"It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit."
As a coach, exercise physiologist, dietitian, 5x Ironman finisher and 2x Ironman world championship finisher, I respect the human body for all that it allows me to do on a daily basis. Throughout this Ironman journey, I have developed a deep relationship with my body and with the right balance of my lifestyle of triathlon with my passion for living my life to the fullest and helping others, I feel I was able to enter this Ironman in the best mental and physical shape of my life.
What I find so amazing about the body is that for many of us, we have a gift. Regardless of finishing time, those of us who reach an Ironman starting line have a gift, comprised of mostly perseverance. This is a gift that many people don't recognize and for others, that many people would love to have, but lack the desire, motivation or means of wanting to train for a 140.6 mile event.
For most of us, we are age-groupers. The Ironman event series gives us a challenge, a way to feel successful and a way to see the body become something that we never thought was possible. We surround ourselves with people who support us, believe in us and are inspired by our decision to sign-up, train and compete in an Ironman but then there are those who are in our lives, that call us "crazy" for putting our body through such pain and torture. When it comes to race day, our reasons for getting to the finishing line include a raffle of thoughts and ideas. While we shoot for personal bests and an inner strength to dig deep, we also consider the time, money and personal and emotional investment that we contributed to the last x-months in training for this Ironman event.
Although I feel the 140.6 mile Ironman distance fits my body and personality the best, out of the many available triathlon distances, I do not take for granted that anything can happen on race day. Sure, anything is possible on race day, but I see my body as this amazing machine that should be taken care of as if it was glass.
This Ironman journey included much more than "training hard and long". Actually, I feel as if the training was beyond hard because it forced me to break down the sport and focus on the little things that would make for a great race day performance. With only 1 ride over 100 miles and my longest run of 16 miles off the bike, my goal with my training was to develop the confidence that I needed to believe in myself that I could put my training to the test.
I believe that anyone who sets out to do an Ironman, needs a solid base. Once that endurance base is built, he/she must focus on quality training, in addition to focusing on a goal with the right attitude. I believe that Ironman training should be fun, but it isn't without its up and down moments. Because we often question the reason for participating in the most self-fulfilling, one day endurance triathlon event, we must have a goal. This goal allows us to be consistent with training, to rest when the body can no longer perform at an optimal level and to go into the race with a practical plan.
With every training session in my 14-weeks B4KONA training plan, I saw myself in the Kona race...I could see myself crossing the finish line with a specific time and every interval in Jacksonville took place - in my mind - in Kona, on the Ironman course. I was not afraid to "RACE" Kona because I had believed in myself that I could race my plan. I recognized that obstacles would be thrown my way on the amazing BIG ISLAND of Kona but I always plan to race within my stretchable limits.
The Ironman is an indescribable accomplishment because it is more than just a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. Because we can't compare race to race, season to season, event to event, you are always forced to put your current training to the test and be one with your mind and body on that given day. The deciding factor on race day isn't how far you swam, biked or ran or how much money you spent on gear or how much body fat you have on race day. When it comes to racing or participating in an Ironman, you have to want it....bad Although many people want that finish or best time...."PR or ER" as some may say, I believe that the Ironman should explore our boundaries of what we are capable of achieving.
One thing I have learned in my triathlon and Ironman career is that athletes are not made in season, nor are they defined by one race. Many people look at results, rather than what happened within the race.
On October 8th, 2011, I did not have the race that I dreamed of having. On paper, my time did not reflect what I had trained my body to do. But after relishing in my accomplishment of finishing another Ironman over the past few days, I have done plenty of reflecting to decide that this was the best race of my life. This was a true test of my ability to overcome obstacles and this is what will drive me, motivate me and will allow me to succeed in the future. This race forced me to use the most significant training tool that I had included in my 14-week training journey. For if it wasn't for my mind and ability to listen to so many conversations in my head, I would have left KONA as a DNF athlete.
"Determination, patience and courage are the only things needed to improve any situation."
After leaving transition, I started my Garmin and ran up half of Palani hill. The legs were feeling remarkably good and I made a rt turn onto Kuakini and then ran down a short hill on Hualalai. Once I made my way onto the infamous Ali drive, I headed away from town (and the finish line) and found my grove. I had a lot of energy but as I mentioned before, I felt a little off.
The first aid station came and I cooled myself with water and sipped on a water as I had a swig of perform. It was a quick walk through the aid station and then I started running again. As you may or may not know, walking is part of my training and racing strategy for long distance races. I even "tested" the walk strategy in a half marathon where I walked for 10 sec every mile for 10 miles of the 13.1 mile race. I ended up having a 4 minute PR to run a 1:32 half marathon w/ 1 minute and 40 second of walking during the race. My philosophy with walking is that you are not "resting" but rather postponing fatigue. Many athletes run until they physically can't run any more and although there is a point of digging deep even when you choose to walk or don't walk, I believe that putting in planned walked breaks will allow athletes to be more consistent over the course of the IM and have a great attitude throughout the race because walking will not seem as a "failure" but rather part of the plan.
When I approached the second mile, my stomach was turning. There was a sudden urge that needed to go to the bathroom and it wasn't to pee. I decided to just slow down at the next aid station, take in only water and ice and to try to keep moving forward. Somewhere in the middle of mile 2 I saw Karel and started walking. This was the first walk/stop of this questionable 26.2 mile race.
Seeing Karel across the street, I didn't want to tell him but I mouthed that I had really bad diarrhea. My apologies for TMI but I believe that to prepare athletes (and future IM athletes) for similar experiences, I want to be as detailed as possible as we must remember - it's not about preventing nutrition-related problems but knowing how to deal with them when they arise. I told Karel that I just couldn't take in anything and that I really had to go to the bathroom. Karel was on the other side of the road on his bike and I didn't want to yell this information to him but in a soft voice, I yelled to him "Should I just quit now?"
Karel, reminded me that I have dreamed of this run. He told me to take my time and to walk as much as I needded. He kept saying the right things and at times, he would say nothing. Because spectators can not assist athletes on the course, I was not able to fully have a conversation with Karel but I couldn't help but I wanted to so badly just run across the course and fall into his arms and call it a day. He was on his bike and covered most of the course, cheering for so many athletes and for our friends but just knowing that he was around kept me going. Perhaps Karel riding along on his bike, moving forward and saying nothing, was his way of showing me that he believed in me to keep moving forward.
After a rough 4 miles of walking, stopping and hitting 2 port-o-potties, I was nearing the turnaround and I was really struggling with the conversations in my head. Part of me wanted to quit. Part of me wanted to walk. A big part of me wanted to run but no matter what I tried, my tummy was no cooperating. After I made the turn around, my stomach got worse. Because I was still trying to take in calories to keep me fueled, I decided that it was time to shut down sports nutrition.
Knowing that I was losing a vast amount of electrolytes every 2-3 miles (my port-o-potty stops), I was sure to take my pills, similar to what I took on the bike. However, I knew I needed something but I just couldn't stomach the thought of eating anything solid. I kept myself hydrated with water and ice (ice over the head and down my shorts) at every aid station but stopped taking in any calories. I was kinda in a lose-lose situation because no calories = risk for medical issues but losing electrolytes = risk for medical issues. Therefore, my strategy was to continue running but to walk a lot in the aid stations. Again, my body felt energized and well-fueled but I was unable to keep anything inside of me. What went in, came right back out. And at times, it was tough to even make to the aid station so I was forced to walk in the middle of the miles just to prevent discomfort between the miles.
Slowing down was the best strategy I could do for myself and I always recommend this to my athletes. When in doubt..just slow down!
Once I made it close to Palani, I made a LONG walk up the hill. I figured I lost a lot of time walking up this hill but with only 16 more miles to go, I could not risk anything by trying to "tough it out" when it wasn't worth being tough.
I kept checking my Garmin between the miles and I was crusing along at 8:05-8:10 min/miles. This was a very comfortable pace and it was hard at times to stop at the aid stations. A big part of me wanted to continue running but I recognized that at some point, my body would say enough due to the issues of losing electrolytes and fluids and not taking in adequate calories to fuel an average pace of 8 min/miles for 26.2 miles.
Once I got onto the Queen K, I decided to try pretzels which worked for me in my first IMFL, when I had similar tummy problems for the first 4-5 miles. The aid stations were well-stocked with gels, oranges, cookies, powerbar perform, coke, water and ice so I would take advantage of sponges, ice and water and eat a pretzel or two when I felt like it was a good time.
I started to feel a bit better on the Queen K and knowing that this would be the most mentally challenging parts of the course, I just broke it down mile by mile. Just keep moving forward. I started to get into a grove and felt like I was coming back around but after making the mistake of sipping a Hammer gel w/ water, my tummy was active again and it was back into the port-o-potty. I figured this was 5th stop in the port-o-potty and at this point, I was just in survival mode.
I still felt good while running so I was just trying to think of what it was going to feel like to cross the finish line. I saw my friend Kim out on the course, who was dealing with some dehydration/cramping issues and I stopped to walk with her for a minute or two. At this point, I was doing anything I could to just enjoy the moment and to forget about my issues.
Once I entered the Natural Energy Lab around mile 16, I started to feel really good. Fueled on about 5 pretzels, ice and water, I was focusing on my form as it was really hot and the body was getting tired. Around mile 18, in the energy lab, I saw the big screen that has our names and a message and I smiled when I saw "Go Marni. Campy says GO Mom!". This gave me an extra boost but once I left the energy lab around mile 19.5, my quads started to really hurt.
I spotted Karel on the other side of Queen K, too far to communicate with him. However, my run was starting to slow as we did a lot more climbing on the way back into town. My quads were tight and I was really focusing on staying cool w/ ice..all over. I recognized that my nutrition contributed to my run but I was trying to be as smart as possible. Certainly, if I was experiencing similar symptoms at home, I would not train or work and I would just sleep and rest all day. However, when you are in an Ironman, you hacve two options. Be smart and finish or take risks, suffer and hope to finish. I choose the first option.
The conversations in my head got louder and louder as I was nearing mile 23 of the run. My quads were hurting so bad that I had to stop and rub on them every few minutes. Karel left at this point to head to the finish, so it was up to me and pure determination to keep on running like I had dreamed and trained to do.
Throughout the entire run, I kept an eye on the time of the day. Knowing that 6pm would ensure a 11 hour finish, there were many times throughout the run that my thought to walk/jog and to just finish was overpowered by the thought that I could still break 11 hours. With around 4 miles to go, I remember a girl running next to me, telling me that if we keep up this pace, we will break 11 hours with no problem.
I wanted to tell her what I had been through but instead I just told her "go get 'em!".
When I got to the top of Queen K and started my steep descend down Palani, I could hear my body yelling for me to stop and to walk. At any moment, I was fearful that my legs would just give out on me as each step became an mindful effort as my body was getting close to giving up.
When I made a turn off Palani onto Kuakini, the crowd was large and I could hear people cheering for me..telling me that I looked great. Haha - if they only knew. The last mile was so super special and before I got to the turn to Hualalai, I heard a cheer from a girl who yelled "Go Marni...I love your blog!!". Talk about an instant burst of energy. I contemplated stopping and talking to her and thanking her but I just kept on running. I was looking for any excuse to stop but with Mike Riley in the background, calling out names of Ironman World Championship finishers, I just kept on moving.
At this point I was nearing 6pm and I told myself to just enjoy this finish line. In 2007, I was in pain and it was the worst finish line experience of my life. I wanted to remember this one so I really soaked it all in as I made my last turn onto Ali.......