All goals, no matter their distance, are incredibly valuable and important. However, the stories that go along with longer endurance events tend to be correspondingly long, and long enough that posting them separately is warranted. So, without further ado, here is how Full Circle Endurance athletes Rebecca Dottolo, Scott Heintzelman, and Lisa Crockford fared at the 2021 IRONMAN Maryland.
Rebecca’s journey to IRONMAN Maryland started in January 2020. She hired me then to coach her, having experienced many injuries and setbacks in her training when she was coaching herself.
Many, many athletes who I have worked with over the years have come to me for very similar reasons. So, I was confident that I could help Rebecca achieve her goals without getting injured. I also knew that we likely could scale back on the amount of time she was spending training and still get a great result.
When I started coaching Rebecca, I scaled back her workouts so much that she thought I must not think that she was a strong or capable athlete! This was absolutely not the case; I told her that there would be plenty of time to do long and hard workouts in the future, but that one of the keys to her success would be to gradually build to that. To do this, we needed to have her do the workouts I was setting for her, and the positive momentum from completing those workouts successfully would build us to where we wanted to go.
Well, as everyone knows, the 2020 race season ended up being a wash with practically all races getting cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. IRONMAN Maryland, Rebecca’s main A-Race for the year, was one of the events that was cancelled.
As we spent more time working together, Rebecca began to see that she was making progress, but doing so with far less training than she was used to. Most importantly, she was not injured!
2021 came, and Rebecca’s first big goal race of the year was IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman in June. At this race, she completed the 70.3-distance over forty minutes faster than she ever had before! Yes, you read that right: She had a FORTY minute personal best time for this distance!
We continued on throughout the summer, with Rebecca having a strong performance at IRONMAN 70.3 Ohio in July. As we finalized our build to IRONMAN Maryland, it was clear that Rebecca was going to be capable of having a tremendous race.
Rebecca is a Nurse Practitioner in an Emergency Room and is a mom to three young boys. To say that she is busy (and that the last 18 months have been busy for her) is an understatement. Nevertheless, she persisted in her training, doing what she needed to do to have a strong race at IRONMAN Maryland.
Race day arrived on Saturday, September 18, 2021. Finally, after twenty-one months of working together, the race we had been charting toward was here. Rebecca hopped into the jellyfish-laden Choptank River and began her journey toward the IRONMAN finish line.
She emerged from the jellies in 1:18. She pedaled through the bike course in 6:11. On the run, she started to have some stomach discomfort, but she modified her race plan so she could keep moving. Every time I saw her on the run course, she looked focused and determined, but happy to be working toward this massive goal that she had set for herself. Twelve hours and fifty-one minutes after she jumped into the Choptank River, Rebecca became an IRONMAN!
Rebecca finished as the 21st out of 55 women in her age group, the 133rd of 525 women overall, and as the 563rd of 1,692 total finishers. While she wasn’t necessarily seeking a result relative to the other athletes in the race, Rebecca’s own quest to race her best race led her to a remarkable result when compared with her fellow competitors.
It’s been my honor to coach Rebecca and see her dream realized. I was so, so happy that I had the opportunity to be there as she crossed that finish line.
Congratulations, Rebecca! You are an IRONMAN!
On Saturday, September 18, 2021, Scott Heintzelman raced his seventh IRONMAN at IRONMAN Maryland.
I’ve had the honor to coach Scott for close to three years now. The progress that he has made in our time working together is nothing short of remarkable. Scott’s dedication to long-term progress has enabled him to go from being a 15:56 IRONMAN finisher to knocking on the door of breaking 13 hours at this distance.
Breaking that 13-hour barrier was Scott’s main goal heading into IRONMAN Maryland. This year, he has worked harder than he ever has in his training, all with the intent of achieving this goal. As we headed into race day, I was confident that Scott had it within him to reach that goal.
However, as my friend and mentor Mark Turner so often says, “Adversity is the only certainty on race day.” 60 miles into the bike course, Scott crashed his bike and sustained some pretty significant injuries. His helmet saved his life, but he was left shaken, bloody, and scraped.
The medical team that attended to Scott agreed that he was okay enough to proceed in the race, and after 20 minutes, Scott got back on his bike (a very brave and significant thing given what he had just experienced!) and finished the bike course. Some very kind people who stopped to help Scott were nice enough to call his wife, Gaye, and update her about what had happened.
I anxiously waited to see Scott in Transition 2; I wanted to see for myself that he was okay. So, when I saw him walking toward his Run Gear Bag, I was so, so relieved and happy that I could give him a hug. He stopped to chat with me, and we talked about what he would need to do to finish the race. I told him that he had made the choice to continue and had already come this far; I was confident that he could use that same strength to get through the run.
I saw Scott again around Mile 5 on the run. The cut above his eye was still bleeding and causing him some trouble (blood constantly running into your eye will do that), but we again talked about how he COULD do this. I told him that it was time to play the hand he had been dealt like it was the one he had wanted.
Scott’s fierce inner drive kicked in then, and he dug deep. He proceeded to have his fastest IRONMAN marathon time EVER, and finished the entire race in 13:28. This was only 15 minutes slower than his personal best IRONMAN time. Considering that the accident cost him 20 minutes when he was stopped (and then many more as he managed his injuries throughout the rest of the race), this is a remarkable and wonderful result. His fitness was so high and so strong that even a significant crash didn’t set him back by much. Had the accident not happened, we are confident that he would have broken 13 hours at this year’s IRONMAN Maryland.
I am so proud of Scott for Saturday’s race, but also for what he has gone through to get to where he currently is now. He is a busy father of three with a very demanding job. He doesn’t have tons of time to train, but he does maximize what time he does have. All of the commitment and sacrifice that he has put into this for the last several years paid off in dividends for him.
Congratulations, Scott! You are an IRONMAN (again)!
Lisa’s journey to IRONMAN started long before she and I met. Back then, she was training with Fleet Feet Syracuse’s Triathlon Training Program, which was coached by my late friend and mentor, Coach Brendan Jackson. In 2017, Lisa was training for her first IRONMAN - IRONMAN Lake Placid - when Brendan suddenly died 12 weeks before the race.
The devastation that was felt by Lisa and all who knew Brendan cannot be understated. It took many weeks for us to even comprehend that he was gone. For the group that was training for IRONMAN Lake Placid, this loss was profound. Unfortunately, when Lisa raced at IRONMAN Lake Placid that year, she didn’t complete the bike course in time, and she got a Did Not Finish (DNF) for that race.
Fast forward two years: Lisa again toed the start line of IRONMAN Lake Placid in 2019. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it off the bike course again, resulting in another DNF.
In November 2019, Lisa hired me to coach her. She was registered for IRONMAN Lake Placid in 2020 and did NOT want to have another DNF. I identified some key things and low-hanging fruit in her training that we could adjust to help her achieve this goal.
Well, again, as everyone knows, 2020 was a bust, and IRONMAN Lake Placid was cancelled. We actually embraced the extra time that Lisa would get to prepare for the 140.6-distance, and set our sights on 2021.
Unfortunately, even though Lisa was by FAR the strongest and most prepared she’s ever been for an IRONMAN, she did not make the bike course cutoffs this year at IRONMAN Lake Placid, making this her third DNF at this distance. My heart broke for her, but when I saw her in Transition 2 that day, I said to her, “I think we need to go to Maryland.” I knew that Lisa had it in her to finish an IRONMAN this year, and Maryland was a great option since it is within driving distance for us in Syracuse and is a flatter course.
Four days later, I received a text from Lisa; it was a screenshot of her race registration for the 2021 IRONMAN Maryland. And so, we went to Maryland. :)
Race morning dawned, and Lisa was ready. She was so relaxed and focused at the start of the race, and remained that way for the rest of the day.
My phone started buzzing continuously when the IRONMAN Tracker showed that Lisa had completed the bike course and entered Transition 2. Everyone from home KNEW how significant this was and was BEYOND excited; Lisa had never before made it onto the run at an IRONMAN. Though we were in uncharted-for-her territory, I knew that she could see this goal through. She had a little under seven hours to run the marathon and still finish under the race’s 17-hour time limit.
Lisa’s dear friend Wendy had driven down from Syracuse on the day of the race to surprise her and to support her. Lisa’s joy at seeing her friend as she started the run course was abundant, and it gave her a boost and pep in her step to start the marathon with.
Unfortunately, Lisa had some significant stomach troubles on the marathon, which cost her the very important time buffers she had built up from the swim and the bike going into the marathon. At one point in the race, she was on pace to miss the intermediate time-of-day cutoffs. Each time I saw her, I would give her an update on where she was time-wise and what she needed to do to make up some time.
Lisa did everything I told her that she needed to do. She dug SO DEEP and got to work, knowing what she had to do to reach her goal of becoming an IRONMAN.
With about 35 minutes left to go before the 17-hour cutoff, Lisa’s watch ran out of battery. She had no idea where she was time-wise, but each time I saw her, I kept telling her how much time was left and what she needed to do. I told her that she was going to need to push herself to her absolute limit, as she had NO time to waste.
As Lisa approached the finish chute, the crowd was on fire. They were screaming, the lights were blazing, and everyone was waiting to welcome Lisa to the finish line. It was so electric that the hairs on my arms were standing up. I firmly believe with all my heart that Coach Brendan was there cheering her on along with the rest of us and helping to propel her across the finish line.
Lisa was one of the final finishers in the race, and we knew that she was SO CLOSE to the 17-hour cutoff. Truthfully, it was so close that we didn’t know until the IRONMAN Tracker updated whether or not she had crossed the finish line in time.
Lisa ran across the finish line and into the arms of our friend Mary Lou, who was volunteering as a finish line catcher. She saw me waiting, and asked, “Did I make it?!?!?!”
I pulled out my phone, and we watched the tracker update to reflect Lisa crossing the finish line. After what seemed like an eternity, we saw the magical “16” first. Lisa’s finish time was 16:59:06. After close to 17 hours of continuous forward progress, Lisa crossed the finish line with FIFTY-FOUR seconds to spare!
She ran over to me holding her medal, giving it to me to put on her. Wendy, Steve (Lisa’s better half), Mary Lou, and I shouted, “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
After close to five years and after four attempts, Lisa FINALLY became an IRONMAN!
Lisa’s story is one that is both humbling and inspiring. Despite every setback and painful experience she encountered on this journey, she never gave up. She found the way to make her dream become a reality. I have learned so much from Lisa in the time that we’ve been working together, and I am so proud of her.
Lisa Crockford, you are (finally) an IRONMAN!
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.