Cathy Qualified for Kona at Ironman Texas.
Cathy was the Head Track and Cross Country Coach at SMU.
Cathy is coached by D3 Head Coach, Mike Ricci
In this conversation, Coach Mike Ricci interviews Cathy Casey, an experienced triathlete who recently completed the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. They discuss Kathy's background in triathlon, her coaching career, and her journey to qualifying for Kona. Despite facing challenges such as injury and stomach issues, Kathy maintains a positive mindset and emphasizes the importance of perseverance and trusting the process. She offers tips for aspiring triathletes and encourages them to set goals, stay motivated, and learn from each race.
00:00 Introduction and Background
00:24 Early Triathlon Experience
02:05 Transitioning to Long-Distance Triathlons
03:36 Switching Race Plans
04:58 Coaching Career
05:34 Staying in Touch with Former Athletes
06:07 Best Ironman Race
08:04 Dealing with Injury
11:18 Preparing for Ironman World Championship
12:02 Race Day Experience
14:27 Swim Portion of the Race
15:20 Bike Portion of the Race
16:19 Challenges on the Run
18:31 Finish Line and Overall Experience
19:33 Tips for Qualifying and Overcoming Challenges
Hi everybody. Coach Mike Ricci here with Kathy Casey, fresh off her Ironman Hawaii finish. And, we're going to have a little chit chat today and see about the lead up into Kona the race itself, and just to get to know Kathy a little bit better, how are you?
Cathy Casey (00:16.169)
I'm doing good. Feeling relaxed and recovered after a couple of vacation days after the race. But yeah, I feel really good actually.
Awesome. Tell me a little bit about before we get into the race, like tell me how long you've been racing triathlons. It's been a while, right?
Cathy Casey (00:31.122)
A very long time. I started in the late 90s with just a very local race, just kind of one of my hometown races. And I just really liked it. It was just a way just right after college that I could feel healthy doing all three sports and I just fell in love with it. It was me and my husband out there in a freezing cold lake in southern Illinois with our mountain bikes just really just exploring the sport and then we fell in love with it.
That's awesome. So you had a swim or run background, is that right?
Cathy Casey (01:02.706)
I had a swim, well, a swim run background. I started swimming when I was five years old. And then I transitioned when I figured out that I was about a foot smaller than every other swimmer in the pool, I switched over to running in high school. So kind of, I ran in college. I ran at the University of Texas. I was a middle distance runner. So kind of just enjoyed that and where I could use my swim as my cross training when I...
Yeah. Oh, wow.
Awesome. And did you run or swim in college? Oh, wow.
Yeah, recovery. Yeah, did the coach ever look down on that? Or that was all okay.
Cathy Casey (01:31.81)
When I felt like it, yeah.
I was one of the few runners who actually liked to be in the pool. So I knew that's maybe how my triathlon journey started. Because I like both of them just as equal. But no, I was, you know, just I think swimming is such a good recovery. So it was something I could do in the afternoon to get more work in. So it's always used as a tool.
Yeah, yeah. That's awesome.
Yeah, no, I think it's great. Right. Absolutely. And I think that's great. , especially after long runs on Sundays or Saturdays, whatever do they do the long run, just flush the legs out a simple, easy, you know, 30, 45 minute run.
Cathy Casey (02:02.79)
Oh yeah, it's just so relaxing too. And you recover so much quicker when you put a swim after a long run. It's just perfect.
Right. So, when you started triathlon, obviously you had an advantage in the swim, right? Because you've been swimming a while and the run was obviously good. Did you ever feel like you had to really work on them or do you feel like they were really solid right from the start?
Cathy Casey (02:14.702)
Cathy Casey (02:22.17)
I think single sports are just a little bit different. I had to get the feel of what your legs felt like after biking and stuff, figuring out the run and getting my strength up because I was a more middle distance mindset where I wasn't going to run anything over a three and three quarters lap around a track. You couldn't pay me to run a 5K in college. But then afterwards, I just kind of started exploring the longer distance stuff, which I think kind of helped me get that mindset of.
putting them all together and having it be a real long distance event. So.
Awesome. And now I would say, you know, we've been working together since last August. I would say most races you have, you know, the one of the best run splits in your age group, no matter the distance. So that's definitely.
Cathy Casey (03:07.838)
Yeah, no, I just, I love to get out on the run and just figure out what I can do. So I kind of use that as my secret weapon. So it's kind of a fun, fun thing to figure out just how far I can bike. So I can still run to my ability. So.
awesome. So you know you just did Kona but that was kind of not really the plan this year right? The plan was some 70.3s and then all of a sudden you had this you know spur in your side that you wanted to do Ironman Texas. Tell me how that came out came about.
Cathy Casey (03:36.542)
Yeah, well, since I started back doing Ironmans a long time ago, it has been my goal, my nber one goal to qualify for Kona. So that was, I'm a very goal oriented person and I like to make, you know, be the best version of me I can be. So I just got to thinking that, you know, we were out at a happy hour with my husband and we're just looking through results, you know, as you do at happy hour, you look at triathlon results. And I was thinking, you know what, I can do this. Like I don't know what I'm, what my problem is and I can do that.
pretty much the next day I messaged you and it's like, is there a way we can switch the plan up? Because I got stuck in a routine. I would do my early season as my rust buster, then I would do a couple more 70.3s and always do a late season Ironman. So why was I stuck in that routine? What was stopping me from now that I have changed jobs after I'm no longer an NCAA coach?
I had that availability. I'm like, what is stopping me? This race is two hours from my house and let's do it. And so, , it was kind of halfway through the training cycle. We switched it up and, , I had forgotten cause I hadn't done an iron, a full iron man since, you know, 2019 or something, just how, how much the work was, but, , I think we adapted really well and I felt really good going into it. So it was a, is a very good happy hour to figure out how to switch up that plan.
I thought there was a happy hour involved in that. I've gotten a few texts and emails the day after those kind of things. It's kind of fun how that works. But that's great. So yeah, you were an NCA coach. How long were you coaching for?
Cathy Casey (05:11.11)
I coached at Southern Methodist University in Dallas for 18 years. So I started off as a volunteer and then became a head cross country coach and then the director of the whole program. So kind of a cool progression there. So yeah, we had some good success. So yeah.
Wow, that's a big time program. That's not like a little D3 school. That's awesome. And so do you stay in touch with a lot of your runners still and have good contact with some of them? Yeah.
Cathy Casey (05:34.074)
I do, I do. And they are just so awesome because one of my runners, they were, you know, posting when after I went to Kona, like she trained us through all these Ironmans. We won championships and you can do it. And she, you know, it's just, it's, they are just my inspiration. So I just love, I love being a coach and then also seeing my athletes get so much joy from it, just seeing their coach out there. It's pretty cool. So, and I'm not as fast as them, but you know, it's still get motivation from them. Exactly, exactly.
Yeah, you know, you, right, but you, you get what you give back, right? That's the, that's the fun part about being the coach. That's awesome. And so then, , so was Texas your best Ironman to date? Was that the best race you've had?
Cathy Casey (06:07.262)
It was the best race that I put together in a full race. You know, I've had good runs, I've had, you know, good swims, whatever. But that one was, was hands down the most complete race and the strongest I've ever felt. , I just, I felt like I could run like myself off the bike. And that was just attributed to all those really long brick workouts you gave me that I think felt completely impossible when I first looked at them. And then it's just, as you progress, you just trust the process and you're like, no,
Full, yeah. Sure.
Cathy Casey (06:37.01)
each week I'm going to be able to do this. And I just had to trust you as a coach and be like, okay, this isn't crazy. He knows I can do this. And I just kept going at it. And then when I got there, it wasn't so hard, I guess. And you know, it's always hard. But I had done those hours. I had put in the work. So when I got there, it wasn't that unfamiliar, that feeling to be able to run off the bike and do the things that I had done week in and week out leading up to it. So.
Right. Good. Yeah. That's just, you know, it's some of that, , just repeatability of doing that week after week. And obviously it's mentally hard saying, okay, I'm going to get off and run an hour. I'm going to get off and run 90 minutes or, you know, some of the things. And I know, I think we were, we were kind of up against it a little bit going into the race when you kind of, you know, we, we changed plans and all that. And, you know, I'm always going to say, let's go for it. Let's see what happens. , you know, in the back of my head, I'm kind of like, okay, let's, let's just see how this goes, but let's, let's see how the first few long workouts go, but you're, you know, you're so mentally tough. I mean, that's never
Cathy Casey (07:13.579)
And you are someone who sits on the bike for hours on the trainer and you don't have an issue with it. And that's, I don't know a lot of people that can do that. I think it's dedicated. I don't think it's crazy.
Cathy Casey (07:38.194)
Yeah. I think I'm crazy that way. So I just find it very relaxing. It's just, it's been, I think as when I was a coach, everything in my life was very crazy with travel, with, you know, everything. And then training for Ironman was my time. And it was just like my happy place to be long time in the pool, long time on the bike, whatever. It was just my time for me, which is just kind of why I just love this sport so much.
Right, right. So, , got through Texas, then you got a little injury going into Hawaii, little Achilles thing going on. So tell me a little bit about, you know, obviously it wasn't traditional run training, but you did something else to kind of help you talk, talk about that a little bit in terms of just, you know, how you.
Cathy Casey (08:09.206)
Cathy Casey (08:22.67)
Yeah, so I think it kind of just stems back from, you know, being a college coach and we had a very small team and I figured out like, you know, being around elite athletes, there's a way to get it done, especially when you have that elite mindset, you have to figure out as a coach how to figure like what can be done and I say can in all caps, because there's always a solution to something and I think when you look at it, you try to get the best team of people around you.
to tell you how something can be done and something in a productive way, not a maladaptive way, something that's productive. How do I do this? And so what are my tools that I have available? And I think just being out there, I understood all the different ways I could get this. Coached an NCAA runner-up who was in the pool right up until we put her out there on the track. I know it can be done and I know how hard, it's not fun, it's not fun. I think I texted you and I said, I'm in a lake.
Cathy Casey (09:18.382)
doing my long run for two and a half hours. And you were kind of like, what the? But that's the stuff that you just, if you want something bad enough, you figure out a way to get it done. And roadblocks are not really in my mindset. So if that's what it takes to put on my little aqua jogger belt and go out in the quarry and do loops, then that's what it takes. However, I was happy when I found an iPod in my drawer that I could listen to music after a while because that was pretty bad.
I'm going to go ahead and turn it off.
Cathy Casey (09:46.282)
But you know you have you have great tools like alter-g treadmill you have Aqua jogging you have you know in travel on the sport in of itself You know I could spend more time in the pool or you know getting my bike in so you know where there's a will There's a way and when I'm really have my mindset on something I'm gonna go to all the people who can tell me what I can do and how to figure that out
Yeah, I love that. I love that. And you know, it's interesting. I, , you know, I've coached different sports and with youth sports and obviously triathlon be my profession, I'm coaching my profession. I've always had people say, I can't do this. And I'm like, well, I don't really care about what you can't do. Like, tell me what you can do and we'll work from there. Right. Like that's always the key. , and that's just that positive mindset, but you know, your, , yeah, your positive mindset is exceptional. And, , I admire that about you a hundred percent. It is amazing that you never had a bad email. You never said like, you know, F this, I hate it.
Cathy Casey (10:33.442)
And I'm sure you hated it. I'm sure that was in your head, but you...
Cathy Casey (10:40.458)
Yeah, it wasn't fun. And you know, after the doctor had told me, okay, no more running on ground. Uh, I might've had a little bit of a bad day, but you know, you give yourself 24 hours and you're like, okay, suck it up, let's go. And it's just like racing out there, you know, where it goes up and down. Either you, you can wallow in it or you can figure out how to get it done. And, , that's the beauty of being an athlete. I just think that that's the fun part of it shows who you, you know, what you really can do. So.
Yeah, of course, of course.
No, yeah, absolutely. I agree. So yeah, I think that's, like I've said, that's just a huge tool in your toolbox that you use, and that's totally to your advantage. So you went into Kona, you got there, did your first run outside in a while. It's super hot and hid. Yep. So tell me, did you do the swim on the Sunday before the race?
Cathy Casey (11:18.942)
Yeah, thank you.
Cathy Casey (11:24.45)
Yeah, the Tuesday before the race, so there you go.
Cathy Casey (11:33.354)
I didn't. I got there on Monday and then I did the swim, the coffee boat swim and tested out the water. I'm pretty comfortable in open water, so I just thought it was the most amazing swim you could possibly do. So the clear water, you could see the fish and the whole thing. It was... It was amazing. I loved it. So yeah, I was excited about the swim.
It's like swimming in an aquari, that's what I always say.
Awesome, awesome. So tell me, just yeah, take us through the Ironman, take us through the day and how it all went.
Cathy Casey (12:02.226)
Well, I think the lead up, you know, it's just something I said, even as a little girl, I was watching this race on TV and just, you know, it's just something that I could just never imagine myself being there, but also could imagine myself. So when I got there, it was almost like pinching yourself, is this real? I mean, just the lead up, all the stuff they have for athletes all week long. And I know you had said like, take advantage of, you know, as much stuff as you can, but also rest. So it was, you know, the
running down the street in your underwear, or you were doing the coffee boat swim, you were listening to the pros, the top people in the sport talk about everything. And there was so much, you just wish you could keep going back and listening to it. But I think the lead up, the walking in, the racking your bike, the whole thing was seriously a dream come true. And then I knew I wasn't 100% and I can't lie to myself at that, where you just gotta go with it and whatever that day was gonna give me.
Cathy Casey (12:57.13)
But you had told me to have fun and my family, have fun out there. This is your chance just to really enjoy all that hard work that you put into it. And I think it was a combo of putting in all the hard work because honestly, I don't know if I've ever worked so hard leading up into an Ironman before. All the hours on the Alter G, all the bikes, I don't know how many six hour, six plus hour bikes I did.
Cathy Casey (13:21.942)
But I think all that allowed me to have fun and enjoy it. And I was out there doing the Hainton Chaka symbol. I was doing everything, like high-fiving people. I think that we, someone's playing Sweet Caroline down in the energy lab, and I might've done a little nber off there. And I just wanted to have fun. Like, it was just, this was just something that I knew probably was gonna be really a hard day for me. But I...
Cathy Casey (13:51.394)
did the best I could. I went out there and gave it 100% effort. Wasn't my fastest time of my life, but it didn't matter because I know I crossed the line and that's what I had to give on that day. And I had a blast doing it. It was the hardest, most epic, fun thing I've ever done. The wind somehow between mile 80 and 98 slowed my bike down nearly to a halt. But you know, I was still smiling. I mean, you look to the right and you have this gorgeous ocean, you have lava fields. It was awesome.
Yeah, that's awesome. So Swim was, I mean, I think you went in the last wave, right? The way they had set it up. So, and so you had a lot of people to pass, I'm sure, in front of you and you're probably passing people the entire Swim. Yeah, was it?
Cathy Casey (14:27.32)
Yeah, I was the last wave.
Cathy Casey (14:33.23)
Yeah, it's a very congested swim because most people there are all about the same speed. So you really just have to learn how to navigate, find your holes, swim as straight a line as you can. And yeah, it was better on the going out and then once you turn, then you started swimming through people. So that was made the second half a little more challenging. But yeah, it was pretty, it was a very congested swim. But
really back up with people.
Cathy Casey (15:00.094)
I think that I learned a lot from Ironman Texas. That also was a pretty congested swim on how to navigate that pretty well. So all of, you know, you learn something from each race that you do and you can take it into these championship races and kind of learn from that. So.
Yeah, absolutely. And then, uh, the bike, I mean, obviously you're probably passing people on the bike when you first got on the out and back in town, a Pilani out the queen K and relatively no wind for a while, right.
Cathy Casey (15:26.406)
Yeah, yeah, going out. I mean, it was it was awesome. I mean, I was like, this is this is fantastic. And then, you know, it's just like, oh, wait, oh, wait, oh, get down an arrow and let's go. And, you know, again, it's like doing Cozel. I know what that feels like. You just have to grind it out. You keep your watts in the right place and you do the best that you can to get through there and get out safely so you can get back on the run. Is that that's how my mindset works?
Right. So the climb to Pilani, was that an issue at all? I mean, you've done a lot of strength work this year and a lot of big gear stuff on the bike. So was that a challenge or seemed to be okay?
Cathy Casey (15:57.806)
I don't know.
I was actually very okay. I was comfortable on the bike and I was good and had no problem. Yeah. Felt strong.
Good, good. And then nutrition was solid the whole way, right? Seemed to stick to your plan.
Cathy Casey (16:11.81)
Yeah, the nutrition was solid on the bike, had some stomach issues on the run. So that's always been my downfall on the run. So someday we'll figure that part out so that I will not get sick on the run. But you know what, again, you navigate it the best you can. And once that came on and with my Achilles, I just started to, I wanted to play it smart. So at the beginning, walking uphill.
Cathy Casey (16:36.002)
doing the things that I knew I could control. So later on in the race that I didn't have a complete meltdown. So if that meant walking the aid stations, trying to figure out how to manage that the best I could, because it is pretty much on the run. It's an uphill from mile seven to, you know, 14 ish. It's not a severe uphill, but it's a, it's an uphill. So you just have to manage it. And I was just trying to balance that with making sure my Achilles was in a good place.
That's all gradual up though for sure.
Cathy Casey (17:01.634)
And I think I did that to the best of my ability because, you know, I just, it was going to be what it's going to be. And I tried to run as smart as I could on that. So.
Right. What was your plan on the run? Was it just walk the hills, run the downhills, or was it three on, three off, or what was?
Cathy Casey (17:15.31)
It just kind of, it was dictated on my body. And when I knew I could run, I would run. And funny enough is my stomach was just after mile 10 was just not, not doing well. And so, which is not an unfamiliar thing to me. So I'm like, okay, solutions. I look at the table and figure out what I can do. So I started taking broth, which they had out there which was pretty much the only thing that sounded good. So I would do water and then broth and then.
Cathy Casey (17:42.474)
I came to life. So, Energy Lab was the best portion of my run, really, where I just kind of started really going to town. And I could hit my paces again. I felt great. And then I came out around mile 18, 19-ish, and the aid station had no more broth. They were in between. So everyone around me started going, run for soup. And so I just took off.
So we all just were going to the next aid station trying to find the next broth that was available. So after that, I think just missing that it really kind of made a difference. I just couldn't quite get back onto my nutrition. And you know, it happens. You do the best that you can and try to figure out solutions. And sometimes there isn't a solution and you have to suck it up and try to figure out how to get to the finish line. So.
Cathy Casey (18:31.986)
And that's just kind of what happened. And then as soon as you start hearing people start yelling, then you immediately come back to life to what I'm like, I am finishing this thing. No one's gonna stop me. I'm getting the medals. So that was fun.
Right. Did you get the big quad burn going down Pallani? Yeah.
Cathy Casey (18:46.074)
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. My legs are a little bit shot at that point. So I was going, Oh, no, no. But you just get so much energy from the crowd and people yelling and screaming at every language. And it's just it was so cool. So.
Yeah. It's amazing, the crowd is amazing, you know, when you start coming down Pilani and then toward the finish, it's so packed with people, you know, especially going out and back, right? And then that lonely stretch on the Queen K before you turn into the Energy Lab is just kind of lonely out there. Yeah.
Cathy Casey (19:03.598)
Cathy Casey (19:09.654)
And it's very lonely and very dark. I don't know if I've quite, I run in the morning before the sun comes up and I don't know if I've experienced darkness quite on that level before. It gets very lonely, but you know.
Like the sun is literally at the other side of the world at that point. So it's like, you are the first from the sun. Right, that's awesome.
Cathy Casey (19:24.094)
Yeah, yeah. It's it. Yeah, it's very, very dark. So, but yeah, it was an absolute blast. Yeah.
Cool, cool. And you want to go back, right? Yeah? We've got your question. Awesome, awesome. Well, this has been great. Anything else you want to add about your training or tips for people that are trying to qualify and haven't done it in a long time and they keep trying, but they run up against things? And you?
Cathy Casey (19:33.734)
Uh, yeah. Absolutely.
Cathy Casey (19:51.578)
I would say tips to just stay at it. You know, I just think, I know it sounds trite, but it's like you learn something every time you go out there. You figure out new solutions to things that maybe you need to work on for the next one and push yourself. Go to that place where, you know, like set a goal, dream big and go after it. But I think that you take all that experience that you have from every single session that you do, trust your coach.
You know, I feel like if I do the work, I can't look back and say, oh, what a shoulda, coulda, you know, you gotta go all in, go for it. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't mean the end of the world, there's another race out there. So sign up for something else. And maybe, you know, I took two years to, during COVID and I went, I quote, dropped down to the 70.3 distance, worked on things that I needed to work on. And then I went back up and I kind of put all those pieces together.
Cathy Casey (20:47.306)
and then really made it happen. And so all that stuff kind of came to play and you just have to keep at it and it will happen. You just have to like have that mindset that it's, you know, take care of business and go for it. So, and get a good coach. Thanks.
I love it. Thanks. All right. Well, it was great talking. I really appreciate the time and this has been great and you're such an inspiration. And I just, the positive attitude just blows me away. And that's the one thing I can say that all the bps and bruises you went through this year, I never got an email that was negative or I can't do that. It was just amazing. I was like, oh, here it comes. I mean, you can only take so many body punches, you know, and...
Cathy Casey (21:22.156)
No, I just think you have to just keep at it because there's no sense in thinking of the bad. I mean, and there is, it's not all roses all the time, but you really do have to kind of think of what you can do in all caps. It's super important in this long course racing.
Yeah, I mean, you know, in one way, the way I always frame it in my mind, or what are my choices here? Right. Like not finished. Like that's not a choice. Right. So I got to keep going. I got to keep plugging away and I've got to keep figuring it out. Yeah.
Cathy Casey (21:46.891)
Yeah, you can wallow in it, you can feel bad for yourself, or you can keep on and figure out, okay, I gotta get this done and we're gonna do this. And I always sit there and my husband laughs at me because I talk to myself all the time when I'm on my indoor trainer, he's like, you got this. It's just like, you're so crazy. It just helps me, because that's just like, if no one's there, I gotta motivate myself and I gotta just figure out what I can do, so.
Yeah, no, I think.
Cathy Casey (22:15.446)
But that's why I love this sport and I love just like testing my limits and seeing what's possible. So. Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for having me. Okay.
I love it. I love it. All right. Well, thanks for chatting. You bet.