Nicole DeBoom on Her First Ironman Hawaii, 12th Place Finish
Interview by Kristen McFarland
ISSUE #9, December 2000/January 2001 – After having done Ironman California so successfully, what kind of expectations did you have coming into Ironman Hawaii?
Well, I knew Hawaii was going to be a fully different race no matter what. The distances would be the same, but the race was going to be different. So I tried to keep my expectations as low as possible and have sort of a series of goals. Like…basic goal was to finish the race, number two goal: try to run as much as I could of the run. Number three goal, as it turned out, was to try to stay on the bike.
Try to stay on the bike because of the wind?
(laughs) Yeah…I don’t think you can really prepare for that. I thought I was so tough, coming from windy Boulder. Some of the rides I did out here for training were just really terrible. I thought, I’ll be fine, nothing can phase me. Right around when Natasha (Badmann) passed me and took over the race, about a minute before, this head wind out of nowhere, on a downhill, I was switching in to my easiest gear. It was just terrible. And I think it’s mentally more frustrating than physically even. If you can find your balance on the bike and kind of hammer through it you’re set, but as soon as you freak out a little bit you’re gripping too hard, and you’re wasting a lot of energy. I wasted a lot of energy out there. It was pretty scary, I’d have to say.
…I had aspirations that if I had a really great day I thought there was a chance I could be top ten. And, you know, you get up there and there’s so many great people at the starting line that sometimes it’s hard to think, ‘Could I really be in the top ten with all those great people?’ But you’ve got to remember that every year people are going to drop out because of the conditions, or mechanicals, or whatever, and if you just keep running your own race, and stay steady, you’ve got a good shot….So I would say my ultimate goal this year was to be in the top ten. I didn’t quite reach that one. The other ones I was close. I didn’t run the whole run, that’s for sure. But I finished the thing.
Do you feel pretty good about the 12th place even though it wasn’t quite as good as you wanted?
Yeah, I feel really good about it. You know, I had what I would consider a pretty bad day out there. I had a pretty bad swim, for me.
What was your swim like?
Oh, I got knocked around a lot like everybody else. It was funny because right before the start, Tim turned around and said, “Don’t worry Nicole. It’s much more relaxed here.” And the minute the gun went off, it was a mad house. I got punched in the face probably five minutes into it. Got a little lump in between my eyes that I didn’t even realize I had until after the race. You kind of go through the whole day and then things sink in. It was just tough. I mean, half way through the swim on the way back, probably three groups just swam right by me. I just couldn’t get on someone’s feet. It was just a hard swim for me. Then the bike started out feeling great.
You led the bike for part of it?
Yeah. I was confused out there. I started moving along, and I was feeling good and passing like, Joanna (Zeiger), and Wendy (Ingram), and you know, the women that were up there on the swim, who I figured would probably be out ahead of me. So I started passing people maybe ten miles into the bike and suddenly I’m looking around going… who??? You kind of see the cameraman. And you kind of figure that’s where the front woman was. And so I get up and I passed a bunch of women, and I asked people, ‘who’s up there?’ And no one was. The cameramen were on the wrong person. They were on a guy that they thought was a girl. He was sort of wearing like a girl top-bottom thing. So anyway, they finally came back to me I would say maybe fifteen to twenty miles into the race. And then within five to ten miles, Natasha came flying by. So it was a short lived lead, but it was a fun little lead…. After Natasha went by me I started experiencing some cramping, like really early on in the bike. It was just a struggle. I had to get off my bike, maybe at mile 30 or so. I was thinking to myself, ‘should I finish? What’s goin’ on?’ I was thinking if something’s going wrong this early, maybe something’s wrong with me. So I got off my bike because my leg wouldn’t go over the pedal because it was cramping so bad. And so I stretched, and a couple girls go by me, just probably shakin’ their heads like ‘yeah right’, you know, because I went flying by them so early. And I just got back on my bike and I went into my small chain ring all the way up to Hawi. For about thirty miles I was in my small ring. Not quite, twenty miles maybe. You know I just couldn’t push a big gear because it hurt so bad. Or I was afraid I was going to cramp. I mean, I have a lot to learn. At the turnaround bag I had some salt tabs in there, and I chewed two of them up and swallowed them, and felt better within five minutes. And I started hammering the bike and passed all these girls who had passed me. I think I came off the bike like seventh, sixth or seventh, which turned out to be good. Because at one point, I was probably in twentieth place out there. So back to your question, I was really happy with twelfth place, because I felt like I had a pretty bad day. It was really up and down, in other words. So I figure, to have a bad day and be twelfth, that’s pretty encouraging.
What did it feel like going into T2?
I was really, really excited going in to T2 because I had seen Tim out there on the run. When I was riding in he was running along Alii. Stadler was twenty steps ahead of him. He and Peter (Reid) were pretty much running together at that point. I just was looking at him thinking, ‘Tim’s gonna’ win this thing.’ I knew how strong his run had been, and it was a good feeling. So I started getting goose bumps, and people that were riding near me were worried, because they’re thinking that I was getting dehydrated, but I was saying, “no it’s because of Tim…” So I was feeling great. I was just cruising into T2.
You certainly have been able to benefit from Tim’s many years of Ironman experience, with him giving you hints and things. But do you feel like you’ve benefited simply from having been at Kona (watching) four other times?
I do actually. I can’t believe I’ve been there five times now and only raced once, you know? (laughs) Totally. I mean Tim helps me daily with my training and my mental set, but I don’t think you can get a grasp on Hawaii unless you go there. I mean, California was different. Expectations for me were just low. There wasn’t that kind of magic in the air. The build up that I think everyone in Hawaii feels. Everyone in Hawaii, I think, feels lucky just to be there. Ninety-nine percent of the people. In California, it was more like, it’s hard to describe. Maybe more just like people saying, “I’m going to go do an Ironman,” and then they can go do California. Whereeas Hawaii you’ve got to qualify. You feel lucky to be there, competing there. It’s a beautiful place. And it does, it’s got a little bit of that magic. I’ve seen in past years the struggles. Every year until last year, I said no way am I gonna’ do this race. I said I’m not ready. And then last year finally, after Tim had a good race, it was like, ‘okay, I think I can do it now.’ It just took a while mentally for me.
In the press conference Tim said that you helped him the week before the race because you said that you were excited and not nervous. What was it like being there with him again, but with you racing for the first time?
I think before California I was very nervous. And I don¹t know why, because my expectations weren’t high. It was more a question of ‘I don’t know what the hell’s gonna happen’ kind of day. I was really nervous. I would get waves, maybe the week before it started, I would get waves during the day where it just felt like I was gonna cry. Like, ‘oh my God!!’ And Tim would look at me and just be like shaking his head ‘Come on. It’s not that bad.’ (laughs) And in Hawaii, I don’t know why, I just think I didn’t want to feel that way. I decided that that’s not a feeling I enjoyed… You know, probably having Tim there, and having him be so focused on winning the thing, made my goals, put my goals, into perspective a little bit more. So I didn’t have to get so nervous. I was out there to finish and then see what happens from there. It was not relaxed. I wouldn’t call it relaxed, mainly because of Tim. He gets a little stressed out before a race, you know that. I was excited. When it came down to it maybe I was talking myself into that, but at least I decided that was how I wanted to approach it.
Are you going to continue to do Ironman racing?
Definitely. I think I’m going to be doing California again this year. I enjoyed it, the first Ironman I did last year. Hawaii I enjoyed through all the struggles, you know? I enjoy it a lot more than short racing. I don’t know, maybe I’m more suited to that. I’m not so much a blood and guts World Cup-type racer where you gotta fight and thrash around just to get out of the water in the right place. I’m maybe a little more relaxed kind of racer. I like the idea of being as fit as you can be and seeing what you can do. It’s like a celebration of your fitness to go do an Ironman. It’s kind of cool.
There is inevitably going to be a lot of comparisons between you and Tim and Peter and Lori. Do you think that is a fun thing or do you think that’s pressure to live up to?
I don’t feel pressure right now. Tim and Peter are pretty close. They might feel that pressure, but I’m not quite in Lori’s ballpark yet. I’m getting there. I’m still deciding how far I want to take this. When you see potential you get excited. But you’ve gotta step back sometimes and, there’s more to life than just racing.
Speaking of that, you’ve been coaching a kid’s swim team. Are you enjoying that?
Yes. Actually, I just recently became a head coach at the swim club. For the past two and a half years I have been the assistant coach there and I made it secondary to my triathlon training and racing, kind of my second job. But recently, when I stepped into the head coach position, I found much more passion for coaching than I thought I would, and for helping the kids in that age-group development program. And I coach kids of all ages. They are five to eighteen years old. It’s a year-round U.S.S. competitive swim club. It’s Longmont Swim Club, in Longmont, Colorado. I’m truly enjoying it…I think one of the reasons I’m doing Ironman California, and Tim is gonna go to Australia to race, the fact that we’re splitting up our schedule a little bit, has to do with me and my coaching, and the fact that I want to put as much as I can into the important times during the season of coaching. There’s a little bit of a trade off. You know, I feel like I can do both successfully, and I plan on doing that. Whereas a lot of people, if they decide they’re going to be a pro triathlete that’s all they’re going to do, and that’s what they’re going to focus on. Maybe I’m a little more about balance in life…The kids are very proud of me. They love the fact that I do triathlons and that I swim and that I can get in and kick their butts in the pool. A lot of kids in these programs have coaches where the coach gives them this god-awful hard set and they look up at him and they’re looking at this big pot belly hanging over the edge of the pool and they’re just thinking, ‘You could never do this!’ And so when we give the kids hard sets they’re not gonna say a word, because they know that if they challenged us we could get in there and do the work out and put it in there with them. And I think that’s kind of encouraging for the kids.