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!?