The TriSherpa’s role

Sue Running 3.pngThere are four weeks until my wife’s Ironman in Louisville. Her training is going well. That is not to say it is going easily.

Fifteen miles of running on a mid-September day with temps in the 80s is a sweaty slog. We set up shop out on the Virgil Gilman Trail, a bike and running path that traces an old rail line from Aurora out to Waubonsee Community College. It is happily occupied by dozens of runners, cyclists and recreational walkers on weekends. That means it is safe but not overly occupied. A good training location.

But it is linear, so the plan was to park our vehicles at opposite ends of a five-mile segment and have her run out and back and out again.

I ran east to meet her, but she had a head start as I was filling water bottles and hitting the potty at my end of the bargain. She was 30 minutes into the run coming west and I was 20 minutes into the run going east when we met up on the trail.

Coming off 100

She was also coming off a 100-mile ride the day before. I pedaled 55 or so miles with her on Saturday. She finished off the rest on her own. We were joined on the ride by one of my best friends. That offers good company for the ride because it gets a bit boring doing all that training by yourself. So we trucked the back roads together, a merry little band of three cutting through the crosswinds.

Sue leads most of the way on the rides. It doesn’t really help her to draft on me when the Ironman bans such behavior in competition. So I wheel suck and lightly converse at corners and keep her company when the wind doesn’t blow the words away.

Speedway rendezvous

A few weeks ago one of her wheels blew when a shard of glass sliced her rear tire. We stopped to replace the tube next to the Bob Jo Speedway between Virgil and Sycamore, and set out to ride again.  PFfoooom! It blew again. The tire was damaged and the tube popped right away.

I’d already had a pinch flat that day so we ran out of tubes. So we coordinated a rescue with her son while I rode the 20 miles back to St. Charles to pick up our vehicle. Her son drove out to bring her home and they stopped on the way back to buy new tubes and a tire. Then she finished up the last fifty miles on her own.

Before, during and after

Such are the trials of training for a triathlon. Not everything is going to go as planned. She has a three more 100+ rides to do. I plan to be there with her during significant portions of the rides and the runs. That’s the role of a TriSherpa, to support the racer before, during and after the events.

I actually talked another TriSherpa this summer who is performing TriSherpa duties for his wife in her goal of doing Ironman Wisconsin. The pair hail from Minnesota and were down for a weekend in Wisconsin doing the Madison Open Water Swim and riding the Ironman Course, which has added a brutal ass hill known as Barlow to its retinue of climbs this year. It’s a wise idea to practice and gain some confidence or at least a plan for the hilly course.

“I’ve done Ironman three times,” the TriSherpa told me. “But this is her summer. I asked what she needed most from me and she told me, ‘I need your support so I can do this.’ So I’m not really racing this year. I didn’t want my goals to compete with hers. So I’m training with her and we’re focusing on getting her ready for the Madison Ironman. It’s going pretty well. Not easy for her, but it’s going well.”

Mental space

Later that day we saw them parked in the shade of a pine tree after riding their first loop of the 40-mile loop from Verona out to Mt. Horeb and back around to Cross Plains. That is the head and heart of the Madison Ironman bike course. There are some soul-sucking hills out there. They were heading back out after a fuel break and a chance to mop up some sweat. I gave him a quick nod and he smiled as she sat gazing into the distance, her thoughts occupied on the job ahead.

That is the TriSherpa’s job: giving the athlete the support they need… and the chance to think it through.

But foot rubs help too. 

We’re headed for Louisville in mid-October.



About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at, and Online portfolio:
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