Alicia recently completed her first 70.3 in May and is training for her first full Ironman in September. A few weeks ago we had a chance to chat about her training and racing experience….
Interviewer: How did you get started in triathlon?
I've always wanted to do an Ironman, but I never thought I could - I never thought that this was even a possibility. I had signed up for my first sprint triathlon, and then just didn't go through with it. I got nervous and thought - I can't do this.
Then I signed up for a Supersprint last August - the East Cobb triathlon. I convinced myself after the race - Oh, this is okay, maybe I can do this.
I was inspired by the Down Syndrome gentleman who did his Iron Man. They showed all his preparation on TV and I figured if he could do it, I could do the same thing. That’s when I decided I was going to sign up for Ironman. 2022 is the year. I started to put myself out there thinking that if I commit to train, I should be able to do this. I’ve always liked a good challenge.
Up to that point, I'd only run marathons - which at first I did not think I could do either. When I started running in 2016, I had a colleague that ran the Peachtree Road Race 10k and I was so in awe - Oh my gosh, you're running six miles, I can't believe it's six miles! A friend started me off with a couch to 5k app, and I kept going from there.
Triathlon was the next natural step for me. The next big adventure.
Interviewer: What have been some of your biggest challenges in pursuing triathlon?
Alicia: I think that is probably time management.
Not only am I working full time but I also have a side business. I feel like there's not enough time in the day. I knew coming into this that I was gonna have to work out twice a day and I decided, Yes, I can do this. But to go through with it day to day is hard. To actually wake up at four am and say to yourself - Listen, you need to be at the pool by five so you can do your swim and get to work by seven. I would say the biggest challenge for me has been the time management.
Tell me about your recent race - your very first 70.3 in Chattanooga.
Alicia: Yes - Chattanooga 70.3! I’ve been training since October for the 70.3. I have to admit, I wasn't an avid biker prior to this. I was a runner. I wasn't worried about the 13 miles of running. I was worried about the swimming and the biking because these are relatively new to me.
I actually I thought I'd be more nervous going into the race because this was my first time doing the 70.3. Usually for the marathons prior to this, I would actually question myself at the start - “Why am I doing this?”. I would have second thoughts and wonder “When was this a good idea??”
But I didn't have that questioning thought this time. I was prepared and knew I had to do this as the midterm check. Coach and I had to see how everything was going with the training in preparation for my Ironman - this is just the baby step to the next goal.
When we were going to line up for the swim they had pace signs for two hours, one hour,etc. and I was confused - we only have an hour and 10 minutes to swim this!! What do you mean two hours to swim this length?
And the course volunteers explained, Oh no, they have it wrong. It’s pace per hundred meters - two minutes, one minute, etc. I originally headed to the back where I would normally be for my usual pace of two minutes and over. I realized I would need as much time as possible. I then walked to the middle because it was going to take them a whole hour to get us in the water. I needed the extra time. I didn't know at the time but this would be so critical. I finally got into the water and I got a little nervous, but not as much as I usually do. I told myself to just swim so I just started swimming. The swimming was a bit full contact - I don't want people swimming over me but I had a couple people hit me on the side. There was a lady on a kayak and she suggested to swim more in the middle where the current is. And I'm thinking to myself, You mean to tell me I'm halfway done with this and I've not been swimming with the current?! So I moved more into the current. I did pretty well. I got to the point. A lot of swimmers around me were poor at sighting. We’ve been taught that it's important to sight often. I found it funny that there were people who weren't sighting at all! Literally there was a lady who was on her back going perpendicular to where we're supposed to go. And I said, ma'am, you're going in the wrong direction. Please turn around and go this way. Where are you sighting? One guy swam over me and I said, Sir -I'm literally five foot eight. I'm a lot of weight and volume in the water. You cannot miss me if you're actually sighting. Then there were people who just kept hitting me so I finally gently nudged them back to let them know that clearly they were not sighting. Let me help you know that someone is to your left and to your right. Thank you so much. Finally we made it to the end of the swim and they pulled us up out of the water. The wetsuit strippers were well trained and really quick. I'll be honest, I did get a little dizzy, but it worked out. I got out of transition and onto my bike. I have ridden 50ish miles many times so this was not new to me, but for some reason in my head I had to calm down a little bit at the start of the ride. I was thinking - How am I going to be able to do 56 Miles right now - what is going on? I was taking baby steps - take it five miles at a time. Just focus on five miles at a time. I was so nervous to be on the road with lots of other riders. There’s one sharp turn on Andrews that is a huge uphill. I knew that everything else was rolling hills and very doable. I can do this. I’ve done this before. But this hill was a lot steeper and I was nervous until I reminded myself I did the grand Fondo Hincapie with much steeper hills earlier that month. I had ridden the 55mile route at the GranFondo which was 4000 feet of elevation. My trainer and my coach reminded me that this race was only around 2000 feet of elevation. Having the GranFondo success already accomplished helped me realize I could conquer the Andrews hill. Plus it sucks to get off your bike or to stop in the middle of the hill. It really is hard to get back on. It's just horrible. Don't do it. Just keep pedaling through. If you keep pedaling through, you'll still go forward - maybe at a slow pace, but you'll still keep going forward. I had to remind myself that I have done this before. I can do this- just keep moving forward. When I finally got to Andrews , I said - I’ve got this. Lots of people got off their bikes to walk up this lane. I just kept going. I used my favorite mantra - YOU CAN DO IT!! I literally started talking to myself as I got up the hill. I told myself - You’ve got this lady! Keep moving!! I'm sure people were listening to me and wondering what was wrong with me. I got up the hill and one of the ladies who I passed said, Hey - you looked strong up the hill. I said, Thank you. I made it. After I got up that hill, I had so much energy. Yes, I did it!! This was mile 28…. so many more miles to go, but I made it up Andrews Hill !!! I realized that everything else on the bike course was easier than that hill. As I got closer to the end of the bike portion I noticed I was really close to reaching my bike goal of less than four hours. I kept looking at my watch. I couldn’t believe it. It looked like I was going to make my goal! I ended up at three hours and 56 minutes. Yes, yes, yes, I made that goal! I got through transition and started running with my helmet on!!! Something felt heavy on my head and I laughed - Oh my gosh, take the helmet off. So several minutes were lost for me to go run back and leave my helmet at my station. I started running and it was now midday and hot. The run starts with a challenging hill and my best friend surprised me at the top! She cheered and yelled - “You’re doing it !!!” I saw her and started crying. Just FYI - crying and running is just never a good combination because you can't breathe. I was so thankful to make it up the hill and it was such a wonderful surprise to see her. I was glad that I also had my mom there who was out in the hot sun holding her cheer sign. I often go to my marathons alone so it was a real boost to see familiar friendly faces during this race. It really meant a lot to see people who've helped me along - my coach, my best friend, my mom and also some ladies I knew who were there doing the relay race. They stayed to cheer me on. The run was so hot - I don't think I anticipated how hot it was going to be. I didn't bring enough electrolytes- I thought I had what I needed to get through the 13 Miles. I didn’t look at the weather ahead of time and I should have looked at the weather. I ran out of my electrolytes around mile nine. I was drinking water and I did drink the Powerade but I started cramping. This is not a new thing for me. At one of my marathons it was hot just like this all of a sudden and I cramped so bad. After that I knew I needed to have a better nutritional system so I started using Nuun. The Nuun works when you actually have it - I just didn't put it in my pocket. I was drinking water and Gatorade whenever we had the aid stops but it wasn't enough. I started cramping really bad the last three miles and it was quite painful. I didn’t know how many more minutes I could keep going but I was determined to drag my foot if that’s what it took. Those last three miles were not only painful but a test of my fortitude. I decided I was going to finish this race in less than eight hours and 30 minutes and I did in less than eight hours and 27 minutes. I wanted an official time-it didn't really matter how close to the course limit. I know if I'd had my electrolytes I would have been faster but I'm just glad that I was able to finish and not only push through mentally but physically as well. Interviewer: I was so excited to see your splits when they came up. I was tracking you all day. I saw you locked in on your run pace and knew you were going to succeed. Congratulations! So what are your goals for the future? Alicia: Yes. So definitely Iron Man Chattanooga Full. I’ve got that coming up in September. I also have the Chattanooga Waterfront Olympic triathlon and a few other local races planned for this season. I know I’ve got to put it into high gear now to stay focused and committed to reach my goals, despite some travel interruptions for a mission trip. I have to work on my mindset to stay positive heading into the rest of the training for the full Ironman. I'm very proud of how far I've come because Ironman training is very different from marathon training. Interviewer: How do you feel that triathlon has affected the rest of your life? How have you taken what you've learned and applied it to the rest of your life? Alicia: With marathon training, I thought I was disciplined. I know now that clearly I was not as disciplined as is required for triathlon training. I feel like triathlon is a whole different level. I have such respect for triathlon athletes, because so much time and effort is required. I feel like in the rest of my life it has opened me up to not only cycling more but to swimming in open water, which I didn't like before. I would go to the beach and wade in the water but I wouldn't swim. This experience has opened me up to different things that I never thought I would ever be able to achieve or accomplish. It’s really true that you can do anything you put your mind to. Yeah, I love it. Interviewer: Words to live by, for sure. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me and taking some time to chat about your experience thus far. I look forward to cheering you on at the full Ironman in September. Good luck!!