I was the Rockstar – By Angel Cueller

Last fall I saw on the Women for Tri page that applications for the Equally Inspiring Team were open and I decided to take a chance and apply and guess what they picked me!!! I was so excited to have the opportunity to train with Dr. Jennifer Gatz with Jaya Sports.  Equally Inspiring pairs with coaches all over the US who volunteer 3 months of FREE coaching to female athletes.  The program has athletes who are first time triathletes, first time Ironman, trying to qualify for Kona, and everything in between.  When I got selected, I was unsure what my race would be for the training. I had to have surgery in December 2016 for a shoulder injury and was debating at the time to use the training for my 70.3 in June or at an attempt for my first 140.6.  After talks with my doctors, Family, friends, and Coach Jen I decided to sign up for Ironman Louisville and use my training from Equally Inspiring for that event.

angel 15


July 15, 2017 my training with Jaya Sports began.  However, I started training with a knee injury due to back to back ultra and 70.3 weekends and a twisted ankle!! Coach Jen was amazing modifying my training program to focus on the bike and swim and recovery for my run.  She incorporated some aqua jogging and more treadmill workouts into my plan and it did the trick to help me bounce back from my injuries.

I thought for sure Jen was thinking I was accident prone or a lost cause because I constantly had some sort of aliment that required modification, but she believed in me and encouraged me through it all!  There were several long run weekends that my knee or foot just couldn’t hold up and I’d have to cut my runs several miles short, she was understanding and happy that I listened to my body and didn’t push through the pain.  It was amazing knowing that she had my back and I didn’t feel like I would disappoint her or throw off my program due to these set backs.

angel 2


I have major FOMO on races and just want to do them all 🤣 Coach Jen helped me pick and choose which races would be beneficial and which ones to skip leading up to the big race.  April 26th I had my first race as a Jaya Sports Athlete at the Marine Corps Quantico Sprint Triathlon.  As a Marine Corps veteran and spouse it’s always a blast Running with the Marines! The swim was nice and warm with little current which was great, but my goggles were fogged the whole time and I could barely see.  Areas were super shallow that people kept stopping to walk and it totally slowed my pace having to go around the walkers and I was in wave 1 too!!! The bike was pretty fast.  Some of the road conditions were not ideal and there was a lot of headwind the first 1/2 but the last 1/2 was a blast!! The run was not what I expected at all.  It was pretty much all trail and little rolling hills.  My pace was more like my 10k pace vice my 5k pace.  With all my injuries I hadn’t done any speed work and my pace was suffering for real!! I didn’t have any pain though so that’s win in my book!! I managed to place 5th in the 30-39 Age group (ps I dislike 10 year age groups)

The race was a good test to see that my injuries were healing properly and that I would be ok to race the Patriots 72.3 (the bike is a bit long) Half on September 9th.  It was my 3rd 1/2 Iron distance Tri in 3 months and my last race before the big race day, Ironman Louisville that was just 5 weeks away!! I tried to really dial in my Ironman nutrition and pacing.

angel 1


The water was 74 so it was wetsuit legal.  It was about split between the racers who wore a wetsuit and those that didn’t.  I’m not a wetsuit fan, but know Louisville will be wetsuit legal so I really needed to simulate race day as much as possible and wear it.  The beginning of the swim was really shallow.  The first 100yds everyone was walking to the turn buoy!!! Not sure if I got a much added speed with the wetsuit or not since there was so much walking in the beginning and then the finish was about another 100yds of walking too!! Although I’m such a slow swimmer maybe I walked it faster anyways 🤣 I had some arm restriction on my bad arm and wasn’t totally comfortable in the wetsuit, but no panic attack this time so that’s a win in my book!!

The bike was all about the pace!! I tried to stay easy and let it flow!! The majority of the whole ride I stayed Z3 in HR and Power.  I wanted my legs to feel like they could go another 50 miles and not be dead at the end.  Although elevation was only 1,200ft for this race and looking like 4,800ft at Louisville most likely I won’t be able to maintain the same speed I did for this race but it would be nice if I could get close!  I started the run feeling great! I always use the restroom in T2 but there wasn’t a porta potty right in transition and didn’t want to leave transition to go so I figured I’d wait until I saw one.  Right before mile one there it was and it was green!! I started stripping off my kit and ran in and out in a breeze.  I Realized quickly though that the aero kit is way harder to get back on than the tri kit so I ran a bit while I struggled to get it situated.  My mile 1 pace was quite slow due to the rest stop, but it was totally worth it!! The majority of the run was in the woods on some crushed gravel and foot bridges.  It was nice on my knee, not so much for my GPS!! It kept going in and out that I couldn’t accurately use it for pacing.  I went by the posted mile markers and feel for the majority of the race. Mile 9 was the best surprise ever when I saw my husband and daughter waiting for me!! They have came to so many races this season that since this was more of a training race they were going to stay home and not drive the hour there when chances are they wouldn’t see me at all.  Well, they decided to come and they sure were on an adventure driving the course to try and find a place they could see me and they found me!! Best pick me up and push I needed to finish strong and see them at the finish!! I ended up having my best 70.3 1/2 marathon run time yet finally getting a sub 2hr run.  The race went perfectly just how Coach and I had planned.  It was a great boost to know that I was ready.  The next 5 weeks were all about finishing my last few long workouts, work on nutrition, rest, and staying injury free.

angel 3

October 15, 2017, the day was finally here!! Months of training, planning, analyzing every detail I possibly could all for this one race, the ultimate race to become an IRONMAN! Race morning went pretty smooth.  No major jitters, just excitement and anticipation.  We had 2.5 miles of walking to the transition and then to the swim start which was a great way to get in a warm up.  I decided not to get to the race super early like I always do since my bags were already turned in, Bike was racked, and it was self seeding on the swim based upon estimated swim finish times so there wasn’t much to do before the race.  However, what I didn’t anticipate was spending about 45 minutes in the porta potty line Katalina couldn’t believe that the line for the restroom was that long! I had to wait though didn’t want to risk any race issues I barely made it to the swim corral line by the time they began to move.  I was a hot mess struggling into my wetsuit while trying to keep my place in line.  Trying to put a wetsuit on is a workout in itself, and trying to do it while on the move is nearly impossible!!  Luckily, Felix was there to help stuff me into my suit before I fell flat on my face from hobbling around like a crazy woman.  The struggle was real!!  I self seeded in the 1:20-1:30 estimated finish which gave me a bit of time to get my wetsuit on right.  I didn’t want to be so rushed that I started the swim in a wetsuit that wasn’t on properly causing me more issues once I hit the water.

Surprisingly, I was pumped to start which is so not like me as I’m always stressed and nervous about the swim.  It has only been 9.5 months since my shoulder surgery and my arm gets tired easily especially in my wetsuit which always messes with my head.  I believe my 4,000yd swim Monday was the confidence booster that I needed going into this race knowing I was ready!! I was so excited dancing down the swim chute and felt all the energy from the spectators.  I couldn’t wait to get the day started.

angel 5

The swim was a rolling start, as you entered the dock to jump in your time began.  I found a good spot and settled in on the swim.  The first 1000yds or so was upstream behind an island.  Everything was going great until some guy hit me hard across the side of my head! I thought for sure he cut me with my goggles or his hand or watch by how bad it was throbbing.  I settled down and told myself to just keep swimming! The throbbing subsided after a while so I knew I’d be ok! At the turn around about 1600yds in I was so relieved to finally be going downstream. The crazy winds however made the river so choppy and it became congested as all the swimmers fought the current pulling us away from the shore and into the channel.  I drank way more of the Ohio River then I would’ve liked!! I was really hoping that wouldn’t cause me some issues later on during the day 🤢 When I finally came out of the water I couldn’t believe my time was 1:14! My goal was 1:20-1:25. The wetsuit strippers are seriously AMAZING! They had my wetsuit off in like 5 seconds! They deserved a medal for that!! I opted to stay in the same kit all day so transition was pretty easy, the longest part was the running around to get to all the different areas and out onto the bike! I clocked 0.4 miles just in transition!

angel 6

On the bike I knew the first 10 miles would be flat and fast before all the hills began so I settled in and let the tailwind take me away!! I knew the second Felix saw my splits he would be yelling at me! All weekend long he kept telling me to keep my pace and stay in my zones, he even wrote it on my bike!! But I DID stay in my zones and my bike data proves it lol!! I tried to keep my RPMs between 90-100, HR in Z2/low Z3, and power mostly in Z2 besides the climbs.

angel 7

Around mile 30 the skies got so dark and I knew the storm was coming.  I prayed and asked for the weather to hold off just a while longer, to let us get as far as we could and off that bike course before it got really bad and my prayers were answered, well sort of! The skies cleared and the sun shined and I was so thankful that it didn’t downpour on us.  But what I didn’t pray for was to not bring the winds!! So although the skies were beautiful the wind was not!!  The first loop was AMAZING though and I was having a blast!!  It sprinkled here and there and had some strong winds but I focused on my zones and not blowing it the first loop.   I decided not to stop at special needs when I passed it since I was feeling great and didn’t need anything that I packed.  After the first loop the storm really started picking up.  Checking the weather afterwards we had max gusts of 45mph!! I slowly watched my amazing bike splits decline but tried my best not to fight the wind and hills and remember I still had a marathon to run!! The last 30 miles I was seriously scared for my life!! I prayed and prayed and prayed some more 🏼 The winds were so bad, debris was flying everywhere.  I got hit with sticks, pine needles, and leaves.  The roads were wet and covered in all the debris making it slick and hard to see the marked pot holes.  I was blown all over the road with the crosswinds that I was so afraid I was going to crash numerous times and unfortunately several racers did have bike accidents because of it. My time no longer mattered and the only thing I was worried about was getting off my bike in one piece!! I was so tense gripping the bars so tight to control the bike that my lower back was starting to kill me.  At 8 miles to go I was afraid the race officials might call it, the skies where dark again, winds insane, and lots of cyclist were really struggling especially those that still had a long way to go left on the course.  Talking to many racers after the race, they all shared the same fears and experiences as I did and were all grateful to get off their bikes safely too!!  Even with the brutal conditions I managed a Sub 6 hour bike split on my first Ironman with 4,500+ elevation gain!! Bike time 5:56, my pre-race goal was under 6:30 so nailed it!

angel 8

The transition tent volunteers were amazing! They carried your bags and helped get you whatever you needed. I was happy I decided to make them goodie bags because they sure deserved it and they were very thankful for the nice surprise. In T2 I knew I needed to use the restroom before I started the run. I just road 112 miles without stopping there was no way I’d make it through a marathon.  While some people will pee on the bike or on the run, I’m just not at that place.  In my wetsuit, sure! But that’s about it 🤣 while I love my Aero Tri Kit, I realized quickly it’s not as practical for me to wear in long distance races.  It was a struggle getting the tight kit off my huge arms and to get it back on was almost impossible! I did pack my sleeveless Tri kit in my run bag, but I knew it was getting cold and decided the time I wasted fighting with the kit to get it on and off was worth being colder later on.  I did tell myself there was NO WAY I was using the restroom again so my bladder had to suck it up until the finish line!

angel 10

The run. Oh how happy I was to be on my two feet!! I was pretty certain the wind wouldn’t knock me down now!! I kissed my husband and that gave me the boost I needed to stop thinking about the bike and focus on the run.  Seeing my family out on the course always gives me that energy that nothing else can.  I carried my left over liquid nutrition for the first 5 miles on the run which allowed me to bypass the aid stations.  Those off the bike legs always surprise me and I end up noticing I’m going way faster than it feels so I slowed a bit and settled in.  After that 5th Mile my belly was tired of my drink and wanted water so I ditched it and had to start slowing a bit to grab water at the aid stations.  Mile 13.2 seeing my babies was the best!! I gave them hugs and took a picture which took my mind off the fact that the finish line was literally yards away and I still had another 13 miles to run!!

angel 11

I was feeling great so I skipped special needs and continued to put one foot in front of the other.  I had conversations with other runners, saw some friendly faces on the course, and gave high fives to as many spectators as I could along the way!! I honestly couldn’t believe how much fun I was having. I can’t remember any race ever being this fun! The temperature drastically started dropping the wind continued and it rained on and off.  I totally had flash backs of Shamrock this past spring with the insane changes of weather!! Mile 16 was all about the snacks!! I finally had some coke, chicken broth, and potato chips (yes all at one aid station) and it was Devine!! Seriously was the best snacks EVER in a race!!! Mile 19 the quads started getting super tight.  I knew the end was so close I just had to make it 7..2 more miles!! Easy day right?!? I told myself I could walk every aid station but NO WALKING in between!! Aid stations were a mile apart so I only focused on one mile at a time and it got me through the tough parts.  I noticed my pace dropping fast.  Every mile I would check out my overall race time and how many miles I still had to go and do the math of what I had to maintain to make a sub 12 Ironman! Every mile I got closer my quads screamed a little more but I refused to give up.  I was so close I could taste it.  Being a 2 loop run course was great, especially at night when you’re deep in that hurt locker because you know exactly where everything is and how far you still need to go.

angel 12

That last mile I started feeling that finish line adrenaline.  The crowds appeared, everyone was cheering you in, and then I round the corner and the finish line was in sight!! I started dancing and pumping my arms in the air.  I was there!!! Then I hit that red carpet.  The spectators were screaming, banging the signs, and the music was blasting.  It was such a rush. I had the chute all to myself.  It all felt like a dream.  This was my 15 seconds of fame, my Red Carpet Moment and I was the Rockstar everyone was there to see!! I saw all the hands and wanted to high five them all! They were my fans! So many high fives.  Nothing hurt anymore. I was running on air. Nothing mattered but this moment. I did it! I was an IRONMAN.

angel 13

Thank you Equally Inspiring Team and Jaya Sports for being a part of my Journey to my first 140.6!! I am so grateful for the support, training, and mentorship that helped me have the most memorable race of my life!

angel 14

Leave a comment


email* (not published)