Seeing Runners Come & Grow

“There is no joy without sorrow” – Hungarian Proverb

Our half marathon training sessions ended recently, with the running of our own race! The runners all did well, and the smiles on their faces told me that they were happy with themselves, and maybe a little surprised that it went so easily. But it was all the hard work and training that they did that made it possible. There was a lot of joy that day, and it dwarfed the joys, and the sorrows, of all the steps and obstacles that they overcame just to get to that day. There is no joy without sorrow, as the proverb states, and as a coach, I have the same highs and lows as my athletes, but maybe on a different level.

I have always tried to convey that I truly care about my athletes and want them to succeed, because I really do. I was helped on my journey by many that I can never repay, and helping others is one way to pay that kindness forward. But there is no greater feeling than to watch someone discover that they can do what they once considered impossible. I won’t be able to properly give justice to the journey in words, but I will do my best to paint a picture from begining to end so you can better understand h0w amazing it is to help others achieve their goals.

As always, we start with an “Open House” at Fleet Feet Des Moines, where we will be starting and ending the journey. Generally, the first to arrive are the runners that have done the group before. They are all smiles and have specific goals in mind. A different half, a faster time, etc. and we discuss them in detail and get caught up on events since the last group run. I always enjoy hearing what they have accomplished, and see how they have grown.

Then I notice the next group of runners entering the store: the first timers. They are nervous, excited, scared, and unsure . . . all at the same time. they are not sure who to talk to or what to ask, much less wondering if they should be there at all. It’s one of the reasons I wear my “coach” shirt to the event, so I am easily spotted. I try to take as much time with them as I can; answering questions, calming fears, and trying to  let them know that coming to this was the first and biggest step they will take . . . the rest is just running. I like them to know that this is their training time, not mine or the mentors that assist me, we are here for them. They worry about speed, about not running very far, and a host of other things. I try to let them know that they don’t need to worry about speed or distance or anything else, that they only need to focus on one workout at a time: the rest will come on it’s own. I can usually see the worry, but also a glimmer, that they think they can do it.

The day after the Open House is our first workout, and we conduct a timed mile. We run at a converrsational pace, and I tell them their times as they cross the finish. This give the runners an idea of what their zone 2 runs should be like, and also a time to gauge improvement with. 

We conduct 3 of these timed miles, and while the first doesn’t bother me, the second one makes me a nervous wreck! It is run after a few weeks of training, and we look for improvements in time, cardio conditioning (if it feels easier than last time) or both. The reason it makes me so nervous is because this is the event where the runners will see how these workouts improve their running and fitness, even though they don’t notice it. It always makes me smile to see the shock on some of their faces when they hear their times. They go from amazement to disbelief, and I have to assure them that yes, you did this! You can do this!

So the weeks go on, and as the mileage ebbs and flows, the conversations we have trying to prepare them the  best way possible increase. When to replace shoes, nothing new on race day, nutrition, hydration, how to dress for weather, how to write a race plan, stretching, recovery, are just some of the topics covered . . . along with everyones favorite: chafing. But we cover as much as we can through emails and chats while running. 

Another thing I love to see and it happens with every group, is how they start to form a running family. When they first entered the store, they didn’t know a soul. Now they actively look for one another and cheer each other on, in an effort to help everyone improve. Seeing that is amazing, and one of the greater joys of coaching: watching a group bond together. 

As the group heads further along in the training, and the once considered long runs turn into the recovery week runs, we get to the 10 mile run. As the runners complete this I like to change the way I address them, from Runners to Distance Runners. This is because 10 miles is a long way, and it deserves recognition. But even as this milestone is achieved, fear and worry take over some of them. They fear they cannot run the entire 13.1, that they are not ready. I have to assure them that they are indeed ready, that they need to taper down to be ready to race, and that they did not need to run 13.1 miles before they race 13.1 miles to know they can do it. That’s what race day is for! I still see the uneasiness in their faces, but that they know I haven’t steered them wrong before, and they trust that I am telling them the truth.

Finally it’s Race Day! It’s an exciting day, but this time around, we had to do our own race as Covid-19 put a damper on the racing community. So we set up a route, and a water stand, and decided to run one anyway. I find running a race alone, without the crowds or multiple water stations, harder than a “normal” race. A normal race provides comfort, encouragement, distractions, and memories. Racing on your own provides you with a deep look into your very soul, and nothing to distract you from the voices in your head telling you to stop.

As the runners cross our homemade finish line, there are smiles all around. They did it! Just calling them “half marathoner” invites the biggest grin to come out, and it’s one of the days that bring a coach the most joy: seeing your runners succeed. They tell you their tale of how it went, and while the route was the same, every story is unique and personal. I enjoy every moment of this time with them, and so glad I could be a small part of their huge accomplishment.

But as the proverb says, there is no joy without sorrow, and shortly after the race and we head our separate ways is when I go over the sessions. What went right, what went wrong, what can we add/delete/change to make things better? Did I help them enough? Did I miss anything? This is usually a couple days of pondering, until the first run group session day comes up that is no more. I’m not needed on this Tuesday, as the group is done. I usually feel a little sad and lost, as if my kids have all left home and taken off running on their own. I wish groups could go on indefinitely, but that’s not rational or practical. Plus they all have the knowledge now to help them along, and now they need to learn by experience. I look forward to the day when we cross each other on the run path, or at a social run, and can catch up. Before you know it, another group session will be preparing to start, and a new group will come in, along with the now experienced group, to start training again.

And then the process begins anew. New hopes, new fears, new faces, new dreams….

And I will be there, to help them believe in themselves and achieve their dreams.

Live healthy, be happy!


When To Say When

We have all been there, wondering if you are really hurt, or if it’s just something that “I should push through”. I have been in that place again, with low back and hip pain and a aching ankle, and I tried a combination of “working through it” and resting it in preparation for my upcoming non-supported 70.3.

I skipped a hill workout and a bike to rest it. I tried to baby it along so I would be ready.  When race day came, the swim went really well. We had plenty of volunteer kayakers with us to offer assistance if needed, and the cold water felt good once I adapted to the temperature. We finished the 1.2 mile swim and then drove to the Raccoon River Valley Trail so we could bike and run on a long trail with less cross roads. 

The bike was an out and back (56 miles total) and I was making good time, in spite of a cross wind. I was in the 18-20 mph range when I reached the turnaround, and that’s when the crosswind shifted into a cross/head wind. That really brought the mph down, and I could start to feel it in my ankle that I was pedalling harder. I wondered if it would affect my run, and I was about to find out.  I finished the ride averaging 17 mph. I was happy with that.

I laced up and started my run. My ankle was holding up fine, but after a mile I could feel pain in my lower back on the left side, and running down into my hip. I decided that I would “push through it” and keep running. Another 1/4 mile and I knew that was a bad decision, and started walking and stretching my back. The pain would not go away. I decided to call it and just walk some. I ended with a total of 6 miles, mostly walking, far from the 13.1 I was supposed to run.

Did I make the right decision? Definitely.  Was it hard to make? Without out a doubt. No one likes to give up on something, but I needed to look at things in a logical frame of mind. 

1. This was not an official race, just a long workout with friends.

2. Since this is not an official race, was it worth risking further injury continuing to run?

3. If I continued and really injured myself, how long would I be out, and how would that affect my upcoming races next year?

4. Did I try everything to allievate the pain before deciding to stop?

I could answer almost all of these easily. It was not an official race, and I was risking further injury. I didn’t know how that could affect races already planned, and I did not want to risk that. I had tried everything I knew to do, with no avail, to get rid of the pain. This wasn’t some “ache” that pops in and disappears, this was consistant and getting worse. So I stopped.

I took the next week off of training, giving my back and hip time to heal, went to my sports massage therapist who really helped me, and tried not to go crazy with the lack of workouts. I am now starting back, and so far all is well.

We have to learn to know when to say when. When is something just an ache, and when is it something that you need to be careful of? We are all taught “no pain, no gain”, but we also need to know when we are doing more damage than good. We need to learn to listen closely to our bodies, and know when we can push through, and when we have a real issue.

It’s hard stopping short, to not finish something. But, it would be even worse to push to a point where we ruin our entire season because we didn’t listen to our body.

I wish you all healthy training and being in tune with your body.

Live healthy, be happy!


 Just Enjoy The Run

I’m not sure if you know this or not, but I coach a half marathon training group on Tuesdays and Saturdays at Fleet Feet Des Moines in the East Village.  Usually Saturday’s are my long run days, so I have been trying to get to the store early, run on my own for 1-1.5 hours, and then run with the group.  This way, I can focus on my training alone, then focus my attention to the group as we run.  

When I head out on my own, I have training goals, times, heart rate maximums, and such that I want to accomplish. But there comes a time that you can get so busy focusing on those goals, that you forget to enjoy the run itself.  Don’t get me wrong, training is important, and setting training goals are key, but every now and then you need to just get out and enjoy the run itself.

Last Saturday was that day.  I started out, keeping track of pace and heart rate and aerobic zones that I realized I missed the sunrise.  I stopped and looked around, and I saw this:

It was actually prettier than the picture shows, and suddenly I decided that I needed to enjoy this moment, this time alone, and soak in the beauty that was around me.  

So now I had a new goal to focus on: finding the beauty in downtown Des Moines during the remainder of my run.  

I could have taken dozens more, but I had to get back to the East Village to start my group run.  As the group took off, I told them to look for unique things that they see while running.  For me, it makes for a happier, more peaceful workout.

It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago, I ran a 5k in honor of my dad who died from lung cancer.  The run started and ended at the Blank Park Zoo, and I remember it being so hilly and hard, and having to walk part of the last hill while trying not to throw up! I didn’t want anyone at the finish to see me walking, so I mustered up the last ounce of energy I had and ran over the hill to the finish (thankfully it was all downhill after that). It’s funny to look back, 10 years later, and see what all I have been blessed and honored to accomplish: coaching athletes, completing 3 Ironman Triathlons, countless half marathons, 10k’s, 5k’s and everything in between. All because I decided to stick with it, to accomplish a goal, and move to the next one. That is one of the first things I tell athletes: stick with it.  The workouts get easier, but then you increase them to make them hard again.  What was once my long run (5K) is now my warm up before starting the main training! And that can happen to you too, as long as you stick with it.

Live healthy, be happy!


The World Stopped . . . and Continued On Again

Things were going so well.  I had just finished Ironman Lake Placid, one of the harder Ironman courses on the North American list of triathlon races.  I had just signed on for my fourth IM race in Chattanooga, and was starting the long progression into training for it.  The coaching business became our own franchise, and we had a great group of athletes to work with. Things were going so well . . . 

and then the world stopped.

Covid-19 came and suddenly the world, and life as we knew it, was no more.  Suddenly you could not be around people, you had to wear a mask, you had to wash your hands constantly, and things like dining out and going to the movies were no more.  Races were being cancelled left and right, and we had to wonder if our IM would be next.

Friends got sick, some lost their jobs.  Our coaching business took a hit as athletes, with no races to train for, decided to stop training.  I even wondered if it was worth training, but kept going because there was a slim hope that Chattanooga would still go on as planned.

Until that slim line of hope snapped.

I knew it was coming, I knew it! But when the email came and Chattanooga was cancelled, it was like a punch in the gut.  Covid-19 may not have hit me with it’s infection, but it went after my happieness as well as my joy in coaching others.  

But suddenly, and without so much as an announcement, the world started moving again.

Athletes said “I’m going to run my marathon anyway!” and so we set up aid and support as best we could. I cannot imagine how hard running a marathon alone is, without the cheering crowds, without the signs and water stops, without the road blocks. Just you, maybe music, and definitely your thoughts.  But I had several athletes that did just that!  They were not going to be denied, no matter what.

So we decided to hold an olympic distance triathlon for E11even Athletes only, and got a great response.  We had more volunteers than participants, and they stayed for the entire race!  The world was on the move again; different, but moving.

So after seeing how motivated my athletes were, how could I sit there and not keep moving forward? So I dusted myself off and started on the training road again, knowing that one day races will return . . . and when they do return, I will be ready.

We also opened our home once again to a new member who needed a home.  Red has fit in quite nicely, and is Julie’s running partner.  The way we adopted was different, but then everything is different now.

So yes, the world as we knew it stopped. And now the world as it is has started moving again.  We have adapted, changed, cried, cussed, and moved on.  There is a song by Jimmy Buffett that fits the situation perfectly:

“Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On”

And that’s what we have to do.  Move forward, move on, and be ready for tomorrow.

Live healthy, be happy!


Race Report: Ironman Lake Placid

I knew going in that Lake Placid would be tough. Riding in the Adirondack Mountain range would not be an easy task. I also knew that it would be beautiful, with the Winter Olympic Village, the mountain views, and a appropriately named “Mirror Lake”, this set up to be a challenging and gorgeous race.

Boy was it ever! Just driving into Lake Placid, the view is breathtaking. Mountains, streams, watching hikers and fly-fishermen enjoying the day, it was quite a peaceful and tranquil town. We arrived early, so we drove a little extra to Ottawa to meet up with my training partner, co-coach in E11even Athletics, and dear amazing friend (and co-conspirator in this madness) Kelly in White Lake, to train for a couple days before making the 3 hour drive to the venue. It was a wonderful way to start the week, catching up, relaxing, and training, before the storm of race week kicks in.

We headed to Lake Placid on Thursday morning, and after the border guard finished drooling over Kelly’s bike, we made it to Keene, NY where our AirBnB was. We were actually on the bike route! We had the afternoon for a quick workout, and exploring the town before turning in early.

On Friday, Kelly and I worked the “Become One” booth for Ironman University Coaches to assist first time Ironman competitors. It was fun, and met some amazing athletes who asked questions and sometimes just needed reassurance that they could do it!

On Saturday, we did an easy workout, dropped off bikes and run/bike bags, prepped nutritionals, and tried to relax. Did we do enough climbing? Were we strong enough to get through this course? So to pass the time and have a little fun, we followed our coach Jenni’s advice. She said to look in the mirror, hands on hips like a superhero, and say “I got this!” We did one better:

We made makeshift capes and became superheroes! It was a great way to end the evening and try to get a little sleep. 3am and race day was coming quickly!

We were at the venue (the outdoor speed skating oval) by 4:30 am, where we aired up tires, put nutrition on the bikes, checked and rechecked bikes, added stuff to run/bike bags, and then headed up the hill to Mirror Lake.

There is a cable line that’s easily seen in Mirror Lake, and if you follow it, you don’t really have to sight the buoys. The problem is, everyone tries to stay on that line, and it’s a mess of bodies hitting and kicking each other. When the gun went off, Kelly opted to swim the line, and I opted to stay off to the side and use the scrum to side sight. I have breathing issues, and don’t need it flaring up in the middle of that mess. This race is different as you swim 1.2 miles, walk back to the start, and swim 1.2 more miles. Kelly finished well ahead of me, as the scrum made for faster swimming. I swam more staying to the outside, but came in at 1:40:21 for 4800 yards (4212 official).

Swim – 1:40:21

Then it was off to the wetsuit strippers, who make short work of getting a wetsuit off and you on your way. Then down the street to transition to grab my bike bag and onto the changing tent. Then into the bike area to grab my bike and get to the mounting line to start the 112 mile ride.

Transition 1 – 10:05

Out of the water – like a Boss!!

The bike:

This course was by far the hardest of the three Ironman Races I’ve done. This had even more climbing, in my opinion, than Mont Tremblant. Not as steep, but also never ending. Beautiful, scenic landscapes tried to hide brutally hard and long climbs. If I had a camera with me, I would have never finished on time. It would be nice to go back and joy ride the course and stop and take pictures. But this is a race so we had to push it.

Everyone talks about the “Three Bears”; three challenging hills that are marked on the course. There’s Goldilocks too, but she is nothing compared to the Bears. What people don’t tell you, is how bad the hill before Goldilocks and after the Bears are, as they are far worse than the fabled ones. There is one nice aspect of doing the Bears: at the top of Papa Bear, the locals line the street to cheer you up the hill, much like the Tour de France! It was an awesome feeling, having those people rooting for you and getting up close!

After two loops and seeing the Bears for the second (and last) time, it was time to head to transition and prep for the run. Now I had seen Kelly twice on the bike; both on the same out and back, and on the second time I had gained some ground. I saw her head turn, and she gave me a look as if to say “You’re not catching me today”. I really didn’t think I could make up the distance, but just before the last turn, there she was! I said “Hi there!” to which Kelly replied “Aw Shit!” I said “What a way to greet your friend”. Lol. We dismounted and ran into T2 together. It would be down to the run.

Bike time – 7:37:55

T2 time – 8:21

The Run:

Before I finished the bike, I could feel my abductor muscles trying to cramp. I decided to take a Hot Shot (made to relieve cramping) just to keep it from happening. I don’t know what it didn’t mix well with, but I started getting nauseous on the run. I started out great, and caught up to Kelly, who was also nauseous, and told me to go. But after the first mile or so I had to slow it down to keep things settled.

I saw Kelly on the first out and back, and she looked 100% better. She said she drank a little Coke and that settled things down. She was strong and looking to catch me. Just the thought of drinking soda made me ill, so I just kept pushing, trying to see how far I could get before Kelly eventually caught me. I figured by mile 7, she’d be ahead.

I made it to mile 9, and to a water stop, where I was getting some ice when someone threw cold water on my back! I spun around and there was Kelly, waving and saying “Hi!” With the biggest grin. We talked for a minute and then I told her to go; she was too strong to keep up with.

The sites on the run course were amazing, seeing the Olympic ski jumps in the setting sun, and the Olympic torch lit as we finished, are forever etched in my mind. I finally made it to the entry area for the skating oval, and as I rounded the corner, the crowd noise was deafening. Then onto the Mdot carpet when you could hear Mike Reilly call out your name and say: You. Are. An. Ironman!

Run time – 5:26:20

Total time – 15:03:00

We did it! Kelly finished her 7th Ironman in 14:50:16, and I finished my 3rd Ironman in 15:03:00. It was an amazing day, and I was so glad to be out there with Kelly again. She pushes me to go harder, and hopefully I return the favor. Kelly will do Pendiction next year, and since it’s sold out, I have to find a different venue. My coach Jenni wants me to PR all three disciplines next time, so I’m looking for something flatter and faster. We will see what comes up.

I cannot thank enough the staff, officials, volunteers, and locals who made this a memorial and amazing race! They give you a bracelet to give to a volunteer to say thank you, but I could have used a hundred of them. They were quite simply amazing!

On Tuesday, we said our goodbyes and headed back to our homes, but knowing that we will race again. Kelly’s husband is about to do his first in Mont Tremblant, and hopefully my wife Julie will compete in her first in 2020. So we made an agreement to all do Santa Rosa in 2021. California, here we come (well, sooner or later). 🙂

Live healthy, be happy!


The Storm Before the Calm

You have a million things to do, and no time to get them all done! Pack your bags, stop the mail, take the pets to boarding, out of office notifications, chargers for electronics, maps and directions, mow the lawn, pack your snacks and nutrition, don’t forget the bike and wetsuit….

Wait, what?

Welcome to Ironman race week, where even the simplest things can set off a wave of emotions like you’ve never felt. Going over times to arrive so you don’t miss mandatory bike checkin, did you pack enough gels to get through the bike, where’s my helmet? Coupled with “can I really do this?” Makes for a perfect storm of emotions that won’t end until the cannon goes off and you’re in the race.

Because suddenly, that is all that matters. And not the race as a whole, just that part. Swim hard, follow your training, avoid trouble, sight the buoy, focus. There is this calm that envelops you. You realize “I’m doing it!” and it’s a wonderful feeling.

You’ll get on the bike. You’ll struggle in parts, and fly through others. You’ve done the work, and you’ll get through it now. You’ll eat when you’re supposed to, and you’ll start to encourage others as you pass, just as they will encourage you. Before you know it, the bike is done and you’re headed out for a run. Only 26.2 miles to go!

You’ll look around, soaking in every detail so it’s burned into your memory. You’ll have tough spots, but a week from now when you look back, they won’t seem so bad. You’ll thank the volunteers at the water stops, and at nightfall the chicken broth will taste almost heavenly. And you’ll keep moving.

Then suddenly, you hear a voice on the PA system. He’s excited, but you can’t quite make out what he’s saying. But like a sirens song, it compels you to follow it. You get closer, and now you know it’s “The Voice of Ironman” Mike Reilly calling athletes home. You hear it over and over “You. Are. An. Ironman!”, and soon you’ll hear it too.

You’ll see the banner, and the crowds cheering you on are massive and incredible. Suddenly you touch the M-Dot carpet and you know it’s only a few more yards until you change your life forever. Mike is hollering out your name, and then you cross that beautiful line.

And the calm stays, and the world grows silent for a moment. Just you….and the Universe, in a cocooned moment in time. She tells you “Well done my child, I am pleased”, and then as it fades reality comes into view.

“Congratulations! Your amazing! Here’s your medal, what size shirt do you need? Don’t forget your finishers hat, you earned it!, We need a photo. Are you hungry? First aid is there if you need it., You did great!, Someone is waving for you . . . ”

And the storm begins again.

I’m off to Lake Placid for Ironman #3. I’ll see you on the other side of the storm, and the calm, with a race report.

Live healthy, be happy!


Can I Really Do This? (The Answer is YES!)

One of the questions I am most often asked by athletes is “Do you really think I can do this?”  When I hear this question, I always start to smile. Generally, the athlete asking this question is in generally good health, and has been working out somewhat regularly, or has started working out recently. They come to me, nervous about what lies before them, and want reassurance that they are not crazy for whatever event they have committed themselves to. They seem to think, because I’ve done two full Ironman races, that it all comes naturally to me.  But that’s not the case at all.  I had to work hard to get to this point in my life, but one important thing I learned along my journey was to never give up on yourself, and to continue to push your limits. 


We all have our comfort zones. In my past my comfort zone was limited to cigarettes and food.  I finally expanded my comfort zone and stepped away from smoking and eating too much, and into exercise. Then it grew to include triathlons, marathons, and open water swimming.


But getting there wasn’t easy, and a little bit scary.  It’s hard to try something new to you, to learn something new, and that fear of failure creeps in. I remember watching the spin class at the gym, too intimidated to go join them.  I’d wait until the class left and I’d cycle alone. I did that for a year before taking a real class.  Then I realized I wasted a lot of time worrying about what others would think, when I could have been joining in the fun. I learned that sometimes you have to be brave, to take that first step, to realize that you are capable of more than you can imagine if you only try.


So I think back when an athlete asks “can I really do this?” and I smile. Remembering all I went through, people calling me crazy, and still pushing beyond that and realizing my dreams. These negative people tried to make me give up on my goals, just because they wouldn’t try to step out of their own small comfort zones.  So they attacked my expanding comfort zone instead. 


But now I’m in a position to help and encourage others, and I do everything I can to help athletes take that big first step. I remember how hard that first step was for me, how terrifying and scary, and my hope is to make it easier for others to take that leap of faith and believe in themselves.


So when they ask me, “Can I really do this?” I smile. I smile at them and confidently look them in the eye and say “The answer is yes….you can do this.”  And suddenly, they’re smiling too, because deep down inside them, they know they can. 


They have started to believe in themselves.

Live healthy, be happy!


The Long Overdue Race Report – Ironman Mont Tremblant

I’ve had a lot of time to think over Ironman Mont Tremblant, how it went, and lessons learned from it. Then life got in the way and before you knew it, here we are . . . out of race season and into winter base building mode. So now that I have some free time, here is my race report for Ironman Mont Tremblant. I apologize in advance if this gets lengthy, but here we go.

So, to say I was nervous and excited about the race would be an understatement. I was going to race in an Ironman in another country! I have never been to Canada, and I was excited about that. When I told some of my IM friends that I was doing Tremblant, they either said I was crazy, or told me to have fun with those hills. I was worried about the hills, as the race program shows parts of the bike at a 12% grade. The biggest hill, Duplessis, is a three mile climb at miles 50 and 100, and people have been known to walk it because it was too hard. I only hoped I trained enough to make it.

The next exciting part of this trip was that I was going to be racing alongside my dear friend, training partner, supporter, and one of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, Kelly Hill. We train together through E11even Athletics, and although this would be the first time we would meet face to face, we have trained and encouraged each other for a long time. This was going to be IM #6 for Kelly, and it felt like waking around with a legend. Having completed 5 IM races, Kelly has a ton of information to share, especially at Tremblant, as she had raced it before.

So we made it to Kelly’s cabin which is a couple hours away from Tremblant to spend the night. I finally got to meet Kelly, her husband Steve, and their four girls: Ryleigh, Paige, Megan, and Kenna. They made us feel right at home, and we even got a quick lake swim in before settling in for the night.

The next day we made it to Tremblant, and two things I noticed right away: the roads there are amazingly well kept, and that would make biking easier, and that they were rollers everywhere. That would probably make biking more challenging. But it was too late to turn back now.

We met up with Tynah Sharpe, Kelly’s friend and the lady that Kelly trains with in Edmonton. This was to be her first IM, and she was really nervous, but I know that feeling. I was calm at Maryland, but this time I was nervous. I was worried about the hills, and if Maryland was just a fluke . . . What if I can’t do it again? That plagued my thoughts.

So we got to our respective condos, settled in, and then got some light training in before the big day. Kelly had us meet her and ride up Duplessis. It was challenging but doable, but that’s after a two mile warm up. It would be entirely a different beast at mile 50 and 100. Then we piled into Kelly’s van, and drove the rest of the course. The car got really quiet . . . There were a lot more hills, and a lot bigger than I trained on. This was going to be extremely tough . . . Maybe too tough.

So we went to the IM village, and Tremblant didn’t fail to impress. The athlete village was in a ski resort area, with gondolas, shops and restaurants everywhere. It is a beautiful area, and Ironman was everywhere. The local residents made you feel welcome, and the scenery was going to make for a picturesque race, if I could finish it.

Before we knew it, it was time for the athletes dinner. Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, was there, and if we finished we would get to hear him say those beautiful words “You are an Ironman” to you personally. I could not wait to hear those words. I had to hear that, I just had to finish and hear him call my name. At the dinner, Mike got the crowd excited, working them up and getting the adrenaline going. Afterward, they had a fireworks show for us!

The next day we checked in bikes and bags, and went to see the “We are Triathletes” movie that was there for a special showing. More adrenaline rushes, and I would recommend that movie. Some people don’t realize the dedication it takes for one race, and any little thing could throw it off. Then it was time to call it a night and get ready: race day was almost upon us.

Race Day

Fog. We woke up to fog. We got to Kelly’s condo and then down to transition at 5:00am. We prepped our bikes, dropped off special needs bags, and then headed down to Loc Tremblant for the swim. It was wetsuit legal, and we prepped and stopped for photos before heading to the beach to line up. It was a self-seeded by swim time start, so we lined up where we thought we’d finish.

But the fog delayed the start for an hour. We were getting cold, even in the wetsuits, and were hugging one another in an attempt to stay warm. Kelly reminded me of our agreement: we run our own race, no matter what happens to the other. We agreed again and finally, the fog lifted enough to allow the race to start. And then we were off! Ironman Mont Tremblant was underway!

While the race was underway, the fog had other plans. It resettled on the lake, and it made it difficult to sight the buoys. I counted strokes between buoys 1 & 2, and planned to use that to help know when to sight. With the buoys being on my right, and since I breathe to the right, sighting should be easy, right?

But no. I counted the strokes and sighted . . . No buoy. Twenty more strokes, no buoy. Even though I was in a pack of swimmers, I doggie paddled to find the buoy . . . Way over on my left! We swan at an angle. People were swimming everywhere, and there was no way to avoid them. You just had to manage. I finally made it to the first turn, and my left calf cramped. I kept swimming and finally it loosened up, but by the second turn my right calf cramped. Getting to a kayak would be a challenge, as you would have to cut through swimmers going every which way to get there. I decided to keep swimming for the finish, cramp or not. It finally gave way and I was able to exit the water in 1:36:56. I actually swam 2.6 miles instead of 2.4 due to the fog.

After a short run to transition (gotta love wetsuit strippers) I was changed and getting my bike out of T1. It was time to see if I could do this hilly ride. Steve told me that Kelly was 6 minutes ahead, and I hoped that I would see her on the ride.

The start of the ride was great, and beautiful scenery throughout the entire course. But as we hit the turnaround we were faced with the first big challenge: A long steady climb up without the momentum of the downhill for push you up. Before you knew it, you were out of the saddle, pumping away and dropping gears as quickly as you could. Then you would get a break, and then another climb. My quads were burning, and we had not reached Duplessis yet! I wondered how that was going to go, if I was hurting already.

I met up with Julie and Steve, and they said Kelly was heading up Duplessis already. I still hadn’t seen her. Tynah had not been seen yet, but she was on the bike. I stopped and used a Hot Shot drink to relieve cramping, and heading up one of the biggest challenges I have ever done: Duplessis.

I have never been in first gear, out of the saddle, and cranking so hard so long that much in my life. Midway up, there was a man banging on a road sign with a rock. Bang…bang…bang! It was annoying until I realized that he was banging out the cadence you needed to make it up the hill. This gentleman was there at my mile 50, and 100. Lord only knows how many hours he stood there banging out the cadence. But it helped me get through that section.

But then the quads cramped like never before. It was so bad I barely got unclipped. I got to the side of the road and my legs looked like I was posing for a muscle magazine, my muscles were so defined, yet in such pain. Another athlete was sitting in the grass, pounding on his quads with his fists in an effort to loosen them up. I decided to not sit, as I was afraid that I wouldn’t get back up, but used that tenderizing technique on my quads and it helped. I pushed my bike to a flat and started again.

As I reached the last short climb before the turnaround, I saw Kelly. She was flying down the hill. I thought “how am I ever going to catch her?”. I made it to the turn and started down. I had decided to coast if I could to give my quads a rest. Coasting was no problem, as I soon reached 41 mph! It was scary and I was white knuckled all the way down. Suddenly I was on my second loop.

I struggled back to Duplessis, and started my second and last climb. I saw Julie, and she said I had an hour to make it up and down Duplessis. I told her I didn’t know if I could. What we forgot was that they added time due to the delayed start. I still had not seen Kelly, and assumed she was heading up again. More Hot Shot, and more screaming quads as I struggled up the big hill. I got to the last short climb and who did I see flying down the hill? Kelly was on her way down. At least I hadn’t lost any ground on her.

Another fast downhill (this time less scary, and more concerned about making up time), and I was heading to T2. It took 30 mins to climb up, and 10 mins to come back down Duplessis. Some riding, some walking, but I made it. Or did I?

As I rode into T2, volunteers in matching t-shirts were there to take your bike. As I got close, a man in a windbreaker and a hat pointed at me and to come to him. I did, and as he grabbed my handlebars he spoke very sternly to me . . .in French. I don’t speak French. I don’t say croissant correctly. So hearing this caused me to think I didn’t make the cutoff, and was getting a DNF. He must have seen the tears welling up, as he leaned over the bike and softly said, in English “Do you have everything you need off the bike? You have plenty of time. Go, go!” I said “Oh God I thought I was getting a DNF”. He smiled and said “No, you are fine. Go!” I finished the bike in 7:31:34

So as I ran to T2, I saw Steve, who gave me an update. Kelly was off on the run, and Tynah was fine and on the bike. So I grabbed my run bag, changed and headed out for my marathon.

The run was pretty, and at about mile 5 or 6, I knew who was just in front of me. I ran close and said “I’d know that tattoo anywhere” referring to her beautiful watercolor shoulder tattoo. Kelly smiled and said she wondered when I would catch her. We chatted for a bit and found out that both of us were hurting: Kelly’s back and my quads. We decided that we had plenty of time to make it, and to run/walk together to help each other along. So we ran along until we crossed a timing pad and heard the beep. It sends info to people tracking on their phones or computers and lets them know where you are at. I said “now everyone knows we are together.” Kelly looked puzzled and asked if that was a problem. I said no, but lets have some fun.

So as we heard the next timing pad, I sprinted ahead and crossed it and then stopped and waited. Kelly crossed and asked what I was doing. I told her “now everyone thinks I left you.” We laughed and then at the next one Kelly ran over it first. Then finally we crossed the last one together. We were giggling, thinking about what everyone was thinking, with this great running battle going on between us.

We saw Tynah as we came out of the long straightaway. She had been throwing up and was walking a lot. We told her she had to cross the timing mat about 10k away in a certain time or they would pull her. We hugged and then made her run off. Kelly and I worried the remainder of our run if she was going to make it.

We headed up the cobblestone hill to the finishers chute, and we were ‘debating’ who should go first. I tried ladies first, it’s her country, but Kelly was having none of that. She said “you know you could have left me on the run. It would please me if you would go first.” How could I refuse that? So in the chute I went, people cheering and finally hearing Mike Reilly say “Travis Kneale! You. Are. An. Ironman!” My second Ironman was complete. Final time:15:18:20

Twenty seconds later, Kelly Hill became an Ironman for the sixth time! We collected our finishers hat, shirt, and medal and headed for the food tent. We grabbed some water and chocolate milk, then off to Kelly’s condo to shower, change, and watch Tynah come in.

We got back and met up with Steve who had bad news: according to the tracker, Tynah was going to be 2 minutes too late. Steve, Julie, Kelly’s sister and her girls all went off to find Tynah and push her in to the finish. But they left Kelly and I with no phone, and no way to know what was happening except for watching the clock tower, and listening to Mike Reilly call in the final runners.

Mike said on the PA “there’s four more coming”. First were two were men running together, then a woman, but on Tynah. There is a tradition that people dressed as angels run in with the final runner, and here they come . . . But not with Tynah. Kelly and I were on the verge of tears. Tynah had tried so hard, and it was so close, this can’t be the way it ends.

Suddenly, we could hear Julie and the girls screaming “Go! Don’t stop!” And there was Tynah. We wanted to hug her, but screamed at her to run!! I think the video says it best:

After a brief stop in the medical tent, I presented Tynah with her finishers hat and shirt. She got her medal before going to the med tent. At one point as she lay on the cot in the med tent, her eyes opened and she looked at me with a huge smile and said “I really did it!” Yes Tynah, you really did! You are an Ironman!

We had one more day to relive our race, and enjoy each other’s company before heading our separate ways. I truly hope I can race with them again. Kelly is such an inspiration to me, and Tynah shows that you never give up. Hopefully we can get Julie and Steve involved in the next one and have our own group of 5 at the next one. It was a blast.

And of course, since I did an Ironman in another country, I had to add another tattoo:

Next time, I go to Colorado to train on hills before tackling Duplessis again. Thank you Kelly, Tynah, Julie, Steve, Ryleigh, Paige, Megs, and Kenna, and the Hill family for making this a great time. Thanks Jenni for getting me ready for this. I really did it! Ironman #2 is complete! Time to look for number 3.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.

Live healthy, be happy!


2017 “Those Eleven Words”

There was a lot of things to be happy about in 2017. A lot of good things happened, and I experienced many wonderful events. So here are just some of the highlights of 2017, and what lies ahead in 2018.

Sponsorships – I only look for sponsorships from companies whose products I use and endorse anyway, so I was thrilled to be sponsored for a second year by Honey Stinger gels, chews, and waffles, and by Brooks running shoes and apparel. Most people who run with me always see Brooks Pure Cadence shoes on my feet, and Honey Stinger gels in my pocket. And no doubt you’ve seen #HSHive or #BrooksPro or #Runhappy on my Facebook page. Now I’d like to thank Nuun Hydration for sponsoring me for the first time. All my gym bags have Nuun canisters in them, and it really helps to keep me going during long workouts. So you’ll be seeing #Nuunbassadors or #Nuun on my Facebook posts as well.

Coaching – the half marathon groups have been awesome, and I was happy to watch so many of them complete their goal and tell me that they felt great when they finished! That’s always a great thing to hear, that they could have kept running. I had one athlete complete not only a triathlon, but her first full marathon. She looked good at the finish to boot. Another athlete is training for her first full marathon, and now thinking about a sprint triathlon. With. Her determination and dedication, the sky is the limit for her, and it is my honor to be alongside these athletes as they realize their goals.

Events – I had a bunch of firsts, a sub 2 hour half marathon among them. But the greatest thing that happened in 2017 was in Maryland when I heard those eleven words “Travis Kneale, from Des Moines Iowa. Travis, you are an Ironman!” It was the hardest day of my life physically, and one of the hardest mentally, but one of the most rewarding that I have ever had. All those hours training, getting up before dawn to swim, running in the dark, long and lonely bike rides of 100+ miles, it all became so worth it to hear those words.

When I ran my first half marathon, I said I’d get a tattoo to commemorate the event. I put it off. I said the same thing after my first full marathon, triathlon, and 70.3. Well, now that I completed a 140.6 Ironman, what better time to fulfill that promise?

So, what lies ahead for 2018? I’ve completed “The Hardest Day in Sport”, so what’s next? To do it again of course, and this time I’ll have company as my dear friend and training buddy from Edmonton, Alberta Canada, Kelly Hill joins me for racing and shenanigans. Our next Ironman is here:

So the training begins again, and hopefully my friends Mel and Karen, who are joining us on our trip to Mont-Tremblant, will translate French for me. August in Canada should be beautiful, and I hope successful.

That’s just a few of the highlights of an awesome year. There were some lows (my sweet pup Maverick crossed the Rainbow Bridge), but it really has been an awesome year. A few short years ago, I watched a friend complete an Olympic distance triathlon and thought “I’ll never do that”, but here I am – an Ironman! You just have to believe in yourself, get out of your comfort zone, work hard, and most of all…try! May 2018 be the best year for you, and fill you with happiness and joy!

Live healthy, be happy!


Ironman Maryland 2017


The bags were packed and loaded, the bikes put in the car, all that was left was to start the drive to Cambridge Maryland and to the adventure of a lifetime: Ironman Maryland.  It seemed that when I signed up, that October was so far away.  Suddenly October was upon us, and it was time to see if all those hours and miles training would hold up.  There was that little voice inside questioning whether I could do it, did I train hard enough, but it was time to see.  We started the car and off we went!

Strangely enough, I was calm on race week, and that never happens.  Two weeks prior, I was a nervous wreck, and now I was as calm as could be.  It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, and I wondered why I was acting like this was just an out of town training day, and not what it actually was, and what it’s called: “The Hardest Day in Sport”.

We stopped in South Bend Indiana for the night and stayed right by Notre Dame University.  We decided to take advantage of it and did an early run through the campus.  It was beautiful!

img_0232-2We made it to Cambridge last Tuesday night and met our hosts.  They were a wonderful couple, and seemed excited that I was racing.  We had access to their pool, canoes, pretty much everything.  We really got lucky finding this place.  The next morning we made our way to the Ironman village to check in.  It was really happening!  We then had breakfast and then went for a quick swim.  There were sea nettles (jellyfish) everywhere, and a fellow athlete told me to coat all exposed areas with Vaseline, so the sea nettles wouldn’t stick to you and sting you.  I took the advice and didn’t get stung during the race, but got stung a few times in practice.

Wherever you went in the town, people let you know they were happy you were there.  Stores and streets were decorated, and you could tell the residents were as excited as we were.  A lot of locals volunteer at the race, and have for years!  It is a really amazing community.

On Friday, we drove to Baltimore to meet my coaches, Jenni and Jeff Keil, and to bring Jeff to the race with us.  Jenni unfortunately could not stay, but we had a great pep talk before we headed back.  I was still calm and the race was less than a day away!

Before I knew it, it was race day!  I got ready, and just like that I was in transition setting up my bike and filling my hydration system.  I put on my wetsuit and even laid down for a bit before it was time to line up for the swim start.



We self-seeded by expected finish time, so I got in the 1:30-1:40 group. Suddenly I was walking into the water and on the adventure of a lifetime!

The swim was largely uneventful, especially with over 1300 swimmers in the water.  I fought the current more than the other swimmers, and then I was out of the water and onto transition.  The wetsuit strippers got you out of your wetsuit in less than a minute, and then someone handed you your bike bag.  Then it’s off to the changing tent to prep for the ride.


The bike was extremely flat and very windy, with head/cross winds of 30-40 mph.  It was tough, with little breaks from the wind.  Around mile 80 I started feeling nauseous.  I think I have too much protein in my drink, but it was too late to fix that now.  It affected me throughout the remainder of the ride and the entire run.

When I got back to transition, I saw Jeff and told him I was feeling sick to my stomach, and that I didn’t know if I could run hard or for how long.  Jeff said to run when you can, walk when you have to, but that I could do it.  I had to decide whether to throw up and get it over with, but risk dehydration and possibly being too ill to continue, or to deal with it and keep moving forward.  I opted for moving forward.


img_0227.jpg The run was long, especially feeling like you are going to get sick at any moment.  I went into my special needs bag, hoping I put something in there for an upset stomach.  I didn’t. So, I grabbed my Advil, band-aids, and my Dr. Pepper (my treat), and took off. I forgot my headlamp, and once you are in your bag, it gets tossed.  So when it started to get dark, I realized my mistake.  I was so upset about that, but lesson learned.

I never figured how to see what time it is on my watch when you are recording a workout, so I lost track of time.  Some areas get really dark, and I tried using the stars to tell what the time was. Man, there were a lot of stars!  It had to be about 10:30-11:00pm. I remember my dear friend Kelly Hill, who has completed 5 Ironman events, telling me that your mind will go to some dark places, and whether you cross the finish line or not depends on getting out of those dark places.  I was about to enter mine, as I realized that if it was 11, I was not going to make it!

I figured that if it was 11pm, and I had 8 miles to go, that I was going to be 4 miles short if I continued on this pace.  But I couldn’t go any faster, and I was trying. I got depressed and wanted to sit down and quit.  Since the run was a 2.5 loop out and back, I saw people heading in the direction I was coming from. I asked what lap some were on, and they said they were starting their second lap. I was finishing my second. I wished them luck, but in my mind I knew that the wagon would be coming to pull them from the race . . . and soon they would be pulling me too.

I turned the corner and saw Julie and Jeff.  My wife ran up to me and said she was proud of me.  I almost cried. Here I was failing, and she was proud of me.  I finally got up the courage to ask her what time it was, and was shocked when she said 7:47.  My dark place was melting away.  I asked her two more times, and she finally said “like the plane”.  I was elated, as I had only 6 miles left and plenty of time. I started to really enjoy the run then.

Just before I entered the finishers chute, I stopped and got out my charm pouch that I carried.  It was given to me by my dear friend Jodie Dunker, and I carried it on my 70.3, and I wanted it with me on the finish line here. So I pulled it out, gave it a kiss, and headed to the red and black M-Dot carpet. I crossed in 14:44:41


Crossing the line was a blur. I thought I would lose it, but I didn’t.  I crossed, got my photo, my medal and hat and finishers shirt, more photos, and then I talked to Julie and Jeff and we bought some things in the Ironman village.  It really hadn’t hit me yet. Maybe I was tired, or preoccupied, or who knows what, but I was thinking that I would be more emotional.


When we got home, our hosts left a bottle of champagne and a poster board with congratulations written on it! They even were out on the course cheering me on! They were incredible, and even with an upset stomach, the champagne tasted delicious.

The next day, my wife forwarded me the video she took as I crossed the line.  I got to really hear them call my name, hear that I was indeed an Ironman, and the tears started flowing.  I still tear up talking about it now.  I went from a 3 pack a day smoker, to 40 lbs overweight, to an Ironman!  It’s almost surreal, and I cannot wait to start training for the next one.

I tried to thank everyone personally for their help in getting me across the finish line, but I want to mention a few here that really helped in more ways than they know.

To my wife Julie, for loving, supporting me, and even joining in on this crazy way of life.

To my coaches Jenni and Jeff Keil, for training me, helping and encouraging me, and being such an amazing part of making me who I am today.

To Connie and Eric McGarrah, who always supported and encouraged me, and always made me believe in myself.

To Chris Matthews and Tiina Erb, who text with me daily and offer advice, encouragement, or just let me vent and they listen.  You are awesome.

To Kara Palczewski, my running wife, for training with me, photographing me, making my awesome video, and for being one of the most amazing friends I have ever had. Love you to the moon and back!

To Jodie Dunker, who is my biggest fan, official race photographer, charm maker, and a better friend than I deserve.  Love you!

To Kelly Hill, from making videos early on showing me the medals I’d soon have, to offering unending support, encouragement, advice, tips, and even texting me to help me pack my special needs bags and my bike and run bags as well.  You have been so big a part of this, that I felt you crossing with me at the finish line. The love and admiration that I have for you cannot be described. I cannot wait until we can do one together.

I know I’ve missed a few people, and know that I love you all dearly.  Now we start training for Ironman #2.  If I have my choice and can afford it, we will be heading to the Great White North for the next one.  We will know more by the end of the year, but I think Mont Tremblant is calling.

Live healthy, be happy!