After completing the St. Croix 70.3 Half Ironman race on May 7, I set off on a long 30-hour travel
stint to Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands off the north west coast of Africa, to compete at
Ironman Lanzarote. Technically part of Spain, Lanzarote is a spectacular volcanic island. I took
my first flight from St. Croix to Miami, another flight to Madrid, and finally a third and final flight to
the island of Lanzarote. I was pretty exhausted upon my arrival, but excited to return to this
amazing island and do my first Ironman race of the 2007 season.
Last year I placed 4th at Ironman Lanzarote and while on the island, met Denis, a bike mechanic
(guru) from Germany. He helped me out with my bike and we had an immediate connection. We
became instant friends and stayed in touch by email over the last year. It’s incredible how many
amazing people I meet from around the world on my travels to compete at Ironman, and Denis is
a great example of this amazing gift. He is a world champion recumbent cyclist and knows what
it takes to make it to the top of sport. He offered to join me in Lanzarote this year to be my
personal “mad mechanic”, chef, training partner, videographer, and general partner-in-crime. I
feel so lucky to have had Denis’ kindness and generosity with me leading up to the race as it
made my preparation that much better and so much easier. Not only did he help me out
mechanically, and make me the most amazing fruit salads, but we shared some great moments
on this very special island.
Ironman Lanzarote, known to be the toughest Ironman in the world, is an amazing race. It is an
extremely challenging course with almost 9000 feet of climbing, lots of wind, and intense heat.
The course is really well organized and the scenery is spectacular. Vast lava fields that make
you feel like you are riding on the moon, picturesque villages with amazing white buildings, and
beautiful ocean views, are only a few of the reasons this island is magical.
Last year I stayed at Oasis Apartments in Puerto del Carmen which is on the south side of the
island where the race starts. This year, I stayed one week at Club La Santa where the race
headquarters is located before heading to Puerto del Carmen for the second week leading up to
the race. Club La Santa is a resort for active people. World-class athletes go to Club La Santa
specifically to train. It is perfect for pre-race training as there is a beautiful outdoor Olympic pool
and great roads nearby to run and ride on.
My preparation went really well. Riding, running, and swimming from Club La Santa was great.
Denis and I coined the theme “hot and windy” because there was a heat wave upon my arrival
that had our bike computers reading 115 degrees Fahrenheit and 42 degrees Celsius! Also, this
island is ALWAYS windy! You simply can’t get away from the wind on Lanzarote. A calm day in
Lanzarote is still windy, and a windy day in Lanzarote is insane. Ironically, come race day, the
temperatures dropped as did the wind, so conditions were actually a little more forgiving for the
race this year.
In addition to my regular training regimen, my preparation also included conducting various
interviews as well taking part in the Ironman Lanzarote press conference. These events add to
the excitement of the event. I have discovered that the best thing to do is take them in stride, be
thankful for the coverage I am getting, and use the interviews as a way to re-enforce my mental
image of how I want the outcome of the race to be. I felt calm and well prepared and I was
excited to race.
Bruce, my Dad, and Hanne all arrived about one week before the race. Once again, I felt so
lucky to have such amazing support from my family I could not do this sport without their help,
or at least not as well! It was fun driving the course with my Dad and Hanne who had not seen
the race previously. I think I must have said “this is a windy part” a million times! Unfortunately,
my father-in-law, Mike, was unable to attend the race this year as he underwent heart bypass
surgery just two weeks earlier. However, we all knew he was there in spirit and I am sure I could
feel his vibes on race day. Mike recovered really well from his surgery and is an inspiration to us
Race day started when my alarm sounded at 4am. I ate my usual breakfast, grabbed the
appropriate gear for final bike preparations as well as my nutrition for the day, and headed to the
start. Walking to the race start in Lanzarote is an interesting experience because while all the
athletes and their support have just woken up to attend the race, along the way you encounter
many drunk tourists stumbling out of the pubs and clubs and you know that they have not yet
even been to bed!
I have a history of left shoulder dislocations (I haven’t quite hit the double digits but am close) and
through my sessions with my mental coach, Etienne Couture, and my triathlon coach, Scott
Molina, I had a plan for race day: I would stay wide at the start so as not to risk a shoulder injury.
I am quite vulnerable to repeated dislocations so my plan of attack would enable me to race
without any problems...SHOULD I stick to my plan. Well I guess you could say lesson learned!
After having a great swim in St. Croix, I felt overconfident and abandoned my race plan! I ended
up positioning myself at the start in a more central position which was a mistake. It was not good
to forget about my race plan, especially as Lanzarote has a dangerous swim start. The pros line
up along the beach and a few meters up the beach the age groupers are lined up, ready to run
(or should I say fly) into the water at the sound of the start gun. I think I took two strokes before I
was enveloped by other swimmers who had incredible momentum as they bounded down the
beach and dove into the ocean. In addition, the first buoy turn around is very close, and so there
isn’t much time to allow the mass of swimmers to spread out. By that first buoy, it is extremely
congested and quite rough.
I made it around the first buoy and shortly after I was kicked in my left shoulder causing it to fully
dislocate. I tired twice to pop it back in but it didn’t work. A volunteer in a kayak called over the
medical boat and I actually thought my day was done. I trained so hard, I was in the best shape
of my Ironman career, I went to the race to win it, and I was going to be pulled from the water
because I couldn’t swim! Any of you that have dislocated a shoulder also know that doing so
causes an excruciating amount of pain. Add to that the fact that I was literally being swum over
by hundreds of other athletes, you can begin to get the picture of the panic I was feeling. Just
before I resigned myself to be pulled out of the water by the medical boat, I tried one last time to
relocate my shoulder - and “POP” - it went back into place! I couldn’t believe it! I immediately
decided to try swimming again to try to complete the swim. I am sure that I confused the poor
volunteer in the kayak when he saw me start swimming again. After seeing what I went through,
this volunteer stayed close to me for the rest of the swim! This was such an amazing gesture as I
really appreciated knowing help was nearby should I have further problems with my shoulder.
In hindsight, now that the race is over, it is hard to believe I actually completed that swim, but let
me tell you that race-day adrenaline is a powerful drug! My shoulder was sore, but I used my
mental techniques to stay positive and continued to swim steadily, exiting in 59 minutes. My
mental training also enabled me to not be discouraged by my time and I knew that on the bike I
could make up for the five or six minutes I lost during the swim.
Heading out on the bike was an amazing feeling. I had come so close to dropping out of the
race, but I was still in it and I was thrilled to be able to continue. I was in my element and I was
determined. I rode hard for 180km! I used the swim incident to motivate me to push harder. And
harder! And harder!
While I wasn’t focused on it, it is certainly hard to miss the stunningly stark and beautiful scenery
of the island lava fields, cliffs with sheer drops into the deep blue ocean, quaint villages with
narrow streets and a distinctly European feel just wonderful . Lanzarote is a unique race in that
it is relatively small Ironman (1600 competitors or so) and they do not close all the roads to traffic.
As a result, people can drive the course and my family was able to do so and cheer me on
throughout the bike course. It was great to see them at various points in the race and Denis was
doing some pretty impressive videography out the back of the van with the back doors wide open.
As I worked my way up into second position I found the television cameras were on me regularly.
Throughout the course spectators lined street corners in villages and the sides of roads in the
more open stretches between towns. The ringing of the cowbells, the clapping of hands, and the
cheers in various languages all add to energy of the race. All these things are real motivators
over the course of the 180 km bike leg.
By the last six kilometers or so, I could see Tiina Bowman up ahead. By the time I reached T2
(the bike to run transition), I was only 50 seconds behind first place. I felt so strong. I felt that this
was my race to win. I had come to Lanzarote with this goal and I was confident I had it in me to
fight to the end. I finished the bike in 5:35 with the fastest bike split of the day by five minutes.
I arrived in the transition while Tiina Bowman was still there. Having arrived in transition just less
than a minute before me, she got out first, but I was sure I could catch her. The run in Lanzarote
is four loops of approximately 10km each, back and forth along the ocean front. And it was hot.
Heading out onto the run, my legs felt great. Bruce, my Dad, and Hanne were all cheering me on
and giving me splits. Denis was yelling “Supa Tara!” and the excitement of the crowds was
palpable. And then all of a sudden, I needed to go to the bathroom. Badly. So I figured one
stop, let it out, and I would be good to go. All runners know this is a possibility when we run.
(During our training runs we all know the best bathroom stops along our run routes!) After the pit
stop I started running again, but this was not to be the end of my upset bowels. I stopped again.
And again. And again. And I was bleeding. This was not good at all. I have never had intestinal
issues on the run, and I have never seen blood (from there) before so I was a little shocked. I
stopped yet again. These pit stops meant that instead of catching Tiina I was losing time to her.
With 15 km to go Tiina was 12 minutes ahead of me and Sione Jongstra from the Netherlands
was now within 30 seconds of me! So, I made a decision: I would not stop anymore regardless
of how my tummy felt. I was passed in the last five kilometers of the race last year and lost both
a place on the podium and a slot for the Hawaii Ironman World Championship race then, and this
was not going to happen again.
The last time I saw my family I was about to lose second place. I knew they would be expecting
me to come to the finish line in third position and they still would have been proud of me. I would
have qualified for Hawaii, improved upon last years’ position and made it onto the podium.
However, I used this as motivation. I was determined to hang on to second place and continue to
push hard right to the finish line. The man with the TV camera for the race was poised next to
me, just waiting to film “the pass”. Also, my bike escort (a race official who has a sign reading
“2nd Place Female” attached to the front of his bike basically to help spectators keep track of
athletes) was continually looking back to see when he would have to start escorting another
woman in second place instead of me. I used these two things as motivators as well. I was
determined not to allow the pass to be documented (like last year) and I was determined to keep
my 2nd place bike escort, who had been with me for the last 30 kilometers, right to the bitter end!
And that is what I did. I didn’t stop anymore. I just continued to run. I experienced my first out of
body experience in racing where I felt completely removed from the pain. It truly felt like I was not
in my body and my mind just allowed me to run. By the finish I had opened up a two minute gap
on Sione. I crossed the finish line in second place in a time of 10:12 and in the process knew I
had dug deeper than ever before. I had given it my all and I knew I made my family proud. I also
made myself proud.
I couldn’t do a post race interview I needed to go right to the medical tent. My shoulder was
sore, I needed to change my clothes, and my mind was whirlwind of emotions. I admit that I was
initially disappointed at having lost the ability to fight for the win. My shoulder and intestinal
problems were problems I wish I did not need to overcome on race day. But, this is how races
go, and overcoming these issues and still holding on to second place has brought me to a new
level of awareness and confidence as an athlete. This was the first time a killer instinct came out
of me on the run, and reflecting back on the race I know this was key for my evolution and
progression as a triathlete. Now I get to take this with me to future races.