Coach Jenni and the E11 Ironman Florida 70.3 squad
On April 10, five members of the E11even athletic squad took on Ironman Florida 70.3: 2 participating as individuals and 3 as a relay team. This is the story of how this squad highlighted the true meaning of being a team. While 2 of us were tackling the entire course (myself being one of them), there was an entirely different situation going on with our relay team that I would only know what happened as I approached the final lap of the run. Little did I know, our relay team was 'removed from the race due to timing issues'.
I took the time to interview the members of the relay team, Tiina, Colleen and Brooke to share their story of “The relay that wasn't, but the relay that became”.
Thanks so much for doing this.
Q: How did you become part of the Relay Team and what leg were you assigned?
T: So technically I'm the one who started the relay team. It began with a rather unfortunate circumstance. I was in a relatively bad car accident at the beginning of January which resulted in some major damage to both my neck and my shoulder. As much as I wanted to race in April, I knew it was the wrong decision for my health. Coach Jenni came up with the great idea of rolling my entry into a relay slot during an emotional phone call which helped soften the blow of not competing. After that, things really fell together beautifully. My teammates rallied around me and within days I had both a biker and a runner ready to go! I decided on the swim leg of the relay. While my shoulder was very damaged and painful, my orthopedic surgeon said that I could not damage it any further through swimming. As long as I don't increase the damage, I can handle a little pain!
B: At the point in my training when I found out that most of the team was doing Florida 70.3, I was mainly running and just swimming and biking for cross training. So, I was assigned the run leg!
C: After Tiina found out that she would be unable to race the entire event Jenni reached out to me about participating in a relay. I was assigned the bike leg
Q: was there anything specific you did to train for your leg of the race? Off the bat, did anything concern you after you said, “yes”?
T: Fortunately swimming is my strongest discipline in triathlon. I worked with coach Jenni to build a schedule that basically had me doing as much as my bruised and battered body would allow. Some days were an effort in futility, but having a goal to work towards really helped. My biggest concern was letting my team mates down. You want to succeed if you do an event as an individual, but if you fail it's at least only your own personal failure. If I failed at completing the swim, I was letting down two other people who were counting on me. It was very stressful even with being a confident swimmer.
B: I continued to focus my training on the run, doing 3-4 runs per week including a run of an hour-twenty-plus on weekends.
C: I had a new bike and new pedals and I just rode the bike lots and lots of miles. I was concerned about being able to clip in to my pedals, but had practiced enough that I felt it would be okay. From the beginning my biggest concern was that I would let my team down. If I have an individual DNF that is one thing. If I cause my team to have one that is quite different. Those fears subsided a great deal as I trained. My last long ride before the event was 48.87 miles done in 3:34:03. I knew I would have at least 4:20:00 to complete the ride, and felt that even with some hills I would have plenty of time.
Q: The day before the race we all got to see the course…thoughts, concerns, fears?
B: Well, Jenni is a great runner and definitely pushed me on my pre-race run so I was a little nervous after our shakeout! There is a big hill at the start of the loop so that was a bit overwhelming as well. But, I was excited about the course and felt prepared to take it on.
C: Seeing the course the day before the race was sobering. The hills I train on are the occasional tall bridge. In a long ride I may have a bridge climb 2 - 4 times total. The rest of the area is flat as a pancake. I kept hearing about this one big hill, and figured that if I could handle the bridges I could handle it. What I didn't consider was that there would be hill after hill after hill.
Q: Race Day! When did you all start realizing the outcome for the day might be changing? What was going through your mind?
T: Brooke and I were hanging out by transition doing math and waiting for Colleen's split to come in. We knew the max amount of time that she had out on the course. When that time passed and there was still no split, we started to get concerned and discuss possibilities. We were really hoping that maybe her timing chip had fallen off or was faulty. As time goes on, it goes from being bummed about not finishing to really panicking about my team mate possibly being majorly injured. A lot of the time was spent convincing each other that she was physically okay. Your mind starts jumping to worst case scenario. I spent a nice chunk of time really angry at myself. I wondered if I had possibly pushed Colleen into a race for which she wasn't ready. Colleen is a major badass, but she's still relatively new to cycling and it was not a beginner friendly course. The hills on the course were no joke and I would never forgive myself if she was injured because of me. At this point way too much time has passed and no one had heard anything. It was really terrifying and I had a pit in my stomach. One of the worst feelings I have ever had was when Brooke finally was able to get an IM person to speak with her and the IM person said that Colleen had been "carried off the course". The next ten minutes between that sentence, actually hearing that Colleen was fine, and seeing her in person were truly agonizing and felt like an eternity. It was a very emotionally exhausting afternoon.
B: Tiina and I were together for most of the morning keeping a close eye on the split times for the bike. When we did not see the split times come in, we grew more and more concerned about the safety of our team member. It was a hot day and the bike course is very challenging. We knew Colleen had some nerves going into the day, and we were just very worried that something had happened.
C: I actually felt really good on race day. Getting up that morning was easy. I was really excited. When the swim waves started I went to the corral where Tiina would hand off the timing chip to me. I sat down and went through the ride in my head. I had been training and I was ready.
After the handoff I made my way to my bike, made sure I had everything in place and got me and my bike to the mount line. I got on the bike and took off. By the time I got to the end of the first block I was clipped in. I could feel the big grin on my face.
The first part of the course I felt great. While I was slowing down going uphill I hoped that I was making up for it on the downhills. On the first really big hill I slowed so much I almost had to unclip. But I made it to the top and zoomed to the bottom.
The first indication I had that there was an issue was as I was approaching the second aid station around mile 30. A truck pulled up next to me and told me I only had 6 minutes to get to the station or they would pull me from the course. I knew that I had a specific time to get to T2, but didn't recall seeing anything about cut offs on the course. As I rode through the aid station they told me I had a short time to get to the next one. I had thought I was on pace to finish in time, but I wasn't on pace to meet their deadline on the course.
Q: Colleen, this one’s for you, take us through those initial moments when the officials pulled you off the course and put you in the van. I can’t imagine the emotions. If you feel comfortable sharing, we’d love to hear about it.
C: I got to the next stop and they told me that they didn't think I could finish in time and I would need to stop. I explained that I really wanted to go on. I told them I was doing a relay and my teammate had flown out from California to run and I couldn't let her down. They removed my timing chip and showed me to a van where my bike and I would ride back to transition. In a matter of a few minutes I went from feeling good about the day to the day being done. They were pulling lots of people off the course. All I could think of was how I had let Brooke and Tiina and Jenni down. In the van on the way back I could hear the radio conversations with race staff. I kept hearing that Brooke was trying to find out if I was okay. My timing chip hadn't worked so no one knew where I was. I told the driver that they were asking about me and she told someone that I was okay and heading back in the van. That message didn't reach Brooke.
Q: Brooke and Tiina…what was it like for you? Did you know at that point, technically you guys were officially out of the race?
B: Many scenarios flashed through our minds. Did the chip fall off? Was the tracker malfunctioning? Had something mechanical happened? And of course, the more pressing and scary thought - is Colleen alright? I finally sought out an Ironman official who was able to radio to the bike course. When I heard "teammate begin carried off the course" of course we all had a moment of serious panic. But shortly after the official on the bike course confirmed that physically, everyone was ok and that it was a timing issue. it was such a relief to know that Colleen was alright, there really wasn't a ton of emotion about being "out of the race" at that time.
T: After a certain point, we knew that we were out of the race due to time. It really wasn't at the forefront of either of our minds until we saw that Colleen was physically okay though. Once we found out that she was physically okay, we actually spent the time talking about how to make Colleen feel better. We didn't want her to feel guilty and we were so proud of her for getting out there and giving it her best. At that point, we were trying to figure out what Brooke should do as well, so it was a lot of texting with Jenni. Eventually that turned into Brooke finishing the last lap with our other teammate, Chris. So while we may be a bit unconventional, we did swim, bike, and run!
Q: Brooke…wow, you flew cross country to run a half marathon, mentally prepared to go for a PR and in a matter of minutes, you were finding out there would be no run for you. What was going through your mind?
B: The most important thing was that my teammate was OK physically. To be there, at my first ironman event, with my teammates - I felt very strongly that there was a reason I was there beyond running 13 miles. I can do a half-marathon anywhere. The point of the trip was to meet my awesome team, and ultimately, to see many of them cross over the finish line. It was extremely motivating and reminded my why we do triathlon - of course, to push ourselves, to improve our health, but for me the most important aspect of it is the love and support of the community. I was able to provide some love and support - and I got it back tenfold.
Q: Let’s talk about when Colleen got back to transition and reunited with you all. That had to be an emotional reunion for everyone. Were you able to find Coach Jenni and what did she say to you?
B: What a moment. And, to see the look of love and appreciation on Colleen's fiance’s face - I will never forget it. Tina and I cried our eyes out for a minute - it was all such a relief and such a beautiful moment.
T: So Jenni was able to find us eventually and was very supportive, but that's honestly not what I remember about Colleen getting back to transition. Let me preface this by saying that Brooke and I are generally not very emotional people. Sarcastic? Sure! Emotional? Not so much. When Colleen got back to transition and reunited with Sherpa extraordinaire, Val, it made Brooke and I cry like little babies. The look of relief and love on Val's face was just so very touching, really characterized the afternoon, and put everything into perspective. Yes, we were disappointed that the race didn't go how we planned. But everyone was healthy. At the end of the day, it's just a race and there will always be another chance to race and to PR. We support each other no matter what.
C: I was so upset that I had let the team down, but I was so happy to see them. Right after I found Tiina and Brooke I saw Val hurrying across the park. She looked frantic. I had no idea how worried everyone was about me. I knew I was fine and that they would have seen the first split. I didn't realize that they hadn't seen the split and they had been told I was getting aid, but not that I was fine. I felt only unconditional love and acceptance from my team.
Q: So Brooke, you ultimately did 1 loop of the 3 loop course (and kept me company) and ran through the finish chute. Did that give you any sort of peace with what just happened?
B: Yes and no. Yes in that - I believe there were so many more reasons to be in Florida at that moment than running a half mary, and it was so fulfilling on a personal level. I loved the trip and bonding with the team was spectacular. Running that final loop with you was a highlight of my trip. No in that - I have the Ironman itch and I feel the need to scratch it more than ever! So it's a good, motivating restlessness. Also, now I feel like I have really good race karma! and I look forward to seeing how my race day goes when it's "my time" and to keep paying it forward.
Q: It’s been a month since the race…how are you all feeling about it now? Will you do it again?
B: Loved the trip, so happy about how it all turned out, will do it again in a heartbeat!
C: Absolutely. I have a score to settle with that bike course. And I would love to do other events with my team. Spending the weekend working as a team was a real growth experience for this very independent introvert.
T: I really wouldn't change a thing about the entire weekend, looking back on it. A conversation that I had with Brooke the evening after the race pops out. She was feeling a bit conflicted and feeling guilty for being disappointed at our end result. I told her, "It's okay to feel disappointed. The race didn't go the way that any of us pictured. Plus, you flew across the country to run a half marathon and it didn't happen. Shit happens. You're allowed to feel everything that comes with that. You're just not allowed to make other people feel bad about it." And I think I didn't really let myself believe that until I said that out loud to her. I had been carrying that guilt, too. Yes, our team wanted to come and complete the relay. And it was *okay* to be disappointed that it didn't happen. Do I want a rematch with my awesome team? Absolutely! I still love those girls to the moon and back. I would pick them as my relay teammates any day. And sometimes you just need some perspective. The weekend was about so much more than the race. It gave me the break that I needed from my life. I got to feel like a normal triathlete with no worries for a weekend. I didn't have to think about doctors or surgeries or rehab. I got to laugh until my abs hurt and fell off the couch. In the grand scheme of things, isn't it more important to have team mates who reignite your inner fire than finishing any race?
Thanks so much ladies!
So in the end, we all got medals, but we all got so much more that day. We solidified our bond as a team and if we had any doubt, we witnessed what an amazing coach Jenni is, in every aspect of the sport.
Coach Jenni and the E11 Ironman Florida 70.3 squad