On the flight out to Kona, I met a very inspiring older couple. I posted the condensed version on Facebook, but the husband was recently given 8 months to live. The wife was deeply grateful and a pillar of strength. She talked about her life with him (they were 72 years old & married 50+ years), told me their secrets (MUST have interests separately & together) and talked about her kids/grandkids (I am her kid’s age). She wanted to hear all about me: my kids, my parents & my race in Hawaii. You could tell she was absolutely sincere and engaged in life and the REASON we all do what we do.
In Hawaii when you exit a plane you walk down a flight of stairs to the outside. George was barely able to walk down the stairs but he was too proud STILL to get help. I carried his bags and walked in front of him while he cautiously descended the stairs. I said my good byes and wished them well when we got to the ground. I never thought I would see them again, but they made a lasting impression on me.
When I boarded my flight (now with Jerome) home from Kona to LAX, I walked onto the plane and there was George and Mary. He beamed and I was like, “OH HELLO!!!” I could not talk because we were not sitting next to one another but when we deplaned they were waiting for me. We exchanged some nice words and again (they asked about my race), I wished them well. Jerome and I separated (different flights to Chicago) and I was walking outside to my terminal and it was a long walk to my connecting flight. AND there is George and Mary again. George was now in a wheelchair (yes 6 days later) and I said, “Gosh, I keep seeing you!!” George tried to get up to give me a hug and instead took my hand and said with tears in his eyes, “Live the life you want and live it every day fully.” Mary is crying and I am thinking: Do not cry. Do not cry. I walked away shaking my head in disbelief that I met this inspirational couple and now I am ending my Hawaii Ironman journey with them. If that doesn’t make you go, “AH” then I am not sure what will. To me, it was a gift – a reminder to live the life you want – we are all in control of our own happiness and it was the ribbon that tied together my week and race in Kona that week.
I arrived in Kona on Sunday super late. Jerome came later on Wednesday night. I was so excited to have him with me. I spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday eating local food (fresh fruit & fish!), enjoying some shopping, driving the course, registering, meeting & catching up with some of my Twitter & Facebook triathlon friends, getting my head around the race and decompressing from normal life and work. By the time the race rolled around, I was relaxed, mentally fully engaged and ready to race.
It has been awhile since I have done Kona – 2006 to be exact. That was merely by my own choice. I like the Ironman, I do. But, as I do not need to tell many, it is a LOT of work to train properly for one. And, my kids were 4 back then & now 11 and I was just not really ready for Hawaii some of those years. After 2004, 2006, I vowed that when I returned to Hawaii it was on my terms. I raced there 30-34, 35-39 and now I am 40-44. I wanted to race on the young end of 40-44 and while I q-fied at Ironman Arizona in 2011, I was not ready to race Hawaii then either. So, when I q-fied at Eagleman this year…my kids off to middle school and entering their new phase of life, I knew it was time. I was willing to go “there” this year.
I trained hard for Hawaii. I left no stone unturned. I will not sugar coat how hard it was at times. And, other times I thought it was not really bad. However, the closer to the race the more lazer focused I became. I took care of every minutiae of being the best I could be in order to train 100% every day. My final block for Kona ended with a week in the 22-23 hour range. For many racing Hawaii, that is a standard week – for me, with a full time job and 2 kids…it was a big week for me – already on top of carefully layered weeks of 18-20 hours. Cumulative fatigue is a VERY hard feeling to get used to when training for the Ironman, but by the time mid-September rolled around, I was in the thick of it AND I felt fantastic. It was an interesting experiment to see how I trained and raced Hawaii in each age category too – (30-34, 35-39 & now 40-44)…very different I might add. Less is always more now for me!
I ate almost perfectly (I am not perfect however), I slept perfectly, I did full heat acclimation protocol, I limited any late nights, I washed my hands 1000 times a day (l dislike this the most). I made sure all my equipment was in tip top shape. I took care of every little detail you can imagine. So, during race week I had NO concerns (my biggest concern was that my run shoes were too light or durable enough). I was eerily calm all week. Sure, I was anxious every morning I woke up…just anxious because I was going to do an Ironman and there is always an “X” factor in a race that long. But, the key to a successful execution of your race plan is being able to adapt during the race day…because anything can happen in a race that long and with elements like we have in Kona.
I did all the carbo loading (after eating SO well for so long the carbo loading was not enjoyable, but I did it!), I took some time and wrote out my full race plan. Hour by hour what I was going to eat, how much salt per hour (all of this done in training of course) and even when I had to switch over from my drinks to the courses how that changes my salt & water intake hourly on the bike. In Hawaii the elements are so extreme that (and I have learned the hard way in Kona in 04) if I screw up ANYTHING on that bike, I am SOL on that run. No wiggle room at all. The Queen K will chew you up & spit you out so quickly before you even realize what happened. I have felt that pain in 2004 and I vowed I would NOT do that again.
Race day came quickly and I was excited to race and was mentally & physically in the best shape I could be in at 42. I could not have been more fit or more ready. And, you know what? THE PROCESS of getting to the start line healthy and ready is more of a challenge to me now at 42 than the darn race. I appreciate it a heck of a lot more than I did at 30-34 and even 35-39. The fun thing about Hawaii is all the press & hub bub. Things are SUPER restrictive – only some press and athletes are allowed in most places. I was thankful that after I got my bike set up and out of T2 I was able to find Jerome! He kept me grounded and we made our way into the King K hotel and sat down. Luckily, Amanda W was right there with me and we agreed to go down to the swim start together and hang out. Having a familiar face before the start was a nice treat for both of us. And, treading water for 15 minutes with Amanda was nice too!
I consider myself a good swimmer…but in Kona I am a normal swimmer – The biggest group will swim between 58-1:05 here…and hundreds and hundreds. I knew I would be in this group – albeit on the higher end sans wetsuit and I was right. Ironically, the part I was the most worried about all day was the swim and getting a mechanical on the bike. See, the swim at Kona is a hot mess. You have never met so many men who could care less who they hit, run into or the like.
The cannon started and it was attack attack attack from the get go. I had to stay calm, do not think about the people hitting me, clawing at my feet, ripping my suit, punches were thrown – it was eat or get eaten. The whole time I was like – really? STILL with everyone? I do not get a lot of practice at home with aggressive men (because we don’t usually swim with the men) and rarely are the women waves that deep/aggressive. Ah, Hawaii….where everyone is fast and aggressive. We got to the Body Glide boat in 28:13. But, I know the currant was at our back, so the return is always slower. AND for a brief few minutes I had clean water! I could relax. AND at no point was I ever swimming hard. In fact, I wanted to go harder but I just had no where to go! The swim flew by. I felt AWESOME – the swim was easy. I did not let the roughness freak me out – I was mentally prepared for it. I went into my “happy place” and just powered through. Stood up in 1:03, hit the mat at 1:04.
Into T2 and off on my bike as quickly as I could. I did not change, just threw on sunscreen and a white DeSoto jersey to keep the sun off my skin as much as possible. The bike course at Kona is a grinding one. No major steep hills, but a gradual up or down all day. AND 112 miles on 2 roads basically – and the winds dictate how fast or slow we can all ride. I felt awesome all day on the bike. I had one glitch on the bike. It is SO fast and busy to start. I was riding easy but the small roads and hundreds and hundreds of fast riders whizzing by me and I accidentally hit a pot hole. I ejected my rear 2 bottles. DAMN! But, I was so composed. So calm and so in control of my race and my thoughts, that it was like a Sunday stroll. I stopped. Dismounted my bike (among people screaming at me) unclipped and chased my 2 bottles down the HILL and retrieved them. It was NOT an option in Kona. If I give up my 2 KEY nutrition bottles, I will be walking that marathon. It was never an option not to stop. I lost several key minutes there, but no regrets. I quickly got over it and moved on and back to the race. We had a nice tail wind on the way out (as you can tell w/ the paces). BUT most of us – this is not our first rodeo and I knew that I had to control this speed. IF we over-rode up to Hawi, we would get bit in the ass, so I kept it fairly light (and if I rode too easy is always a question, but the marathon will always answer that question). The time flew by. I was on my nutrition, took in 2-3 BIG bottles per hour. Pefrom and water. AND of course salt. I rode steady and strong. MANY drafting – unfortunate but it happens at all races and especially in Kona where stakes are high. I just put my head down and did my own thing. I got to 56 miles in just under 22 mph average, picked up my special needs bag, refueled and was on my way. I picked up water and Perform at nearly every Aide Station. I was peeing every 2 hours (on the bike yes, people don’t get off their bikes in Kona to pee – I did not see any of that). I felt AWESOME. I had a ton of caffeine and DANG if I was not on FIRE. In fact, my breathing was rapid for a bit and I felt I was coming out of my skin by about mile 55 and I really hit a new energy level there.
Made the turn around and we were able to get down from Hawi pretty quickly (THANK goodness as this patch can be horrific if winds are aggressive). Once back on the Queen K is when the sh*t got real. But I was ready for it. In fact, I never once wanted off my bike. NEVER have I had that feeling in an Ironman. I felt good. I never had a low point. I never got crabby. One thing about Hawaii is that NO ONE speaks to one another out there. Really! It is so intense. I had a lot of guys go by me (and some girls too) and not one person said a word to me – or vice versa. We rode in pure focus and silence. I did not think too much about anything out there, frankly. I was totally focused on watching my watts, speed and nutrition. Once I hit mile 100 (in 4:55) I was like, OK let’s get this over with. I was hoping to go 5:20s (with our initial tailwind) but it just was not going to happen. I got off the bike 5:39 as my official time. 11 minutes faster than last time I raced Kona. AND I felt great!
Ran into T2 and changed shoes, socks, took off my jersey and off I went. I only carried my salt tabs on the run. I do not need, even in the heat & humidity to carry things on a fully catered course. I ran the first mile and I needed a gel. I was a tad low but had no gels until the first aide station. Thankfully the spectators were carrying me and I was having a great time. I felt terrific. I had NO idea what place I was in and I didn’t really care (really). I had one goal in Hawaii and that was to go 10:45. I had 4 hours 20+ minutes to run a marathon to break 11. It was my day to win or lose. THAT is a great feeling. I promised myself to NOT run faster than 7:45s on Ali’I (first 10 miles). I had to hold back in the first 10k…and I did…Ali’I is the easy part. That last 10k in any IM is the monster, really. Once I got up the big hill at Palani (mile 10) game was on. I hit the ½ way part in a comfortable 1:50. NOW it all got real. I was nutritionally right on. I was taking salt in every 45 min or so – in a way to control the heat and then the clouds came out. OH MY GOD THERE IS A GOD. That saved so many of us. It was hot and humid, but that scorching sun was dampened and that helped me a ton.
I felt great. Legs were light (well, as much as possible) & my Electrolytes were spot on and my attitude was great. Looking at the results now, I passed FIFTEEN + women on that run. WOW! It was not until I hit mile 16 that I was like, “OK I am ready to be done.” I made my way into the Energy Lab. This is where I came apart in 2004. It is stale and stagnant in there. It is very hot and hard. The turn around and climb out of Hawi is the hardest part of the run (my opinion). I did not have any issues, but my splits definitely slowed down in this part. There was also an aide station that I grabbed 1 water cup, 1 Perform cup and ice and a gel. I NEVER wanted coke all day – a sign that I was managing the nutrition well. The run home from the Energy Lab is all guts. I kept repeating to myself, “it is all guts now, dig dig dig.” I could feel myself slowing down but not terribly. I was still picking girls off and my miles went from a very steady 8:30 to 8:45-50s….ack! But, then I would have a tough mile (this part of the Queen K is a long way and long, grinding hills)….I could see everyone. I just put my head down, did not pay attention to anyone or anything and ran. I was going to run 3:40s for this marathon (my goal) and be well under 11 hours…I used this as a relaxation technique and just rolled with it.
Mile 22-23 is hard. When isn’t it? I was still in control. I hit mile 24 and took a step and my little toe on my left foot just went hot – I had been rubbing that little toe all day – and I took a deep breathe and wiggled my toes and got over it. I was NOT going to let months (years) and 138 miles of 100% concentration and focus fall apart over a stupid hot spot. Whatever….and you know what? It went away. MIND OVER MATTER. THEN the YELLOW BRICK ROAD was in sight. Running down Palani is so hard (ouch quads) but once you are down Palani, there is less than a mile until you turn on Ali’I and it is the most magical and rewarding mile you will ever run in your entire life.
I was SO happy! I told myself to enjoy this. I knew that this was a gift. Sure, I worked hard, sacrificed so much, but you know what? At the end of the day – THIS is a gift – I had oodles of perspective for this race and appreciation of my body. I was NOT going to take this for granted. I took that final right on Ali’i. I saw Jerome and Glen…then the crowd was deafening, it was so awesome. Still gives me the chills. Then, I saw and heard my Mom, sister and Aunt – what a moment!
I ran hard because I felt good and I could. I took it all in. I said, “THANK YOU” out loud. I saw the clock: 10:44….and there it was 10:45 and I was crossing the line! UNBELIEVABLE! I was just so happy. I did it! And, for a split second I thought, “There is not a better feeling in sport than this…not a one!”
10:45:20 Final Time. Final Marathon time: 3:51. Slower than I wanted, but oh well, I did the best I could. AND that was my best that day. I never stopped, I never doubted I would break 11. I just executed my race plan and BAM there it was. I was a robot.
I came to find out that this was 17th in my AG and 6th American. The day was fast for many athletes and it was great to race with the best in the World and come out in a solid finishing spot. I could not have run one more step mentally or physically. I gave it my all. No regrets. No “what ifs” – it was my best on that day and you know what? My best WAS good enough! It was a course PR by 44 minutes.
So many people to thank… First, thank you to my family. My kids who are so great and to Jerome who is the BEST partner I could have – keeps my over-intense personality under control and balanced! J THANK you to my Mom, sister and Aunt who flew out to Hawaii to watch me race – first time they have really seen me race a big race. It was great to have them there. Thanks to my sitter, Melody, and my dad and neighbors (Janan & Kelly) who all pitched in to help me with the kids when I was gone.
THANKS to Mark and Pom Rouse and Runner’s High & Tri, Nathalie – Best massage therapist ever, Jon at Cadence Cycles for my awesome bike & Lululemon Deer Park for all your support! Thanks to all my Facebook, Twitter and friends far and close – all of your notes, emails and messages to me kept me going all day and I am grateful for all of you!!! Thanks to Coach Dave Walters, my mentor. And, most importantly, to my great friend, Elizabeth. We have been a great team for nearly 10 years – played a lot of different roles – and now even flipping roles as she is coaching me now. There is NOTHING more important than having someone on your team who you like (!), trust and really wants to maximize your potential. It means the world to me that I can turn off my brain and JUST follow a solid, well thought out plan. That alone is worth its weight in gold. I am able to follow instructions and that freed up any mental energy I needed to be mom, coach full time and be a good wife/friend, etc. PRICELESS! Thanks Elizabeth!
Now I rest and eat some PUMPKIN DONUTS….Kona again? Yes…but when I age up to 45-49. My goal is to do it in every age group (on the younger end). THANKS for all the cheers, love and support – I felt it all day in Hawaii !!
And, just in case you didn’t think I gave 100%, this is as soon as I crossed the finish line: