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.
It always comes down to the last event. It’s the Acadia Triathlon and we just think it’s a blast. I guess for a few reasons. Number one, it’s in Acadia! Number 2, it benefits the Lions Club of Acadia. My grandfather was a Lyon and my cousins are current Lyons. Don’t ask me what they do, I couldn’t tell you, but it’s a male family tradition (the Lioness Club seems to have gone by the wayside!). Number 3, it involves kayaking. Number 4, the run is first, yes, first. It’s a run, bike, kayak. Oh, and afterward, it’s Oktoberfest in Southwest Harbor.

The first year we did it, 2005, it was in the aftermath of a hurricane. When we arrived Long Pond was white capping! I was sure they were going to cancel, but no! Race was on and we did it in the crazy weather, the volunteers working at least as hard as we did! I got a first place, so did Rob, my infamous husband.

Per usual, this trip is a multitasking event for me, I have to close up my home here for the winter and then focus on the race….so I’m rather distracted, and typical for me, at the last minute, I think I have to work late, but I finally get out of the office and we arrive the night before with plenty of time to be race ready. I did talk us out of bringing race wheels, too much of a hassle. I sort of mistakenly take this race for granted, a small town race without the need for the highest end gear. I was almost embarrassed the last time we did this race with our high tech stuff. But, we show up and a few ringers are present, disc wheels and serious racing boats! This race may have changed a bit! But, it is such a nice casual atmosphere and the weather is so glorious, I relax a bit. I haven’t trained enough (perennial issue!) and didn’t ever lose that extra 5 pounds this season. My husband knows it’s the wine I just can’t give up….We sign up and 3 of my cousins are present, making me feel at home. One of them organizes this event!
Here is my cousin Tom, with part of the members of the soccer team he coaches, they don't have a game today, so he enlists them to volunteer! Nice coach!

Long Pond is like glass and the leaves are just about at peak color, the sky a perfect blue. Well, its 2007, the weather is balmy, I think it’s almost 70 degrees. Not only is that odd for October, it hardly gets that warm here in August! It’s just a perfect day and I am more relaxed than I have ever been at a race start. I have checked out my competition and later will learn that I was close in my prediction, but not totally! I didn’t check out the boats, just the bikes and the clothing. The woman I am focused on is in a tri-suit, like myself, the only other woman wearing one. I’m sure she’s going to be tough to beat. Rob says, relax, as I have a great record with sprints involving kayaks, I’m 3 and 0! Undefeated! I have won this race and 2 Sea to Summit sprints. No pressure now.....

The horn goes off and the 50 of us at the mass start line go off. There will be a split given at the first mile. I am so relaxed I didn’t even bother with my heart rate monitor, so I have no idea of my heart rate or time. Well, I feel great, as I run up the hill, yes, the start is at the base of a hill! A woman passes me wearing a camisole! Her long braids moving with her rhythm. I have my husband in sight, he must be going a bit slow. The other year I had done it I lost sight of him immediately! Well, the first mile split, and I’m in trouble! My mile is a 7:01. It’s been uphill and I’m screwed! I am not kidding when I say I haven’t been training, I haven’t done a 7 minute mile for a long time! Mile 2 and I get passed by the next woman. She looks like a total runner, perfect stride and a pace that never falters. I’m huffing and puffing, in a lot of pain! Why do I do this to myself? Halfway point and the woman I had been eyeing is just behind me. I heard breathing, I didn’t want to look, but I had to, yes, it’s her! She passes me as I slow my pace, I just can’t keep going that hard! The opposite of my goal of negative splitting the run, I just hope to make it to the bike! Mile 3 a woman passes me in a skirt. Ok, this is the third time this season a woman in a skirt is going to beat me. The last one was at an X-Terra, and before that at a 30 mile mountain bike race. I’ve learned now not to judge woman by her skirt, almost…it’s still hard! I have them all in sight…and figure, the ones except the one in the tri-suit, are not going to be good on the bike or the kayak. Ha. Finally, in just under 32 minutes, I get to T1. My heart rate is so high, the run is soooo hilly, that I’m worried about getting it down in order to get my pace on the bike. It’s only 12 miles, so I don’t have much of a choice, I’m trying to catch my competition. I pass one woman right away, the woman in the skirt is now just in bike shorts, I pass her on the 2nd hill. One issue I’m having is one I’ve yet to encounter, the dreaded muscle cramps; when I stand on the climbs my calves seize up. Wow, now I know what people are talking about, this must be because of the run. I’m finally on a flat and totally aero, and then the camisole girl is next. I pass her counting down, three down, one to go. I finally see her at mile 7. This is one race where I don’t pull my usual self sabotage; instead of giving up, I actually do chase her. I fly by her, but this only causes her to speed up. We jockey back and forth and pass a few men, boy they hate that! Then there is a dump truck in our path. This stinks! We are almost at the same pace and cannot get past the truck, the roads are too narrow. I try to draft off the truck! It seems to be working as the woman I’d been chasing seems to have dropped back as well as the guy who tried to stay with us. But, it doesn’t totally make sense…she was very strong when we were riding together. I make it to T2 and am totally thrown off, they had moved T2, sort of, the bike rack is across the street but my water, hat and gel are where I left them. I lose my focus a bit and a lot of time. I get to my boat with my competitor right behind me. I ask her what had happened and she had dropped her chain. We get in the water at the same time and I ask if she had done this race before, yes, last year she says. I state that she must have won, no she says, her friend a paddler won, beating her by 7 minutes on the kayak, she’ll catch us she predicts. Now I paddle as hard as possible. I have kayaked 4x this year, I’m not sandbagging, I really haven’t trained! But, I have been swimming…just not 4 miles, the distance of this paddle. Head down, I just work as hard as possible. I start catching a few guys and seem to be losing my competitor. Maybe I won't get caught by this infamous paddler. I don’t know who she is, so I have no idea where she is in the race. Again, head down, I’m just working the paddle. It’s a tail wind and pretty nice. The water is crystal clear and I can see the bottom as I skim along. A big black boat with 2 paddlers passes me and we trade greetings. (There are a few boat categories, one of them being the canoe, this canoe looks more like a Darth Vador weapon.) I’m parallel to a guy now, I can’t quite pass him and so far I’ve evaded this mysterious paddler that is pegged to catch me. We are heading toward the portage and then I see her, she passes me on my left, looking really strong. Her boat looks completely race worthy with flames around her cockpit. Then I see her winged paddles. I’m screwed. She gets to the portage and out of her boat easily crossing the road. I get to shore and out of my boat. But, as I go to pick it up, I forget it is 18’ and I haven’t been picking it up lately! My calves seize and I’m frozen. I drop my paddle, the end of the boat hits the rocks and I am paralyzed. The volunteers, who aren’t allowed to help us, cheer me, they must be wondering why I’m not moving! Finally, I get the boat on my shoulders and basically limp across the road and toss the thing in the water, nevermind the carbon composite I’ve been protecting every other time I paddle! The woman that passed me is way ahead, traveling to the finish line. Now, I just have to look over my shoulder at the portage, 3 paddlers are heading my way, jump in the boat and paddle! if I can’t catch the woman ahead of me, I have to secure 2nd place!

I get to the finish area and remember that we had to get out of our boats one year, but there are boats everywhere and I’m yelling, where do I finish, what do I do? A guy on the dock says, you’re done! So, I’m second and after standing in the water to get my calves to relax I wait for my ‘competition’ to come in and capture 3rd place. So….the woman that won….was the one in the skirt! I go up to her to meet her and talk and find out that not only is she a good paddler, and she is the one that passed me on the run, she lobsters for a living in Tenants Harbor. Awesome! The woman who got 3rd is in a nice boat and had ridden a very nice bike. She is new to Portland and I hope to run into her in the future, I think! Well, as it always comes down to the last event, let’s go to Oktoberfest!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ironman - why don't they add Ironwoman?


It's almost here, the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. A very good friend of mine, Mary Lou Lowrie, leaves for Kona, Hawaii this coming weekend. She is an incredible athlete and someone who is truly inspirational. She is 56 years old and her goal is to win her age group at this year's 2007 Ironman World Championship. This quest is an odd one. First you are an athlete, you might run, or swim or bike. You might not even do any of those, maybe you were once a weight lifter, maybe a rock climber, a surfer, maybe you were a couch potato. But, usually, you did one of the three, swim, bike, run. Then one day, you are an Ironman. I mean, Ironwoman, Ironperson? For starters, here's the distances: 2.4 mi. swim, 112 mi. bike, 26.2 mi. run. Yes, the icing on the cake is a marathon. It began in Hawaii btw.

I started with cycling. I dabbled in it all, road riding, touring, a few cyclocross races, a few mountain bike races. I was a 'roadie' who thought triathletes were 'tri geeks'. (They do wear small clothing and aren't usually great bike handlers at the amateur level!) I also did rock and ice climbing with my ex-husband. Like many triathletes that go Ironman, or just keep it to the sprint, this is a journey.I met my current husband at the gym. We both taught spin. I remember the day I was converted, I was teaching, he was in my class. I knew who he was and I was intimidated that he was attending. (I'd been slacking a bit, read on.) He is the biggest Ironman supporter around; he convinces people every day to do triathlons and then he gets them to do an Ironman! I think his slogan should be 'Zero to Ironman!' Some people at the gym accuse his supporters (disciples?) of 'drinking his 'Kool-Aid'; it's insane! Anyway, there is a triathlon in the town where I went to high school, Bethel, Maine, the Bethel Tri. It's a great venue and I had thought of doing it since I heard of it, visit my alma mater, do a triathlon. But, I didn't run (hadn't for 17 years) and I certainly hadn't swam since I was a teen ager swimming across lakes on Mt. Desert Island. So, the one in the same guy in my spin class brings it up and I reply, 'I don't swim, but I've wanted to learn'. The next week I had a swim lesson on my calendar! It was February 2004 - I'd been living the Bridgette Jones Diary. My personal life had hit some bumps in the road and I was not taking it well. But, I had made a New Year's Resolution to make a change, and here it was happening, right before my eyes. I showed up at the pool after trying on about 50 bathing suits and getting ear plugs and goggles, plus a nylon swim cap. There he was, in the pool lane...almost naked in that! I went to get in the lane next to him and he pointed to the one he was in. How was I going to jump in and not touch him by accident? What I was not prepared for was the fact that when I jumped in one of my ear plugs fell out, and I got water up my nose! Ugh.A few dates later I was committing to early spring road rides and even running after spin class. Yes, I was cross training! Our courtship continued...even after I struggled through an April 66 mile hilly road ride with an 11-21 cog...I walked up the last hill, later finding out that it was about an 18% grade and I've seen riders walk it since.Don't forget, I live in Maine. I think it was in the 40's and I needed hot chocolate to keep me going. But, my mind remembered the old me, the one who used to ride! Not the new me, teaching spin 2x a week as my only riding, and consuming more than my fair share of wine!So, it continued. I met other triathletes. I have witnessed and been part of many sub cultures, here was the newest. My new boyfriend was the leader of the pack. I still remember wondering how he did it...he was a commercial pilot, owned a small triathlon shop and had done 7 Ironman Competitions, including Hawaii 2x, he was a personal trainer. Yes, I did tell him he was an over achiever - what's that distance again?! It was May of 2004 and he was going to do a local race, Iron Bear. (A very popular race organized by a friend of ours at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME, whose name has been changed to Polar Bear) Check out this interview with Glenn Close on David Letterman, as she discussed doing the race this year - note how her entry to the pool mimicked mine with the snorkel vs. the ear plugs! I give Glenn major kudos for doing the race and being one of us in the locker room, pool and race course, and of course, for being an incredible actress - oh and trekking in an air cast! Maybe she's more of an over achiever than my husband! Now I know all the terms I didn't know then, it's a 'sprint' distance. It is, as Glenn says, a 500 Yard pool swim, a 12 mi. bike and a 5k run in the beginning of May. (There are other sprint distances, but they are similar, but often in open water too.) I was still on the fence about the triathlon thing... So I waved to him in my bathrobe with coffee cup in hand, as he left for the race. Yes, he won overall.

I did do Bethel. And, for some bizarre reason I got 2nd overall. I was beaten by a friend, Kim White (now Kim Nestle) who is a great runner. But, she beat me on the bike and I was pissed! Still in the mental past about my cycling! However, the other thing that happened was that I beat a woman who is a local legend, Erin Brennan, I hadn't heard of her, until after the race. Yes, she had just had a child, I think the week before~! I've never beaten her since, not even close! Apparently she was chasing me in the woods on the trail run. I never look over my shoulder, I might trip and fall. Earlier in the season I did the Unity Tri, (set in the home town of an ex-boyfriend), Kim beat me there too, but I had no expectations getting 2nd got my expectation set up for Bethel. Then I attempted Camden, I flatted on the bike course. The season was over. I got 2nd in the two races that I finished. I was a convert. I had a tri-suit, I had a wetsuit, I bought a tri-bike! Yes, as I have been told, I am a gear head and this sport is great for those of us who are!

It's now October 2004. Robert Smith, the guy of this story, has qualified for Hawaii, again. I don't know how he did Lake Placid, NY Ironman and qualified while I was just doing those sprints, I was so new to the sport, I just didn't quite get it. He invited me to go to Hawaii in August, I said, 'Yes!'. (I'll say, 'Yes' a few more times!) He had a condo already rented in Ku'ai as his gift to himself for doing the Ironman and ending a 20 year marriage. We go, I'm still really a neophyte about all of this. I have my bike shipped so that I can ride with him and ride around to watch the race. We meet his cousin, Janet, the first family member that I've met!We're in a condo with a great pool, just a few miles from the race venue. It's Kona, Hawaii and we're here with all the other Iromman racers. It is exciting, it is really the explosion of a sub culture that I was still getting to know. Ripped bodies parade about, totally tricked out tri-bikes spin by, many different languages are spoken, though mostly white skin and the foreigners were from Europe, a lot of Germans. In fact, a German, Norman Stadler is slated to win (Stormin' Norman) and Natascha Badmann of Switzerland, (Swiss Miss) is the female contender. One day we did a 6 mi. run and it was so hot I stuck my head in a public fountain! I've now learned the race course, the start, the bike course, that includes The Energy Lab where the black lava radiates the hot sun back at you, and the run course. Race day approaches and Rob has been getting ready all week. He shaves his whole body. If he wasn't so hot, I'd really think he was a weirdo! A few days before the race he prepares his bike for T2, numbers on, water bottles on, disc wheel, all of it. We drop that off the day it's due. His cousin and I prepare the race night meal, something simple. But, we have wine, he doesn't. I get up with him at 4:00 a.m. I am sure he didn't sleep. I ride my bike to town in the dark, bringing my cell phone. Rob's cousin drives him and we meet at Java on the Rocks for his pre race coffee. Now, even I'm nervous. But, I still don't get it quite yet. I don't own this world. We move to the race start, the loud speaker, the race start, the energy. Rob's cousin and I watch the racers hit the ocean and then plant ourselves among the crowd on the bike course. The Pro-Racers speed by in their aero bars, the age groupers, I spot Rob! (Heart Throb!) and later, the high tech wheel chair recumbents go by too. I ride to the run course to cheer him on. The pros go by and then again, the age groupers, I wait, and wait, and wait at the run turn around wondering what happened to him. Long story short, Rob was injured since his Camden race, he pulled a very small but important muscle that attaches the achilles to the calf....he didn't finish the Ironman, due to the run. Of course, where would we be without cell phones, Rob's cousin and I have been calling one another trying to spot him. We find out he has been to the medical tent. At this point I have decided all of these people are insane and the last thing in the world that I would ever, ever want to do, is an Ironman. I will make special mention of the athletes that are quadriplegics, amputees, etc. Prior to the race you can read Racer Bios about different athletes. I don't remember her name, but I do remember the amputee athelete who dedicated her race to her gym teacher who in grammar school didn't include her in the activities. That's powerful.;wap2 Maybe this is the woman? There are a multitude of stories of heroic people that do this sport.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this I meet Mary Lou Lowrie.

I think it was at Crystal Lake in Gray, ME where we do group open water swims. She had a bubbly smile and a partner, Nat Steele with her, they were training for Ironman Couer D'Alene. After I met her she showed up everwhere! At the time I didn't know much about her, but I was soon to become a close friend and training partner....and someone who just can't catch her in a time trial. Oh, yeah in 2006 she set the course record for her age group at Mt. Washington. Maybe, like my husband I'll wear her down due to age! Just note, not only is Mary Lou and incredible cyclist, she is a fantastic cross country skier, an incredible artist and gardner. You can hardly stand her she's so genuinely kind!I have since done 2 Ironman competitions, I'll write more about that later! But, this is about Hawaii, and my friend's impending departure. She qualified in 2006 at Wisconsin, one of the worst weather days in Ironman history, setting a new course record by an 1:15, and she has dedicated her entire being to this upcoming quest. Rob has been her coach and I have been privy to most of it, the challenges and the rewards of training. I know that she is planning it all down to the last detail, what she'll wear, what she'll drink and eat, every minute of the day. It is a journey, not only getting there but crossing the finish line. So, on October 13, 2007 you can log into and watch for your favorite athletes! Don't forget the time zone change! Beware, just watching could change your life.