I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with the Tri Club’s Darcy Eaton. Darcy qualified for Ironman Hawaii last November with her outstanding performance at Ironman Arizona. Please join me as we get to know this fun and fast lady.
Craig: What was your athletic background prior to triathlon?
Darcy: I have always been athletic, somewhat of a tomboy, but I did not have a background in swimming, cycling or running. I was a gymnast in elementary, also participating in pool diving. I played softball and volleyball through Junior High and High School. I partied quite a bit through college, so athletics took a back seat. Actually, I was an art major, who smoked cigarettes, drank diet coke and stayed up all night painting in the studios on campus. I graduated, decided to quit smoking, and two days after my last cigarette, I set out to run. (o.k, so it was more of a walk/run). I started, barely able to make 1 mile without gasping for breath, but I kept at it. Within months, I was jog/walking 3 miles. Within a year I was on a running program, logging 20+ miles per week. An acquaintance at the time, said to me, while we were watching his kids football game, " you need to do a triathlon." That was all he needed to say to plant the bug. His words consumed my thoughts, and just a few weeks later, I borrowed a bike and signed up for the Carlsbad Triathlon 2001.
Craig: What was your first triathlon experience like?
Darcy: My first triathlon, Carlsbad Triathlon 2001, was a blast! Of course, the morning in transition as I looked out at the swim, my stomach turned in knots, but I quickly remembered how many years I have spent in the ocean, which calmed my nerves, for the moment. Also, a good friend of mine, Ray Stainback, a TCSD member, took time with me the week before the race and we practiced our swim in the ocean. He helped more that he knows. I had never swum in a wetsuit, so diving under the waves required much more effort and technique than with just a bikini. I was pounded by the waves, but it sure prepared me for the swim ahead.
My wave is up. As I looked out at the water and at all of the participants waiting to attack the surf, the gun went off. I cruised through the swim, thinking, this isn't so bad. I got on my bike, sitting upright as though I was on a cruiser, heading down Carlsbad Blvd. I was going so slowly, my father, waiting for me on the course, thought I wasn't racing. I transitioned to run, and felt very good. I really enjoyed the run. I came in 45th place in my division, out of 92. So you could say, I wasn't, by any means, competitive then. But I certainly had the bug! I couldn't wait to do it again. Next time, I said, I am going to go faster!
In 2001, and 2002 I was middle of the pack and only racing short distances. By 2003, I was placing in the top 10 in shorter distances, and introduced myself to the 70.3 distance. California 70.3 (then called Ralph's). I was finishing in the middle of the pack, placing 48 out of 105. 2004, I became top 5 in sprints. In 2005, I did my first Ironman. Still placing top 5 in all shorter distances, I was working my way up in position in the 70.3 and IM. By 2008, I had placed 4th in 70.3, 2nd in Arizona and 6th at CDA. For anyone who thinks goals are too hard to meet, or questions why they work so hard training, think of my progress. In 11 years, I have come from being a "partier" and a smoker to a top AG athlete who is going to the World Championships. This goes to show, if you work at it, set a goal, you can complete that goal. Anything is possible.
Craig: Of the 3 disciplines swim, bike and run - which is your strength and which needs the most work?
Darcy: The run has been my strength, but I am getting much stronger on the bike, too. My swim is what is holding me back. I need some serious work on my swim. Anyone? Anyone? Help!!! At this point, I am losing my races in the swim.
Craig: What are you doing to try and improve your swim?
Darcy: Swim!!! Yelling help to you all. :) Seriously, my original approach was just to swim more. 4 days a week at masters. I have been getting stronger in the pool, but it doesn't seem to be transferring over to my open water racing. Oceanside was a perfect example. My swim time was the same as the previous year. I got out of the water in 15th position. It is so frustrating. As a coach, I realize, not only to have to swim consistently, but I need to work on my technique, and focus more on race specific training.
Craig: What makes you emotional (aka cry) about triathlon?
Darcy: I cry every time I watch the IM World Championships.
Craig: What Ironman races have you done?
Darcy: I have only done 4 Ironmans. The first 2 were IM Canada, a phenomenal venue. My first Canada IM, 2005, I wanted to have a good experience, so I would want to go back and do the distance again. I wasn't racing, and I certainly was not thinking Kona. I was not at that level. I participated and finished in 12:55, placing 47th. (Here I am again placing in the 40's, around 50%.) I enjoyed it so much and knew I had much room to improve. I went back in 2006. After hard work, and dedication, I improved my time to 12:00:40. I know. I didn't break the 12 hour mark. I really thought I would break 12 hours as I was coming upon the finish. I started my watch a minute before the gun went off, and forgot I had done so. As soon as I could see the finishing clock, I realized, I blew it. Rookie mistake. It was at that moment, however, that I realized IM is a good distance for me, and I wanted to focus on improving my time, and start thinking top 5. I knew I would have to train harder, and dedicate more. It wasn't until I got home, recovered, and went out for my easy run along the coast that I said to myself, "Kona is my goal". From that moment on, I stayed confident, and focused. I worked on strength, endurance, power, and speed through the rest of 2006, 2007 and the beginning of 2008. At IM CDA 2008, my training was paying off, and I placed 6th in my division with a time of 11:30. I was that much closer!! Between CDA in June, and IM Arizona in November, I worked really hard, especially on my swim. IM Arizona 2009, everything came together and I had the race of my life. A rough start, but a great finish to cross the finish line in 10:29, placing second in my age group, and getting my slot to Kona, the slot I had been working so hard to get.
Craig: Tell us how your race at Ironman Arizona unfolded?
Darcy: Can you believe, after all my experience racing, I forgot my special needs bags in the hotel room the morning of the race? Can you say duh!!! It was still dark, and I was walking to transition with my "stuff", as my father was parking the car, and I saw others with the 2 orange special needs bags around their shoulders and I said, "oh $@*$". I called my dad and told him he had to go back to the hotel fast and get my bags. I did my best to recover, and continued with my prep. I suited up and headed to the race start.
Input from people who raced in April suggested starting on the far right. It obviously was the place of choice and got extremely crowded in the front very quickly. In fact, the smart folks who didn't tread water for 10 minutes, stayed dry on the wall, and jumped in at the last minute overcrowding our spot even more. There was nowhere to go. I have never had so much contact as I did during this swim start. I was pulled, dunked, hit, and even yelled at. I was struggling to break free. If you do start on the far right, watch out for the cement boat docks that may be submerged under water. I was one of many, who hit the docks, while still trying to find a rhythm, 10 minutes into the swim. All of a sudden, I'm standing and running on a cement dock in 1-2 feet of water. I jumped back in the water to try and resume a swim that has been utterly chaotic from the start. At that moment, I started to doubt myself. I had worked so hard, and all of a sudden I felt like it was all falling apart. I was there for one reason, to qualify, and it seemed to be unfolding in the wrong direction. I started to hyperventilate, and the thoughts of not being able to resume crossed my mind. And then, as fast as those negative, insecure, thoughts flooded in, the anger set in. I was not going to let this moment screw up what I had worked so hard for. I quickly regained my focus, my drive. I looked up at my father, on the walkway. He had his arms up in the air, yelling for me to go. I got so much strength from him. I put my head down, and started my stroke. I swam with a whole new attitude. I knew I lost time, but I was determined to make it up. I got out of the water, revitalized, with so much determination and a PR of 1:10.
It was time to catch 'em. T1 was quick, and I was off, riding with that same focus and determination. I rode solid, feeling very good; knowing that I made up a lot of time, and I knew the best was yet to come. I just needed to be patient. Bike split 5:34:12.
I ran into T2 so excited to get out on the run course that my transition was 1:30. You couldn't wipe that smile off my face. I had to remind myself to relax, and stay in the moment. I knew there were 4 women ahead of me, so I thought. I got into my pace, and soon I saw one. My AG on her calf. She had a positive comment for me, and I responded, "thanks". I stayed focused and ran down the others. I did the math, and believed I was leading my AG. I saw my father and trainer, Mike Plumb, on the course and yelled to them that I was leading. For a whole loop, I thought I was in the lead. I was beside myself. I was in a dream. I came upon my father, and he had a very strange look on his face. He said there was someone else on the course, and she had a good lead. He later told me he was very worried, I'd try to run her down, and possibly bonk, eliminating any chance of qualifying. Once Mike told me I was making ground on her but she was around 15 minutes ahead, I settled back to my pace, concentrating on holding my second place position. The reason I didn't know she was on the course was because she was not on the participant list. She entered last minute, and wasn't even on my radar. My run time 3:39:00. I was less than a mile from the finish, trying so hard to do the math (after 10 hrs of racing), and realized I was so close to breaking 10:30. I was not about to let what happen at Canada, happen again. Not this time. I ran as hard as I could, and when I turned the corner to the finish, and I could read the time, it said 10:28. IM Canada entered my mind, 12:00:40 on the clock when I came across. I pushed with everything I had left to stop the clock at 10:29:43. My father, and my trainer, Mike Plumb, were there to see me cross the finish line.
Craig: I assume Kona must be your big goal for 2009. What are your triathlon goals beyond this season? Darcy: Become a better swimmer, and win a 70.3 distance. I qualified to represent the USA at the World's Long Course in Perth Australia, but I decided not to race because it is 2 weeks after Kona. I would like to focus on USAT Nationals next year, but maybe you should ask me this after Kona.
Craig: Do you have any sponsors?
Darcy: I am on the Zoot Ultra Team for 2009.
Craig: You and I recently attended the USA Triathlon Level 1 Coaches Clinic at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. What can you offer a triathlete who is seeking a coach?
Darcy: I can offer a triathlete my experience. I know what it takes to change your direction, to set a goal, and to accomplish that goal. I have the experience, and the education needed to increase one's fitness level, and to increase one's mental drive. My outgoing, energetic, personality, my experience, and my tenacity are great ingredients for a good coach. I know I am a good motivator. I believe these qualities will help me be a very special coach. An incredible one coach also has trained me. I have learned an exceptional amount from Mike. His approach is I have learned well, one that I know works. Look what it has done for me. There are also other methods that I have learned from my studies, and from the likes of Joel Friel, and Jim Vance. I believe Mike's "dynamic " approach and periodization are great methods that I am confident with and believe will help my athletes succeed at their goals. I will be offering individual and group training. I will be online as well. I will also be running boot/triathlon camps.
Craig: I had so much fun with you at that clinic because you really like to laugh. What is a funny triathlon story you'd like to share with the club?
Darcy: I do love to laugh. I have heard laughing helps the body release endorphins. And we triathletes love endorphins!! It also helps to decrease tension, and lower blood pressure, etc.
But, I would like to change this question a bit. I would like to tell of a moment in triathlon that I will never forget and and it truly means the world to me. I crossed the finish line and saw my father, who had tears in his eyes. As he gave me a huge "bear" hug, he said, you did it. I felt his body shaking, and then I opened my eyes, and there was my trainer, Mike. He was there for me, and I gave him the biggest hug. I'll never forget, when I pulled away, he had tears in his eyes too. He said, I am so proud of you. The words mean the world to me, which I will never forget, but what was so amazing was that all OUR work brought us to that moment. A moment that brought tears to his eyes. I didn't think I could get Mike that emotional. Sorry Mike, but that was too cool. He also told me that my progress, and my performance was also a reflection of his great abilities, his knowledge. He is so right. I am looking forward to have the opportunity to share those kinds of moments with my athletes.
I want to thank my family, for coming to nearly every race. Their support is endless, and has made such an impact in my success. My father has been my rock since the beginning, and throughout. He will be my rock come Kona. My mother never stops believing, and keeps the family's heads together. My sister, and my nephew Daniel, will be there to support me. I also want to thank my trainer Mike. You rock!
Craig: Mike is in my age group. I think I’ll mention that moment before our next race to see if I can make him cry to improve my chances of beating him. He is really tough! And so are you! Thank you so much for sharing your story. You have become a good friend and I wish you all the success in the world!
Darcy Eaton can be reached at her cell 760-802-3283. Her business TriPro fitness is located in Carlsbad. Her website is tri-profitness.com.