New Orleans 68.3 [Race Report]

Ironman 70.3 / Race Reports

2 Miles 2 Short

New Orleans 68.3 Race Report

 New Orleans 70.3 started out with a somber tone. Jeff and I drove the racecourse Friday mid-day and I was going to get out and ride a certain section of the course, like I always do. However we were stopped by a police officer that was standing in the middle of the road, blocking traffic. He came up to our car and informed us the reason why we couldn’t proceed down the road was because they were cleaning up after a fatal bike crash. Completely shocked by the news, we didn’t move right away. He told us to pull off to the side of the road and in 20 minutes the road would be opened back up. Jeff and I just sat and prayed for the family and everyone involved in the incident. Once the road was opened we kept driving questioning how on earth a fatal bike accident could occur on this section of the course. Yes, it was a four-lane highway but it did have a decent shoulder. We were expecting all the evidence to be cleared from the road when we came upon the white Chevy Cruze that had apparently struck three cyclists at the same time, two of which were brothers-in-laws. One of the brother-in-law’s passed away on the scene and the other suffered from critical injuries. The third cyclist was not harmed. The front windshield was completely shattered. This hit home to me because there have been a lot of ‘close calls’ with cars when I have been out riding my bike. I do not know exactly what happened that day. But, I do know that no matter what happened, awareness needs to be raised with drivers realizing that the vehicle they are driving can be used as a weapon that can seriously injure or kill cyclists and pedestrians. Yes, there are times when a cyclist might be just to the left of the white line but, by buzzing past them to prove a point it is not worth the risk. I wish we could educate drivers to take the extra 10 seconds to pass with care! This is so important to me! I told Jeff I was going to race for the poor man who lost his life, training to compete in the sport we all love! Frank Guinn was a sergeant for the Atlanta Fire Department. He was married with triplet seven-year-old daughters.  The family is accepting donations at this website:

The next day, the day before the race, I am generally 100% focused on what I need to do to fully prepare for my race. However, my mind continued to wonder how such a horrible incident could happen and my thoughts kept returning to the poor family.

I was also racing for my cousin John M. Kehoe who passed away, March 16th, 2014 at the young age of 36 from Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. He fought with so much strength and courage, and unwavering faith in God. A 6-year-old daughter survived him.

Race Day

Race morning was surreal. Frank’s wife, Kimberly, flew out to address all the athletes right before the race. Even though we were all in New Orleans to race, there was a moment when you could feel the vibe switch from race-mode to a somber united community that mourned the loss of a fallen fellow athlete. Kimberly spoke with so much love and compassion for her husband. The race director also said a few words before a moment of silence.

Finally, they sung the national anthem, and the race was ready to begin. The announcers introduced the professional male field as they dove off the dock and swam to the starting line. Considering the ceremony that just took place, everyone was a little out of sorts. It was the first race where there was not a countdown but just the sound of the starting horn. Luckily, the men’s abrupt start prepared me for my wave. I heard the announcer saying all the professional women’s names as we entered the water. I walked across the dock in my Blueseventy wetsuit and placed my Blueseventy goggles on before diving in. We too swam to the starting line and just like the men, we were started with only the horn. It was more peaceful in a way to just hear the horn and start swimming instead of the anticipation growing with 30 sec…. 10sec….3,2,1, honk.

The swim course was designed in an N shape. Right from the start I was able to swim with a pack of about 6 girls. This has never happened to me before. Normally, I am so far off the back from the sound of the horn that the race is more or less over in the swim for me. However, I have worked extremely hard this off-season on my swim and I noticed the gains right away. I, not only was able to stay on feet, but I also maintained a very comfortable perceived effort. Each buoy we turned around I gained more and more confidence that I was going to finish the swim with a pack of girls. This was a huge deal to me. I knew that by swimming with others I would not be alone on the bike. I exited the water in 12th place but within 60 seconds of 7th place and 5:40 behind 1st place, Haley Chura. I was able to put together a screaming fast transition time and gained a few spots before the bike mount line.

I was so excited to get on my new Trek 9 Series Speed Concept, Tenacity. As I headed down the road I could see Sarah Piampiano right in front of me. I knew she was an extremely talented cyclist and if I could just keep her within my sight for the entire bike I would be off to having a fantastic race. My bike rode amazingly well with my Aeolus 5 Bontrager wheels and my treated chain from UltraFast Optimization made it shift like a dream. I was one of only two professional women without deep-dish wheels or even full disk wheels. At first this made me a little nervous because the course is FLAT! It is known that the deeper the disk, the faster the wheel set, unless it is extremely windy, especially crosswinds. As luck would have it, it was very windy in New Orleans race day. Thankfully, Wheat Ridge Cyclery had my fit dialed-in and I was feeling good. At mile 5, however, my rear box lid popped open. A cord attaches the lid to the box, therefore; as a result, the lid swung back and forth tapping the back of my leg for the remaining 51 miles. Not a big deal, but pretty annoying. I fiddled with it for about a mile trying desperately to put the lid back on, but while riding hard it made it impossible for me. I gave up and just let it flap back and forth; I told myself that each time I felt it tap my leg was allowing me to stay in the present moment.

Sarah pushed a solid pace for the first 25 miles. I stayed over 4 bike lengths behind her. I just wanted to keep her in sight but not challenge her for the lead. Every few minutes we would pass a girl but the pace never wavered. Down the Chef Highway, the race directors had set up a memorial for Frank, our fellow fallen athlete.  As I passed I said a prayer for him and wanted to honor him with an outstanding performance. I stayed up on my hydration throughout the bike ride sipping on numerous bottles of EFS. Up the road we hit a U-turn and so Sarah and I could see how close the other girls were to us. We were making a gap and I was satisfied with the pace we were pushing. By the second U-turn, Sarah asked me to take the lead over. I did but within seconds she surged ahead. I have done races in the past, yo-yoing back and forth with other competitors and it is exhausting. I was not going to do that again so I settled back several bike lengths behind her again. At an hour twenty into the bike I took Pre-Race and by mile 40 I could feel it kicking in. Sarah and I had just passed Haley Chura who was in second place when I thought I would just put in a slight surge, (nothing serious) to see what would happen. After about 3 minutes I looked behind me and realized “OK, the rest of the bike ride I am on my own, lets try to catch first place.” I could see Anna Cleaver up the road. There wasn’t enough miles left in the bike course for me to pass her on the bike but she was racking her bike in T2 as I came running in off the bike. Again, I managed a smokin’ fast T2 time and was hot on her heals out of transition.

I passed her at the start of the run and was on a mission to win this race! I tried to stay calm and collected as I headed up over a drawbridge the biggest incline in the whole race. I knew Jeff would be standing on the other side of the bridge and he couldn’t mistake me in my bright pink Wattie Kit. I will never forget his reaction when he had seen I was in first place. He was out of his skin excited! We had joked about it the night before, “Imagine if I was able to be first off the bike? You know what an amazing race I would be having.” Well, I was not first off the bike but I was first on the run and I had 13.1 miles to determine my fate. I believe I was extremely smart on the bike but was not smart on the run!

I knew I had a one minute forty-five second lead early into the run so I should have slowed down at aid stations and gotten my fluids in. However, I have never been in first place during a professional race before and I was scared. I wanted to win more then anything and I told myself that if I lost the race because I was slowing down at aid stations I would never forgive myself. This was extremely foolish thinking, with hindsight being 20/20. I had a big enough of time gap to take an extra 5 sec. to get more fluids down at each aid station. But I grabbed the cups as quickly as possible and by the time I got it up to my mouth nearly all the fluids had been already splashed out of the cup. Plus, the race had plastic cups vs. paper cups making them crumble in your hand when you grab them quickly making it even more of a hopeless cause. I would think to myself, “Oh well, that’s OK I will just get more fluids at the next aid station”. But at every aid station, I was barely getting a tiny sip here and there. Without having sponges on the course my body temperature continued to rise throughout the run. It was extremely hot and humid, something I was not prepared for coming from all the cold Colorado training days.

At mile 6.7 on the run there was a U-turn. I could see Sarah was still in second place but was still down 1:30. At this point, I should have taken desperate measures to drink as many fluid ounces as possible at the next aid station. I could see I had the time, but I was so stubborn, I barely sipped on my Liquid Shot I carried in my back pocket. These were the choices that would eventually unravel me. At mile 8, I could not do simple math anymore and was not thinking clearly at all. I could not for the life of me think how many miles I had left, 5, 4, I don’t know. Once your mind starts to slip, your physical abilities do too. By mile 10, my lead had been cut to fifty-five seconds. However, I was mentally gone. I don’t remember anything that happened between mile 10 and 11.5. I was told that I was passed at mile 11 and that I was stumbling and throwing up all over the place. The scary thing is I was convinced I was running the whole time!!! A race official pulled me from the race course and took me directly to the medical tent. He had the A/C on high in his truck and stopped to get ice at the closest aid station to put under my neck and in my armpits for our drive to the medical tent. Once the truck pulled up outside of the medical tent I was lifted up by two men and carried to a cot. I was immediately hooked up to an I-V and never really started processing what was happening until my second I-V. I had a container with Salt tablets in my right hand, which apparently a male pro had handed to me during the run but I had no idea. I never was unconscious but clearly not coherent. I had suffered from heat exhaustion. I was two miles away from my first victory as a professional female and my silly decisions cost me the race. In the medical tent I was able to answer the majority of their questions but for the life of me I had no idea where I was. The only city that would come to mind was Galveston but I knew that was not correct. Finally after struggling with the question three times and looking to Jeff for help (which I did not receive) I was able to remember we were, in Louisiana. I have never been so confused with easy questions; it really scared me. Jeff was by my side the whole time giving me positive words of encouragement and saying how proud of me he was even though I know it was equally as painful for him to see how the race unfolded right before his eyes.

New Orleans 68.3 has a ton of positives to be taken away from this race as well. I learned so much and can walk away with a ton of confidence. I know the training I am receiving from Boulder Coaching is exactly on par and with a few minor tweaks to my race strategy; I am on the right path! I know God has a plan infinitely better then I could put together for myself.  With the faith that everything happens for a reason, I know great things are to come!

I was able to give everything I had on race day for John Kehoe and Frank Guinn.

Congratulations to all of the professional women who brought so much talent and determination to the race. It was a blast racing against you!

I am so thankful to my incredible sponsors! Without their support, I could not be on this amazing journey. I want to especially thank my title sponsor Guy Chemical, who is allowing me to make my dream reality. I want to thank Jeff for being my rock in the most critical of times and my parents for their unwavering love. Thank you to all my incredible fans, your positivity keeps me going. Thank you so much to our amazing home stay in New Orleans, Leigh Ayn, Ali and Jay for making us feel so welcome.  Lastly, I want to thank all the angels that provide medical aid at each race, you are truly phenomenal!

My next race will be Ironman 70.3 St. Croix on May 4th.

Danielle Mack is professional Triathlete residing in Boulder, Colorado. She found her passion for triathlons at a young age. However, it wasn’t until she turned sixteen did she really start training strictly for triathlons. Through various paths God has lead her through the years including Xterra’s and Adventure Racing she discovered her ultimate love, long course triathlons, especially Ironman’s!


  1. Randy Jordan
    21 April 14, 7:01pm

    Great race recap. Thanks for the details. I will also learn from your lessons! Best wishes on May 4th… i think you’ll have a stellar race.

  2. T. Butler
    10 May 14, 6:21pm

    You are a champ!!!

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