Fierce. I have been thinking about it lots this week. Mostly because I read this interview already. I read it on a day when I was feeling lazy. After reading it, I put my shoes on and went and demolished some hills and stairs. I am nowhere close to being an Ironman, but Pattie Keller still inspires me to get out there and work my tail off.
I am a fan of Pattie, a pretty big one. Her husband, Happy is one of my coaches on my running team and I must admit to being a fan of his too. A couple of years ago I was watching them intently as they trained for Ironman New Zealand. Weather threw a wrench into that event and it became a half Ironman. Still nothing to sneeze at. A full Ironman is a Swim, Bike, Run triathlon. You swim usually in open water – like the OCEAN, lake or river for 3.8km (2.4mi) Then strip out of that wet suit and jump on your bike for 180km (122mi) and if that wasn’t enough fun for one day, hop off your bike and run for 42.2km (26.2mi). So for kicks it ends with a marathon. By the way, no resting because you need to get it done before you turn into a pumpkin in 17 hours…seriously, true story.
Be ready to start at 7:00 am. You have to swim faster than 2 hours and 20 minutes. Get on your bike and race but make sure you are back in transition for dinner – whatever, eat on your bike because that is the only time you are sitting! Be finished and off your bike by 5:30 pm. Then run like crazy if you just made it and running won’t be easy because your legs feel weird after all that cycling and swimming – actually they feel like you have cement shoes on. Be done before the clock strikes midnight or it’s back to the grindstone for you and maybe NEXT year you will be an Ironman.
The amount of training for a Triathlon is amazing. Swim, bike, run ALL THE TIME. I have noticed a trend amongst my marathon running friends, tris seem to be the next level. I suppose after you have a bazillion marathons it feels easy. UM…no. No one ever said a marathon was easy, that is why people do it. But then swim and ride too? I am not sure I am there. Last year before the vestibular schwannoma came to live in my brain, I wanted to do a tri. I had talked to some friends about doing a relay first. Then maybe if the swim didn’t scare me too much I would go big and do an Olympic distance or a half marathon. Swimming was my sport. Now, I can’t do it…not for a while anyway. But an Ironman is the level of awe for me.
Since that Half Ironman in New Zealand, Pattie Keller went on to Texas, twice. Completed and became an Ironman twice. She is heading back next year to do it again. Amazing. I had the privilege of chatting with her and this is what she said.
ME: What inspired you to run or do an Ironman?
PK: I have always been pretty active. Even as a young kid my mother said I was up early and just could not sit still. I played tennis and softball in my high school days, but I was not a stellar athlete. Moving ahead in time, we moved to San Diego in 1997, and one day I was running and did about 10 miles, so I said, heck, I want to do a marathon. So I signed up for the 1998 San Diego Marathon (which is now called the Carlsbad Marathon), and I did that in 4:38. Of course my shoes were too small, I lost 6 toenails, so went to my new job at HP the next days, and I had to wear sandals with my stockings because my toes were too trashed.
Going forward in time…I continued to run marathons. After 15 of them I joined Team in Training in 2005. I ended up being an assistant marathon coach, and continue to run marathons. But then TNT put together an Ironman team, so I just had to do that. I done marathons and century ride with TNT, why not an Ironman? So that is how I ended up becoming an Ironman. My husband and I both succeeded at Ironman Texas in 2012, which was my 43rd marathon.
ME: Aside from the physical aspect, how has it changed you?
PK: Wow…I was never a real “physically strong” person, but I realized that I had endurance. I was not the fastest, but I could go and go for quite some time. It has given me such confidence to conquer something that is so unique and special. Mental strength to survive being within yourself, your own thoughts, and your own journey while swimming/biking/riding. Not too many folks you can talk to while blowing bubbles.
ME: Tell me about your involvement with Team in Training.
PK: Like I mentioned above, I am now on my 14th season with team in training. I had done tri/marathon/cycle events with team, so now I have my Triple Crown. I started as a participant, worked my way to being a mentor, then a captain, and then an assistant coach.
ME: Inspire me to join TnT and convince me through your experience that it is a great idea.
PK: Oh my gosh….try this…I am running on my own in Escondido, and my husband, who was with TNT before I joined, would come home from his running with the team and he would say, “I saw dolphins and surfers and beautiful blue ocean while running with such wonderful people. We had aid every 3 miles, then we all went to brunch.” And I would reply, “All I saw was road kill along highway 78 on my run.” Need I say more?
ME: Ironman Texas was your last tri, how many different tris did you participate in before deciding to go Ironman? What was your motivation to try Ironman?
PK: I always said…if I was going to do an Ironman, I would want to do it with team. Why? I would need the guidance, education, camaraderie to tackle such a monstrous event. I have actually done IMTX twice now. Before that I had only done an Olympic distance tri, then a half, and then the full. Go big or go home. I knew I had the endurance within me…just had to put all the disciplines together.
ME: What was your main athletic event/favorite before becoming a triathlete?
PK: My main endurance sport was running marathons. My first marathon was in 1998, and then I have been going strong since then. I should complete my 50th marathon in 2014.
ME: What was the toughest obstacle to overcome with training?
PK: I would say the time commitment factor for the Ironman training. You train during the day and then in the evenings, and then both days on the weekends. Luckily my husband was also training, and our only kids are our 2 wonderful golden retrievers, Mocha and Kona. Your social life goes to heck as you are constantly training.
ME: How much is mental toughness a factor in your success?
PK: 100% mental. First, you have to be crazy. Second, you just need to keep moving forward. You may not have the race you envisioned with all success, so you need to have a plan B and a plan C, and knowing that falling back to those plans is NOT failure.
ME: Is there a secret or ritual you use for mental strength?
PK: I often tell myself and out loud to others that we are lucky we can do these sports. There are many folks who are not physically able or have passed because of cancer or other tragic illnesses. I have 2 arms and 2 legs, so I got nothing to complain about. I also tell myself…enjoy the journey. The detours along that journey are what makes each race unique, and why I keep doing them over and over.
ME: Give me a rundown of your last Ironman, if you would like to elaborate now that you have put some distance behind you that would be great!
PK: My first Ironman was Ironman Texas in May 2012. Let’s say it was not stellar. I finished, which was my goal. Here is how it went: swim was awesome. I must have drafted well as I finished in 1:20, which was much faster than I had planned. I was so happy to be out of the Lake Woodlands water and onto the bike. My T1 was good, about 8 minutes. The bike course is one big 112 mile loop. The first 40 miles or so are nice and shady, tailwind, and so I felt like a rock star. Then I got out into the farmlands, and the heat and winds pick up. I was fueling fine, but not taking in enough salt, which would haunt me later. I finished the bike in 7:25. My T2 was OK, but boy was that tent hot and humid in the later Houston sun. Off onto the run course. I looked at my watch..saw that it was about 4:30pm, so I said…I can just walk/run this thing, and I will finish. The run is 3 loops around Lake Woodlands’ canals and the shopping area. The spectators were awesome. I got done with the first lap, but then I realized I was not feeling too well on the 2nd, and then I really have no recollection of the 3rd lap. I was too dehydrated. I kept telling myself one foot in front of the other. I KNEW mentally that I would finish, but I do not remember the 3rd lap or finishing. I was so out of it. So, I ended up in the medical tent, and then off to the hospital for 1.5 days. So there I was in the hospital, in a gown, but still wearing my IRONMAN MEDAL!
ME: What do you wish you had done differently?
PK: SALT, SALT, SALT. I had worked with a nutritionist, but I think there was underestimation on the sweat rate for the humidity. For this last Ironman I had so much salt in my system, I remembered EVERY SECOND of the race…it was an awesome experience. I kept telling myself, “ah, so this is what I missed in 2012 when I was so out of it on the run course.”
I wish I would have run more on the marathon course. I was so focused on not overheating in the Houston heat and humidity, so I was too cautious. It is a slippery slope…when I pushed myself I could feel myself starting to get a bit dizzy, so I would back off. I had to find that middle point where to exert enough, but not so much as too get nauseous (as I say many folks do) and not complete my Ironman.
ME: What kind of support do you have or is it lacking and it is something you need to overcome?
PK: I have all kinds of support. My older brother was kind enough to come to IMTX 2013 and be our sherpa. He took care of our bikes, our transportation needs, and he was our biggest cheerleader. At home my husband trains also. Now if we could just get our dogs to understand why we are gone so much on the weekends, which would be perfect.
ME: Do you have new fitness goals and races coming up?
PK: Oh, I have several goals and races coming up. First, get stronger muscularly. Second, do more yoga to keep my flexibility and prevent injury, and third…eat a bit better. Not so much processed food.
Races: On my way to Ironman Texas 2014 (yep, back again), I will do the Leavenworth marathon (WA) with my 2 brothers and sister-in-law in October. Then I will do NYC marathon in November, and then my husband and I will do the Dopey challenge at Walt Disney World in January 2014. That is where we will run a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon on 4 consecutive days. You do all of them, you are DOPEY!!!
This is why I think Pattie is fierce. Her Ironwill and determination sees her through to the finish line. She is simply amazing. Another athlete I can’t wait to watch cross the finish line and see her earn the Dopey Medal. She is a big reason why I continue to push myself to the limits. Pattie makes believe it’s possible.