I’m still at a lost for words that I completed Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City on September 17. I’m still shocked at what three months of working with Coach Heather Leiggi did to my confidence levels in such short time.
Before I get into my journey; let me introduce myself. I am a triathlete of 13 years, most of my friends referring to me as a veteran in the sport. I’ve done sprints to full irons. I’m sometimes surprised I’ve lasted this long. Being a triathlete is hard enough but managing the depression diagnosis and anxiety attacks makes being a triathlete that much harder. The depression brings negative thoughts and self doubt. The anxiety brings me to wander if those around me dislike me and judge me. When I found out in October 2016 that I made the TriEqual Equally Inspiring Team and found out that pro triathlete Heather Leiggi; the first thing I did was talked to my therapist (psychologist) and asked her if it would be ok to tell Heather about the depression and possibly the anxiety. My therapist said yes to that. I had already friended Heather on Facebook so it was easy to message her and tell her about all my mental health issues I faced. With the anxiety high I thought “heck she’ll hate me and judge me and be like NOPE don’t want to deal with this girl EVER”. I was very wrong about those thoughts my anxiety stirred up. Heather was happy I told her and she said she’s NOT the one to judge and was here to guide me through the process. That cleared the anxiety for the moment.
My training wasn’t starting until June 17, 2017 since my goal race was Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City on September 17, 2017; but I had plans of trying to meet Heather before my journey with the training plans began. We had many conversations on Facebook messenger and via email about what this whole thing would entail with her as my coach but I was just dying to meet her. Heather lived in Delaware and I live in Maryland, so a few hours away. We met for the first time on June 10, 2017 when she raced Ironman 70.3 Eagleman in Cambridge Maryland. I had driven out to watch friends and volunteer at the Finish Line to medal athletes. I met her before the race when she was in transition. I was in awe of her already just watching her set up everything for her race. We chatted for a bit before she was off to race. I saw her start her swim in the Choptank, saw her exit on the bike, and YES I put that Finisher Medal around her neck when she crossed through the finisher archway. As soon as that moment happened I knew my journey was about to begin.
Training Is Now Underway…
Heather uses TrainingPeaks with her athletes to keep track of them and their workout data. I had just bought a Garmin 735xt after my Garmin 310xt of 8 years died on me. I was told to sync Garmin Connect to TrainingPeaks so Heather could see what was going on. I logged into TrainingPeaks for the first time to see my first workout; which thankfully was the day before my first triathlon of the season, the Rev3 Montclair Triathlon in Montclair Virginia. Super easy; 30 minute bike and 15 minute run, I SO had this.
My first triathlon of the season started with a bang. The sprint triathlon in Northern Virginia consisted of a 750 meter open water swim in a clear and gorgeous lake, a 12 mile rolling hills bike, and 3.1 mile rolling hills run. With the exception of making a rookie mistake of having to go back to transition after T2 to fetch my forgotten race number; I had a spectacular triathlon. I placed 6th in the gals 30-34 age group with the second fastest swim time and third fastest bike time in age group. I immediately Facebook messaged Heather and let her know. She messaged me back about how that was great BUT results aren’t everything. That set the tone for my training for the next three months and taught me a valuable lesson in my head.
I was coming off a huge high from Montclair Tri and was ready to dig into the training. I saw my first week of workouts and about flipped out when I saw details. There was no way in anyone’s land I could do this. My first workout with Heather as my coach was just a simple master’s swim workout with L4 Swimming; my local masters swim team. My body was tired and frustrated that Tuesday and I cried my way through 1 hour and 30 minutes of swimming. I come from a competitive swimming background so it just caught me off guard that I hated swimming at that moment. I came home and emailed Heather and told her I wanted to pull the plug and just give in. This was the first sign of low confidence and self doubt. She replied back to my lengthy email and said to not do that so quickly. I told her in reply that I would give it another day and I’m happy I did. After an awful swim on Tuesday; my first official Heather workout which was an interval bike workout was FABULOUS. I felt great after and was so thrilled that I gave it another chance.
My next triathlon wasn’t until the end of August so it was just Marci vs. Heather’s training plans for the next two months. As the weeks went on the training got more and more intense. My weekday bike workouts were filled with some harsh heart rate zone training intervals. I was still getting used to the heart rate zone training thing on the bike. Staying at an easy-ish Zone 2 was easy but getting into Zone 3 or above was never going to happen. My run workouts during the week were Zone 2 runs so that was nothing. I swam two days a week with L4 Swimming so I only had insane Heather mid and long distance swim workouts once a week. I shared all my workouts for Friday with my swim team friends and coach; to them it was like “Have Fun” with a fake smile. UGH, I was totally falling into a phase where I hated my training, hated my coach (Sorry Heather), and hated that I even accepted my spot on the Equally Inspiring Team. My confidence was at an all time low. How could I get through weekend long rides and long runs if I couldn’t imagine training on a weekday?
With no races my time on the bike built from 2 hours to 3 hours like that. The brick runs thank goodness were short 20 to 30 minute runs; while my stand alone long runs were a little over an hour long.
Going Out To Delaware…
Middle of July I made a short drive to Delaware to train with Heather on a day where I had a 2 ½ hour bike followed by a 20 minute brick run. The night before I went out I barely slept; I was nervous about Heather seeing how sucky of a cyclist and runner I was. I must have gotten only a few hours of good sleep before the alarm went off. The drive was only about 2 ½ hours across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and through Maryland’s Eastern Shore and through middle of no where Delaware. In true Marci fashion I got there well before 9 am which was out meeting time and of course Heather was running late. When she finally got to our meeting spot and once I finally stopped procrastinating on getting my act together we rolled out. It was a nice ride but boy did it get my anxiety going. We were rolling slow, I wasn’t keeping up with my nutrition on a warm day; things were not going well. I was happy once we rolled up to my car almost 3 hours later. Time for a quick run now. It was getting hot and all I wanted to do was walk. About 10 minutes into the 20 minute brick run I asked Heather if I could walk. She laughed and said she’d kick my butt. At that time it made for a good laugh. Once we were done with the workout we went out to lunch and ice cream because we needed to re-fuel. It was a nice a change of pace to get away from DC but I was ready to get back and train in familiar places.
Leading Up To IronGirl Columbia Triathlon…
Two more months went by of insane Heather workouts. My long rides had reached 4 hours with brick runs of 1 hour following the ride. My stand alone long runs were now at a little over a 1 hour 20 minutes in length. If my weekend workouts weren’t killing me enough; my weekday workouts were another story. Trying to fit in swim, bike, and run workouts during the week was nuts; especially when I had two disciplines in one day. Thoughts of “I Can’t Do This” crept in a lot and once again I wanted to pull the plug but this time I didn’t bother to tell Heather of that thought; I didn’t want to disappoint her anymore than I already felt like I was.
I had intentionally missed workouts because of my depressive state. When the depression hits, it hits. I wouldn’t get out of bed when I had no reason to. I would just lay under my covers and cry like a baby. I didn’t care because all I knew Heather hated me and we were done as a coach athlete pair.
As IronGirl Columbia Triathlon in Columbia Maryland on August 20 approached my anxiety hit an all time; but it had NOTHING to do with Heather this time. Since my dad was coming out to cheer and spectate it was overwhelming. Because I had a great race and performance at Rev3 Montclair Triathlon in June, all my dad said for days was “how long will it take you” and “what time will you start” and “what time will you be done”. I had immediately contacted Heather and flipped out on her. I wanted to not race even though this was a bucket list race for so many years being in my backyard. Heather had said that even her own dad did that to her as well. She said parents do that because they care and want to see their kid happy. UGH; I so wanted IronGirl to be done.
Race Weekend was AMAZING beyond belief. I had gone to packet pickup and racked my bike in transition the day before as that was protocol. I saw many triathlon friends and made many new ones. Once again my day before race day workout was a 30 minute ride and 15 minute run. I ended up because of circumstances going to packet pickup then going over to Centennial Park to do my pre race ride and run. I also helped some newbie and nervous IronGirls get their bike racked and showed them swim in and out, bike in and out, run out and the finish line. I was ready to go. Overall, my 1000 meter open water swim, 16 mile rolling hills bike, and 3.1 mile rolling hills run was fantastic. I really knocked this triathlon out of the park and for the first time I smiled the whole way. I had placed 6th in my age group and 31st overall out of quite a big field. I was on a high for days to come. The only thing that brought me down though was thinking about Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City in New Jersey because that was the next thing and final thing on the schedule.
Making Goals But Not Time Related…
Now that the little build up races were complete it was time to start thinking about things related to Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City. Heather was genius in the thought of making up non time related goals. I had to think hard for a few days about what I wanted to them to be but I got down to it. I had emailed them to her and she had told me to memorize them and that she liked the last one the most.
I can’t believe it; I’ve made it to race weekend. My time to shine was getting so close and yet it seemed so scary. The “what ifs” started to circle my head constantly as I made the 3 ½ hour drive from the Maryland suburbs to Atlantic City. Once I arrived at Bader Field and was checked in with my wrist band on; there was NO turning back. I was in Atlantic City New Jersey about to accomplish something so spectacular that I had to hold tears back. Everything seemed to come together. Friday night I had dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s and explored the Tanger Outlet Mall to keep my mind off things. I kept it at a minimum when it came to talking to family and friends. I didn’t want someone to say something to throw me off guard because I had to start focusing on everything 70.3. I was exhausted from all things Friday that I hit the pillow at 8:30 and was out for the night.
Saturday featured being suckered into volunteering at the Kids Fun Run; making sure kids were reunited with their families once they finished either the ¼ mile or ½ mile run. I then met up with some Facebook friends to conquer my 30 minute easy spin and 15 minute easy run before racking good old Zoom in transition. I made sure to eat lunch after because my body needed fuel no doubt. I went back to where I was staying with some friends to get stuff together and packed for Sunday and then took a nap before Heather arrived in Atlantic City that afternoon. I had made my way back to Bader Field so we could talk out pre race jitters. I told her I had the confidence in myself but I was still nervous. I told Heather that she was my emergency contact info since she was there. Just to make sure things would be ok I gave her my dad cell phone number to call in the worst case scenario. We talked for a bit, exchanged a few hugs (which I needed badly), took a selfie (as we have done each time we’ve crossed paths) and were on our own ways. It was getting time to get ready for dinner with some friends of mine at the Buca Di Beppo’s at Bally’s. It was a very relaxing evening of laughter, good times, and all the salad and pasta a triathlete needed. As the time approached 7:45 I started making my way around the table to gives hugs and kisses to my friends so I could try to get some sleep. I was in bed around 9 and so surprisingly slept till 3 when my alarm went off.
Well what do you know; it was time to put the training to the test and trust it like no other. I arrived at transition at Bader Field by 4:15 am feeling ready to go. There was so much buzz that it kept me calm. I pumped the tires with air, placed all my bottles where they needed to go, put my Boom Energy Gels and GU Electrolyte Tabs in the bento box, laid my bike and run stuff. I was ready to go.
Swim 1.2 Miles, Bike 56 Miles, Run 13.1 Miles…
The near 7 hours it took me to complete this amazing course went by quick. Over the course of this time I had to repeat to myself the hash tags I had created for this specific race; “Crush It” “Embrace It” “You Got This”. I had to remind myself over the course of the day that I had friends and family tracking me on the Ironman website and app. The swim was calm, the bike flowed easily as well as my nutrition plan, the run was super fun. Heather was out in full force cheering; saw her once while on the bike and a few times on the run. The ONLY thing that mattered is I had the confidence to carry me through to the finish line. I’ve never smiled so much before as I did on race day. It was truly magnificent to run that final portion of the run down the boardwalk, onto the Black and Red MDot lined carpet, and through the finish arch. I was elated with happy tears as I stopped my Garmin. I had done it. Heather had helped me do it. She got the biggest and sweatiest filled hug but I don’t think she cared. I knew from that moment she was a very proud coach. I was super proud to.
Overall this was the most rewarding and amazing journey and process I have gone through in 13 years of racing triathlons. Working with Heather Leiggi was just unbelievably awe inspiring. From the start she had my back and believed in me. I finally had found the confidence over three months to believe in myself. It worked Heather, it worked. I’m amazing and Heather is amazing. Thankful and Grateful for Heather and my time on the Equally Inspiring Team.