealand I had some Ambien, my doctor gave it to me after a friend told me how great it was. So, I gave one tablet to Rob and one to myself. A gentleman sitting behind Rob was sneezing on the back of his chair. We took it. I took mine with wine and Rob took his with water. Now, he’s a pilot, never did drugs, they get drug tested. He says, after 5 minutes, “Honey, I don’t think this is working, I think I need another one”. I say, “Wait a minute, it will work”. In minutes, he’s out. Two glasses of wine later and we’re just decending into New Zealand.

We had signed up for a TriTravel package. Our guide set up our in country travel and lodging, some training and other events. It's a great way to exeperience your first overseas Ironman and it allowed me to know some of the people around me! Our cargo van and bus of fellow triathletes met us at the airport, after 14 hours of flying we have 4 hours of driving to Lake Taupo, lead by our guide, Depak Patel, later named 2Pac by a van mate. We finally make it to our hotel/motel and it is right across the street from the lake. The day we arrive Rob’s nose is running, the guy who never gets sick, is sick. I buy zinc and all other drugs we can get to ward off the germs. The lake is white capping…that’s where I am supposed to do my Ironman swim!? The next day when we wake up it is still white capping, but we do a practice swim and our guide warns, people love to hit golf balls off the grassy shore into the water, and they’ll try to hit you while you’re swimming. The lake is crystal clear…we swim…I look down and there appear to be moth balls on the bottom, oh, wait, I’m at the golf ball spot, swim fast!

We meet our competitor friends, Gerald, from LA who works for Disney and his wife, Darshan, who’s not racing, but a great race companion, we meet a guy from New Jersey who was able to retire before 40 by developing sub-divisions, (he had built and sold 150 residential units), his wife travels with him, his best advice (and it will come back to haunt me) is this, “When you cross the finish line, smile for the camera so you have a good finish line photo to buy!” We meet a Kiwi, from Christ Church, who is in the military, he’s a lot of fun, as are many of the other people. One woman, who ends up winning her age group, and going to compete in Kona, is here with her boyfriend who has a mohawk and piercings – not an athlete – but a great support crew, he’s so proud of her! It’s a motley crew, but we have one thing in common, an Ironman competion on March 5th.

We train a bit together, get to know the town. The Kiwis are so nice, but they drive like New Yorkers! Wow, the crosswalk means nothing. We count the days and again, I feel like I’m in such great shape. We do runs and I'm rested, they feel like nothing. We get our race packets, our numbers, our swim caps, we go to the race venue every day. It’s starting to feel real. In our hotel room there is a hot tub in the back room, it’s a gift! We are in our taper so we don’t venture too far out onto the race course, we don’t rent a car, so we walk or ride our bikes to town. I have gotten the same cold Rob got…what to do, it doesn’t seem too bad after pneumonia!

Finally, the lake calms down, no white caps. Race day is in 48 hours. We get our bikes ready, numbers on our bikes and transition bags prepped. It’s a motel full of nervous energy. Every athlete has his/her bikes out daily for maintenance, we discuss food, calorie intake for the race, race strategy, etc. Basically, this is our way of passing nervous time. On this day I meet Cameron Brown at the race venue, the Kiwi who is slated to win. He’s had a couple of close wins at Hawaii, but a local champion and wow, look at him, he’s smaller than me! We participate in the pre-race celebrations, including The Parade of Nations. It's great, we're all here for the same event, from all over the globe.

The day before the race. I look to Rob for all guidance. He says, ‘Stay out of the sun and don’t do much.’ I’m in New Zealand, on Lake Taupo, and instead of sightseeing, I’m sitting in our small room watching bad movies. One of these is Happy Gilmore, and will haunt me tomorrow…as I try to find my ‘Happy Place’. The hot tub is set up to help us recover after the big day, temperature perfect. We cook dinner, chicken breast and green beans. Finally, it is time to go to bed, hours before the race. I am sick to my stomach, I sit in the bathroom and I wonder, ‘WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?’ I am doing an Ironman in just few hours. AM I STUPID? I seriously realize that I am in over my head, I am crazy for trying to do this and I should drop out now, save myself the pain and disappointment. I have a panic attack in the bathroom and I tell Rob. He replies, “Honey, this is normal, you’ll be fine, don’t worry.” Always, the Rock of Gilbraltar.

We get up at 3:30 a.m. it’s dark, obviously! I don’t feel very good, I feel….scared! Our bus arrives and we all board to go to the race start. Nervous Energy, can you feel it? No one is talking on the bus, we are all inside our own heads, trying to wrap them around what is about to happen. Steam rises from the lake; the air temp is 40 degrees, colder than the water. The New Zealand indigenous people, the Maori, perform a warrior ritual for us, paddling in canoes, they chant across the calm (yes, calm) lake water, the sound pulses around us. I get goose bumps listening to them, for a moment I am removed from my own tension. T-1 is lit by big stadium lights. We check our bikes, put our water bottles in place, air in tires, the warrior chant becomes the background to the sun rise. The grass is wet and cold on my feet, I can see my breath. Every racer is here and we’re all doing the same thing, checking and rechecking our bikes, running shoes, nutrition, running to the port-a-potty. The loudspeaker calls us to the shore. Again, it’s pretty quiet, not a lot of talking, the darkness seems to make us whisper. I take a sip from my Hammer bottle, trying to get calories before the swim. The sun rises over the steam enveloped lake. We jump in to warm up.

Rob, always calm and in control, talks me into going to the front line of the mass swim start. Unlike some Ironman races, there are only 800+ racers, not the typical 2,000. I’m one of the only purple caps in the front, (females get purple), I’m surrounded by men. I’m not even a great swimmer, but I can be aggressive at the start and it's better for me to be in the front to get a good line. Here we are, the official race fanfare fades, the pros leave and we wait for the age groupers' start. Our horn blows and we’re off! I don’t know what happens, it’s nirvana; I feel like a seal in my wetsuit. I just follow the feet in front of me, I get a perfect line, surrounded by my ‘school’ of swimmers. I don’t even need to sight. I just swim. My heart pounds in my head, but I am oddly calm. We continue through the water, I see those golf balls on the bottom and know I’m almost at half way. I look up just to round the buoy and head to the finish of the first event. I get out of the water and to my surprise, I have swum 2.4 miles in 1:10 minutes, wow! I’m thrilled. This is going to be my day. I run to the bike, rather chilled, seeing my breath. I strip out of my wetsuit, grab my arm warmers, get my bike and head out. I see my heart rate at 180 on the first tiny hill out of town, too high, my AT is 190 and I was supposed to stay at 165-170 for the first lap. But I feel great and strong. I get out onto the course, feeling great. As I ride, a few of my Tritravel mates pass me saying hello and cheering me on. Farmers and other spectators are out on the course watching us, did I mention how nice the Kiwis are? G’Day mate! It’s a blast! I make the 1st first turn around…finally I have to go to the bathroom…we are supposed to go on the bike…right…not something I practiced…but I have to go….ugh. It takes forever, I could have gotten off the bike and gone faster. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the official race photo of me on the bike has captured me relieving myself at mile 30. My hands have been numb the entire first lap. It is starting to get warmer, but, as I go to eat my first hammer gel my numb fingers get the gel all over me while trying to open the packet. It gets on my gloves, and then my face as I wipe the sweat. I make it through the first lap in my goal time. Remember negative splitting? The second half faster than the first…well… On the second lap I feel everything; the rough road surface, I’m not kidding, it’s teeth chattering, the wind, seemingly a head wind in every direction, all seems to be sapping my energy. I’m starting to lose time. My second turn around split is much slower than my first. Am I really going 13 miles per hour up this little hill? Am I really having to get out of the saddle to get up this tiny climb? I finally, finally, make it to T-2. I almost need to be peeled off my bike.

Now, I haven’t told you that my biggest fear was losing control of my bowels on this race. Rob had told me about racers doing that…oh, God, not me! So, I had packed a wash cloth for T-2, which becomes a gift, because now as I sit down in the changing tent wiping my face with cool water on my wash cloth, I can’t imagine a nicer feeling, cool, wet cotton on my face… In fact, the race helpers are probably wondering if I am ever going to get up. Ok, so was I. I just don’t feel like moving. What I didn’t know at the time is that I was incredibly dehydrated. The temperatures had risen to 80 degrees, yes 40 degrees over the race start temperature. Did I mention it was March for a Mainer? Finally, I boost myself up and head to the portapotty…and then to the run course…. The Marathon. The temperature will rise another 10 degrees while I’m out there.

I head out on the run course, along the lake's edge, along the path I viewed each day from my motel room. As I head out, Cameron Brown heads to the finish line. Yes, the winner is going to finish while I have a marathon to run. I am actually relieved to be off the bike and on my feet… But, did I mention that I had gotten orthodics this year? That I have feet flatter than Kansas? That Rob had told me to run in racing flats as they’d be 'lighter and better', and that I had gotten a 2” blister on the part of my foot that should have been an I left my orthodics in the motel room and I wore those racing flats… Mile 10 and I experience a physical break down. Ok…by now I’ve run past my motel room once and will do so again 3x. Remember the billboard on Storrow Drive in Boston, Ma, ‘If you lived here you’d be home now’? That’s me and my hotel room. I pass Rob heading to the finish line, I tell him I don’t think I’m going to finish. I’m in so much pain that I don’t think I can walk, much less run. He, fatigued, but finishing, says, “You can do it honey, I’ll see you at the finish.” I run…as people run and even walk past me. I look so bad that a spectator yells out to me, in that New Zealand accent, ‘Find your Happy Place!’. Even in my pain, I have to smile. I focus on the run, I head down into a little neighborhood, shuffling by a guy cheering with a megaphone, “Go 1207”, (my number). He asks, in his megaphone, with his NZ accent, ‘Where ya’ from mate?’ “Maine”. I struggle to whisper. “Maine? Where’s Maine?” “USA!!!!!!” I gasp. I try, I try really hard to find that happy place. Then, I hear a voice behind me saying, ‘Is this the worst fucking run you’ve ever had?’. It’s Gerald! I am thinking of quitting and how slow I am, and here comes a guy who I know wanted a much faster time than what will come of this… I reply, “YES”! The spectator with the megaphone says to Gerald, who is walking next to me, “No walkin' on this road mate.” (I think I’m running, but he’s walking at my pace.) I laugh, but Gerald looks at him with annoyance. He has stomach problems and has lost his salt. I give him some and ask, hopefully, ‘are you going to drop out?’. I secretly wanted someone to drop out with me. “No, he replies, I’ll walk if I have to.”. Oh, ego, I tell myself, that’s what this is about – it’s not about how long it will take, or how fast I will be, it’s about being here right now, about finishing. An angel, named Gerald, has just come to save my experience. The Kiwis are cheering and partying around us, having a blast seemingly at our expense! But, without them, I’d be faltering. A red convertible passes Gerald and I, a dancing woman cheers and toasts us with champagne. Wow, that’s where I should be. Gerald picks up the pace and leaves me, leaving me with the strength to continue. I run to the end of the first lap. I can see it, no trees here, a torture, the turn around is miles away, literally and visually. (We later find out that the dancing woman in the car is Darshan, Gerald's wife who had been abducted by Kiwis to spectate and celebrate, and she said she felt so guilty while she was drinking champagne and driving by us as we suffered on our run!). I limp along and run past my friend again, with the megaphone, he remembers and calls out, ‘Go 1207, Maine, USA!’ with the same gasp! Ugh! Help! But, he makes me smile, again.

Finally, finally, 13 hours and 18 minutes after I started, I get to the finish shoot. The sun has set, the sky is black, the lights are shining brightly as I approach... They put up the finish tape, so I can feel like I am the first finisher. What are they thinking? I can’t break that tape, I don't have the strength! I’m so stressed about getting through the tape, then the finish and I remember, smile for the camera! My eyes, wild, look for the camera. Please! See my photo as a dying blonde cow crossing the finish line. That wonderful New Zealand, Kiwi, accent, yells over the loudspeaker, “1207, you are an Ironman.”

I fall into Rob’s arms. I get weighed, I can’t walk, seriously, I can’t walk. How did I run a marathon? Feeling sick to my stomach I fall to a chair. A blanket gets wrapped around me, my teeth are chattering. It’s dark outside, I wait for a massage, but all I want is to curl up and be left alone. I lie on the massage bed and a wonderful person rubs ice over my feet. I’m shivering, but my feet are burning, pain, awful pain. As this person rubs ice on my feet and massages my legs I finally realize, I’m alive and an Ironman. Ironwoman? But, I cannot walk, move, or eat…Rob, help!

We had made a pre-race promise to our friend, a Guinness at the pub after the race. I’ve been in the finish tent now for over an hour. I’ve had my massage I get some soup, I get my jacket, I'm ready for the room and the hot tub and I say, “I don’t think so, you guys go ahead, just walk me to the cab”. But the cab stand is just beyond the bar. So, twist my arm! We walk in and the big dudes, the rugby players, fans of The Blacks are ruling the bar... We walk through the door and get a standing ovation from the bar crowd. They are cheering, “Ironman, Ironman!” I get tears in my eyes and a big fellow walks up and says, “Can I buy ya a pint Ironmates?” Yes I almost sob! I’ll take a Guinness, vitamin G as they a say and I’ve made it I'm an Ironman, Woman!

P.S. if you didn't already figure this out...I'm not blonde, just an aspiring one....

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tech Info from my friend Mike MacDonald, computer wiz! You can hire him to help you too!

By the way, did you know you can receive text message updates on Mary Lou’s progress Saturday? Just go to this site: and click on the ‘Select This Channel’ button (you have to click the button to ‘activate’ the search tool) then put in her last name or her bib number: 383--- then click on the ‘+’ sign next to her name to add her to your ‘My Athletes’ list. Next, use the ‘Test your phone’ tool on the side to make sure you can receive text messages from the WiggleWireless service, then proceed to the next step. Enter your info and you’re done. You’ll get 11 updates to your phone when she crosses certain points on the course.