Maggie Rusch

Professional Triathlete

Again. And Again. And Again.

In one of my many past athletic lives, I was a Division I volleyball player. I played enough games to earn a coveted Varsity letter, but not enough to avoid becoming frustrated with spending a good portion of my time on the bench. Sometimes I look back and wish I had pursued track instead of volleyball—but then again, I have yet to touch a volleyball since 2009 and I still love to run. Trade-offs and what-ifs—do they actually matter?

One of my most vivid memories (of many) from the days playing for Penn Volleyball was one brutal practice where the coach, whom I happened to dislike greatly, had us performing push-ups for each missed serve in a practice. But in the most diabolical way possible, the "penalty" went up by 10 push ups for each missed serve.  

First missed serve? Each player on the team had to knock out 10 push-ups. Second missed serve? 20. And then 30, then 40 and so on. The catch was that with each missed serve, each player's arms got more and more tired and so more and more balls went into the net or careered out of bounds.

I remember when we hit 100 and we looked around and I wondered if the torture would ever stop. Would the Coach pull the emergency brake and end practice, or would we keep going until by some miracle we managed big lollypop easy serves in-bound that meant a reprieve from more push-ups.

I can't remember how it ended—other than useless arms for the next few days—but the final pushup tally was somewhere approaching 1000. Afterwards, we sat around in the locker room, dazed. Some of my hardest training sessions pre-Ironman were with the Penn Volleyball team and this one still sits pretty high up on the torture list.

I honestly don't know if that episode ultimately taught us anything, or if it had any affect on our team's performance across the rest of the season—but I think about that day quite a lot in my triathlon training. 

My long rides have recently had a number of hard intervals to hit, longer and higher wattages than I am used to seeing in training. And, frankly, I have missed quite a lot of them. But each time I miss them, whether within an individual bike session or across several, I always make a point to take a deep breath, refocus and attempt to hit the target, regardless of whether or not how tired my legs are or how uncertain I am that I will hit the outcome. 

Missing the goal happens. It's not a reason to get frustrated and give up and walk away from the training session. Yes, it may make things harder but it's no reason to stop or to deviate. You can start to realize that so much of what you are attempting to do (within reason) is more about finding the calm within yourself and executing, whether it's getting the ball over a 7'4 net or holding 2X0 watts for 20 minutes. 

I listened to a great Finding Mastery podcast a few weeks ago with Bob Bowman, in which he describes a similar process by which he had a female athlete swim as many 100s as it took to go under a specific time (I believe she was trying to break a minute for the 100 free). The goal is to create an environment in training by which athletes are asked to raise the bar and perform at a level that truly tests their abilities. 

On Number 24, after several missed splits and even crying behind her goggles, this athlete swam a 58. Clearly it was not her fitness or strength that kept her from breaking through that performance barrier—it was her focus and mindset. By putting her in a situation where she had to figure it out under high stakes, the coach simulated a typical race day environment and forced her to learn how to solve a problem under stressful situations.

The more I train and the more I experience failure in my training, the more I come to realize that performance is all about learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable and learning how to access the edge of our athletic capabilities. Not every day—that would be a recipe for burn-out—but enough where we are able to show up on race day, think to ourselves "yes, this feels familiar and yes this is achievable" and we are able to go out there and execute.

While I would never voluntarily subject myself to so many pushups that I can't wash my hair for a week, I love the new targets that are set in front of me and have embraced my many failures as a way to keep trying, and trying, and trying again.

Starting Lines

Does anyone ever feel ready when they line up on a starting line? 

Does it get easier by the time you reach start line number twenty? What about fifty? What about number one when you don’t quite know the suffering that awaits and you’re working with a clean slate? Or, what if you’re “only” racing amateur? Back of pack? Coming back from an injury? Maybe you’re on your home turf and you’ve run/biked the race route hundreds of times. Maybe it’s a Sprint or Olympic... or maybe you have a pre-baked excuse ready to let you off the hook?

Or—maybe—what if you’re lined up next to a 3x World Champion, the same one who you just so happened to awkwardly ask for a photo at your second half-ironman just six years ago... and know she has no recollection of that despite the fact you now occasionally swim right behind her at swim practice and spend the entire time trying not to tap her toes. And you can only laugh at the weird turns where your life has brought you to get to today. 

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I am not sure I have ever felt ready for a race. I am also not sure I ever will. 

The more time I spend in Boulder, the more I realize that I don’t live the life of your typical professional triathlete. Some days, I am the girl jumping out of swim practice early, sprinting from the pool to the locker room, sweating as I try to change and speed home to make my 8:30am conference call.

Other days I’m not even that lucky and the call has to happen in my swimsuit from the stall of an outdoor shower. “Hi everyone, this is Maggie.” [HITS MUTE BUTTON] …. [UNMUTE] “Yes, well let’s see: yesterday’s deployment went well but we’ll need to clean up some of the profiles and I have a few concerns about the process builders so let me do another round on those and I’ll follow up before end of day.” [MUTE BUTTON]. Honest to god, whoever invented the mute button deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. 

I love it, but it’s not always easy. 

Six weeks ago, I had the first of two professional triathletes come to stay with me. Right around then, I started swimming regularly with Siri Lindley's crew, all full time athletes. Three weeks ago, I raced a small but high caliber field at Monterrey 70.3 and did not meet the high expectations I set for myself. Two weeks ago, yet another mostly full-time triathlete came to stay with me. You start to get a glimpse into what it takes to be world class and begin to realize that your life as currently designed does not have the room for prioritizing triathlon life. At least, not if you hope to maximize your potential. Naps? What are naps? 

Following the build up above, one week ago, I had a total melt down about the fact that I would never live up to my hopes and dreams as a professional triathlete. I spent one weekend throwing a hissy hit and skipping a few key workouts and generally just getting down on myself. 

But what is the answer? It would be easy to drop back and become an amateur and lower the invisible bar I keep setting for myself. Or, I could quit my job and lose a huge part of what I love to do and what stimulates me intellectually day to day (and pays the bills). At the same time that I question all of this and my investment in the sport, I see Lucy Gossage win Ironman Lanzarote as a part-time doctor who entered the race "on a whim" and it gives me hope.

I ask you just as I ask myself: what is balance? It depends on who you are asking. For some people, balance is 30 hours of training a week, 9 hours of sleep a night and regular massages, naps and recovery smoothies. For me and (maybe) for people like Lucy Gossage, it’s working a job I love, “playing" a sport a love, maintaining a social life (even if it revolves around triathlon), getting lost in the mountains on epic all-day rides and making the most of the all too short time we all have in this crazy world.

Triathlon brings me joy. It doesn’t have to be as serious as so many of us make it out to be. We are simply going out, exercising for absurd amounts of times and distances and making the most of what we can at any given moment. 

And for right now, that’s good enough for me. 

The Things I'm Afraid to Tell You

I’ve been a little more quiet than normal the last few months, after riding the high of Ironman Argentina. I’ve had this draft saved for nearly a month and have been waffling over whether it was “too much to share”. I’ve gone dark (for the most part) regarding triathlon social media. I contemplated deleting my twitter (downloaded an app to automatically delete everything and panicked and stopped somewhere mid-2014) and pretty much just stepped away from triathlon in general.

I love 99% of this sport but that 1% can be toxic.

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Part of it was my own world seemingly holding on by a thread (training, work, relationships, sanity… I have more spinning plates in my world than I care to admit), part of it was just getting tired with the self-obsessed, often snarky triathlon community. Sometime in December, I sought out the guidance of a sports psychologist / therapist and after much discussion, number one on the personal growth docket was committing to building better boundaries for myself. After years of always being the giver, the people-pleaser, the workaholic who always says ‘yes’ at my own expense, I committed to learning how to push back.

Around the same time I resumed training, only to shortly after slice my foot open, nearly severing a tendon, and was forced to extend my month-long off-season into two. My CTL dropped to a paltry 27. Twenty. Seven. Let me tell you, coming back from a CTL of 27 is no fun at all.

At the same time, thankfully, I had two wonderful friends I started spending more and more time with and planning our dreams of 2018 together. After each encounter or group text, I walked away feeling inspired, ready to take on the world and confident in myself. Contrast that to the other relationships in my life, where I walked away feeling drained, doubting myself or feeding into the negative, judging, harmful voices that are oh so common today.

So many people talk about having the right people in their corner, their “triathlon village” if you will.  When I was contemplating no longer racing pro last year, my mom seemed to sigh with relief that I was no longer going to pursue this professional pipe dream. When I mentioned tackling mountain bike races next summer, my coach joked that he hoped I chose "less technical" courses. I spent time interacting with people who loved to snark on and criticize other athletes on social media, whether world class pros or the everyday person just trying to pursue and share their hobby.

My therapist would ask about my support system and while I was quick to sing the praises of some, I found I was hesitant to describe other people that I thought should fall within that circle; conveniently, I failed to mention them. Slowly, I realized that I had inadvertently built a village of only moderately supportive people that caused me to second guess myself and my decisions in the sport—and lead me down that same negative path myself.

Somewhere in January, I snapped. To be successful at the elite level, you almost have to have an unrealistic belief in yourself and your capabilities and use that drive to get you through every single day of tough training. I struggled and still struggle with this. Thanks to my two triathlon (and real-life) wonderful friends, I saw the light in how a “village” should help make you feel day-to-day and how good daily inputs can make the world of a difference. As a result, I re-evaluated and ended a handful of personal relationships and work dynamics that were no longer serving me and had not been for quite some time. I started scrolling through social media less and reading more. I turned off all push notifications on my phone other than text and call. I resumed my meditation practice and built in new daily habits that helped center myself.

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I feel more like myself than I have in a very long time.

This is a bit of a secret, but I have started my own project. I won’t call it a book, though some might. After the last 12 months of living in Boulder, living among true professionals, I have realized that I am not one. I may race in the “pro” category, but everything else about the way I approach sport and training and the mental game reflects that of an amateur:

  • I have not had an “all green” week in Training Peaks since maybe March 2017. And before that... maybe mid-2015?
  • I’m probably one of the least hard-working triathletes out there, professional or amateur.
  • When I’m on, I’m on and will work hard—but when I’m off? I’m completely off the rails.
  • It’s a good week if I only miss 2-3 training sessions
  • I have more bad habits than good habits
  • My Work always takes priority over workouts, sleep, well-being and self-care. 

That being said, I think “becoming a professional” is attainable. I have been able to reach my current pro status, gain a few amateur titles and do pretty amazing for someone living the life of an amateur parading as a professional. However, I’m ready to stop choosing the things that keep me from the outcome I know I’m capable of reaching.

So I want you to join me on this journey. It’s going to be part self-experiment, part “By the Book” (an excellent and ridiculous podcast), part “Happiness Project” (Gretchen Rubin) and just part me sharing my own fumblings as I discover what it means to race “pro”. I started (somewhat) within the last few weeks and every two weeks plan on introducing a new professional goal to incorporate and track in my day-to-day. A retroactive overview of the last few weeks will be covered in the next few days, and you can expect more to come.

I hope you choose to join. Maybe you too will discover your true professional side and advance beyond the life of an amateur. At the end of the day, the stamp on your calf means nothing; it’s all about the way you achieve your dreams and your goals.

Footnote: Lastly, and there’s no great way to put this, but I want more people to consider that there are points in their lives when it makes sense to seek out a professional to speak with, rather than a friend. While there is unfortunately still a stigma associated with speaking with a therapist (take it from me: even as a psych major, I put this “taboo” experience off until this past year at the ripe old age of 30), being able to talk out your issues with a non-judgmental third party is HUGE. I’ll never give up my vent-sessions with friends but to speak with someone who gives you direct and actionable advice can be invaluable and lead you to discover your best version of yourself.

Ironman Argentina

It's really hard for me to write about Ironman Argentina. 

To begin with: because of the timing, I arrived in Argentina after nearly a month on-and-off of being sick, several weeks plagued by a hectic workload of 50-hour-plus-commuting work weeks at my job and a block of incredibly spotty training that happened during the most critical window of final Ironman prep. Imagine lots and lots of red and yellow TrainingPeaks boxes. Most of my pre-race conversations with Brian revolved around a race plan that assumed I would barely be able to break 11-hours. 

I honestly don't know what happened that allowed me to have the day I had. Hence, the not knowing how to recap the race.

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Sometime in the next few weeks, I will most certainly write a longer recap featuring details such as the travel required to get to Argentina, the course itself and other more nuanced logistics. Because it was a first year race, most of my planning happened last minute and mostly in the dark and very poorly thought out (by me). Of course, that's the way 95% of my race planning happens so I guess I can say it only evened the playing field with other athletes traveling to a first-year Ironman.

However, I think the biggest difference for me going into this race was that I had already made the decision in October that 2018 would see me returning to triathlon as an amateur. After a solid 2013-2015, the past two years have been surprisingly rough and my race performances have honestly been rather dismal. Life, work, stress... it all got to me. While I met the standards required to continue to race professionally, I still in no way felt like I belonged on the elite start line. Plenty of internet trolls also felt compelled to reach out to me with similar messages—letting me know that I "did not belong" and that I should give up on my dream of racing pro—as if the second guessing wasn't already underway.

In the last few weeks heading into the race, I did a lot of thinking about what it was I got out of triathlon and why I continued to show up to train and race every single day despite not having the bandwidth to do so at a "professional level". I considered the benefit of being an underdog and the fact that on race day every single other pro out there is trying to prove themselves—an annual review of sorts for their "job"— while I am simply showing to have a blast racing and see what I can do. I created a bubble for myself: I temporarily deactivated my Facebook, I blocked and unfollowed people who contacted me with anything but positive sentiments, I limited conversation with anyone unsupportive of me and my goals. 

I took a different approach than most pros in Argentina: I wasn't "going to work" on race day; I was simply "making the most of my vacation." 

My race goals have historically included times or paces or places to target—but to be honest I went into this race and simply said to myself, "I want to have an amazing day and 100% enjoy my vacation." 

And make the most of it I did. In the days leading up to the race I: swam with a sea lion, had more glasses of Argentinian wine than anyone racing Ironman should have, walked miles each day to explore the beautiful city, swam through jellyfish with a stranger when neither of us spoke the other's language, ran a little too fast on shake out runs, cheered on strangers playing a beach volleyball game, biked like a hooligan through traffic, had extended conversations in Spanish with people patient enough to give me time to conjugate in my head before speaking, ate the best seafood dish of my entire life and still am not entirely sure what was in it, made friends with locals at a bar two nights before the race while I waited for the power in the city to come back on, got a little sunburned while laying out and gained an entirely new appreciation for this city and country. I can say with certainty that I will be back at some point.

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But about the race —

The swim was far from the best of my career—while it was choppy, I would argue that it was not indicative of my fitness or my skills: my pool times have continued to drop and improve and yet I still have not seen any corresponding improvements on race day. That's something I plan to work on heading into 2018. 

But I swam with Sarah Piampiano for a good portion of the first loop and then got knocked around in the washing machine coming into shore and headed out to the second. I completely lost my bearings and found myself struggling to make my way through age groupers. It was far from a pretty swim...

Swim: 1:06 (Ooof)

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Onto the bike and within the first 5 miles, I watched my power drop from the low 200s into the 20s. I love my powermeter but without fail it always seems to go MIA come race day. In a way, however, I think this was a blessing in disguise for me because I probably rode easier that I would have normally. Everything was by feel and by time and by cadence—nothing more and definitely nothing forced.

The course was a two-loop bike and the first loop was rainy and wet and I found myself getting jostled by a group of front-pack amateur men. We had a draft marshal riding alongside us for quite some time and instead of doling out penalties, he would just offer a pitiful warning signal from his whistle.

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Mostly, men would pass each other (or myself) and slot right into the legally-spaced group without riding all the way to the front. To avoid drafting myself, I would have to stop pedaling to drop back to the legal limit and then continue to get passed and swallowed up as I seemed to be the only person following the rules. At a few moments throughout the race, I would get extra passionate and start to yell in Spanish at the other athletes that if they were going to make a pass, they had to ride all the way to the front of the legal group. No one listened to me and so my wild gesturing and (probably incorrect) Spanish didn't seem to do much to help my cause.

Finally, the cheaters took turns rotating through their peloton and because I was unwilling to hop onto the back of the train, I was dropped and left behind. While it was much lonelier, I was happy to ride solo for most of the second loop because I was able to keep power consistent (whatever it was that day) and just focus instead on riding my race. 

I went through the half in a great (for me) time and managed to totally miss special needs, which was 100% a shit show. But I made it work and moved from my standard nutrition to the Powerade on course and tried not too freak out too much about my carefully-planned calories still sitting back at special needs.

Near the end, my back started to tighten up and I saw two fellow pro females coming up on me so I stayed strong but made sure I wasn't revving the tank any more than I needed to. The last 10-15 miles were some of the most brutal headwinds I've experienced but I used it to my advantage and tucked in low and actually put time into the chasing women.

I ran into transition, dropped off my bike, managed to grab the wrong transition bag, had to re-circle back through all of transition to grab my T2 bad instead of T1, and decipher what a whole bunch of people were yelling at me in Spanish (basically: "you grabbed the wrong bag!!") without having a total melt-down myself. I ran out of T2 while securing my race belt and strapping on my watch. But I got everything situated and while I probably lost a good minute in the commotion, everything turned out A-OK.

Bike: 5:16

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My main goal for the Ironman run was to have a blast and to smile the entire time. In fact, on most of my runs in the last two months leading up to race day, I practiced (when no one was around) grinning wildly and seeing how that affected my effort/perception. Much to my surprise, it turns out that it feels so much easier to run when you have a mile-wide-smile plastered on your face versus a grimace. The cheers from the crowd also are way, way better. 

For the first 12-13 miles of the marathon, I just smiled from ear to ear. I danced at a few aid stations. I chatted up spectators and fellow racers alike. I fist-pumped in response to the exuberant crowds. Everything felt Oh So easy. I was running 7:20 pace and yet it felt like a 9-minute warm-up. My heart rate was barely cracking 140 and I felt like I was fresh and relaxed, despite the fact that several miles of the course involved running into a stifling wall of a headwind, the worst I've ever run in. 

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About halfway through the run, I started to fade. My spotty training meant my endurance was lacking and while I had plenty of experience in the 45-75 minute run range, never having gone over 90 minutes and several weeks with minimal running meant that my legs started giving out far sooner than they have in any other race I've actually been prepared to race. The horrible dead leg feeling I had from miles 13 to 26 will forever be my incentive to not skip the long run in training from here on out.

Again, special needs came and went and the aid station (I use that term loosely) was too much of a shit show to get the bag I needed, even while yelling out "CINCUENTA Y OCHO!" as loud as I could each time I passed (4 times yelling, 4 times missed...). I ended up making do with coke and poweraid for the back half without too much trouble, other than really feeling woozy and bonky the last few miles.

At some point, a man in a pink and white kit ran past and I made an effort to go with him. We ran several kilometers together and at some point he must have decided that we were "in this together." Around mile 20, I started to fade and my legs got the distinct feel-like-a-brick feeling weighing them down. My legs started giving out and I felt like I could not talk, let alone run, while the whole time my new friend Vincente was urging me along. 

We continued on and fought fatigue and managed to make it down the chute and to the finish. I tried to slow to give Vincente time to have his own finish but we came through the chute together and celebrated and gave each other the most joyous, sweaty hug I think I've experienced. The finish at Mar del Plata truly was one of my highest highs in triathlon—not necessarily because of the race I had but because I accomplished it with another individual (or, perhaps, thanks to another individual) and, in doing so, that gave me the mental and physical strength to far exceed anything I should have been able to do based on my training in prep for the race.

Run: 3:25

Final: 9:53, 9th Female Professional

Ironman Argentina was amazing—full stop. From bus drivers and check-out clerks to local lifeguards and Ironman volunteers helping me get my bike after the race, I just kept feeling like so many different strangers embraced me and helped to make my trip a completely unforgettable one. Maybe it's the Argentinian way, maybe locals took pity on my pitiful Spanish skills or maybe I just totally lucked out with a bunch of kick-ass, open and caring people. Whatever it was, a huge thank you to the people of Argentina.

To have that complete experience culminate in the final 20k of my race with Vincente was only the cherry on top of a truly memorable trip. And sometime during that run, I discovered that I do have what it takes and made up my mind that I—spoiler alert—will most likely continue to race as a professional in 2018, just with a slightly different approach, mindset and set of goals this time around.

To everyone else out there: I truly hope that one day you too can experience the generosity of strangers as I did throughout my entire trip. Maybe book yourself a trip to Argentina and discover it for yourself. 

Hasta Luego, Mar del Plata. <3   

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Leadville 100: Race Across the Sky

I’m not sure how I got roped into crewing at Leadville, but I would not have had it any other way. In the last few years, I have learned that saying “yes” more often than “no” leads to amazing experiences and this specific race was no different.

Across this past weekend at Leadville, I learned about limits, I learned some about what to say and what not to say to someone at their ultimate edge, and I learned critical lessons about what it means to bow out of a race with absolute dignity.

I will never be able to put into words what Doug went through, mostly because I’m not even close to crazy enough to attempt a 100-mile run. However, I’ll attempt to share what I experienced during my 2am-8am shift pacing Doug up and over Powerline, between Outward Bound and Queen May during the Leadville 100.

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To be honest, I was worried about him starting from 4pm the day before our leg together, when he did not turn up at the Winfield aid station when we were expecting. We waited and waited and then, with 11 minutes to spare, he appeared from the top of the trail, made his way through the aid station and then started to attempt the impossible.

It’s hard to perform when you’re behind the eight ball. And Doug was most definitely behind the proverbial eight ball. Not only had he cut the Winfield aid station so close that people were screaming with panic during a 30+ hour race (the extended course did little to help, admittedly) but he was fighting time cuts and a slowing body to allow him to stay on course for the remaining 50 miles. By a miraculous will and amazing feat, he managed to do so.

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Doug cresting Hope(less) Pass

After our first pacer exchange and drive back to Leadville, I took a quick cat nap in my car, praying that Doug would make the next two cut-offs—but also fully aware that I may just wake up to my 1am alarm only to head back to sleep because he had not made it in time. But he made it. Due to amazing racing by Doug and pacing duties by Trent and Kris, Doug and Kris rolled into Outward Bound with about 10 minutes to spare and then my pacing duties began.

Aside: if you ever get the chance to pace someone in an Ultra, you must do it. No questions asked. The absurdity of it is the fact that you pick someone up, acknowledging that they have already run over 70 miles and, while not mentioning it explicitly, ask them to find another gear. The goal of the pacer is to help your athlete achieve their goals. But what if they have reached their limit and they are experiencing a total body shut-down and have nothing left to give? This was the issue we ran into last weekend.

The first two miles, Doug was on a mission. We got into a solid rhythm and were executing a walk-run pace that had us quickly moving through the ranks and passing close to a dozen people. We then approached the infamous climb that is Powerline. I’m glad I never got the opportunity to see this climb in the light, because it certainly would have been intimidating. Basically, the road bends and then it turns straight up. I’m convinced it’s put in the race simply to trash quads and demoralize athletes.

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Even in the dark it was hard to differentiate where the headlamps on the path ahead of us ended and where the stars above us started. But somehow the darkness served as a protector and distracted us from just how steep this section was—or perhaps Doug knew better, I just did not. 

His run-walk pace slowly disintegrated into a walk-pause pace. Kris had warned me of this some during our hurried exchange, but I never knew that I would not have the strength to compel him onwards. I told him, like a very green school-teacher, that we would only get to stop and catch our breaths for 15-seconds at a time, each time. Every time we paused I would peer at my watch, expecting I would have the fortitude to get him moving again when that quarter of a dial expired. And yet it was so hard to speak up. One look at him and you knew he was right on the edge of pain.

However, I know the pain Doug was in at that moment. Maybe not physically—mile 82 of an Ultra is a totally different beast than anywhere of an Ironman—but mentally, absolutely. To want to quit and to know that quitting would be best for your body—but not willing to accept that as the most reasonable outcome.

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There was an awkward thirty or so minutes where I think we both knew that there was no realistic chance he would make the cut-off—and yet we pushed onwards. There were moments when I tried to say something stern or attempt to encourage to get him moving… and would hear my voice cracking at the end, trying not to cry knowing that my advice was probably useless given the limit he had reached. We tried to time his eating and drinking with the body’s rejection of all food and balance when he could take in calories and when to delay fueling for fear of spitting it all back up.

Around mile five of our leg, nearing the top of Powerline, the sag vehicles caught up to us. Doug asked that they stay back (the exhaust was nauseating, even for those who didn’t have 80-miles under their feet) and it was annoying to have them breathing down our necks. Doug asked them to allow us to work our way forward without any intervention and thankfully they hung back.

After some back and forth and finally the ATVs backing off, Doug then started wondering whether the time cut-offs had changed with the new, longer course and so I ran back to the vehicles to see whether we still had to make the 6:30am cut-off, despite a course that was a whopping 4 miles longer. The officials told us that nothing had changed. The cut off was still 6:30 at Queen May. The good news? They were going to let Doug try to make up the time to the cut-off, even if it was a completely unrealistic proposition.

Finally, at some point after cresting Powerline (loved the unofficial aid station at the false summit, featuring aliens and a massive “GREAT F*CKING JOB!” banner) and attempting and failing to run the technical path down, Doug conceded that his race was over. Looking back, it gives me so much admiration for the type of person Doug is: he was more worried about letting down his crew and his family than he was about his own outcome and self. I can only hope that one day I too have a support crew that powerful and meaningful.

And so Doug walked the remaining two hours (to reach a total of 88 miles) under a beautiful sunrise to the final aid station, rather than giving up and letting the Sag wagon wheel us home. At one point he was even considering whether he could make it to the final 104 mile finish line, unofficially, despite being so far behind the time cut-offs. Now that is class.

With less than a mile to go, after texting Whiting the latest status, Whiting, Ariana and Lucy walked up the trail to meet us. My pacing duties were officially over but I still couldn’t help but feel like I let Doug down and that both of us now have unfinished business at Leadville.

Related, I admittedly have been struggling a lot with triathlon recently. I have had 3 DNFs in the last 2 years, admittedly mostly outside of my control, but that doesn't make them sting any less. But to be a “partner in crime” to someone else’s DNF and to not be able to see them through to the finish and to witness that own struggle first-hand was certainly staggering.

I wish I knew what I could have done for Doug differently. I wish that Doug could have had the day he so deserved and that he walked away with a golden belt buckle and an exhausted run up to the finish with his three wonderful girls, Whiting, Melina, McKenna. And I wish I knew more about my own “purpose” and internal drive that could one day propel me to a finish under my own terms and conditions—even if unofficial—just like Doug pushed toward. I hope one day we all find these things.

The longer I stay in this sport, the more I learn that each experience is a life lesson—only just some are harder to stomach than others. Hell, it goes beyond sport—it applies to all parts of life. And so while this weekend was a tough lesson for Doug and his devoted crew, I hope that it provides the ammunition and learning experiences that we all need for a race somewhere in the future and so that we can earn the day we all so desire.

So thank you Doug for the lessons. You may not have had the perfect race you wanted, but you inspired so many in the process. Leadville will always be there and I hope that you have the fortitude to face it fearlessly again and again, and walk away content having conquered it in your own style and under your own set of rules. 💙

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