Since the end of 2015, three-time Ironman Champion Danielle Mack has struggled with some undiagnosed medical issues that have made training and racing not only difficult but, on some days, impossible. Still, her positive attitude and mental toughness has allowed the defending Ironman Boulder champ to prepare to defend her title in her hometown this coming weekend. Check out our interview questions with Danielle to find out how she’s feeling heading into race day and why Ironman Boulder holds a special place in her heart.
Colorado Triathlete: When you realized Ironman Boulder had a pro field this year, what were your initial thoughts on racing it again?
Danielle Mack: I have been waiting three years for IM Boulder to return to a professional race. When I heard that it was officially back, I was overjoyed! I couldn’t wait to toe the starting line here in Boulder again!
CT: How does it feel knowing you are the defending women’s champion and will have a target on your back?
DM: To be a defending champion is a new experience for me. Every race I have won, I have not had an opportunity to defend the title because it was not a women’s race the following year or a race at all.
CT: After a DNF at Ironman South Africa earlier this year, what have you been focusing on to get ready for Boulder?
DM: At the end of 2015 and the start of 2016, I was extremely sick and I was not able to train for six months. In June 2016, I started to slowly return to training and by October, I was elated to have a fantastic comeback race at Ironman Taiwan. It seemed that I had fully recovered and was back on track, but a month later at Ironman Arizona, I was experiencing some of the symptoms again on the bike. I managed to have my fastest marathon in Arizona after a horrible bike split so we thought it was just a fluke. I must not have had my biking legs that day. I started my next Ironman block in preparation for Ironman South Africa and I would have “good” days of training and “bad” days, but I did not want to overanalyze.
Overall, my fitness was fantastic and I was super excited to race. Race day, I felt great in the morning and thought it was going to be an outstanding race. However, when I got on the bike, almost immediately my body started to severely cramp up and I became very dizzy, light headed and extremely fatigued. These symptoms persisted and got worse throughout the bike. The pain was debilitating and I had no power. By the time I got to the dismount line, I could barely get off my bike because I was in so much pain and there was absolutely no way I could even walk the marathon, let alone race it. This was when I knew there was still something wrong.
The past two months, I have seen several specialists and had vast amounts of tests done. During my last stress test, it was found that at maximal effort my heart rate and blood pressure starts to drop and my oxygen saturation level is dipping into clinically low levels. Therefore, when racing my blood is not supplying my brain, heart, muscles and organs with enough oxygen. Now the search is on to see why my oxygen saturation levels decrease during intense exercise. The cardiologists that I am working with have some theories, but we still need to do further testing to have a concrete diagnosis. Therefore, I am not positive I will be able to race Ironman Boulder, which is very hard for me to say. Until we can understand what is causing this to happen it is hard to make an educated decision on whether racing Ironman Boulder is a good idea or not. In my heart, I want to compete. I love this race! I am doing everything to get answers as quickly as possible so I make the right decision come race day. With that being said, even if I do not have all the answers by June 11th but get clearance from my doctors, then I will start the race because it is in my backyard—just to see what happens. I know when you are positive anything can happen and perhaps I will have a great day!
CT: Are you sticking with a similar training formula for Ironman Boulder as you did when you won?
DM: My coaches at Boulder Coaching have me on a very routine regimen. We have definitely made some changes over the years, but the basic formula still remains the same. Train hard and race with confidence. What they have been working on with me is to listen to my body more and not leave my best days in training.
CT: What do you think will be the biggest challenges in Ironman Boulder and what will it take to win?
DM: The biggest challenge for me this year at Ironman Boulder is not knowing how my body will respond to the immense demands of racing. With that being said, I truly believe: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” – Philippians 4:13.
CT: What are some of the things that make IM Boulder special to race, in your opinion?
DM: This race means so much to me because it was my first professional win and it is in my hometown. I will never forget all the love and support I received out on the course and I cannot wait to experience it again. When you are racing an Ironman, it is rare to really know most of the people cheering for you. However, here in Boulder, the roads were, and will be again, loaded with spectators and racers, who are my family, my friends, my training partners and the people who believed in me and helped me get to where I am now!
I am a Colorado girl! I love this state so very much, and to have an Ironman here in our backyard is unbeatable. I have trained countless hours on the roads and paths that make up the Ironman Boulder race course. I feel I know every turn and bump in the road, which is helpful come race day. Yet, it is the memories, which I have collected over the years on various parts of the course that make it truly special. For example, in 2012, my now husband, Jeff Mack, proposed to me at Scott Carpenter Park. Getting to run past this spot four times brings a smile to my face every time!