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  • Writer's pictureFran

The Wolf I Feed

Updated: Oct 23, 2018

Ironman Louisville

October 14, 2018

Ironman #8

I have a weird Ironman ritual. Once I’ve had the opportunity to process my season, which usually culminates with the crossing of an Ironman finish line, I put my disjointed thoughts into words and ceremoniously snip off my Ironman athlete bracelet. For me, it’s a very special moment which symbolizes that it’s time to move forward.

Last year this never happened, and I felt so guilty about not putting proper closure to my season that I eventually cut the damn thing off and left it sitting on my dresser. It’s still there, patiently awaiting some attention. Let’s just say that 2017 was very personal for me and difficult to process. I struggled through a stubborn torn plantar fascia injury, retired from thirty-three years of teaching middle school health education, cut ties with T3 Coaching, and learned about grit and perseverance. I trained hard, but didn’t race much. The season concluded with an 8th place age group finish at the Ironman World Championship and a beautiful Kona vacation with my devoted Sherpa/ best friend. I’m proud to say that it was the best “learning” year I’ve ever had as an athlete and person.

My training and racing goals for 2018 centered around having fun and staying healthy. I knew if I could do that, everything else would fall into place. . .and it did. I spent the winter months developing my new coaching business “Vincent Multisport and Personal Training”, becoming a certified Personal Trainer through NASM, building strength in the gym, snowshoeing, fat biking, and following an ambitious workout schedule engineered by my coach, Vinny Johnson. Retirement is no joke!

Originally, my race schedule was centered around a trip to South Africa to participate in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship race. Ultimately, I decided the trip wouldn’t be worth the cost and effort. It would have been a fun vacation, but I’m not convinced it would have provided for a positive race experience. I opted, instead, to do Ironman Louisville and fight like hell to qualify for the 2019 Ironman World Championship for another shot at a umeke bowl.

2018 Season Highlights:

Delmar Dash: 5 miles, AG 3rd, 39:56

Delmar Dash with Team Vincent athletes, Jen Bergeron and Erin Dolan

This is a local road race. . .cold, damp, flat and fast and was the first time I had run completely pain-free for over a year. Although my pace pushed me into the hurt zone, I was able to smile from ear to ear knowing that I was slowly making my way back.

Tour of the Battenkill Grand Fondo: 75 miles, 4:36:51

This course was full of steep, punchy climbs (over 5000’ of elevation) with numerous dirt sections. It was a fun and challenging day of training which culminated with a nice lunch and microbrew!

QT2 training buddy, Stan Kroder

Rev3 Quassy: Olympic Distance, AG 1st, 2:47:45

I’ve done Quassy 70.3 two (and two third) times prior, but this was my first shot at the Olympic distance. This was a blast! I loved being able to ride with reckless abandon without having to save much gas for the run. But, oh man. . . that run!

Patriot: 70.3, AG 1st, 5:13:04

This was my second time racing here. . .and I will be back again! The two loop bike course is mostly flat and scenic with a few New England rollers. It can get pretty congested, especially on the second loop, but has a really nice hometown vibe.

Double Mussel: OA 4th, 7:00:46.

Sprint - AG 1st, 1:26:43

I’m really starting to enjoy these shorter races! I think it’s good to challenge an endurance-based body with some speed every once in a while. The bonus: You're done early enough in the day with enough energy to visit the local vineyards.

70.3 – AG 1st, 5:34:03

Betsy, me, Erin, Jen, and Catie after the Sprint.

This will always be one of my favorite races, despite the fact that it was freaking hot!! Not only did I receive my first drafting penalty ever (thank you Donna Smyers), but I also got stuck waiting 5-6 minutes for a train to pass. Overall, this was a great weekend, with many Vincent Multisport athletes AND QT2 buddies racing.

Greenfield Lightlife International Distance Triathlon: OA 3rd, AG 1st, 2:50:56

Catie and I decided to do this one on a whim. The Greenfield River was cold, but the three loop bike course was really fun, highlighted by a switchback climb just after crossing a covered bridge.This race could use a lesson in swag, but the vegetarian lasagna was delicious!

Big George: 70.3 Team No Limits Relay 1st, 4:57:53 Bike split (and PR) 2:39:08

This was such a fun weekend with two of my favorite strength training buddies, Lea and Jen. Despite convincing each other that this weekend was NOT about podium expectations, each of us pulled off PR's to break the female relay course record by over 22 minutes.

(Swimmer) Lea Warden, (Biker) Fran, and (Runner) Jen Bergeron

Pumpkinman: 70.3, AG 1st, 5:14:07

I had heard a lot about this race and it did not disappoint! It was a chilly morning and I definitely underestimated how cold I’d be on the bike. Despite that, everything from the race venue, volunteers/aid stations, swag, fully catered turkey dinner, and awards ceremony was perfect! It was so much fun doing this one with my favorite race buddy, Stan Kroder, with the added bonus of having our coach out on the course cheering us on.

You might want to grab a glass of wine (or bourbon) for this last one. . .

Ironman Louisville: 140.6, AG 4th, 11:07:33

With a neutralizing (mostly) downstream swim, a rolling (somewhat) technical bike, and a pancake flat run, I was told this course was made for me! I was especially excited to be racing with some of my most favorite people on the planet. . .Catie, Stan, and Betsy. We arrived separately the Thursday prior to race day, keeping our eye on the weather forecast which looked to be chilly and damp. There was much (probably too much) conversation and deliberation about the proper attire for these weather conditions. Little did I know that this day would be the most challenging day of my triathlon racing career.

Betsy, Stan and I doing our last shake out ride, standing at the swim start.

We woke up Sunday morning to a steady rain with temperatures in the low 40’s and decided to give ourselves an extra fifteen minutes of warm and dry before heading out to inflate tires and set up our fueling (meals on wheels) for the day. Being a point to point swim, it was necessary to walk about a mile upstream to the race start where they had already began seeding athletes by time. We sat under a highway underpass for a bit, trying to calm our nerves, while being bundled in warm clothes and huge plastic trash bags.

With twenty minutes until takeoff, it was time to put on my suit of armor (wetsuit), stop shivering, and get my head in the game. The good news. . .the water was warmer than the air. The bad news. . .the current was so strong in the Ohio River that the kayaks were unable to paddle upstream in order to get into place. We were eventually told that the swim start would be delayed by nearly forty-five minutes while they repositioned the buoys. We would only be swimming .9 miles WITH a strong current. So, this is good, right? Honestly, it was still pitch dark out and I was happy to wait for some daylight.

Let me just tell you a little about the Ohio River. It smells. Bad! And there’s all sorts of shit (literally, I think) floating around in there, but it’s best not to think too much about that stuff when you’re in the thick of it. Once I jumped off the dock my only job would be to keep the buoys to my left and exit the stinky water as quickly as possible. After chasing a runaway buoy about 50 yards midstream (I’m not sure what I was thinking), I finally decided to follow the crowd and head straight towards the exit. Swim done in 14:54! I am so glad I spent all those grueling nights at Excel Aquatics busting my ass to “get fast”!

My T1 was seamless and smooth. The volunteers were wonderful and I had plenty of help putting on my dry QT2 jersey, BTC buff, red fleece lined windproof bike jacket, wool socks, bike shoes with waterproof velotoes, and thin gloves. Despite not being able to get my computer to pair with my new Garmin pedals, I was happy to be in the saddle. The first ten miles of the course were absolutely enjoyable. It was chilly and rainy, but I remember thinking, “Wow, this isn’t so bad. After all that fuss about what to wear, I’m going to be fine!” By mile twenty (the beginning of the first loop), the rain had soaked through my jacket and gloves, and the wind had picked up as I noticed a stranded athlete standing next to his bike on the side of the road, visibly shaking (and blue). My body got colder with each passing mile, but I continued to think positive thoughts. “I can feel my toes, I’m well-fueled, I’m making forward progress.” On each slight uphill, I got out of my saddle in an attempt to generate some heat. On the downhills, the wind was whipping at my face, as my legs and arms (and entire bike) were shaking underneath me. “Fran, you’re going to be okay. Keep drinking. . . and keep feeding the wolf.” For the first time in a very long while, I could not think of anything positive to float past my brain. In fact, at one point I passed a cyclist on the side of the road who was surrounded by medics. I couldn’t see her, but I did see the teal bar tape on her mangled handlebars and got a quick glimpse of her crazy colored tights. “Shit. . .was that my Catie?!?” I almost turned around to check, but convinced myself that the cold air was getting to my brain. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!”

At this point, I had already dropped two of my six gels and my fingers were refusing to respond to the commands coming from my control center. I was having issues shifting gears, gripping my fuel bottle, and grabbing a simple gel from my bento. With thirty miles to T2, I was no longer capable of fueling my body, but I knew as long as I could use my breaks I’d be able to keep myself safe and wouldn't be a danger to the athletes around me.

I was thrilled to finally see the dismount line ahead but was unable to reach down to manipulate the boa fasteners on my cycling shoes. No flying dismounts for me today! I was just happy to be out of the saddle and running on muddy grass towards the changing tent.

I wish I had a video of T2 as I’m sure it would be entertaining. . .to someone. At this point, I had zero use of my hands, as my fingers had literally seized into a permanent grip on my aerobars. Three lovely volunteers peeled my shorts, tri top, jacket, socks, and gloves off my shaking body. They then proceeded to squeeze my legs and butt into my tight compression tights and long sleeved running shirt. It took another few minutes to attempt to put my gloves on, but I gave up on that, hoping that my hands would eventually thaw on their own. I’m proud to report that I had the fastest bike split in my age division, but ended up with a transition time of 15:21! I know, I know. . .go ahead and laugh at that.

My run was fairly uneventful compared to the rest of this challenging day. I was completely focused on getting caught up with my fueling while walking through each aid station. I was in a good place, but the cold had gotten the best of me and I just couldn't get my legs to move any faster. It was awesome to be able to see my buddies and our Sherpas multiple times on the run course. I almost cried tears of joy when I saw Catie, as I could finally put that ugly bike crash out of my mind for the remainder of the day. She looked adorably perky. Her biking adventure was as cold as mine, but she seemed to tolerate it better and even managed to run a sub four hour marathon.

There are few things as beautiful as the finish line of an Ironman race and I am forever grateful that I was able to cross this one. Never at any time did I consider quitting, but there were moments that I was nervous about my ability to continue. There were sixteen athletes in my age division that did not finish. Although I didn’t get the outcome that I had hoped for, I know I’m stronger and smarter for the experience.

I’m so thankful to my coach, Vinny Johnson, for getting me to this start line feeling strong, confident, and prepared for anything. Vinny often knows what I need better than I do. He's a thinker. . .honest, wise, and deep. I'm a much better athlete, coach, and person for having him in my corner.

I couldn’t do this crazy sport without the support, encouragement, and love I get every single day from my other Vinny. He completely took over for me as I crossed another Ironman finish line and patiently puts up with my endless chatter about fueling, GI distress, sore muscles, power numbers, and race planning. He is my rock and knight in shining armor. I'm blessed beyond words.

This season has been full of fun adventures with my tri buddies. They've kept me motivated, happy and grounded. They are also a constant reminder that what we do in triathlon is only a small part of who we are as people.

So, as I prepare to snip my eighth Ironman bracelet off my wrist, I’m fully content to close this chapter and move forward with another year of triathlon adventures. Life has a funny way of putting us in the exact spot that we are meant to be. Right now, I'm a happy girl...grateful and full of hope.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

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