There’s a first time for everything, they say, and for Colorado pro Lesley Smith, it was an outstanding first. Known for her speed at half distance races, and specifically on the run, Smith took her talents to the IRONMAN start line for the first time in her career and took home a stunning second place finish at one of the most crowd-supported races around, IRONMAN Louisville. Check out our exclusive catch up with Lesley to find out what it was like as an IRONMAN rookie, how she handled 140.6 miles, and whether full distance racing will be on her 2018 calendar. What made you decide to give the IRONMAN distance a go this year?
The decision arose when discussing post IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship race plans with my coach, David. Knowing that, as a long course pro triathlete, I would be remiss to not try one in the foreseeable future, he suggested prioritizing some longer sessions over the next few weeks, competing in IRONMAN Louisville, and then taking a much needed training break. I embraced the fact that there was not a huge amount time to overly ponder this decision and went forward with the plan.
What were your specific goals heading into IRONMAN Louisville?
Because there are so many unpredictable variables, I do not typically set super specific goals for my races. I prefer to go into races with the attitude that once the gun goes off, I will race smart, give everything that I have, and it will play out accordingly. That being said, a loose goal was a top-five finish.
What did you think about the training for a full versus a half distance race?
The training leading up to the race was not drastically different than my 70.3 distance training, but I did enjoy the tweaks that came along with the full distance focus. Harder intervals were now at lower intensity, but we added in a few five-plus hour rides and two-plus hour runs. It was a refreshing change of pace, both literally and figuratively!
How were you feeling on race day and how did your race go specifically through all 140.6 miles?
I had been dealing with chronically sore calf muscles for a couple weeks leading up to the race, but after dialing it down with a significant taper, I was in a better spot race weekend. The pre-race weekend workouts felt sluggish, but I have found that is rarely a sign of how one feels on race day!
The swim and bike portions went more smoothly than I was expecting. I just focused on steady pacing and, while no records were broken, the stamina was there and I was able to stay very present, mentally.
I started the run a tad fast, which caught up with me halfway through. From then on, I struggled with the lower leg pain on top of the general aches of exercising the whole day, but just kept telling myself what a friend said to me before the race about running a marathon: Whether you slow down or not, it’s going to hurt either way. The weather kept things interesting since we experienced everything from humidity to chilly, strong storm winds. The positive self-talk simply turned into: Stay smart and just keep going!
When you crossed the line in second place, what went through your head?
So many things can happen during such a long race. When heading into the finish chute, I was simply grateful to have kept it together well enough, nutrition and pacing wise, to hold onto second place. The cheers from the spectators were the loudest I have heard at a race and it was such a rewarding feeling just to complete it! A huge thank you to the community of Louisville for their support of triathlon. The volunteers and spectators were amazing and kept the positive energy going all day.
Will you be racing IRONMANs now and what does the rest of the year look like for you?
Exact race plans are yet to be decided, but I will definitely have an early to mid-season IRONMAN on the books for 2018. I ended my season after Louisville and had some much needed, ample downtime from triathlon training. I have been working back into structured training the past couple weeks and plan to continue this, alongside the extra gluttony of the holiday season.