I woke up at 3:30am so that I could voluntarily use my body to:
Swim 2.4 miles
Bike 112 miles
And now I get to talk about running a marathon.
And because I do not call myself a runner, but instead, a triathlete, I am ending my Ironmand World Championship by running 26.2 miles.
As if running a marathon wasn't hard enough, I choose to run 26.2 miles after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles. A marathon is certainly never under-valued for the every-day running enthusiast who strives to be a marathon finisher and I can't say it enough that I am so incredibly grateful for what my body allows me to do for a total of 140.6 miles. I realize that I could choose just to be only a swimmer and "only" swim 2.4 miles in the ocean. I could also be only a cyclist and "only" bike 112 miles. Or, I could only be a runner and "only" run a marathon.
But as a competitive athlete, my mind demands more to prove my toughness. I have chosen a multi-sport lifestyle because it not only challenges my body but also my mind. Seven Ironman finish lines ago, I decided I didn't want to settle for single-sport finishing lines. Absolutely nothing wrong with each sport performed alone but I have dedicated year after year to become the best multi-sport athlete I can be.
As an endurance triathlete, I realize that I have a lot on my plate. Oh yes, life is hard enough to manage but on top of that - nutrition, sport nutrition, stretching, strength training, training, racing, sleep. It's a lot to be an athlete, let alone an endurance athlete.
I take my sport, which is a voluntary sport, very seriously.
And what keeps me smiling throughout every race is knowing that I have trained myself to handle the mental demands of race day.
It's easy to sign up for an Ironman but you must have the motivation to train. Your inner drive keeps you going because of a meaningful goal that keeps you moving forward through soreness, bad workouts, injuries and stressful days.
The Ironman demands taking risks and learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable. And success as an Ironman athlete doesn't mean that you have the perfect pacing and nutrition plan but instead, that you are able to stretch your physical and emotional limits. When the body and mind want to give up, shower and lay down on the couch - you have to find a way to silence the screaming in your body so that you can finish what you started.
The Ironman requires that you handle competitive pressure in a good way so that you do not throw away hard work, good coaching and proper planning because you are nervous to see what the body will actually do when you put months of training together, of three sports, only for a one day event.
The Ironman requires that you believe in yourself for no one can move your body for 140.6 miles except for your own mind that controls the body to want it more than it has ever wanted it before.
The Ironman requires you to be an amazing person when it comes to adversity. The Ironman tests you when you are most vulnerable - like three weeks out from a race and you get sick or injured or during a race and you lose your fuel, get a flat tire or your GPS malfunctions. The Ironman tests you when the forecast isn't in your favor. When you feel scared or intimated by things out of your control, the Ironman wants to see how you use experience to adapt to the adversity. The Ironman wants to know if you can avoid making the same mistake twice (i.e. overtraining, poor pacing, etc.) and if you are strong enough to actually accept your mistakes in the first place instead of blaming your own mistakes on the weather or the course.
The Ironman is nothing more than a metaphor of life...although, when you cover 140.6 miles in an Ironman event, you get a big shiny medal and a t-shirt.
What I love about the Ironman, but most importantly as an endurance triathlete, is that I can develop skills during training that I never knew were possible. I can focus on what is important at that moment in time and set goals for myself for the future to keep me waking up every morning to see what I am capable of achieving for that day.
Lastly, the Ironman teaches me the skill of patience. Knowing that you can not cover 140.6 miles by training for a few weeks, the lesson I have learned the most with the Ironman is that hard work feels great. It's not easy and it's not quick and it requires more than just putting in the miles.
The Ironman is a lifestyle and that is what keeps me craving more, year after year. Every time I start a race, I look forward to the opportunity to be with myself all day and to cross the Ironman finishing line knowing that with every race, I am becoming a stronger human being.
After 112 miles, I was excited to step foot on the ground for the first time in 5 hours and 30 minutes. I stopped my computer on my bike and hit lap on my Garmin 910. I handed my bike to a volunteer and bent over to remove my shoes. I carried my shoes with me through transition which was a long run all the way around the entire pier.
I finally reached my T2 gear bag which contained two gel flasks, my 110% Visor, a clean pair of socks, my bib number + race belt (with safety pins attached), my Brooks Launch running shoes (with lace locks) and a small hand towel and then headed inside the Women's changing tent.
I was very unsuccessful at emptying my bladder fully on the bike so as soon as I put on my shoes, clean socks (kept my compression CEP calf sleeves on) and visor (with the help of a volunteer giving my ice cold water), I went straight to the port-o-potty in the Women's changing tent.
One of my rules with needing to go to the bathroom during races is go the first moment you feel the urge. Do not wait until it gets too late and the transition area is a great place to go as there is a better chance you will find more potties than on the course with athletes.
Completely relieved after I went to the bathroom (I made us of my time by putting on my bib number belt), I stretched out my legs and walked until I left the changing tent until it felt "right" to run. I was in no immediate rush as I knew all was going well - no GI distress, great pacing and if all goes well, a very exciting PR.
After leaving transition area, I was mobbed by spectators. Of course, everyone was behind the barricades but they gave me so much amazing energy. I saw a few friends in the crowd (Lane Vogel and Lacey - thank you!) and made my way a bit up Palani, to the right and then down Hualani to veer left on to the notorious Alli drive.
I had mentally and physically prepared myself for this run. I completed the 3 x 2 hour runs which were all off the bike (1-2 hour bikes) and felt much stronger than in Placid 14 weeks ago. Also, I was reminded by a good friend of mine and a phenomenal top triathlete that when you become stronger on the bike, running is much easier off the bike. My power had improved 10 watts in 14 weeks which for me, is huge on the bike but most of all, my body was healthy and 90 days of no running meant lots of hip work to bring me to Kona with a strong body.
The run course is exciting and beautiful....until you step foot on the Queen K hwy around mile 10.
So to soak up all the excitement, I could not wait to see Gloria outside of our condo, just 2.7 miles down the road. It was the highlight of my day as I knew she would be cheering for me and I just hoped she had a message for me from Karel and my parents.
I'm not going to sugar-coat the run but the first few miles took a while to pass. I was feeling good in my body but it was just an overwhelming amount of energy to hold on to that I struggled to get my rhythm. I needed to go to the bathroom (nothing was distressing my GI system, I just needed to go and the body was telling me to do so) so I went to a potty and it was being occupied. This was just after I saw Gloria so I am thinking around mile 4 or so, just about 1.5 miles before the turn around. I stood outside the potty for what felt like forever but it was only about 30 sec or so until I decided to continue on to the next potty. Ah - relief.
I stuck with my plan of mostly going by RPE with a goal pace of around 8:30, if I ran faster, I would walk until I reached my goal pace. If I was slowing down a bit on the inclines, I would accept that time as I knew a decline was coming and I would still walk 20-30 seconds. I started walking at mile 2 and mentally stimulating, the mile markers were not at each aid station! This made things feel so much better as I walked the aid stations which meant I was walking just after each mile marker. It's odd but when you are running a marathon, something has to keep the mind occupied and I like to do math.
I was monitoring my current pace and average pace for the entire run. This was very helpful for me because I noticed that even with the walking (just like in training) I was not losing a lot of time all at once. I would gradually see my average pace go down but I was hoping for a 3:40-3:50 marathon and I had plenty of room to achieve that. I trusted myself and nutrition with my flasks and occasion coke + ice from the volunteers when needed. I had paced myself on the bike and as long as I was keeping myself cool with ice cold sponges and ice down my bra top, all would be in my favor. Just one step at a time.
After the turn around, I felt accomplished. I mentally broke down this run into sections.
Get to first turn around. Get to Palani. Climb Palani. Run the 4 miles on Queen K hwy to energy lab. Run the 2 miles to turn around in energy lab. Run 2 miles back up the false flat in energy lab. Reach mile 20 on Queen K Hwy. Reach mile 24 and know you only have 2 more miles to go. If Campy can run 2 miles, you can run two miles. Reach mile 25 knowing you are almost home. Soak in the last 1 mile - you do it!
The way back on Alli drive felt harder than the beginning but it was nothing that I couldn't handle. I just couldn't find my groove and with my experience in IM racing, I knew it would come.
Nearing mile 8, I started to feel really good. Perhaps because I was approaching town and the cheers were coming or maybe it was because I had passed Gloria again and received instant energy from her. Whatever it was, as I made my two climbs out of town and toward the Queen K (I couldn't WAIT to walk at the aid station on Palani but it was near the top and seemed to take forever as I shuffled my way up), I really looked forward to the Queen K hwy.
With 2007 being injured in Kona, 2011 having GI issues...2013 Kona was the year that I would run happy.
There were only two spectator-allowed areas on the Queen K hwy and they both occurred within the first 2 miles on Queen K hwy. So beyond mile 12 or so, it was quite - aside from the occasion athlete throwing up, peeing/pooping in the pushes and what looked to be many cramping and bonking bodies struggling between each aid station.
But, then there were the success stories. Seeing the pros, my friends (go KATIE THOMAS!) and so many other athletes who were racing in the Kona for the first time. My own nutrition athletes (Christine, Fran and Nicole) and many friends who I have met along the way.
I tried to get my mind to a happy place - like I was running in my neighborhood, on a Sunday with pancakes waiting for me at home. I kept trying over and over to "feel" like that but I couldn't get myself there. My mind new I was in Kona...so did my body. I was hot, getting tired and using all my strength to get to each aid station. My goal was to slow down the least amount possible and I knew those last 3 miles would make or break my race. I did not walk between any aid station (aside from two potty stops on the course + transition. No GI issues, just nature calling and a sign that my body was functioning beyond normal for an Ironman) and unlike my past 6 Ironmans, I consciously paid attention to my overall time.
As I was nearing the energy lab, I was not scared. I knew what to expect. Never on the course did I feel overheated and I used the energy lab as a place to relax - as much as possible. I was not concerned with my pace from miles 16-20 and I just kept telling myself "keep moving forward. You will get there. You will get there." Sometimes I said it out loud "You are going to get there and you will PR."
I even told other people I was going to PR. I needed to verbally say it out loud as I knew I could easily surrender to the voices, the pain and the fatigue at any moment. I new my aid station stops were getting longer but between them I was running strong 8:05-8:30 min/miles. I knew I could keep this up, I just needed help to get there. I saw a friend that I met in Kona, Sherry Anne and she offered great help. She looked strong running and as we walked through the aid stations together, we exchanged supportive words. I watched her running form and tried to emulate it - that really helped.
A girl from Australia who was playing cat and mouse on the bike, run up to me on the run. Kristy helped me have the race of my life.
Mile 22 of an Ironman is an odd place. Feeling so close yet 30+ minutes of running feels like forever.
Kristy and I chatted, talked about how many IM's we have done, what we do, where we are from. I wasn't able to chat in full sentences but enough to make mile 22 go by as quick as to be expected in an Ironman. I asked Kristy about her day and she asked about mine. I told her I was going to have a big PR today as long as I keep moving forward.
I asked her to help me get to mile 24. She pushed me like I've never been pushed. It wasn't the type of lactic acid push as if I was running a 5K but instead, making me run a pace that felt uncomfortable and it was risky. But it worked. I was picking up the pace, even if I didn't have to but it was enough to give me confidence that I could finish this race stronger than I have ever raced before.
I told Kristy at mile 24 that I needed to hold back a bit but thanked her for the push. She ran ahead but I ended up catching back up at the last aid station on Palani. I no longer walked but instead sprinted down Palani. I told her I needed to go under 10:40 because that was my goal. She cheered for me. I saw my friend and pro triathlete Haley Chura, she cheered for me.
It was all becoming real. All I needed was mile marker 24 as confirmation that I was finishing this race in a PR. Checking my watch, my initial goal of 10:35 was slightly out of sight so sub 10:40 was driving me for the last 25 miles.
My cheeks hurt so bad because I was smiling so big. It felt much better to hurt in my face than in my aching quads.
But all around - I felt good. I never felt a low and I reminded myself of that. I tried to reflect as much as possible in 1 mile as I could - on the past two IM finishes in Kona, the past 6 Ironman finishes, going into IM Lake Placid (with what I felt was unpredictable run fitness to say the least) with Karel about to do his first IM and then me shockingly Kona qualifying and having a 10 min PR. I thought about the obstacles that I have faced in the past year, the struggles in life and a few happy moments that came to mind. I was so lucky to have Gloria there with me and so many fans cheering from afar. I missed my parents and wished they could have been there but I knew they were watching me all day. I thought about Campy who always thinks I am a winner and I thought about Karel who believed that I could have the day I was having.
I had so much support on the course from Gloria, friends and friends from afar and then came the finish line.
There it was. The finish line chute.
The shortest part of the race that is looked forward to the most.
I was beyond excited about how the day went but one thing I didn't expect was happening...
My legs did not feel fresh.
Aren't legs suppose to all of a sudden feel fresh in the finishing line chute?
Doesn't everyone look great crossing that finish line?
Oh, with every stroke, pedal and foot strike. It was time.
I ran up the finishing line and my body was officially done.
PR - CHECK.
6 minute PR from IM Lake Placid.
PR Kona Swim
PR Kona Bike
PR Kona Run: 3:51:14 (8:49 min/mile - with planned walking miles 2-24)
31st age group (30-34)
7x Ironman Finisher, 3x Ironman World Championship finisher
Thank you Body.