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Author Archives: Elizabeth Waterstraat

A is for Athlete

I follow a lot of really interesting coaches, minds, researchers and psychologists on Twitter. One of those is Ben Ehrlich, a mental skills/sports psych specialist. A few weeks ago, Ben set out to write a blog for every letter of the alphabet. While he did it the astonishing pace of writing every day, I won’t be as ambitious. I’m going to borrow his idea but take it one or two weeks at a time.

Without further ado, let’s begin at the beginning of the alphabet.

A is for athlete.

I work with athletes. Every single individual on my roster is an athlete, not a client. Clients use professional services but I hope that my athletes gain something more than that. I hope they gain insight into their character and potential. I hope, together, that we open up doors to possibilities. I hope I encourage them to get interested in the process of bringing out their best.

Whether someone is trying to break 30 minutes in a 5K or transition from age group to pro, they are, to me, an athlete.

What is an athlete? By definition, an athlete is someone who is proficient in a sport or physical exercise. To me, an athlete is someone who has made a commitment. When an athlete starts with me, I assume – first and foremost – that they are committed. They are not just setting a goal (anyone can do that), they are committing to the good and bad that goes along with it. The good is the reward – the gains in fitness, the feeling of accomplishment. The bad is the cost – the sacrifice, the suffering, the patience. This commitment to their big picture or goal is what drives them day to day. They have a question – how far can I go, how good can I get – and they are determined to find the answer.

Not surprisingly, an athlete is interested in the process. They may not always enjoy it but they know that attention to the details and extra little effort is what leads to goal accomplishment. They want to eat better, recover smarter and give that extra .1 percent. They pay attention to the little things that add up to notable progress.

Make no mistake, being an athlete is not easy. Some are 5 day a week athletes, blowing things off on the weekends. Others are fair weather athletes, skipping things when it’s cold or rains. Rare is the 24-hour athlete because it’s tough. It takes a lot of time, dedication and simply staying the path when others want to stray. But the 24-hour athlete knows, as the quote says, success is sometimes largely a matter of just hanging on when everyone else has let go.

Often I will hear athletes say I’m just average. Aren’t we all, to some extent? Think of a professional athlete – they are just average compared to the Olympian and world champion. The age group winner is just average compared to the professional. The beginner is above average compared to the sedentary. To me, there is no such thing as an average athlete. If you are committed and making the effort you are already above average.

How far you go above your average is entirely within your hands.

What about being a good or bad athlete? We all know examples of good and bad athletes. The good athletes are not always the fast ones! Give me a “slow” good athlete over a fast bad athlete any day. Good athletes are always learning. They are engaged in the process. They raise their own bar and ask how they can get to the next level. They are patient, knowing that sustainable progress comes at a slow but worthwhile rate. They look at failure as a valuable lesson, an opportunity for growth. They are resilient. They are open-minded to challenge, to feedback and change. They trust in their coach, the plan and themselves.

Bad athletes – we all know athletes with great potential who are just not good athletes. These are the ones that frustrate the coach, leave us shaking our head, if only they would ________. The blank is often filled with things like sleep more, eat better, believe in themselves, not give up, see the bigger picture, slow down, follow the plan. Are you sensing a pattern? A bad athlete has nothing to do with how fast or slow you go. It has everything to do with choices you make. The good news? Those things are entirely within your control. Being a bad athlete is very much temporary. You can become a good athlete by making good choices, consistently.

Years ago, I attended one of the best things I’ve done as an athlete. It was a run form clinic with local legend, Dave Walters. Dave is now in his 50s and still running 2:40something marathons. Late in the clinic, Dave said something which that day changed me. He told us to take our goal and ask ourselves a simple question everyday: what would a ______ do? That year I wanted to be a national champion. On a post-it note, I scribbled what would a national champion do? I stuck it on my desk and read it every day. That simple question became the filter through which I made all of my choices as an athlete. And wouldn’t you know – later that year, it happened. I became a national champion.

No matter what level of athlete you are – how slow or fast – I challenge you to see yourself as an athlete. To expect the things an athlete would expect – they expect to win their goals, to set personal bests, to dream big and wholeheartedly go after it. 2016 has just begun so I challenge each of you to think about what kind of athlete do you want to be.  What would that athlete do, think or say? Don’t hold back – commit to being THAT athlete and let’s make this year great.

December 2015 Featured Athlete

Multisport Mastery is pleased to announce the December 2015 featured athlete:

Lisa Rechkemmer

Lisa Two

We caught up with Lisa as she vacationed after completing Ironman Cozumel in late November.

Coach Liz:  How did you get started in triathlon?

Lisa:  I was a 4 sport athlete in high school and a 3 sport athlete in college. After college I continued to stay active but missed being an athlete.  I didn’t start in triathlon until 5 years ago at age 45.  A knee problem had kept me from running for almost 20 years and I didn’t even think it was possible. To think I just finished my 2nd Ironman is still a bit hard to believe. And I love being an athlete again!

Coach Liz:  What prompted you to work with a coach?

Lisa: I started by participating in group training for a sprint triathlon. I really wanted to compete in longer races so moved to online training but knew I needed more. I attended the Ironman Sports Medicine Conference in Kona that is held the week before the Ironman World Championship. Each year at the end of the conference they draw one name from the conference attendees to compete at Kona the following year. My name was pulled first! Unfortunately that year they decided the first name drawn would be the runner up. I would only get to compete if the winner couldn’t race. Immediately I knew I needed help!  As soon as I got home from Hawaii I started looking for a coach. Liz was highly recommended by a couple of more experienced people I knew in the sport. While I didn’t get the opportunity to race in Hawaii that year I did complete my first Ironman. Working with Liz took my workouts and results to another level.

Coach Liz:  Tell us about your 2015 season.

Lisa:  The focus this season for me was all about  Ironman Cozumel. I was lucky enough to qualify for the Olympic Distance National Championships this year which was a fantastic experience. However, the key race was my late season Ironman. This year was about making the time and commitment to consistently train and to push myself harder than I had in the past. Ironman Cozumel went well and my training paid off in a 40 minute PR.

Coach Liz:  What’s one thing you’ve accomplished with a coach that you didn’t think was possible?

Lisa:  I think nearly everything I have accomplished the last couple of years wouldn’t have been possible without Coach Liz! If I had to choose one thing I think it would be completing my first Ironman. Last year I completed Ironman Louisville on an extremely hot day. When I got to the run nearly every single person on the course was walking the marathon. With Liz’s guidance and coaching I passed a couple hundred people on that run. It wasn’t because I was faster it was because I managed the day better.

Coach Liz:  What is your favorite part of triathlon training?

Lisa:  I absolutely love triathlon training! The ability to continue to learn and improve in three very different sports is amazing. In working with Coach Liz I really feel like I learn something new each week. Sometimes I think how crazy it is that as a 50 year old I am still learning and becoming a better athlete.

Coach Liz:  As Lisa’s coach of the past few years, I admire Lisa’s ability to stay fully engaged in her training program. More than just getting the workouts done, Lisa asks questions and pushes for more challenge. She frequently communicates, sets the bar high and, not surprisingly, reaches her goals. She is one of the most positive and persistent athletes I know – not because her training is flawless or without interruption but because she has the remarkable ability to stay the path, manage her day to day details and keep her eye on the big picture. Along her Ironman Cozumel training journey, she encountered a calf injury; a true test of her resilience, commitment and attitude.  Without hesitation, Lisa quickly moved past “how did this happen” to “what can we do now” – an opportunity to explore other ways to maintain her run fitness which resulted in a 40 minute PR! Lisa has been a pleasure to coach over the past few years and proves that we can become wiser, smarter and continue to chase the best version of ourselves no matter what. Congratulations on a stand out season, Lisa. We’re looking forward to what 2016 brings!

IM World Championship

This year, I embarked on a hefty challenge: how to prepare for not one but two Ironmans in span of less than 5 months. In all honesty, it’s not something I’ve ever wanted to do. I know the cost personally, physically and emotionally of doing ONE Ironman. You have to be all in: with a solid social support system as well as a sturdy body, will and mind.

But two?

In one year?

It seemed an intriguing science experiment. My goal in doing this was twofold; personal and professional. From a coaching perspective, I wanted to more intimately understand how you prepare for an Ironman, recover and then leverage that fitness into a later season Ironman. From a personal perspective, coming off of having baby #2, I wanted to set the big goal of qualifying for Kona at IM Texas. My husband qualified at IM Wisconsin, therefore I would be in Kona anyways. Why not try to race? Though I could answer that with beaches, pina coladas and ice cream – I wanted to set the goal of getting to Kona. To go big. To be all in.

In May, I did just that. IM Texas complete, with a new PR, AG win and one minute off of the win overall. The next challenge had to be bigger – to compete 5 months later at the Ironman World Championship. Again, I wanted to dream big. To dream anything smaller wouldn’t be worth it. Having been to Kona three times before and placed twice in the top 10 of my AG, I had to raise the bar. To chase after the podium – top 5 in my AG. Since I finished ahead of several women at Texas who had done that before, the goal felt attainable. As a long-time athlete and coach, I am keenly aware of the work and numbers you need to hit to reach such a goal. Top 5 was not a goal set unrealistically.

Fast forward to the end result: I didn’t hit my goal. I learned a lot about myself, training and two Ironmans in one year.  But as far as the end result, I fell short. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely understand and respect the accomplishment of finishing top 10 in my AG. It is an accomplishment I will not, cannot take for granted. Something that passed through my mind many times on race day: Do you know how many people would love to be here in Kona having your worst day, Liz? Do you know how many of your athletes would love to be here running this pace, hell, walking any pace on the Queen K? As cliché as it sounds, the thought of my athletes kept me moving forward and propelled me to find a way.

Let’s back up to the beginning. May. Recovering from IM Texas. It took about 7 weeks for my fitness to return to pre-Texas levels. Training-wise, Kona was much different than Texas. Foremost, I really enjoyed training for Texas and felt I did the bare minimum to get my big result – an approach that has traditionally worked for me. I found it easy to fit training around my life. It was winter which meant not much else was happening. Mackenzie was still young enough to sleep away a lot of the day and Max was in school. The workload was very, very manageable.

Yet the Kona training was different. Sure, I did a little more. But mostly it started to feel unnecessarily selfish and indulgent. Max was out of the school and Mackenzie was becoming this little person on the go. There were countless other things that I not just needed to do but wanted to do other than Ironman training. I felt guilty asking my mom to, at times, watch my kids daily.   With Chris also training for Kona, we didn’t see each other very often nor did we train together. I missed being a normal family.

Looking back, the dissonance my training created, internally, was something I should have taken more seriously. Perhaps that was the end result of the science experiment, one in which I asked myself over and over again – not just can you train for two Ironmans in year while maintaining a full-time business, marriage, two kids and a house but more importantly should you? Are there wiser investments you can make for your time, yourself and your relationships?

Back to summer training. It clicked along, I got faster, fitter. I trained through quite a few races and surprisingly raced quite well; 2nd overall at a competitive women’s sprint, 1st in AG at Muncie 70.3, 2nd in AG at Nationals, 1st in AG coming off of the bike for the IM Wisconsin training day. Going into these races tired, I got used to digging into my reserves to find a gritty competitive spirit to rise up under the duress of training fatigue. Good practice for Ironman.

Three weeks before Kona. You are most vulnerable at this time as your fitness is high but fatigue is also closely trailing. Not surprising, I caught a cold (and I am rarely sick!). Eventually that cold turned into a sinus infection, a round of antibiotics. At a time when I should have been feeling fit and increasingly fresh, I was starting to feel, instead, that my body was on edge. But still I was not ready to abandon my goal: I had put in the work and believed I could achieve it.

Finally, we were in Kona. The day before the race, I completed the usual pre-race activities. Since I’ve last done the race, they’ve certainly made bike check in at Kona more of a red carpet experience! Yet it didn’t feel real to me. I never had that anxious or excited feeling that I was racing. I kept waiting for the pit in my stomach that signaled to me oh my god tomorrow I am doing an Ironman!

Race morning flew by quickly. Before I knew it, we were moving towards the swim. The staggered start was a new experience for me.  Chris took off 15 minutes ahead of us which meant Amanda and I spent 15 minutes pretending like we were calmly waiting until I looked at her and realized what she too had to be thinking: we need to get to the front of the line, ASAP. We politely made our way there.

After speaking with someone about tidal forecasts, we knew it was wise to start front line, middle left. We ended up even further left as I felt the group around us was a little too antsy. Directly ahead of us, paddle boarders paddled back and forth, looming like sharks patrolling the waters to remind us to stay back behind the start line of buoys. This prevented the historical “creep” of years past.

Kona Start

One minute to go and what felt like all of a sudden, the cannon fired. I had an amazing lead out from Amanda and rode her feet for clear, clean line of water. A masters season worth of USRPT workouts prepared me for the aggressive pace and fast turnover. Let’s hear it for all out 25s! I found another pair of feet to ride and then set out for what felt like an incredible swim. I sat on the hip of another woman, matching her speed and turnover. I had absolutely no contact and felt fantastic.

I hit the Body Glove boat and knew the way back would be slower against the current so I found the next fastest pink cap, surged to it and sat on feet. When it became too comfortable, I found the next pink cap. I swam pink cap to pink cap until I found myself moving through throngs of slower age group men, trying to avoid their rogue feet and elbows. With the number of pink caps thinning out, I suspected I was having a decent swim. Sure enough, I exited the water with a new PR swim at Kona for me. What a great start to the day!

The course starts up Palani with a few welcome faces shouting my name. The challenges of the day (heat, wind) were becoming real and I was ready to embrace them. The way out on Kuakini is slightly uphill and I noticed my HR was higher than usual. I decided to start drinking more water to account for any dehydration from the warmer swim. Per usual, I was being passed like crazy in the first 10 miles but knew this would be a very long day.

Once on to the Queen K, I settled in for the ride. Full sun, crosswind and miles of black pavement ahead of me. Starting 15 minutes behind the age group men, the course was much less crowded yet Chris had told me to enjoy the legal draft as men passed me on the left. Let them block the wind for you, Liz. Thanks, guys! Just a few women passed me early on and I was able to pick a few to keep pace with legally. I went back and forth with a woman on a red bike which seemed to pass the miles.

About 30 miles into the ride, Amanda came up behind me. She had flatted. We briefly chatted about the swim. She said I had a great swim (which meant a lot to hear from her!) and that I was doing well in the race. I had been passed by only one woman in my age group and my friends told me I had exited the water in 7th – exactly where I wanted to be.

Queen K

Crosswind turned into more wind at the turn at Kawaihae. Still my spirits were high and everything seemed in a good place.  I knew the hardest part was yet to come and I was ready for it. We made the right turn towards Hawi and I felt what I had anticipated – headwind. No sooner did the headwind get joined by pelting rain. I was being passed now by a lot of women. I had no response, no ability to raise power and felt like I wasn’t even moving.  Ironman is a long day. Let the race come back to you.

A quick stop at special needs to replace my bottles and take my 5 Hour Energy. Then, white knuckle it down from Hawi in what was now slick roads and a tailwind. The hills back towards Kawaihae felt manageable.  Now all that was left was 30 miles back on the Queen K.

Once on to the Queen K, we were hit with a stiff headwind. At this point, the course was much lonelier. I was going back and forth with a man until he settled in behind me (and note, if you are drafting off of me, you are really not in a good place!). While my husband recounted a race report of being out there with enough men that it looked like a single file (legal) line down the Queen K back into the headwind, there was little old me alone with the black lava and some grasses!

Finally, the line of palm trees around the airport was within sight. 10 more miles! I realized I would be on my bike for 20 to 25 minutes longer than I had anticipated but it’s Kona – when it comes to times, ANYTHING can happen. My power had dropped a bit unusually but I still felt in control of the day.

I rolled into transition 12th in my age group. The run is my strength and I had the confidence of knowing I’ve run well every previous time at Kona. But as I ran into transition, I started to feel that something was off. So much so, that I told myself I am going to need a few minutes to gather myself.

I was hot. Chafed. Tired. The thought of running seemed next to impossible which is something I had never felt before. EVER. I spent nearly 6 minutes in transition applying sunscreen, beet juicing, drinking water, wiping my face, asking is it hot out there or is it just me …. hey, it’s not often that two women surround me asking what I need. I was taking full advantage of it!

Once out on the run course, my legs felt heavy.  I felt the immensity of a marathon on these legs weighing heavy on me before I even hit the first aid station. Around mile 2, all I could think about was quitting. At a time when I needed to dig into my reserves, I wanted to lie down and take a nap instead. All thoughts so foreign and unusual to me that I didn’t know what to do with them. But I’ve learned over the years to never trust my thoughts. Don’t change the path based on what your head is saying. Just keep moving, the time will pass.

Around mile 3, I saw my coach. I’ve never felt this bad at Kona. He reminded me that everyone was feeling the same way and crumbling with the conditions. I believed him. It was hot out there. But I expected that and typically thrive under those conditions.

Just get to the little blue church, Liz, I said to myself. I could see other women in my AG coming back the other way. Two women in my AG then passed me. I was slipping in places but still I knew Ironman is a very long day. Stick with it. Ride the wave. I continually found myself on a ledge of what the hell is happening, why can’t I get my legs to go any faster? Ignore your thoughts. Don’t listen.

I hit the turnaround on Alii, reassured by the fact that while my pace was slow (for me), my splits were steady. Matthew, my coach, appeared again: steady is all you need to do well on a day like today. I told myself to just make it to my family who would be cheering on Hualalai. Around the 9 mile mark, I saw my family. Immediately, I burst into tears, an explosion of feeling like I was letting everyone down, including myself. I had an overwhelming sense of you dragged these people all the way out to this stupid island for this stupid race, you owe it to them to finish this day. Immediately countered with but I feel so bad, so flat, so heavy. Right then, my brother in law (whom I coached for IM Wisconsin), slapped me on the ass and said, very sternly, PICK IT UP.

Payback for all of those FTP intervals.

It was exactly what I needed to hear at a time when the race was starting to slip away. For no good reason! I had no signs of dehydration. My pace was slow but steady. My stomach was solid. HR in check. The only thing that seemed to be failing was, well, me. Perhaps that is what was most frustrating. On a day when all systems were ok, I was failing to make it happen out there.

Making the left turn to Kuakini, I was able to pick up the pace and pass yet another woman in my AG who had just passed me. I knew if I could just make it on to the Queen K there would be no turning back. Once there, full sun, rolling terrain. A long line of lonely athletes – some running, some walking, one laying on the ground with medical attention. Few spectators. I clicked it off, mile after mile. Keeping the pace steady. I started to feel a little better and was finally starting to find some clarity: finish what you started, Liz. FIND A WAY.

Up ahead I saw an athlete from home, Jacqui Guiliano, whom I knew was struggling. I ran up behind her and told her to come run with me. As I ran off, she said I wish I could, Liz. Moments later, she was right there next to me. Jacqui and I ran together towards the Energy Lab. I told Jacqui to set her sights on the woman in pink socks ahead. Get her. Now, the next one. Talking Jacqui through the next few miles gave me an excuse for talking out loud to myself. I needed to hear something encouraging.

As we climbed out of the Energy Lab, Jacqui ran ahead of me and I continued along the way. It was raging hot, even by Kona standards, and I was taking entire bottles of water to pour on my head which felt so refreshing.  Nonetheless, the last 10K is always a challenge in Kona. It represents the final 45 to 60 minutes of your season. A long, arduous season of training and emotions. At mile 22, I ran towards top pro coach – Matt Dixon. He looked at me and said stay on it, Elizabeth. At this point, I was passing the late Kona carnage – the weary, the walkers, age groupers, pros alike. Yes, I was prepared to stay on it to the end.

As I made the right turn on to Palani, I noticed someone downhill ahead of me. A woman in my AG. I had no idea what place I was running in but said to myself – what if that is the one woman who will make a difference today? The difference between 6th and 7th or 10th and 11th? I had to go for it. I am, above all, a racer. And when I stop chasing what lies between me and the next step, I know I am done racing. I lifted my effort, darted down the hill and finally dropped a 7:30 mile (FINALLY?!). And, thanks to Karin Langer for jumping out at me to cheer manically (she will now be my spirit animal) as I finished up strong on Alii. Sure enough, chasing that gap made the difference – I finished 10th in my AG.

Kona Friends


I crossed the line in my slowest Kona time yet. Much slower than Texas and (ouch) passed by several women I had finished ahead of in Texas. I realize that time is a poor marker of effort in a course like Kona. But truth be told, I crossed the line feeling a little sad, a little hot and a little empty. I fell short of what I know is possible from myself.

Perspective. On one hand, 10th in the world is a great accomplishment. On the other, the woman who finished 5th in my age group was the same woman I finished ahead of at Texas. I admire her amazing day and ability to put it together when it mattered most. Truthfully, it disappoints me that I was unable to do the same. It would be easier if I had a clear cut reason– an elevated HR, a bonk, a flat tire, cramps, blisters, an episode of GI distress. I had none of that. Perhaps that is most frustrating – why on so many days this summer I was able to rise up in training or racing when fatigued but on this day, when it mattered, my body was off and I wasn’t able to do the same.

But hindsight allows for clarity and I can see I started race day a little tired, a little drained – from life, from training, from doing two Ironmans in one year, from taking big risks to chase big dreams.  The cure isn’t signing up for another Ironman or trying to qualify to go back next year for redemption. The cure is to find a place where the sport can exist in my current life while staying in balance. I didn’t have that balance this summer and my body/mind/soul sensed it.

The races where you hit your mark are easy to write about. A story of success and how hard you worked for it. The races where you fall short are not as easy. Yes, I worked just as hard but walk away without the satisfaction of knowing I did what I set out to do.  Nonetheless, I don’t regret the dream, the risks or the effort.  Having done the sport for 15 years, I am not interested in safe, complacent or guaranteed goals.  I want to go out on the ledge, that is where I will learn the most about myself, the sport and life.  The lessons I learned as a coach for how to manage two Ironmans in one year are invaluable. As for what I learned about myself? A friend encouraged me to resist feeling like I had wasted a summer in training. Appreciate the journey. That journey confirmed much of what I already knew about myself. When the task in front of me seems insurmountable, I won’t give in. I will persist. I will stubbornly finish it. It is how I approach most obstacles: where there is a will, there is a way. Perhaps it was foreshadowing the day before the race when I texted my coach that although I had a few little things weren’t feeling right, in true Liz Waterstraat fashion, I would throw the biggest smile on my face, adopt a fake it ‘til you make it attitude and find a way.

And now? Journey over. I am off seasoning. When my coach suggested I do two weeks of light workouts to minimize the detraining effect, I laughed and thought to myself: Detrain? I am ready to derail this train. Call me in November. Since the race I have done nothing. Read this: NO-THING. Other than day drinking in Waikoloa, pizza 3 times in a week, declared it Beertober and ate chocolate every day. I have absolutely no desire nor need to engage in any type of training. While I am a proponent of active recovery, at some point, after two Ironmans in 5 months, I feel it’s necessary to shut it down and give the body deep rest.

As for the lessons learned about training for two Ironmans, having a husband who was also training for Ironman while parenting two young children? I believe my 5-year old son said it best. I can’t help but think back to an afternoon a few weeks ago. Earlier that morning, I had done my last long ride. When I got home, tired of training, tired of being tired from training, I decided to take the kids to the apple orchard to simply do something like a normal family. Chris was still out riding and the orchard was a few miles away. He joined us after his ride ended. Finally, we were all there – together. While picking apples, Max looked up at me and said mommy, I like being a family. It is but a short time that my kids need and want me or us this much. And it is time I can never get back.

Chris Kona

Choose how you spend your time wisely.

Huge thank you to my family and friends for being with me in Hawaii, Matthew Rose from Dynamo Multisport, Jen Harrison for being MVP of my inner circle, Greg Grandgeorge for the analytical conversations, for over 10 years of support and all of my athletes for reminding me to find a way out there!

On, Wisconsin!

This past weekend was one that many of us midwesterners look forward to all year:


Recall, if you will, last year when I attended the race in Madison.  Spectating with an 11 day old, I watched my husband finish 3rd in his AG and punch his ticket to the 2016 Ironman World Championship.  A fire was lit.  I must do this race.  Though I had swore to myself over and over again on training rides that I would never do the course, a nasty course of hills, turns and something in the air that routinely I makes me break out in hives.  You know what you do when an entire state makes you break out in hives?  You sign up to do an Ironman in that state.

WHAT is wrong with me!?

By the time I committed to Texas, it was too late to transfer my entry from Wisconsin – so I kept it.  As it got closer, it became clear that I would do what Chris and our good friend, Todd, had done before – complete Wisconsin through mile 6 of the run as a solid training day for Kona.  My coach was on board and my athletes seemed to get a kick out of the idea of me sharing at least 120.2 miles of their adventure.

Thank you to my mom for watching the kids, Chris and I headed up to Madison.  Being without the kids, Chris tried to persuade me into living it up on State Street – go drinking!  Get dessert!  To his dismay, I wanted to treat this as much like a race as possible.  Except for training.  I went into the “race” with a full week of training.  A 2.5 hour ride on Tuesday.  A 16 mile split run on Thursday.  The day before, a bike, run and 4200 yard swim on the course itself.  No doubt with the past few weeks of training I was tired but still wanted to go into the race with a champion mindset ready to execute my details, manage the process and go through the motions of racing.


The capital building which stands judiciously in the center of the city & provides a majestic backdrop for the event.  

As I checked in at registration and gathered up my half dozen bags for assorted items, it kicked in: the feeling of race day.  Anxiety!  Like any other race, I slept poorly the night before, woke up at 3:45 am ready to embrace the challenges of the day.  I loaded beet juice and citrillune for 5 days, upped the carbs (but didn’t necessarily reduce all of the fiber – big mistake, should have done this!), abstained from coffee.

And as a side note, every time I’ve done a caffeine wash out prior to a race, I’ve confirmed that the boost I get on race day is never as powerful as when I just stay on the coffee.   Coffee, we’re back together again.

Going through this race was eye-opening as a coach.  I’ve coached plenty of athletes for Ironman Wisconsin.  Yet there are still so many things I didn’t know!  Chris dropped me off by the finish line but you actually have to walk back towards the capitol to drop off your special needs bag.  Another walk to the convention center to get body marked and bike prepped.  After that, I drank one packet of Via – and after the caffeine wash out for two weeks, I regretted this.  I was nearly out of my mind in transition not sure if I wanted to tackle someone or just run crazy laps until the gun went off.  Next time, skip the Via and wait until special needs of the bike instead!

While everything in Texas was very convenient and straightforward, everything at Wisconsin seemed to involve getting through throngs of spectators.  Getting to the swim start took much longer than I anticipated.  Around 6:40 am, I got into the water knowing that a good position would be important because of the mass start.  I situated myself left of the far left Roka buoy and was surprised to see that area fill in so quickly.  Asking around, I heard projections of people who expected to swim sub 57 to 1:05 – all on the front line.  I was up front with one of my athletes right behind me.  I expected to swim around 58 minutes.

As expected, the swim start was very, very aggressive.  Immediately I had people all over me.  I went between moments of nearly losing my marbles to convincing myself that this was not the place to lose my marbles – at all! I put my head up, noticed a sea of humanity around me, shrieked inside and said, KEEP SWIMMING!  The entire time I stayed left of the buoys thinking it would be less congested.  Seemed like everyone else had the same plan!

I expected the swim would settle down around 400 meters in but that never happened – instead, I stayed mixed up in this mass of bodies, mostly men, all over the place.  Finding feet – feet were everywhere, going in every different direction.  Next thing I knew I took a massive kick to my face, so hard that my goggles went foggy and my head ached.  BAM!  A quick readjustment of the goggles and I was back on my way!

(and after the race I realized I got a black eye – for the first time in over 15 years of racing!)

The way back into shore didn’t ease up, I was now pinched into a tighter space with this thick group of swimmers.  I exited in a little over 1 hour, slower than I expected but not significant.  Never judge the outcome of your race by any single split!

The run up to the convention center is up the helix, lined thick with people.  I caught a few faces but the rest was a blur.  Mostly it was me trying to wrestle my way out of my wetsuit (I skipped the strippers).  I ran into the convention center, got my bags and into the changing tent.  With the temperature around 45 to start, I decided to put a bike jersey over my tri kit (in retrospect, this was unnecessary).  I began the longer run out to my bike.  I was advised by others to carry my shoes to my bike – I should have listened.  It was long!

Liz on Swim

Down the helix and on to the bike course.  And, transition took me a little over 6 minutes.  Now I see why these transitions are so long – there’s just a lot of ground to cover.

The first 15 miles were an unknown to me.  With my athletes, I’ve ridden the loop in Verona many times.  But ‘the stick’ as it’s called was uncharted territory – it goes on a bike path, through a parking lot.  It was actually quite more technical than I anticipated and slow.  Not to mention your typical poor road quality resulting from rough winters.  After navigating was felt like a dozen turns, traffic cones and a no pass zone, you are dumped on to the roads of Dane County.

The stick contains a few rollers but nothing like what you encounter in the loops around Verona.  The hills are long and short.  Straight and curved.  It’s a little bit of everything and what makes the course most challenging is that you are always doing something – there is no rhythm.  You’re climbing, descending, braking, turning, drinking, eating.  I spent a good amount of time sitting up out there!

Being at the front of the race, it was desolate and at times lonely.  I would dare to say that if you got a drafting penalty at Wisconsin, you were likely trying to draft.  This was one of the most spread out races I’ve ever done with the exception of the hills which naturally got congested.  I expected to be passed by overzealous men as was the case in Texas – but here, this wasn’t as prevalent.

It felt like any other training day out there.  But it truly was a beautiful day.  Occasionally I reminded myself to look around and soak in the Midwestern glory – a beautiful sunny day, cumulous clouds, 60 degrees, rustic red barns in a horizon of fading green corn.  All set against the bluest skies.  It was majestic.

Soon after the Verona loop starts, you begin the gradual and deceptive 15 mile climb towards Mount Horeb.  This section contained some headwind that picked up throughout the day.  It was around this time when I noticed how off I was feeling – whether it was cumulative fatigue, a rough swim or not removing fiber, my stomach was all sorts of angry.  Still, I kept up with my drinking, eating and salt tabbing.

Not being one who feels bad in a race often, I had a steady stream of negative, annoyed chatter going through my head.  As I often tell my athletes, this changes nothing.  You don’t need to be relentlessly positive in racing.  You just need to be relentlessly present.  I executed my plan and just waited for it to pass.  When it didn’t pass, I just kept moving forward.  Nothing changed.  I figure if I can beat myself on my worst day of training with my worst thoughts possible, I will be successful on race day.

After Mt. Horeb, you go through a few roads with a series of long, steep climbs.  This course favors the descender with high power and mass to generate momentum enough to get up and over those hills.  I didn’t necessarily have the best gearing for the course (standard crank with 12-25) – in hindsight, a compact crank would have been a much better (and more pleasant!) experience.  Still, I focused on riding as smoothly as possible and going by heart rate.


The party scene on Midtown Hill.  Note the clown on the right, that’s Well-Fit Iron Alum, Erik.  He was popping out of the treeline & honking a horn along the road to Midtown both times I passed through. 

Next, there are three big hills to conquer:  Old Sauk, Timber and finally Midtown.  Each hill has a Tour de France feeling, lined thick with spectators in costume, with bullhorns and clearly enjoying some of the best craft beer around!  I continued to feel absolutely wretched so put the biggest smile on my face to feed off the crowd who kept shouting – great smile!  Keep smiling!  Yes, I thought to myself, it’s either smiling or getting off this bike to toss it into a cornfield!  My choices are limited here, folks!

Liz on Bike

Me, smiling.  Me, thinking:  when I get back, I’m going to toss this bike off of Monona Terrace. 

Despite how I was feeling, my body gave me no excuse, everything was lining up just fine out there.  My HR fluctuated within my range, my power was right where it needed to be.  The last part of the course takes you back on the stick with the only saving grace being tailwind – finally!  My speed was slower than I anticipated but that’s out of my control.  I figured I would ride closer to 5:45 but finished up with 5:52.

In the end, my IF was around .77 and by some miracle of smoothness my VI came in at 1.03.  TSS was well over 300.  This was all by plan – Greg and I talked about riding a little higher IF to see what would happen on the run.

Finally back to the helix where you bike back up (hey, what’s one more hill anyways?) and then run back into the convention center.  And, yes, I changed into run shorts and was out of there in around 3 minutes (incidentally I recently read on a forum where someone declared no Kona qualifier would change into run shorts – hey, this one did!).  In Ironman, comfort rules, people.

For all of the low feelings I had on the bike – the stomach upset, the negative chatter, the disdain for every turn of the course – I got on to the run and felt absolutely amazing.  The 66 degree temperature surely helped that but I couldn’t believe it – my legs felt ready to go.  My HR was in low zone 2, my pace was under 8 and I had the absolute pleasure of knowing that I would stop in 6 miles.  I passed a few women early on, enjoyed some talk with the other competitors.

Around 5 mile, Chris and Amanda approached me.  They had been given strict orders to find me around mile 6 and, if necessary, pull out a shepherd’s hook to take me off of the course.  Sure enough, on bikes, they were circling, like vultures.

Me:  I’m going to stop in another mile.

(spectator walking by:  WHAT THE?)

Me:  I’m doing Kona in a few weeks.

(spectator:  Fuck that!  You’re winning!)

Me:  I don’t care, I’m stopping.

Amanda: Are you sure?  You’re winning your age group.

Me: Doesn’t matter.

Amanda: You’re well into the top 10 overall.

Me:  I have hated every minute of this! 

Husband: You look great!

So much for support from family and friends?  They seemed to have some hidden agenda of trying to talk me into continuing but I had prepared for this moment – you see, I purposefully didn’t pack any salt tabs and took a gel a mile too late.  My energy was starting to lag and I finally understand why years ago I saw a woman taking a nap in a bus stop on State Street.  I wanted nothing at mile 6 but to do the same!

And so, soon after Observatory Hill (that’s a doozy, isn’t it?) I walked over to a timing tent.  Gave the volunteer my chip and asked to DNF myself.  He questioned me.  He questioned my husband – why?  Are you sure?  Then called in my number.  I was done for the day!

I made a beeline for Chiptole and then sat on the curb eating corn chips while watching everyone else run a marathon.  The rest of the evening was blur of looking for athletes, shouting names and high fiving.  It’s an infectious atmosphere but a very long day.  In the end, all made it to the finish line – several first timers, some big PRs and one Kona qualification.

Liz and Greg

“You’re doing it!  YOU are going to be an Ironman today!”

And now, the final push to Kona begins.  It has been a long season.  I am approaching the point not where I am tired of training but tired of fitting in the training.  Tired of making it happen.  Tired of sacrificing.  The onset of autumn naturally inspires me to want dark beer, cider doughnuts and candy corn.  These are not exactly performance foods – so they will have to wait.  Taper is near (there IS a taper at the end of this, right?  PLEASE?) and Max keeps asking me how many days until “Hawai-ah” as he calls it.  Soon enough, kid!

On, Kona!

USAT Nationals

This past weekend, I competed at the USA Triathlon Olympic distance national championship. It’s third year at the venue, my second time on the course.  With this race being only 100 miles away, despite my many reasons why I don’t usually enjoy short course (90% FTP, zone 4 heart rate, no aid stations on the bike, no room for error, shall I go on?), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to race against some of the best athletes in the nation.

On Friday, I packed up the car and headed north to Milwaukee.  I arrived in the pouring rain which turned out to be a nice way to avoid major crowds, set up my stuff quietly and then get out of there. Spent some time in a vintage book shop paging through a weathered copy of Simone de Beauvoier’s The Second Sex (who doesn’t find French existential feminism very, very calming before a race?), ate dinner well before the elderly hour of 5 pm (and sent a text to Jen Harrison something along the lines of I win dinner), made a trip to the Meijer for almond butter, bagels and Gatorade (while everyone else was driving their motorized carts through the store to buy boxed wine) and finally crawled into bed at 7:30 pm.

Mom of two with a business and training for Ironman? I could go to bed at 3:30 pm, folks – NO PROBLEM.

Before I fell asleep, I thought about my race. I had a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t or wouldn’t do well. I didn’t specifically prepare for this race. My darling coach made me run 10 miles on Tuesday and do a double bike on Wednesday. I had never placed higher than 6th at Nationals. I didn’t feel particularly fast or snappy. I was starting to settle for the idea of placing in the top 10 though I knew that wouldn’t leave me feeling satisfied. Searching for some inspiration, I found this on Joe Stilin’s website:

I recently spoke with psychologist and author of Elite Minds Stan Beecham about competition mindset and racing.  We worked out that you never know how good you really are, so why not be open to being really good, open to beating a world beater.  What if one day you pull up alongside him with half a straightaway remaining and aren’t open to the possibility of beating him?  He already has an advantage over you.  And you’ll be swearing ya coulda have beat him at the tavern that night over something strong.  Why would you run a race if you didn’t think you could win?  You don’t know the future, so why make it up beforehand?  Give yourself the best possible chance of winning by thinking you will win. 

I went to bed asking myself – why not you? Why not top 3? If everything goes perfectly, why not a win? Why not open yourself up to the possibility?

5 am, race morning arrived.   And I felt excited. For the opportunity to push myself, execute a plan and compete amongst the best. For the possibility of chasing something I had never done before – cracking the top 5 at Nationals. The top 3. Maybe leaving a short course national champion.

Race morning went by quickly. I found my way into the VIP tent and took a seat on one of the couches along with Jen Harrison. The VIP tent was an odd mix of athletes – young and old. The older ones taking the time to leave to warm up and then return to wait. The younger ones taking advantage of the cash bar. Who buys a beer at 8 am? M20-24. About 20 minutes later, M20-24 was sitting there asking me what college I went to following it up with I feel really fat right now. I wasn’t sure if he was hitting on me or begging for a therapy session.

We waited nearly 2 hours until our wave went off. In the time between waking up and starting, I ate two breakfasts (one at 5 am, one at 7 am), did a beet juice shot, drank 16 ounces of fully leaded Starbucks coffee (which took about 30 seconds to kick in at which point Jennifer said I love you on caffeine) and took citrulline (there’s some good research out there about its benefits so I loaded 6000 mg for a few days before the race).

Jen and I took some time to walk the entire swim course to preview the buoys as well as observe the waves before us to determine the best line to swim. As in 2013, the best line was not along the buoys. It was to shoot for the rocky outlet beyond the bridge. To prepare for the bike, I re-ran my numbers through Best Bike Split early race morning as the original weather prediction didn’t come through – southwest winds shifted to northwest significantly changing how I was to work for my bike split. And for the run? Matthew gave me some 2K targets to hit (my reply was simply you want me to use the metric system? I can barely add swim workouts!).

Quickly 2 hours went by and it was time to line up in the corral 10 minutes before our wave went off. A separate swim warm up area was permitted for each wave. The water was a brisk 63 degrees, taking my breathing away and requiring a few breaststrokes to collect myself. I warmed up a few minutes then made my way to stake out space along the pier.

As in the past, it was an in water start. But new this year, you were required to be hanging off of the pier with one arm in order to prevent “the creep” (in other words, swimming before the gun went off). Excellent and fair idea. But imagine cramming 150+ women along a pier not really designed for 150 women. It was packed. Arms stretching towards the pier, bodies crammed neoprene to neoprene. I planned to take the spot furthest to the right, allowing for the straightest shot under the bridge to avoid the inevitable bunching that would occur. In other words, I was prepared to start outrageously hard.

The gun went off and with one arm hanging on the pier, I literally leapt out to start at a pace that makes me grateful for months of USPRT 25s and 50s at masters. Looking back at the Garmin file, I took off around a 1:00/100 yard pace.


I surged ahead and quickly noticed a small group of 3 women pulling ahead to the left of me. In retrospect I should have started further in the middle to get right in the thick of things. But for now, I was on a straight shot towards the bridge hoping to merge with the pack.   Under the bridge, two women were right ahead of me but I couldn’t bridge the gap.

The water was cold, the pace was hard. With no feet to sit on, I had to work to keep pace with the women just ahead of me. It was my choice to keep the pressure on myself or fall back. I knew I couldn’t fall back. A strong swim here would be very important. I battled in my head to keep pushing against thoughts of discomfort and fatigue. Before I knew it, I was being pulled up on the ramp and it was time to run to transition.

A good swim would have me in the top 10 and like 2013, I ended up 6th out of the water. Running to transition I literally got stuck in the arms of my wetsuit and then had to sit down by my bike to take it off. Precious seconds being wasted – not a good day to have separation anxiety, my dear wetsuit!

Thanks to Best Bike Split, I had my plan of what to do on the bike. I set my IF for .9, calculated it against the weather data and knew what I needed to do. And if I did that? I’d come in with a 1:05 bike split. As much as I love the magic of racing, I also appreciated simply following a plan. You see, I don’t necessarily enjoy Olympic distance racing; it’s uncomfortable! I read somewhere that you know you’re doing the pace of Olympic racing right when you want to quit. For me, that feeling of wanting to quit makes me race scared and complacent at this distance. So to have an exact plan of what to do for each segment of the race was not only distracting but freed me up to simply do out there without any thinking.

And you know what? That plan was working. I had passed at least 3 women early on the bike and then set out into the tailwind. I did exactly what BBS told me what to do while playing the “let’s see how long we can hold everyone off” game in my head. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, halfway through the bike and not a single woman in my age group passed me.

I hit the final turnaround and noticed a few women about 2 minutes behind me. Can I hold them off 5 more minutes? 10? Around 22 miles into the bike, two women finally caught up to me. I kept them within my sight knowing I could not give up anything at this point. I needed to make the most of these final miles at a time when everyone else would likely be struggling from headwind and fatigue. I hit the timing mat for the bike within 10 seconds of what Best Bike Split predicted.

Transition went much quicker and now it was time to run. Going into this race, I knew if the fatigue of the past training week would show up anywhere it would be the run – in my head and legs. I exited with two women in my age group and at this point figured I was in the top 5. I passed 2 women rather quickly and said to myself now you are in the top 3. Stay there. One of the women was slightly ahead and I set out for her, patiently. She was holding a fast pace but looked really discombobulated.  In the chase, I was wheezing, the voice in my head was whining WHY are you making me run so fast?! but I knew it was important to make a move here and leave a mark. I passed her by the 1.25 mile mark and said to myself now you are in 2nd.

Keep chasing.

A spectator told me that 1st was a little over a minute ahead of me. One minute over 3 miles wasn’t impossible but it would take effort. At that point I started battling. I had moments of envisioning myself a national champion and other moments thinking I’m good here, this hurts, I’m tired. I knew it would come down to this. I tried to pick up the pace but my legs seemed to be stuck in a quagmire of long training. I focused on my form (arms! loosen your torso! turnover quicker!) but I wasn’t gaining. So then I just focused on pace itself, trying to make the numbers move: I will beat you today Garmin. I kept looking ahead for 1st but where was she? I saw Greg, the mastermind who helps me with all of my bike information, with about 800 meters to go, tried to say something to him that came out as completely incomprehensible gibberish. At that point I realized I was working, I was giving it all I had and I was going to end up 2nd.

2nd in my age group at Nationals. – a feeling of excitement as well as a feeling of so close! Both feelings open me up to the possibility of what’s next – can I win my age group one day? Is that a goal worth chasing? I have to find out. For whatever reason, this race lit a fire for me to master something which obviously still sits well outside of my comfort zone. And that is getting uncomfortable in Olympic distance racing. I am eager to go to Omaha next August and took my slot for Worlds in Mexico.

In the end, 1st place finished less than a minute ahead of me. After the race, the calculations started in my head – a few seconds here, there – in short course racing, every second matters. Who am I kidding. As I learned at Ironman Texas, at ANY distance when you’re competing for the top spot, EVERY second matters. These races go to not who is fitter but who wants it more. I kept telling myself out there – you have to really want this. You have to really want to win.   You have to race every second with a completely competitive mindset. You have to want that win defiantly.

After the race, I organized a meet up for my athletes. I had so many athletes qualify for and compete at Nationals that I wanted to do something special. They came from all over the country and some I’ve coached for 7 years without ever meeting them! We enjoyed some conversation, some beer (Wisconsin has some of the best breweries out there; Furthermore, Tyranena, O’So) and getting to know each other in person. How did my athletes do? 6 PRs, 3 podiums (2nd, 5th, 7th). Not a bad day for Multisport Mastery!

So – what exactly was the price of doing this race during the time for Kona training? 4 miles of running right after the race (thanks to Nick for joining me!) and the next day a long-ish ride. I made it 3 ½ hours before I succumbed to being totally nauseous and going through what can only be described as an intense struggle to turn the pedals for the final 5 minutes. FIVE MINUTES NEARLY DID ME IN. In other words, I bonked. Which may have been my coach’s plan when he prescribed “a long ride with glycogen depletion.” Thanks for that memory!

And now? We return to regularly scheduled Ironman training. Back in the land where cracking an 8:00 mile is fast and 75% of FTP is where it’s at. Otherwise known as my safe place!

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