From her coach, Mike Ricci: I’m super stoked to introduce you to our Athlete of the Month, Sarah Peltier. I’ve been coaching Sarah for a number of years and right from the get-go, I recognized that Sarah had what it takes to get to Hawaii! She’s diligent about her training and taking care of herself which made the coaching journey very fun. It did take us a while to figure out her ‘formula’, but with her hard work and perseverance she was able to finally punch her ticket. I’m very happy for her and can’t wait to see her on the start line in October ’16!
Part I: Ironman Chattanooga in her own words
In 2012 I completed my first full iron distance race, Beach2Battleship. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the distances. I remember doing my first 80 mile ride + 10 mile run off the bike in training and thinking “Mike is trying to kill me!” And yet I did very well in the race until the last few miles of the run when my mind gave up. I started grazing at the aid stations like it was a buffet and walked the last 6 miles in. I loved the distance and knew I could improve.
I embarked on a journey that took 6 attempts over 3 years to crack the code on Ironman. The focus for me was never 100% on a Kona spot. The math and variability of who shows up on the day makes it so there are too many factors beyond one’s control. My goal was to have a full iron distance race that I was proud of, where I lived up to my potential, and didn’t give up on the run.
It took every one of those races and dozens of shorter ones to learn all the lessons I’d need to be successful. There were little lessons like always bring your wetsuit, how many salt tabs to take, and what not to eat the day before.
And then there were the big lessons. At Ironman Boulder 2014, I was in 5th place AG at some point on the run, but didn’t know it. I thought I was well behind the leaders in my AG. Again, I mentally gave up on the last few miles and let a spot on the podium slip away. In Texas this year, I ran the entire marathon in between aid stations (mental win!), but suffered in the heat more than others.
Chattanooga is where everything finally came together – enough rest, good nutrition, and solid preparation. Chattanooga features a downriver swim, a hilly bike with 4 “bonus” miles, and two sections of 5 miles with steep hills on the run. Due to the unique swim start procedure, I started a full 20 minutes behind the first age groupers. While waiting, my husband was hugely helpful in reminding me not to stress out about those things I cannot control. I jumped into the water and focused on having the best swim possible.
Normally, I race from behind since I’m not a strong swimmer, and so starting 20 minutes back plus losing 12 minutes on the swim meant I was so far behind that I never even saw my AG leaders. Without getting discouraged, I focused on my race plan and nutrition and kept my head down on the bike just like in training.
Heading into T2 I was in 10th place according to the timing chip time, not what I had hoped for. I told myself to remember Will Murray’s “ferris wheel” speech. And one by one, I started to catch people.
I pulled out all the mental tricks I learned to keep moving forward and up and down those steep hills. In the last few miles I even yelled at myself out loud. As it turns out, starting so far behind was likely a blessing in disguise. By the time I physically found the people in my AG, I had long since passed them on chip time. Had that been different, they might have found some extra speed.
When I crossed the finish line, I knew I had delivered the best possible race I could on the day. I had passed 7 people on the run, finishing 3rd place AG and earning a spot to Kona! The experience was hugely emotional, and a relief that I had finally figured out how to race Ironman.
I’m now well into my off-season which means fixing a few little injuries, lifting weights, and planning my big trip to Hawaii next year!
Part II: Honest Answers to Tough Questions
A. What are 2 take-aways you’ve learned about yourself as a result of this experience?
1. I found success through consistency, time and experience. All those lessons I picked up along the way gave me the confidence and know-how I needed to push myself in Chattanooga. My corporate job keeps me traveling nearly every week away from home in DC. Like many triathletes, I spend a huge amount of time in planes, on trains and living out of a suitcase. Would I have learned all these lessons sooner with a less stressful, time intensive job? Maybe, maybe not.
2. I know what motivates me. I love passing guys on the bike (sorry guys!)! Extra points if they are riding a full disc wheel.
B. Share 3 nuggets of advice with an athlete who is interested in progressing from shorter to longer distances and then qualify for Kona.
1. If your goal is to improve, sign up for races that challenge you in your weaker areas. For me, that was a race like Ironman Texas. It was a non-wetsuit swim and super hot. If your goal is to qualify or win your age group, find a race that plays to your strengths and minimizes the impact of your weaknesses.
2. Success is not guaranteed just by “getting your workouts in” – the rest of your life has to work together so that the training sessions are high quality. In retrospect, there were many times that I should have just slept instead of trying to cram in a swim/bike/run session. A common text to Mike went something like “it’s 10:30 pm, I’m in New York, and just finished 8 miles of hill repeats on the Brooklyn Bridge – should I eat dinner or go to bed? and “Can I count 7 hours of sleep on a plane towards my goal?”
The reality is that triathletes are likely to live in a ‘do everything’ world driven by achievement. It was a very hard lesson for me to learn that sometimes the right decision is “do nothing.” For example, three weeks after Ironman Mont Tremblant I tried to race at 70.3 Worlds with a sinus infection. I was so exhausted I sat down on the side of the road one mile into the run and DNF’d. Mentally crushing and embarrassing at the time, I should have listened to the tiny voice that said, “sit this one out.” Finding the right balance here will of course be different for everyone, but for me I was definitely doing it wrong.
3. Create change! If you are not improving, be honest with yourself and have a coach who is comfortable being honest with you about what needs to happen to improve. Figure out what that is, and then make the change. For example, every time I would hit mile 20 in a marathon my IT bands would blow, which made it mentally difficult to keep running for the last 6 miles. So I focused on building hip and glute strength all winter with a personal trainer, and this season my IT bands held up much better.
In the past 18 months we also changed:
Races: Alpes d’Huez log course and Beach2BattleshipPre-race meal: I follow a strict low fiber diet for 10 days before a long race. Night before meal is tofu teriyaki with rice, banana. Breakfast is frozen waffles with syrup, almond butter and bananaRecovery meal: Milkshake!Part of the race: Getting out of the water (same as Greg Lindquist!)Equipment: Power meter on the bike – helps me focus on the effort I know I can produce and sustain regardless of what’s going on around me in a raceWorkout: It’s a tie – a tough interval set on the trainer with Pandora’s Showtek cranked to the max, or a hot summer morning run on the national mall past the monuments and down the Potomac.