Professional athlete and 3-time Ironman champion

Black Cats and Ladybugs


I’ve struggled for days to come up with a blog about my race in Mallorca.  What can I say?  It just wasn’t coming to me.  I’ll be honest….I’ve forced this one and it didn’t quite come out the way I wanted, but I wanted to get something out before too long.  My strategy is to post it in the wake of Kona so that no one will pay attention.

So here goes.

I think I’ve told this story before, but whatever.  I’ll tell it again.

Camp Nyoda.  Oak Ridge, NJ.  Summer.  1980.  I dedicated my 2 weeks at camp to passing the “Beginner Archery” test.  Day in… out, I was on that dang archery range, flinging arrows to Lord-knows-where….but certainly not into the target.  I’d have made for a lousy hunter, that’s for sure.  I slayed more grass in that 2 weeks than fictitious animal, disguised as a target made of hay.

By the time the 2 weeks were up, I had nothing to show for myself.  The last night of camp, they handed out awards to the campers for all the tests passed.  Little wooden oars to those who passed canoeing, learning to paddle, and tie a figure-8 knot so the canoe wouldn’t float away when you were done using it.  Beginner swimming awards in the shapes of little life preservers to those who learned to float, jump off the dock without freaking out, and swim elementary backstroke or something silly like that. 

But me?  I got nothing.  Counselors must have felt sorry for me, so they made me a construction paper cut-out of the letters “PD”.  “Pretty Depressing”?  “Pathetically Deficient”?   “Poor Dud”?  ….All good guesses, I thought. 

It stood for Persistence and Determination.  Those words meant little to me at the time.  I arrived home from camp, embarrassed to even tell my parents about my “loser award”.

In time, however, I came to appreciate these traits which seemed to come as second nature to me.  Having been on the wrong side of “good” for the past few years, it’s interesting how persistence and determination get twisted into ugly traits by naysayers.  Persistence turns into a mis-guided waste of time when the naysayers urge you to quit and move on, saying you are past prime, irrelevant and wasting your time.  Determination becomes obsession as those same naysayers tell you that you aren’t reading the tea leaves and that getting bad results for 2-3 years is not bad luck.

When times are tough, it’s easier to listen to the naysayers.  I had affirmation that I could (mostly) hang with some of the best girls in the world in training, yet my race results told a very different story.  The naysayers voices in my head got louder……

Back to my trip.

My week in Mallorca was great, albeit a bit lonely.  I arrived to town a week and a day before race day.  I find flying East to be decidedly harder than West on the old body clock so I wanted to give myself plenty of time to adjust. 

I’d researched the crap out of accommodation options ahead of the race, weighting cost with proximity and hotel amenities.  I landed a cheap hotel, 3 blocks from the start that was fully air-conditioned.  Score.  There must have been something lost in translation, however, as, after 2 sleepless nights in a 95 degree room that was decidedly NOT air-conditioned, I went downstairs to the front desk to get a better understanding of what the words “air-conditioning” meant in Spain.  I arrived back after my training session that morning to find this in my room. 

Photo on 9-21-14 at 1.09 PM

They may have won the war by advertising air-conditioning and not actually providing it, but at least I won the battle and slept much better with my new Spanish “air-conditioning unit”.

My early arrival gave me ample opportunity to get familiar with the course.  With the help of a good friend, I was introduced to “a local” who helped me spec the course; in particular, the VERY technical descent I’d heard so much about.  14 of these bad-boys in an 8 kilometer descent.  (Photo credit: Ingo Kuschte)

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Still remembering my 2011 crash a bit too vividly I wanted to get to know this section of the course inside and out. So my new friend met me at my hotel, drove the back half of the course to the top of the climb, let me descend, drove me back up, let me descend again and seemed content to do so as many times as it took for me to feel comfortable. 

After my 2nd trip, I learned that the descent was, in fact, SO technical, that you really couldn’t carry much speed thru the corners, so after 2 trips, I felt solid, and we called it a day.

I had quite a lot of “me” time, so I had fun with the photo booth app on my computer.  Does my Rudy helmet make my head look big?

helmet head

Keepin’ it light during race week!    

In my last day of preparation, I went thru my pre-race swim/bike/run, and as I was walking back to my hotel after the swim, I looked a half block up the road, only to see a black cat cross in front of my path.  CRAP.  I raced back to my hotel room to email Siri.  “What do I do??”  Since it was about 11PM in Kona and Siri wouldn’t get my message until it was too late, I did the next best thing.  I went to breakfast and threw some salt over my shoulder to try to reverse the black cat.  That Karma-math works out, doesn’t it?

Still unsure, I went to rack my bike and as I was shaking out my bike cover, a ladybug landed on my hand.  Suddenly I smiled and even laughed out loud.  Everything was going to be just fine.  Come race day?  I would focus on the ladybug….and not on the black cat.

I had 3 or 4 years of reasons why I shouldn’t race well, and more than a couple of naysayers driving home the point.  But on that day, I simply (well, let’s be honest…. not so simply……) chose to focus on the reasons I had every reason to race well.

I have the most amazing coach, whose belief in me has been unwavering from day 1.  I have a husband who has stood by me every step in the way, ever encouraging.  I have squad mates who do the most incredible things in training and racing every day.  Sometimes, it’s actually demoralizing.  How will I ever swim, or bike like Jodie, or, haha, can I even say it?  Run like Rinny? How can I battle like Bek?  Or be as feisty and fearless as MB?  I look at these unbelievable athletes, under the leadership of my incredible coach and in a strange twist of fate, I discovered that by believing implicitly in all of them, I actually found my way clear to start believing in myself, just by association.

Last winter, after I’d learned the news of my Achilles injury, I sat, before a swim workout, crying in a fit of self-pity.  Erin Carson, the owner and manager of Rally Sport came by and said “What’s up?”  I looked at her rather pathetically, told her the news of my injury and said “I’m just so tired of fighting.”

She looked at me, smiling, and cheerfully said, “Well then, stop fighting.” And then walked away.

REVELATION!  I knew Erin wasn’t telling me to quit.  No.  She was telling me to stop the struggle.  In that moment, I decided to try to make my journey, NOT about the fight and the struggle, but about the success. 

Running for the first time at full body weight after my injury; success.

Running my first interval session; success.

Lining up for my first race post-injury, being healthy; success.

Finishing my first race back, in striking range of the podium; success.

Logging the miles to be fit and ready for Ironman; success.

Naysayers and cynics will say that my 2nd place finish in Mallorca was the most over-celebrated instance of “first loser” in the history of sport.  That the “real” athletes are in Kona, making ready for the biggest race our sport has on offer.  And that nobody cares about who was 2nd at Ironman Mallorca.  Fair enough and likely quite true. 

In that moment, running down the finish chute I choose a different attitude.  I chose the ladybug.   

I entered the finish chute in Mallorca and made a big, and rather exuberant point to celebrate the success in whatever color ribbon it came in, and to be grateful to the coach and the squad who helped me find myself again, out on a race course.  Being on the right side of good feels pretty darn good.  (Photo credit: Ingo Kuschte)

Mallorca finish

And that’s not something I’ll let naysayers take from me.

Thank you sponsors, for your continued support.  It isn’t always easy.  But we NEVER QUIT.  Saucony, Blue, Dr Barry Sears - Zone, ROKA, Rudy Project, Norma Tec, Shimano, Cobb, Reynolds, Infinit Nutrition, Rally Sport and XLAB!


Persistence. Determination. Love. The Journey!

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