Maggie Rusch

Professional Triathlete

IMCDA Amateur Champ... KONA-BOUND!

Talk about a special day—or, maybe a roller coaster of a day would have been more like it! I wasn't sure coming into this race how it would go: my training had been slightly spotty in the weeks leading up, my powermeter was hit or miss and I wasn't sure whether my body and mind would cooperate with the return to Ironman after last time.

BUT—and this was maybe the thing that kept me pushing all day—I had so many people in my corner, rooting for me to have a solid race, that there was nothing but positive vibes and good juju in my corner. Maybe that's why I walked away with an overall amateur win, sixth female overall including the pros and (my favorite stat because I like to beat up the boys) would have been 9th in the M25-29 age group.

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The things I might have loved most about CdA were the long daylight hours and timezone shift as i headed westward: this meant early bedtimes, easy wake up calls and the morning light while setting up transition instead of the normal darkness. This also made it feel a little different than your typical race days and the normal pre-IM jitters were diminished. This could have been because I was traveling solo and not on edge with my parents spectating and forcing the coordination of early morning activities but I will not go into serious detail there :) I parked in the county parking lot, which is definitely a recommendation for anyone racing in the future since it was right by transition but didn't keep me trapped in once the bike and run were underway.

SO MUCH GEAR in prep.

RIght away I saw Hillary and Maik in transition thanks to the prime ironman AWA racks and got a nice little pre-race pep talk and reminder to calibrate my Quarq, since I almost *always* forget (note: foreshadowing). Got a photo with the GCM, fastest cyclist of the day (true to his name) and eventual 4th place pro (but first in our hearts) for a little bit of good luck before heading to the swim start.

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We walked over to the start, wetsuited up in the chilly pre-race air and watched Andy Potts absolutely dominate the swim, with Maik not too far behind. Soon it was our turn. I think I would have liked the self-seeded rolling start under calmer circumstances but the waves and chop were so chaotic that within a couple of hundred meters, we went from strong swimming to something that reminded me of this:

Or maybe an hour+ of waterboarding would be a more appropriate analogy. I swallowed so much water heading out on loops one and two that I could feel myself filling up beneath the wetsuit. There were feet to follow but the chop was making it hard to sustain the regular efforts without gulping in lake water. The only redeeming factor was that once you turned the buoys, the current dragged you back in, making for a speedy rerun trip. A quick run on the beach, glance at the watch (31 and change - eh...) and then back into the chop we went.

At this point, I was NOT a happy camper. About halfway through loop #2, I saw one of the floating rescue docks IM sets up and seriously considered hanging on for a moment to compose myself. But instead I soldered on and aside from a breaststroke kick to the collarbone and a grabby girl who insisted on latching onto my shoulder and arms to propel me backwards (despite the fact that I kept trying to swim away from her to give her room), I came in unhappy with a 1:06 swim time but kept telling myself that the bike was my strength and it was time to DO WORK.

Pre-riding the course with Laura and HPB

A super quick transition (thank you volunteers for cramming all my swim gear and unused socks and arm warmers back into the bag!!!) and out onto the course. And wouldnt ya know it but the old powermeter decided not to show up on he big day and was reading who knows how low. Only this time it was exacerbated by a garmin that wasn't picking up pace, distance or any lap averages! I tried restarting without much luck so the rest of the ride I only had overall time and the on-course mile markers showing up every 10 miles—time to fly blind!!

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I spent the entire first loop thinking I was doing horribly, but in reality that was likely just the wind playing mind-tricks and instead was something that everyone was struggling through on the course. Until looking at pro times after the fact and that over 500 athletes didn't finish the race, I had NO idea how tough the day's conditions really were. But I started catching people—people I knew to be total speedsters—and kept moving up the line, which was super motivating. Near the end of loop one, I saw Hillary, who asked how I was feeling. Maybe I was riding high from the tailwind back into town or all of those 120 mile rides I had under my belt in the past few months but I was like, "I feel amazing."

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And kept feeling pretty solid and pushing it through loop two, minus a few sections through the no passing zones where I was stuck braking because we couldn't pass the slower riders out on their first loop. Obviously it is important to have those for safety reasons but it was frustrating to know there was potentially a Kona spot on the line and I knew I absolutely needed all of the bike advantage I could get to then hold folks off on the run. Part of that amazing-ness was due to Hailey's Salty Balls recipe which was SO good and helped stave off stomach issues, compared to my normal gel-overload. Yum, yum, yum!

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I came in hot into T2, another quick transition where I felt like I was juggling a dozen items (visor—check! gels—check! bib and race belt—check! mio link HR watch—check! water bottle to go—check!) and managed to clock a few solid first miles. One of the best things i did was put that chilled water bottle in the bag so I had something to nurse heading out while I slammed my gel before hitting aid station #1.

Loop one was great: you run through these neighborhoods and everyone is out cheering and there was a frat house bumping music that got me amped up for the run (they were also handing out fireball shots for those insane few willing to partake...) You get some (super windy) miles along the lake, before heading up a brutal hill, down it and then back up another small one to make your way to the turn-around. The aid stations here were AMAZING, including including a circus themed station where everyone was dressed to the nines in the circus theme (think: lion tamers, ballerinas, clowns and bearded ladies).

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Turning back down the hill, you got a good look at the competition. I did the math and figured I was 7 or 8 minutes ahead of the next female competitor and it dawned on me that if I could keep it up, I might have more than just my AG win and Kona slot; I could get the amateur title too. Compared to NOLA, where I literally had no idea of standings, this lit a fire and I had a few pretty speedy, inspired miles that extended my lead a bit but probably also would hurt me down the road late in lap two. I saw Hillary wheeling her bike along the course, yelling at Maik, who was running his last six miles to the finish and did pause to give me the old "everyone is feeling like absolute SHIT right now, it's not just you - keep fighting" pep talk that some other runners around me got a good chuckle from (yeah, we all felt like absolute shit that late in the race for sure).

You run back through town (crazy spectators and crowds eased the pain here, thank you adrenaline!!) before heading back into the neighborhoods for lap #2. I loved having my name on the bib and everyone cheering "go Maggie!!!", though that made it harder to recognize who I did and didn't know out there among the amazing cheer crews!!

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I was legitimately bummed that I never saw Dr. Andy Baldwin out on the course. I am a die-hard Bach-fan and of course the triathlete has always been my long-time favorite. I joked later that had I known he was only 15 or so minutes ahead, maybe I could have eeked out more of a lead...

Then, somewhere—maybe mile 16ish when I was re-tackling the brutal summit to the turn-around—Hillary wheeled up again and was providing more motivation and other instructions. I thought I gave her a nod, the only non-essential effort I could muster, but apparently it wasn't enough because it prompted this tweet and subsequent concern from the OCD sherpa. So the next question was whether I knew his name (which by the way, is starting to get old... I'm never going to live down the Kona collapse, am I?!)

With five miles to go, I asked Hillary what my gap was (aka cushion because OMG I WAS DYING) and she said she'd ride back to check it out. In the longest fifteen minutes of my life, she finally rolled back and let me know the next AG girl was nine minutes behind. With only three miles to go, I knew I could breathe somewhat easier knowing that lead was manageable to maintain and barring another finish chute meltdown, I would be able to keep my lead through the finish.

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Coming down Sherman was amazing. Absolute and pure bliss. I told myself that I'd let myself savor it since I rushed through IM finish #1 and was incoherent for #2 so I ran the quarter-mile stretch with a mile-wide smile, arms overhead, blowing kisses and high-fiving the crowd like a total maniac. I ran into the chute and finally got to hear those magic words—apparently third times a charm—"You Are An Ironman."

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Finish video here: http://instagram.com/p/p3q6SswPq4/?modal=true

I was on cloud nine and ushered to the med tent, not sure why—maybe they mistook my manic smile for delirium and wanted to keep me under observation. I heated up in the med tent before sweating bullets and heading outside to cool off and then started shivering so made my way to the massage tent. At that point I wanted to stay at the finish longer to cheer in my fellow HPB teammies but couldn't stop shaking so walked back to the car solo and drove myself to the motel to shower and throw on warm clothes.

It was at this point I was most bummed about traveling to CdA solo because I didn't really get to share the accomplishment with anyone post-race... until I turned on my phone, that is - and got a million messages from my family and family and the best virtual spectating crew a girl could ask for—seriously, blown away.

Back at the finish line for some of the later finishers

The next day were awards and KONA SLOTS, which means that round #2 to the big island will take place this fall after Norseman. I'm not sure if I'm ready for it but still have a solid 100 days, which means that within a 100 day span, I am tackling three of the biggest "Bucket List Triathlons" between Coeur d'Alene, Norseman and Kona. Some folks might say I'm crazy—but I think I'm just plain ol' LUCKY! Let's do this!

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