When the going gets tough, the tough get going. That’s exactly what Ironman and Ironman 70. 3 champions Dede Griesbauer did when her triathlon season was disrupted by some nagging pains and strains. Looking to avoid a serious injury, Griesbauer decided to put her body through a little less pounding and a lot more cycling. The Boulderite took on the 12-hour World Time Trial Championships in Borrego Springs, California, and 258 miles later, can now add World Champ to her long list of athletic accomplishments. We caught up with Griesbauer and learned what drove her to take on such a race, how riding in circles all day felt, and why she cannot even look at a Coke again.
Colorado Triathlete: What made you decide to do the 12 hour world TT championships?
Dede Griesbauer: Julie Dibens, my coach, actually suggested the event since 2016 had been a tough year and I’d had a series of not serious, but not insignificant, niggles that had hindered the consistency of my run training. My race schedule kept getting pushed back and pushed back to the point where Julie and I decided it would be smarter to take it slow and look ahead to 2017.
Through all of my injuries, however, I’d been able to bike, so the event really gave me something to sink my teeth into while I continued a patient return to running form. It gave me the opportunity to compete. It gave me the opportunity to get out and represent my sponsors in an event where they may not have otherwise had representation. In the end, I could have waited it out and returned to racing in 2017, but I thought it was better to do what I could with the fitness that I had.
CT: Tell us what a typical week of training looked like to prepare for this race?
DG: It was not terribly different than a “regular” training week. I kept up most of my swim volume. I think we cut out one swim a week. I was back to running by the time I had entered the race, so I kept running. My volumes were light, but it was important to keep that consistency. As for the biking, we did some longer rides for sure to test what would happen both physically, mentally and nutritionally. I did a few multi-loop rides to test the mental fatigue of doing loop after loop after loop, replicating the race conditions.
My longest training ride was 8 hours. We had soft plans for a 10-hour ride, but my fatigue built and we decided that would be a bit much so we scrapped it. In the gym, I did a lot of mid-thoracic mobility to combat the extra time I’d been spending in the aerobars. We also did a lot of core work to be sure I could hold that aero position for 12 hours. I had an excellent team supporting me through this.
CT: Going into the race, did you have any specific goals or expectations?
DG: None! I knew there was a previous course record of 220. 4 miles. Some had quoted that as the “12 Hour World Record”. Other sources have debated that, so I am not entirely sure, but I know for certain I broke the course record at the World Championships. As to a World Record, that seems to be a matter of debate due to course certifications. The 220 miles seemed a long way, but I hoped to break that standard. I had cyber stalked some of the other entrants. My competition included the former record holder and former pro cyclist. There were a host of RAAM competitors in the field, so I knew I was out-classed for sure, in terms of experience. I had several months of pent up race frustrations due to my inability to race, so I thought I’d at least put up a good fight. I honestly went into it hoping to represent my sponsors well, and not let down my coach, my squad, and my family.
CT: What were some of the toughest parts of the 12 hours and how did you stay motivated?
DG: Honestly, the whole thing went more smoothly than I ever could have imagined! I was a total spaz on race morning. Total rookie mistakes. Thank goodness I have a patient and loving husband in Dave. I forgot my race chip back at the hotel, so he had to drive back while I was warming up to get it. When he returned, I realized I’d forgotten to lube my chain, so back he went. What a saint! I got off my trainer about 15 minutes before the start of the race and was pulling on my race kit, shaking like a leaf. I wasn’t cold. I was terrified. After a decade as a pro triathlete, I felt like I’d seen and experienced it all. However, this was all new and I was a terrified rookie.
The first loop was pretty easy as my adrenaline took over and it was dark. I couldn’t see my power meter, so I went with the race. Some of the men in my wave got off to an aggressive start. I just didn’t know what to expect, so as the sun came up, I stuck to my race plan. I’m not sure Julie or I knew exactly how things would go. How could we? We made an educated guess and stuck to it.
I think my darkest time was, strangely, early on at about 3. 5 to 5 hours into the race. The race was no longer new. I’d completed 5-6 loops and still had a long way to go. I stayed motivated though, because it was a race. I’m a competitor. I didn’t have much of a tri season, due to injury, so I was a competitor without a competition. This was a competition. I didn’t know what my abilities were across this time and distance, but I had the opportunity to compete and that’s all the motivation I needed.
I was also motivated to show off the new Blue Elite TT bike. Blue just unveiled their new Elite and I wanted to do it justice. I’d only been on the bike for two weeks, which made me a little nervous. Usually it takes me a bit of time to break in a new bike, but thanks to a great bike fit by Ivan O’Gorman, and a really well-made bike, I was able to truly test the limits of aerodynamics and comfort, holding a TT position and pace for 12 hours. I don’t know of a bigger test of a fast bike than what I put the Elite through last week, so kudos to Blue and great thanks to Ivan.
Some of the harder parts came with the logistics. Neither Dave nor I knew how this was going to go. He was my “pit crew,” my support. He takes the role as seriously as I take the role as an athlete. He wanted to be extraordinary, but I screwed up. We had a sense of a plan based on training, but in the heat of battle, my nutrition plan changed and that was stressful for him. I was pretty calm about it, but in retrospect, I can see how it was an issue. I’d come into the pit, asking for something totally off script. He wanted to get me in and out as quickly as possible, so to ask for ABC when he was expecting XYZ was stressful in the moment, but I was incredibly calm. He did an amazing job. We were a good team and the whole thing went far more smoothly than I could have ever imagined.
CT: Overall, how was it riding 12 hours and how did you stay fueled and sane?
DG: It was surprisingly fun. In fact, yesterday, I rode just two hours with “Momma Bear,” a. k. a. Rachel Joyce, and was thinking after about 90 minutes, “how in the heck did I ride 12 hours a week ago?”
We were allowed certain creature comforts. For one, we were allowed one ear bud of an iPod, which helped a lot. I built a strategic playlist. Music is so powerful because each song takes you back to when you first heard it or a distinct memory as to where you were when you heard a certain song, so I built a playlist based on emotion. Every song had a memory of a friend or an experience. It allowed my mind to wander just a bit. It kept me happy, made me angry and kept me motivated.
We also shared the course with both the 6-hour and 24-hour divisions. I spent a lot of time passing some of the other competitors and made sure to say something positive to nearly every one of them. Just like Ironman, I tell my coaching clients, when you are feeling sad, smile and thank a volunteer or crack a joke to a fellow competitor. It helps lift your mood. I took my own advice and can say honestly, apart from about 90 minutes, I was incredibly happy, present, and motivated.
Some of that was a strong nutrition plan. I got a lot of help and advice from Jesse Kropelnicki my former coach, and from Kelly Magelky, an ultra-mountain bike star. Their advice was to have a plan, but don’t be afraid to go off script. Listen to your gut (no pun intended) and have a lot of options, because Lord knows what your savior will be. In training, my savior came in the form of Red Bull, sea salt and vinegar potato chips, and frosted pop tarts, and in no particular order and not necessarily in combination. I am a loyal and faithful Infinit Nutrition user. I have won three Ironmans on Infinit Nutrition and nothing else. In this case, I was happy to have options. Infinit provided my nutritional base, but I did venture off as this was unchartered territory. Fill-ins were nothing like they were in training. In the end, my body craved Coke and Swedish Fish. Today, the thought of a Coke makes my stomach turn, but I am still friends with Swedish Fish. Go figure!
CT: What did it feel like to know you beat everyone, men and women?
DG: I honestly had no idea until the awards ceremony that I had beaten everyone. I had kept my eye on most of the women. I was in the first wave of the 12-hour division and I think there were 2 other women in my wave, so I was sure to keep an eye on them. I was sure that no woman had passed me over the course of the day, so I had a strong sense that I was in charge of the women’s race, though when you roll into the pit area, you have no idea who rolls through without stopping.
As far as the men, it was dark the first loop and I knew that a few men had taken off pretty quickly. I tried to focus on my own situation and not really worry about the men. At one point, around hour seven, I rolled through the pit and Dave said “you have to slow down. ” I pulled out and wondered why he’d said that. When I came through three loops later, I asked, “Is that you telling me that or is that Julie telling you to tell me that?” He looked perplexed, but said only, “You are killing everyone. ”
At that point, I thought I must be doing pretty well and Dave was mostly afraid I was going to blow up and not be able to finish. I dialed it back a smidge just to make sure I was still “with it”, but again, I felt so good through most the day, I just kept going at a pace that felt sustainable. Looking back, of course, I think I could have done a bit better, but I’ll take it. A course record at the World Championships and a world title that bested all of the male competitors as well as the two-man male teams? Yeah. I’ll take it.
CT: How does a nine-hour plus Ironman race compare to a 12-hour bike race?
DG: At about hour eight, I started having immense gratitude for the fact that I wasn’t going to have to run off the bike! Nutritionally, I took some risks that I’d never take in an Ironman, knowing I had to run. I ate just about anything that seemed satisfying at the time. You can’t do that in an Ironman as much because the run tends to be where most of the GI problems occur.
The day after, I was much less sore that after an Ironman. No pounding from the run, but I had weird soreness that I’d never had after racing an Ironman. Weird things hurt. My elbows hurt. The backs of my knees hurt and my feet still hurt a bit. I was blessed with great racing apparel thanks to BSG Apparel and there was not even a hint of a saddle sore. That had been my biggest concern.
CT: Would you ever do this kind of race again and what was your favorite part of this race?
DG: My very dear friend, Hillary Biscay, former pro triathlete and co-founder of Smash, came to the race to cheer. I was really touched. Hillary and Maik have a six-week old daughter, Madison and I had begged Hillary not to drag herself and her family all the way to Borrego to watch me go in circles for 12 hours. However, she dragged them all out anyway. Maiki, Madison, Puff Puff, Boo Boo and Burrito (the dogs) were all in attendance to watch me race.
When the race ended, Hillary said, “Well, tomorrow, you only have to run 52 miles.”
This was a hint for UltraMan. Hillary is an UltraMan World Champion and I have long admired her success at the distance. I’ve had a sick sort of curiosity about it. Hillary knows this, so she had to mention it. After 12 hours in the saddle, I don’t think I could have gotten up the next day to run 52 miles, but the race intrigues me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. My heart is still in Ironman and 70. 3 racing, but the 12 Hour Time Trial World Champs was certainly an UltraMan flirtation.
My favorite part of the race is certainly now, in the aftermath, the sense of gratitude and appreciation I have for my team. My coach, my husband, my sponsors, and my good friends who all played a role in cheering for me, clothing me, supporting me thru the training and even those who laughed at me, because I know they were secretly laughing with me.
It’s been a tough year and this was a brilliant highlight. I went outside the box and found great glory in it, not just glory in the victory, but glory in the journey and that’s what my career as a pro triathlete has been all about. It’s been about persistence, determination, love, and the journey. That’s what this was all about.