I had the chance recently to talk triathlon with the Tri Club’s very own Debbie Gallo. Debbie had a podium performance at the Ironman World Championships in Kona on 10/16/04 placing 4th in the women’s 50-54 age group with a time of 13:16:59.
CZ: You qualified for Kona by winning your age group at Ironman France on 6/26 with a time of 12:19:45. What was it like to race in Europe?
DG: Racing in Europe was a wonderful experience. I learned a lot about being patient and going with the flow. Let me give you a short run down. Missed our connection to Paris in Dallas due to our plane having a mechanical in San Diego. Take a deep breath and relax. Baggage claim in Boston has no idea where my bike is, take a deep breath and pray. Waiting at immigration for 1 ½ hrs while everyone around you is smoking, don’t take a deep breath, be patient. Seeing my bike on the luggage carousel, big sigh of thanks. Arrive in Gerardmer to find the wind howling and whitecaps on the lake, trust the weather report that says by Saturday it will be calm. Meeting Mark Allen at breakfast and getting advice on how to race this course, wow! Sitting through the pre race meeting and hearing it in 4 different languages all by the same guy. Wishing I was multilingual. Searching for a place to have dinner the night before the race, wanting to eat by 5 pm only to find absolutely nothing opens until 7:30,hoping for rapid digestion. Race morning the lake is glassy and skies are clear, take and deep breath and go. Cycling through round abouts, hearing Allez, Allez and my name being called with a French accent was so European. Coming off the bike and seeing competitors who had gotten a penalty on the bike running laps around the transition area instead of sitting in the sin bin, thinking better you than me. Starting the 3rd lap of the run knowing I’m having a great day but turning down the champagne at one of the impromptu aid stations. Hearing “bravo Madame” as I finish. Rushing to the ATM the next day to get 370 Eruos to claim my Hawaii slot, priceless.
CZ: I heard you spectated at a bike race after IM France. What stands out in your memory of watching the Tour de France in person?
DG: By far the highlight was being on l’Alpe d’Huez for the time trial. Frank and I lucked into a room in Bourg-d’Oisans. The day before the stage we were driving to the top of L’Alpe and among thousands of cyclists making their way up we see our dear friends and swim mates Susan and John. The day of the stage I hiked up to the 12K point on the 15K course. It was incredible to see thousands of people making their way up the mountain along with the thousands who have been camped there for close to a week. Lucky for me I was standing next to a camper that had a TV so after Lance went by we were able to see the finish, live. Hiking back down gave you a true sense of how steep that mountain is, at least, I think that is why as my toes were slamming into the front of my shoes. Seeing Le Tour up close is something every cyclist should treat themselves to.
CZ: What Ironman races have you done?
DG: Gosh Craig for some one who thought she had 1 Ironman in her body recalling these races reinforces the fact that we can accomplish so much when we put our minds to it.
1. IM California 5/2000 13:19:16 perfect 1st IM
2. IM USA Lake Placid 7/2001 12:39:28 Found out what it meant to dig deep
3. IM Hawaii 10/2001 14:30:51 Just finish was the goal
4. IM Wisconsin 9/2002 12:34:03 Still my favorite race
5. IM Canada 8/2003 12:17:39 PR race that came with important lessons learned
6. IM France 6/2004 12:19:45 Left expectations on the shore and enjoyed the day!
7. IM Hawaii 10/2004 13:16:59 Still processing this one, but I went over there to race and I finished knowing I did my best.
CZ: I remember talking to you last year after you had done IM Canada and you were relieved you had not qualified for Kona. You seemed burned out. How did you resurrect your interest and what motivates you?
DG: Oh thanks Craig you had to bring that up. Actually 2003 turned out to be a good year for me in terms of growth and learning some important lessons. I raced a lot and had a blast. I remember Julia Van Cleave and I doing the Camp Pendleton Triathlon on a Saturday, driving straight up to Laguna and doing Pacific Coast on Sunday with podium finishes in both races. However I think I missed my peak for Canada by about 2 weeks, just felt flat going into the race. When I analyze it I realized I was taking a lot for granted and wasn’t as focused on details as I usually am. For example I was lazy about my overall nutrition, my attitude was heck I’m training for an IM so I can eat whatever I want. Then I made the fatal mistake of obsessing about time goals and previous race results thinking if I do such and such time I should place here. When we arrived in Penticton the place was covered in smoke, there are questions if the race will really happen, the course is changed, all adding to the pre-race stress. I felt some guilt about racing when so many people had lost their homes. Race day had the typical highs and lows, but I knew without a doubt I needed some serious downtime after this race. I ended up having a PR race but was focused on my disappointment at coming in 10th in my age group. It took me a couple of months to appreciate what a great race I had and to realize that if I could pull that off when I wasn’t at my best what could I do when I was back to my obsessive compulsive self. I took 3 months off from any set routine, reworked my swim stroke and when January came I was ready to focus and work hard. Now looking back at 2004 I ‘d say it worked.
CZ: What was your race like in Kona this year?
DG: As I said earlier I’m still processing Hawaii. Sometimes you need to put a race like that in a special place in your mind and savor it, but let me share some of the things that stand out. There is so much activity the week before Hawaii that I had to be mindful of maintaining my focus, do what needed to be done and then feet up and hydrate. Tuesday before race day I was doing a long swim back to our condo when I was joined by a pod of dolphins. We checked each other out for about 5 minutes then they were on their way. In Hawaii dolphins are a sure sign of good luck so I had my omen for race day. Race morning was almost a surreal experience. Got body marked checked out my bike and I’m ready to go. I had about an hour to kill so I sat by my bike, stretched and watched athletes running around frantic wondering if I was forgetting something because I had so much time to kill. Next thing I know we are in the water and the gun goes off. Had clear water for about 200 meters, then caught some toes and settled in. Kept hearing my swim coach Alex saying long and strong. Came out of the water feeling great. Frank was working T1, got a kiss for good luck and off on the bike. Brutal is the only word I can use now to describe the bike. I feel the winds in 2001 were worse because the crosswinds were so strong. This year the wind was not as strong but it was constant and really messed with your head. I think someone described it as 112 miles uphill and that pretty much says it. When I came into T2 the first person I saw was Joe Gordon who was volunteering and he will tell you I said a bad word getting off the bike. Frank was working T2 also and I told him I wasn’t sure I could go on. He knows how to get me refocused and gave me the right words of encouragement without pissing me off. I do remember the change tent being full of women and a group were laughing hysterically as one of them was putting on her lipstick for the run. I hope her finish picture was all she wanted! The first couple of miles of the run was tough. My glutes were so sore, something I never experienced before and it wasn’t until that moment that I allowed myself to acknowledge how hard that bike was. By mile 5 I felt much better and by mile 9 I knew it was going to be a good marathon. Ran up Palani as strong as I could because I knew our friend Thom was sitting there and I refused to let him see me walk. Paid a little for that at the top. Out on the Queen K to the energy lab and I’m feeling better with every step. Passed a couple of women in my age group around miles 22 and 24. Now I’m planning my finish. This time I am going to slow down when I turn the hot corner onto Alii. I want to hear my name called, I don’t want my finish to be a blur. As I come down the hill to the hot corner I pass another woman in my age group. I refuse to look back to see if she is coming with me so I go as hard as I can because there is no way that I will be passed on Alii or at the finish. Blast across the finish and who is there to catch me but Barbara Gordon and Karlyn Neilson. Of course, Frank is there with a smile to match mine. Later that night back at the condo, rehashing the race with Joe and Barbara, I got online to check results and I’m sure my whoop of joy at seeing myself in 4th place woke the entire condo complex. I went into this race well trained and prepared to do my best. Couldn’t be happier with the results.
CZ: How has being coached by Marci Mauro changed your training?
DG: Yes I’m still coached by Marci and as I tell her all the time she is a genius. We have been working together for 4 years and it has been a great relationship. Her program is very individualized and she is able to work the training around work and life’s other commitments. The biggest change she made when we started was giving me 2 days a week off from training. At first I freaked but as we got into serious training for IM I look forward to my rest days as much as I do the workouts. One thing that I really like is the variety that she is able to put into the training plan. My training schedules for all 7 IM’s were different, keeping me mentally fresh and always raising the bar physically.
CZ: What should people look for in a personal triathlon coach?
DG: When looking for a personal triathlon coach I think the most important factor beside their background should be is this someone you can relate to and feel comfortable talking to? There have been times I’ve called Marci because I didn’t know what I was feeling and with a few questions she would put things in perspective or tell me to skip a workout or this is normal and by the end of the week you’ll feel great. Being able to share the good days and the bad ones make for a great team.
CZ: What was your sports background and how did you get introduced to triathlon?
DG: Growing up on a farm left little time for any outside activity. I learned to drive a tractor at age 10 and spent the summers working on the farm with my family. I started running during nursing school and when I moved to San Diego in 1976 I got involved with local races just for fun. Over the years I ran 7 marathons but realized after running Boston in 1996 that just running was taking a toll on my body, lot of nagging minor injuries. Frank encouraged me to get into triathlon but I couldn’t swim and didn’t want to learn. Finally in 1998 I gave in and did a sprint race in Newport Beach and came in 3rd in my age group. I was hooked. Little did Frank know at the time what he was getting us into!!
CZ: If you were speaking to a woman who wants to try her first triathlon during 2005, what would you tell her?
DG: First of all I would say congratulations on taking on the challenge. Secondly, whether this is a sprint or IM distance race the first ever race should be all about fun and having a positive experience. Finish the race with a smile and the feeling that you can’t wait to sign up for the next one. After signing up for that second race join a masters swim group and come talk to me!
CZ: What are your triathlon goals for 2005 and beyond?
DG: I’d like to say I haven’t thought about 2005 but I’d be lying. I am going to spend the next 2 months laying low, balance my checkbook, which hasn’t been done for months, and bake Christmas cookies. Marci and I will meet to discuss what I want to accomplish, and Jan. 1 the fun begins. Right now I am leaning towards doing IM Austria. My goal is to do a different IM every year so Frank and I can experience a different part of the world.
Craig, thank you so much for the opportunity to do this interview. Speaking with you made me think about and relive some great moments. Triathlon is such a great sport. We have the chance to meet and interact with old and new friends every race. Being part of TCSD gives us endless support not only in our sport but also in every day life. I am blessed to be a part of that, and I want to applaud all of our club members. You never know how you might make someone’s day.