Maggie Rusch

Professional Triathlete

"Don’t talk about wanting to be, just be it.”

I’ve been big into podcasts lately. Great for traveling, good for catching snippets between drives to the pool or coffee shop, free and easy to download. One of my favorites—mostly a legacy of being introduced to “The State” back in high school—has been Michael Ian Black’s podcast, “How to Be Amazing”. He hasn't recorded many shows but one of the episodes I happened to listen to on the plane en route to Mont Tremblant was one with Kevin Smith, writer and producer of Clerks and Mallrats, among other films. He is the absolute last thing you would imagine when triathlon comes to mind (overweight, writes films about slackers, filthy mouth, etc, etc) but somehow his “best advice” ever received would resonate as I went into and raced Ironman Mont Tremblant as my second pro Ironman race.

How To Be Amazing—#5 Kevin Smith

In it, Kevin Smith recounts a conversation he had with his sister before he enrolled in (and later dropped out of) film school to embark on his film career, telling her, “I think I want to be a filmmaker.”

She goes, “great, be a filmmaker.”

“That’s what I’m talking about!”

But she repeats herself, “No, be a filmmaker. Just be a filmmaker. You talk about wanting to be a filmmaker, Kevin—be a filmmaker. Right now. Like, in your head and heart you are a filmmaker, you just haven’t made a film yet. But don’t talk about wanting to be, just be it.”

I’ve spent the last few months qualifying my professional status,

  • using “air quotes” when describing my "pro" career*
  • clarifying that I’m a struggling newbie*
  • that I still have a full-time job and can’t commit to full-time professional training*
  • that triathlon does not have a cat system similar to cycling and so it’s either step up semi-prematurely or continue squashing the amateur ranks*

Not excuses, really, but asterisks.

So I headed into the pro meeting feeling insecure, like I did not belong in this stacked field of athletes—that I was there for the early start, the special racks, the (unearned) prestige and the free bottle of wine. We took a group photo of all the competing pros and I squeezed into the crowded photo, all too aware that I didn’t exactly fit the mold of the 50-something other lithe 40-hour/week training machines covered in gear emblazoned with sponsor logos gathered around me. In my mind I was just a slowpoke, full-time software consultant and part-time triathlon hobbyist pretending to fit in.

I have to admit though—regardless of whether I belonged or not, the bottle of wine was in fact pretty clutch. ;)

This feeling would continue through until halfway on the bike, when for the very first time ever I felt like I had an actual impact and tactics in a professional race—that I was somehow a player and not just fodder hanging on for dear life at the tail end of the pack.

But we’ll get back to that. And let's also pause to appreciate how beautiful the Ironman Mont Tremblant course truly is—a joy to race on!

4F8CwXhD1KEtkLhTZixt6zyWg-KCOXtnhoQHD0h8asA
4F8CwXhD1KEtkLhTZixt6zyWg-KCOXtnhoQHD0h8asA

The days leading up to the race were absolutely terrible. I made the miserable mistake of flying out of Greenville, SC at 5:45am the Thursday before the race. Wednesday night I had one final spin on my Blue before coming home to break down and pack the bike to fly with my in my Ruster bag. This was indeed a rookie mistake.

I had not flown with my bike since the March training trip to Tucson. Somehow in that time the headset had been compromised and I could not separate it to pull the front fork off of the frame. I started the bike packing process around 7:30pm. At 11:30pm, after breaking down crying on the floor of my kitchen and using way too much force on a way too-expensive bike than I ever care to admit, I pretty much risked breaking my bike in order to just get it packed. I finished packing and got to bed at 1am—only to wake up 2 hours later to drive down to Greenville for my early morning flight.

I got to Greenville 90 minutes south with the help of close to 2 gallons of coffee and yet my bad luck continued, with my flight delayed 4 more hours. Between the lack of sleep and the stress and coffee-fueled paranoia, I was seriously considering not racing—I had reached DEFCON1. Thankfully I got a teeny amount of sleep on the plane, the OCD Sherpa and my mom picked me up in Montreal, we finally made it to Tremblant much later than anticipated and the bike maintenance crew at the expo were able to rig a temporary solution for my headset.

I can’t say I got much sleep from there, as the condo we were staying did not have A/C and with the Canadian heatwave heating up the upstairs loft where I was sleeping, I ended up sleeping a restless 3 or so hours the night before the race on the couch in the living room (not much better either, inside temps still hovering in the low 80s, according to my Garmin). All I could think to myself as I walked down to the race start was, “oh god, I hope I don’t fall asleep on the bike like I did at Norseman.”

The Swim

Nothing much to say here except the swim may be the one thing I love most about racing in the pro ranks. Sure, it can be a bit lonely at times—but also a lot less violent—and if you’re smart about it, you can hitch a tow for most of the race with plenty of female pros being half-decent at pacing. Sadly, I am not quite there yet. I stuck on the feet of another woman for the first third of the course but then lost steam and lost contact. I’m not sure when she pulled away but I spent the rest of the one-loop course moseying along by myself.

11904627_10204839123637286_424716377560030924_n
11904627_10204839123637286_424716377560030924_n

I also got interviewed by the live camera pre-start, in which I might have been one of the most awkward moments ever as I didn't realize it was actually live. Here I am, #56, enjoying the spacious beach start we get to enjoy versus the washing machine of larger starts.

1124_056075
1124_056075

The Bike

Like I mentioned in my 10-seconds of fame on the Ironman camera, I was just excited to get on the bike and soak up the challenging Tremblant bike course. I honestly have never had such a controlled and solid ride in a race. I loved the open roads, little interference from starting at the front of the pack and this route could not have any smoother roads.

I was also wearing my new Castelli T1: Stealth which did wonders for keeping my back protected (first time ever not roasted at the end of an Ironman!) and hopefully gaining some free speed in the process. A lot of you have asked me about it and yes, I LOVED it, yes, I wore it on the swim under my wetsuit, yes, it kept me cool and semi-sun-protected and yes happy to chat with you about it if you have any questions!

1124_045212
1124_045212

You start with a short little climb out of town and onto the main highway heading out of the resort of Mont Tremblant. I love love love this road—I did two years ago and did again this year. It’s pretty fast with a few big climbs that really play to my strengths. As I was on the side of the road fixing a rubbing brake in the first five miles, I was passed by one female pro but after getting back on and getting into a rhythm, I could tell that I was making up some time on a pack of females riding ahead of me based on some of the turn-arounds— I was having a solid ride and hitting my plan and targets–I felt nothing short of amazing.

Once turning off the main drag, you then head through the small town of St. Jovite (where they were playing the Beach Boys both times, silly Canadians) but are welcomed with lots of cheers and “Allez Allez!!” for a final boost before you head to the hardest part of the course, a six mile incredibly steep and punchy section, with grades up to 14% where a number of amateurs actually walked their bikes up it was so steep—but of course I loved this section even more since it felt like my backyard playground in Asheville.

Rinse, repeat—there you have it, an Ironman bike!

1124_056700
1124_056700

But in all reality, I felt stronger as the day went on, despite being a bit behind on my calories. I chased and then passed a few female pros as the day went on and edged my way closer to the money, with a 5:16 and the 10th fastest female bike split of the race. Compared to barely hanging on and losing time at Ironman Arizona last fall, I actually felt like a contender. I got off my bike and gave a cheer and fist pump running through T2 as they announced my name and that I was from Asheville, North Carolina!

The Run

I started the run holding back and feeling good. But then the rolling hills and the heat took their toll. I honestly had gone into this thinking I was capable of throwing down a 3:25-3:26 based on how my run training had been going. No way to sugar coat it but I was pretty disappointed with how my run turned out, even with the 104* heat index and a tough run course slowing things down.

As I came through after the first loop, I got the “good job, Mag!” from the parents but I could tell they were (poorly) hiding their concern at how I wasn't handling the heat. I was going through every aid station and taking in as much ice, fluid and coke as possible but still struggling to cope, per usual.

As I slowed a bit on the run, I lost a few of the places I had picked up at the end of the bike and faded to 13th in the first half of the marathon, a place I would hold onto through to the finish. It was interesting being in the race for once, perceived as a potential threat, as I realized a pro girl behind me was getting splits off of me and that I was doing the mental math of whether I could catch or hold off certain other competitors.

With two miles to go at the end of the marathon, my dad actually ran alongside me and started asking me, “do you know who I am? What is your name? What is my name?” as has become custom when I apparently look terrible in hot conditions. Clearly things were ugly. It’s frustrating to have to deal with this checking of my mental facilities again and again after the Kona incident but guess it’s better safe than sorry!

I came through the finish chute, all smiles—so incredibly close to hitting my goal of breaking 10 hours but coming up just a few minutes short. Looking back, 13th and less than 10 minutes out of the money isn't all too shabby given the year I've been through. I actually celebrated in the chute a bit before going over to the grass to manage the fetal position for about 30-minutes, then walking solo halfway back to the condo, stopping to puke in the bushes for about 10 minutes, waving off medical in the process and then finally making it back alive.

1124_079629
1124_079629

While it wasn’t my strongest run and certainly not the race I was capable of executing, I was happy for sticking to the plan as best as possible and setting a new Ironman PR in the process. Huge thanks to my coach Brian for setting me up for success, though I know he prepped me to have a much better race than I did—I'm excited to see what the next race holds as a result. In the end I also came away from this race with a renewed excitement for training and the next race around the corner.

The day after the race I went out riding my bike and saw a few other professionals out stretching the legs, being “pro”. I smiled to myself and thought, “okay, maybe despite all my doubts, I do still belong.” After Ironman Mont Tremblant, my mentality has shifted. I no longer want to be a professional triathlete. I am a professional triathlete. And I’m no longer taking steps toward acting more like one, but am being one instead.

1124_059351
1124_059351

So with that said and with my legs still semi-fresh from my slow run at IMMT, I am excited to say that I’m gearing up for round #2 of 2015 in just a few weeks at Ironman Chattanooga—here. we. go!

hits counter