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!