IRONwoMAN: Liz Harsley
Not too long ago Liz Harsley said “Hell no, I’m never doing a full IRONMAN, I don’t want to have to do that twice (referring to the Half-Iron distance)”. As she recalls saying this, she quickly follows up by saying “my old self was an idiot.”
LOL! We certainly wouldn’t call Liz an idiot, but it’s funny how many of us say we’ll never do something only to change our mind later. And more times than not, we’re happy with our decision.
Liz was 1 of 31 athletes from Team RTA who started and finished IRONMAN Lake Placid in 2019. She was also 1 of 17 first timers and 1 of 13 women in RTA who did IMLP this year.
Below is a Q & A with Liz on her triathlon journey and more specifically about her IRONMAN experience. We hope you will find it informative and inspirational.
How and Why Did You Get into Triathlon?
I got into triathlon in 2009 while I was still a D1 collegiate rower at Uconn.
My FIRST tri was the NYC Olympic. I did it on a borrowed bike (that I rode twice before race day), which had shifters on the down tubes. I was too afraid to shift and did all the 26 miles in one gear.
I think I practiced the swim once before the race, and did the breast stroke the whole time. I finished purely on my athletic fitness from rowing. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.
I got BACK into triathlon in 2016. I did the Patriot Half and few sprints. I was much more prepared this time around. This was mostly because my brother had started doing triathlons, and had joined RTA.
I finally got a proper bike, which I rode consistently, and actually practiced the swim, although I still did breast stroke. Being more prepared for the races, made me enjoy and appreciate the experience much more. It soon became something I wanted to do.
Why did you decide to hire a coach and more specifically RTA to help prepare you for your races?
When I signed up for my first IRONMAN, I knew I needed a little extra guidance and also someone to help keep me accountable for workouts. I work unusual hours and they are constantly changing. As such, I needed help maneuvering workouts around my schedule.
I chose to work with RTA Triathlon because my brother had a great experience with them as his coach. Additionally, Chris and Elizabeth were always so friendly to me before I was even a member of the team. They would always give me tips when they saw me at races and their advice always proved helpful.
While looking at coaching options, I was continuously disappointed to discover the overall lack of regular communication & support coaches were offering athletes. That was insane to me.
After speaking with Elizabeth I knew she could provide the flexibility and communication I needed despite living 2 states away.
Elizabeth is a tough coach, but not without understanding. She understands life happens outside of ironman training. She’s lenient when she can be, and stern when she has to be. This is because she is as invested as you are in getting you across that finish line. There were times I doubted I would finish the race, but she kept me on track.
My goal was to finish under 15 hours, and at 14:47, I know it was the work that Elizabeth and Chris put in with me that got me there. Chris coaching me on the swim was also an absolute game-changer. I was finally swimming freestyle, and I was actually pretty fast! I never would’ve been able to do that without their coaching.
You recently completed your first IRONMAN, what was that like?
My first ironman was incredible.
The hard workouts, the frustrations and the occasional tears in the months leading up to race day were all made worth it, somehow.
BEFORE the race, I said I never wanted to do another. HOWEVER, the race itself was so SURREAL and FUN. I was fortunate to do the race with friends and teammates and this made a HUGE DIFFERENCE.
The feeling of accomplishment was something I’ve never experienced anywhere else in my athletic history. I will absolutely be doing another full ironman, purely for that race day experience that I’ve never found in any other sport.
What was the best part of the race at IRONMAN Lake Placid?
The best part of the race was seeing my friends and teammates out on the course. Getting to see my brother (a two time Lake Placid ironman) cheering me on with the rest of my family filled me with pride. Seeing coaches Elizabeth and Chris when I came out of the water and on the 3 bears was so motivating because they were so super excited for me.
Lake Placid itself is one of my favorite places in the world for it’s beauty alone, and being able to distract myself by looking out at the scenery was an added bonus.
The other best part actually came after the race. I’m a police officer in a 90 man department, and a lot of the guys knew I was training for this, but being big macho cops, they never seemed super excited about it.
I told them how to track me, thinking 1 or 2 of my close co-workers would watch. I found out after I finished that almost every single one had tracked me, and they were posting my race updates on the union Facebook page for all to see. Almost every one of them texted or called to tell me how impressed and proud of me they were. They had a tracking party in dispatch and would get very upset any time the tracker didn’t update when it projected I should get to the next timing mat!
For the next week they all wanted to hear my race story, and it really just brought a tear to my eye.
What was the worst/hardest part of the race and how did you overcome it?
The hardest part for me was the end of the second bike loop and T2. My legs actually felt pretty good and I had a great bike, but my feet were starting to really hurt.
Pushing down on the pedals during the ascents pushed all the blood out of my feet, and whenever I could finally pull up on them, it felt like someone was driving nails into the sides of my feet.
I got off the bike at T2 and had a lot of trouble hobbling along. I started to panic that they’d feel that way for the entire run. I came out of T2 calculating that I had 8 hours until the midnight cutoff.
Blood circulation eventually returned to my feet and they ended up feeling fine. I actually ran for the first 15 miles before having to walk a bit. I saw Elizabeth on the run course and she altered my salt intake on the fly. I think that really helped me survive the run in the heat of the afternoon.
What will you do differently next time (if anything)?
First and foremost, I would get use to a solid nutrition plan much sooner. I didn’t appreciate the benefit of this until, maybe, May?
I think next time I’d try to find a better workout/recovery balance.
What was going through your head when you crossed the finished line?
What was going through your head when you crossed the finished line?
Honestly, not much was going through my mind other than “I DID IT. I’M DONE”
Oddly enough, one thing I do remember quite distinctly was the plush red ironman carpet leading up to the finish line. I just remember thinking it felt so wonderful. Like walking on clouds. I was so busy taking in the cheering crowd and the lights I didn’t even hear Mike Reilly say my name. It’s very surreal and numbing crossing the line.
Any general advice you’d give to other women about triathlon
My advice to women would be, to not be afraid to ask for advice!
There’s so much I’ve learned about the sport just from talking to others. I’ve made a ton of friends doing triathlon. Each one of them made me a better triathlete in some way.
I’ve come to find triathletes are some of the most generous people. Need some water? Need a tube? Are you ok? I dropped my chain 3 times on the bike course switching gears and had to stop, and every time at least one person called out to see if I was ok.
People are willing to help, all you have to do is ask. We’re all in this together.
Any other comments about triathlon, your race or training in general?
For years I had been doing half irons, and always said “hell no, I’m never doing a full, I don’t want to have to do that twice”. Well, my old self was an idiot.
Don’t be afraid to take the plunge. It brought me places mentally and physically I never thought I could be, and I love myself all the better for it.
Are you a woman with dreams of doing a triathlon?
Do you aspire to maybe some day finish an IRONMAN triathlon?
You’re not alone.
RTA Triathlon is a proud Grant Recipient of the IRONMAN Foundation’s Women for Tri Grant. We have a wonderful group of women within our community who help one another along their journey to be the best they can be.