LAVA Magazine’s annual Golden Ticket Contest, open to all LAVA subscribers, is proud to announce our 2013 winner: 51-year-old Mandy Miller of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Miller has received a free entry into the 2013 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, as well as a free coaching program with Luis Vargas of MarkAllenOnline.com. LAVA sat down with the lucky lady to talk about the unexpected journey her racing season is about the take, and what it feels like to get a chance to race in the greatest one-day athletic event in the world.
LAVA: Well, it’s been 24-hours since you got “the call,” how does it feel to know you are going to Kona?
It was a very, very big surprise. Totally unexpected. Even when you called, I was like “what, I entered WHAT??” And afterward I realized that I had gone to my mailbox at a local USPS store and that’s where I get my LAVA Magazine, and I was waiting for something and kind of hanging around flipping through the magazine and that’s when I entered the contest. I swear I never win anything. Although, interestingly enough, I raced Kona back in 2002 after getting in through the lottery, so I guess I have good luck when it comes to Kona entries!
LAVA: Tell us a little bit about your professional and athletic background.
I’m a lawyer and a psychologist with a Ph.D in psych. I went to grad school to try and escape practicing law; I had practiced on Wall Street and wanted something different. I thought I would teach once I got my Ph.D, but I ended up blending the two and now I practice law but I represent a lot of people who are mentally ill and in the criminal justice system. It’s very rewarding.
As for triathlon, I’ve been competing for almost 20 years. I’ve done 13 Ironmans—I think. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure, my husband and I were trying to count them all last night because we knew you’d ask that. I don’t really pay attention to that stuff so much. My first Ironman was Vineman in 1998. I didn’t do another Ironman until 2002 when I got the lottery slot. I’ve also done Ultraman Canada, and I’m about to compete in my third Ultra Marathon Stage race over in Spain in a few weeks.
LAVA: How did your 2002 Hawaii Ironman go?
I’m a lucky girl. It went well despite it being only my second Ironman. I was literally smiling and enjoying myself the entire day. I ended up going about 12 hours and change, but I really just enjoyed the entire day, even the challenging parts that you always experience in an Ironman.
After the race, My friend called me and said I was on Real Sports on ESPN, and he wanted me to let his friends know that he wasn’t making it up that he knew the girl on the screen. I couldn’t figure out how I had been on the show until I saw a taped version of it later. What happened was that Bryant Gumbel had interviewed this 82-year-old Ironman veteran about what it was like to have done so many Ironmans, and what it felt like to finish. The man looked at Gumbel with a glimmer in his eye and replied, “It’s just like an orgasm.” And right then they cut the official finish line photo of me! It was hilarious. I guess that’s how happy I looked in my finish line photo. That was emblematic of the day. I’ve won things and I’ve lost things, but that man was right, there’s nothing like crossing the finish line in Kona. It’s the only finish line photo I’ve ever bought.
LAVA: You already had a packed racing schedule with an Ultra Marathon in a few weeks and Ironman Arizona in November. How does this change your plan for the season?
The plan was very much not this! I’m leaving for Spain next Thursday to the seven-day-long stage race. I’m going on vacation after that and I’ll be back in the middle of July. It was already my mind set that I would have a fall Ironman, but there was no way I would turn down this opportunity and race Arizona over Kona. However,I’ve done four Ironmans in the past 10 months, so I was going to focus on running through the summer. So now things have changed. Now I want about 10 weeks of decent training once I’ve recovered from the Ultra Marathon. I’ve done a lot of cycling and swim training, so I’m in a good spot there. The key for me is just staying healthy and not overtraining and overdoing it at this point. I don’t want to risk getting injured. That is my number one concern.
LAVA: Ultra Marathon and Ultraman training are very intense endeavors. Do you have any unique training philosophies for triathlon that you’ve developed over the years?
One of my unique strategies is that I do a lot of heavy weighted vest running, and I also do a lot of running in deep sand. I carry about 15-20 pounds in a pack. I do a lot of hill repeats on a pretty uneven and steep surface with the backpack too. I’ve really worked on building up more strength as opposed to aerobic strength because I’ve been doing this so long, I know I have that base. I just want the physical strength to not get so fatigued once I get later in the race.
This stage race I will have to carry everything with me on my back, and in training for that I realized the benefits to training with a weighted pack. It really builds leg strength for long distance without having to do squats and dead lifts, which for some reason really hurt my knees.
I’m not getting any younger, and I was notoriously awful at doing weight training for the majority of my competing life. I just never felt I had the time for three sports plus weight training. But about a year ago, actually while racing Ironman St. George, I could just feel my upper body so much more fatigued than it should’ve been during the marathon. So I kind of focused on doing a much more disciplined weight training program. I think that’s made an enormous difference for me, and I’d like to really keep that up heading into Kona. I think for an older athlete it is really the key to durability.
LAVA: You will be working with Luis Vargas as you get ready for Kona. Have you two developed a training strategy yet?
This is the first time I will ever have a coach! So this will be a new experience for me. If you look at my results, I’m pretty evenly balanced over the three disciplines. I came from a running background, so I’m most comfortable with that. But I’d say I think my swimming is good enough because I swam as a kid and I’m certainly good enough for triathlon. I’ve worked on my cycling a lot over the past two or three years. I think it’s such a long-term commitment you have to have in order to see improvement. I’ve gone from just under 7 hours to around 6 hours. But I’m really not a natural cyclist.
Because I’ve done so many Ironman races, I’m pretty familiar with the mileage. Luis said he wants to get me there healthy and just kind of work on recovery from the stage race and then for the main training period I will try to do a whole lot more cycling and swimming because my run training will already be there. It kind of all depends on how I feel after the stage race. I will really need to take those couple weeks after the race to get back to normal. They really take a lot out of you.
LAVA: What are your goals for this race? Are you looking to improve on your time from 2002 or just enjoy the day again?
If I can have the race I had in 2002, I would be happier than a pig in poop! Even though I’m 11 years older than I was in 2002, my times seem to be staying pretty constant. I’m not going to set out any time goals. I was so new to Ironman racing in 2002, but now I’m such a geek about it. I really love all the history of the event, and I know so much more about it all now. I just kind of would like to go and have all the triathlon experiences I didn’t get a chance to do last time. I want to be more relaxed, and if I don’t have huge expectations, I always seem to do better. The more fun I’m having, the better I do. I’d like to talk to more people and be more open to the experience. I follow the sport so much more now, so now I want to really embrace it and enjoy the day. It might not ever come back again. I thought after 2002 I would only come back if I qualified. I missed by three minutes qualifying at Ironman Texas in 2012, and I was one spot below the roll down spot. I was pretty bummed about it at the time, but now this is a bit of a divine gift.