Ironman Pro Racing - everyone has an opinion so here\'s mine , 2014-08-05

Sunday night I was in a bad place.  I just heard about the changes from Ironman for pro races and prize purses.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s the press release:


 I was hurt, mad, disappointed that Ironman once again is changing the game on me.  I mean, I JUST had my first big payout and was starting to see the light at the end of the debt tunnel.  I was already thinking about my schedule for next year, hoping I could cherry pick my races to get a little more money and finally be in the black.  Then maybe I could get one step closer to quitting my job, you know that one necessity you need if you are actually going to “make it” as a professional triathlete.  Then after THAT I’ll be able to race with the top girls, RIGHT? Now those “easy paychecks” are gone, just like my dream of being a “full-time” pro and really being able to compete.  I tossed and turned all night, then woke up on Monday morning ready to write a scathing review of the changes and why they are unfair to newer pros.  But when I put fingers to keyboard, I couldn’t get out more than a couple sentences.  I wasn’t able to put together a coherent position.  I mean, I had all these ideas and arguments in my head, but they weren’t coming together.  I decided to sit on it another day and give everything a little more thought.


Today I woke up and realized that the first idea for this blog is exactly why you DO NOT write blogs or even get super involved in social media when you are at the end of a big week of training.  I was tired and instead of seeing that this is actually a fair and positive step, I played the victim.  If my husband had just had some cake handy I probably would have never gone down the negative rabbit hole.  Luckily a recovery day and some good sleep got my head back on straight.


After some serious thought, here’s what I think about more money, but at fewer races.  First, yes, it might be tougher for us new or up and coming pros to get paid.  We might have to hang on to our “real” jobs for awhile.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t progress.  Pretty much all of us got to this level with full-time jobs so why can’t we keep going?  Sure, some people have family money, rich spouses, or even big nest eggs in the bank from their previous life in investment banking and don’t need to work in the beginning.  It might seem unfair that the rest of us can’t dive in head first without risking financial ruin, but that’s life.  Some people were born with legs the length of my entire body, but I’m not going to complain about that.  Instead, I’m going to focus on what I do have and make the most of it.


Next, we should definitely be happy that Ironman is paying more overall.  This is a great thing for those athletes that have risen to the top of the sport.  They have worked their tails off and DESERVE to get paid more.  Now we might be able to argue that Ironman could afford to add even more loot to the pot, but one step at a time.  At first I thought this was a bogus setup – I mean the “rich” are just going to get richer, right?  Most of these so called “rich” triathletes have been racing as professionals for 6-10 years.  To say they have paid their dues is an understatement.  No one actually comes out of nowhere, even if it seems like that is the case.  And this is going to give the money to the people who deserve it.  Yes the fields will be deeper and each race will be tougher, but the top athletes will be getting the paychecks – it’s hard to argue against that.


All hope is not lost for us newer pros trying to work our way up.  We can stop trying to play the “which race will have the fewest competitors” game and focus on training and racing our hearts out.  When we do finally get to the top those paychecks are going to be big and we will have earned them!


In the mean time we need to be grateful for what we have.  Even if it’s not our only one, we have a “job” that keeps us in shape, get’s us outside, and allows us to be part of an amazing community.  We get great gear for free or at a discount from sponsors.  Let’s be honest, we’d be racing either way so it’s awesome to get free or reduced entry to most events.  And of course as many other people have pointed out, there are plenty of races outside of Ironman that pay money, maybe we just need to shift our focus a bit and do a little research on the USAT site.  We can also go crawling on our hands and knees to Rev3 and beg for their forgiveness!  In the mean time, chin up new pros.  Keep working hard and chasing your dreams!  We’ll get there.


Putting the Coeur in CDA , 2014-07-07

Last summer I hit rock bottom in my triathlon career.  I had overhauled my diet, cut back my hours at work, and put in thousands of hours of training preparing for the 2013 Ironman Mont Tremblant.  I was trying to get over a disappointing start to my pro career and was excited to tow the line with some of the best in the sport.  Unfortunately my body had other plans.  I got sick a couple weeks before the event and although I felt much better the days leading up to the race, I just had nothing to give when the gun went off. After 3.5hrs of pushing, I abandoned the race and the rest of the season.  My confidence and belief in my ability was gone and I was starting to lose the joy of the sport.  I contemplated “retiring” or going back to the amateur ranks and just racing “for fun” again.  But after some serious thought I decided I wasn’t willing to give up.  The good thing about hitting rock bottom is there is nowhere to go but up. 

My horrible attempt at a selfie, just trying to show off my new favorite Coeur jersey


Then my 3 coaches came along (well, came back into my life in a big way) and everything changed. The spark that I had as an age grouper – the girl who was just excited to be racing and improving – started to come back.  I stopped focusing on that elusive great result that I so desperately wanted, and thought I needed to regain my confidence.  I was training with Team Sheeper more regularly and having a BLAST getting my butt kicked by all my amazing teammates.  At first I was worried I just couldn’t handle the training intensity and volume it would take to progress, while still working a “real job”, but of course my coaches knew better.  They gave me monster workouts, and I didn’t break.  The more I realized I could handle, the more excited I became about my prospects for the future. My 3 coaches, Tim, Mike, and Ian, had believed in me all along – so much so that I actually started to believe in myself again. 


Checking in with the QR crew pre-race to get the Illicito dialed!


Go time!


My first two races of the season were a bit disappointing.  I just didn’t seem to have the speed or power that I needed or wanted.  When the doubts started to creep back in, my coaches reminded me we are training for Ironman. That is the focus, that is when I’ll actually rest, and that’s when I’ll be at my best.  I put those two 70.3s in my rear view mirror and pushed on towards Ironman Coeur D’Alene.  I had a couple really good workouts going into the race, so I knew if I stuck to my race plan, nailed my nutrition, I would have my best Ironman yet.  I left Palo Alto full of excitement and hope.  When the gun went off on race morning I raced into the water for what would be my best 140.6 miles to date. 




The Swim – I love this swim! It’s a gorgeous, clear lake that’s at about the perfect temperature for me (62 degrees F).  Plus, it’s 2 loops of the course so you at least have SOME idea of where you are and how much further you have to go.  Sometimes 2.4m can seem endless! But on race morning, HOLY CHOP BATMAN!  The lake was angry and wanted to smack me in the face every time I tried to sight for a buoy on the way out.  I actually thought maybe the first turn buoy had detached and was floating away at some point because I swear for 5 minutes I didn’t get any closer to it! I was able to swim with Heather Wurtele the entire way – she lead out most of the first lap, I took over on the 2nd.  I was sad to have just missed Kelly’s feet as she was only about 45sec in front of us by the end.  HOWEVER, my plan was to get out from the main group, then settle into a SUPER comfortable pace and make sure I was setting myself up for a strong rest of the day.  Definitely mission accomplished there!  I came out of the water in 2nd, 42 seconds down from 1st and couldn’t wait to get on my bike.  My overall time was just over 59 minutes – over 5minutes slower than normal.




The bike – Now I knew there was no way I was going to ride with Heather.  She took off and I didn’t bat an eye.  My coaches had given me my average power number to hit and I was committed to staying there, even on the first 10 miles when the adrenaline was pumping and I was feeling GREAT!  Good thing I stuck to the plan because the waves on the lake didn’t come out of nowhere.  The wind was a blowin’ and as soon as I hit the stretch on 95 it was a battle.  The wind kicked up even more on the 2nd loop so it was a really good thing I had left a little in the tank. Mile 70-85 was definitely rough – the back and shoulders were hurting, power was starting to drop just slightly, but each mile I got a little closer to the final turnaround and a screaming fast return to town.  I was able to ride into 2nd on the bike by about mile 20 and I stayed there for the next 92 miles, riding completely alone (thank goodness for my PowerTap to keep my head in the game!).  I had no idea how long I would hang onto 2nd, so I vowed to enjoy every second I was there – not hard on my new QR Illicito – man I LOVE that bike!  That 2nd place position lasted to about mile 6 of the run, when Kelly W. passed me like I was standing still J




The Run – In the last Ironman I actually finished, I “ran” a 3:54.  I had already started walking by mile 7.  I PROMISED myself before this race that unless I had an injury or was vomiting, I was not going to walk a single step.  The plan was to be conservative the first 3 miles, which was actually a lot more challenging than I thought it would be. I felt good off the bike – for the first time in about 2 years - and ready to run!  I also knew it had been a long time since I had a strong Ironman finish and I did not want to blow it!  Luckily I had my trusty Timex GPS watch to keep me on track!  



There was no disappointment when I saw Kelly go by at the first turnaround.  I knew it was coming and I knew I couldn’t counter.  I also didn’t care.  I was still in 3rd and having a BLAST!  My lead cyclist would tell the people 20 feet in front of me “3rd Place female, Jess Smith, coming through!” and all the spectators would scream my name and offer me encouragement.  I’m surprised my cheeks weren’t the sorest part of my body from all the smiling I did on that run!  I just couldn’t believe how amazing the support was from so many thousands of strangers!


Of course during the Ironman marathon reality always sets in at some point.  Reality set in for me around mile 17.  I still had 9 miles to go when fatigue reared its ugly head.  It was time for Coke!  I always hold off drinking coke for as long as I can because it seems like such a miracle substance towards the end of the race.  The half cup they give you is the perfect amount to last 1 mile, after which there is luckily a brand new person offering a brand new cup of the liquid gold.  The sugar and caffeine kicked in and I ran out of the dark place and back into the light.  I definitely did NOT want to pat myself on the back for my first official pro podium before it happened – obviously I have seen the images of the people about to win races only to collapse meters from the finish line.  But as I got closer and closer to the finish line, the energy of the amazing crowd (and the coca cola) picked me up and I felt stronger and stronger.  I saw incredible pro athlete and Ultraman female champ, Hilary Biscay, just before the last turn around mile 25.  She screamed that she was so proud of me and was almost in tears.  That’s when I let myself believe.  I knew my body wasn’t going to give out.  I knew I wasn’t going to get caught.  I knew I was going to get my first pro podium.  I didn’t know that first I was going to have to run the LONGEST mile of my life! I swear mile 25 to 26.2 was actually 1.8 miles (AT LEAST).  I kept pushing until I hit the finish shoot.  I high fived as many people as I could and then crossed the line and threw up my Coeur sign – the heart.  This symbol represents my amazing kit sponsor – Coeur Sports – but also is a true symbol of my journey as a pro.  I have had many more downs than up, but I always train and race with heart.  Although I had put all my heart into that race, somehow it was full again as soon as it was over.


I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from family, teammates, and friends after the race.  I can’t express how much it meant to me to have so many people rooting for me.  A Coeur Sports teammate, Heidi, said it takes a village to raise a triathlete.  It’s so true.  I am so incredibly lucky to have such amazing people in my village.  My sponsors have supported me so well – Coeur Sports, Saucony, Quintana Roo, Reynolds, PowerTap, Challenge Tires, Rudy Project, Clif, Xterra Wetsuits, Timex, Cognition Cyclery – I would be nowhere without you.  My BFF, Hailey – thanks so much for all the training and chatting.  You are an amazing friend and teammate.  My coaches, Team Sheeper, my loving family, and friends – thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have given to help make my dreams come true!

Cathleen Knutson and Ali Black - 2 stud pro ladies who had great races in CDA!! Love these gals!




I have 5 VIPs this blog.  The first is the Queen of Coeur D’Alene.  If you have raced at CDA, there is a good chance you have met her.  She is the face of the amazing town, and a sweet, incredibly supportive friend, Sue Hutter.  She also takes pretty amazing pictures, some of which I hope I can steal from her for my website!


Sue – you do so much for this sport.  Thank you for setting my up with an incredible homestay, cheering me on all day, and always being a true friend.  You have seen me at my worst and at my best and support me know matter what!


Sue was responsible for my next group of 4 VIPs – the Fletcher Family – Jen, Jeff, Lincoln, and Lilly.  They offered their home to Mark and me for the entire weekend – setting us up in their basement apartment, which I’m sad to say is about 10 times better than our actual apartment!  They welcomed us with open arms and were available should we need anything the entire weekend.  Lilly made me amazing signs, and Jen and Lilly were out on the course giving me support all day!  They are a super active, down to earth, incredible family who I am so happy to know.  I am already making plans to return to CDA next year and can only hope they will be willing to let us take over their basement again. 



Thank you Sue and Fletcher family!  You helped make our weekend a truly memorable one!