Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Interview with a First Time Iron(Wo)man!

Alexa Harding @ Just Keep Swimming, who just completed her first Ironman, Lake Placid, in a blistering time of 12:18:56 (Nice job!), graciously agreed to an email interview about her early triathlon days and her recent Lake Placid experience. Since she did Lake Placid, and I am doing Lake Placid as my first Ironman, I figured she would be the appropriate person to pepper with Q's about her experience. So here goes!

Alexa (on the left) and her coach

When did you do your first triathlon? What distance was it? How did it go?
My first triathlon was a sprint distance race in Sept. of 2007. I was bored of just running and had been riding my mountain bike a lot, so I decided to try a triathlon. The race was going great despite being on a mountain bike (equipped with slick tires!) until I got a flat tire, with no spare tube/CO2 and no knowledge of how to change it even if I had the spare kit. I was maybe 2 or 3 miles from transition so I ran my bike in, crying the entire way. I still finished the race and I wasn't even last in my age group!

What has been your best race experience?
I have had many, many great race experiences and it is really hard to pick just one. If I HAVE to choose, I would have to say the Tupper Lake Tinman half-iron that I did this June. I did not place overall or in my age group, but it was the race where I REALLY noticed that my Ironman training was working. I dropped 24 minutes off my PR and I nailed the execution of the race. My coach was proud of me and I was proud of myself! That is more important than any award.

What has been your worst race experience?
My first half-Ironman was a little traumatic. I went out way too fast on the run, and the last 5 miles were REALLY painful. Mostly I use bad races as learning experiences. Usually it has something to do with pacing something stupidly and then being in pain later on in the race! Maybe that flat tire in my first ever triathlon. I was SO disappointed but I think it just fueled the fire!

What would you say has been your latest triathlon "aha!" moment?
My latest "aha!" moment (I do have many of them though) was at a sprint race 2 weeks before Ironman. I thought I was screwed and that all my speed would be GONE. I was WRONG! Took 5th overall female and surprised the hell out of myself.

Describe the moment that you decided to go for Lake Placid? Where were you? What were you doing?
I decided a few days after my first half-Ironman to sign up for Lake Placid. The half-Ironman I did was in 2009 and it was exactly 1 week before 2009 Ironman Lake Placid. I finished the 70.3 white as a ghost, laid down in the grass, looked at my boyfriend (at the time) and said "I am NEVER doing that again." Apparently that feeling lasted maybe 1 day? I don't remember the exact moment I made the decision - I had been toying with the idea of Ironman for over a year and I finally just convinced myself to suck it up and register. I took a day off of work to do it, and the rest is history!

Did you feel any regret of signing up? Were you scared? Or were you gung-ho from signing up to the finish line?
No. I was gung-ho from the beginning. I was a little nervous about swimming 2.4 miles (especially with 3000 people) but that was my only real big concern, which I got over pretty quickly. Having a coach really helped because I KNEW I was going in prepared, versus god knows what kind of condition (both physical and mental) I would have been in if I had self-coached.

If you could train for Lake Placid all over again, what do you think you would do differently?
Run more? I'm not sure what else I could have done - it being my first Ironman. It's something that you have to ease into and the longer you do it, the bigger of a base you have to tap into. I think I trained the best I could with my experience level and the time I had available to me. I do wish I had run more though.

What was the best part of your Lake Placid experience? (feel free to include the two best stalker-blogger buddies cheering you on whom you had NO idea who they were ;) )
HAHA! The crowd is EASILY the best part of Ironman. It was incredible having such a large support group (teammates, friends, family AND creepy blog friends) cheering for me. You feel like a rockstar coming through town!

Did the pain of running the marathon hurt as bad as you expected? Worse? Not as bad?
It was worse than I expected, but I was slightly delusional about the Ironman marathon. I thought it would be easier than an open marathon because I figured it would be lower intensity AKA at a slower pace. WRONG. It was hard. I will get revenge on the marathon distance though.

What was the lowest part of Lake Placid? Did you ever feel like mentally stopping?
I had 2 major low points. One was climbing the hill past Whiteface on the 2nd loop. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to the top (I did though!). The 2nd was the last 6 or so miles of the marathon. I was swearing at my friends who were just trying to encourage me and I was on the verge of hysterics. I wanted to walk but I would only allow myself the normal walking breaks (through aid stations). I am glad I pushed through it because I eventually calmed myself down.

So its been almost a month already since Lake Placid, how has the recovery been going? How did it feel within the first week? Have you stayed mostly active since or was it much needed couch potato time?
The day after the race was probably in the top 10 of worst days ever. I was dehydrated, starving, nauseous, and I could barely move, let alone walk. Every time I ate I would feel a TON better, but I couldn't sleep the nights before or after the race so I was just incredibly exhausted. Every day after Monday got better and better. It took until about Wed. for my quads not to hurt to the touch! The first week after Placid was a zero workout week. I did a lot of couch-lying! Since then I have been doing an "active recovery" with mostly short workouts where I collect no data - no HR monitor, no recording pace or distance. I am now 3 weeks out from the race and we are picking my workouts back up in preparation for IM Syracuse 70.3 I will take an off-season (which is very important) in Oct./Nov. after my marathon.

Any tips for first time Ironmaners?
TRAIN! Get the miles in however you can, but don't go nuts because it is not worth an injury! Also, take it easy on the bike! I think I would have run a better marathon if I had held back maybe 5 more minutes on the bike. You think it wouldn't make a difference, but it DOES! I even knew this going in and I STILL had trouble taking it easy on the bike - you have to check your ego at the door for the Ironman bike! And for Placid athletes, run a 12-27 on that back cassette haha!

You have a "different" work schedule than us 9-5'ers. Can you give us a quick intro to your work schedule? How did you manage your long workouts around this?
I work 2 weeks of overnights (11 pm - 7:15 am) followed by 1 week of evenings (3 pm - 11:15 pm) followed by 2 weeks of days (7 am - 3:15 pm) in a chemistry lab. I rotate through this 5 week schedule. I actually had no trouble fitting long workouts in around my crazy work schedule. When I work overnights I work Sunday night to Friday morning (and I sleep immediately when I get home, from 8 am - as long as I can make myself sleep for) so I can go to sleep like a regular person on Friday night, and I am all rested for a long ride on Saturday. I usually ride long Saturday, run long Sunday, and during the week my workouts are shorter (1 hour on the bike, 45 min run, 1 hour swim, etc) with no more than 2 hours per day during the week. This is good for the rotating schedule because a lot of times I am pretty tired during the week, but I can manage to do a 1 hour workout even if I'm exhausted. It was surprisingly manageable. I also have a coach who works some overnights in a hospital so it helped to have someone familiar with surviving overnights.

If you had one time during the day to train. What time of day would that be?
I LIKE to get workouts done early however I am NOT a morning person. I would say - 10 am to noon is a good window for me. :) I can sleep in and I am done just in time for LUNCH!

If you had one triathlon dream to accomplish, what would it be?
Go Pro. But it will never happen. So I will say.. Kona :) OR figure out a way to keep both my wetsuit and my bike shoes from smelling TERRIBLE!

Thanks, Alexa, for answering these questions! This will be SO beneficial for our buildups to our first Ironman. Please don't hesitate to inform us when your dream of killing the shoe funk comes true! Good luck in a few weeks at Ironman Syracuse 70.3! We will be rooting for ya!

You can visit Alexa's blog here.


  1. Awesome interview Jon!! Thanks Alexa for answering all of those questions - it is all really helpful for me since I am IMLP bound next year!

  2. What a great interview!! Thanks!

  3. Alexa is awesome!! I got the chance to see her racing at Caz Intermediate Tri she is a strong woman!! Thanks for the insight!!

  4. awesome interview!! congrats Alexa on everything!

  5. This was a great interview! Congrats Alexa for completing the IM distance and on such a crazy work schedule! You Rawk!

  6. Humorous and useful - great interview.

  7. Jon-
    Great questions

    Congratulations!! and thanks for taking part in this with JOn, great insight into your experience!


  8. I'm psyched that everyone liked the interview! :)

  9. Awesome interview! Thanks for doing that! :)

  10. Alexa did amazing in her first Ironman... I see good things in her future! ;)

  11. Hi little bro,
    This was a great interview!

    Alexa is a rock star! She did so awesome at this Ironman:)

  12. Awesome interview! Exciting since I am doing IMLP as well! I need to get my running miles up


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