After not racing for over a year, Colorado’s Danielle Mack was hungry to get back to the starting line. And, last weekend in Taiwan, she not only raced, she dominated. Mack captured the Ironman Taiwan crown after grabbing the lead during the bike, never looking back.
The road to this win has been beyond grueling due to a year of illness, but thanks to patience, faith, and perseverance, Mack is back—and possibly better than ever. We caught up with the Ironman champ to find out what life was like leading up to her first race back and how she’s celebrating her big win.
COLORADO TRIATHLETE: Congrats, Danielle! Tell us a little bit about what’s been going on with your health this past year?
DANIELLE MACK: My days were filled with numerous doctor visits, all ending with them looking me in the eye saying, “We don’t know what is wrong with you, but it is serious and we do not know if you will be able to get back to where you were or even race again.”
Last December was the start of a mandatory five-month break from training. I was allowed to swim a meek (at most) 1K, performing drills (virtually the entire time), a few times a week. I was so exhausted that I would sleep upwards of 14+ hours a day. I was extremely weak, had numbness down my right leg and was ‘pale as snow’ most days.
The severity of my situation worsened, so the tests progressed. I was tested for MS, a brain tumor. I wore a 30-day heart rate monitor with 5 leads 24/7 to monitor my heart’s every action. I had an MRI performed, tons of blood tests, allergy tests, several GI tests performed: colonoscopy, endoscopy, etc. Just to name a few! Thank God none of the extremely serious test results came back positive.
A big speculation was that I was suffering from severe overtraining. The truth is, it was not just one thing, but several, multiple issues that once combined were causing a toxic environment to my body. My nervous and endocrine systems were utterly depleted. There was no telling how long it would take before I would start feeling normal, let alone be able to train again.
Finally, in April, I could feel a slight shift in my energy levels and by the start of May, I began an elementary training program. Each day was an experiment. If I felt good, I would complete my scheduled training. I continued to get stronger day after day and my training started to become more consistent. September 20, 2016 marked one year since I finished my last race. Eight months ago, I was told by many doctors they were not sure I would be able to get back to where I was. After months of patience, perseverance, positivity and changing my diet and training regimen and incorporating meditation and yoga, I am finally back on track.
CT: What were your race expectations heading into Taiwan?
DM: To be honest, I was not sure what to expect. Physically, I was uncertain how my body would respond to the hard effort for such a long duration and distance. Mentally, however, I was hungry and ready to race. I was elated to be racing again! When I step to the starting line with positivity and excitement that is when I perform at my highest. I was not going to take for granted my restored health and getting to do the one thing that brings me so much joy, racing Ironmans. I also knew that God was by my side and I know that, “Through God All Things Are Possible” (Matthew 9:26).
CT: When you took over the lead on the bike, what was going through your mind?
DM: Wow, is it fun to be the lead biker! My ego wanted me to push even harder on the bike and try to really extend my lead but I kept getting reminded of my mantra to “stay patient, persistent and positive, no matter what.” I knew I needed to stick to the plan of remaining conservative on the bike so that I would be ready for the run, especially in the heat!
CT: What were you feeling and thinking when you crossed the finish line as the winner?
DM: There were many personal moments that I could feel God’s presence on both the bike and run. As if he was saying to me, “Just keep doing what you are doing, and you will have a very successful race!” I came into this race very hungry to finally be competing again. I had worked extremely hard to regain my health and strength. After a year of overcoming what doctors thought could be a career ending sickness, I could not ask for a better comeback race! To cross the finish line holding up the finisher tape was additional confirmation to me that when you do the right things and stay patient, persistent and positive, you can overcome the greatest of obstacles. Don’t let someone tell you, you cannot do something! Always believe in yourself and your dreams!
CT: How did you celebrate and what’s up next for you?
DM: My husband, Jeff Mack, and I went down to the finish line of Ironman Taiwan to help hand out finisher medals with Patrick Evoe. Getting to see the jubilation on the finishers’ faces and being there to congratulate them on their huge accomplishment was the greatest celebration! Up next is to recover from Ironman Taiwan and getting back into training.
CT: What did you like most about Ironman Taiwan? Course? Fans?
DM: From the moment Jeff and I arrived in Taiwan, we felt welcomed with open arms. Everyone was so friendly and went out of their way to help us even if there was a language barrier. Many of the volunteers had never even seen an Ironman before, but were nonetheless eager to support all the athletes in the grueling heat. Prior to the race, Taiwan was hit with Typhoon Megi causing a lot of branches and debris to line both the bike and run courses. The local town’s people, without missing a beat, were out there the next day with twig brooms sweeping the entire course. I cannot imagine how long this would take by broom but they did it, and by race day the roads looked immaculate. The race was a success because of all the support of the locals. I also loved getting to experience some of the Taiwanese culture. It was an adventure I will never forget!
Evoe Perseveres to Podium
When the heat is on, Colorado’s Pat Evoe seems to find a way to finish strong. For the second year in a row, Evoe earned the final podium spot at Ironman Taiwan while battling the grueling heat and humidity. We caught up with Evoe, who turned in the fastest bike split of the day, to find out how he prepared to deal with the weather and how he feels to stand on the podium once again.
CT: How did you prepare to race in Taiwan’s grueling heat and humidity?
PE: We lucked out in Boulder in having a very warm September, so that helped to have temperatures in the 80s. I did a few extra things to be ready including treadmill running where I turned a heater and humidifier on while I ran to get my sweat rates up.
CT: You had the fastest bike split of the day. What was your race plan on the bike that day considering the competition and conditions?
PE: My goal on the bike was to not over-bike, but to ride within myself, consistently strong. I always leave a little flexibility in my bike plan depending on where I am in the race, so when I found myself close to the front group, I decided to push a little harder to catch them. It paid off and I ended up in the front for the second half of the bike. That’s where it was good to be flexible in my game plan. I felt good and I knew I was fit on the bike because my preparation had gone well heading into this race and I knew I have great and fast equipment with my Blue Triad SL bike.
CT: What went through your mind as you hit T2 with the lead group?
PE: There were four of us together and I knew Daniel Fontana, a two-time Olympian, would be my biggest competition on the run. My initial thought was to mark him on the run. Because it was so hot and humid on the run, I took the time to change into running clothes and he got a gap ahead of me coming out of transition and he started running much quicker. I thought he might be overplaying his cards and I started more conservatively and the gap started going in the wrong direction. I knew unless he had a meltdown, I was racing for second. I’ve raced many full Ironmans in the extreme heat like we had here in Taiwan and I know it’s a matter of continuing to move forward and just try to manage the heat and your core body temperature.
CT: What were your thoughts when you crossed the finish line in third place?
PE: I was so happy to be done! The first thing I could think about was getting my core temperature down because I was so hot. I went straight to the medical tent and laid there for 20 minutes with an ice pack in each armpit, the back of my neck, chest, forehead, and crotch. Once I could focus, I was very happy with the day. My number one goal on the day was not giving up out there and I was so happy to have met my goal considering the extreme conditions. The podium result was an added bonus!