The One Thing Harder than Ironman

It was one year ago that I told you about Carlos and his cancer diagnosis. Many of you responded to “You Have to Fight” and the follow-up columns about him, “The One Word to Ignore” and “Out There: Never Stop Fighting” with an outpouring of support for him.

For weeks, I’ve been working on a one-year update for you. It’s been difficult to write — every time I sit down, I’m filled with tears, laughter, and pride for my best friend.

Recently, Carlos was asked to give a speech about his experience as a cancer fighter. As soon as I read it, I threw all of my drafts for this article away. No one can tell the story better than he can.

I am not here for pleasant conversation.

I write to you about things that happen to people — bad people and good people. Things that make some cry, and question life’s fairness and God’s existence. But it’s OK, because I know I am in good company. Many of you have likely gone through hell and back. I know, like you, how it feels being in pain, scared, hopeless, helpless, defeated, cheated, and alone.

But I also know we are made of some tough stuff. Every one of us is equipped to climb over obstacles. We are all made to fight and never give up.

One year ago

I was what people call “super-fit.” My sport makes regular people cry in pain just watching it on TV! Ironman consists of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and then running 26.2 miles, a full marathon, in less than 16 hours. I have done this 13 times in races across the United States and Europe.

I was in the midst of training for yet another Ironman last April when I suddenly got sick. It wasn’t a gradual, progressive illness. One day I rode my bike for 6 hours, and the next I had emergency surgery. In an instant, everything changed.

One year ago, I was told that I had Stage IV colon cancer, the most advanced stage of cancer.

The tumors in my colon had metastasized to the lymph nodes and to the liver. With luck and chemotherapy every oncologist said I could live another year, but the odds of survival beyond that were slim. Liver surgery is an option for some with my cancer, but I was not a candidate for it, as I had too many tumors.

The doctors didn’t say it outright, but I could tell what they were thinking: Start writing your will.

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5 Ways Cycling Can Make You a Stronger Runner

Post written by Susan Lacke.

#5: The Brick Workout (which actually looks nothing like whatever it is she’s doing)

Admit it — you runners love to poke fun at us cyclists.

We’re dork-ish looking people in our helmets and padded-ass shorts who think it’s fun to spend hours pedaling away through roads and up mountains, pretending we’re in the Tour de France.

But those of us who both run and cycle know a secret: cycling helps make you a better runner.

Many runners turn to cycling after injury- that is, they’re forced into riding a bike to stay sane while rehabilitating a stress fracture or joint pain. However, they soon discover something remarkable when they return to running — cycling actually made them better than ever before!

How cycling can make you a better runner

If you’re a runner, you might want to consider joining the ranks of Lance wannabes. Even if you’re not injured, riding a bike is an excellent cross-training activity, one which can improve your running performance significantly. Here’s why:

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From Couch Potato to Ironman — In 20 Months

Susan Lacke at the finish of Ironman Wisconsin, just 20 months after deciding to run her first 5K.

In 2009, I made a New Year’s Resolution to run my first 5K.

I assumed I’d run the 5K, cross the accomplishment off my bucket list, and go back to being a couch potato. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, that 5K led to something else: 20 months after making that resolution, I completed my first Ironman triathlon, a race which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run.

Anyone can do an Ironman

After the Ironman, I wrote a post which was titled with the one statement about Ironman I firmly believe: “Anyone Can Do an Ironman.”

If you sit on the sidelines of an Ironman finisher’s chute long enough, you’ll believe this statement, too. There’s such a wide cross-section of Ironman triathletes, from chiseled studs to 80 year-old nuns. After sitting at enough finish chutes, I decided I didn’t want to be a spectator anymore. I wanted to know what it was like to be on the other side.

The next time I saw an Ironman finisher’s chute, I was running down it.

When I made that resolution to run my first 5K, I had no idea I’d complete an Ironman 20 months later. I was a couch potato who was trying to quit smoking (again). Ironman triathlons were something crazy people did, and though I was happy to spectate with a beer in my hand, I never saw myself as one of those people.

Besides, training for a 5K was hard enough. Training to run 3.1 miles was difficult and time-consuming.

Covering 140.6? No freakin’ way.

The 9 things that helped me do it

It was a series of bold choices, hasty mistakes, happy accidents, and – finally – focused planning which took me from couch potato to Ironman in just 20 months.

Everyone has their own way of doing things when it comes to Ironman, and when you train for one, you’ll discover yours. For now, here are what I found to be the nine most important keys in going from zero to Ironman faster than most people think is possible.

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How to Survive Your First Open-Water Swim: 8 Tips for The New Triathlete

Note: This is a post from No Meat Athlete Resident Triathlete and Triathlon Roadmap author Susan Lacke.

Runners often tell me they’d love to check out the triathlon scene, but they can’t (or won’t) swim.

They say swimming is hard, the mass start looks scary, and open water just gives ‘em the heebie-jeebies.  And I’ve got to admit, they have a point.

Susan Lacke in the swim start of Ironman Wisconsin (she’s the one in the wetsuit).

Most of us log our swim training in the pool. When it comes to our first open-water swim start, we get a reality check when the starting gun goes off.

I wish someone had warned me of this — in the first 5 seconds of my open water swim, my mind rushed with a frenetic string of thoughts:

  • Why are these people so CLOSE to me?
  • Where’s the black stripe on the bottom?
  • Why can’t I see my hand in front of my face?
  • What is that thing floating up from the bottom? Is that a lake zombie?
  • I can’t breathe. Am I going to die?

In spite of all the pool hours I had put in, three minutes into my first open-water swim I was flipped over, doing the backstroke, and gasping for air.  I’m sure the spectathletes on the shoreline were thoroughly amused.

As for the zombie, turns out there was no creature of the undead in the lake — just a stick.

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Dear Santa (And a Very Merry Giveaway)

Note: This is a guest post from Ironman triathlete and lifetime Santa-believer Susan Lacke.

Santa Claus
1225 Candy Cane Lane
North Pole

Susan Lacke, age 2?

Dear Santa,

It’s been a little while since I wrote to you. A year, actually. I kept meaning to touch base with you during the year, but time just got away from me! I know, I know. I say that every year. You’re starting to feel like I’m taking advantage of you, like I only write to you when I want a present.

That’s not true, Santa. I really was busy this year. I mean, I trained for an Ironman! That’s gotta count for something, right? I’m sure you know how it is. Don’t you spend a couple weeks doing P90X after eating all those cookies on Christmas, big guy?

Let’s cut to the chase. I know I’m supposed to be asking for selfless things now that I’m a grown-up. I should leave the requests for toys to my nieces and nephews while I request responsible things, like world peace.

Screw that, Santa. I want a tri bike.

Listen, buddy: I’ve been a good girl this year. I got up at 4 AM to train like I was supposed to (okay, I hit the snooze button a lot, but I got up eventually); I ran and biked more miles than I’m able to count; I swam laps in a pool like an aquatic hamster. Do you KNOW how boring lap swimming is, Santa?

I deserve this bike, man. Don’t get me wrong. I love my roadie, Bessie. She’s been very good to me. But after we’ve gotten hit by a car a couple times, she’s a bit worse for wear. I’d like to put her up in a nice retirement home in Boca and ride off into the sunset on my new sleek aerodynamic triathlon-specific bike. I promise I’ll take good care of him. I’ll feed and water and take him for rides every single day and love him so, so, so much! I’ll even give him a sexy name…like “Santa.”

Forget what your “naughty list” says, Santa. I don’t belong there. My readers at No Meat Athlete can vouch for me. They’ve been with me all year and will back me up on this one.

As a goodwill gesture, I’ll give them a chance to win a special prize, the Ultimate Stocking Stuffer Giveaway:

  • Vanilla Gingerbread, Mint and one additional favorite flavor/product from GU
  • Road ID socks, Road ID hat, & Road ID gift card
  • Ryders VTX and Grindhouse or Shreddie glasses

To win, readers should comment below by December 19 with what’s at the top of their own NMA Christmas wish lists.

See how this works, Santa? I give them something, you give me something. If you do this, I promise next year I’ll ask for world peace.

Or maybe a new wetsuit.



P.S. Please remind the good NMA boys and girls that they can still enter the giveaway by Wednesday, December 15.



27 Things Your Training Partner Won’t Tell You

This is a guest post from Susan Lacke, who has recently overcome a debilitating phobia of Twitter. You can now follow her to learn everything you never knew you needed to know about cupcakes, beer, and triathlons.

Even between friends, some things are best left unsaid.

But at No Meat Athlete, we’re happy to do the dirty work, and we think it’s about time you and your training partner got it all out in the open.  It’s time you heard a few of the things they’re dying to tell you, but never will.

What Your Training Partner Won’t Tell You

1. You will not lose momentum if you stop moving during a run. So quit jogging in place at the stoplight. You look like an idiot.

2. There are at least two embarrassing songs on everyone’s iPod playlist. There is no need to pretend you don’t know how they got there. Just own up to your love for N’Sync.

3. Everyone pees in the pool at some point. Everyone. Anyone who says they haven’t is lying. The same goes for the mass start of an open-water swim. There’s a reason that water feels so warm.

4. Please limit yourself to no more than two electronic devices when we work out together. Anything more and you have more wires coming out of you than an ICU patient.

5. Newton shoes are the Ed Hardy shirt of running.

Read more »



Put Down Your Phone and Drive (Before You Kill Me)

This is a guest post from our resident no-meat triathlete, Susan Lacke.

Are you reading this article on your cell phone right now?

If so, are you behind the wheel of a car?

Please. Put down your cell. NOW. Get to your destination. I promise, I’ll still be here when you come back. Go on.

Seriously. GO.

It seems strange, writing about your driving habits, when most of my articles on this site are about locomotion using the two-wheel variety or the old school hoofin’ it. But now, more than ever, I’m intimately familiar with how 2,000-pound four-wheeled vehicles impact the physical activity of every athlete.

I got hit by a car while riding my bike. Again.

I’m not sure what happened. First I was riding, and then I wasn’t. I was on the road, then I was in someone’s lawn. I was upright, then I was faceplanted in the grass. I was satisfied with a  great workout, then I was crying, scared, and hurting.

This is the third time it’s happened to me. What hurts the most is not the broken ribs. It’s not the concussion. It’s not the road rash and bruises. It’s my faith in humanity.

You see, when I’ve been hit while cycling, the drivers didn’t stop, but just kept on going. When talking with a police officer, I asked why this might be — the answer? They probably didn’t even realize what happened, or, if they did, simply didn’t want to get caught and admit they weren’t paying attention behind the wheel.

When I heard that, it took every ounce of strength I had to maintain my composure. I wanted to have a meltdown. I wanted to grab someone by the shoulders and shake them. I wanted to scream: G-dammit-how-do-you-hit-another-person-and-not-know-it-what-the-hell-ARE-YOU-AN-ASSHOLE-OR-JUST-STUPID-GAAAAAAAAAAH!

Ahem. Pardon my French.

Distracted driving is growing at an alarming rate. In your car, you probably multitask: You drink your coffee, eat your snack, check your e-mail on your BlackBerry, change the music on your iPod, talk to your child in the backseat, read the billboards on the side of the road, daydream, and text. You read about the texting-while-driving accidents in the news and “tsk-tsk-what-a-tragedy” but rest assured that it would never happen to you. You’re a much better driver than that.


Except for those times when you’re reading an e-mail on your phone and look up and quickly notice the car in front of you is stopped, causing you to slam on your brakes. Or those times when you’re looking for a specific song on your iPod and look up to realize you’re in the oncoming traffic lane. Or those times when you space out and realize you have no recollection of the last 15 minutes of driving.

I’m not really a fan of using scare tactics to make a point. But let’s face it: I’m scared. In a matchup between car vs. bike, the vehicle with heft, seatbelts and airbags beats a simple ultralight bike and helmet every single time. I could be dead. I should be dead. All because someone wasn’t paying attention.

It’s been three weeks since my accident. The road rash is almost all gone, and I can finally take deep breaths again without it hurting too much. But I still can’t bring myself to get back on the roads. I’m terrified.

I’ve written before on how you can stay safe while running, cycling, or swimming. Now, my plea has nothing to do with your participation in any of those activities.

When you drive, promise me you’ll remember you are operating a piece of machinery that weighs thousands of pounds. If you haven’t been hit by a car before, take it from me: You feel every single one of those pounds when you’re hit.

Put down the cell phone. You can wait until you get home to text your friend that you LOL’d (You know weren’t really laughing out loud anyway). You can pull over to the side of the road to call your spouse back about what kind of wine you’d like to pick up for dinner. You can read No Meat Athlete when you’re not behind the wheel of a car. When you’re driving, make that one task your priority. Everything else can wait.

I’ll get the confidence to get back on the road one of these days. When I do, I hope you see me pedaling away in the bike lane.

Really, I hope you see me.

I’d like that.



Anyone Can Do an Ironman

Lots of you have been following Susan Lacke since she started writing posts for No Meat Athlete earlier this year.  Ten days ago, she completed her first Ironman triathlon, less than a year and a half after losing 70 pounds on a vegetarian diet allowed her to run her first 5K.  Here’s her recap of Ironman Wisconsin.

“Anyone can do an Ironman. Anyone.”

I was giving a friend a massage after he completed his 12th Ironman when he uttered those words. I had just told him how proud I was of him, and he minimized it like it was nothing more than a 100-meter jog.

“Pssht. Susan, it’s nothing. Anyone can do an Ironman. Anyone. Really, it’s not that big of a deal.”

I had just run my first 5K a few months prior, and admired my friends who did longer distances. My friend Steph had just convinced me to sign up for my first half-marathon, and I was enjoying the training for it. I was swimming and biking at my gym, and loved the cross-training benefits I was getting from those activities. Thanks to vegetarianism, I had lost a significant amount of weight, and thanks to my newfound life as an active person, I was continuing to lose more.

Call it a runner’s high. Call it temporary insanity. Call it whatever you want.

Anyone can do an Ironman? Anyone?

Count me in.


I recalled those exact words in the day leading up to Ironman Wisconsin. As I looked around at the pre-race festivities, I saw a lot of incredibly fit people.

They had impeccable bodies. They rode expensive bicycles and ran in top-of-the-line shoes. They walked and talked like they knew what they were doing. They devoured spaghetti with meatballs and whole rotisserie chickens in preparation for race day. They likely had never had any major health issues. Their worst vice in their past was probably the occasional candy bar.

And then there was me.

More than one person commented on my No Meat Athlete shirt at packet pickup, asking if it was serious or a joke. I got a few incredulous looks when I said I’d only been doing triathlons for about a year and a half. I was scared to mention much more about my past habits for fear I’d get laughed out of the race. I was a 27 year-old former chubbster girl in a sea of middle-aged overachieving men with rock-hard bodies.

Anyone can do an Ironman? Anyone? Heh. With me in the game, that statement was certainly about to be tested.

Race day

I remembered those words once again as I floated in the water before the start of Ironman Wisconsin. The sun was rising over the lake and things were remarkably calm. As I looked around me, I realized something:

Everyone in the water looked exactly the same.

In our black wetsuits, goggles, and swim caps, we were identical. The thousands of spectathletes lining the shore would be completely and totally unable to pick me out of the crowd of 2,556 athletes in the water. That anonymity was strangely comforting.  Before, at packet pickup, I stood out like a sore thumb — I didn’t belong there. Race morning, with only my head bobbing up and down in the water, I certainly looked like an Ironman hopeful. I just hoped over the course of the day, I could prove I was deserving of being a part of that race. Silently, I reminded myself of my goal: Finish, have fun, and be a *&^%ing Ironman.

Mission accomplished

14 hours, 23 minutes, and 42 seconds.

On paper, it seems like such a long time.

In reality, those 14 hours, 23 minutes, and 42 seconds of September 12, 2010 went by way too fast. It was — dare I say? — fun.

Don’t get me wrong: it was challenging. There were parts that tested my abilities. I used muscles I didn’t even really know I had. But for something that was supposed to be a sufferfest, I never really suffered.

Maybe it’s because I trained well in the months, weeks, and days leading up to race day.

Maybe it’s because I raced conservatively and executed my race plan the way I was told.

Maybe it’s because I had the support and love of my incredible friends and amazing family members that day.

Maybe it’s because it’s really hard to suffer too much when you run out of the swim and everyone moos at you, or you have a crazy spectathlete in a pink speedo or an Indian headdress running alongside you up the hardest climbs of the bike, screaming “SUCK IT UP! DO YOU WANNA BE AN IRONMAN OR NOT?”

But I smiled and laughed a lot over the course of those 14-plus hours.

A revelation

At about mile 15 on the run, I saw a lot of people begin to hit the proverbial “wall.” They began to cramp up, walk, and sit down at the aid stations. I was waiting for it to happen to me. At about Mile 20, I had been running alongside an athlete for about 5 minutes when I realized he was saying something to me. I looked at him and asked him to repeat himself.

“This feels like death. God.”

He dropped back and began walking while I kept going. As I looked at the trail ahead of me, I thought about what he said, and took stock of how I was feeling.

Death? Really?

I’d never felt more alive than I did during that race.

The final stretch

I never hit that wall. I maintained the same pace at the finish that I did at the start. As I turned the final corner toward the finish, all alone, I saw a mass of humanity under the bright lights of the finish chute. For 400 meters, there were hundreds of people, all cheering, roaring my name, and beckoning me to the finish.

I started out the race as an anonymous part of 2,556 Ironman hopefuls. When I crossed that finish line, I was an independent racer. I was someone who achieved her goal.

I was an Ironman.

Anyone can do it. Anyone.

Every day, you probably wake up and use your muscles, your bones, and your skin without really thinking about it. If you take a moment to really consider it, you can be inspired every day.  The human body is capable of accomplishing great things.

Your human body is capable of accomplishing great things.

Don’t take it for granted. Don’t simply be content with doing “just enough.” Don’t underestimate yourself. Whether it’s finally running that first 5K without stopping, contorting yourself into a complicated pose for yoga, hiking to the top of a mountain, or doing an Ironman, your body is capable of it. You only need to identify what it is you want, work toward it, get the support of friends and family, and — most importantly — believe it.

It no longer matters if anyone can do it.

What truly matters is that you can do it.

Thank you a million times over to everyone who sent me e-mails, text messages, Facebook messages, and cupcakes (ohhh, the cupcakes!) in the days leading up to the race. A HUGE thank you to everyone who was cheering for me on race day, whether in person or in spirit. I’m overwhelmed and humbled by all the support I got from you, and hope I made you proud.

Now that I’ve drank the Ironman Kool-Aid, I’m addicted. I plan on registering to do Ironman Arizona in fall of 2011. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to resting, recovering, doing some shorter races for fun, and, if you’ll let me, writing – I love providing you with information, experiences, and random thoughts to enhance your awesomeness as a No Meat Athlete.