Professional athlete and 3-time Ironman champion

Courage Under Fire


If you Google “Life’s Most Stressful Events”, you’ll find various lists of things that suck.  While no 2 lists are exactly identical, most of them have very similar components:


Selling a house.

Losing a job.

Check.  Check.  Check.

This past Friday, I sat in my condo in Panama City Beach, FL, enduring the pre-race excitement/dread dichotomy that often befalls the final 24 hours before an Ironman.  I was watching some bad TV to take my mind off what was about to happen, and my mind started to wander to what had already happened. 

How did I get here?

Just 5 weeks before, I was doing the exact same thing in Lake Tahoe.  My, how time flies.

I sort of “missed” my Ironman Lake Tahoe race report.  The events that ensued in the wake of that race sort of took over life in a way that even still, I can’t really process.

In a word?  Tahoe was epic. 

I arrived in Tahoe some 2 weeks before race day.  1) because I could and 2) because Tahoe would take place at an even higher elevation than where I’d been training in Boulder all summer.  3) because it was a new race on a new course so there was little pre-race recon available without actually being there.  And so I went.

The honest truth is that I didn’t really think the extra 1000+ feet would be that big a deal.  (Mistake #1). 

And while I rode the course twice, and even got into the “super secret section” of the course that was closed to pre-race riding (thank you Cat Morrison!), I still managed to not ride the actual course, getting lost both times, so I never truly knew the actual elevation of the course (Mistake #2).

By race day, however, Mistake #1 and Mistake #2 meant nothing when compared to Mistake #3….signing up in the first place!

The day before the race, a storm front blew thru.  Temperatures dropped some 30 degrees, winds caused white caps on the lake, churning up all that cold water from below and competitors took to the Twitterverse and to Facebook, posting pictures of snow at the higher elevations.

Ironically, I went to bed, not worried about racing an Ironman at all.  For better or worse, I was sure Ironman would “water down” the race somehow.  Canceled swim, abbreviated bike.  “Great,” I thought.  “We’re gonna run a marathon tomorrow, and call it “Ironman Lake Tahoe.”

I woke up before my alarm, and had “breakfast”.  I’d been experimenting with some pre-race menus.  With help from Brian Shea at Personal Best Nutrition, I’d settled on a nearly 100% liquid breakfast.  It was best for my gut, and it would book end the “liquid dinner” I was planning to celebrate my 43rd birthday that day!

By about 4:10 AM I was done with breakfast and ready to head to transition.  DaveyG reminded me, “It’s 30 degrees out there.”  “I don’t care.  I need to get down there and figure out what we’re even doing today.”

I brought an extra bottle of calories, anticipating a canceled swim and massive logistical nightmare while race organizers figured out what to do with us.  Extra calories would be good.

I arrived to transition, to find fan favorite Tom Ziebart standing guard over the “Pro Only Porto-Potty” (Ironman’s best innovation ever, IMHO). 

“So, what are we doing today?”

He looked at me curiously and said, “An Ironman, why?”

I stood, incredulously.  “No way.  It’s too cold for them to put us in the water,” I protested.  Tom assured me that the swim would be the warmest part of the day.

All morning, I paced about transition, awaiting what I assumed to be the inevitable announcement that they’d cancel the swim, shorten the bike and send us out for a marathon. 

But that announcement never came.

By the end of the day, I wasn’t sure if I’d competed an Ironman or been a participant on an episode of “Survivor.”  The day was all about survival.

Race attire included socks, toe covers, with toe heaters inside, ¾ tights, a long sleeve base layer, arm warmers and a kids cycling vest I’d spent a whopping $20 at a local bike shop.  I had a Velcro ear cover on, and ski gloves. 

And I kept every stich of it on for the entire ride. Hot.  Right?


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As is typical, my hands and feet were the coldest, but my biggest “problem” thru the day was my face.  My face was so cold that I couldn’t get my mouth to work.  Every time I tried to take a sip of Infinit, I wore at least half of it. 

Sip, sip, sip….dribble, dribble, dribble.

I could have stressed about it.  I could have fretted, but instead, I chose to laugh and continue to get in as many calories as I could, landing more than half of them on my person.

In the end, my race was solid.  Nothing that blew wind up my skirt?  But nothing that got my knickers in a twist either. 

But enough about my undercarriage……

Tahoe will be a special memory.  Special because it was my 43rd birthday and what a way to celebrate?  But also special because for the first time in a while, I was actually proud of Ironman.  I made a point to find the race director after the race and thank him for letting the race go on as planned.  More often times, lately, it seems like Ironman seeks to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  “It’s too wavy.”  “It’s too hot.”  “It’s too windy.”  Now I get that there is a liability concern to be considered here and that people’s lives could be endangered by conditions that are deemed unsafe.  Those are all very serious considerations.  But I also feel strongly that athletes should be prepared for something incredibly hard, demanding and challenging and should rise to that occasion.  "Success is where preparation and opportunity meet."  Those who prepared for Tahoe, were given the opportunity to find the most of themselves on that day. Thank you for that opportunity, Ironman!

For anyone who had the courage to start that race, and even more-so, for those who found their way to the finish line, they accomplished what Ironman should be.  It should he hard.  It should be epic.  It should be something that when you start it, part of you wonders, “Can I do this?”

Answering that question?  Seeing what you are made of in the face of incredible challenges, both physical and mental…..that is what drew me to Ironman in the first place and Tahoe reminded me why I came to Ironman.

In the days following the race, there was an online poll, and considerable banter about Tahoe and if it was "too hard".  Should it be shortened to a half?  Should it be canceled entirely?  Shame on you!  No.  It wasn't too hard.  It shouldn't be shortened and it shouldn't be canceled.  Go do something else if you want it to be easy.

In the week that followed Tahoe, we endured still more.  We sold a house.  We moved.  We lost a job.  Life got really real in a way that can only be described as unreal.

I had my doubts, in the weeks that followed, if racing again this season even made sense.  Florida would be my 3rd Ironman in 11 weeks.  Add to that 3 of life’s most stressful events, and I wasn't sure I was setting myself up for success.  In fact, the contrary seemed far more likely.

I had my ups and downs between Tahoe and Florida.

Scratch that.  There were mostly downs.  The “ups” were shallow at best.  In one tearful conversation with Siri while she was in Hawaii, she tried to help me establish new goals.  “If you even get thru a workout, you should celebrate that.”

Fair enough, but sitting in my condo 12 hours before the start of Ironman Florida, it didn’t do much for me to think back on the last month and think, “Well, you managed to get out of bed every day for the last month.  Breathe in and out.  Stay off prescription medications.  And here you are….ready to conquer the world.”

Yeah; that little motivational pep talk fell a little flat with me too.

But I had a conversation with my new friend Mitch the day before the race and we hatched a plan.  Between Mitch and Siri, I had a game plan; mental and physical.

And wouldn’t you know it?  I think it kind of worked.  My swim was uncharacteristically anemic.  While I love a good choppy swim, I am not such a big fan of negotiating the break when entering and exiting the water.  In fact, someone said to me right before the gun went off, “You must love conditions like these.” 

As any of my SELTS teammates will tell you from our ocean swims in Santa Monica, I’m not so good in the waves.  When ocean sessions would let out and my squadmates would head back into the break for “play time” , I was half way to the shower.   No me gusta.

Once on the bike, I felt great!  And then a whole 10 minutes in, it happened again.  What in the holy heck is it with me and bees?  I got stung by a bee some 10 minutes in.  I swore like a sailor and thought, “Well, this could be it.”

But it aint over till the fat lady sings and since I didn’t hear singing, albeit maybe because I was cursing so loudly, I pressed on.  I alerted a course marshal as soon as I saw one.

“I just got stung by a bee.  I may need an ambulance in about 15 minutes.  I have an Epi Pen, but in case this goes south in a hurry, someone should know.”

He looked at me, a bit confused, “You say you want an ambulance?”

“Not yet.”

(As a note, I did not use the Epi Pen, as it is deemed illegal in compeition.  However, given the choice between death versus the Epi Pen, I had the Epi Pen, just in case).

The marshal sped off on his motorbike with a curious look on his face.  Given our conversation, I assumed he either understood what I was saying, or thought maybe I took a kick to the head during the swim……

Over the next 30 minutes or so, my hand swelled to the size of a softball, was itchy and burning.  But, “luckily” isolated to my hand.  So I pedaled on.

I felt amazing on the bike.  The best I’ve felt on a bike in 4 years, to be honest.  As the ride went on, I felt stronger and stronger and stronger.  I kept getting splits from spotters.  Yvonne VV had passed me about 20 miles in and had pulled away, but I was able to catch glimpses of her every now and again.  Slowly, but surely from about mile 30 thru about mile 70, I reeled her in.  (Thank you Ramon Serrano, for the photos)


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Looking back over race coverage, this was my favorite clip of the day. 


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Being put into the same company with Yvonne on the bike?  Yeah…..I’ll take that.  I had a PR bike split, for sure, albeit on a fast course, but I had lifetime best wattage to back it up.  I truly FELT like a machine on the bike.  I rode the snot out of that course.  And it felt good.

My run?  Well, I’m not quite in the company of champions there yet.  But my run split was the best it’s been in 4 years as well.  Sad….but true.  Could I have asked for more out of my run legs?  Of course.  But in the past few years, I’ve come to expect less.  That has to change.  But that is slowly changing. 


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In the past 12 weeks, I’ve strung together 3 Ironman races I can honestly say I am proud of.  Steady.  Strong.  Improving every one.  No, I’m not winning.  I haven’t even been close to a podium.  I am certainly not delusional.  A 9th place finish at Ironman Florida is nothing to write home about.  


My manager recently sent me an email and said, "Your negativity is overwhelming."  I responded saying I didn't think I was negative.  I thought I was realistic.  Our lives have been full of negativity lately, and that feels all too real.  But Siri's right.  Especially for Ironman Florida?  Getting out of bed.  Breathing in and out.  And getting the job done.  It shouldn't go unnoticed.  These small victories are starting to mean something; maybe not to anyone else, but to me.  Maybe not in place of finish.  And certainly not in prize money.  But I’m starting to feel like myself again; confident on the bike, and like my run is coming back.  And doing it all under circumstances that might well have made others crumble.

Rome wasn’t (re)built in a day.  But progress forward is progress forward. 


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For the first time in a while?  In having the courage to try, I’m actually starting to BELIEVE in what I can do.  Life’s most stressful moments?  They really do make you stronger in the end, if you find the courage to keep fighting forward.  One thing is for certain, when times get tough on a race course, I've got the experience to know how to fight like hell.

Thank you to my sponsors, for your continued support.  Saucony, Infinit, The University Club of Boston, Shimano, NormaTec, Cobb Cycling, Fuel Belt, XLAB, Compu Trainer and Oakley.  It's been a tough journey, but you got a tough horse in the race.  

And as always, thanks to my team; Siri, Tim and my ever patient DaveyG, for believing in me, even when I didn't.

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See you in 2014!



Persistence. Determination. Love. The Journey!

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