Monday, July 28, 2014

Amber Ferreira Wins Ironman Lake Placid

There have been numerous studies looking at how intrinsic factors(i.e. inner drive) are more effective motivators and are better at sustaining high levels of performance than external factors(societal and economic amongst others). Amber has always had that inner drive; motivated purely by the love of competition and physical activity. Training partners flaking out of workouts, having to resort to doing 10+ mile training runs in negative zero temperature or spending 4+ hours on the trainer staring at a cinder block wall, she had that drive. She did triathlon because she loved it and because it helped her focus and sort out any other problems in her life.

Triathlon, however, is a cruel mistress. This year instead of viewing it as the source of joy that she had for so long, she started seeing it as a hindrance impacting other aspects of her life. While not letting on that anything was wrong(have any of you ever seen her without a smile on her face?), she was struggling with whether she even wanted to continue to race competitively on the Ironman circuit. Two days before Ironman Texas, she still wasn't sure whether she even wanted to race. She spent more days than she'd like to recall questioning everything that she had committed to.

This inner struggle had nothing to do with triathlon itself but rather personal issues that made her question her life's path. And this was the first time since I've known her where her inner fire seemed gone. But while she may have wanted to quit, she also did not want to let anyone down so she kept on training and encouraging others to live healthy and fulfilling lives. No matter how badly she was feeling herself she always supported others and was a positive light for so many people. She may not have necessarily wanted to race, but she saw the value of inspiring health and wellness in the population so she continued to encourage and support others long after she wanted to be done herself. 

It was these same people(many of whom are probably reading this blog now) that kept her in the game. By helping others she also was helped. Whether it was a hug, positive words of encouragement, or people traveling hundreds of miles to watch her race, she began to use these extrinsic motivators to keep her from quitting and to work even harder so she wouldn't disappoint.

Now this might not be a long-term solution for dealing with other aspects of life that needed attending to, but it worked for the short-term and allowed Amber to re-evaluate what she wanted both as an athlete and an individual. These past few months have been a blessing in disguise as she is likely now to live a more balanced life while still being a competitive athlete. And luckily, it appears that while Amber's inner fire may have burned a little less brightly for a bit, it was not extinguished and will burn brightly once again. I hope you will continue to join her on that journey.

Oh yeah, she also had a race this past weekend. A little old thing called Ironman Lake Placid.
Danny and Amber morning of the race. Ready to kick some butt
Amber stayed in Lake Placid while I was in the town of Jay, supposedly only twenty minutes outside of town. However, after nearly 40 minutes of driving, I realized I was duped. I arrived in time to greet Amber and Andrew Fast as they were about to warm up for the swim. Amber was thirsty and asked me to get her a water. After running this way and that(otherwise known as with my head cut off), I finally found a water bottle(I apologize to whatever TriClub I took that from). I run back to give it to her before the start of the race. Only, instead, I was stopped by a large burly fellow, who wouldn't let me through.
Security Guard:Only Athletes past this point
Danny[flashing his VIP badge]:I just have to drop this off with my athlete, Amber Ferreira
Security Guard: Not a chance. Nobody gets through.
Danny:Come on man, she is a pro and needs this before the gun goes off.
Security Guard:Nobody gets through.
Danny: Seriously, you're being ridiculous, this is for a PROFESSIONAL triathlete, let me through!
Security Guard: Not a chance, never heard of her.
Danny: Listen you [expletive], you will hear of her when she's standing on the [expletive] podium!

I then proceeded to run past him, and skirt the throngs of age-groupers to get Amber her water. Only to have her take a sip, say Thanks Danny and get back in the water.
The life of a sherpa.

I then settled in for the long day ahead. I watched Amber get out of the water, in third place and ham it up with the fans as she run to the T1 transition.
Amber exiting the water
Amber hamming it up
A blurry view of Amber
Amber's first sponsor, MC Cycles, owner Myles Chase and her sister Deidre, joined me as we drove the course cheering Amber on. By the time we saw her the first time, the heavens opened and it was pouring rain. In addition to thunder and lightening. We saw her right around mile 20 in 1st place(she caught the first two racers in the first 20 miles!! crazy!). 

It continued to rain as we drove to the second spot to view Amber, around mile 45. She had over a 2 minute lead on second place and another five on third. Things were looking good but it was really early in the race and so many things can go wrong. Breath was being held.
We saw Amber once more on the bike around mile 66 and she looked strong and apparently felt good enough to break her aero position to say hello. At that point she had almost a five minute lead on 2nd!!!!

While Amber continued biking, Myles, Deidre and I drove back into town, had lunch and had time to get a good parking spot. Yes that's how much you can do in 46 miles of riding. Or you can take over a two hour nap or watch a two hour movie... The point is: riding 112 miles is bloody long and the sad fact is you still have a marathon(26.2 miles ALWAYS) afterwards.
Amber headed out on the marathon with about a five minute lead on second place. I'm not sure she was running scared but I was certainly scared. She has never led an Ironman after the bike and while her run is good(she is a runner after all), she seems to struggle with GI issues during triathlons. And yet, at mile 12 she was still looking strong and had actually had gained over a minute on second.
Is that Amber smiling at mile 12 of the marathon??? Of course

Due to the nature of the out and back course, after mile 13, I didn't see Amber again until mile 24. I can tell you that that hour and 10 minutes were probably some of the longest in my life. I sent out as many good vibes as I could (as I am sure many of you did as well) and soon enough I saw Amber returning... I waited another four and half minutes just to see if another racer would be on her heels but didn't see anyone so I headed to the finish.
Having Audra Tassone, the run director, as a friend was immensely helpful as she let me into the finish line chute so I could see Amber as she finished. I am sure she will describe how she felt when she writes up her blog, but I can tell you that it was definitely a tear-producing moment.
Watching Amber weep as she crossed the finish line was heart-wrenching and made me realize just how close she was to giving it all up and how bittersweet this victory was for her. She deserved this win and I hope that it was the spark she needed to get the fire inside blazing again. 
She couldn't bask in the glory for long though because shortly after she finished(probably because she sat down to give an interview), she became light-headed and I had to help her to the medical tent. The nurse with us said I could come in but I was stopped... by the SAME security guard from the morning! Unbelievable. He took one look at me and said no way is this guy going in... After a few minutes of awkwardly sitting across from him waiting for Amber, I apologized for my furtive behavior and we got to talking. Come to find out he had been on duty since the night before and was exhausted. He was impressed with Amber's finish and said he now would recognize her name. He also in no uncertain terms, said that if I tried sneaking by him again he would not hesitate to knock my [expletive] to the ground.
It goes to show that you can assume somebody's motives by their actions but you never really know how or why someone is acting the way they are. Just while I was sitting and waiting for Amber(who by the way was sipping on copious amounts of chicken broth and geting the royal treatment-day spa-esque), I saw at least five athlete coaches or family members pull the same crap I had and also treat this guy badly. It reminded me that the way others treat you is their karma but the way you respond is yours.

I apologized again, this time more sincerely, and helped Amber back to the hotel. Along the way we stopped at Starbucks where she was treated like a celebrity and had her coffee paid for. If only we could get her a Starbucks sponsorship!
UP NEXT:  If Amber is to pursue Kona dreams, she will need to be on the start line at Ironman Mont Tremblant. We will see. Either way, I know that she would love your support and kind words. Next time you see her, make sure you let her know how much you have been inspired by all that she does. I know that I have. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 Ironman Lake Placid Pro Start List

In little over a week, Amber will be racing in Ironman Lake Placid. This will be likely her last chance to qualify for Kona and after looking at the points she'll need to get, it certainly will be close. After a strong start to her Ironman season with a 3rd place finish at Ironman Texas, Amber will be racing in only her second Ironman distance race of the year which makes it hard to get the points she needs to qualify for Kona. She did already qualify for the 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant in September which is pretty darn amazing considering she definitely didn't build her schedule around 70.3 points.

 Placid will always be a special race for her as this was where she first qualified to race as a professional triathlete, as well as where she would train when S2 was still together. This will be her third time racing Placid, second as a pro. Her first time as a pro did not go smoothly as she broke a spoke in transition and hung out in transition until some one was able to get her a 650 wheel. Riding 700 Enve wheels on her Argon 18 bike will give her more confidence to ride hard and strong and I'm expecting to see a podium finish again for her.

This field is definitely the smallest that she's faced but there are some really strong triathletes that will make sure to challenge Amber every kick, stroke and step of the way. Here's the start list:

  1. Amanda Stevens
  2. Amber Ferreira
  3. Rachel Jastrebsky
  4. Jessica Jones Meyers
  5. Amanda Kourtz
  6. Leslie Lamacchia
  7. Kristin Lemos
  8.  Lisa Roberts
  9. Darbi Roberts
  10. Robin Sandos
  11. Kim Schwabenbauer
  12. Kathryn Thomas
  13. Kristyn Tobey
So only thirteen women look to be toeing the line but in that list you have the ever-present threat for QT2, an awesome bike-runner and an amazing swimmer to contend with. Hopefully there won't be any blocking fiascos like at Eagleman and Amber can race her race which I suspect will be a good one.
Stay Tuned! July 27th!

Monday, July 7, 2014

2014 US Mountain Running Championships

Two weekends ago, while Amber was training like a mad-woman up in Mont Tremblant, I was hanging out with my friends and family playing paintball and going to Brewfest up in Lincoln, NH. This weekend we went back up there for Amber to compete in the US Mountain Running Championships.

While I was at Brewfest, I ran into several people who read this blog which was kind of cool except that I soon realized that I had very little to talk about with them. Here's how one conversation went with one reader and one non-reader:
Reader: Man, so Alaska was awesome huh?
Danny: Yeah I had a blast, the hiking was spectacular and the wildlife amazing and...
Non-reader: Where did you hike?
Danny: Well I did some hiking in Denali and....
Reader: He hiked Mt Healy, Eileson and did the Primrose ridge in Denali and tell her about Mount Marathon.
Danny: Ummm. Mt Marathon was crazy...
Reader: Oh yeah with all that scree, it sounded awful. I can't believe that people race that!
Non-reader:  Did you see any Grizzly bears?
Reader: He saw Grizzlies, caribou, moose, fox, humpback whale, sea lions, puffins, and bald eagles!
Non-reader: Wow it sounds like you had a blast. Enjoy brewfest!
Danny: Thanks. It was nice talking with you.

This seems to happen to me fairly frequently which means that I need to purposefully withhold a few morsels of fun facts that I don't write about in my blog just so I can have actual conversations with people. Therefore when we meet in person we with have something to talk about rather than just recount. For instance, next time you see me ask me how the US mountain running championships went for Amber.

Up Next: Ironman Lake Placid(July 27th-Amber)

Okay! I cannot hold out any longer and I need to talk about Amber's race(that is about the extent of my willpower).  So here's my race report of the US Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain:

I met Amber up in Bethlehem Friday evening as she was coming right from a week long camp in Mont Tremblant. While I was proud of myself for an hour run in the morning, Amber had already biked three hours and done a run by the time I met up with her.
Note: I like Amber the most right after she does epic adventures and is tired and hungry. This was no exception. We ended up having two dinners(Thai and Italian) sandwiched between a visit to a brewery, Chutters and a movie(22 Jump Street). Not a bad start to the weekend :)
The next morning we continued the gluttony with a visit to Polly's Pancake Parlor where we topped off our carbohydrate stores.

We then went for a little hike up to Ripley Falls which we had always avoided because it was too short. Not for Amber that day. She kept on lagging behind and needing rest breaks. And she is going to do a five mile race up a mountain the next day?!!!
After the hike, we went to the river where we proceeded to sleep on the rocks(did I mention how much I love spending time with Amber when she has totally depleted her energy stores?), and jump in the water.
Then it was time for more food. Bailiwicks in Littleton for lunch, Chutters for a top-off of our candy needs, and then back to the Italian restaurant for dinner.
Amber and our friend Brian Lavoie before race start
When the alarm went off a 5am the next morning, I was jarred back to reality. No more sleeping in. Time for Amber's race. After a quick stop at White Mountain Bagel for a breakfast sandwich and coffee, we made it to Loon Mountain around 6:30 and the parking lot was already full. We saw a lot of our racing friends as well as some elite runners from out west. Amber said that she would be happy with a top ten finish with a field so deep.
As predicted by the fast field, the race took off FAST! I think the girls were running sub 5:30's for the first half mile and Amber went through the first mile(which included a sizable hill) around 6:15-and was probably in 25th place! So much for a mountain run. However, it did start to rise significantly which did thin the herd a bit. Amber was 10-15th when I saw her again about 2 miles into it looking strong on the uphills, only to get passed on every descent.
Photo #1
Photo #2
The two pictures above are a perfect example of how it went down for Amber for the first half of the race. As you can see from evidence #1, Amber is descending with no one in sight. Moments later, she gets passed by 3-4 girls. In photo #2 you can see her make her way to catch back up to them.
I was certainly glad I had rested all weekend because it was quite the challenge to run to each spot to cheer Amber on. I actually missed her at a few spots because she was going too fast. I was able to get to the summit before her and was able to see her make up huge ground on the girl ahead of her, only to fall short by 3 seconds. Still, she finished with a strong 8th place finish which is really quite remarkable when you consider what she did as a "taper".
Upper Walking Boss to the finish
After taking the gondola back down to the summit, we were able to cheer on the men's start before heading over to the river to cool down. After much peer-pressure, Amber got me to jump off the cliffs into the cold water. It was a wonderful end to a fun weekend.

If you look closely you can see a little river rat

 Congrats to everyone who raced Loon as it was certainly quite the challenge and don't forget to tune in to watch Amber kick butt at Ironman Lake Placid on July 27th.

Oh yeah, and next time you see me, I'll try to talk about something that I haven't already mentioned in this blog ;)