As we handle hard things, we continue to be able to handle hard things – a friend, discussing the term “grit.”
There is nothing like Kona on race week! Athletes and vendors, buzz and excitement descend on Kona every October. I knew more about what to expect, though nothing about repeating the race itself was easier; in fact, one of the more difficult things was that it wasn’t my first Kona, and therefore, I had more expectations of myself. My first time, I almost couldn’t believe I finished the race after some dark moments on the bike course, and this time, I’m feeling disappointment that I was off some of my goals. But, as my first goal is always to finish healthy and happy, that in itself was accomplished!
I spent a week on the Big Island ahead of the race, acclimating and enjoying an easy schedule of workouts, meeting friends and teammates, wandering around the expo and vendor tents, and hanging out in my Air B&B. It was a different life for a week for this mama. I also did the Ho’ala Training Swim – a race that happens on the swim course one week before the big event — and had a time I was happy with: 1:00, including a jellyfish sting. By the time race morning rolled around, I felt ready, somewhat relaxed, and with my race plan in my head. There was nothing left to do but the race. Just the biggest race in the sport of triathlon!
My pre-race hours included dinner at the Kona Inn with my family, pre-race insomnia, parking of my car in town about 4:00 AM, getting numbered, weighed (in case you end up in the medical tent, they want to know how much fluid you’ve lost), checking over my bike, and lining up early for the swim.
During the start of the swim, I took more of a risk and lined up with a direct route of the course, right in the middle of the crowd. There was some chatter among the athletes about being nice to each other when the cannon went off, because usually people get pushed, shoved and clobbered at a mass start like this. After treading water for about 10-15 minutes, it was go time. The paddle boarders turned to the side to let us through, and the cannon blasted. We were off! I settled into a strong swim, pushing just a touch harder than I usually would, but still keeping things smooth. I drafted most of the 1.2 miles out to the turnaround, the jellyfish avoided me, and on the way back, had some open space. A successful swim!
Swim time: 1:01:41
Swim pace: 1:36
Swim place: 5
My friend Dave was working in the bike transition as I came through. So fun to see him and get a little boost from a friend before I was off to Hawi!
My goal was to get warmed up and through the eight-mile Kuakini out-and-back, get onto the Queen K and get to work. Spectators are cheering, I’ve got lots of energy, and am excited to be off on my ride. So, with all that, my watts were high, the course was crowded with cyclists, and I was going uphill. It was so difficult to pull it back! Soon enough, I was on the highway, and it was time to start my day. I glanced down at my watts and they’re averaging about ten too high. Wouldn’t it be great if I could hold it, though? It’s thirty miles to Kawaihae, so I just tried to keep it steady, but the watts did drop. About twenty miles in, I had a general sense of not feeling well. I’d swam hard for an hour, biked through the excitement of town, and now I was staring at a long day on this quiet, windy highway. Unintentional thoughts popped into my head. For example: “I’m out here all day, for nothing but a sunburn and a sufferfest, only to be wiped out for days afterward!” A little different than the words I’d written the day before to get me through the hard moments: relentless (be on the gas all day), trust (trust my fitness, experience and preparation), gift (this is a privilege).
I definitely needed calories.
I’d been drinking, but it was time to get some food in, and fast. Gas! Keep the gas pedal on and stay fueled. That’s what my coach and I had talked about the day before. Be on the gas all day. Be relentless, I made myself think. Between those words, my nutrition and some steady pedaling, I got myself to Kawaihae and started up the climb to Hawi.
At that point, I was in for a mid-ride treat. It was the male pros, flying back toward me on their way to T-2, with Patrick Lange in the lead in his blue kit! Shortly after that, the female pros, with Daniela Ryf in the lead, looking solid and amazing. So, with that inspiration flying by me, I started the climb with renewed energy and it never sank for the rest of the ride.
I got one good gust of wind on the way up to Hawi, which I thought was a sign of something to come. But the turnaround came and went, and I started on the downhill, braced myself, and – nothing. No wind. Barely a breeze. What? What was more, my average speed for the day was well over 19 MPH. This was crazy for this notorious bike course! And somehow, I was feeling good. My heart rate was in the right range, though my power was a little low. Maybe I could bring it up a few watts…
Mile 70 came, and then mile 80, and I was still feeling good, keeping tension on my chain, trying to hold steady power. I drank and consumed my gels and salt on a very regular basis, and smeared on some sunscreen once. There are very few and far between conversations out there on the highway, but one girl mentioned that it looked stormy over in Kona, and sure enough, we were headed into a cloud with some sprinkles. But, when we rolled into Kona, the sun and humidity was back in full force. No such luck to have a sprinkle of rain on the run.
Quick porta-potty stop, threw on my shoes, an amazing volunteer gave me her ponytail holder because I’d lost mine, and I was off on the run.
As soon as I stepped out of the transition and onto Ali’i drive, I held off on making too many judgments about how I was feeling. Four miles is what it takes for me to warm up to a marathon after a 112-mile ride. It never feels great to get off a bike and start running in what feels like a sauna. But a quick inventory of myself proved all was well so far. Stomach, good. Legs, okay.
I remembered that I really enjoyed the run down and back on Ali’i two years ago, and this time I enjoyed it as well, but with a small warning in the back of my mind that I better not blow it. My heart rate was a little high, but my coach recommended that I not look at my pace because of the gradual rollers. I didn’t feel snappy, like last time. I was feeling okay, just not fast. Darn.
The down-and-back on Ali’i drive is the part of the race where you get a huge boost from spectators and I was lucky to see several friends out there cheering, along with my support crew of Mom, Dad, and Karen. Seeing people out along the course really does give me a boost and keeps me smiling and moving forward.
When I got to the Palani climb, I jogged up and the BASE tent was right at the top. Matt took a video of me and on it I said I felt “awesome” which wasn’t too far off. I did feel pretty decent, physically. Mentally, I was discouraged. I was only eight miles in and my pace was off what I’d thought I could do. The drier air up on the highway was nice, but it was still baking hot. I was using ice and cold water every aid station, which helped, and at the stations that were out of ice, the volunteers doused athletes with cold water. As I was seeing my pace and heart rate, I knew I wouldn’t be able get a four-hour marathon, much less the 3:50 I thought I might be capable of on a good day. I adjusted my goals. The highway seemed to go on forever: there was a course change that added more than a mile to the Queen K section and the Energy Lab. The scary Energy Lab portion (hot, windless, miles 15-18) didn’t seem as bad as before. I even had cloud cover for a few minutes, and I knew what to expect. It actually wasn’t the hard moment I was anticipating. I find it funny in Ironman racing that the different moods can hit when you least expect it.
Again, there was not much talking amid everyone’s mutual but solitary suffering. At one point, heading out of the Energy Lab, a girl apologized for running right behind me, saying “I hope I’m not being annoying – I’m just doing what I can to get through this.” Indeed, do what you need to, girl!
My own motivational words really weren’t working that much and instead I was zoning out. I decided to focus on my second word, trust. I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting I would keep going, trusting I wouldn’t cramp, overheat, cry, give up, or worse. I’m trained, my body would get me there if I just keep moving.
Mile 20 came and went, and then it was a waiting game for me. Just one more mile, then another. By 24 I’d have one to go until just a run up Kuakini and down Ali’i to the finish. Once I made the right turn into town, I knew I was home free. Afterward, a fellow athlete said, “Those last few miles make you question living!” It is such a challenge when you feel so done but still have a long way to go. But if you can hang on just another mile, then another, the end does come.
I ran down Ali’i Drive, just after sunset, and I got to hear for the fifth time: “You are an Ironman!”
Finish time: 11:03:21
Finish place: 28
Post race was a blur of being escorted to the athlete area, lying down on the grass, medical staff wandering around to see if people are okay, trying to drink some water, and change clothes and meet my family. I needed to eat, but sitting at a restaurant proved so uncomfortable, and I couldn’t really eat anyway, that I left and went back to my apartment, not really feeling much better until I was able to lie down flat on the bed. By Tuesday, I seemed to be rehydrated, and by Wednesday I was no longer sore.
Racing this race really is a gift. I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to do this sport, with a family and friends who not only support me, they push and encourage me. I wouldn’t do this at all if it weren’t for them!
I’m not quite sure yet what next season holds. Six to eight weeks before an Ironman I usually feel pretty done and desperate for a break. Once the race is over, I’m tempted to jump right back in to see if I can make improvements or find a new challenge. So, my first goal is to make myself really take about six weeks off before making any big decisions. But I do know that the long-course triathlon and I are not at all finished!